The ocean lapped around my feet, tickling my toes, and for a moment I forgot why I was there, the peace and comfort was so strong. The mother goddess stood over me, her image shimmering as if she were within a heat wave. Her long skirt trailed behind her in the air, dancing on currents I couldn’t see. Deep brown hair like the richest soil of the earth with hints of silver glinted in the sunlight. Green and gold eyes sparkled with what I could only target as mischief. “Child, the bonds Cassava placed on your soul are deep and well-rooted. I can begin their undoing, but you must be the one to finish it.”
She directed me to lay down, her hands gentle as she guided me. Flat on my back, I dug my fingers into the wet sand under me. “How long do I have to complete the breaking?”
“Once I begin, you will have time. But . . .” She held a hand over me, and through her fingers I saw all five colors of the elements swirl. Green, blue, red, white, and pale pink. Earth. Water. Fire. Air. Spirit.
Her softly swaying hand mesmerized me more than a little, like a cobra with a tiny mouse. The analogy perhaps wasn’t so far off base. She leaned toward me, her eyes a deep, glowing green and gold.
“Be warned. The power that resides in you is that of ten elementals. Your mother’s bloodline has done that for you, charging your abilities and connection to the earth beyond that of any elemental who walks this world. You may not understand now, but you will one day. Be patient, child of mine. Your time will come.”
“Before you start, what about my father? Will he not need to be broken apart too? Cassava was as much in his mind as she was in mine.”
The mother goddess smiled, but her mouth was not kind. “Basileus was older when Cassava worked Spirit on him. His mind already formed. His journey back is different from yours, Larkspur, and you cannot hurry it along.”
She lowered her hand until it hovered over my feet. The five colors shifted, spinning faster between her fingertips. At first, her touch was cool, her skin soft and smooth; safe, I was safe with her.
With a speed I couldn’t follow, heat radiated from her hand. The water around my feet bubbled and foamed. I wanted to scramble away, out of the water, farther up the shoreline.
But I couldn’t move, my body seemingly frozen to the ground. A moan slipped out of me as the heat escalated, chased by my fear I was about to be cooked alive.
“This will not be pleasant, Larkspur.”
Jaw tight, I didn’t answer, just tried to breathe through the fear climbing my body like a monkey shimmying up a tree, screeching once it reached the top. The sizzle and crackle of my skin rose to me as the water heated past boiling. Her touch held me down. Moans turned into screams as the heat exploded up my legs, bursting through my bones, shattering my body into tiny molecular elements.
“Soon, child, it will be done soon.”
A wave of water washed over me, dousing the heat and leaving me blessedly chilled to the core. The water didn’t recede, though. It clung to me, smothering me. I wanted to thrash against the bonds the mother goddess placed on me. Wanted to sit up; that’s all it would take and my head would be free of the water. The mother goddess stood over me, her hand shimmering with power. The water forced itself into my nose, mouth, and eyes, down into my lungs and belly. Chest expanding with the force, I fought the new panic rising within me.
As the water pressure reached its peak, it whipped away from me and I spun into the air, held aloft by the west wind. It tore at my hair, drew the water from my lungs, and gave me breath. Just as quickly, it stole my breath, collapsing my lungs inward, drawing my life away as I was spun ‘round and ‘round in a twister that seemed to pull at my very soul. The mother goddess was there one second, and gone the next as I was sent spiraling.
The ground rose and cradled me, stopped the spinning. I clung to the earth, buried my hands into its strength and comfort. This was home; this was where I belonged.
“Reach for your power now, child. Once you leave my embrace, anger will be the key. As you grow and learn, you will adapt to connect when other emotions fill you. But for now, your fury will be your strength.”
I didn’t hesitate, but did as she said. The power was there, a lightly humming tune I couldn’t quite make out . . . yet it called to me. I reached for it with everything in me, from my hand stretching outward, to my soul reaching for it, brushing against the spirit and power of the earth. Twinning around one another, the connection rippled all the way through me. My body was cushioned by the wet sand and I stared up at the sky, no longer in pain. No longer questioning what the mother goddess would show me. Slowly, I stood and faced the mother goddess. “There is something else, isn’t there?”
She lifted her hand, trailing it down the edge of my face, letting it hover over my heart. “You carry Spirit as well as Earth, and that is dangerous. Spirit, the one element that can control all the others . . . it is a double-edged sword. If you use it, as Cassava has, your soul will begin to shatter. Pieces of it used up until you are no longer yourself, but a shallow, dark imitation. And those you use it on? What do you think happens to them?”
I frowned, considering my own situation, my father’s, and even Ash, who I knew was manipulated by Cassava. “Paranoia.”
“Yes, the heart that fears cannot trust, even those who it loves. Where there is fear, love cannot reside.” The mother goddess looked past me, out into the water. “Spirit was never meant to be used as a weapon, and so it breaks those who wield it thusly.”