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The Offering

The Offering

Page 37

“Should we wake Brook?” I asked, suddenly eager to see what had managed to incite Sabara. She was anticipating some wondrous thing that I now anticipated too.

Waving off the suggestion of waking Brooklynn, Eden started walking in the direction of the whooshing sound, her boots cutting a path through the sticklike grass. The sound grew louder and more insistent, and seemed to be coming from all around us as we climbed higher rather than lower. When we reached the edge of the plain, where we had to mount several rocky steps onto the bluff, the view before me took on a dramatic transformation.

Suddenly it wasn’t just grass and sand, or even rocky outcroppings, in our line of sight. It was water. For as far as I could see, there was water. Not stagnant like that of a pond or a lake. And not meandering, cutting a path through the land, the way a river did. Not even like the sliver of a sea I’d seen once before, an ice-crusted inlet we’d had to cross by ferry on our way to the summit in Vannova.

No, this water was undulating. It rolled and swelled and rippled like a living, breathing entity that kissed the horizon and disappeared into eternity.

Birds with feathers that ranged from the color of downy snow to the deep sooty gray of smoke screeched overhead, circling and dipping as they rode the wind that seemed as ceaseless as the surging waves. My hair whipped and stung my cheeks, making them tingle almost us much as my impatience.

“This way,” Eden insisted, leading me away from where we stood overlooking the water from too high up at the cliff’s edge. If we miscalculated our steps from here, the drop to the jagged rocks awaiting us below would be perilous. Farther along the bluff Eden had spotted a way down where the water met the sand. “Watch your step,” she cautioned again and again, the way I would if I were leading Angelina. The route we took was not nearly as hazardous as I’d first thought, and as we moved, I realized the grass that had tried to grow here had been trampled, as if the route had been used recurrently. A path to the sea.

The smell grew harsher, and Sabara’s memories told me that this was the flavor of sea salt, permeating everything, not just the water but the wind and sand as well. Even my lips when I licked them tasted of salt.

I was breathless when we reached the bottom, and my feet dropped from the firm rocks of the path into the soft sand, sinking almost to my ankles. Above us the jagged cliffs loomed, watching us with their rigid intensity.

I shot Eden a questioning glance, begging for permission to chase after the shifting waves. I was mesmerized by them. I watched with enthusiastic eyes as they rolled in, tumbling over themselves and lapping the shore. They smoothed the sand, compacting it and making it glisten. And then they were sucked away once more, waning into the next one that approached.

Inside me I overheard Sabara’s musings. You’ll never know anything as powerful as the sea, Charlaina. Not even I have that kind of strength. It is truly undying.

I knew she was right. The sea—this great and captivating sea—had been here long before Sabara had taken her first breath, and it would be here still, long after her Essence had sputtered out, dying at long, long last.

And me, I wanted to feel it beneath my feet, between my toes. I wanted it lapping at my shins and splashing at my knees. Eden showed me a wry smile, an affirmation of my greatest desires, and I set loose, shucking my shoes from my feet as I raced toward the water. The sand slowed my steps, but I persisted, my gales of laughter getting lost on the chilly wind that slapped at my cheeks.

I stepped gingerly onto the wet sand, pulling the hems of my pants up so they passed my knees as I hesitantly approached the surf. The froth-tipped waves swept toward me, and I jumped back, afraid of what they might do. How they might feel.

Go. Go, Charlaina, go, Sabara urged, a siren’s chant. And I went, doing as she decreed.

My toes slipped beneath first, the frigid waters making me gasp. And then delight sang through my veins as I answered the summons of the sea. When I felt the pulsating ocean around my ankles, I turned back to see Eden, her arms crossed in front of her. She was the eternal sentinel.

I waved, hoping to crack her stoic expression. But she remained straight-faced and unflinching, until the water lured my attention once more by crashing against my knees. I giggled with delight. Then I splashed the ocean whenever it splashed me. I dashed toward the retreating waves as they withdrew back into the sea, and ran again when they came racing toward me. They were faster, always faster than I was, and invariably I was caught by them, until it didn’t matter that I’d tried to protect my clothing, to keep it dry. I was wet, from my hair to my toes.

When I heard Brooklynn’s voice calling to us from above the constant wind and the ceaseless whooshing of the waves, I ran across the sand to where she navigated down the path to the shore, where Eden stood watch.

“Brook! Come on,” I cried, not glancing at Eden now, and knowing she wouldn’t give up her post even if I invited her. “It’s magnificent, the sea. You have to try it!”

Brook looked at me dubiously, and then at the surf beyond. I used the tips of my fingers to pry salty strands of hair from my mouth, and used the backs of my hands to wipe sand from my both cheeks.

“I don’t know,” she said mistrustfully as I dragged her toward the awaiting water. “It doesn’t look safe. In fact, it looks positively unsafe, if you ask me.”

“Well, it isn’t,” I assured her. “Now, take your boots off. Trust me.”

It wasn’t my speech that convinced her. I knew because I’d never been capable of such a feat. It was her curiosity that won in the end, and by the time I’d let go of her hand and was jumping into the next incoming wave, Brooklynn had shed her boots and was right behind me.

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