Ash curled up one side of his mouth. I knew it wasn’t how she looked; that wasn’t our way. It was her soul that shone through like a dark light that had him curling back in distaste. The way she spoke to her children was awful.
Sting tugged at a pouch on his waist, opening it up and offering what he had to his mother. A single oyster. His mother reached over, snatching it from him. Unbelievably, she cracked it with her bare hands and slurped down the contents in a single gulp. “Not enough, Sting. Mama will die if you don’t bring her more food. And then where would you be? Alone, alone in this world, you dirty little brat.”
Ray started to cry softly. “Mama, please, don’t say that. We don’t want you to die.”
“Mama” sniffed loudly, a noise that reverberated the loose flesh on her body. Sting held out my necklace to her. “I brought you this, Mama. It will help. You won’t be hungry all the time.”
Her eyes flicked to the necklace dangling in his hands and she tried to rear back from it. “Take it away! Take it away!”
Sting stumbled back and I caught him against my legs. Ayu strode forward, hushing Mama. “Blue, that’s enough. You’re scaring the children.”
I shot a look at Ash to see if he caught that. Not “your children” but “the children.” Blue trembled and shook her head. “They need to be afraid.” Her eyes flicked around the room and settled on me, narrowing. “You’ll be the end of our world. And it will start here. The ripple effects of your actions will cascade through time until there is no one left.”
Little hands dug into my legs. “Make her stop,” Sting whispered against me. I stroked his head and scooped my necklace from him. I held it up. “Why are you afraid of this?”
She tried to rear back again, but only succeeded in flipping herself off the bed. “No, I don’t want to go back into the water. Stay away from me!”
Ayu crouched beside her. “Blue, what are you talking about? You haven’t been able to change forms for years.”
Blue grabbed at her, dragging Ayu close enough that I was afraid she might try to eat her. “The necklace, I saw it in my dreams. The one who wears it will crush Requiem.”
Ash stepped forward and helped Ayu roll Blue over. The massive woman lay on her back, heaving for air.
“We have to get her into the water,” Ayu said and Blue let out a moan. “It’s the only way, you have to shift. Your creature is fighting to get out!”
Blue cried softly. “He’ll kill me, told me if I came back he’d skin me alive, chop me into pieces.”
“Enough,” I snapped. “Someone tell me what in the seven hells is going on.” I looked to Ayu, but she shook her head. Surprisingly, neither of the adults explained.
It was Ray. She approached me, taking my hand that didn’t hold her trembling brother. “She is our mother, but she didn’t always look like this. She was a princess. She was married to Requiem.”
Blue let out a hiccupping sob. “He did this to me. He spelled me to be like this so he could cast me aside.”
I stared at the twins. “Requiem is your father?”
They nodded in tandem. Sting looked up at me. “He said we were curs, useless because we could only reach the water and not the air.”
The pieces slipped into place like droplets of water into the ocean. My hands tightened on the twins. “And if you go back, Blue? Requiem’s told everyone you’re dead?”
She nodded. “He said he would skin me alive and feed me to his pets.”
I didn’t have to ask if she believed he would do it. I’d only known him a short time and I knew he was capable of doing exactly as he threatened.
“And the same for us,” whispered Ray.
Blue snorted. “You can be replaced.”
My whole body tensed with her words. “That is not true.” I didn’t know what would happen, and I didn’t care. I tossed the necklace to Ash. “Put it on her.” I hoped whatever it was would hurt like a son of a bitch.
Ash dropped the necklace over Blue’s head and she shrieked, her cry turning into the high-pitched wail of a sea bird. The kids gripped me and I scooped them both to me, one in each arm. They buried their faces against my neck, crying out along with their mother.
Ayu shouted something, but I couldn’t hear it over Blue’s screeching. The big woman’s body shivered, the flesh dancing with her tremors as her screeching turned into full-bodied screams. There was a moment, a single second, when the sound stopped and we all stared at Blue who stared back at us.
The moment passed and a spurt of water shot out of her belly, like a spout under pressure finally unstopped. She clamped a hand over it, but another shot out beside it. More and more, water shot out of her, soaking the room and everyone in it. I stumbled back, holding the kids tightly. Maybe the whole necklace thing had been a bad idea.
A bellow erupted out of Blue and with it, her body tore apart, water slamming into us like a tidal wave.
The kids and I were swept out the door and sent tumbling down the street like a crocodile on a belly slide. We slid to a stop against a building across the way. With all the shrieking that had gone on, I’d expected Undines to come running. But there was nothing, just silence.
“Is Mama . . . dead?” Sting gulped, his eyes a mixture of hope and fear.
“I don’t know.” I stood and helped them to their feet. The door to their home flung open and a svelte, tall woman stood there, violet eyes flashing as she saw me. The necklace hung between her large breasts, bouncing between them as she stalked toward us.