How the hell was I going to do this? Cassava had Granite and Wicker with her. At least. What if she had other elementals? What about my siblings, would they fight with her, or against her?
My step faltered as I imagined facing a Salamander. Like Maggie. Mouth dry, I stepped onto the edge of the gathering field, our people behind me. I chose to believe they were there to support me, pretending they would cheer me on.
Cassava sat in a makeshift throne on the raised mound at the head of the field. Granite on her right, Wicker on her left. At Wicker’s feet lay a clay pot, about the size of a large pumpkin. I had no doubt that was what held the cleansing fire.
“Unleash the fire, Cassava. I know you have it,” I shouted across the green space.
She tipped a finger at me, beckoning me forward. “What have you done with my Ash? I can’t sense him anymore.”
“Can you sense Snapdragon?” I held my ground.
Her eyes narrowed. “No, I can’t.”
“I killed them both.”
She laughed, and the mob laughed with her as they formed a firm line, locking their arms together, and began to push me forward. Worms crawled off them and onto me, but when they touched my skin they fell off, writhing.
Thank you, Griffin.
If Cassava wanted me closer, then that worked for what I wanted too. I stepped away from the pushing hands and strode across the grassy field.
“Oh, look at her. First she thinks I will believe she was able to kill not one, but two Enders, and now she comes at me like she could hurt me. Silly girl. Granite, take care of her.”
My steps faltered. “Don’t. Don’t do this, Granite. You aren’t under her power, I can see it in your face.”
In fact, there was no glow about him as he slid his dual swords from the sheaths at his sides. “No, I am not under her power, as you say. But I do this of a free will. Our king is weak; Cassava is the queen we need. The one who will save our people from being the doormat the other elementals believe us to be.”
His eyes were hard, and he swung his blades in a whirling arc toward me. I ducked and slid the pole of my spear through his legs, making him stumble. I followed with a hard thrust of the butt end to his chest, knocking him onto his ass.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Granite. You are my mentor, my friend. You saved my life!”
“Then it is mine to take, isn’t it?” he growled as he leapt toward me.
I blocked his blows, barely, dodging his fist as he swung at me. “Even now, you’re trying not to hurt me.”
He slowed and his eyes filled with a sorrow that was palpable on the air. “You aren’t strong enough to be here, Ulani. You have to leave.”
Cassava snarled. “She is not Ulani. She is Larkspur, and you will kill her or I will make you kill her!”
Granite’s body tensed and I fought to keep my hands still, and my weapon lowered. “If you loved her, then you would want to kill the one who killed her. It wasn’t lung burrowers, Granite. It was Cassava. She killed my mother and brother.”
Granite shook his head. “You can’t expect me to believe that.”
I pointed with my spear to Cassava. “Ask her. Before you kill me, ask her for the truth.”
Before he could turn, Cassava began to laugh. “Oh goddess, this is so much fun. Granite, I killed Ulani and her bastard boy, smiling as they died. Now, you have sworn oaths to me, the unbreakable Oath. So do as I command and kill Ulani’s last child. Wipe her from the face of the mother goddess.”
Granite’s face lost color at an alarming speed. “You . . . .” He went to his knees, shaking his head. “But I remember, Ulani and the worms.”
Cassava snorted, and a pink glow suffused her right hand and the ring on it before she snapped her fingers. “There, have your foolish memories back. All of them. All those you asked me to take away so you wouldn’t feel the pain anymore.”
As if a boulder had been dropped on him, Granite fell to the ground, his body twitching. I ran past him and up the incline of the raised mound.
“I’m so glad you wanted to come of your own free will, Larkspur. What is this ability you have that keeps you from doing exactly what I say? Hmm? Your mother was a half-breed, unable to touch the earth’s power. So. What possible excuse could you have for being strong enough to resist me?”
“Ash resisted you.” I stopped about fifteen feet from her.
She waved a hand at me. “Bah, he’s stubborn like none other I’ve ever known. He still had to do what I wanted. But I let him believe he could fight me. It kept him in line.”
My jaw tightened. “Release the fire, Cassava, and I’ll let you go.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “You. Will let me. Go?”
I nodded. “Yes. Go. As in I won’t stop you from leaving. Just release the fire, let our people be healed.”
A sly grin slipped across her lips. “Beat Wicker in a battle of hand-to-hand, and I will release the fire.”
She crooked a finger and Wicker stepped around her. He full-on grinned at me, baring his teeth. “I thought I was seeing a ghost when I first spied you in training. But knowing I get to kill the one I was kept from all those years ago, how sweet it will be to finish unfinished business.”
“You talk too much,” I said, leaping toward him, knowing he wouldn’t expect it. Or so I thought.
He sidestepped me and I crashed to my knees. He kicked me in the side, but I was already moving so it was a glancing blow, one that barely skimmed my ribs. Still, it sent me skittering across the platform. Right to where the fire pot sat, all alone and unattended. I grabbed it up and held it over my head.