I swung my spear, aiming for his head. He screamed like a child, shrieking at a pitch I was surprised he could manage at his age. At the last second, I spun the spear so the haft caught him in the side of the head, the momentum knocking him out.
“What a baby.” Peta snorted. I bent and picked him up, slinging him over my shoulder. The dead Rim guard though . . . would prove a problem if he was found. I flicked my hand over his body and let the ground suck him down.
“They will think you killed him.”
“Of course. Might as well put off the inevitable as long as possible.” I adjusted Vetch on my shoulder and started back to the Rim. Keeping to the edges of the homes and buildings, I made it to the Barracks before someone stopped me.
Thank the goddess it was Ash. He met me on the steps of the Enders Barracks. “Usurping thrones again, are we?”
“No. Just putting him in a safe place for a bit. Did Bella make it to the Traveling room?”
Ash nodded. I followed him through the main hall and down the long stairwell that took us to the dungeon. As if this was something we did every day.
“She said to tell you she would wait on your word to come home. What happened?”
As we hurried toward the dungeon, I filled him in on Vetch’s plan to wipe out half-breeds in the Rim. Starting with Bella and me. Ash shook his head as he held the cell door open. “He’s always been cruel. But even for him this is a new level.”
The cellblock was one of the few places that truly barred an elemental from using their power. Or from having another elemental’s power used on them.
If Cassava had any influence on Vetch, it would be gone while he was in the dungeon.
Maybe all hope wasn’t lost for him yet. I dumped him into the cell and stepped back, locking the door behind me. More than ever, my heart was twisted about going after our father. Whether he was in his right mind or not, he was the only one who could set to right the problems with who he’d named as heir. Yet with him gone and Vetch locked up, perhaps Bella could rule.
No, I had to see if Vetch was himself or not. I still had hope he could be saved.
Like Bella. There had been a time I’d believed her to be an enemy, and now we were closer than I was with any of my other siblings.
Minutes ticked by and Vetch finally let out a groan. “What the hell have I been drinking?”
“Vetch, do you remember the last hour?” I gripped the bars of the dungeon. “Do you remember coming to kill me and Bella?”
He slowly sat up, blinking as though the light hurt his eyes. “Kill Bella?”
“Yes. And me.”
Vetch took a breath and rubbed his chest where I’d slammed him. “I was dreaming. How could it be you know what I dream?”
I backed away. “Ash will explain it to you. I have to go, I have to get Father and bring him home. Whatever you do, stay in the cell, Vetch.” Mother goddess, what a mess of redwood proportions this was.
Two steps and I was out of the room, but a hand on my arm stopped me.
“Be careful, Lark. I can’t come with you if you go this time. Someone has to stay here and keep things running with Bella gone.” Ash tipped his head forward and pressed it against mine. “Come back to me.”
With a gentle tug from him, I was in his arms, kissing him as he held onto me as though it would be the last time. I didn’t care that Vetch could see. I kissed Ash back with everything I had before pulling back for a breath. “I will always come back to you.”
“You just want that pedicure I promised.”
Laughing, I stepped away. “Yes, that too. We’ve put it off too long.”
His golden eyes followed me as I backed the first few steps up the stairs, unable to look away from him. A heavy sense of longing followed me. As if perhaps our moment had passed and I would never be able to regain it.
But that couldn’t be.
I wouldn’t let it.
Peta and I ran up the stairs and out of the Enders Barracks.
I stumbled to a stop. Peta’s question was more than loaded. I had no idea where to start looking for a Tracker. I needed a damn Tracker to find a Tracker. “Worm shit, I don’t know.”
“Is there no one you can ask? Is the mother goddess’s consort not here?”
I blinked several times. “Excuse me?”
“Griffin. He’s the . . . I thought you knew?” Peta looked up at me and then away, her eyes darting to the side. “Perhaps I was not supposed to tell you.”
In some ways, that explained a lot about Griffin. Except for the picture of the woman and the little boy. Who were they? Call it a hunch, but I had a feeling the mother goddess wasn’t much into sharing her consort with other women. “I won’t spill the can of beans. But he is not our only option. Niah can help. I think.”
Niah had a home in the southern edge of the Rim and I hurried that way. As our storyteller, she spun all the old tales. But she seemed to have a Reader’s knack for knowing what was coming and what was needed.
Crossing the main road of the Rim, the sun caught the tips of a head of bright red hair bent over a redwood seedling. My heart clenched at the sight of Cactus. “Peta, loving them both is going to kill me.”
“Don’t be melodramatic. It doesn’t suit you. Take Cactus with you on this journey. He’s powerful in his two elements, and he needs to be away from Vetch. Perhaps some time with him will show you he’s not the one for you.”