Page 26

I was wrong about the pain being worth it. The lightning bolt of agony toppled me in a blinding flash that left me gasping for air and flat on my back.

Ash stood over me, honey-colored eyes full of contempt. “Useless. One day, you will die.”

I lay there, panting as the pain and his footsteps receded. “No, not useless.”

It took everything I had to get to my feet and make my way to my room where I promptly passed out in my bed, not even bothering to remove my weapons. Griffin’s voice echoed in my head as I slept, a single word over and over until I murmured it out loud.

“Recurve, I get it.” A faint glow of green hovered behind my eyelids as I drifted off, and I slept, deep and dreamless for once.

Still, the morning came too quickly for my liking.

Someone banged on my door and I let out a groan. “Go away.”

“Hurry up, you’ve got to see this!” Blossom stuck her head in. “They’re bringing your father in to seal it up.”

That got me sitting up. See what? “This had better be good,” I grumbled, stretching my arms over my head, my vertebrae popping one by one, muscles aching from everything that had happened the day before.

I stood, and my body only gave a faint protest. Damn, that potion of Griffin’s worked better than I thought it would.

I made my way to the training room. Or at least, to the edge of it. The entire floor had collapsed, a hole that ran around the edges of the room so that there was barely room to stand. A sinkhole. My eyes widened as I peered down, into the cavern. No bottom that I could see. Just like the hole I’d wanted to drop Ash into; but this couldn’t have been me, could it?

Granite, standing to the left of me, shook his head. “Aren’t many who could pull this off.” He never even looked at me. No one did. Why would they?

But my father, standing in the entranceway . . . his eyes landed on me, weighing me. I couldn’t meet his eyes. The thing was if this had been me, I didn’t remember it. A niggling piece of doubt curled around me, the faint memory of the green glow behind my eyelids as I passed out the night before. My father raised his hands over his head, the power clinging to him.

His hands weren’t the only things that glowed green, the air around him pulsed with magic, as if it drew strength from his heart, the beat creating a rhythm. The glow expanded, growing with each second that passed until it surrounded his body. He was our king, my father. And his blood ran in my veins, his power was the same as mine. I straightened a little. I didn’t dare to believe I would ever be as strong as him, but maybe soon he would see I wasn’t powerless, useless.

“That’s amazing,” I whispered, and Granite gave me a sharp glance.

“He hasn’t done anything yet.”

I swallowed my words and just watched as the glow gave a final surge and the ground below us rumbled in answer. The earth bucked and filled in the hole, as if the soil were water, sloshing and gushing upward. I stepped back from the edge as the cavern slowly disappeared.

“Granite, I would speak with you. We have word from the eastern front, I may have to send . . . .” my father’s words slipped away as he turned with Granite at his side. The rest of us stared at the newly made floor. Even though my father had fixed the hole, I didn’t truly trust it would hold up if we stepped onto it.

Blossom came to stand beside me, her riotous brown curls barely coming up to my chin. “Have you ever seen anything like that?”

I shook my head. “No, never.”

There were murmurs all around and the speculation lasted through breakfast and until we started to train, at which point Granite put an end to the talk.

He tucked his hands into his belt loops, a grimace on his face. He said only one word. “Sandlings.”

The Enders working with us grinned as a unit.

“About time,” Ash muttered and I frowned at him. He gave me a grin that was in no way nice.

If he was happy, we were in deep worm shit.

The Enders hands glowed green, the color spreading up their arms as they drew a lot of power. More than I’d ever seen them draw. The green faded into a thick black glow which made me stare at them, instead of what they were doing. Why would the color change? Shouldn’t it have stayed green regardless of what they were doing?

My thoughts scattered as a blow hit me in the center of my back, right between my shoulder blades. I rolled as I hit the ground, coming up with my spear in my hands. In front of me stood a man, only it wasn’t a man, it was a contrivance of a man made up of dirt and clay. It had teeth, but they were broken shards of glass and rock, and eyes made out of chunks of coal. Legs and arms were thick and blocky, but it still moved with the fluidity of a predator. Hands tipped in uneven sizes of rocks, embedded in the thickness of his fingers.

“Sandlings are excellent training tools, you can’t hurt them, and you can’t kill them. They will push you to your limit.” Granite spoke over the grunts and moans as the sandlings advanced on the recruits. “You will work with them for the rest of the day. Mal, the queen has asked to see you, go to her and then come back and train.”

Mal straightened and I shook my head. The queen liked to have her ‘own Enders.’ The fact that she was interviewing already shouldn’t have surprised me. She often took them as lovers too, from all accounts. Something we all knew.

Blossom was beside me as we waited for further instructions. The look on her face, though, was enough to make me stop my musing. Her brown eyes followed Mal all the way to the door, the pain in them as obvious as if she’d painted the word on her forehead. So, that was how it was between them.

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