Clutching the table, he slowly shook his head. “I don’t know what to believe. Vetch says the information about Keeda came from someone he trusted. Someone who had no reason to lie to him. And now your reaction confirms the truth in it. If you would hurt her, one of the weakest siblings, what would you try to do to the rest of us?”
Goose shit and green sticks, I was my own worst enemy. “So Vetch, Briar, and you have been discussing whether I’m dangerous to you?”
“And Bella,” he said softly, his eyes flicking downward.
If he had taken one of the carving knives and jammed it into my stomach, I’m not sure it would have hurt any more than the sharp pain his words cut into me.
“Bella wouldn’t,” I spat out, pushing back from the table. Whatever appetite I had was gone.
“It’s not like that, Lark. She . . . she’s the ruler right now; she has to know the mood of her people. And like it or not, any of our siblings could be in line for the throne. Bella is being smart; she needs to keep her fingers in every discussion she can. Particularly when it comes to our siblings.”
I didn’t want her to be smart. I wanted her to tell them they were horrible and that she trusted me even though I had to make tough choices. She of all the people in my life knew the truth of what happened to Keeda in the Pit.
Thinking she was about to become the new queen of the Pit, Keeda had attacked me. Wearing a disguise, I’d thought her to be my stepmother, Cassava. I’d used everything at my disposal to stop her, including my untrained, and wildly unpredictable, ability with Spirit.
In doing so, I’d burned out my sister’s mind, taking away her personality and memories, along with most of her ability to speak—everything that made her an Elemental. The grief and horror of my actions were raw, oozing like an infection I couldn’t heal.
Anger cut through the weaker emotions. Belladonna knew I had had no choice but to stop Keeda the way I had. Damn her for turning on me.
Peta dug into my bare shoulder, jabbing me with her tiny—yet ridiculously sharp—claws. “Don’t be a fool. They are wary with reason.”
The anger slid out of me with a slow exhale. She was right, as was so often the case. “Please don’t be afraid of me. Please. I promise I would never hurt you. You’re my favorite brother.”
A tentative smile crept over his lips, curling up more on one side than the other. “I believe you. I’ll try to sway Vetch and Briar, but they are scared. Terrified, actually, if I am honest.”
“Fear makes people do stupid things,” I said, repeating his words. “What do you think they are planning?”
He shrugged. “Nothing yet. A lot of talk about how horrible you are. How much Vetch hates you and wishes you’d died along with your mom and brother.”
“Right. So nothing new there.”
“Nope, sorry, sis. You still suck rotten apples even though you’ve saved the Deep and the Pit. In the Rim, you’re still nothing but a dirty little Planter.” He winked to soften the words, but there was for the first time a feeling of discord in him I’d never sensed before.
Almost like he believed what he was saying. The urge to use Spirit to discern how truthful he was snaked through me. I tamped it down. Every time I used Spirit, I lost a part of myself.
Eventually, if I kept using it, I would end up like Cassava. A twisted, cruel version of the person I’d once been. Besides, this was Raven. Like Bella, I knew he had my back. Wasn’t he proving it by giving me the heads-up on my siblings? Yes and yes.
“Raven, stay out of trouble while I’m gone, will you?” I stepped away from the table. A part of me wanted to hug him goodbye, but after our conversation, I wasn’t sure he’d let me touch him. Better to not reach for him and be rejected.
He stood. “What, no hug?”
So I wrapped my arms around him, gratitude flowing down my cheeks. I brushed the tears away with one hand. “Thanks.”
He rubbed my back in a slow circle with one hand as he squeezed me tightly. “Nothing to it. Figured if you were going to do me in, it would have been when I filched the cheese from your plate.”
Do him in . . . was that how my siblings thought of me? As a rampant killer out to annihilate my own family? I didn’t realize I was out of the kitchen until I was on the stairs that led up and out of the Spiral, my emotions and Raven’s words chasing me like hounds on a fox.
Peta swayed on my shoulder. “Where are we going? To see Bella?”
Much as I wanted to see my sister and have her reassure me, I needed to be strong.
“To the Enders Barracks. You’re right about Bella. She’s doing her job and I have to do mine; I don’t need to bother her with silly insecurities.” I stepped out of the Spiral and looked into the swaying branches of the redwoods around us. Filtering between the trees, the morning fog rolled in as if a living entity. This was home, and no matter how far I went, no matter how long I was forced away, my heart belonged here. Hopefully the search for Father would be the last excursion I had for a long while.
“Did you mean what you said to Raven about finding your father?” she asked.
“I promised Bella I would go after him,” I said as I trotted down the steps, “and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
A gaggle of children ran by me, laughing and squealing as they chased one another. Peta’s eyes followed them. “What I would give to be oblivious to the responsibilities of the world and be a kitten once more.”