He laughed. “Clever girl. Yes, of course I’m helping her. I have been all along. But you’re so easy. I know how to make you do what I want.”
I swung my spear out and he leapt back, slamming into the wall. Why wasn’t he attacking me?
“Samara,” he said, and lines of pink slid around him, “kill her.”
Worm shit and green sticks.
Samara lunged at me, her eyes filled with his power, tingeing the whites. Her pointed staff swept my legs from under me and I hit the ground hard, the stone biting into my bare back. I rolled as she slammed the point of her spear toward my heart. The tip caught the edge of my back and tore a flap of flesh off. “Samara, fight him!” I yelled, knowing it would do no good. Unless I could get my hands on her skin, the power he held over her would stand.
She came at me again and again, and I deflected each blow. But I knew it was only a matter of time before she got through my guard. Her speed matched mine. I had only one choice. I flung my arms wide. “Kill me then.”
With a lunge, she drove her staff toward my middle. At the last possible second, as the tip touched my bare belly, I stepped to the side and slapped my hands on her face. Her momentum carried us forward a few steps before we stumbled to a stop.
“What happened? I dreamed we were fighting.” Her words were slurred as if she’d been drinking.
I let her go, watching for signs that the command Blackbird had given her was truly gone from her. I turned, to see if Blackbird remained, already knowing he too would be gone. The hall was empty except for Samara and me.
“Not a dream, my friend.” My breath came in gasps, and I touched the spot on my belly that had almost become a new scar. A thin trickle of blood ran down, but it was the injury on my back that was going to give me a good war wound.
Footsteps, and then Cactus was there in nothing but a pair of pants. He stared at me and spoke words that made my blood run cold.
“Blackbird took Peta.”
“I’m coming with you,” Samara said as we ran back to my room. I grabbed my clothes and slid them on with speed, ignoring her. “I said—”
“This is not your fight, Samara.” I grabbed my boots and yanked them on. Cactus dressed beside me, not saying a word.
Blackbird had Peta . . . he knew I would come for her, which meant it was a trap I was about to walk into. There was no way I was taking more people into a trap meant for me. The bond between my familiar and me was strong. When I focused on it, I felt the direction she was in. Straight west, toward the Rim.
I wasn’t surprised.
“I wasn’t asking your permission, Lark,” Samara said, her words cool. “I have every right to pursue an invader of our home.”
Damn it, she was right. “Fine, good luck finding him.”
“He took your familiar, and you can find her. I will follow you.”
Cactus touched my arm. “Lark, wait. Your father is here somewhere. You know that. You know Blackbird is trying to take you away so you don’t find him.”
I nodded. “Yes. Peta means more to me than my father.”
Samara sucked in a sharp breath. “The Terraling king is your father? And you would choose your familiar over him?”
“Do not judge me, Samara,” I snapped. “Peta is my heart mate and has been more a part of healing my soul in the short while she has been with me than any other. My father is barely a sperm donor, as far as I’m concerned.”
Her face softened. “Believe it or not, I understand.” She lifted her hand and from over our heads in the clouds came the shriek of an eagle, the high pitch resonating through the room. The large bird dove out of the sky, banking with his wings so he could land on Samara’s shoulder. He preened a moment, but said nothing.
I held my hand out to Samara and she took it. “Then we hunt together, as our families did once.”
Her eyes glittered. “I always enjoyed roasted game bird.”
Cactus laughed, but I didn’t. With Peta’s life on the line, nothing was funny to me.
Samara touched my arm. “You have a Traveling band?”
I nodded. “It will take us to the Rim.”
Cactus cleared his throat. “You have to say goodbye to the queen, Lark. You can’t leave without taking note of the—”
“Do it for me.” I took his face in my hands and kissed him. “Get Shazer and fly home as fast as you can, as soon as you can.”
His eyes widened as I stepped away from him. Samara nodded and put a hand on my arm. Cactus finally nodded. “I love you, Lark. Don’t forget it.”
I kept my eyes on his as I reached up and twisted the armband counterclockwise. The world around us sucked us down and I braced myself for the memory I would gain from Samara.
The images were dull, and flickered, unlike the other times I’d Traveled with another.
Samara as a child, beaten and hurt. Her desire to protect others. Her Ender training. The ridicule she endured. How much she loved the queen and how she wanted to protect her family.
So much like me it hurt to see and feel the past played out, even in those flickers and bits. We jerked to a stop, and she let me go. This time, the guards were waiting for us inside the Traveling room.
“You are under arrest—”
I launched myself at the guard who spoke. I didn’t know who it was with his visor pulled up, and I didn’t care. I slammed the butt of my spear into his head, dropping him before he could finish his sentence. Samara took on a guard while the remaining two surrounded me.