She grinned and whispered back, “You got it. What about Blackbird, though? He could have me pull down on you again.”
I reached out and took her hand. “Don’t let go of me.”
“That’s going to get awkward.”
“This won’t be a fight with weapons.”
Her eyes widened and she nodded. I stood and we stepped out together. She lifted her free hand and the trees above us groaned. Everyone looked up, including Cassava and Blackbird.
The wind that swept through the Rim was icy cold, as if it had been pulled from the Wretched Peaks themselves. It slammed into the Terralings surrounding Cassava and swept them away in a gust that sent them flying through the air like a child’s ragdolls.
Screams rent the silence and I finally caught a glimpse of Ash. He was on his belly in front of Cassava, stains of red in his golden hair. I dragged Samara forward with me.
I held out a hand and the earth below us rumbled, the plates under our feet shifting as my anger boiled to a fever pitch.
“Ah, Larkspur. So lovely to see you again,” Cassava purred. She snapped her fingers and Blackbird picked up Ash. His body was limp. “Don’t worry, he isn’t dead yet. But if you don’t do what I want, he will be.”
All the power of the earth couldn’t help me. But maybe Spirit could. Samara tugged on my hand. “I can send them flying.”
“Do it and I will have Blackbird burn your familiar and your lover to a crisp right in front of you,” Cassava said.
Blackbird had a hand on Peta’s ruff and he shook her hard. “Cooked kitty. I’ve never had that before.”
She hissed at him and swung a paw, but in her housecat form she wasn’t much of a threat. I had no doubt he was suppressing her ability to shift.
“What do you want?” I asked. Samara stilled, her hand in mine tightening.
“Don’t, Lark. They’ll kill all three of you.”
“Not if you can get Ash and Peta away.” I looked at her and saw a kindred spirit. A child like me who’d been broken and found a way to put herself back together. “I trust you to get them away, Samara.”
Her jaw ticked and she nodded. “And what about you?”
The ground under us heaved. From behind us, Vetch laughed his donkey-braying laugh. We landed apart. “Get them!” I yelled at her. She stood and the wind picked her and Ash up. Peta, though, was tangled in Blackbird’s hands. My cat twisted and bit him on the wrist and he dropped her with a curse. She ran to me, not to Samara. I caught her up in my arms and clutched her to me. “You have to go.”
“No. I will not leave you.”
I looked up at Samara and nodded. At least Ash would be safe. Blossom would look after Bella. It was all I could do.
The sound of footsteps, the whistle of a weapon slicing through the air; those were the only sounds of warning I had. A sword pierced my back, right under my heart.
I arched backward as blood bubbled up my throat and trickled out my mouth. Peta let out a screech that turned into a snarl as she shifted into her leopard form. Hanging onto the power of the earth, I pulled a creeping vine forward and wrapped it around her back legs, yanking her out of the circle that tightened around me. I caught a glimpse of Samara and she gave me a nod as she swept Peta away.
“NO, NO!” Peta screamed, her voice breaking on the one word.
The sword was yanked from my back and I slumped forward onto my knees. My siblings, minus Bella and Raven—my only supporters—surrounded me.
There would be no escaping this time. All those who could have saved me were far away; and I wouldn’t have wanted them to trade their lives for me. Not even Peta. Maybe most especially not my Peta.
“Little Larkspur. Your time has finally come.” Cassava knelt in front of me, cupping my face in her hands. “Do you want to know why I left you alive so long?”
I blinked up at her.
“You were to be a part of the new order, Lark.” Cassava stroked my face. “Spirit is such a rare element, and to have a child with all five elements . . . is difficult. I’d hoped you would remain biddable enough. But, so be it.”
“You wanted a child from me?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Why not keep Bramley alive then?”
“He was named as heir. I couldn’t have that. He had to die.” She tapped my nose with a finger, and in her eyes I saw the broken mind behind them. “You were nothing to your father even then. I knew I could control you. I promised you to Requiem.”
To Requiem . . . “I’d rather die than be your breeding bitch.”
“Yes, I realize that now. Which is why I will waste no more time with you. Vetch, take her to the oubliette. I don’t want anyone finding her body. Ever.”
I caught Briar’s eyes as Vetch threw me over his shoulder. “Briar, run away,” I whispered.
She blinked back tears and turned her back on me, fear making her biddable. Raven . . . I had to believe he’d at least gotten away. Blackbird fell in behind Vetch as we walked to the barracks and the Traveling room. Vetch set up the globe. I couldn’t tell where he was taking me, upside down and dying as I was. Dying. Yes, that was what was happening. I probably should have been more afraid, but there was no strength left in me.
Distantly I recognized that Blackbird could be suppressing my desire to live, using Spirit to control me.
Blackbird faced me, but I had no idea of what was going on with him. “Why did you want Giselle?”