The bell clattered above the second chute, pulling my attention from my too cool cuppa. I stood, shaking out my skirts with a pleasant rustle and making my way to the wall. I tip-toed over the stacks, baskets and jars of shimmering stones that scattered the floor.
I heard a soft click and paused to scoop up a smooth white bit of rainbow that had fallen out of place. I smiled at the little stone and carefully placed it back in its pile before sliding to the tall wall of chutes and ladders. An envelope now rested at the bottom of the second chute, grey and smooth as pearl. I plucked it from the chute and cracked the seal.
The shiny smooth card was in order. Coordinates in place, storm strength and duration noted. The Northern Hemisphere was due for a quite the storm tonight. I spun about, eyeing my stones before I danced over to the northern corner of the room where the baskets were packed a bit too close together. Selecting a storm stone was thirteen percent science and eighty-seven percent instinct.
To the world, they were just stones, sparkling smooth shards of rainbow in white and blue and black glass, but to me…they held the power of the winds and rain. I caught my lip between my teeth and leaned over the largest basket, dangling my hand over the stones, slowly dragging my fingertips over the surface of each one.
The burning itch started and grew until it was near painful and I quickly plucked the stone from the basket. It glowed with purpose.
“Hello precious,” I whispered and brushed the smooth stone against my cheek. I loved that feeling, that cool texture and the warm inner storm crackling to get out. “Ready to get to work?”
“It’s weird that you talk to them, Audra.”
I turned to eye my counterpart. “That’s unfair, Mira, you talk to your storms too.”
Mira shrugged, the fluttering silk of her gown moving like the waves of the oceans she cast into disarray. Her hair shifted color from Mediterranean blue to storm black. Her eyes flashed from black to white and back again—lightning must have been crashing somewhere.
“It’s important to encourage them.” I crept over to the only clear part of the floor, where the Map was inlaid with magic and stone. The oceans shifted in time to match their real-world counterparts, thin lines of gold marking the longitude and latitude, the thicker gold of the equator. I knelt at the edge, taking a moment to whirl my fingers through the Tropic of Cancer—Mira huffed in disapproval.
I hid my smile.
With the ease of long practice, I found the place where my storm would be born, the intersection of those thin gold lines. I tapped them gently, taking a moment to kiss my storm stone goodbye and the gently setting it down on the map.
“Break,” I whispered, tapping the stone once. The black opal broke apart in a flurry, spinning and spinning into a cloud of sparkling dust to form the heart of the newborn storm. It was still as beautiful as the first time I’d ever seen it. My breath caught in my throat.
“A lovely storm,” Mira said.
She helped me to my feet and pulled me close, a smile catching on her lips. “What say we watch this one? Revel in it a bit? You can let the Stormlings handle the next one.”
I licked my lips, breathe catching again for an entirely different reason. “That sounds lovely.”
“Good.” She leaned forward, pressing her lips to my cheek. “I’ve missed seeing your skin soaked in rain.”
I couldn’t help the shudder that rolled down my spine. “Lead on, my love.”