I cringe just as a whip of rainwater slashes over my cheeks and chin, bringing with it the bitter scent of loss and grief and urgency.
I step through the scraggly opening and out onto a rainwater-tipped field overlooking a vast, glittering valley.Mother-of-kracken.
The air is wet and cold and drippy and enchanted.And it tastes of magic.
I drink it in along with the magnificent forest spinning around us. It’s one from another era, much older than Faelen, and gracefully woven in and around hillsides of pale meadows meandering all the way down to touch a slumbering gray-jeweled lake. And it’s completely undefiled by hovels or roads or chopped-down trees.
My skin tingles with the concentration of old magic drifting in the air, and I half expect the breeze to carry songs up from the wood folk or the cries of the ancient elfin battles. My lungs fill with its delicate melody as wisps of fog trail along the skyline, like translucent fingertips lacing through the trees, spreading their aura and the scent of the day’s summer storm.
The warm earth reaches up through my boots, as if it’s alive, pulsing. This place is so unlike anything I’ve ever sensed or seen, and yet something within my cracked soul says I’ve been here before. That I know it just as I know the song it’s whispering. It invokes a homesickness I don’t understand, and my heart is threatening to weep, to stay, to live and drink and drown in it, leaving the world and war behind.
“What is this place?” I whisper.
“The Valley of Origin.” Eogan sounds as in awe as I am. “A place used centuries ago to worship the Hidden Lands’ creator. Until the five kingdoms divided and most people forgot about it.”
He presses down as I comply, and there’s an immediate thickening in the air as the damp, magic-soaked atmosphere rushes into my lungs. The next thing I know, it’s launched through my veins, singing through my blood and muscles, infusing them with that ancient melody I swear I know and yet have never heard. That feeling of homesickness returns, and if I concentrate hard enough, I can almost hum the enchanted refrain from another time, another spectrum, as it blends earth and sky and water into a heartbeat that is pulsing with my own.
“Feel that?” he murmurs.
I hardly nod. With my eyes shut, I’ve come from this ancient time, this ancient place. I was created out of its elements, and now those elements have returned to awaken everything around us—the ground, the valley, the lake—they’re in my mind and in my breath, as if they’re the original version of me. The thing I was intended to be.
“What’s it doing?” I gasp.
“Reminding your heart of who you are, and what your Elemental race is for. What you were created for.” His chin brushes my hair as he leans in, sending goose bumps down my skin. “Now this is the part where you let go.”What? How? I start to panic, but something inside of me shifts, as if the magic filling my lungs is speaking and I should listen. And I know instinctively that it’s stirring me, inhabiting me even as it’s whispering that it’s incapable of inhabiting evil. The thought emerges that, therefore, there must be a goodness within me that predates my curse. I exhale and cautiously allow the siren within me to respond.
I brace for it. But instead of my power exploding like a thunderstorm, it comes as a gentle tide. A heart surrender. Almost painful in its approach, beckoning tears to my eyes as it renders my defenses nonexistent. And suddenly I can’t remember why I ever needed them anyway because the very power I’ve spent my life cowering from is, at its core, pure.
A mist forms on my face, my neck, my lips.
Eogan’s hand slips down to mine. “Open your eyes.”
His face is the first thing I see. Tiny, jeweled water droplets cling to his dark eyelashes. The drips shiver as he smiles before they release to join the millions of others floating around us—around the entire valley—in rainbow-lit colors. As if the world’s gravity no longer holds sway over the elements.
I stretch out my hand and the rainbow mist collects on my skin, molding to me like a colored suit of glass. I lift my arm higher and the water ripples into place along it like crystalline armor. Then I’m reaching farther, toward the distant lake, where I can feel the energy flow as I pull at the air. The lake waters churn and move, no longer gray, but brilliant and alive as a geyser shoots up out of it to follow the arc of my hand. I tug it harder and, like a serpent, it rises into the sky, ready to do my bidding. Beside me, Eogan swears.
I release the water in a giant splash and turn to the storm clouds lacing the valley. With a flick of my wrist, they crack and release a lightning bolt, but before it can land, I tug it closer. It hits down ten feet in front of us.