Elemental Heir (Ridley Kayne Chronicles Book 3)Rachel Morgan
Copyright © 2020 Rachel Morgan
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Having escaped Lumina City and the Shadow Society, Ridley agrees to participate in a grand plan that could change the world: return magic to society.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.
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Mobi Ebook ISBN: 978-0-6399436-8-8
Epub Ebook ISBN: 978-0-6399436-9-5
Magic fueled the storm that raged across the land. Ridley Kayne, wrapped in her own magic and invisible as air, looked out across the bare landscape beneath the swirling mass of clouds and imagined a city as she mentally ran through every step of the plan.
We’re going to return magic to society.
It had been two weeks since Nathan first uttered those words to Ridley, but the idea still sent adrenaline racing through her. They were simple words, yet their meaning was staggering. World-changing. Thrilling and terrifying. And Ridley was one hundred percent on board.
The earth shuddered around her. Cracks split the ground, zigzagging away in all directions. This was step one: Break apart the arxium machines buried in the wastelands around the city. Elementals in their earth form were now charging through the ground, causing the earth to tremble and heave. All that arxium gas from the broken machines would end up in the air, and until it dissipated, magic would rampage in response. Hence the wild storm roaring above.
Step two: the fractures splitting their way through the earth raced toward a single point. They would converge upon the city. The arxium-reinforced wall would tremble and crack. It would begin to come apart.
Step three: Burn, burn, burn. Ridley watched as elementals morphed from the earth into racing, leaping flames. Another thrill of excitement rushed through her at the memory of the conversation she’d had with Nathan the night he explained his plan. “Arxium repels magic,” Ridley had argued. “Even if we throw all the magic we have at the walls and panels, the arxium will just throw it right back at us.”
Nathan had given her a bemused smile. “Ridley, you burned through a Shadow Society base outside of Lumina City. A building full of arxium. You destroyed that place. I thought you would have realized.”
“Ordinary fire doesn’t burn arxium. Even magical fire created by an ordinary person pulling magic from the environment can’t burn through arxium. But we can. In our elemental fire form, we can burn through arxium.”
We can burn through arxium.
Ridley watched as the blazing elemental flames raced toward one another, meeting up to form a giant circle. This circle would burn through the broken pieces of the city wall. The fire was captivating, mesmerizing. But Ridley didn’t have long to appreciate the beauty of the flames because the storm calming above her meant that step four was about to begin. The step where she played a part.
There was a dome-like shield of arxium panels above the city, protecting everything and everyone from the magic that often raged overhead. Like the wall, those panels had to go. Ridley raced across the ground, morphed into flames, and shot into the sky as a ball of fire. Nearby, other elementals did the same.
Since there were no real arxium panels out here, several people down below used conjurations to hurl branches high into the air. Ridley’s fireball self struck the nearest branch, then leaped to the next and the next and the next, setting as many ablaze as she could. Around her, other elementals did the same, until the air was filled with burning branches tumbling back toward the earth. It wasn’t a competition, she knew, but when she saw that her fire form leaped faster from branch to branch than any of the others, it spurred her on to try even harder.
No, not to try. That had always been the problem. This wasn’t about control, it was about trust. Trusting the elements to know how she wanted to direct them without having to consciously exert her will. She simply had to let go.
Ridley imagined a deep, long exhale of breath as she released all control. She let her elemental form drift apart while holding a single thought in her mind: Burn.
Her fire self blazed outward in an explosion of flames, catching on almost every remaining branch that was yet to be lit. Someone else ignited the remaining few branches, and that was it. Step four complete.
The branches continued to burn as they struck the ground far below, but the arxium panels would be consumed by elemental fire. If all went according to plan, the end result would be this: No wall. No hovering panels. Sun shining through the scattering storm clouds because the arxium gas would have been dispersed by the raging wind, leaving the city safe. Exactly the way it was before the Cataclysm.
Ridley shifted to air and swooped down. She released her elemental form and became human shaped, feeling the grassy ground beneath her shoes. “Well done!” someone called from behind her. As other elementals stepped from the air and morphed out of the earth, Ridley turned to face Saoirse. She clutched her gray-streaked auburn hair in one hand as the last of the wind died down. “We’re getting better,” she said, smiling at Ridley. “You’re getting better. I think we could actually pull this off.”
“Except for the fact that we need to do this on about ten times the scale,” Ridley reminded her. “Maybe more? I don’t know. And the fact that Nathan wants it to be one big synchronized event for every city across the whole world, and he first has to get everyone to agree on that.”
“It’ll happen eventually,” Saoirse said. “Some people just need a little more time to see that the life we have now isn’t enough. And you know there are plenty more of us here at the reserve who will join in when we do this for real. Our target city—Lumina City—is big, but I think we can handle it.”
“I know, I know. Bria said she’s practiced this a dozen times, and so have many of the others. I understand they’re not interested in running through it all again just because Malachi and I are new to the whole plan. But … even with most elementals from our community joining in, do you think we’ll have enough power?”
Saoirse seemed unconcerned, her gaze never wavering from Ridley’s. “I believe we’ll have enough power.”
Ridley bit her lip. Part of her didn’t want to get her hopes up, especially when she knew some people were vehemently opposed to Nathan’s plan. They didn’t think it was worth the risk when they were happy with the life they’d fashioned for themselves out here in the wastelands. But Saoirse knew this community and its people far better than Ridley did. If she thought some of them just needed a little more time to come around, she was probably right.
Ridley’s gaze slid past Saoirse to the jagged mountain peak that rose behind her. Beyond it lay her new home, a place simply referred to by its occupants as the reserve. The area had once been part of an enormous national park before the Cataclysm destroyed much of the world. In a way, the piece of land served the same function it had served in pre-Cataclysm days, but instead of preserving a section of the countryside and its wildlife, it now preserved a group of people. “Shall we head back with the others?” she asked.
“Let’s walk for a bit,” Saoirse suggested. She strode a few paces away and bent to retrieve her knitted, rainbow-striped sweater from where she’d secu
red it beneath a rock. Like Ridley’s favorite hooded jacket—which she’d lost inside the Shadow Society building she’d burned to the ground—this sweater seemed to be the only one Saoirse ever wore. If she lived in a city instead of out here where it was safe, Ridley would have told her to choose a different favorite sweater. This one was far too easy to spot from a distance.
“Are we having another lesson?” Ridley asked. A few days after her arrival at the reserve, Saoirse had offered to help her with her magic. Dad must have mentioned that she hadn’t fully embraced her power until recently, and that using it for an extended period often resulted in horrendous headaches. Fortunately, the latter no longer happened, which probably had something to do with her being able to transform without guilt or fear and the subconscious stress that accompanied those emotions.
“No, I thought we could just talk.”
“Oh, okay.” Ridley directed a frown at Saoirse—not because talking was unusual for them; indeed, they’d spoken at length about all sorts of things since Ridley’s arrival—but because there was something a little … off in Saoirse’s tone.
“Are you still practicing the meditation?” she asked, her hands kneading her bunched-up sweater.
“Yes, every morning.” Saoirse had taught Ridley several meditation techniques and encouraged her to begin all their one-on-one training sessions that way. It had sounded silly to Ridley at first, but she’d played along, and soon she found that the more she did it, the easier and faster it became to let go and fragment. “I won’t have to keep doing that forever, right? Sometimes it’s just not practical. Sometimes—”
“Sometimes you need to transform instantly instead of sitting down, closing your eyes, and breathing deeply for several minutes?” Saoirse filled in with a smile. “Yes. I understand that. But for now, while you’re learning how to access all your power, the meditation really helps you to sink into that calm, tranquil state where you can properly let go. You’re very close to reaching your full potential, Ridley. Just let yourself fragment even further.”
Ridley almost laughed. “My full potential?” Saoirse sounded like one of those motivational speakers she’d been forced to listen to at special assemblies at Wallace Academy. “I think I’ve reached that already. Did you see that explosion of flames I managed? Not sure I can do much more than that.”
“Mm, perhaps.” Saoirse shrugged, a quick movement of her small shoulders. “Or perhaps I’m right. There’s also the fact that you’re still afraid of earth.”
“Oh, well that’s going to remain unreached potential, I’m afraid,” Ridley said quickly. She had tentatively transformed into rocks and loose sand—anything that kept her firmly above ground—but disappearing into the earth itself, the way others had done earlier to cause earthquakes, was not something she was interested in trying. What would happen if she accidentally returned to human form while still down there? Surely she’d be crushed?
“Other people can do the earthquakes,” Ridley said firmly. “We don’t all have to do everything, right? You keep reminding me that I’m not alone anymore. That I have other people to rely on now, not just myself. Not like when I was—” She paused. “Well, you know … the stealing.” At some point in the last two weeks, she’d told Saoirse what she used to spend her free time doing: Stealing from Lumina City’s wealthiest, selling the items to a dealer, and using the money to help those in need.
“True,” Saoirse admitted. “You’re no longer alone, so I suppose you don’t have to master earth if you’re not comfortable with that. Anyway, uh …” She stopped walking, turning the sweater bundle around and around until something fell from it and hit the ground with a heavy thud. She bent and picked it up. “Um, so, I’ve been meaning to give this to you. I thought of it when you first arrived, but it took me a while to find it among my things.” She extended her hand toward Ridley, and on her palm sat a large stone pendant on a metal chain. It was smooth and gray with silvery veins coursing through it. Egg-sized, but flatter.
Ridley stepped forward to take a closer look. “It’s pretty.”
“It was your mother’s.”
Emotion surged through Ridley’s chest. For several heartbeats, she couldn’t move. Then she lifted her hand and Saoirse placed the necklace on her palm. Delicately, as if it were a fragile artifact, Ridley traced her finger along the pendant’s silver veins. They lit up instantly, glowing vibrant blue. She inhaled a quiet breath, lifting her finger and watching as the lines faded to their former metallic silver. “There’s magic inside here?” she asked, looking up.
“Yes.” Saoirse pulled her sweater on before crouching down to tighten her shoelaces.
“So … um …” Ridley paused to untangle her jumbled thoughts. “This was my mother’s. How did you end up with it? From what my dad told me, you all left in a huge rush when the Shadow Society found you. I assumed none of you had time to grab any belongings.”
Saoirse stood and pulled her sweater straight. “I was wearing it at the time. Your mother used to say the stone had certain healing properties. I wasn’t feeling well, and she urged me to wear it for a while.”
“Oh.” Ridley stared at the stone again. “Thank you. I have nothing left of my mother’s, so this …” She swallowed against the emotion tightening her throat. “Well, it means a lot to me. More than I can say.”
Saoirse pulled in a deep breath before letting it out slowly. “You’re welcome. I … I’m glad you have something of hers now.” Ridley looked up, but the moment she met Saoirse’s gaze, Saoirse looked away. “Anyway, so—”
“Is something wrong?” Ridley asked.
“What do you mean?”
Ridley tilted her head, trying once again to catch Saoirse’s eye. “I don’t know. I feel like you don’t want to look at me.”
Finally, Saoirse’s soft green gaze settled on Ridley’s. “I’m sorry. I just … um … I know it must have been so hard for you to lose your mother. I didn’t want to cause you any additional pain by reminding you of your loss, but—”
“No, no, no,” Ridley said. “I’m glad you gave this to me. Thank you.” Ridley looped the chain over her head and let the pendant rest against her chest. The weight of it was oddly comforting.
“Okay. Well. I … I’m just going to check if …” Saoirse’s form shifted, becoming air in the blink of an eye, then returning to normal before Ridley could finish taking her next breath. A small smile lifted her lips. “They’re back.”
“Can you sense them too?” Saoirse asked.
Ridley turned her face toward the breeze, closing her eyes as the air and its magic caressed her skin. She let go of her form and became air, and when she thought of Archer, the unspoken answer came immediately. As always, it was a feeling rather than anything that resembled actual words in her mind. The certainty that Archer was just on the other side of that mountain. Her invisible heart beat double time at the knowledge that she would see him soon.
She thought of Dad too and felt the same gentle pull toward the reserve. Returning to her human form, she said, “The answer comes so easily when they’re near.” She knew now from conversations with Saoirse that the further someone was from her, the more difficult it would be to find that person. Not impossible, but it would take a lot more searching. A lot more listening to the elements, then traveling a while, then listening again.
“Let’s go,” Saoirse said. She gave Ridley a knowing smile and added, “I’m sure you’re eager to see Archer.” Before Ridley could respond, Saoirse vanished once more. Cheeks warm and chest filled with a flutter of anticipation, Ridley followed.
She’d discovered soon after arriving at the reserve that every few days someone travelled to one of the nearby cities to pick up signal to send and receive messages. Occasionally this person would enter the city to meet up with contacts and collect certain things, like medicines or other specific items that were difficult to create with conjurations. Saoirse had been the one to go the
day after Ridley had arrived, and then two days ago, when it was Nathan’s turn, Dad asked to go with to try to contact Grandpa. Since Dad was going, and Nathan was already slowed down by taking a non-elemental with him, Archer decided to accompany them. He had an important message that needed to be sent.
Ridley hadn’t expected to miss him so much. She’d spent almost every free moment with him since arriving at the reserve, so she thought it might be good to have a bit of space and alone time. Turned out alone time was overrated and she’d had enough of it after about ten minutes. It had been two days now, and it seemed she missed Archer more with every passing minute. If her mind wasn’t occupied with something else—like a training session with Saoirse or doing a trial run of Nathan’s plan—it turned to Archer instead. She longed for his arms around her and his lips on her skin and their lengthy discussions about the future they both dared to dream of in which everyone was free to use magic.
It was a little ridiculous. She definitely hadn’t admitted it to anyone else.
Ridley let herself fragment, traveling faster and faster on the wind, and within seconds the mountain peak has sped by beneath her and the settlement appeared far below. It seemed small from way up here, but it was larger than she’d first thought. The log cabins—which had originally been here when this spot was a campsite and had, for the most part, survived the Cataclysm—were interspersed with more modern-looking buildings, constructed since the Cataclysm through a combination of materials, labour and conjurations. Exactly the way buildings used to be built before magic was outlawed.
Ridley followed the tug of magic that pulled her toward Archer and slowed near the far side of the settlement. She felt her fragmented air self snap back together as she examined the figures moving below. It wasn’t always easy to identify people from above, but Archer was definitely close by. She dropped to the ground and pulled her magic back inside herself, looking around. School was out, and a few kids ran by. Two older girls played a conjuration game as they walked. A collection of buttons hovered between them, and they took turns to add a new button, waiting to see how many they could hold in the air before—