“Lexa, come on!”
She groaned and threw a pillow at me, burying herself under the covers. “Just because you rise with the sun doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.”
I tossed the pillow back on the bed, turning away from her. “Fine, I guess you don’t want your surprise then. If you’d rather sleep-”
“Can’t you just tell me?”
I stopped at the doorway. “What would be the fun in that? Besides, you’re the one who wanted it.”
She sat up, running her fingers through tangled locks. “Does that imply I should know what it is?”
I grinned, dragging her up before she could tunnel under the blankets again. “Yes, you should, but I won’t say anything if you don’t remember.”
She jumped on my back. “Fine, then you can carry me.”
I grunted as I readjusted her weight. “Why should I have to do that?”
“If God intended for me to be up this early, he’d have woken me himself.” She hung her head on my shoulder. “You shouldn’t have any trouble, seeing as you’re so full of energy.”
“Don’t be smart, it’s hardly proper, your majesty.” I stuck my tongue out at her.
“You’re one to talk.”
I laughed as I carried her down the corridor. “But I’m not the royal one, am I?”
She kissed my temple. “Not yet, you aren’t.”
“Exactly, I still have time to be less than prim.” I set her down at the doorway to the garden, taking her hand. “You might have to help with that.”
“Well, that depends if you want proper or insufferable.” Lexa squeezed my hand. “There’s a fine line somewhere between them.”
“You’ll have to show me the difference sometime. Now, enough chat. Let’s race.” I dashed ahead of her.
“No fair! I don’t even know where to go!” She trailed behind me, holding her nightgown so she wouldn’t trip.
I scooped her up when she caught up with me. “I’ll save us both the trouble and just say I won this time.”
She crossed her arms. “You had the advantage. I wouldn’t call that a victory.”
I kissed her forehead. “Whatever you say.”
“So what’s this great surprise?”
I set her down turned her away from the stone-edged crater. “No peeking. Not until I say so, okay?”
She tried to turn around, but I held her still. Shaking her head, she crossed her arms. I turned back to the crater and closed my eyes, praying for the blessings of Zelien and Rinnelle as I held out my hands to open the crater. The ground rumbled and crackled as an entry opened for us.
“Zinnia, what’s going on?”
“Everything’s fine, don’t look yet.”
A ladder of vines sprouted as the crater opened, meeting the last step. I took Lexa’s hand and led her to the opening. She took one look into the dark crater and shook her head.
“I’m not going down there.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure? You want your surprise, right?” I tried to pull her along as I started down the ladder.
“Not if it involves going down there.” She reached for my arm.
I shook my head. “You’re not gonna deny all my hard work, are you?”
Her eyes widened, and she crouched down, peering into the hole. “It doesn’t look like there’s anything there.”
“Only one way to find out.” I winked and climbed down, disappearing under a veil of darkness.
“Zinnia! This is not funny! If you think I’m coming down there then you’re sadly mistaken.”
I rolled my eyes as I hit the floor. I looked up, catching the faint sunlight reaching in. I sucked in a breath and screamed as I jumped into a lagoon. The water muffled Lexa’s voice as I swam beneath the surface. When she appeared by the ladder, I breached, making a show of clawing my way back on solid ground. Lexa raced to help me up, and she embraced me. I couldn’t stifle the laughs fast enough, and she held me at arm’s length.
“How dare you play a trick like that? If something had happened to you-”
“I needed something to get you down here, didn’t I?”
She gave me a shove. “It was cruel!”
I caught her arm before she could get back to the ladder. “Hey, hey, Lexa, I’m sorry. I just wanted to show you our fortress.”
She froze. “Our-” The words died in her throat as she turned around, taking the place in for the first time.
Crystals lit and sparkled as if to greet her from the ground, the walls, even the lining of the lagoon. Light beamed down in hues of blue, purple, and green as it outlined the roots of the trees. A waterfall glistened as it flowed into the lagoon, leading to a trickling creek.
Reaching out to touch one of the ground crystals, she hesitated. “How is this possible?”
I laughed and scratched the back of my head. “Magick makes any manner of things possible. Though I did have to get blessings from both Zelien and Rinnelle to do it all.”
“I thought Zelien handled natural life. He’s the one who gave you your power, isn’t he?”
I nodded. “Someone had to help with the crystals and the water. That’s more Rinnelle’s specialty.”
“It’s so beautiful. I couldn’t have ever dreamed of this.”
I took her hand. “Now you don’t have to.” I traced her fingers over a crystal. “Am I forgiven?”
Lexa tore her eyes away from her surroundings to look at me. “Promise me you’ll never do something like that again.”
I placed my hand over my heart. “I promise. Now, what should we do first?”
“Race to the waterfall!” She dove into the lagoon, darting toward the roaring water.
“Oh, no you don’t!” I jumped in after her, staying underwater while I swam.
When I swam under her, I turned over and waved her before I hooked my arms around her, dunking her underwater. We both came up bubbling with laughter as we caught our breath. She backed toward the waterfall, starting a splash fight to keep me distracted. When she reached the spray of the fall, she stopped splashing and stuck her tongue out.
“Looks like I win this round.”
I crossed my arms as I met her. “With unfair advantages.”
She wrapped her arms around me as we sunk into the water. “What do you say we call it even?”
And with that, we shared a crystal-lit kiss underwater to bless our new fortress.