Authors: Stacey O'Neale
This book is dedicated to my husband,
No matter how rough the waters of our lives can be,
you always manage to keep me calm.
You are my lighthouse in the storm.
I will love you always.
When sorrow come, they come not single spies,
but in battalions.
Hamlet Act IV, Scene V
18 YEARS AGO
The pathway was about to implode.
Panic rippled through me in waves. No time to spare. My core fire kept the portal steady, but the attack slowly drained my energy. I had to run. It shouldn’t be much farther. A series of screeching pops went off as cracks appeared on the interior of the tunnel. I had to go faster. Why was she doing this? For centuries, I’d been welcomed into the water court. There was just one possible explanation: she knew I was coming. Had foreseen the purpose of my visit. This only confirmed what I’d feared.
Britta had chosen a side.
Meeting the water queen in her own territory was risky. She was the most powerful beneath the sea, surrounded by the magic of her element. As I fought my way through, my legs had begun to burn. I’d used too much of my own power. That was likely her plan. She’d anticipated a confrontation, and needed to make sure I wasn’t at full strength. I’d hoped I could reason with her. We had been created together. Sisters. Queens of our court. The best of friends.
And yet she’d conspired with my lover to end the life of our child.
A glowing light appeared. I’d reached the other side. Leaping toward the opening, I landed on my knees. I took a minute to catch my breath. When I stood, I studied my surroundings. It had been years since I’d been here. I stared at the separate shimmering mist that kept the ocean water out. I imagined it was like living inside a massive sealed terrarium. Although it resembled land, there were a few differences. It was always dark. Without the tiki torches lining the exterior, it would be pitch black. Air circulated freely, making it easy to breathe. Greenery and vegetation that didn’t require sunlight grew for miles in every direction.
Several water elementals passed through the mist. Each one transformed into a creature that looked very similar to a mortal. They stood on two legs, but their skin remained scaled. The silence was deafening. There was no wind, rain or storms. And all of the water elementals spoke using telepathy. In the distance, I spotted the water court tower. Britta’s home. The bricks on the exterior of the castle appeared as if they were made of creamy yellow sand. Coral in a riot of colors served as decoration. A path made of crushed seashells led to the front gate.
As I approached, I’d expected guards to appear. I was sure Britta had attempted to close the pathway. She obviously didn’t want me here, yet no one came. My eyebrows furrowed as I made my way through the interior. I didn’t see even a single elemental inside. It was almost as if her palace had been emptied. Had she made everyone else leave when she realized I was coming? Was my friend so sure I’d attack? Or had she been persuaded?
I brushed it off for the moment.
There wasn’t much furniture as I passed through hallways. The only decoration was the succession of beautiful paintings that lined my way. Each told the history of her court through the centuries, all the way back to the creation of the world.
Once I arrived at the end of the walkway, I headed up the stairwell. Britta’s private quarters took up the entire uppermost floor of the tower. If she were still here, that was where she’d be. I reached the top, and pushed two heavy wooden doors open.
She stood on a stone balcony with her arms at her sides. Hanging tea lights illuminated the area, giving her ocean-blue, iridescent gown a sparkling hue. Flowing inkblot-black hair poured down her back. The silvery tattoos on the sides of her face glowed as she gazed at the mist above our heads. I slowly moved closer, not forgetting that she had tried to prevent me from entering her realm. Her pupils were gone, eyes completely white. She was using her power to look into the future.
There was a buzzing in my head, then I heard her voice.
“You should not have come, Prisma.”
I closed the distance between us. “You used your foresight on him without my permission.”
“I did not seek him out. He was brought to me.”
The Ring of Dispel, our sacred object, blocked my court from her visions. It wasn’t a weakness she freely admitted, but I kept her secret. I wasn’t fond of her premonitions. Some of her visions had caused more harm than good. “You had no right. He is my son.”
Britta crossed her arms.
“Shielding this child will only lead to your demise.”
“I’m willing to die to protect any of my children.”
Lowering her head, she replied,
“You will set events in motion that cannot be undone. The end for us all.”
“Enough,” I screamed. “I know why you tried to close the pathway. You’ve hidden them somewhere in this castle.”
“I will not allow you to stop him.”
The sting of her betrayal pierced my heart. There was nothing left of our friendship. I was alone. “He stole our son.” Fire ignited, burning in my core. “He’s going to kill him.”
“He will save us all by making the ultimate sacrifice.”
Her voice rose up an octave. It was a rare slip of emotion.
“Can you not see that?”
that my son is in danger,” I sneered. “I
that you have betrayed me.”
“You are in danger, sister. I sense a darkness growing inside of you.”
She reached out to me, like she was extending an olive branch.
“Let me help you.”
I pushed her hand away. She was correct. There was an anger building, but she was the cause. Britta had never gone against me. Not until now. “The only way you can help me is by returning my lover and my son to me.”
Her eyes had become white once more. “
Evil remains hidden within your veil of protection. Lift the barrier. Together, we will identify the cause and rid the world of it.”
She made accusations against my son, turned my lover against me, and now she wanted more? “How could you think I’d even consider giving you free reign over my court? Never.”
“You have gone beyond reason.”
Igniting a ball of fire in my hand, I ordered, “Bring them to me.”
Her eyes flashed.
“You would use your power against me?”
I watched as she called to the ocean. A stream of water shot out. I spun around. Swirling fire wrapped around me, turning her weapon into vapor.
As I extinguished the blaze, I glared at her. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do.”
Blinking once, her blue irises returned. “
Then we are all lost.”
Why had it come to this? She was the one person I’d always counted on. My sister. Surely I could make her see my side. If there was even a shred of hope, I had to try. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Britta shook her head.
“I will play no further part in this.”
“You are the cause.” I argued. “We’re here right now because of your premonition. You have interfered where you shouldn’t. Can you live with yourself if you’re wrong?”
There was a long a pause.
“If I had seen even one other possibility, I would not have shared my vision with him.”
Fire burst from my fingertips, encircling us into an inferno. The flames burning the stones we stood on. “I will kill the akasha myself if that’s what it takes.”
“That would be treason.”
Her voice remained calm.
“What about what you’re doing?” I screamed. “You’re trying to kill an innocent child.”
Water rained over our heads, fighting the flames for control.
“One life in exchange for thousands is a mercy.”
“I cannot let you do this,” I replied. As I raised my hands, the circle of fire rose several feet.
“He is the destroyer.”
She took a step forward, trying to avoid the flames. Facing me, she blinked once. “
His whole life is in shadows. There is no other outcome for him.”
“You see possibilities. The future can change any time a decision is made. You taught me that.” I shook my head, sensing there was more to the vision than she was letting on. “I refuse to believe there is no hope for him.”
“Every potential choice leads to devastation.”
“I can stop this.” All I had to do was alter what I’d planned. I swallowed the lump in my throat. Even if it broke my heart in the process, I’d do anything to prevent this. “I’ll send him far away. Keep him out of my court. Out of Avalon, if necessary.”
A tsunami appeared from the sea, creating waves as high as the castle.
“There is no way to prevent what will be.”
“I will not allow him to be harmed in any way.” With only one chance left, I tried to appeal to her heart. “You once loved a mortal as if he were your own son. Thanks to me, you were able to raise him. You know what it feels like to be a mother. Can’t you understand how I feel?”
The water calmed instantly, returning to its normal state.
Waving my hand, I extinguished my fire.
For the second time today, I saw a small bit of emotion on her face. Losing Lancelot had devastated her. It took centuries before she allowed anyone to even mention his name in her presence.
“I do understand your pain.”
“Then help me, sister.” I gripped her shoulders, leveling our eyes. “We can save Rowan together.”
Kalin had to sacrifice herself?
Pain seared my chest, burning its way into my heart. I watched her mouth as she continued to speak. Words I didn’t hear. The only sound in my ears were my own heavy breath. I wasn’t sure how long we sat motionless. Each one of us waited for the other to react. Frozen in a circle of marble chairs, we were seemingly unable to comprehend what Kalin had said. I met eyes with Britta, then Orion. I wanted desperately for one of them to say there was another solution. That this wasn’t the only way. It couldn’t be. Not after everything we’d been through. Everything we’d lost.
I couldn’t lose her too.
It had been eighteen months since I first saw her. I’d been sent to kill her by my own mother. She was supposed to be a danger to us all. Yet she seemed so fragile. More mortal than elemental. Untrained in her element and naive of the world that waited for her. There was no way I could end her life. I decided soon after that she needed to be protected. That I’d keep her safe. If I was being honest with myself, I’d admit my feelings for her started then. And now, I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I loved her. How was I supposed to stand by and be okay with her decision?