“Lark, we killed him. I know we had to, but I—”
“No, this is not on you, Bella. It was my dagger, and I did it.”
I leaned my head forward and pressed it to her back, no cries escaping me. No other words I could give would comfort her. The truth was we’d had to do it, and she knew that.
Maybe Peta was right, maybe I was too hard.
Then again, I was about to go up against three elemental rulers in their places of power while madness rode them.
Weakness was not something I could afford.
e only flew a few hours before night fell, and Shazer landed at the edge of a cleared field. “With a quick break, I could fly through the rest of the night without another stop.”
“No, Bella needs to sleep. We’ll stop for the night,” I said, dismounting and then holding a hand out to my sister. She took it and slid from his back with a wince but she shook her head. “No, I think we should keep going. I’m fine. A short break will be enough.” She paused and rubbed at her backside. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been horseback riding.”
Shazer snorted. “Pegasus riding.”
She blinked up at him and smiled. “Right, Pegasus.”
Above us, the night sky twinkled, black and splattered with stars. I looked at Bella. She still had our father’s blood on one cheek. I motioned with my head for her to follow me. The sound of a creek drew me.
Beside me, Peta eyed the fireflies that flickered here and there. I rolled my eyes. “Go for it. I won’t tell anyone.”
With a funny mew she leapt into the air, batting at the bugs. They were almost as fast as her, though, and darted away as she pounced and chased. I smiled and looked up. Bella watched me, a smile on her lips, too.
“She’s like a kitten still.”
“Sometimes. Other times she seems the oldest soul I know.” I pushed through the long grass and down a small embankment to a shallow stream. I stepped into the creek and sunk to my knees before splashing my face and arms. Pink swirls of dried blood washed away in the shimmers of dark water that shone in the bright moonlight, curling through the current and then gone as if they never were.
Bella stepped into the water beside me, her skirt caught up with one hand. I took the edges of the material and held it for her as she cleaned her face and arms. In silence we stepped out onto the embankment and headed to where Peta lay crouched in the long grass. She’d shifted into her leopard form.
I gave a short laugh. “You think you can catch the bugs when you’re bigger?”
Her ear flicked at me but otherwise she didn’t move. In an explosion of speed, she shot twenty feet into the air to snag a bug, slamming it with both paws.
Bella burst out laughing and I joined in. “Damn, reflexes like a cat.”
Peta turned and faced us, lifting her lips so we could see her teeth.
And the glowing firefly in her mouth, lighting her up like a human’s Halloween pumpkin.
I choked on the laughter, unable to believe that she hadn’t squashed the bug completely. She opened her mouth and the firefly flew out, bobbled once, and rose into the air. Peta licked her lips. “Bet you two can’t catch one.”
“Challenge accepted!” Bella laughed and ran into the long grass. I stood and stared.
“We’re on a deadline, Bella. I can’t be playing—”
Shazer butted me from behind. “Go play.”
Peta nodded. “Go play.”
Bella stood in the middle of the fireflies as she spun and looked at me. “Afraid you’ll lose?”
I took my spear from my back and slowly swirled it in front of me. Through the bond to Peta, fear and sadness rolled. I drove the spear into the ground, haft first. “You are going to be sorry you said that.”
The tension in the air heightened and I let go of the spear and ran into the long grass after Bella. She spun and ran from me, and the tension was broken as we did our best to grab the fireflies from their nightly dance.
Screeching and laughing, we raced after the tiny bugs as though we were children and not full-grown adults. Peta dodged between us, knocking us down more than once, often right as we got close to capturing our intended prey.
A flash of white streaked by, Shazer with his neck outstretched as he snapped his teeth at a firefly that struggled to stay out of reach.
Bella gasped for breath and clutched at her sides. I stood next to her, breathing hard, not sure exactly why I was playing when I should have been off saving the world. Stopping Blackbird from getting the stones first.
“Because if you have nothing to fight for, saving the world doesn’t mean much, does it?” Peta sat on top of my feet, warming them. She looked up at me. “The world, and all it is, has to mean something to you again, Lark. You helped the Tracker save the world from the demons. But that wasn’t really you. You did it because you had to. This time, it’s your choice.”
“Mind-reading cat,” I muttered.
“What do you expect? I’m special.” She grinned up at me.
I waved a hand to catch Shazer’s attention. “We need to go.”
He trotted over and put his nose against my chest. “I hate to say the pussy is right, but she is.” He blew out a hot gust from his nose, warming my skin as Peta warmed my feet. She took a swat at him.
“Don’t be vulgar.”
“You are too, and you know it.” She frowned up at him.
He shrugged and went to one knee as Bella approached. Flushed from running about, she mounted with ease. “I think Peony was right, I need to stop trying to fit into the same size as when I was sixteen.”