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Primal Powers

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Winter

Wen is the oldest of them. She is forty-two when the cornerstone is laid - or rather, relaid, as they aren't so much building their own castle as rebuilding a ruined one - but she knows most people wouldn't believe it. She looks maybe half that.

It has something to do with magic, she knows; merely possessing magic slows time's effects. The Romans and the Greeks had plenty to say about that, and Wen has, after all, studied at the great libraries of Byzantium.

The ancient authorities were silent on the most important effect of this, though, and as time passes and touches everything around her except for Wen herself, she pulls her changelessness about her like a shroud and watches the world fade with frozen eyes.

Wen has her myths, but Helga has her own: she thinks about primal elements while watching her friend, and shivers.

***

Spring

Godric is the next oldest, beating out Helga by a day. When they lay the cornerstone, he is forty, and though he is as steeped in magic as Wen, wars on the continents have made him look more his age, if still on the young side. It is something in the eyes.

He was the one who pushed for this, who dragged Wen out of her frozen tower and Helga out of her family's shop and Sal out of God alone knows where and made them create something new.

He has always loved children, and his own are now young men; Godric was too often away, and they are strangers to him. Maybe that is why he chooses to retire from war to school children now, when he is still in the prime of his wizard's life.

His peers account it a waste, and his wife, while supportive, is just as baffled. Helga knows better: blood shed must bring new life, or the whole world will rot.

***

Summer

Helga is, technically, thirty-nine when they lay the cornerstone, and she is not very happy with Godric for refusing to wait a single day. She shoves him into the lake for it, a punishment which he accepts with characteristic good grace, despite the chill to the air.

Helga thinks she looks her age; her family, both magical and not, has always aged gracefully. She does not know how others see her, but she also does not care.

The others see Helga this way: to Wen, she is the vitalizing fire that thaws down her sharp edges; to Godric, she is a comrade-in-arms, despite the differences in culture and religion; to Sal, she is the bright co-conspirator who lets him escape into her shadow.

All Helga knows is that fire, too, is a primal element, and summer was always her favorite season.

***

Fall

When they lay the cornerstone, Sal is, to Helga's best guess, probably thirty, and considerably more mellow than he had been the first time they'd met. Godric knows how old Sal is, but Godric knows a great deal about Sal that neither of them share, such as where Sal's from and where Godric found him.

Sal doesn't look thirty. Sal doesn't exactly look younger or older, but timeless, like he was always as he is now. He is a creature of moonlight and darkness and the cool night air, and while Helga is by no means prejudiced against inhuman beings - seidhkonas serve all comers, after all, and she suspects most wizards have a little something in the blood - there is something about the watchful patience that surrounds Sal that sends an atavistic shiver down Helga's spine.

This is a creature well-suited to the ruins and graveyards he haunts, Helga thinks.

Helga remembers the old stories, of the old beings that haunted the meres. She is unsurprised to learn that, even when his footsteps should rustle the dry leaves, Sal moves through the world like mist. He perches on the bare black branches of the trees, backlit by the setting sun or the rising moon, without even a silhouette to mark his presence.

***

Timeless

When they lay the cornerstone, they are forty-two, forty, almost forty, and presumably thirty. One of them has studied ancient magics in the halls of an ancient academy; one of them has learned at his father's knee and in frantic moments on the battlefield; one of them was apprenticed, as hundreds of other girls have been, part of an unbroken tradition going back centuries; one of them has cobbled together bits and pieces from the whispers of the dead. One is probably human, one has a lingering drop of strangeness in the blood, one is elf-touched by her training, and one is admittedly at least half human, but is the most inhuman of them all.

They are an unstable mix of magics. Helga should have expected the explosion.

Well, she thinks when the world stops spinning, at least the cornerstone's set.

They never age a day after that one.