Gerard raised his hands, then chopped them down through the air. “Let the challenge begin!”
Willa did the only thing she could think of. She put her hands on the egg. Kyanna had the same idea, grabbing hold of hers at almost the same time.
Willa sucked in a breath as her skin came in contact with the metal. It was old and each strand was an intricate braid of many metals. One was gold, silver and tungsten. Another was titanium, steel and copper. Yet another was brass, platinum and bronze.
The metals were open and clear, and their song sang through her like a thousand bells being rung at once. It was as beautiful as it was overwhelming, and she almost pulled her hands away.
She leaned her head on her arm and snuck a glance at Kyanna. Her eyes were squeezed shut, and she was breathing, open-mouthed. Willa allowed herself a little satisfaction that the egg was nearly overpowering Kyanna’s senses, too.
Willa closed her eyes and focused. She worked on controlling her breathing and her heart rate, which was currently too fast and making her jittery. She peeled apart the threads of the metal song in her head, listening to each one as she separated it.
The most discernable ones were happiness at being used for such a beautiful object. Pride for the same reason. Disappointment over some of the combinations. Resentment from some of the grander metals at being paired with the lesser ones. There was the thrill and pleasure at being used by a lapidus of the skill level of the late All Seer Wyndellia. And finally, overlaying all of that was the rich, resonant voice of the crystal within.
Wyndellia had imbued it with a message, but it was muted by the sounds of the metal. Willa worked her fingers through the openings in the cage, trying to touch the crystal to help isolate the words, but it was always just out of reach.
She sighed and tried to pull the message out from the hot mess of emotion and sensation pouring off the metals. Word by word, it started to come to her, quietly but with a tone and meaning that was clear as a single chime.
One wrong…move…and I will…shatter.
Willa took her hands off the cage and stepped back. She stared at the egg, immediately understanding why these objects were being used for the challenge.
Untangling these strands enough to open the cage and retrieve the crystal would take intense concentration and extreme skill. Doing so without damaging the crystal might be impossible. What constituted a wrong move?
The message added a brand new layer of complication.
She glanced over at Kyanna. Her sister was hanging on, working away at the problem. Maybe she hadn’t heard the message. Or maybe she had and knew the solution. Or maybe she thought it was a trick.
Could it be? Sure, that was a possibility.
But if it wasn’t a trick, ignoring the warning was a foolish move.
She took a few deep breaths. As much as she wanted to see Nick’s face, to see the reassuring smile he no doubt had waiting for her, she was afraid the distraction, as sweet as it might be, would ruin her concentration. Instead, she kept her head down, centered herself and put her hands back on the egg.
The onslaught wasn’t as bad this time. Perhaps because she’d been prepared for it. And this time, instead of fighting it, she opened herself to it and let it wash through her.
For a moment, she regretted the decision. It drowned her. Filled her head and her heart and her ears with the thump and chime and clang of the metal. The sound grew, reverberating through her until she could taste metal on her tongue and feel its cold, silky touch on her skin.
She breathed through it and did her best not to react, just to be a conduit. Slowly, the crash of it broke away into smaller waves. Manageable eddies that were just as tactile but somehow softer and more bearable.
Nothing she’d ever done in her life had prepared her for untangling a thing like this. There was no previous experience to call on, no book she’d read, no course she’d taken. She had no idea where to start.
So she just did.
The metals she worked with the most were also the most familiar, so she began with the strand of gold, silver and tungsten threads, thinking that would be her best option since the gold and silver should be easy to manipulate. From there, she went to the silver thread first. She wrapped both hands around the twist and focused on it.
She called upon her gifts and closed herself off to all the other metals, leaving herself open to the silver only. Its energy sank into her, brightening in a way that felt like a connection. That was a good start. She loosened her grip and held her hands over the metal the same way she would if she was creating a piece of jewelry.
The silver seemed to shimmer in response to her.
Encouraged, she closed her eyes and, with the small, quiet voice in her head, spoke to the silver. That’s it, let me in. I’m a friend. I understand you and respect you. And I need you to help me. Unwind yourself from this tangle and stand free.
A gasp went up from the crowd. She opened her eyes to see the single thread of silver snaking out from the twist. “Come to me,” she said softly, holding out her arm.
It twined around her wrist like an elegant bracelet.
One down. Easily.
She grinned. The sense of accomplishment coursed through her, buoying her spirits. She could do this.
Kyanna looked over and scowled. She had yet to free any of the threads.
Willa wasn’t so dumb as to think that meant she had gained an advantage. Not yet. Not with so much work yet to be done. She finally snuck a look at Nick. Shay was still in his lap and grinning like mad. Nick winked at her, and she gave him a little nod in return.
Zane’s loud cry of “Hah!” rang through the space. The audience made more noise. Willa looked over to see Kyanna had freed the first metal thread. The copper one and only about an inch of it. Copper was easy. One of the most pliable. Willa refused to be impressed.