One will find a love that shakes the earth itself.
Super-duper book blurb here.
He was used to the weightlessness by now, but even 800 years couldn’t dull his body’s scream for the touch of earth. Trapped in a cave but cocooned in a cell of air, he could never touch the stone that remained forever tantalizingly out of reach. He was hungry, starved, and he was not alone. Two others shared his hell, though their cells reflected their nature.
Fire sat on a bare patch of floating earth surrounded by a sphere of water. Black as night and skeletal, he stared unseeing at the water.
Water’s cell was bone dry. Severely dehydrated, he looked like a sad old man and rarely spoke, unwilling to force the words past his parched throat. Once blue as the ocean, he’d faded to a sickly gray.
They’d long ago tried everything they could think of to break free. Over the years hope had dwindled, leaving them empty, despairing. If they could have ended it, they’d have welcomed death.
The earthquake was the first harbinger of change. Earth’s eyes snapped open as he sensed the earth shake. Though he couldn’t physically touch the ground, it gave him a brief burst of hope. Maybe…
As days went by, hope became depression…until, abruptly, he sensed the woman.
Cara wiggled her way through the crack in the earth, calling herself a fool. Something tugged at her, a music barely felt, a longing unfulfilled. Using her pen light, she navigated the fissure, turning sideways once to ease through. She’d planned a simple walk this morning to contemplate her twenty second birthday and exploring a cave wasn’t on the agenda.
She knew there was a cave at the end of the tunnel, and it bothered her that she was so certain. She was equally certain the quake that formed this crack had left it stable, but couldn’t have said how any more than she could ignore the urge to explore it.
The day had been so ordinary. Her parents had gone to Mexico to visit family, leaving her to watch the house. She’d made coffee, read the news online and checked the mail. The plain brown box inside intrigued her. Lacking a return postmark, it had been filled with popcorn packing and jewelry. The earrings were gold with a green stone that twinkled when she admired them in mirror. Delighted, she’d slipped the matching gold cuff on her left wrist and admired the way the “emeralds” sparkled in the early morning sun. It was when she’d tried to slip the cuff off that she discovered it wouldn’t budge. For all intents, it seemed welded to her wrist, and the clasp she’d sworn was there had melted away.
She’d assumed the gifts were from her parents, but now she suspected someone had pranked her. She wondered which of her friends was behind it, and who she’d have to skin.
Cara grimaced as she shimmied past a skinny place, strangely unconcerned about what would normally be a claustrophobic press of earth. She wondered now what would happen if she tried to remove the earrings. She’d been so distracted by the cuff she hadn’t tried.
The tunnel ahead began to brighten, and it had nothing to do with her penlight. She clicked it off, thinking she was approaching daylight…and stepped into a dream.
The cave was lit, but not by the sun. A glow illuminated three pitiful looking men in the oddest “cells” she could imagine. At least, she sensed they were cells, though only one resembled one in the traditional sense. She glanced at the one encased in a bubble of water, noting his intent stare, but it was the one floating before her that stole her attention. Pale and chalky, he appeared cracked like a weathered statue, a ragged cloth wrapped around his hips. His hair was white and sparse, but his eyes were very alive. Bronze with copper chasing, they focused on her with a single-minded intensity.
“What are you?” she whispered. Her instincts would normally caution her about releasing him, would make her question why he was locked up, but today everything in her cried out with the need to help. She looked around, but there was no obvious way to free him. She looked at the huddled figure in the cell to her left and winced at his obvious dehydration. That was something she could do. Taking her water bottle from her pack, she loosened the top and reached past the bars to set it on the floor.
The man stared at her and slowly unfolded his limbs. Moving painfully, he crawled like an arthritic old man across the stone floor, and it was all she could do not to try to move the water closer. Apparently she still had some shreds of caution, for she kept a respectable distance.
He reached the bottle and feebly undid the cap, inhaling like a junkie snuffing his latest hit. Astonishingly, the water rose out of the bottle as if he really were inhaling it, flowing into his mouth in a steady stream. He shuddered and bowed his head with a dry sob, clutching the empty bottle.
Cara swallowed her astonishment and looked around with wide eyes. She flushed as she met the intense stare of the chalky prisoner, glancing quickly to the water surrounding the withered black man. Moving to him, she cautiously undid her belt and flicked it at the water sphere, braced to let it go quickly if it tried to suck her in. Instead, the belt flicked the water and came away wet, dribbling water on the floor.
“Okay.” She slicked the water off her belt, put it back on and went back to the shriveled gray man. Did his color look a little better? That was assuming blue was his natural color, of course. “If you give me back the bottle, I can get you more water.”
He quickly pushed it through the bars.
Cara began to trek from the water to his cell, water dripping down her arm and forming a trail along the floor between cells. As soon as she got close, the withered man sucked the water to him. He was looking better all the time, and she glanced between the other two, wondering what she could do for them.
“Throw him a rock,” the blue man suggested, following her gaze to Chalky.
She started at his rough croak, but after a moment’s hesitation, set down the bottle and searched the cave until she found some loose stones. Lugging them to the floating man, she set them down and considered while he watched her with heart pounding intensity. Taking a breath, she lobbed the rock underhand, arching to his left.
He grabbed it like a lightning strike and held it to his chest, protecting it like a precious child. A green glow surrounded his hands, and when his hands fell away, the rock was gone.
Cara blinked, astonished, but quickly tossed him the rest. One by one, they were absorbed, and he began to look better, less corroded. Pleased, she turned back to fetch more, only to stop dead. A trickle of water was flowing from the water sphere along the trail of drips, slowly building as it went to the blue man. A glance showed the sphere seemed to be thinning around the black man.
The hair on her neck prickled in warning. She may have felt the need to help these guys, but she didn’t know them, didn’t even know what they were or why they were here. Not only were there three of them, but they had abilities she didn’t. It was time to leave, because from all appearances, they had things under control.Acting like she was going for more rocks, she calmly stepped over the small stream and headed to the far wall. She passed the rock pile and kept on walking, hurrying through the tunnel.