My heart cracked. I was sure she heard it, the pain so sharp and sudden. “Are you sure?”
Her eyes were serious. “Yes. We can’t trust him. Tell him that my yearly is here, that is the pain, and he’ll stay away from us. You know that.”
As a female earth elemental, we were only fertile for a short period of time, once a year. The time was often marked with severe pain preceding the period of fertility. Usually it happened in early summer so while this was a little late, it was still plausible.
I nodded, stood, and went to the door. Peering out, I gave Ayu a tight smile. “Can you get us some herbals for yearly stomach cramps?”
Ayu’s eyes crinkled at the edges. “It’s a little late, isn’t it?”
I shrugged. “Belladonna rarely does anything when she’s supposed to.”
A laugh escaped the healer. “Of course. You two are from the same family after all, you should know.” I wasn’t sure I liked the comparison, but there was no point in arguing it. And I wasn’t going to point out just how closely Belladonna and I were related.
Ash came back and I met him at the door, quickly explaining what was happening.
He folded his arms and stared at me, one of the few people I knew who could look me in the eye. “Really?
“How many women have you been around when they are in their yearly?” I put my hands on my hips, hiding the hurt digging into my heart.
He frowned and put a hand on my shoulder, dragging me down the hall away from the door. “You can’t trust her, Lark. Whatever game she is playing, she’s going to drag us both down with her.”
I brushed his hand off. “She’s my sister, and she isn’t playing a game.”
Ash let out a sigh. “Even the worst people in the world have family. Just because she’s your sister doesn’t mean she can’t be an evil bitch like her mother.”
I stepped back, away from him. “How is it you got to keep your weapons?”
He startled and looked down at his gear. “What do you mean?”
“I was stripped of every weapon not long after we stepped into the Deep. You have all of yours. Why?” The tension between us rose, tightening the air, making it hard to breathe. “No answer? That’s what I thought.” I turned my back on him, but he grabbed me and slammed me against the wall.
“I am here to make sure you’re safe, Lark, and I have my weapons because unlike you I have not had them taken from me.” His face was a breath away from mine, his eyes blazing with fury and emotions I couldn’t pin down. Hot embarrassment and anger made my face burn.
“I am not your charge anymore. I am an Ender. I can handle this,” I hissed at him.
“You can’t; you don’t understand what you’re up against. You never have.”
“And you’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“I can’t. . . .” He shook his head.
I shoved him away, or at least tried to. I pushed him, and he returned the favor, which slapped my back against the wall a second time, knocking the wind out of me.
“Stop being so damn stubborn,” he growled, his cheek pressed against mine.
“Then tell me the truth.”
Again, he said nothing, his silence damning him. We wrestled against the wall, neither of us really able to get ahead of the other.
“Let her go!” A thick silver-coated brush slammed into the side of Ash’s head, twice before he did as he was told.
Belladonna stood beside us, her eyes narrowed and her hand raised. She clutched the handle of her brush. “Don’t you touch her, Ash.”
Ash backed up and gave a curt bow, a red welt growing under one eye where I’d hit him in the tousle. “As you wish.”
Breathing hard, I backed away, keeping Belladonna behind me. “You should be lying down, Ambassador.”
“Of course, you are right, Ender Larkspur. Thank you.” She gave me a smile. Keeping Ash within view as we backed toward our room. I couldn’t take my eyes from his. Honesty seemed to be something he struggled with. Who was pulling his strings? Was it my father? Or was it possible that Cassava had her claws into him still?
Slamming the door behind us, I slid the bar over it, buying us a little bit of peace.
I leaned against the door, as my heart rate slowed to a normal pace. An idea was swirling through me, one I was afraid to voice. It would mean the end of whatever friendship had bloomed between Ash and me.
“Are you absolutely certain of the note you saw, Bella? Without a doubt you saw the words?” I slowly turned to her. She stood across from me, hairbrush in her hand still. Though she was my older sister, in that moment she looked so young. A child thrown out to sea to flounder and drown if she couldn’t make it on her own.
“I have no doubt in my mind what I saw, Lark. I’ll admit it was quick, but the sun hit the words perfectly and Ash couldn’t fold it before I saw.” She frowned. “But what does it matter?”
That I even thought of suggesting my idea to her made my stomach curl. But what choice did we have? “I think I have a way to find the cells, and take care of Ash in one fell swoop.”
Her eyebrows lifted. I quickly explained my idea to her, keeping my voice low. The fact that she nodded, her eyes lighting up should have warned me we were stepping into dangerous territory. But I ignored the fear I was making a mistake. Ash was not our friend—he was not there to help us.
Which only left me one choice if I were to keep Belladonna safe.