Servility always curdles into rage in the end.
~ Tina Brown ~
I stood alone in the snow-covered street, fighting the fear and anguish that were trying to return and fill the hollow place in my heart. My beloved was lost, my family was at each other’s throats, and my home was in turmoil. Only one person was responsible for all of it, and I was not about to let her escape justice.
Just as she was at fault for bringing misery to everyone in the grove, she was to blame for my chosen’s disappearance. No one else could have entered a healer’s house to carry a dying man out of it except the ArchDruid or her foul minions, for no one dared question them. A kind of madness came over me and I became convinced that she had stolen Charlie away and that I would indeed find him lying wounded and broken at her feet as she sat upon the wooden ArchDruid’s chair that had become her throne. No, it was not enough that she’d had him whipped in full view of the entire grove – she would have no satisfaction until she’d seen him gasp his last breath.
Water magic gave me secure footing and air gave me speed as I sprinted down the cobblestone street toward the ArchDruid’s office, jumping fences and cutting across gardens and yards. I hit the front door so hard that its stained glass window shattered when it smashed into the wall. The members of her Tetrarch were lolling about like pigs at a trough – all present except Nualla – with queen sow Sebrina sitting on her throne looking self-satisfied with the events she had wrought – as though the torture and abuse of a single man had been a difficult task, a mighty weight lifted from her shoulders.
I would show her the meaning of abuse, if she failed to give Charlie back to me.
“Angelina! What are you—”
My tornadic wind wrapped Sebrina in tight bands of air before she could move, shocking her into silence. Lightning flew from my fingertips, stunning Pollona and Dianthe, sending them sliding to the floor before they could mount an offense. I created a spinning vortex that sucked water and snow into the building and slammed Betrys against the wall, trapped by a frosty bubble. Like me – and like Sebrina – she possessed the elements of spirit, air, and water. I valued water as an element and could manipulate it in any number of ways. They disdained it, and so they were much less skilled at using water magic than I.
“Where is he?!?!” I shrieked. “What have you done with him?!”
Casting a desperate glance at Sebrina, Betrys’ eyes betrayed her terror. And well she should have been terrified of me, for they had all taught and demonstrated the very best offensive tactics a triple threat could bring to bear, challenging me with praise and derision, drilling it into me until I could channel all three of my elements simultaneously and without effort.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Betrys cried when no help was forthcoming from her evil overlord.
Sebrina glared at me, her sapphire eyes sparking with spirit magic. I could feel her clawing at the magic bonds and intensified the force, causing her to cry out in pain.
“She does,” I snarled, loosening the strictures and snugging them tightly again. Sebrina gasped for breath and then wasted it on a scream. This time there was a slight note of fear riding the edge of her cry.
There came the sound of running feet, boots on the path outside.
I’d forgotten one thing.
Her oath-sworn protector, First Warrior to the ArchDruid.
“Angelina!” he thundered.
With the barest of gestures, I hit him with a straight-line wind that slammed him against the far wall. Shock and anger braced his features as spirit magic lit his eyes a glowing blue.
“Stop this insanity!” he commanded.
“Not until she tells me where she’s taken him!”
I allowed Sebrina another breath. She wasted it again.
“I don’t know where he is! I’ve done nothing to that wasteland dog!”
My father would never hurt me or strike back with his own magic, but since he was foolish enough to take a step toward me, a flick of my finger pinned him to the wall. His jaw dropped in astonishment, but I ignored him and glared at the bitch who had brought so much suffering and despair into my life.
I refused to back down, reveling in the power this rage had given me. I, Angelina Everlight, a mere elementalist, had downed five druids fully trained in the use of elemental combat and was holding them helpless. Pollona moaned and I hit her with another spirit bolt. As an afterthought, I smacked Dianthe as well to keep her down.
“You’ve done nothing to him?” I said, walking slowly toward her and squeezing her ribs more tightly with each step. “Nothing?”
A high-pitched squeal, more outrage than pain, gusted from Sebrina’s lips. “Nothing he didn’t deserve,” she gasped.
“Half the world was dying of thirst last summer, all so you could have strawberries for breakfast!” I shouted. “But you’ll whip a man over some dried fruit? What punishment should be meted out to a woman who steals water? A beating? Or something worse?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” she yelled.
I didn’t know if Sebrina was lying because she hadn’t told Father about hoarding the rain and creating a drought from Lone Oak to Kingston as a result, or if she really thought I was that stupid. Standing beside the well at Chasity’s home in Lone Oak, I had smelled the stink of Sebrina’s magic as soon as I’d taken hold of the clouds.
“Don’t I? Who do you think ripped that artificial weather pattern away from you? It took every bit of magic within me, but I created a storm that gave the rain back to those who needed it!”
“We needed it!” Sebrina shouted. “That rain was for the grove!”
A snowball flew through the door and into my hand. From it I commanded three whips to rise, allowing them to wave about in the air like venomous serpents.
“What sort of punishment should you be given for causing a drought that brought so much misery and deprivation, I wonder?” I said, my voice as cold and cutting as the winter air. “If whipping is the price for taking some dried fruit, what should be the punishment for stealing an entire season of live-giving water?”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
I sharpened a slice of air and lashed it through Sebrina’s clothing, rendering her naked in seconds. I started to feel the drain on my magic – as an elementalist, I did not yet have a direct channel of magic from the Shining Ones that a druid did. I was limited by the Well within me, but it was vast and deep. I had plenty left what I intended and brought forth three more ice whips.
“Liam!” she screamed, but I had made certain he would do nothing to stop me. He wasn’t even trying to unravel the air that held him pressed against the wall. In fact, he was paying me no attention at all, his green eyes regarding Sebrina with loathing. For all his loyalty to her, my father was a true druid, one who deeply cared about balance and who would never alter weather patterns for the good of only a few people. Liam Everlight used his magic only for the greater good.
“Isn’t this what you wanted, ArchDruid?” I taunted. “For my whole life, you’ve called me weak. I’m soft, and I don’t have what it takes to survive outside the grove. Let me show you how weak I am. Let me show you how soft.”
The icy tentacles undulated toward Sebrina, caressing her bare flesh as they wrapped around her legs and torso like thin wires. Two more wrapped around her arms, then the last about her neck, caressing it like the lips of a lover. The paper-thin, razor-sharp whips left thin red lines that marred her flawless ivory skin, and Sebrina shrieked.
There was a crunch of boots on glass, but I didn’t turn around. No one would be such a fool as to startling me into dropping the ArchDruid or slicing her to ribbons.
Unless, of course, they didn’t care.
“Well, now,” said Uncle Padraig. “Isn’t this a pretty picture.”
I expected some warning from Father such as Stay out of this, brother, but he remained silent.
“I swear by the gods, Liam, if you don’t get her under control, I will exile her forever!” Sebrina’s voice had finally reached the high pitch that meant she was well and truly afraid.
“What in the name of Ọbàtálá makes you think I would want to stay?”
The calm in my voice pronounced my scorn and disdain more loudly than any shout. It truly was the calm before the storm. There was a tempest brewing, a hurricane enveloping the room, and she was at its very center.
“You ungrateful brat! After all I have done for you!”
Padraig snorted, muttering that the honorable ArchDruid had never done anything for anyone other than herself.
“You were never bonded with that barbarian!” she continued. “The gods would never allow some filthy outsider to bond with a druid!”
“It is a true bond, but you wouldn’t know anything about that,” I said, for everyone knew that she had rejected her own chosen. “Even if it was not, my claim to Davis is just as authentic as yours upon my father.”
I held up my left hand, displaying the faint, silvery scar of the oath mark along my palm.
“No!” Spittle flew from the ArchDruid’s lips.
“It is a sworn bond of blood, earth, and spirit.”
“You foul betrayer, you traitor, you back-stabbing—!”
I tightened my hold on the thin cords of ice, and Sebrina shrieked as swirling red lines corkscrewed down her arms and legs and painted designs on her belly and breasts.
“Don’t,” begged Betrys, tears streaking down her cheeks, worshipful eyes on her ArchDruid. “Please don’t.”
“Please do,” murmured Padraig.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t flay her alive.”
No one answered, not even Father. Even Betrys’ bleated begging had ceased, as she stared at me with panicked eyes.
You’re a better person than that, Ang.
It was Charlie’s voice in my mind again.
Kill your enemies if you must, but don’t torture them.
I wanted to yank those ice cords so badly.
I wanted to paint her entire body with blood, dripping down in delicate little beads. I wanted to slice off tiny little strips of skin while Sebrina filled the air with agonized cries.
Everything that was in me wanted her to suffer like Charlie had.
If you choose that path, what then will separate the two of you?
The thought struck me motionless, shoving outside myself and forcing upon me the crystal clarity of the scene:
The slumped bodies of Pollona and Dianthe.
Betrys’ terrified, tearful face.
Padraig’s gloating presence behind me, silently willing me to kill Sebrina and enjoying every moment of her pain and fear.
My father’s face, half-afraid… and half-hopeful.
The ArchDruid, held in midair, tortured, wounded and bloody from my elemental magic – the magic given to me by the Shining Ones – the power given to me to heal the earth of the devastation wrought by humankind before the Rebirth.
Changing the grove was not a task that had been assigned me, but I had allowed it to side-track me from my true mission, the one assigned all druids by the gods. Like so many of my people, I had let politics and fear distract me from my true purpose.
Our magic was not meant for harm.
It was not meant to make people afraid.
It was not meant to take revenge.
It was for cleansing the water, and clearing the air, and for recharging the whole world with life-giving energy.
My magic was not meant for this.
I took a deep breath, then slowly released it along with the power, lowering the ArchDruid to the floor. She managed to stay upright in spite of her shaking legs.
“All my mentoring, instruction, and guidance, and this is what I get,” Sebrina rasped. “You are not the person I raised you to be.”
“On the contrary,” I said. “I am exactly the person you taught me to be. I am hard. I am strong. I am fierce, and I am ruthless.” I stood over her with my uncle’s sword in my hand while she tried not to cower.
“But no longer,” I said. “I am a child born of a druid lineage that has been pure since the Rebirth.
“I will honor the Nature Spirits by joining them in their work.
“I will honor my Ancestors by following in their noble footsteps.
“And I will honor the Shining Ones by fulfilling my duty to use my gift for the purpose for which it was intended – healing the world.”
“So be it!” Padraig cried.
Father crossed the room to stand off to the side, at a point equidistant from her and me.
“Angelina has assaulted me!” she shouted at him, glaring at me with murder in her eyes. “I expect you handle this!”
“Aye, ArchDruid. As you say,” Father replied, and drew his dagger.
“Liam!” Padraig shouted. He moved to put his body between us, but Sebrina hit him with a blast of air that sent him flying out the door. She turned to me with an evil grin and spirit magic glowing in her eyes.
Father never took a step toward me. Instead, he drew the point of the dagger across his left palm and sliced through the oath mark there.
“By Fire, I am no longer bound to you by air,” he intoned.
“No!” Sebrina exclaimed, her eyes wide.
“By Well, I am no longer bound by water.” He made a second cut across the oath mark.
“I forbid this!”
“By Sacred Tree, I am no longer bound by spirit.” He made the third cut. “I, Liam Everlight, break all ties that bind me to you, Sebrina Silvermist. Before the eyes of the Nature Spirits, the Ancestors, and the Shining Ones, this bond is severed.”
Sebrina choked, clutching at her stomach. “You traitor!” she screeched before falling to her hands and knees.
“The acorn does not fall far from the tree,” Father said grimly. He put his arm around my shoulders and guided me out of the ArchDruid’s office, unmindful of the blood dripping from his free hand.
Out of everything bad Sebrina had ever done, in my eyes her tyrannical hold on my father – and therefore my family – was one of the worst.
Now he was free.