“Long story.” I ran a hand over my head and grabbed the back of my neck. I didn’t know what to do, where to start. That was a first for me. Always the path ahead of me was laid out, a journey I knew I needed to take.
I glanced at Peta and she shook her head slowly. “I don’t know.”
Talan cleared his throat. “I do. This is the lull before the storm, Lark. Tell me you don’t feel the world tensing?”
I stared at him, weighing his words and letting his meaning truly reach me. Under them was a truth I’d been ignoring. Part of the reason the mother goddess had convinced me she spoke truly of the world being destroyed was because I’d felt the same truth already. A humming fear deep within the earth that resonated through me. The world was in trouble, and I knew it in every molecule of my flesh and bone.
I flinched and looked around. Everyone’s eyes widened at once. “I’m not the only one hearing this?”
A slow shake of heads sucked the air from my lungs. “Yes?”
Listen to him. He speaks the truth, and you will need his training. The Sylph named you right, Destroyer. But in destruction is new life. Remember that, if you remember nothing else.
The words faded, but the truth remained. I was not done with Talan, no matter how I wished he would just bugger off and pester someone else.
“The training?” I made myself ask.
“You will come with me. Leave everything behind.”
Peta bristled and Shazer stomped a foot. I lifted an eyebrow. “They will follow.”
“Your familiars can come, of course.” He smiled. “But no one else.”
Bella sucked in a breath, but she remained silent.
Going with Talan, training with him would mean leaving not only my family behind, but Ash too. He was still trapped as a golden eagle, waiting on someone to free him. I was the only one who even knew Cassava had him as a pet. My heart felt as though it were being torn in two. Training . . . as an Ender I understood the importance. The need to be truly prepared for battle.
I had to believe Ash would understand too. That he would be safe a little while longer.
But he wasn’t the only one waiting on me. I closed my eyes. Bramley might be out there too. Alive. Dead. Which one, I wouldn’t know until I searched for him, until I found him and brought him home.
“You can help all those you love more if you have the strength and training to protect them,” Talan said, his voice soft.
I clenched my hands into fists, fighting the urge to fight him. To deny him even though a part of me knew he was right. To tell him I could do it my way and survive. That was how I’d always done things. I’d fought the way I’d believed was right. It had worked up until now.
But . . . this time I wasn’t so sure.
“I will . . . go with you.” The words came out far softer than I’d wanted.
Talan nodded. “Then we leave now.”
Shazer groaned. “Seriously?”
I touched Bella’s hand. “I’ll be back.”
“I know,” she whispered, tears tracking down her cheeks. She caught me around the neck and kissed each of my cheeks. “Do what you must, Lark. I trust you.”
I turned to Flint. “Lark.” Just my name, and I turned to Talan.
This was for them, to protect those I loved. To save them from Viv and what plans she had.
I mounted Shazer, Peta right behind me. Talan leapt astride, his arms locking around me. Shazer bolted down the length of the Rim and launched into the air with a powerful leap.
We circled and Talan’s arms tightened further around me in a vise-like grip.
“You can do nothing. You have to train to help her,” he said, his voice firm.
What was he talking about? Peta let out a pain-filled meow and I looked to where she stared.
Bella gazed up at me, her eyes filled with tears, her hand lifted in a wave.
And behind her wavered the image of the mother goddess. Viv. I lurched forward as if to throw myself from Shazer’s back. Talan’s arms tightened around my middle, clamping my arms to my sides.
“Forgive me, Lark. This is for the best.” Spirit coiled around me, dampening my mind. I slumped into him, exhaustion overcoming me as my eyes slipped shut. “I hate you.”
“I know,” he whispered from far away. “I know. But you won’t one day. One day you’ll thank me.”
Nothing more and the darkness took me, and in it I heard Viv laughing, heard her words as clearly as if she stood in front of me.
Run while you can, little Larkspur. And while you hide from me, I will destroy your world.