Sprite howled before burying her face into DG's side, squeezing even tighter. Roquat blinked. "Was that a volunteer?"
"That was grief," Cain answered.
"Like I'm supposed to know the difference," Roquat muttered.
Cain ignored him in favor of their huddled group. "Who's up for it now?"
"Are we going according to rank?" Drake asked.
DG rolled her eyes. "Is now the right time to worry about that?"
"Seems like the perfect time. After all, you outrank me."
"Fine, I hate waiting anyway. Best to get it over with."
Cain grabbed her arm. "No."
"Wyatt, I can do this."
"And she can't not do it, according to the deal Betsy made with the rocky king over there," Dani added.
The skin was spasming over Cain's jaw as he pressed his lips together. "At least let me try to spare you this."
DG cupped Cain's face and drew it down for a kiss. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her flush to him, as his other hand tilted back her head. He pulled back first. "Wait for me."
"Don't take all day." She clenched her teeth together as he strode through the archway.
"He is a brave man," Morgan said.
"A good man," Spencer countered as he took charge of their supply pack.
"He's my Tin Man," DG whispered.
They waited. Spencer, Morgan, and Drake each took turns at the closest window watching the suns descend into the ocean. Cracks in the inner walls of the cavern filled with a red glow that reminded DG of molten lava. She glanced at them, and hoped that Rock Fort wasn't an active volcano on top of all the other surprises it had, before refocusing on the wall separating her from Cain.
Sprite let go of her. DG supposed her emotions weren't very good for the Viewer, even though she was trying to keep them hidden. She wouldn't give the Nome King any ammunition. Sprite moved to the wall close by Kaliko and had her eyes closed. Raw would meditate like that when visiting the Palace.
"Are you okay?" Dani whispered into her ear.
"Wyatt gave me his word. He's not leaving me ever again."
The chicken disguised as a parrot squawked. "That only speaks for his intentions, not what is done to him."
"If anyone does anything to him, they have to answer to me or his son. Guess which one of us is meaner?"
Dani moved to the outer edge of DG's shoulder. "I don't think I have to."
DG continued staring at the wall, reaching to sense anything beyond it. It remained frustratingly blank, but her wide-eyed poker face stared at it. Roquat wouldn't find a weakness in her to exploit. This was as crucial as facing down the witch and Zero in the Northern Palace, and just as deadly. They hadn't gotten anything out of her, now had they?
The strange bell clanged again and the archway opened. The world spun under DG's feet. "How delightful!" Roquat stared into space. "I've never seen the object he turned into before. Utterly unique."
She clenched her fists as she faced the Nome King. "This is wrong. You're toying with people's lives!"
"I didn't ask you to come and you agreed to play." Roquat sniffed, and reminded DG anew of the Royal Alchemist and how much she hated that man. "You have no cause to be aggrieved with me."
"You're right." She stifled the anger burning through her gut while the rest of the crew gaped at her. "But just so we're clear, every one correctly guessed leaves your collection, right?"
"Of course." Roquat's benign smile didn't reach his eyes, but anticipation did, the desire to cause pain, like the Royal Alchemist. "I can't wait to see what you turn into, my dear."
"I hope a live bomb you can't defuse!" DG snarled over her shoulder as she plunged into the archway. She inhaled as the wall closed behind her and Dani. They stepped out of the cave and into a manor house room. White paneled walls filled with built-in bookcases created a smooth rectangle. Crystal chandeliers lit by electricity hung down from molded plaster details on the ivory ceiling. Tables of all shapes and sizes and materials were arranged in rows down the numerous rugs. What DG had once heard Phoebe at the Hilltop call dust collectors sat on every available surface.
"By Billina's tail feathers," Dani said. "And this is what was left after Slate's explosion?"
DG turned, taking in the whole room. "How long has he been doing this?"
"You probably really don't want to know. I'm more surprised he hasn't managed to find any duplicates."
DG pointed to the marble-topped end table on their right. "Two ceramic cats."
"Two different colors," Dani pointed her red and blue wing at the purple ceramic kitten and the long-neck, peach-tinted statue of a Siamese in turn. "They're from two different countries so not duplicated."
"That's why you said colors are key to winning the game?"
Dani's chest puffed out. "That's how Roquat organizes his prisoners; each country has a different color."
"Great! Which color represents which country?"
Dani deflated. "I don't know. The next part of the story says Billina found the rest of the royal family of Ev and the members from the Outer Zone group who had been changed. Then they beat the Nome King."
"Why is it nobody wants to tell me how to do anything in this world?" DG closed her eyes against the threatening tears. Cain was in here somewhere and she had to find him. But there weren't enough chances to touch everything in here, which was Roquat's plan. "No, it's not going to end like this. That rocky bastard out there is not going to win!" She stomped her foot.
Dani flapped her wings to keep balance on DG's shoulder. "Don't break anybody!"
"Not planning on it." DG gritted her teeth as she reached inside for that power that made her skin tingle and things happen. A golden-yellow glow filled her outstretched hand. "Find Wyatt Cain."
The golden glow shot across the room. Dani squawked and took flight. "After it!"
DG's progress was hampered by winding her way around the tables and not bumping into them. The glow settled onto a long, polished mahogany dining table.
The scarlet macaw landed on the corner. "Son of a snake! It landed here, but I didn't see which one it picked."
DG panted. "I'll make it go slower next time. He didn't put a freaking time limit on the guesses."
"Sure didn't." Dani bent over for a closer look at a small harp with a human figurehead carved on one side. "Did your rooster like music?"
"Give me a minute, I'll find him." DG scanned the items. Nothing popped out at her screaming Cain, but then she couldn't expect a gun wearing a fedora, could she? "Roquat said he had never seen it before." She bypassed the white ceramic horse frozen in mid-gallop; there was a black statuette of a rearing horse on the table behind this one. Something familiar reflected light into her eyes from the table's center. She stretched around the bronze lamp in front of it, and scooped up the badge. She grinned down at the tweaked medal in her hand. "Wyatt."
Dani hopped along the edge of the table until she saw it. "Are you sure? What is that?"
"It's a Tin Man badge carved out of an emerald."
"His former profession?"
"It's not just that for Wyatt. It's who he is to the core." DG drew her finger along the green circle surrounding the star before resting the badge between both palms. "The Outer Zone."
Lightning flashed inside the room, but without the accompanying thunder and heat. DG felt the badge vanish as her eyes closed to protect themselves from the blinding light. She opened them as fast as she could. Cain stood in front of her, wide-eyed with surprise. She squealed as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "I found you!"
He squeezed her back. "DG?" He shook his head. "That was odd."
"And you were emerald green," Dani said. "Give me a boost, one of you." DG released Cain and tossed Dani into the air. The parrot flapped up to roost on the nearest chandelier. "Not seeing any more green."
"That makes sense. If green means the O.Z. and Roquat caused the Great Upheaval to get away from it, I doubt he was allowed to keep very many of its citizens." DG met Cain's curious stare. "What? I've been listening to all the stories."
"But you didn't believe them."
"Oh, like you aren't Mr. Skeptical-of-everything-under-the-suns. I grew up with natural disasters caused by tectonic plates, not a guy living underground who got pissed off."
"She's not nearly as dumb as she acts," Dani squawked above their heads. "Ready to do the beacon again?"
"Don't stand up for me, okay?" DG glared up at the chandelier before filling her hand with golden light. "Find Betsy Bobbins, slower this time!" The golden light shot out of her hands. Dani flew after it.
Cain followed DG. "I didn't know you could do that."
"I didn't know I could do that. Too bad I didn't have it on the Other Side, I would have been late only thanks to oversleeping."
The golden glow settled on one of the built-in bookcases. Dani landed on a coat rack standing next to it. "It landed on that ship in a bottle on the second from the top shelf."
Cain reached and grabbed the red tinted bottle with a darker red model ship inside. Even the fake water was red. DG gingerly took it. "What country?"
"She said the only home she could count on is the ship," Cain said.
DG nodded. "The You and What Navy?." The lightning flashed silently again, but this time Cain hugged her to protect her from it. She patted his chest, and pulled back to see Betsy leaning against the paneling. "You okay?"
"It was like sleep paralysis, only no dreaming or sensory input. I'd rather not do that again." Betsy shook her head.
"Then don't play games engineered for you not to win." Dani scratched herself with her beak.
"Nobody likes a self-righteous bird." Betsy glowered at her.
"Ready the sails."
"Stop it." DG stretched out glowing hands. "Look for where the next light lands. Find Treasure Granite."
Betsy's eyebrows disappeared under her hat's brim as the light skimmed above the tables. "Isn't that cheating?"
"He didn't say we couldn't use magic," Cain answered.
The Captain grinned. "We're corrupting you, Lawman."
DG and Dani reached the table first. "Missed the object again," Dani muttered. "Maybe you should have transformed me into my disguise. I think it can fly better."
"Betsy was red, so look for anything red."
Cain found it, a sculpture without faces but from the clothing it represented a man swinging a little girl in the air. It was carved out of a deep red marble. "Looks like the right red," he said as he passed it to DG.
She nodded, "You and What Navy?."
This time the lightning flash exchanged a young man about Betsy's age with thick blond hair and the beginnings of a blond beard. A little girl with curly red hair remained latched to his leg until her blue eyes spotted Betsy and grew larger. "MOMMY!"
Betsy scooped up the running girl in the aisle between tables. "Treasure, my precious Treasure." She rocked and hugged Treasure as she stood.
"Betsy?" The young man stared at DG and Cain before turning to who he knew.
"Malachite." The Captain wrapped a hand around the back of his head and pulled him into a passionate kiss. DG grinned at Cain and he smiled. The kissing couple broke apart. "Missed you," Betsy said.
Malachite remained stunned, so Treasure took over the conversation. "Scary rock man did magic, Mommy."
"I figured that out when you didn't come back." Betsy swung the girl to her hip.
"How long has it been?"
Betsy looked at the young man. "It's been a year, Mal," she said.
Cain's eyes narrowed, but before he said anything, Mal had another question. "Where are Thomas and Nick? Were they transformed too?"
Betsy winced. "Yeah, about them. Remember what I added to our wedding vows for pirate flourish?"
Malachite nodded slowly.
"I had to invoke it."
He ran his hand over his lips and chin. "Both of them?"
"Sorry, honey. And I promised Roquat he could have Slate since he tried to blow up Rock Fort."
Malachite's blue eyes bulged. "You actually talked to the Nome King?"
Betsy rolled her brown ones. "No, honey, I sailed in with cannonballs blazing. What kind of a pirate do you think I am that I can't acknowledge sovereign rights or a superior force? Yes, I talked to your boogeyman." He spluttered. "Take your time, Mal, we still have to sail out of here."
The floor shook, knocking everyone off their feet. An invisible force yanked them across the floor and back into the throne room cavern. They slid into Sprite, Spencer, Morgan, and Drake. Malachite rolled to his knees and a green shield sprang up over them, right before a lava ball exploded against it.
"Kaliko, get them!" Roquat roared, shaking the cavern. The roaring didn't stop with his words either.
"We don't want to fight!" DG scrambled to her feet. Roquat's eyes blazed. Cain moved behind her to guard her back. "We got our friends back by your rules. We'll leave now."
"General Kaliko can escort us back to our ship and take custody of Slate." Betsy jerked the astrolabe out of her bodice. "Take back the astrolabe so no other Topsiders will ever find you again, your Majesty."
Roquat shoved off the throne. His stone robes cracked and flaked until they reformed around his body. "You're not going anywhere!" Another ball of lava formed in his hand.
"King Roquat has gone unhinged!" Betsy yelled and pulled a grenado off her belt.
Malachite snorted, sweating with the effort to keep the shield going. "More like the whole door is missing."
"We had a deal!" DG bellowed at the stone monarch.
"You weren't supposed to win!" The Nome King heaved the lava ball.
DG pulled up her golden shield against the fire, even though Malachite's didn't falter. Ten of the gnome soldiers rushed toward them and she shifted her shield to surround them. They all bounced off the golden light. The roaring sound ended like a giant wind machine had been shut off. Her attention swiveled back to Roquat.
Other than his heaving chest, he didn't move. His eyes shone like two pilot lights on his face. "Ozma's light," Roquat snarled as his face contorted. DG's blood drained from her face as the blue flames in his eyes grew brighter. "Did you think I had forgotten the humiliation at the hands of the Royal family of the Outer Zone?" He didn't need the missing roaring bluster to his voice. "It is time for that light to extinguish forever!"
The floor vanished beneath DG's feet. Falling away from the throne room, she heard Cain's anguished scream, "DG!"