Yes, this was the way it should be. To start fresh, wipe out those who used them wrongly. To clean away the interlopers.
Those were not my thoughts.
The mountains spoke through me. Wipe them out, those who see us as nothing. They see us as less because we are of the earth and not the far-reaching skies. I give them life, I give them shelter, I protect them. They do not care. They do not thank me.
Rocks slammed into the ground around us, but none touched my skin. I forced my eyes open, forced myself to truly see what carnage was happening.
The mountain had sunk, dropping out from under us so we rested in a deep crater. As though a falling rock from the sky had annihilated it.
People were yelling. Peta and Cactus were yelling, but I didn’t hear them. I saw their mouths moving, but there was no sound. Cactus slapped me—hard enough to snap my head around. “Stop it, Lark! She’s dead, you have to stop this, you’re going to kill us all!”
His words hit me harder than his hand. I let go of the power and it receded, slowly, reluctantly. My entire body hummed with energy. Unlike other times, I had not lost anything in using that amount of the earth’s power. Instead, it filled me like a cup that overflowed.
My joy was short-lived. Peta trembled beside me, her ears pinned to her head. My father was on his side, his eyes closed, his words thick with the fog of whatever drug Cassava had given him. “Lark . . . you . . . you killed them all.”
I spun. “No, I couldn’t have.”
Cactus ran from my side to where a pile of rubble shifted. He threw the rocks aside, green lines running down his arms as he tapped into the earth and moved the stones. I didn’t waste time asking more questions. I fell in beside him, digging out the Sylphs who’d not fled when the fight started. The power in me was different now, normal. As if I were the one controlling it and not the other way around.
Body after body we pulled out, none alive. Cassava was nowhere.
“I saw her go under,” Cactus said, as though reading my mind. “She’s gone, Lark.”
His words should have made me feel better. But nothing could ease the horror flowing through me.
No matter how much rage I carried, this was not what I’d wanted.
I had done the unspeakable, and whatever punishment came to me I would willingly take. Most likely death, and a part of me welcomed the thought of crossing the Veil. My father was safe, and I knew Cactus could get him home. Cassava was dead and the world had no need of me.
Around us, the Sylphs who had fled to the air dropped to the ground. Peta stayed distant from me, as did Cactus. As though they were afraid of me. I refused to consider that I’d truly given them reason to fear me.
We dug for hours until there was nothing left but to face the truth. On my own, I had wiped out nearly half the population of Sylphs. Their bodies lay in front of me broken and twisted by the mountain they had called their home.
Even if their home had hated them.
The Sylphs left stared at me as though I were a monster. And I was. I knew it.
I stumbled away from the mass grave, shaking so hard I could barely keep my feet under me. I fell to my knees and vomited until I had nothing left but dry heaves, and even then my body would not let me stop. This was not happening. This was not happening.
Peta stuck her nose into my face. “Lark.”
“Do you not fear me?” I reared back from her, anger, pain and guilt tangling inside my heart. “Do you not want to run from me? Do you not think I will kill you too?”
She looked to the Sylphs identifying those who’d been killed. “You’re being selfish, Lark. People have died, lost their lives, and all you are worried about is how you are perceived? I thought you were better than that.”
Breathing hard, I stepped back from her. “Selfish?”
“Cat, you are being too hard on her.”
We both turned to see the queen walk carefully over the rubble toward us. My throat tightened. “I did not mean to tear down your home, or kill your people. I . . .”
I knew what was coming. She would ask for my surrender and I would give it.
“Those who died,” she swept her hand back toward the bodies laid out, “you did not hear them? They cheered for Cassava. They were no longer my Sylphs. You are the bringer of change, child of Earth and Spirit. There are times for change to happen. The slate must be wiped clean.”
I wasn’t sure I liked the way her words echoed that of the mountain entity.
Aria put a hand to her throat. “For change, you need one who is brave enough to stand the brunt of death. That one . . . is you.” She held a hand out to my face and brushed it down my cheek. Her touch undid my control and the tears I’d held at bay since I’d been pulled from the oubliette trickled down my face.
“I do not want this.”
“Then the mother goddess has chosen correctly. If you wanted this power, this strength, I would fear you.” She cupped my face and turned it upward. “I will name you for what you are, and praise the goddess she has sent you to cleanse our world.” She leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “You are the Destroyer. The one who will see our people rise again in glory and strength.”
Around us, the world had gone rather quiet. She held tightly to my face, patted my cheeks and turned her back. “I name her the Destroyer. She has done no wrong here in my eyes and as such there will be no recriminations for this act of nature. The Destroyer lives outside our laws, as it should be.”
The remaining Sylphs stayed quiet. Except for one. Ender Boreas. “She killed our people and you would let her go? Where is the queen who would fight to the ends of the earth for our survival?” He strode toward her and she flicked a hand at him. The wind that hit him sent him tumbling through the air, but didn’t hurt him.