“No, you little bitch!”
Around Wicker, clear blue sparkles rippled across his knuckles as I threw the pot down. A huge gust of wind ripped in behind me, sweeping the pot into the air where it hovered.
“You break the rules, Larkspur,” Cassava cooed.
“Thought I’d join your club,” I shot back. Sweat rolled down my spine, nerves getting the better of me. Damn it, I thought I’d beaten her. Thought I’d saved my family.
“Well, since we are both breaking the rules, how about this one? Wicker, kill her. Steal her air.”
Oh. Shit. I knew what was coming. He’d pull the air from my lungs, collapsing them until my frantic heart stopped beating. Just like my mother and Bramley.
I clamped my mouth shut and glared at him, knowing if there was any moment when I needed to reach my connection to the earth, this was it. This moment, or I was going to die a very, very painful death.
There could be no hesitation any longer; there was no one who would save me. I dropped to the earth, driving my hands into the soil and bowing my head.
“Oh, Wicker, look. She’s trying to reach her power. But she can’t, not as long as I hold the block on it. And Granite put a little extra ‘oomph’ into the block with his concoction.”
Wicker laughed. “I’m going to enjoy this. Do you know, I think her mother begged me to kill her quickly?”
I raged against their words and there, just outside my reach, I sensed the power of the earth, growing. Rising to my call, bending to my will.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Cassava whispered, her voice audible over the roaring wind. A thick film coated my eyes, dusted in pink and as it drove into me like a sharp spike, that building connection to the earth receded. “Oh, you will obey me, either by your will, or because I will break you.”
“NO!” I screamed and fought back, but she was so strong and the urge to just give in and let her win was heavy on me. But that was the ring. I knew it was. I bucked hard under the fury mounting in me with no place to go. Nothing to do with it but scream.
The wind roared around my ears and I was lifted into a maelstrom of debris. The air slowly began to escape me, no matter how hard I kept my mouth shut, breath by breath it slid from my lungs. Was this how it was with my mother? Did it take this long, or were they drawing it out? I didn’t close my eyes, I stared into the swirling wind. Hating Cassava.
Hating how weak I was.
Griffin’s voice found me in that darkness my heart had fallen into. Child of the earth. You stopped the Enders with your words. Do it now.
My air was gone and I fought to draw a breath, my lungs burning, muscles and heart screaming for oxygen.
I couldn’t speak, so I mouthed the words. “Wicker, stop.”
I plunged to the ground, hit hard, and sucked in a lungful of air. Like a seedling being watered after a dry spell, I drank it down.
A sharp slap of skin on skin. “Why did you stop? Did I tell you to stop?”
“I . . . don’t know. I heard someone tell me to stop.”
Cassava snorted and I rolled to face her on my hands and knees. “I told him to stop.”
Her eyes widened, understanding flowing over her face. “No. No, your mother was a half-breed.”
I slowly stood. “She was a child of Spirit. As am I.”
A large, black wolf sauntered onto the raised ground, and Griffin shifted in a split second. “Yes, she was. And now her daughter will take her place as a proper princess.”
Cassava screamed and scooped up the fire pot. Wicker stood, trembling. “I can’t move. I can’t move. What have you done to me?”
I swallowed hard and would have undone, or tried to undo, whatever it was I’d done. As it was, I didn’t have the chance.
A sword slid through Wicker’s middle, and then a second one popped out of his chest. He gurgled as he stared down at his pierced body, hands touching the blades, his eyes wide and staring. “My mother always said I’d die as I lived. I’m sorry, Mother.”
He slid forward as the blades were yanked out of his body, twisting as they went. Granite stood behind him. “That was for Ulani, you piece of shit fly boy.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
His eyes hardened as he looked at me. “Do not thank me. Your death is next.”
“Granite, you aren’t under her sway.” I backed away from him, spinning my spear in front of me. “Why would you listen to her?”
“Some oaths can’t be broken, Lark. Remember that as you make your own.” He lunged and the green flicker around his fingers tipped me off. I sidestepped as the earth fell away behind me.
“Damn you,” he roared, slashing at me with such ferocity it was all I could do to keep the blade from my skin. I couldn’t beat him, he was too good, too experienced. And he was driven by pain, something I understood all too well.
“Any oath can be broken by the mother goddess, call on her.” I panted the words as I fought to keep each blow from landing hard. He clipped my left shoulder and I jabbed the butt of the spear into his right thigh, hard enough that he dropped to one knee. But I couldn’t bring myself to kill him. I wanted to believe he was under Cassava’s power, despite what he’d said. Despite the fact that I could clearly see his eyes were his own.
He gave me a tired, sad smile. “Just like your mother, you are too soft for this life, Lark. It will be a mercy to kill you now instead of letting you struggle against the inevitable for years.”