The world swayed and for a moment I was a child again, trapped in the burning house that swallowed my family. I could taste the smoke on my tongue, feel the heat from the flames. No. I was not there.
“Chive, get off me,” I snarled, tasting blood on my lips.
“No, you tried to kill the king, You’re a traitor!” He shifted his weight on me, leaving the dagger in my side—a mistake. “You’re going to be executed. I wish you’d never trained me.” His words were as sharp against me as the well-honed weapon he’d used to cut me open.
Seconds between making a vow and breaking it, that had to be a new record.
“That makes two of us,” I said as I pulled Chive’s dagger out of my side and swept it upward, driving it under his rib cage and into the lower half of his heart. We all made mistakes as Enders, especially young ones, but rarely were they fatal.
That I was the orchestrator of his death sliced through me. But if I didn’t get out of here and find a way to bring Lark home, I feared even more lives would be lost. What was one life to hundreds?
Just because I knew I was right didn’t make it any easier to swallow that I’d taken the life of a young Ender before he truly began to live.
He gasped once, the darkness hiding the sight of his dying face from me. “I’m sorry,” I said as I got to my feet and stumbled in what I thought was the direction of the Traveling room, away from the voices and growing light.
“Hurry, Ash, they’re close.” Peta leapt back to my shoulder. I crashed into the doors and they fell open into the Traveling room. The soft glow of the globe that blinked back at me was a welcome sight. I turned and slammed the doors shut, sliding one of the short swords from my side through the two handles.
A bit of time was all I needed and there would be no following me. I limped to the side wall and grabbed one of the Traveling armbands. Made of cedar wood and polished to a high gleam, it smelled of the Rim.
I slid it up and over my bicep.
The door thundered as something, or someone, slammed against it. I walked to the center of the globe and stared at it. As if I were standing in the heart of the world and looking out, the options were endless as to where I could go. But this would be my one last easy jump anywhere in the world.
Unless I went to one of the other elemental families.
No, that would not work. Cassava was not hiding within any of the other families’ homes. But . . . she’d fallen at the Eyrie, there could be a clue there. Then there was Granite. He’d been my mentor and trainer. And he’d helped Cassava in all her plans.
I cleared my mind and thought of him, but all I could see was the Eyrie.
“Damn you, Granite.”
“Granite?” Peta twisted to look me in the face. I told her of him, and his part in Cassava’s plans, but that had been a long time ago. When we’d first gone after Lark.
I stared at the globe, as sweat ran down my body. Where was he?
Still, the Eyrie persisted in my mind. Could Granite be there?
It was all I had to go on, and there was no more time to think about it as the door rattled and the wood cracked.
The decision made, I reached out and touched the globe, adjusting it until a narrow valley in the Himalayan Mountains drew close to me.
“Peta, hang on.”
She dropped her head and tucked her face under my chin. “Ready.”
I reached up and touched the valley with one finger while with the other hand I twisted the armband. Behind us, the door shattered open, the splinters flying to either side of me as I was sucked through the globe.
There was a moment or two of complete peace, silence like that spot between dreaming and wakefulness where you aren’t sure that you are even real, the place where you wonder if your body is even a tangible thing or if you are completely made of thought, of spirit and intangible matter. There were stories of people being lost to Traveling, of becoming addicted to the feeling, and I could see why.
My ears popped, light bloomed around us, and Peta and I were spit out of the air.
I gasped at the instant cold, and then we were falling. Down the side of a mountain we tumbled, the snow cushioning us. She shifted into her snow leopard form and stopped her slide but I continued to roll.
I headed straight for the edge of a cliff. I scrambled, doing all I could to dig my hands and feet into something that would slow me. I managed to spin around so I was going feet first, and I stared back up at the streak of blood I left in the snow behind me. The snow was too soft to use as a grip.
I called up the earth under the snow, but it was too far down to help me, and I wasn’t strong enough to pull on it. I wasn’t Lark, I couldn’t draw the earth like she could.
“Hang on, I’m coming!”
She raced down the snow, leaping fifty feet with each stride, but it was going to be close.
I held my hand up as my legs shot out into open air.
With a last jump, she landed and grabbed my hand in her mouth, stopping my flat-out race down the mountain.
“You know, I think you like the drama of the last-second rescue,” I breathed out. I put my free hand into the snow and she helped me away from the open overhang. I turned and took a look back.
My heart pounded as I stared at the abyss below. As far as I could see, there was no bottom. No end to the fall that I had no doubt would have killed me.
“Peta . . .”
She snorted. “Drama of the last second? I’m good, Ash, but even I’m not that good. I almost didn’t . . .” She flexed her shoulders and shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. You’re on this side of the mountain, as am I.”