Defiance flashed across his face. “You don’t know that. She said”—he pointed at me—“it was magical, so did you.”
“Sting, what ails your mother is nothing this necklace can heal. I am telling you the truth.”
Ash stood and was on Sting in a flash, jerking the necklace from him with his good hand. “You can’t let him take this, Lark. It’s not meant for the Deep.” Sting reached for the necklace and Ash held it above his head, away from him.
“Children, stop. I told him he could have it.” I stood, took the necklace from Ash and handed it back to Sting, ignoring his frown. “If nothing else, my word is important. I will keep my word.”
Ayu beckoned to the girl. “Ray, come here. Why do you really want the necklace?”
Ray shuffled forward, her eyes downcast. “Mama has been having bad dreams. She said the necklace with the big tooth would be the key to stopping Requiem. We saw the Terraling Ender wearing it and thought she could help. Mama is so unhappy when she doesn’t sleep.”
Ayu sucked in a sharp breath. “Then perhaps we should pay your mother a visit.”
Sting and Ray moved in tandem as they led the way, swinging their arms and singing a sea shanty. Above us the moon floated, three-quarters full and bright enough to easily light our way.
“Where do the bodies float ashore?”
“Beyond the horizon forever more.”
“Where does the blood pool on the sand?”
“Beyond all that touches land.”
Not exactly an uplifting song, and certainly not a children’s song, at any rate. I sped up, placing myself beside Ayu. “I am trying to stop Requiem, but I need to know the rules he is bound by. You can tell me, can’t you?”
Her eyes flicked to me and then back to the sand. “I don’t know.”
I glanced at Ash and he shrugged. I stepped forward, blocking Ayu. “Are you so afraid that you can’t even help someone who is trying to help you? Someone trying to save your princess?”
She bit at her lower lip. “You don’t understand. I am taking you to their mother, which is dangerous as it is. That will have to be enough.”
I put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her. “Then explain it to me.”
Ayu shuddered, making her beaded braids tinkle softly. “Requiem is stronger than anyone here. Stronger than maybe any other elemental this world has seen. No one has been able to stand against him.”
I rubbed the spot between my eyes, speaking the words as I thought them. “Requiem’s a half-breed, so he should be weak, but he’s not. Is that why you’re so afraid of him?”
Ayu’s head snapped up and her mouth dropped open. “He’s a . . . mother goddess, that explains so much. He’s half Sylph, isn’t he?”
I nodded. “Yes. And he doesn’t want anyone knowing.”
She covered her face with her hands, her shoulders trembling. “I must take you to Otco. There are things . . . things you must know only he can tell you.”
Ayu would say nothing more as we walked along the beach, no matter how many questions I asked. She only shook her head and put a finger to her lips. So I followed her example and closed my mouth, but my mind raced as I tried to figure out what was going on.
Requiem was a powerful half-breed who wanted to wed his own sister and mine. As disgusting as the thought of him trying to get a child from his own sister, it wasn’t unheard of in our past. To keep bloodlines pure, inbreeding had happened many years ago. But why Bella?
That made no sense. She would give him a child with three elements, two from Requiem and one from Belladonna. A child who would be incredibly weak as the elements warred within it, none able to be first in his or her heart.
Requiem’s reasoning made no sense that I could see.
Ash caught my wrist and tugged me back. “Lark, this is not going to help us get Belladonna out.”
I tensed and he dropped his hand. “But it will help us stop Requiem, which will make her and Finley safe.”
“That isn’t why we’re here,” he said, his voice growing with intensity.
A pure shot of certainty ripped through me, wiping away my doubts. “Maybe it isn’t why you’re here. But I think it’s why I am here. I have to help Finley. I can’t leave her to him anymore than I can leave Bella.”
He stepped away, shaking his head. “Delusions of grandeur? Really, is that what this has come to? I didn’t take you for a prideful woman, Lark.”
Those words hurt, most especially from him, and I lashed out. “Yet, I always knew you were an asshole.”
Our conversation was cut off as Sting and Ray led us into the poor section of the Deep, where the homes barely remained standing, patched together with flotsam and jetsam. The homes were on the northern side of the open-air market, hidden behind a fifteen-foot retaining wall that hid the majority of the homes from view. Which explained why I hadn’t noticed the area before.
The ground was clean though, and everything was tidy if in poor disrepair. Ray waved us forward, into a house that was at best twelve feet by twelve feet, with dried kelp draped over the roof.
The main and only room was lit with candles highlighting the enormous woman on the bed in the middle. She was so large I couldn’t see the bed except at the foot where her remarkably tiny painted toes gripped the driftwood railing. Draped in a light blue cloth with patches all over it, she wore no clothes and seemed content to be bare from the waist up. She had the same pale creamy skin as Finley, but her dark green hair was frosted at the tips with silver that flowed down over her chest, barely covering the tops of her breasts. Dark violet eyes flicked over us. Another shape shifter. The Undines seemed inundated with them. “Who have you brought today to gawk at me? I hope you at least brought mama food this time. I told you not to come back without something to eat.”