So I was completely getting into Avan's story, even though it was jumping all over the place.
And now, what?
We're going back to the Guardians?
But I'm registering an official protest!
With, um. Oh, hell.
The tunnel walls were made of ice. The boat moved slowly, steadily, carrying us gently on the water. We saw our breath, though we weren't cold, and the walls were shiny and moist as if the ice was melting, but it wasn't.
"Tay," Jack said, voice breathy with awe. "Look here!"
He was leaning over the edge of our small boat, his paw in the water. Between his pads was a trail of colors, pink and green, blue and amethyst, even yellow and red. I looked behind me and saw the boat’s wake showed the same bright glow. I raised my eyes and realized the colors were reflecting off the walls and stalagmites of the cavern. I knew then what I had always pondered as a little girl, what it must be like to live in a rainbow, to be soaked in the northern lights.
It took away my words. It took away my breath. Jack felt the same. I knew he did, because he sat there, paw still in the water, golden eyes absorbing the unnatural beauty around us and mirroring it. This water, water that glowed when you touched it, water that reflected every color one could imagine off the walls of ice and the stalagmites above, wasn't natural.
But the beauty.
I wanted to find words for it, how soft and clear it was, but I couldn't. For a while, I could hear nothing but the lap of water disturbed as our little boat moved on. As I strained my ears, I began to catch sounds that I hadn't before: the soft trickling of a stream, the unmistakable sound of children laughing, playing, having fun.
The variety of sounds increased as our boat approached a bend. Ahead, someone was playing the flute. Indistinct chatter pricked at my ears and piqued my interest. I inhaled deeply, smelling the crispness of clean water and fruit. I smelled the freshness of the grass, the greenness of the leaves, the perfume of the flowers.
When we rounded the bend the tunnel completely filled with light, a bright light that somehow didn't hurt our eyes. And we saw the faded silhouette of a valley, of trees rising and dipping on the hills, of people, no, Guardians, carrying baskets of goods down a lush road, bathed in sunlight and greenery. Their pups laughed as they engaged in a game of chase through the forests of thick trees. There was no room for fear here. The road led to dwellings that were built into the soft hillsides, and a dome of clear ice sheltered it all, ice that reflected colors of this hidden paradise like the water in the tunnel.
Our boat halted when it struck rock. I saw the source of the trickles I'd heard earlier: tiny streams moving in and out of the smooth rocks, adding to the water of the tunnel. It was too bright here, I knew, for the water to glow. I imagined them at night, these streams glowing brightly in the darkness. A personal light show. An exact replica of the lights that touched the earth.
I looked on, dumbstruck and teary eyed. I knew this place. I didn't know this place. This land, so beautiful I didn't have words, had been in my heart, in my dreams, since I was born. My feet had never stepped on its soil. Until now. We were safe here. We were home.
We climbed out of the boat, both of us smiling, both of us weeping and ventured toward those golden hills.