I stared at the throne room behind us. “Get your family out, Flint. And get them out fast.”
From the leather pouch at my side I sifted through the stones. The five fake ones I pushed to the side, and I pulled out the two real rings I’d collected so far. There was something about them that was more vibrant than the fake ones. I couldn’t put my finger on it, more like a glimmer of the possibility that lay within them. I wondered if it was just me that saw it, or if my connection to Spirit allowed me to see beneath the surface.
The real emerald and sapphire blinked up at me, beckoning. Did I dare use them, hoping I would not be pulled under the spell of their creator?
Did I dare face Fiametta in all her rage and madness without them?
“he is in the lower levels with everyone.” Flint broke my concentration as I stared at the stones.
I clenched my hand around the emerald and sapphire. “Bella, I need a piece of your skirt.”
“Really?” Flint stared hard at me. “You need to change clothes before you see Fiametta?”
“No.” I bent to one knee and grabbed the bottom edge of Bella’s full skirt. “I need to prepare myself before we deal with her.” I cut off a strip and laid it on the ground. I poured out the fake stones onto the material and wrapped them tightly. If I needed to grab the real ones, the last thing I needed was to scramble and waste time sifting through the fakes. I tucked the bundle into my leather pouch and then set the real stones on top.
“Now I am ready.”
Flint raised an eyebrow but didn’t question my actions further. “There is no way to get my people out without alerting her. And you need someone to lead you in and out.” He took Bella’s hand and strode ahead. “I think the best way would be to get Bella out, and you and I will face my mother. I won’t risk Bella being hurt.”
My lips twitched. “Bella, I approve. And you should probably tell him.”
She swung back to me, her mouth an O, her eyes filling with tears. I blamed those on the hormones.
Flint didn’t slow, typical man didn’t even seem to hear me, or get the undertones of my words. “We have to hurry. Tell me on the way,” he said.
I laughed. “Oh, I think this might slow you down.”
Bella shook her head, and I knew what she was wondering. Why now? Why tell him she was pregnant now of all times? And then I saw the understanding sweep over her face.
There was a chance he would not survive what was coming. It was why we wanted her moved to safety. My mistake was thinking it would help her say her piece and move to safety.
“No, I’m coming with you.” She slid to a stop. “I am coming with you. I am queen of the Rim, and I will not run from a battle.”
“Peta cannot come with us, she’s still healing,” I pointed out.
“Then we will put her outside and Shazer can pick her up.”
Worm shit. “Bella, there is no time to argue—”
“Which is why you should stop trying to protect me. I’m not an invalid,” she snapped.
I put a hand on her shoulder and physically dragged her toward the entrance, which I could see now glimmering in the darkness. The black obsidian rock shined in the flickering torchlight. “It’s my job to protect you. You are my sister and my queen. You are the important one in our family. My life for yours. Always.”
Flint nodded. “Listen to her, my love. Being queen does not mean you must always fight. Your sister is doing her job. You must do yours. My people will need to be organized as I send them out.”
He kissed her softly then and all her resistance faded. Peta raised a sleepy eyebrow at me. “You going to kiss me goodbye?”
I snorted a laugh, and rubbed one of her ears. “No, your breath smells like fish.”
Flint opened the door, and it was only then I realized there were no guards. We probably could have walked right in the front entrance without being stopped. Bella stepped into the forest of ever-blooming cherry trees. The soft pink petals floated around her, some sticking in her hair. She raised a hand and we all took a step back.
The obsidian door slid closed and I turned to Flint. “Don’t you dare hurt her.”
He grinned. “I’m defying a world of rules, of expectations, just by being with her. The last thing I would do is hurt her.”
“Good. Just so we’re clear. I’ll cut your balls off and dice them into a puree if you so much as make her cry.”
His grin faded. “That I believe. Sister.” He winked, and I saw the same charm Cactus had worked on me for so long. I only hoped Flint turned out better than Cactus in the end.
Flint led the way, and I thought he would keep to himself.
“Do you know what she was going to tell me?” He glanced at me and I shook my head.
“I do, but it’s not my place. Certainly not now.” Because I didn’t want him to turn around and run back to her. He was right, I needed a guide here in the Pit. The twists and turns of the labyrinthine place were the same as before. There was no way I’d find my way without help.
And after my run-in with Scar, I wasn’t sure any of my old friends would be the ones I could go to. I slid to a stop as the realization hit me.
“What?” Flint stopped with me.
The people attacking me, the people causing problems were all those who’d helped me in the past. Whoever was controlling the stones knew me far better than I knew them.