Seemingly like magic, the crowd parted to make way for Elder Vilkas (the leader of the Anjo Tribe) and his mighty girth. Colossal leather boots stomped through the snow, as the earth trembled in his wake. A loud hush fell upon the Maikoh tribesfolk.
Vilkas peered down at the folk from behind his large, extensively groomed moustache with an air of exaggerated importance. Decidedly unimpressed, he huffed, as if mocking them, and snarled. His already grotesque features shifted in to a rather unpleasant grimace. One young boy even began to sob.
Nobody moved, until the leader of the Maikoh Tribe, Elder Milou stepped forward with an uneasy smile.
"Ah, Elder Vilkas, how wonderful to see you again. So glad you could make it." she lied, and bent forward in the traditional tribe meeting-gesture. Elder Vilkas returned the gesture, but no smile played on his lips.
"That's rather a small bonfire, Milou." he growled rudely. Shocked (though she tried not to show it), Elder Milou blinked rapidly, her smile faltering. She did not know what to say.
Luckily, Aster did! She stepped forward with a scowl, and folded her arms defiantly. In her head, her temper roared. How dare he offend their tribe in such a way!
"Actually, Elder Vilkas, check your facts. Its nearly twice as big as the one you had last Kapoch Festival. AND I bet our elk will taste MUCH better than yours." she snapped.
The crowd gasped at her sudden out burst. Behind her, Cal cringed under her dark brown hair; this was not going to go down well.
"Is that so, little girl?" Sarcasm filled Elder Vilkas's voice. Aster could practically feel the smoke coming out of her ears at the word 'little'.
"Oh yeah. In fact, why don't you try some, big guy?" a sudden voice by Aster's side startled her.
Rio had zipped through the crowd and was stood, fierce as ever, with a confident smile on her face. The two girls glanced at each other and grinned.
Elder Vilkas, on the other hand, stumbled backwards, nostrils flaring. His jaw slackened in a silent scream.
"W...Where d-did you come from?" he murmured. In his very large chest, his heart raced. Though he tried not to show it, by his sides, his hands trembled.
Rio shrugged, stormy eyes crackling with mischief. "Well, it all started when my mama met my da-"
Cynthia's hand slapped over Rio's mouth to shut her up and she laughed. Wide eyed, Cynthia tightened her high pony and let her fringe fall over her face.
"I don't like where this is going, guys." she whispered a warning into Aster and Rio's ears but they just ignored her.
With a beckoning gesture, Aster weaved through the silent crowd towards the spark-spitting bonfire. Carefully, she prepared some elk ribs and offered Elder Vilkas a rack.
The grizzled man wrinkled his nose haughtily, and took the ribs without any thanks. He bit into one, blood trickling down from the corner of his mouth.
At the taste, his face lit up brighter than the bonfire itself.
For the first time since he arrived, Rio (whom was staring at the Leader of the Anjo Tribe intently to try and read his emotions) could have sworn that, just for a second, he smiled.
Very quickly his smile was hidden once more.
"It's cold." he gruffed, for obviously he wasn't going to compliment them.
The dark brown skin around Aster's mouth twitched. She clutched her skirt tightly, twisting the rusty orange fabric in her fingers. It took all of her strength not to cuss at him.
"Allow me to heat it up for you." she attempted to smile. All of a sudden, flames appeared at Aster's fingertips, licking at the rack of ribs, gently heating them up.
Elder Vilkas let out a cry of shock.
"W-what is th-this sorcery?!" he bellowed, fear turning his eyes wild. Clearly panicking, he stumbled as he shuffled back, almost dropping his rack of ribs.
His face, which had previously been a look of superiority, distorted into a look of raw disgust.
He lowered his eyebrows, wrinkled his nose, and raised is upper lip, all the while his eyes gleamed with fear.
Noticing his expression, Aster's fire was instantly dampened- and so was her spirit.
A strange feeling crept through her chest. It seemed to wrap around her lungs and crawl up her throat, sending chills like rolling waves down her spine.
Normally in a situation like this, Aster would've been fiercely angry, but instead of rage, emptiness ached in her bones.
For the first time in her life, Aster felt...
For the first time in her life, Aster felt...cold.
"Magic." snarled Elder Vilkas with narrowed eyes and a curling lip. He said the word like most people say 'mass murderer' or 'modern slavery' or 'pineapple on pizza'.
Like an thorn, the word pricked at Aster's heart.
Saphira was stood nearby, and although the two girls did not really get on, when she saw the smile vanish from Aster's face, Saphira felt a stab of sympathy in her usually icy heart.
"Hey," whispered Saphira just loud enough so that Aster could hear."Why the long face? Our magic is awesome, why would it be anything else?"
All the five girls with the bear-shaped birthmark had ever believed was that they were blessed and gifted with wonderful powers.
However, Elder Vilkas had other ideas.
The Leader of the Anjo tribe turned away, but not without giving Aster a few dirty looks first.
Afterwards, everyone seemed to swing into action, and the usual traditions of the Kapoch Festival blossomed to life.
The Maikohean youth performed ancient tribal dances and songs as the Elders of the tribe took part in the traditional gratitude ceremony: this mostly involved exchanging small gifts and chanting age-old prayers to the gods of talent and skill as they danced in and out of a Stonehenge-like structure.
After that, the real fun began.
Saphira gave out prizes for the ice-sculpting competition, Cynthia helped send the wish lanterns up into the starry sky, and Aster cooked and cooked till she wished she would never have to lay eyes on another elk steak again.
Near the centre of the village, the typically shy and sweet Cal bloomed just as much as the vegetables and plants she was selling and showcasing.
Her sweet singing voice filled the crowd with awe as she grew fabulous things.
In the ice rink, Rio was rearing to go. She stood next to a boy of a similar age with a mess of blonde curls and brilliant green eyes, laughing and joking around.
The boy's name was Bucky and he was Rio's best friend. They were so close, they could have been siblings.
Haadnelsof sticks in hand, delicately carved bone skates on their feet, they waited in excitement for the start horn to sound.
BRAHUUUUUUUUUM! (Sorry how do you write the noise of a war horn? XD)
Suddenly, everyone rushed into the rink, charging towards the smooth wooden puck in the centre.
Fastest on the ice, Rio got there first, and pushed the puck through a player from the oppositions legs.
Adrenaline roared in her blood as she sped with the puck seeming to dance around her stick.
A player lunged in for a challenge but Rio was too quick, slinging the puck in and out of her legs to confuse he opponent before doing a dummy to get past them.
Out of her peripheral vision she spotted Bucky in a good space, so she passed the puck to him and dashed forward. Excitement sent electricity crackling at her feet.
Around the rink, tribesfolk cheered and howled as they watched the game. Although she couldn't see him, Elder Vilkas stood amongst the crowd, wrinkling his nose at Rio's pace and sparks.
"They must be cursed." he breathed. But Rio did not see nor hear him; she was to lost in the sheer thrill of her favourite game to notice.
The match unfolded in a rush of tackles, passes, skills and goals. At last, when the final horn sounded for full time, Rio and the rest of her team roared with delight at their 8-2 victory.
"Champions!" they all cried, and rushed off laughing and beaming to celebrate with elk steak and a mischievous snowball fight (started by none other than Rio, of course) that the Elders did not seem to approve of.
The night went on in a clash of joy!
However, as the tribesfolk partied and grinned, Elder Vilkas raged quietly in the background.
When Rio sprinted impossibly fast on her skates up and down the ice rink, he grumbled.
When Aster used her fire powers to heat up food, he growled.
When Saphira conjured up magnificent ice sculptures from nothing but air, he huffed.
When Cynthia created powerful winds to help send the wish lanterns on their way to the glorious northern lights, he hissed.
And, when Cal grew perfect plants up from out of the snow with her powerful song, he...
...To be continued...