None of it really mattered to me; I had a job to do. And Ash to find. His name tightened in my belly. How many days since I’d thought of him? In all the chaos and fighting, I’d barely had time to consider how much closer I was to the mother goddess helping me.
I reached Shazer and ran a hand over his neck. He head-butted me in the belly lightly.
“Is your sister coming with us?”
“It is her choice,” I said. “She’s my queen; I can’t stop her.”
Footsteps on the grass turned me around. I expected Bella. What I got was an agitated and fired-up Cactus.
“You seriously are going to just leave me here?” he spluttered. “Like I’m nothing to you?”
I leaned my head against the Pegasus. “I would rather bed Shazer at this point than you, Cactus. At least I know I can trust him not to try to manipulate me.”
Shazer snorted. “Don’t tempt me, you have a lovely ass.”
I rolled my eyes and slapped a hand against his hide. “Don’t try to help.”
Cactus stared at me, his hair matted with blood, his face burned and his eyes as angry as I’d ever seen them. A sudden thought rolled through my head. His behavior was just off enough to make me think he was being an ass. But what if he had been affected too? Like Scar, Finley, and the others? I reached out to take his hand and he pulled me toward him.
I pushed a pulse of Spirit through him, looking for something that controlled him other than his own thoughts.
Nothing resided in him.
Everything he was doing was just Cactus being a prick. I pulled back, sadder than I’d been in a long time. “Cactus, we are friends, but you are putting even that to the test.”
“I’m the one putting it to the test? You ask me to come to the Pit, I get injured trying to help you, and you won’t even heal me? What kind of friend is that?” He was yelling and people were looking. If he thought causing a scene was going to bother me, he had another think thing coming.
I put a hand to his chest and shoved, sending him back a good ten feet. “What kind of friend tries to manipulate someone he says he loves? What kind of friend is okay with her losing a piece of her soul for the sake of his vanity? Piss the hell off, Cactus, and stay out of my life. Do you understand? Because the next time you come at me, I won’t hold back. You tried to hurt Peta. You tried to manipulate me time and again. I change my mind. We are not friends. I do not want you in my life. Got it, Prick?”
He pushed himself up, and brushed his hands over his legs. “Yeah. I got it. Bitch.” He walked away, without a single look back.
“Finally,” Peta muttered.
I fought the bitter laugh that teased at my mouth. Peta was right. Finally was the only word that fit. After all this time, Cactus finally understood that we were done. We could have been friends, but he’d broken that too when he’d tried to hurt her.
Like the idiot he was, he thought I’d forget all he’d done because he batted his green eyes at me.
Shazer yawned. “You have a way with men, you know that?”
“You have no idea,” I muttered, thinking of Coal. And suddenly afraid that maybe I was the asshole. What would happen when Ash and I were together again? Would I chase him off too?
“Relax. I would tell you if it was your fault,” Peta said, obviously picking up on my train of thought.
Shazer nodded. “Agreed. He’s a giant dick. You were right to send him away.”
I smiled, but the edges of it fell. “Right. Let’s get going. There is no way the Eyrie won’t be waiting on us. I’d hate to disappoint them.”
I mounted up on Shazer’s back and tightened my legs around his sides, urging him forward.
He paused. “What about Bella?”
I spotted her a good distance away. “She was with me to play the diplomat. To help things go smoothly. You think the Eyrie will go any smoother than the Deep or the Pit?”
He shook his head. “No, but she’s going to be pissed when she realizes you’re gone without her.”
I urged him forward again and he started his wind-up gallop. Bella spun as the sound of his hooves on the earth filled the air.
I lifted a hand to her. “Be safe, Bella.”
Shazer leapt into the air, and I pointed a finger at Flint. He saluted me, and I knew for better or worse, he was a part of our family. Maybe he always had been. I shook my head at the thoughts swirling through it.
Peta slid down my shoulder to sit in front of me, her paws resting on Shazer’s neck. “Three of the five stones collected. Is the final stone where you left it?”
Shazer’s ears perked up. “You had a stone already?”
“The pink diamond. But I hid it away.”
“Smart.” He bobbed his head as he angled his wings to take advantage of a current of air. “Even though you know they’re addictive, they would still begin to work on you.”
Peta’s tail twitched almost spasmodically. “Lark isn’t stupid. She’s been careful with the stones right from the beginning. Unlike these other fools who wear them as if they aren’t capable of ruling otherwise.”
I placed a hand on her. “Not their fault, either. Not really. None of us understood what the stones were truly for until it was too late.”
And that was the crux of it. In that, what Talan had said was right: it was my fault all this had happened. I’d given the stones to the leaders of the four families without any thought to there being a consequence. I shook my head as the guilt piled on my shoulders.