Sorbet tapped the textbook with her pen. "Pico, if you don't pay attention and study, you'll never pass this test."
He slumped down on his elbows. "Who cares? One test isn't going to make much difference on my grade."
"This is the final, Pico."
"He's going to fail," Mokka said. "Why are we still trying to hold this study group together?"
Pico sighed. "Thanks a lot, Mokka."
When Sorbet had suggested that the group of friends meet in her dorm suite for a pre-final study group, Rae had never imagined that it would last for half their Saturday. She had spent the last few hours mentally listing through all the things she could be doing instead of sitting here, waiting for Pico to understand magic theory. Sorbet and Mokka had split off with Pico for very special, specific attention, while Lassi, Chai, and Rae were lounging on a couch, talking under their breath and lightly dozing. The three friends hadn't so much as looked at their opened textbooks since Sorbet, Mokka, and Pico had sat down on their own, at the table.
"I'll bet they're serving magical OJ in the cafeteria right now," Chai mused.
"Maybe with those miraculous finger sandwiches that the new lunch lady makes so well," Lassi suggested.
Rae nodded dreamily, eyes half-closed as she watched the frosted window panes, now lit by the orange rays of the setting sun. A tree branch waved invitingly outside the window, belying a light breeze that Rae could not feel. She scratched her cheek, catching a glimpse of her fading light aura on her arm.
Her eyes widened. The sun was setting.
Rae sat up so quickly, it looked like someone had flicked a whip at her spine. Chai watched out of the corner of his eye as she hurriedly gathered her textbooks, notebooks, pencils, and light-sign shaped erasers, tossing them into her tote bag.
"I'm so sorry, guys, but I need to go," Rae said as she stood up, rubbing drowsiness from her eyes.
"Aw, Rae, we're not done yet!" Lassi exclaimed, catching on to Rae's sudden energy.
"I'm sorry!" Rae called back over her shoulder as she left behind her stunned friends. Not even Pico had time to call after her as she raced into the hall.
Not a lot of people were out in the halls at sunset, and those that were sent Rae confused looks as she darted up the stairs to the light floor. It was a courtesy of the school to their small set of light magicians to give them rooms at the very top of the Will-o'-Wisp Academy Dormitory – dark magicians slept on the bottom floor, where the sunlight wasn't as strong. Since there were so few light magicians, Rae had her own suite, complete with a balcony; perfect for her duties.
She sped into the front room of her dorm rooms, dropping her bag and snatching a candle and a book of matches from a nightstand drawer. She paused for a moment outside the glass door leading onto the balcony to catch her breath before moving outside.
The light breeze kissed her cheek as Rae carefully closed the door behind her. Three balconies down, trees stretched towards the rays of the sun falling below the horizon. Miles away from the Academy complex, the pink roofs of the capital city of Kovomaka basked in the glow of the sun.
Rae took another deep breath, trying to calm her gasping lungs before the sun completely set. It was important to be as calm and slow as the sun as it dipped down beneath the mountains. She waited as long as she could before kneeling down.
The stone of the balcony pressed cold against her knees. The wrought-iron railing marred her vision of the scenery around her, but that was alright. Calmly and carefully, Rae struck a match and lit the fat, white candle in her hands. She set the matchbook on the stones next to her and cupped her hands around the candle.
Rae closed her eyes. She felt the sun's last rays caress her skin, lending her the last blissful moments of her light aura, enhancing the clarity of thought that in turn powered her magic. She always made a point to be here when the sun died.
She began to hum the deliberate tune so familiar to her. It had no name; it was a tribute to the guiding force of the world, passed down from parent to child for hundreds of years among her people. If she let her mind drift enough, she could almost believe that she was surrounded by her family, performing the sun salute alongside those she loved.
A drip of hot wax landed on her fingers, having melted off the candle and rolled down the side. Rae opened her eyes and watched as the sun finished its descent, finally plunging the world into dark night. She felt her aura fade, as if someone had attached a straw to it and sucked it away. It was unpleasant and always left her slightly nauseous and tired, but she had dealt with it every sunset since birth. Her people had a saying – what the sun took away at the end of the day, so it gave back in the morning. Rae would feel her aura return to her when the sun rose tomorrow.
Rae picked up the matchbook and stood up, carefully keeping the candle steady and burning. During the night, the candle would act as her own personal sun, providing a constant source of light and warmth until the real one could take over again.
A yawn escaped Rae's lips as she turned back to the glass door leading into her dorm suite's bedroom. She stopped dead – the flickering flame of her dripping candle revealed faces hovering respectfully, if a bit sheepishly, just inside the glass door.
A smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, Rae pushed the door open and ignored her five friends. She set the candle in its brass holder on top of the nightstand and deposited the matches in the drawer. Sitting down on the foot of the bed, she faced her friends and waited for someone to talk.
The apprentices averted their eyes, staring awkwardly at various points in the room. Finally, Rae said, "You can turn the light on, you know. It wouldn't be sacrilege."
Lassi, standing nearest the light switch, flicked it on. Sparkles of light began cascading down from the fixture in the ceiling to disappear a few inches into the air. They lit the room with an incandescent, comforting light. Whoever the light magician was who enchanted it, Rae was eternally grateful to them. Their work was both beautiful and functional.
"What was that?" Pico abruptly blurted out. Sorbet crunched his toes under the heel of her frilly boots.
"The sun salute," Rae answered, glancing habitually at the candle to make sure it still burned.
"A ritual of worship to the sun, performed each morning and night by the Taiyo Tribe here on Kovomaka," Mokka supplied. "I've heard of it."
Rae yawned again. "Close, Mokka. At sunset, we light the candle. At sunrise, we extinguish it."
"But why?" Sorbet asked. "I mean, I thought you'd left your tribe to come here on your own free will. Why keep doing this? It can't be convenient."
"No, it's not…" Rae blinked wearily. "I left my tribe, yes. I want to live my own life and not be forced into being a priestess because of my magic, yes. But my culture makes me who I am. I tried once to not perform the sun salute, but it made me so guilty to skip it that I haven't missed one since then." She smiled ruefully. "It hasn't been easy. Remember when we had class scheduled for five in the morning?"
"I remember that!" Chai said, grinning widely in the way salamanders do. "You were constantly running out of class early. Even Miss Madeleine was getting annoyed."
"I think Rae's getting tired, guys. Let's leave her alone," Lassi said suddenly. Rae gave her a grateful, very sleepy smile.
"Do you think the cafeteria is still selling magical OJ?" Chai asked as they disappeared one by one out the door.
"I just accessed their schedule, and according to it, they are," Mokka said in his normal monotone.
Sorbet, the last one out, turned off the light switch. "Goodnight, Rae."
The water magician closed the door behind her. As it clicked shut, Rae laid back and spread out over the covers, not even caring to get under them. The only point of light in the room was the fat, white candle, Rae's surrogate sun.
She curled up in a tight ball and watched the tiny flame eat the wick. Sleep dragged her away, but her candle stayed, waiting until she would awake before dawn the next day. Then the candle would be put out, for the sun be born again.