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Chapter 26

Clouds like cotton candy blanketed the horizon in a tapestry of hazy pink and peach. Rising in thinning layers before giving way to a sky of lightest blue. Below them, the ocean rose in graceful swells. The waves as they crested before the cliff face were an unusual shade of green. Like old wine bottles.

Standing at the edge of the cliff, her bare toes curling over the lip, Mia closed her eyes and tilted her head back. She shivered, enjoying the feel of the sea breeze as it ran its cold fingers through her unbound hair.

The air was alive with the smell of damp stone and salt. Sage and something sweet, a fragrant flower with tiny white blooms Mia didn’t know the name of. Water from the spray below where waves barrelled into the cliff face coated her skin and made her clothes cling to her fbody. Mia licked her lips and tasted the sea on her tongue. She opened her eyes.

The tide was in. The strip where Mia and Orden had walked yesterday was now many feet underwater. Schools of colorful fish darted below the surface, their scales sparkling in the rising sun.

Mia let her gaze drift along the deserted coastline to Perilea. The ruined city perched on a section of land that jutted out into the ocean, her white stones stained pink and orange. The sea was rougher there, its waves breaking hard and fast against the cliffs. Gulls circled above, their wings in stark contrast against the backdrop of the hundreds of caves that pocked the sheer cliff face. Remnants of the Dragons’ other homes, now nothing more than dark wet grottos for seagulls to nest in. Maybe other things…

Mia grimaced. Luckily those caves were far enough away not to factor as she considered the jump ahead of her.

She’d woken this morning, her whole body humming with purpose. With a need to come here. To this place where so many young Dragons had proven themselves. Where she would prove herself, even if there was no one to bear witness to it.

That wasn’t true.

Mia felt their presence like a hand on her shoulder. Her parents. Jake—They were here with her, watching. Waiting for Mia to acknowledge them after months of pushing them away.

“I’m sorry,” Mia’s breath hitched, and the first tears started to flow. “I’m sorry I didn’t text when I said I would.” Her fingers curled at her sides, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t come home.”

The blockage in her throat swelled and made speaking impossible. Mia wrapped her hands around her neck and rested her chin on top of her knuckles. Her fingers were soaked in seconds.

I’m sorry for all the worry I’ve caused…I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Mia willed the words out into the void. Willed them to cross whatever barriers stood between this world and hers and find her parents. Let them hear her and know that she was still alive somewhere. And that she missed them. That her heart ached with the missing of them.

Tears spilled down her face. Onto her hands, along her arms, soaked into the rolled-up sleeves of her last clean shirt. They ran like a river—until there were no more to shed. Until the river ran dry.

Mia’s hands fell away, and she lifted her head. Her lips wobbled. She pressed them into a firm line, breathing through her nose until the tightness in her chest eased.

“I love you so much,” Mia whispered, eyes fixed on the sun as it cleared the horizon. She straightened her shoulders. “I will never stop loving you—but I need to let you go.” Mia’s hair whipped around her face as the wind picked up suddenly. It tore at her, plucking at her shirt, her pants. She raised her voice, “Please forgive me—Please understand! I can make a difference here—I can do something important. I was Chosen!”

Her voice cracked on the last word. The gusting wind dropped out of existence, and the world was calm one more. Mia’s eyes welled with fresh tears. “I will see you again.” Mia promised, “In this life or the next, I will be with you again.” She took a shaky breath and looked past the edge of the cliff. To the water waiting below, “Don’t forget me.”

Mia jumped.

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