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The Sylph twisted in her hands and whipped out a short knife. Everyone was too far away; he had a perfect shot at Finley.

I lunged for her, my instinct to protect overriding any sense of self-preservation. But the Sylph didn’t swing at the queen.

He twisted the handle around and drove the knife into his own heart. His body convulsed and blood bubbled out of his mouth and over his chin. With a final breath, he slumped to his knees and fell back onto the sandstone, blood pooling around him.

“Damn.” Dolph looked from Finley to me, and back to Finley again. “I’ve noticed there’s only trouble when Lark shows up. Perhaps her visits should be shorter.”

I grimaced. “We are leaving, right now.”

“Dry clothes first,” Bella said.

Finley stood next to me. “I can fix that.” She snapped her fingers, blue lines swallowing her hand. The moisture leapt from her clothes and hair, leaving her as dry as if she’d never been in the water. I raised an eyebrow at her and she snapped her fingers at Peta, Bella, and me.

The moisture whipped off me, hanging in the air in front of my face in a thousand tiny droplets before splashing to the floor. Finley did the same for Bella, whose skirts moved loose around her legs once more, a puddle of water at her feet. I glanced down at Peta and burst out laughing. She had the most water at her paws, but her hair was fluffed up as if she’d been in a windstorm for three days running.

Frowning, she glared at me. “Not funny.”

Finley laughed softly. With a gentle wave of her hand, Peta’s hair smoothed back down. “I took too much water is all; that should be better.” Her words set off a riot of thoughts in my brain.

Too much water. Too much air. Too much spirit and earth. Too much of every element, and yet . . . there was something missing.

I felt as though I was on the edge of understanding something vital to my survival. And yet, once more, it slipped away from me.

Close, child, you draw close to the truth. Be ready for its violence.

I tightened my jaw to keep from responding, because what would I say? Whatever the voice was, I knew the truth was far harder than the lies. That had been my entire life.


inley went with us to the stable to gather Shazer. “I want to see you off.”

“You mean you want to make sure we don’t cause more problems?” I laughed, but even I heard the bitter notes in it.

Finley shook her head. “No, Dolph is right. You have a knack for uncovering the darkness in our world, Lark.”

I grimaced. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that too.”

Peta sat on my shoulder, once more in her housecat form. “The issue is that the news of something happening here that involved Lark will get to the other rulers before we can. Is the ambassador from the Pit still here?”

Finley raised a hand. “Dolph, can you answer this?”

He strode to her right side. “He left last night, shortly after Lark arrived.”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter, not really. The stones are used as a form of compulsion. Whoever is using them already knows I’m on the hunt for them. The ambassador will only confirm I’m on my way.” I could only hope that meant Blackbird would also be stalled. Or that he started searching after me, and followed rather than beat me to the other rulers. Who was I kidding? Certainly not myself; Blackbird was hunting as actively as I was. I’d just been lucky so far. Which meant we had to keep moving.

We stopped on the white beach, and Shazer went to one knee. Bella mounted and I leapt up behind her. “Be safe, Finley.”

She raised her hand. “You have my word, Lark. I will not be fooled again.”

Before I could answer, Shazer took off, galloping down the beach and gaining speed; right at the edge of the water he leapt. His hooves skimmed the surface and a dark torpedo-shaped body glimmered underneath us. I shuddered and looked away. We were done with the Deep.

It was the next family I needed to focus on.

Shazer glanced back at me. “Eyrie or Pit?”

Neither choice left me with much hope, but at least with the Salamanders, I’d left on good terms. Not so much for the Eyrie, seeing as how I’d destroyed their home.

“Pit. We leave the Eyrie for last and hope we have enough by then to take Samara down easily.”

Shazer snorted. “The Sylphs never go down easily.”

I thought about the two Enders who’d tried to kill Finley and me. “No, they don’t. Which means the more stones I can collect before I face her, the better. Not that the Pit is going to be an easy in and out.”

Bella looked back at me. “But is that not true of Fiametta? You have two rings already. Could you not use them to take her down?”

“The Pit is on an active volcano which Fiametta has direct control over. I’m not sure that going in swinging with all the power at our fingertips is a good idea.”

“Then what’s the plan?” Shazer banked to one side, angling us west across the continent.

“I’m hoping Peta can help me with that,” I said. Peta looked up at me from my lap.

“What do you need?”

“Your first charge, Talan. He was a Spirit Elemental. I need you to tell me all the things he could do.”

Her tiny eyebrows shot up. “You think you can learn without training? I told you I would take you to him when you were ready.”

She had, and I’d almost forgotten that. “Do you think I’m ready?”

“No, you are not. You’re too stubborn to learn from him, and he is too stubborn to teach you.”

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