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A snarl escaped him, giving more evidence to what I believed. He had a temper and didn’t like people thinking he was too young.

“My lover wants to speak with her.” He spat the words out as though they cost him.

“You mean Cassava, don’t you?”

Blackbird lifted his hands and the wind around us picked up, a gust slamming into me and flipping me backward before I could anchor myself into the ground. I flew through the air, catching glimpses of the scene around me. Peta clawing the ground to hold Giselle firm. Cactus out of sight.

The ground rushed up and I hit it hard, landing on my hip and shoulder. Rolling, I was on my hands and knees in a flash. Forty feet away, Peta’s fur rippled as the wind hammered her. Giselle screamed as she slipped, her arms wrapped around Peta’s neck.

“Don’t let him take me!”

Propelled by the need to protect them both, I ran straight for Blackbird. He saw me coming and I watched the power lines climb his arms. At the last possible second I arced my arm back and threw my spear at him. It flew true straight for his heart.

He threw himself to the side, catching the blade in his shoulder. Crying out, he touched his arm and twisted his hand over it.

With a pop of air, he was gone, my spear buried in the ground behind where he’d been. The wind eased immediately, and I stood there, panting with adrenaline as much as exertion.

“He’s got a Traveling band,” Peta said as I approached them.

“Yes. Why would he use it now? Not that I wish he’d stayed, but it makes no sense.”

“Perhaps, he is a coward?” Giselle said softly. “My mentor told me cowards always run when they are first injured.”

Though her words were true, I doubted that was the case. I didn’t know what the reason was and that bothered me.

“What’s a Traveling band?” Giselle asked as she sat up. Her tawny hair was in disarray and her pale blue eyes seemed almost transparent as she took me in.

“Wait.” I crouched in front of her. “Did you hear Peta?”

“Yes. I’m a Reader. The rules don’t apply to me.” She gave me a tentative smile.

I held my hand out. “My name is Larkspur. And I am an elemental.”

She put her hand in mine. “My name is Giselle. I knew you were coming. You have a big job ahead of you. Maybe bigger than you even realize. But . . . the boy in the black cloak. Do you know him?”

Cactus jogged up beside us, panting. He had blood running down the side of his face. “That bastard threw me against the wall.” The wall was a good three hundred feet away.

“We were lucky this time.” I looked around, knowing I was right. We were in an open space, with humans on the fringes. Even now a few watched us. Blackbird wasn’t stupid, even if he was young. He was waiting for me to be weak and alone before he took me on.

“He will fight you soon. You will do something that will enrage him and it will push him over the edge. You’ll hurt someone he loves,” Giselle whispered, her eyes unfocused. “He knows you, though, Lark. He knows you better than you know him.”

Helping her to her feet, I chose not to say anything. Silence was often a virtue overlooked by those in a hurry to get their answers. Something I’d learned from my mother.

Peta shifted to her housecat form and I scooped her up. Cactus grabbed my spear from the ground where it had lodged and cleaned the tip off before handing it to me. “Where to now?”

I looked at Giselle. “Do you have somewhere we could talk?”

Giselle looked from me to Cactus and back again. “Yes, I think so.”

Without another word, she walked toward the trees backing the green space.

I put myself beside her, wondering how such a small supernatural would survive in a world with so much violence and death. “You were trained by an elemental, correct?”

She blushed. “Yes. Since I was ten.”

Five years.

Most banished elementals didn’t last long outside of their home before they lost their minds. During the second year the longing for home overrode any other need.

I glanced at Cactus, wanting to ask him who he knew who had been banished in the last five years. He shook his head, already knowing the question. “None I can think of.”

None, there had been none. I knew it; I’d wanted him to confirm for me, though. But that meant it was someone before. Yet . . . that was impossible.

“What was the name of the one who trained you?”

She cleared her throat. “His name is Talan.”

Again I looked at Cactus, who shook his head. The name didn’t ring a bell for him either.

“Peta, any clue—”

“No.” My cat leapt from my shoulder and proceeded to trot far enough ahead that there was no way I could speak to her without hurrying. So Peta knew the name, and it obviously meant something to her.

I twisted my lips and chewed on the bottom one while I thought. “You live with your parents, then?”

The blush deepened. “No. I’m an orphan. But I have my own place, Talan helped me get it. But . . . please don’t tell the school. They would put me in a home for children and I can’t . . . I can’t do that again. It’s hell.” She looked at me, pleading with her eyes.

“I won’t tell anyone.”

Her shoulders sagged and once more the silence thickened. Yet within it were all the questions swirling. Who was Talan, how did Peta know him, and how was such a young Reader going to help me find a Tracker?

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