Page 43

I raised my hand and the tunnel behind us collapsed. I had to buy Peta time. I had to buy myself enough time to save her.

I lifted my spear over my head, let Spirit and Earth strengthen my muscles beyond anything I’d ever felt, and drove the blade down between two of Scar’s vertebrae. He dropped under me, paralyzed, but not dead. I yanked my spear out, slid off him and ran to his mouth.

Bella was tugging at me and I pushed her back. I dropped my spear and grabbed Scar’s mouth to yank it open. “PETA!” Nothing. “Don’t make me come in there, cat.” My voice wavered, the false anger barely keeping me from losing my mind. Shaking, I held his jaws open, holding the weight of them above me. I would hold them as long as I had to. “Bella, can you see her?”

Her hands were on my arms. “Lark, she leapt into his mouth to save you. We have to go. She is dead.”

I shifted my hands so I could stand on his bottom jaw and hold the top up with both hands. “Peta, please.”

Bella tugged at me, and my heart tugged in the other direction. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to concentrate on the bond between Peta and me. I would know if she was gone. I would.

A tiny flicker of gray and white at the back of his mouth caught my eye at the same time I felt her heartbeat inside my own body. “She’s alive. Bella, please.” I looked over at my sister, and goddess love her, she never hesitated.

Bella dropped to her knees and crawled inside Scar’s mouth to the back. She scooped up Peta and crawled back out, covered in slime. And blood. I dropped Scar’s mouth and held my hands out. Bella gave Peta over to me. “Lark, she’s hurt but alive. I’m not sure I can say the same for us if we don’t get the hell out of here. The Firewyrms are almost through the rock.”

Scar moaned. “The small pathway to the left. It will take you to the throne room. The one you used before. Do not worry about me. I will heal.”

I put a hand on his nose as we passed, unable to hate him. Manipulation, how far had it gone in my world? Was everyone I’d known touched by Spirit?

We slid into the small tunnel as the other Firewyrms arrived. Bella scooted ahead of me and I clutched Peta to my chest, feeling her life flickering unsteadily. “Bella, we have to stop. I have to heal her.”

I sat up, hunched over in the narrow tunnel. The dim light that came from the end we’d entered was not enough to see Peta’s injuries. Not that I needed to. I held her tightly to me and let my energy flow into her body, using the bond between us first. She let out a pitiful mew, raised her head and then let it lower again.

Gathering Spirit, I wove the element through her body, feeling the wounds in her belly where Scar’s teeth had pierced. Carefully I put her back together until the injuries were nothing but a faint memory. I slumped where I was, exhausted. Bella sat beside me. “Lark, you can’t face Fiametta like this.”

“We can’t stay here,” I pointed out.

Peta slept, snoring softly. I clutched her to my chest, finally allowing myself to see how close I’d come to losing her for real. Her heartbeat had slowed to the point that I knew it only had a few beats left in it.

“Too close,” I whispered.

Bella put her head against mine. “Her job is to protect you.”

“And if she breaks me by dying? That won’t protect me, it will destroy me completely.” The words slipped out of me before I could catch them.

Bella let out a sigh. “You would survive, Lark. You always do.”

I wasn’t so sure she was right. Peta was a part of my soul, and the thought of losing her was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. I’d killed my own father and felt less pain. I’d lost my mother and little brother and slowly the grief had faded.

I wasn’t so sure the same could be said if Peta died. I suspected I would go mad with grief if I lost her.

I rubbed a hand over my face, thinking. So much for taking the stones back with ease. “How the hell are we going to do this?” I didn’t ask because I thought she would have an answer. My question was for myself.

Bella was silent a moment. “I could go to Flint. He would listen to me. He might even be able to get the ring from his mother.”

I hated to put this on her, but if we could avoid another confrontation, then I would take that chance. I opened my vest and tucked Peta inside. She snuggled against my skin, but otherwise didn’t stir. “Let’s try, if you think he would help you.”

She scooted ahead of me, her voice echoing back. “I’m pregnant with his child, he’d better help me.”

Shock rocked me back and for a moment I couldn’t move. Then I was shooting forward. I grabbed her foot. “Excuse me? When the hell were you going to tell me you were pregnant? And I let you come with me on this journey and you’ve been in danger the whole time! I never would have allowed you to come—”

“I know.” She jerked her foot from my hand. “That’s why I didn’t tell you. I want to help, I need to help. And this baby needs to have a world that will allow for half-breeds to live. I don’t know that he or she will be strong like River. Or you. I don’t want this baby to end up a slave in the Deep.” She led the way in the pitch black, her voice echoing back to me. “You already are protecting me, Lark. I trust you to keep us both safe.”

Us. I closed my eyes and crawled after her. “Bella, you should have told me.”

“I wasn’t certain when we left the Rim. I felt the baby kick when we landed on the mountain.”

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