Peta meowed at me. “Who are you talking to?”
I didn’t answer her. “Tell me who you are.”
The presence shifted and rolled, tugging at me with the strength of the world behind it. We are the ones from which your power comes. We are the beginning. And we will be the end.
I swallowed hard. “Are you helping me?”
Peta crept to my side and crawled into my lap, “Lark, who are you talking—”
Yes, I was there in the Pit. You fight a battle that no one sees yet, Lark. The one who calls herself the mother goddess is not to be trusted.
Peta’s jaw dropped. “Sweet savory catnip, you aren’t talking to yourself, are you?”
The voice chuckled softly. Peta, we see you. Your ties to Lark are deeper than any familiar. Your souls are entwined as they were meant to be.
Peta clenched her paws and her tiny claws dug into my vest. “You are the voice I hear when I sleep.”
I am. Be strong, little cat, and do not let the fear of losing Lark overtake you; you will never be without her again. There was a pause and in that moment, worry slipped off Peta. Through the bond, I felt her relax. I hadn’t even known she was so afraid, and yet now that it was gone I could easily see the way she stood a little straighter, her eyes shining brighter.
Lark’s power has woken us from a long sleep, one that buried us to keep us silent. And now we will guide you both as best we can.
We. I thought there was a feeling of more than one entity. Male and female.
Yes. We represent all.
“The Eyrie, I have to retrieve the final stone.” I paused. “Do you have . . . advice?”
The stones are needed, but not for what you believe. A shudder rolled through the mountain and the voice fell silent.
I waited for several minutes, on the off chance they would say anything more. Finally I lifted my hands from the ground. “Well, that was . . . interesting.”
Peta nodded and we both looked at Shazer, whose eyes were wide as saucers.
“Who the hell were you two talking to?”
I shrugged. “Don’t really know.”
He flipped his muzzle at me. “Take a guess.”
“The mountain, I think.”
Peta nodded. “Yes, that’s as close a guess as any.”
His eyelids fluttered. “If you both hadn’t heard the voice, I’d have said Lark was losing her marbles. As it is, any good news from the . . . mountain?”
I laughed at his careful wording. “Just that the stones are needed, but not for what I think.”
“That doesn’t help us get into the Eyrie without being struck down by lightning, does it?” he pointed out.
“No, but I have an idea.” I smiled at him. “Think you could do a loop over the Eyrie and get some idea of the layout?”
He snorted and stomped a foot. “So just I get the lightning?”
“I don’t think they will strike you. Not without me on your back.”
He rolled his eyes. “The words, I don’t think, are not exactly reassuring.”
“Best I’ve got. I’m not going to lie to you.” I stood. “If you don’t want to do it, I understand.”
He grunted, spun and galloped away, leaping into the air at the edge of the clearing. Peta sat beside me. “He’s as prideful as any Sylph.”
“Yeah, but it works in my favor from time to time.” I walked to the edge of the clearing, my eyes going to the sky every few steps. I couldn’t see him, and I hoped he would be okay.
“He’s smarter than he looks.” Peta trotted ahead of me.
I changed the subject. “What, or who, do you think that was? The mountain, yes, but under that . . . what the hell are we dealing with here, Peta?”
She jumped onto a downed log, and sat. “Powerful, we know that much. Tied to at least two mountains. And your power woke them up. But when?”
I thought back to the times I’d used everything I had. “When I destroyed the Eyrie, that was when I heard the voice the first time. Again in the Deep, and then in the Pit when I was fighting with Fiametta and the mountain was collapsing.” And one other time that I hadn’t thought of in years.
“I see your face. There is more, tell me.”
“When I faced the shadow walker, during my banishment. I destroyed a fair bit of real estate and I felt the presence. It was distinctly male then, but there were no words, just raw power.”
Peta closed her eyes, a frown on her cat lips. I sat beside her and scratched the back of her neck. She leaned into me and I waited on her to speak.
“There were things I read in the libraries, things that didn’t make sense, but if what you are saying is true, perhaps . . .”
“Do you mean like the notes in the Deep? Did you actually get a chance to read them?” I asked.
Her eyes flew open. “Shit clumping kitty litter, I forgot about those! Yes, I did read them. They actually . . . they actually make what we are seeing here make more sense.”
Her face twisted like she’d eaten something sour.
“Peta, how bad could it be?”
“Well, it just—”
I stopped scratching her neck. “Spit it out.”
She took a breath and then spoke faster than I’d ever heard her. “Basically, the papers said there was an elemental who caused all sorts of problems thousands of years ago. Chaos and trouble followed this elemental everywhere. And he or she, there was never a gender given, didn’t care. They reveled in it, and as they grew in strength, he or she started to lay things out. Made the stones. Created monsters. Divided the families as they are now.”