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I pushed to the surface and something bumped against my left leg. Okay, not something, I knew what it was; I just chose not to think about it and the teeth attached. “Not happening, my friend.” I grabbed the edge of the boat and hauled myself in. Six inches of water had the boat riding low, but it was afloat and that was all that mattered.

“Lark!” Belladonna screamed my name and I twisted to see her being circled by two fins. I drove the oars into the water and rowed to her. The golden strands of her dress floated out around her, and I watched in horror as one of the sharks opened its mouth and clamped down on the material. Belladonna’s eyes met mine and I reached for her as the shark jerked its head back and forth, sawing through the material, yanking her around like rag doll.

“Please, don’t let me die,” Belladonna screamed, her hands tightening on mine.

“I won’t, just hang on to me.”

Please let that not be a lie. I pulled her toward the boat. How was the shark not through the damn dress already? Understanding and horror hit me at the same time. There was only one answer. My hands slipped on her arms as the shark pulled her down, her lips touching the surface of the water.

“Belladonna, has it got your leg?”

She nodded, her head rolling to one side as she passed out.

“Bella, hang on.” Her childhood nickname flowed from my lips at the thought of losing her. I had to let go of her with one hand in order to reach my spear, still hooked into the bottom of the boat. I whipped it out, spinning it through the air.

Growling with the effort, I pulled Belladonna and subsequently the shark closer. Close enough to use my spear. I thrust it into the water and the shark’s flesh. The tip drove in deep, the razor sharp edges cutting through the thick hide as if it were paper. The pull on Belladonna eased and I hauled her into the boat. Moving fast, I laid her on the bottom of the boat and lifted her leg, propping it on the middle seat.

The calf muscle was still there, but it was torn to hell, tiny shreds of skin flapping every time she even twitched and the blood flow was slowing which was a bad sign. It should have been spurting, the arterial pulse sending it out in jets. I ripped off the bottom half of her dress and wrapped it around the leg as tightly as I could, then lifted her whole leg, resting it on my shoulder. “Belladonna, I need you to wake up.”

Nothing, she didn’t even flutter her eyelids. The blood no longer poured from her leg, but I knew if I didn’t do something she was going to die no matter what I’d promised. Time to lay it all on the line.

I stood as the boat was hammered from bellow, the hull creaking and cracking under the impact. “Undine, call off your familiars or the heir of the Earth Elementals will die and the king’s wrath will know no bounds.” My words echoed across the water, but there was no response.

Spear in my hand, I stared into the water and waited for the right moment. To kill another elemental’s familiar was a bad, bad thing. Not quite as bad as killing another elemental, but close.

“You will force me to kill your pets!” I raised my arm, muscles tensed, and I let out the breath I’d been holding. The boat was slammed hard on the right side and I spun to see the gaping mouth of a Mako shark snapping at the edge of Belladonna’s good leg. With a back swing I ripped the blade of my spear through the tip of the shark’s nose, cutting it completely off. Blood spurted out and the shark slid back into the water, thrashing and stirring up a foam of salt water and blood.

Belladonna let out a groan. “Lark, I’m dying.”

“No, you aren’t.”

“Don’t lie to me, I see the mother goddess. She’s calling to me. She looks like your mother. I’m sorry I called her a whore.”

“That’s nice. Wave goodbye to her and keep your ass awake.” I raised my hand over my head. “Undines, you will let us into the Deep and heal her or we will raze your civil war-ridden city to the depths!”

Panic made me reach for the earth again, but the power slid through me. If I could just grab hold of it, maybe I could cause another tsunami. I could force the Undines to let us in. But only if I could convince the mother goddess I was contrite. “I’m sorry I yelled before,” I cried out to the mother goddess.

There was no answer and I knew there was something the mother goddess wanted, there had to be. “Please, Mother, you said I am your chosen one, help me!”

Swear your life to me.

I didn’t question what she was asking, or how it might impact my decisions. “I swear my life to you!”

A sense of satisfaction flowed around me that was not my own. I’d pleased the mother goddess.

Child, you are forgiven. But you must realize there is a reason for everything. And you will not know the meaning for most, nor are you meant to. Accept and obey me. You are my chosen. Now, save your sister.

I grabbed hold of the power, my fear making it hard to focus, but the anger sustained me. Now what did I do, though? We were in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight.

Belladonna was going to die, and I could do nothing about it.

The boat rocked again and Belladonna let out another moan. But it wasn’t the sharks moving us.

The waves around us shifted, rolling as if something below pushed. A deep, steady rumble shook the tiny vessel, but I held my stance. Death was not something I truly feared, not after everything I’d seen. My mother would welcome me with open arms on the other side of the veil. I would hold my baby brother again. But Belladonna . . . I couldn’t let her die without a fight, no matter the things she’d done. Even if the mother goddess hadn’t told me to save her, I would fight for her life.

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