I slowly pulled up the image of Lark in my mind. Of her eyes, one green and the other gold, of the way she smiled when she thought I wasn’t looking at her, of the feel of her skin under my hands and the soft whisper of her breath against my cheek, the color of her hair as it swirled around her, the power in her stance as she faced down those who would do our world wrong. She was why I was doing this. She was the reason for my every action and my every heartbeat.
The earth warmed under me. I could almost feel its approval.
For the first time since I’d left the Rim, the confusion that had kept me under its control began to bleed away. Like purging a belly full of poison, my thoughts began to clear.
As if every thought and memory of Lark were stronger than the control that had been placed over me, the manipulation of Spirit fell away as surely as if I held Lark’s hand. Normally it would take physical touch to keep Spirit from manipulating me.
Yet, here I was able to see what had happened right from the beginning.
It hadn’t been Raven to come to the cell to taunt me, it hadn’t been him in the throne room. The memories shifted and I saw through to the truth of it. Talan, the one I’d met on the beach, had been behind the push to send me after Cassava. But why? He said we were on the same side. In the cave, it hadn’t been Miko and Niah . . . nor had Niah been Cassava. Again, it had been Talan disguising himself, sending me off on the wild goose chase.
I still faced two enemies, then, if not the ones I’d thought at the beginning. Cassava and Talan instead of Cassava and Raven. But were they working together or not? I wasn’t entirely sure.
Norm shifted where he was. “Do you know what we have to do now?”
“Hang on a second.” I fanned through the memories over the last few days, and even the last hour where Raven had stood in front of me. It really had been him the last time, and yet he’d not tried to use Spirit on me. Why?
I frowned, not liking what he’d said about trying to mend his ways. As if a leopard could change its spots. I doubted it . . . yet . . . I knew he didn’t send me after Cassava. Again, though, why would Talan do this? What stake did he have in the game besides wanting to know Lark . . . and there it was, the truth. The only thing that made sense is that he saw me as a competitor for Lark, and this was a way to get rid of me. But it was convoluted, at best, and I doubted even my own rationale.
“Shit,” I muttered. “None of it matters as to the why, why not. Cassava is here, she is fighting and possibly killing your family and she holds Peta still. We have to stop her, Norm. Are there any resources around here you know about?”
I looked at him and he frowned. “I don’t know what you mean, but I have another friend who could help maybe? Is that what you mean?”
With a quick nod, I stood. “Yes, that’s what I mean. Who is your friend and are they far from here?”
“No, he isn’t far. But . . . he’s kind of cranky and not very big. But I think, maybe, he will help.”
“Let’s get him and then we’ll go after Cassava. We will stop her, Norm.” I put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “We will stop her.”
He smiled and scooped me onto his back, then bolted across the snow. I only wished I could believe my words as easily as he had.
n under five minutes, we were at a small cabin at the base of the mountains. Though cabin wasn’t really the right term . . . yurt was better. The domed leather had a small amount of smoke curling out of it into the sky. “He’s a pretty good guy, he found me when I was injured.” Norm pushed the flap of the yurt open and went in. “Childcrow, are you here?”
“You’re standing on me, you big hairy rug!” roared a voice that sounded like gravel and stone. Gravel. Granite. No . . . it couldn’t be.
“I need help. My family is being slaughtered,” Norm said.
“I know,” came the soft reply. I stood, listening, unable to believe what I was hearing. I pulled both swords and stood in the doorway. Granite was one of my mentors and had been one of Lark’s trainers, too. But he’d sided with Cassava and had let her turn his heart against our family. I was frozen for a moment before I did as I knew Lark would have. I stepped through the flap and into the yurt, pointed a sword at Granite and stared him down. “You help us, or I’ll kill you now, traitor.”
Granite’s eyes barely even flickered. “Perhaps that would be better. She’s too good at controlling me, boy. That was the problem all along. She knew my heart and knew I loved Ulani, too.”
Ulani . . . Lark’s mother, and the reason Cassava hated her so and had ultimately killed her. Ulani had been the king’s true love, the one he held above all others, but she was a mistress while Cassava had been the queen. To say it was a bad situation was an understatement.
Norm was shaking his head, his eyes closed tightly. “No more blood, please. No more blood.”
Granite sighed. “I came here to get away from her, and she seems to have followed me. Ash, you cannot possibly stand against her. She is strong, but more than that, she is wildly unstable.” He didn’t move from the sword. “I cannot help you.”
Norm grabbed Granite’s arm. “You said you would help me.”
He closed his eyes and slowly nodded. “Let me go, Norm.”
The Yeti dropped him. It was only then that I saw the wounds on Granite. Huge slashing claw marks.
I kept my sword pointed at him. “Peta got hold of you?”