“Where is Blackbird in all this? We have seen neither hide nor hair of him, though he is hunting the same stones,” Peta asked suddenly, breaking my line of thought.
I rubbed a hand on one thigh. “I’m hoping he is behind us somewhere, the Rim or the Deep, looking and not realizing the stone is gone.”
Peta yawned, her tiny jaw cracking wide. “Wishful thinking. What are you really thinking?”
The thing I’d not been able to dismiss rose out of my mouth. “That he’s waiting for me to gather all five stones and then take them from me. A single fight he knows he will win, rather than tiring himself out on four different rulers.”
“Exactly,” she whispered. “That was my thought exactly.”
There was something that bothered me, though. “There are still things that don’t fit.”
“Like what?” Shazer threw the question back.
“Let’s go through this logically,” I said. “Bella fought me, and then our father lost what was left of his mind. From there, we went to the Deep where Finley set an assassin on me, we fought her, and then two Sylphs attacked us. In the Pit, we faced Scar who was being manipulated and then Fiametta who, like my father, had lost her mind.” I paused and replayed the events over and over in my head, and only two notes stood out. “Each time, there has been a personal connection when I faced a ruler. My father. Scar. Bella. Finley. Except for the Sylphs who showed up at the Deep. They were no one I knew. There was nothing personal about that attack. Which tells me . . .”
“You aren’t dealing with a single enemy, but two.” Shazer’s words were clear in the high, crisp air.
Two enemies, neither of which I was entirely certain I knew. But I couldn’t deny Shazer was right, as much as I wished he were wrong.
he Himalayan Mountains reared into the sky in front of us. I pressed a hand against Shazer’s neck. “I think we should land away from the Eyrie and see if we can get a look at the situation before we make any decisions.”
He gave me a quick nod and spiraled out of the clouds. Peta shivered against me, though I doubted it had to do with the air temperature.
“What is it?”
“This place was not good to us. To either of us, and I doubt this time will be any better. It makes my tail puff up.”
I grimaced. I couldn’t disagree with her. To say I’d left the Eyrie on bad terms last time was an understatement. I’d essentially killed their old queen, destroyed their mountain home, and walked away without any form of punishment. And Samara, the new queen, had been clear that if I dared show my face again, my life would be forfeit.
“Peta, did you come back here after I was banished?”
“No. It is the one place I didn’t study. Their library was destroyed when you and Cassava fought, and I wasn’t sure Samara’s threat didn’t apply to me as well.” She sniffed. “I could have snuck in and they’d have never known. But like I said, there was nothing to look at. The library is gone.”
Shazer swept down the last few feet to an open valley that was far enough away from where the Eyrie had been that I thought we’d be unnoticed. He dropped down the last bit, his wings tucked in tight to his sides, and did a double hop that bounced me off his back. I landed in a crouch, but on my feet, and Peta grinned from where she clung to him. “Reflexes like a cat; you’re getting there.”
A half smile turned my lips up as I stood. “How far are we from the Eyrie?”
Peta ran up Shazer’s neck, stopped on his head and lifted onto her back legs, peering toward the mountain. Not that standing on two feet would give her a better vantage point. Like a meerkat investigating the lay of the land for danger, she swayed and bobbed, but remained upright as she scanned the area around us. I raised my eyebrows, surprised that Shazer held still for her to use him essentially as a step stool.
He grunted, as if he realized what was going on, and shook his head. She clung to him with her back feet, shocking me that she was still upright. “Hold still, hay bag.”
“Hay bag? I just flew you two around the world the last few days. Show a little respect. Pussy.”
She tightened her back claws in the top of his head. “The Eyrie is two valleys over. Assuming the Sylphs stayed in the same mountain.”
“They’d have to,” I said. “They are tied to it, as surely as the Undines are tied to the Deep. They would have had to rebuild in the same place to keep their people from going mad with homesickness.”
“Take your stinking, dirty cat claws off me, you dirty stinking cat,” Shazer drawled.
Peta flicked her tail. “Make me, oat eater.”
I rolled my eyes and put a hand to the ground while they bickered like an old married couple. Without thought, I called on my connection to the earth. Would it buck and fight me? The power waiting for me there was thick with the same entity I’d felt before.
A sentient being that seemed to be the mountain itself. But that wasn’t possible. Was it? The mother goddess was the mother goddess, there was no other being—
Illusions, Larkspur. Your world is an illusion that shall soon be shattered in a way you could not understand before now.
I froze where I was, as if I’d been covered in ice for a thousand years. I didn’t dare move. “Who are you? You’ve spoken to me in the Deep and the Pit, as well as twice here.”