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I reached back and pulled Cactus closer to me. “The mother goddess is using me, Peta. I have been instrumental in the Deep, Pit, and Rim in changing the structure of who rules, or how they rule. I have no doubt we are being funneled to the Eyrie for the same reason.”

Cactus sucked in a sharp breath. “Holy—”

“Do not use her name,” I snapped, anger filling me. Anger and disappointment. “She has been using me from the beginning.”

Peta’s green eyes softened. “You are her chosen one, Lark. There must be a reason.”

“Why would she let me go in blind? How much easier would it have been if I’d known what she would ask of me?”

Shazer flipped his head. “Perhaps because she knew you would fight her if she laid the harness on too tightly.”

His words struck a chord. “Damn, you’re right.”

“Of course I am.” He blew out a breath that sent a spattering of spit back at us.

I wiped my face and Peta fluffed up her back. “Stupid horse.”

He rolled to the left, making her scramble to cling to me. “Shazer, enough!”

A horsey laugh rippled out of him. “For now.”

If I’d known what the mother goddess was going to ask of me, I would have fought her. I’d have thought I couldn’t do it, especially facing down Cassava. Or going into the Deep. Or the Pit, for that matter. Damn, I didn’t want to be okay with this.

Especially now that I knew what was coming in the Eyrie. Another coup? Some sort of trial by fire like the Pit?

I tucked my chin to my chest, wrapped my arms around Peta and closed my eyes. There was nothing I could do until we got there, and maybe, maybe I was wrong.

Our direction never shifted as we flew. Sometime in the early hours of the night we began our descent and I opened my eyes.

The Wretched Peaks surrounded us. My heart climbed into my throat as we dropped. Damn, being right had never felt so horrible.

Ophelia landed first. Shazer dropped to her left with a bounce that turned into a buck. Cactus went flying over our heads and hit the ground hard, landing flat on his back. The dragon tipped her head back and let out a long laugh.

Shazer pranced where he was. “Names have power. What does mine mean?”

I blushed. “Twisting, or intertwining.”

“Perhaps you should have gone with something more docile.” Cactus snorted.

I swatted Shazer’s neck before I slid from his back. “You don’t have to wait with us here. Go home to your forest.” I took a few steps before the energy between Peta and me spiked, verging on panic. I reached up and laid a hand on her back as I twisted to look her in the eye. “What’s wrong?”

“That is not my energy you are feeling, Lark,” Peta said. Her left ear flicked once and I followed the direction she indicated.

Shazer stood with his hooves planted in the ground as if he were frozen in the thin dusting of snow, while his whole body twitched and quivered.

“Oh, no,” I whispered. “Let him go. He has done his part.”

Child, you need him. And perhaps more than that, he needs you. Would you turn away a gift from me?

The mother goddess spoke to my mind, and so I could not hide my thoughts from her. Of course I wouldn’t turn him away. “Shazer. You are bound to me. Do you feel it?”

His dark eyes swiveled to mine and he let out a snort, but said nothing. The anger in his eyes spoke volumes that needed no words. He did not wish to be tied to me.

I steeled myself. I’d won over Peta; I had to believe I could win over him too. I touched his side. “I will not lay the harness on you, my friend. Whatever help I need will be temporary, I’m sure.”

The emotions in him softened a few degrees. “I will hold you to that.”

“Elle,” I turned as she approached me, “any final directions?”

She pointed up at the peak that seemed to hover over our heads. “He’s up there, but how the fuck he’s alive is beyond me. We circled but could see nothing.”

“It’s okay. I can take it from here.” I held my hand out to Cactus. He offered me his hand and I frowned. “My spear, Cactus.”

“Right.” He tossed it to me and I twisted the two pieces together. “Thank you, both of you.”

“The job isn’t done until I return him to you.” Elle stepped in front of me, most effectively blocking me from moving forward.

I put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her ever so slightly. “I said I can handle it from here. I will even give you that bonus. I will give you a favor, Tracker. One to be called in at any time.”

Her eyes widened. “Why would you do that?”

Spirit flowed through me and out my mouth. “You will need me before your life is called to the other side of the Veil. You will give me what you hold closest to your heart.”

The words were out of my mouth, but they were not my own. Chills rippled through me and Elle’s body shook under my hand.

“I fucking well doubt it.” She jerked away from me, but the fear in her eyes was loud and clear.

“Do not follow us, no matter what happens.” I dropped my hand and walked away. Toward the mountain’s base.

“We can’t stay, Lark,” Elle said.

I glanced over my shoulder. “Then don’t.”

“We can’t pull your ass out of this.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

She threw her hands in the air. “Bram, time to go. We have things to do.”

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