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I nodded. I knew that. Knew that was why it was discouraged to have relations with someone from another family. It diluted the blood and what you could reach in terms of power was pretty much nullified. Cactus, for a half-breed, was strong, his ability with the earth was only marginally better than mine. That was what passed for strong in the half-breed world.

Granite stirred the powder and liquid together slowly. “You can reach both, and that makes you very dangerous. It’s why the queen blocked your power.”

“You . . . know?”

He nodded. “Yes, I was trying to see if I could get you to break through the block she put on you. But I couldn’t, no matter how hard I pushed your training.”

“You tried, that’s more than a lot of people would have done.” I let out a shuddering breath. “But I still have to find a way to stop her. She’s going to kill my father.”

He gave me a gentle smile. “Hold still.”

I did as he asked. He dipped two fingers into the shallow bowl and spread the paste across my forehead. The mixture was warm, and seemed to soak through my skin and into my skull. My mouth went dry as he took his hand from my head. “What’s this for?”

“To make sure you don’t break through the block she put on you.”

I slapped a hand to my forehead, but felt nothing. The mixture had soaked in completely. “Granite, why?”

He shrugged and stood. “Because your mother loved me, too. But your father convinced her he was better for her. And it got her killed. I promised myself I wouldn’t let you suffer when the time came. I had the queen keep you away while the worms invaded, but that was all I could do. This is the only way, Lark.”

Suddenly my three-day hiatus with Coal made sense. The queen had done that too. “You were never sick, were you?”

He shook his head.

Tears stung my eyes. “Ash wasn’t the one owned by her. It was you. You are her pet.”

He turned his back, and rapped his knuckles on the bars. “Ash, let me out.”

The door creaked open and I sat there staring at where Granite had been. “I trusted you! You were my friend!”

He glanced over his shoulder. “And that’s where you went wrong, Lark. You shouldn’t trust anyone in this world. They will use you, just like the king used your mother. Perhaps you’ll learn this lesson better than she did. If you do, you might survive. But I doubt it.”

A slam of the cell door and I dropped my head, thoughts reeling. Granite was helping Cassava. He’d set me up to mistrust Ash. Why?

Maybe because Ash was the only one I should trust. The only one like me who understood the evil that lay within the queen.

I stumbled forward, pressing my face to the bars. There was Ash, sitting quite close to the bars. Sliding down, I reached through the bars to him, thinking about before. When I’d touched his bare shoulders. If I had both sides of my bloodline, then I could control Spirit too. If I could get through the blocks put on me. When I’d touched him before, the pink glow had faded from his eyes and he’d been himself. Worm shit and goblin piss, could it be that easy? Would it even work now that Granite had put that crap on my forehead?

“Ash, please, you have to listen to me. I need your help. I know you don’t want her in your head. I saw your memories. I saw your hate for her. You have to fight her, I know you can, you’re strong enough.” I put my hand on his knee and squeezed. He jerked his leg away from me. Not the reaction I was looking for. But then he grabbed my fingers, tight enough to make my knuckles pop. The second our skin touched, the pink glow faded.

Mother goddess, maybe this would work. His body slumped, and if the heat in his hand was any indication of the fever coursing through him, he was in trouble. With agonizing slowness, he lifted his eyes to mine.

“Lark, how can you block her from me?”

“I think it’s when we touch, something about that keeps her out of your head. As long as I don’t let her power roll over me, I can keep her free of you,” I whispered, tightening my grip on him. My head began to thrum, the pressure of a storm building from the inside of my skull. The scent of cinnamon filled my nose, and I shook my head, instantly regretting it.

“The mixture Granite put on you, you have to fight it, you have to break through it.” Ash coughed, but didn’t let go of me.

I swayed, my head hitting the bars. “How?” The lines drawn on my head seemed to be pulling together, pulling and pinching my skin even as the pain reverberated outward from the center of my brain. A groan slid out of me and Ash’s hand tightened on me.

“Not sure. But you should be able to push it out with your abilities. That’s all I know.”

Some help he was. But it was something. I focused on the pain, easy enough. My body shook with the spasms in my head and the idea of pushing the block out formed into a solid image: me in the planting field, digging at an invasive weed that would choke the life out of the seedlings. In my mind’s eye I could see the edges of the mixture wrapping around me just like that weed. I worked around it, then put my fingers to my forehead where Granite had spread the thick paste.

“Out.” I whispered, pushing it with everything I had in me. Sweat popped out along my forehead, and with that sweat, the scent of cinnamon filled the air again as I coaxed the mixture out, wiping it off as it slid from my pores.

“Here, wipe it with this,” Ash handed me something, and my fingers grasped a wet cloth. I slopped it across my face, taking the last of the thick paste from me. I panted as if I’d been running, but the pain was gone, and so was the smell of cinnamon. I forced myself to sit up, my one hand still clutched in Ash’s.

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