She bent her head and went back to work, focusing this time on the gold, but it took her a few moments of purposeful breathing to get her concentration back. She reminded herself that this wasn’t just about freeing the crystal, it was about freeing it in one piece.
The gold was being stubborn. It was proud of its inclusion in the Oracle’s Egg and didn’t want to leave it. She closed her eyes and channeled good thoughts about how bright and beautiful the gold was, about how its gleam was like sunshine. How nothing compared to the brilliance of gold. Imagine how many eyes will be on you when you get to stand alone. How many will see your gorgeous shine once you’re no longer hidden by the other metals.
It warmed under her hands and trembled with energy. She allowed a tiny smile, then eased her hands back and opened her eyes. That’s it, untangle yourself and come to me. Silver did it, so I know you can. Show everyone how gorgeous and elegant you are.
The gold flexed and bent and flowed out of the braid like a ribbon being pulled free. Willa held her wrist out, and the gold joined the silver. The crowd rewarded her with soft whispers of praise and nods of appreciation.
Nick beamed with pride. Even her parents looked joyful at her success. She smiled at them all, though a sudden exhaustion swept through her.
She brought her head down to hide her inability to hold the smile, exhaled hard and realized she was trembling from the exertion. She took her hands off the egg and rested them on the wooden platform, giving herself time to catch her breath and regain some energy. The situation was stressful enough, but add the use of her magic on top of that and she could have easily quit right then to rest.
Her muscles felt leaden, but she couldn’t give in to it. The hardest strand was still to go. She bent her head from side to side and rolled her shoulders, trying to release some of the tiredness. What she wouldn’t give for a few minutes with Nick’s talented hands.
She glanced over at Kyanna. The copper was out and coiled in a messy lump on the platform next to the egg. That meant Kyanna still had steel and titanium to go. Steel would be tough, but nothing like the titanium. Willa had worked with that metal on occasion. It was fickle. Hated change. Hated to be told what to do.
Kyanna’s choice made Willa question her sister’s experience. Kyanna either knew something about the metal Willa didn’t, or she’d made a very poor choice. If it was the latter, Willa should be okay. If it was the former, Willa was in trouble, because there was no rushing tungsten. It was brittle and tricky and did what it wanted when it wanted.
New urgency straightened her back and firmed up her resolve. She could rest when this was over.
She put her hands on the egg and almost pulled them right back off. The remaining strands were in a confused mess of new emotions and sensation. Some were angry over the silver and gold leaving. Some questioned why those two metals had been separated out as something special. Some were sad and despondent.
Worse, the tungsten was sulky and practically non-responsive. Willa’s spirits dropped. This was not going to be easy. She was about to close her eyes when a roar went up from the crowd, throwing off her concentration.
Kyanna had the steel free. She lifted it over her head like some grand achievement. Willa wanted to ignore it, but couldn’t. Kyanna had just moved even with her. And quickly.
Willa bent her head and forced herself back to work. She put her hands on the strand of tungsten and closed out all the other metals. It wasn’t a matter of just lifting the last strand free. It was bent into the shape of the cage and twisted into the other strands at the top and bottom. She was going to have to appeal to the metal’s pride, which it had in spades. She closed her eyes and began her plea.
Noblest of metals, most rare and precious, I saved you for last for a reason.
The tungsten sighed but made no other effort to respond.
I wanted the sight of you gleaming like a captured star as the last impression in the minds of those watching.
Your filaments bring light to the world. You strengthen other metals. Armies rely on your fierceness. You are the best of all the metals.
Crickets. The tungsten was having none of it.
She dropped her head to her arms and tried not to panic. The last thing she wanted to do was send negative vibes into the metal. She focused on happy things. Shay’s sweet face. Nick’s strength. Jasper’s silliness.
The shout brought Willa’s head up and opened her eyes. Shay was on her feet standing in front of Nick. Her gaze was pinned to Kyanna.
Willa turned to look.
Kyanna had coaxed a half inch of the titanium free.
Willa had clearly underestimated her. The trembling in her arms and hands intensified, and her head was starting to ache. She wasn’t going to last much longer without rest.
More movement caught her eye. Her mother had gotten to her feet and was staring at her with such intensity that Willa could almost feel it. Without question, Willa knew Melinna was trying to transfer courage and power into her daughter.
Willa smiled. She knew what she had to do. She gathered the strength she had left and focused it on the task at hand. Then she closed her eyes, found the strand of tungsten and opened her mouth.
“Precious flower, rest your head, by the river where you grow. Moon and stars come swiftly in, and off to sleep you now go.”
The tungsten stopped sulking and came to life beneath her hands. Willa forced every last ounce of power into her voice, keeping it soft and quiet and directed entirely at the metal.
“In the morning you will rise, bright and new and beautiful. Bright and new and beautiful.”