“Even now when you lie on death’s cusp you want answers?” He seemed genuinely surprised.
“Yes.” Why the hell it mattered to me, I truly did not know. But in this small way, I fought to stay awake, to keep my mind together.
“Giselle would have helped us to be sure of our steps. To be sure it was the right time to kill you and the king. A safety measure. But as you can see, we didn’t really need her after all.”
The world swirled, and I fell into Vetch’s memories.
I struggled at first to understand what I was seeing.
Briar cringed away from Vetch, her hands up, and her clothing torn.
“Mother said we must, so stop your crying.”
“I don’t want to,” she whimpered, clutching her hands around her naked torso.
“Not up to you, Briar. Not up to me.” Vetch stripped off his clothes and stalked toward his youngest sister.
A flicker of rage snapped through me as the air popped around us and we were through to somewhere humid and hot. The brush and swirl of a heated wind did nothing to cool the sweat on my brow.
A few seconds later, Blackbird appeared and stepped up beside Vetch as my brother packed me on his shoulder with the indifference of a mindless creature. “Did you break Vetch?”
“Worried about your brother?”
“Tell me. He deserves to be broken.” I breathed out, coughed and fought the wave of darkness that flowed over me.
Vetch flipped me off his shoulder. I landed on my back, on the hard ground. The world faded and I fought the desire to close my eyes and let death take me. “Tell me everything.”
“So you can die in peace?” There was a thread of sadness to Blackbird’s voice I didn’t understand.
“Yes.” One word, but even one was becoming too much for me.
Blackbird knelt beside me, his cloak spread over my body. It didn’t dissolve as Keeda’s had.
“Keeda was a tool, as is Cassava. They think they are running the show, but they aren’t. I will rule the Rim through her. As I will rule all the families through their leaders. That is what the mother goddess wants, for her children to all be together.”
“Not like that.” I stared up at him while I clutched his cloak. “She wouldn’t want it done this way.”
“You don’t know the mother goddess like I do. She and I go way back. She chose me when I was a child. My mother bedded several men while wearing different stones in order to make sure I came into existence.” It felt like he was laughing at me and I didn’t understand.
“Then why was Cassava scheming with Requiem to create a child like you?”
Blackbird grinned. “Ah, yes. Requiem. Idiot of epic proportion. Mother wanted to see if another child like me could be born naturally and pose a threat. She promised Requiem he could have you for test breeding, over and over.” His grin widened. “But it appears he got Bella instead.”
A sharp stab of pain shot through my body. I tried to arch away from the wound in my back, but I barely twitched.
“Death is a funny thing. It can help us see more clearly. Or so I’m told. Do you see me clearly yet, Larkspur?” He put his hands to the edge of his hood.
“You are Cassava’s lover.”
“Yes, I am that,” he said. “She is my everything. Lover. Confidante. Partner. And more.”
If I could have gagged I would have. I said nothing as he began to peel back the cloak, slowly revealing his dark hair. Coal? No, it couldn’t be Coal. I’d killed him.
Dark hair, blue eyes sparkling with mischief.
He ran a hand down my cheek. “Yes, sister. You were to be mine once Requiem was done with you. Mother has a taste for the exotic looks, and I,” he leaned in and brushed his lips over mine, “share that with her.”
I couldn’t move, couldn’t even pull away. My brother. He was Cassava’s lover, son. The words jumbled up in my head. Twisted was the only thing I could think. She’d twisted him into a monster.
“Vetch, help me put her into the oubliette.” He snapped his fingers and Vetch grabbed me under the arms.
There was one last thing I could do, to help Bella and her child survive. I reached toward Vetch with one hand and pushed Spirit into him, driving it deep into his mind. There was nothing of him there, no emotion, no personality. I broke what was left of it apart, and stopped his heart. He stiffened under my hand.
“Lark, that wasn’t necessary.” Raven chided me as though I’d thrown a temper tantrum. Vetch dropped to the ground, his heart stilled. One less sibling to deal with, and more importantly, my sisters were safe from him. Raven bent and took the armband from Vetch, then leaned over me. “Are you quite done?”
I looked up at him, held his gaze. “No.” With the last of my strength, I grabbed him with both hands and pushed Spirit into him. I had to kill him, I had to if Bella and her child were to have a chance at stopping Cassava.
Power raged between us as he fought. Spirit screeched, the sound like a thousand death cries at once, of a hurricane and earthquake, of a tsunami, all rolled into the roar of Spirit doing battle.
I didn’t hold back. I was dying, I knew it.
So did he.
“Lark, don’t!” His eyes were full of terror as I hammered him with everything I had. He kicked me in the stomach and sent me tumbling backward. I hit the rounded edges of something anything but natural. Smooth, hard, and stinking like rubber.