At the same time, I didn’t agree with the voice. Not for a second was I going to just let this world die.
“Worse,” Flint said, pulling me back to the present, “this is far worse than worm shit.”
I stood, and pulled my spear from Fiametta’s back. She continued to laugh.
“I’ve killed you all, and now I’ve done what he’s been telling me to do.”
I crouched beside her, tempting fate, but I had to know. “Who’s been telling you what to do?”
Her blue eyes were wide, rimmed with white and suddenly afraid. “I can’t tell you that, no not that.”
“You can,” I whispered, knowing this was it, the moment Talan would be outed in his games, his subterfuge. “You can tell me. He won’t hear you. I promise.”
Her hands gripped my forearms suddenly, with a force that pinned me down so we were nose to nose. She shook, the intensity of her grip not slipping an inch though I could feel her dying, could almost see the life slip from her. “He will kill us all if he is the chosen one. You can stop him, Lark. You must, you will save us, or you will destroy us, but both will save us.” Her hands slipped from my arms, leaving perfect imprints of her fingers. She fell back, her head thumping the stone with a sickening thunk.
As if a signal were given, Fiametta’s death rolled through the volcano in a ripple. Her body sank into the mountain and I took a step back, the slow-growing sinkhole around her body opening further.
“Lark, what are you doing?” Flint yelled.
“This isn’t me. This is the mountain on its own.” I glanced at the ground, as if it would give up its secrets. The hole spread farther and a blurp of lava spit up as Fiametta’s body slid into the crevice. Gone.
As if she never existed.
I spun, grabbed Cactus from the ground, yanked him up across my shoulders, and broke into a sprint. He let out a low groan but otherwise kept his mouth shut. There was no time for niceties. Whatever was happening would swallow us all if we stood still.
Flint herded his people ahead of him, even as I saw the lines on his arms. He turned and tried to slow the lava, but it had a life of its own. “It’s tied to her death somehow.”
“Booby trap,” Cactus mumbled.
I flicked a hand behind us and pulled the stone down. The mountain shuddered and rumbled. “Move it!” I could feel the lava splash against the stone, and begin to creep through the blockage.
The feel of the heat on the stone slowed my feet and I stopped where I was. My eyes fluttered closed as warmth spread along my skin, as though I were the stone and the lava was caressing me. Spirit flared through me and I rolled my head back; there, at the edge of my conscious was something I’d been searching for—
“Lark, run!” Cactus broke my concentration.
Shock and anger coursed through me. “Damn it, Cactus.” I ran forward once more, wanting that feeling of warmth, of a connection to an element that wasn’t my own.
“Sorry for keeping us alive,” he muttered. He was right; if I’d stood there we both would have been swallowed up in the lava.
And I’d wanted it.
That should have scared me . . . and the worst part was that it didn’t. I wanted to feel that heat coursing through me again.
No matter the cost.
he obsidian doors were behind us and we were free of the Pit, but we had to keep moving. Lava flowed out of every crevice of the mountain in gulping spurts as though it wanted to eat us, the brilliant red against the green grass and trunks of the cherry trees not slowing even though it was far from the source. The crack and rumble of falling stone, the splash of boulders crashing as the mountain crumbled. It reminded me all too well of the Eyrie. I glanced back in time to see the top of the mountain sink from view, sucked down with a boom that felt as though thunder rocked the earth.
“Keep running!” I yelled. We were far from safety. With the mountain destroyed, the lava would flow for a long time. Whatever hold Fiametta had on the lava was keeping the Salamanders from even trying to control it.
Ten miles away, the group finally stopped, the lava left behind to devour whatever it wanted.
Flint kept a hand on Bella the whole way, I kept Cactus on my shoulders and Peta watched me from Bella’s arms.
I wanted to ask her about what I’d felt inside the mountain. The sensation of the lava against my skin, hot but not hurting me. As if I were a Salamander. But that wasn’t possible. The ruby lay inside my leather pouch, and even if I’d been wearing it, there was no way the lava wouldn’t have swallowed me whole. It was as unnatural to the Salamanders as it was to me.
Shazer landed ahead of us. “What the hell did you do?”
I slid Cactus from my shoulders and took a deep breath. “I didn’t. Not this time.”
It was only then I realized that none of the Firewyrms had escaped with us. I closed my eyes and went to my knees, the cool grass little comfort against the thoughts that raged in my head. Had they been condemned to death along with Fiametta?
And worse, did I care?
I swallowed hard and opened my eyes. “Bella, you’re okay?”
She nodded. “You got what you came for?”
I touched my leather pouch. “Yes. I don’t want you to come with me now. Go home to the Rim.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You will not order me around. I am your queen.”
I rolled my eyes. “And you’re pregnant.”
Flint went rather still next to her. “You’re pregnant.”