He tipped his head to one side. “Aptly put.”
With a snap of his fingers, I lost sight, and the sound around me was muffled as though my head had been shoved under water.
I clung to Lark’s image, and with that tenuous hold, I kept some of the control at bay, enough to hear what they spoke of.
“This was not part of the plan,” Talan said.
Cassava snorted. “Nothing ever goes to plan, you should know that by now. You sent him on this goose chase; you said it was important. I could have taken him when I took Peta.”
“It was important. You can’t see it, but I can. He’s connected with power he never had before. Both male and female halves of the earth needed to be awakened. He’s done that. His part is played out and we need him no longer, Planter.”
“Shut your mouth,” she snarled. “I am not a Planter.”
“Ah, but you were. You saved him once, I saw that in your memories. Is that why you balk at killing him now?”
Cassava was the one who balked at killing me?
She drew in a deep breath. “I . . . he is one of mine, Talan, and as such his life is mine. Not something you would ever understand, Walker.”
“His death will serve to strip Lark of her support, you know that. As I said, he has played his role. Lark loves him, he woke the earth, he even helped Raven to find the witch. Now he is here and his death is the last piece.”
She was silent a moment. “And Peta? What of her?”
“I will take Peta from here,” he said. “She should never have been taken from me.”
He’d been the one to send me after Cassava. He’d told me that he and I were on the same side, and yet here he was helping her. The two-faced shit-hole, I would kill him with my bare hands.
“You can heal his mind. Do it. The manipulation over the years is breaking him down and making him unstable, and I need him whole,” she said.
“Do as I ask, Talan! You swore you would aid me.”
“And you swore to me you would not hurt Peta, and now I’ve lost her again,” he snarled, his eyes flashing with an anger that went deep. I could see it in him. He was barely holding back from attacking her.
But why wouldn’t he just use Spirit on her? The only answer was that she’d learned a way to protect herself from being manipulated.
Just like I had begun to with images of Lark. Hope flared through me and I pulled all the memories of Lark to me that I could. Every aspect of her that made her the beautiful elemental she was, inside and out.
The bonds on my mind slipped and I lunged for the sword at my feet. Spinning, I brought the blade up, knowing I had a choice. Cassava, or Talan.
Which one would die and make the world safer for Lark?
Even though I doubted it with all I heard, I still drove at Cassava. I sent the sword toward her, and she tried to avoid me, dodging to the side so the blade pierced her through the thigh. A scream shrieked out of her, bouncing around the small space. I scrambled, yanked the blade out, and swung it behind me, blindly hoping for a hit on Talan, too.
He grunted as the tip slid through something and caught in the bone. I yanked it out, spun fully around and brought the sword up, intending to knock him out so I could kill him slowly. I caught him under the chin with the handle of the sword, hitting him so hard his teeth cracked. His eyes rolled back and he fell, slumping to the side, hitting his head a second time on the table.
I turned to Cassava, strength and power flowing through me from the soles of my feet. The mountain around us trembled as I drew on the power that was mine through my birth, through my blood, and my soul.
“Cassava. You have been sentenced to death as a traitor to the Rim.”
She stared up at me and I saw for the first time that she was truly afraid. This was the moment. I held the power of the earth, keeping it to myself, keeping it away from her. I could see that she was trying to do the same, trying desperately to grab the power. But it was as if the earth had shunned her.
“That is not possible,” she whispered, horror making her words soft.
“Anything is possible,” I said, thinking of Lark. Of how she’d done things everyone had said were not within the scope of her abilities. Yet she’d done them, trusting in the earth around her. And now I did the same.
I held my sword up and swept it down, straight for her neck.
“Peta will die,” she cried out, and I jerked the weapon back, missing her by a hairsbreadth.
I held my stance, half crouched, a blade ready to spin back to remove her head. “Speak.”
“Peta is down at the fires. She was not meant to die, but I could not stop her.” I glared, and Cassava smiled slowly. “She is dying and you will not find her in time without me.”
I drove the sword into the hard-packed ground, grabbed Cassava by the arm and hauled her to her feet. “Then I suggest we find her. Now.”
I shoved her out of the door, grabbing my sword as I went by. With only a glance back at the still-prone form of Talan, I pushed Cassava along, though she was slow with the wound in her thigh. I didn’t care that we were both naked. The bite of the icy wind was welcome on my fevered skin. I felt as though I were in a dream that I could not escape, a place of madness that I would wake from any moment.
What was real.
What was false.
I didn’t know any longer.
But the waking never happened and I was forced to continue forward, dealing with the fierce and ugly reality of the world.