Ray stopped in front of a stack of books and touched the spine of a broken-down book in the middle. It scooted in and a door made up of books swung open. “Secret passage.” She grinned at us.
The interior of the secret room was tight, and sparsely littered with papers in glass cases. I stepped farther into the room and Ray waved a hand. “There isn’t much, but if it can help you, you’re welcome to it.”
Peta shifted into her housecat form and leapt up onto my shoulder. “I can see better from here.”
“Which are the oldest ones?” I asked.
Ray nodded. “If you can describe the papers, I can help you find them quicker.”
Peta tipped her head to one side. “The ones I remember were a small pile of notes, as if they’d been ripped out of a book, one edge torn up, the other rough. Handmade paper by the thickness, and the writing was in a pale gray ink.”
“Most likely it started out black and faded.” Ray bent over one of the glass cases. “I know the papers you speak of. They are here, I just cleaned the case yesterday.” She flicked the edge of the case open, then frowned.
“Nothing?” I guessed.
Her frown deepened. “How did you know? They are gone. The queen must have taken them with the others. She is the only other one with knowledge of this place, even if she has never visited.” She frowned. “Or I thought she didn’t.”
I rubbed a hand over my face, feeling things begin to spiral around us. “Bella, where was Finley headed after talking to you?”
Bella touched one of the papers under the glass. “I believe she was staying in the throne room. It looked as though she was dealing with supplicants.”
The three of us left the tiny room and headed back to the main part of the library. “Ray, can you request for the papers to come back to you?”
“I can, but she can ignore me. She is the queen, after all. And it would take several days. Can you wait that long?” Her eyes were hopeful.
I shook my head. “No, I can’t.”
“Lark, does it not seem strange that those papers went missing on the day you arrived?” Peta asked.
I gave another sharp shake of my head. “No. Nothing in my life surprises me anymore. A damn elephant could show up and tell me he’s a cousin and I wouldn’t be shocked.”
Ray laughed softly. “It can’t be all that bad, can it?”
“Not bad,” I muttered, “just—”
“No, it’s bad.” The white tip of Peta’s tail flicked back and forth. “If the papers weren’t important, she’d have never taken them. Which means you need them as much as you need to do that other thing.”
Bella sighed. “I hate to agree, but I think Peta is right. Both are important. If she would hide them from you, then you need to find them.”
“What other thing?” Ray perked up, but I already had my hands raised to stop her.
“No, you can’t help.”
Bella touched my arm. “What do you want to do?”
I tipped my head back to stare at the ceiling as if the answers would be written there. “Ray, I need you to forget we were here. If anyone asks, you don’t know anything, you never saw us.”
I looked at her.
“Because we’re going to break into the queen’s chambers.”
“his is a bad idea,” I muttered as the three of us left Ray behind. The plan was to break into Finley’s chambers, take the papers she’d hidden, then wait for Finley. We would surprise her, taking her down before she could react using the power of the sapphire.
No one would get hurt that way, and it wouldn’t be a public trouncing of the Deep’s queen. A win-win as far as I was concerned.
The hallways of the Deep were wide and tall and echoed my words. I clamped my lips shut as I strode forward. Confidence would take me further than looking like I was cringing. I did not want to steal from Finley, yet saw no other way to get the papers.
“It’s your idea,” Peta reminded me.
“It’s not a bad idea,” Bella said. “Surprising her might be the only way to get the sapphire without a battle.”
I wasn’t so sure, but I had nothing else, no other idea. And since she wasn’t the Finley I remembered, then maybe it was okay. I could almost see Ash shake his head at me, his gold eyes half shuttered and a wry smile on his lips. The image lightened the fears in me. Peta glanced up and raised both eyebrows.
“What can possibly make you smile at this moment?”
I shrugged. “Ash.”
Frowning, she turned her head forward again. “You think he would agree with this decision.”
Bella laughed. “He would. Just as I would and you do, Peta. We have all learned the hard way that Lark’s ideas are often the only way. Even if her ideas are the ones that scare us the most.”
Finley’s quarters were in the center of the Deep, not far from the throne room. I followed the curving hallway, thinking of how best to handle this. In the end, I knew there was only going to be one way and someone was going to get hurt.
A sigh escaped me and again Peta looked up at me. “It will never be easy for you, Lark.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” The three of us rounded the gentle curve in the hallway and Finley’s quarters were in front of us. How did I know? An Ender stood to each side of the door, both holding tridents, both wearing full-face armor so I had no idea if they were even Enders I knew. Like Dolph. Or young Sting. I’d really hoped one of them would be the Ender I had to deal with. Shit sticks, I hated those weapons of theirs. With their reach, they were as hard to fight as any spear, but with the barbs at the end, they were deadly if they pierced skin.