“Can you save her?” I pleaded.
His eyes met mine with an unreadable expression. “Maybe, but I will need all of your talent and your energy.”
“It’s yours—just save her.”
With one short nod, he disappeared and reappeared at the bottom of the ravine.
I gasped at the sudden drain of energy I felt, and before the dizziness claimed me, I saw Gem lift Bree in his arms and disappear in a cloud of green smoke.
Blackness swallowed me.
Beep … beep … beep…. I opened my eyes to a white square-tiled ceiling. Once again, I found myself in a hospital room.
Moving my head to the right shot pain up my neck and into the back of my skull. One glance at the dark window told me it was night. My eye caught on the bed by the window while my blurred vision picked out pale hair.
“Bree?” My voice came out hoarse and I swallowed against the dryness. I tried struggling into a sitting position and failed.
A warm hand landed on my shoulder. “Don’t.” It gently pushed me back down.
Vibrant green eyes met mine. “Adam…!” I gasped.
He removed his hand and passed me a glass of water, which I took gratefully.
After taking a few sips, I asked, “Is that Bree?” My head turned involuntarily toward the bed next to us.
The quick shake of his head brought my attention back to him. His expression told me I didn’t want to know.
Adam’s gaze landed on the other bed. “It’s Allen.” He struggled with the words before going on. “When Gem disappeared with Bree, Jasmine and I stayed with you and Bran while Allen headed out of the woods to find cell reception.” He swallowed hard. “A mountain lion attacked him.”
My heart monitor beeped rapidly and I tried sitting up. “Is he—”
Adam put his hand on my shoulder again, effectively keeping me in place.
“He’s stable but he hasn’t woken up yet.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Jasmine and I heard the attack and she stayed with you guys while I found Allen. I managed to trap the cat with tree roots, then found high ground and called emergency services.”
I put a hand to my throbbing head. “Why am I here?”
Adam leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. “When I couldn’t wake you, the life flight team insisted on bringing you to the hospital. Bran was discharged this morning with a minor head injury and relocated shoulder. I called Bridget when we arrived at the hospital.”
Speaking of—Bridget’s flame-red hair came into view. She held two white coffee cups.
“Hey, I found some coffee in the cafeteria.” Her eyes widened when she spotted me. “You’re awake.”
She set the two coffee cups down on the side table and hugged me.
Adam reached for the coffee while Bridget settled herself on the edge of my bed.
She addressed Adam. “Any change with Allen?”
“No.” He sighed. “Still stable.”
Frowning, she hopped down and wandered over to Allen’s bed. That’s when I noticed dark hair on the other side of his covers. Bridget circled around to the far side of the bed and gently shook Jasmine.
Jasmine’s head jerked up and her hand landed on Allen’s leg. She quickly realized that Bridget woke her and not Allen. Her mocha skin was ashen as her green eyes took in the room.
When they met mine, she stood. “Hey, I thought you’d never wake up.” She gave me a watery smile then spared a worried glance for Allen as she passed the foot of his bed on her way to me. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, I just have a headache. Has anyone heard from Gem?”
Jasmine’s concerned gaze met Adam’s.
It was Adam who answered. “No, not yet.”
When I found the remote that worked the bed, I raised it into a sitting position.
“How long have I been out?” I asked as I attempted to make myself comfortable.
Again, Adam and Jasmine shared a look.
Bridget answered, “Three days.”
My jaw dropped. “What? And no one has heard anything from Gem?”
Worried glances traveled around me. I closed my eyes and tried to feel for Gem. Nothing. I tried to call my talent, but it was so weak nothing happened. I could feel it was still there, just faint, like one tiny dying ember left over from a roaring bonfire.
“Wow, he really drained me.” I took a deep breath and called, “Gem.” Nothing happened.
Jasmine shook her head. “Don’t bother, I’ve been trying for three days. I’m hoping now you’re awake that means he is recovering as well.”
I nodded then met Adam’s gaze. It hit me—Adam was really free.
Something in my face must have changed; he moved closer, tentatively.
“How much do you remember?” I blurted without thinking.
His eyes never wavered from mine but his throat bobbed before answering, “I remember everything.” He stood beside me, unflinching, waiting for me to accept or reject him.
Mixed emotions flooded through me. Betrayal, love, relief, anger—and finally guilt for feeling betrayed and angry over something he had no control over.
He watched the emotional struggle play across my face and took a step back. “It’s getting late. I think I’ll head home. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Before I could say anything, he was gone.
Too exhausted to explore the feelings he left me with, I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep.
Jasmine and Bridget filled the awkward silence until I actually drifted off to sleep.
The mist wove through the trees and swirled on the ground like the surface of a wispy pond. The mixture of rich wet moss and tangy salt tickled my nose as I walked. I recognized the open area ahead with the jutting rocks hanging over the ocean, along with the crash of waves against the rock face below.
The spray lightly landed on my mother who stood there in serine beauty.
I stopped behind her. “This again.” I sighed. “What’s the point?”
“He’s weakened.” She turned to face me. “Air is weaker. What did you do?”
Shocked for a moment, I couldn’t form a coherent thought, and then I remembered this was my subconscious.
Wrapping my arms around myself, I felt cold, oddly enough. I don’t ever remember feeling cold in a dream.
“Sera, this is real. You are not making this up in a dream. I’m alive.” My mother put her hands on my arms.
My face jerked up. “What?” I searched her eyes then looked away. “No, this is just a dream.” I dropped my arms at my sides. I couldn’t handle hoping just to lose her again. Her hands remained where they were, warm and steady.
“Air cast a sleeping spell on me. I am able to come to you because he is weak. He is resting. I cannot wake up on my own, I’m in Gorias. When he is weak or distracted I can reach you through the dream realms. You need to tell your grandmother and Azar.”
The pain in my chest at Azar’s name must have been reflected in my eyes.
“What? What’s wrong?” Her grip tightened on my arms.
I shook my head. “Azar died of cancer.”
Anguish flashed across my mother’s face, then fear. “He’s coming. Tell your grandmother, she will know what to do.”
Before I could react, she vanished. I was left standing on a cold cliff face staring down into the frothing ocean below.
That was the last thing I remember before waking up the next morning. I blinked at the sun that spilled through the hospital window across the blanket that covered Allen. I started when movement caught my eye on the far end of Allen’s bed. Silver eyes stared back at me.
“Mr. Griffin.” I sat up.
His face was strained. “I never meant for anyone to get hurt. I was trying to protect them all. I was just trying to save them.” His hand landed on Allen’s body.
Goosebumps prickled along my arms. “What do you mean? What do you know about Air?”
Tortured silver eyes met mine. “I tried to get him to use me instead. I tried to protect them. This is all my fault.” He laid his forehead on Allen’s blanket.
I was cut off when Jasmine, Adam, and Bridget came in. Mr. Griffin stood, smoothed his coat, then slipped out behind them, murmuring something I didn’t catch.
“Wait.” Too late, he was gone.
When I tried getting up, I realized I had a catheter and an IV in. “Can someone please get this crap off me.”
Alarmed by my tone, Adam rushed to my side. “Sera, what’s wrong?”
Bridget pushed the call button on the side of my bed.
“Mr. Griffin knows something about Air. I need to talk to him.” I shifted uncomfortably.
Jasmine said, “I’ll find him.” She disappeared around the corner as the nurse came in.
The nurse, a stout middle aged woman, smiled pleasantly at me. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, can you please remove everything?” I held out my arm with the IV in it.
Everyone cleared the room while the nurse removed all the tubes from me.
When I got up, Adam stopped me. “Jasmine is getting him. Sit down before you fall down.”
“I’m fine.” My legs did feel weak, but I made it to the chair on the other side of my bed before they gave out.
Adam put a hand under my arm and helped me to sit. I didn’t realize how drained I was.
Five minutes later Jasmine came back empty-handed and out of breath.
“I can’t find him.” When I tried to stand she continued, “Don’t worry, he’ll be back. Allen’s here.”
It wasn’t like I could go running around the hospital anyway. I was just so frustrated between the dream and Mr. Griffin’s remarks.
The dream—I almost forgot.
“Does someone have a cell I can use?”
Jasmine handed me hers. I called Grandma and gave her an account of my dream while everyone else listened in.
Grandma was silent when I finished. I put her on speaker so I wouldn’t have to repeat everything she said.
Silence, followed by, “I’m here. I can’t see your mother. If this is true, Air has blocked her from my sight. Are you sure it wasn’t just a dream?” The hope mixed with despair in her voice made me flinch.
I wanted to believe my mother was alive just as badly as she did.
What if it was just a dream? On the other hand if it wasn’t and we did nothing, she could be trapped there until she died of old age. Or it could be a trap. No. “It was not a dream.”
She took a deep breath. “Okay then, I will see what I can find on Gorias.”
I felt a little stronger after talking to Grandma.
“I need a shower,” I said, before anyone could bombard me with questions.
Bridget helped me into the bathroom and I took it from there. When I got out, clean clothes were sitting on the sink—my clothes. It felt good to be clean.
“You’ve been discharged. Jasmine’s mom filled all the paperwork out. We’re meeting Jasmine and her parents at the hotel,” Bridget said.
I nodded and glanced at Allen. I stood over him, watching him sleep. His face was unmarred, except for a healing scratch by his temple.
Resting my hand on his chest, I whispered, “I’m sorry.” Something wet splashed on my hand and I wiped my cheek. “We are going to beat him.” I wasn’t sure who I was trying to convince, a comatose Allen or myself.
Adam cleared his throat and put a hand on my shoulder. “This isn’t your fault.”
“Are we ready?” Bridget asked softly from the doorway.
I nodded, took a deep breath, and walked with Bridget and Adam outside to the car.
The sun warmed my face as Bridget drove.
While I was in the hospital, everyone had relocated to a new hotel in the city, closer to the hospital. By the time we arrived, it was 10:30 AM.
Jasmine and her parents sat at a table in the restaurant, eating breakfast. The three of us joined them.
“Where’s Bran?” I asked Bridget.
The look of sadness she gave me was heartbreaking. “He’s devastated by what happened to Bree. He went home and won’t answer his phone.”
I stared at my eggs, took two bites of bacon and stood, excusing myself. I had to contact Fire. I needed to know what was going on with Gem and Bree.
Adam frowned when I stood.
“Can you take me to your room?” I asked him.
He seemed confused but took me anyway. There was no fireplace in the room.
When I huffed in frustration, he asked, “What are you looking for?”
“A fireplace. I need to contact Fire and find out what’s going on.”
Turning back to the door, he said over his shoulder, “There’s a gas fire pit on the deck out back.”
When we arrived, there were too many people crowded around the fire pit for me to call on Fire.
The flames flickered, tormenting me. I was in the middle of thinking up ways to get rid of all the people when Bridget came out.
“What are you guys doing?” Bridget asked.
I said, “Trying to find a way to talk to Fire without anyone around.”
“Well, before you do anything rash, my house is just thirty minutes away. I have a fireplace,” Bridget explained, keenly eyeing me.
I threw my hands up. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“Sorry, my mind-reading skills are a bit lax,” she said drily with a smirk, tilting her head and placing a hand on her hip.
Grabbing her arms, I spun her around. “Let’s go.”
We stopped to get Jasmine, making excuses to her parents.
Not twenty minutes later we were at Bridget’s, sitting in front of her fireplace, calling Fire.
It took several tries before he answered, and the second his face appeared, I asked, “Is Gem okay?”
The look he gave me could have been amusement or irritation—hard to tell when you were looking at a face made out of flames.
“Gem is alive and recovering,” came his arid voice. “He not only used up your energy but also his own, along with a great deal of mine.”
Hope warred with dread inside of me. “Bree?”
His pause felt like it spanned an eternity before he resolved to answer, “She is alive, but will sleep deeply for some time.”
A collective sigh sounded all around me, and that’s when Bran walked in looking awful. There was a nasty bruise above his left eye, and his left arm was in a sling. He seemed surprised to see us. His glance lingered a little too long on Adam.
I ran up to him and hugged his right half. “You’re okay.” He hugged me back with his good arm. I pulled away and met his eyes. “Bran, she’s alive.”
His eyes closed in a silent thank you. When they opened they were shiny with unshed tears. “Where is she?” he asked, barely above a whisper.
“Still in Finias,” I responded quietly. “Fire said she will sleep for a while during her recovery.” I gestured to the fireplace and we walked back to the living room.
By the blank expression on Bran’s face, I guessed he hadn’t looked close enough—that is, until Fire faced him, drawing his attention making him jump back. “What the hell is that?”
“Fire, Bran—Bran, Fire,” I said.
Dismissing Bran for a moment to speak with Fire, I asked, “Is Bree free of Air?”
Fire bowed his head in a nod.
I moved closer to the flames. “So that’s it. We kept him out of our realm, right?”
“Not exactly.” We all spun around at the voice behind us.