I froze mid-stride. “Are you kidding me?”
“No. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I did not kill you, the ring would no longer be mine.”
I was so screwed. Jaw ticking, I started forward again. “I need to figure out how we’re going to get the stone then.”
Bella pursed her lips and put two fingers to them, but said nothing.
“You still want to go to the library?” Peta asked.
“It’s as good a place as any to plan,” I said.
We followed her, but my mind was elsewhere.
Between the issue with getting the stone off Finley, Talan offering to train me, Ash missing, and the mystery of the old elemental . . . there was enough to keep me quiet. But that was not what made my mind roll in a loop over the events. No, it was the thought that the mother goddess was once again manipulating me. Asking me to retrieve the five stones, and then warning those who held them that I was coming.
Worm shit and green sticks, how the hell was I going to know if this was another game? And why would she warn them?
The answer was simple and unpleasant. I wouldn’t know until it was too late to back out, until the game she played was done.
Peta trotted ahead of us, forcing Bella to hurry in order to keep up. We walked the halls, and for just a moment, I was taken back to our first visit to the Deep. To keeping Bella safe and fighting Requiem on behalf of Finley. The memories seemed to walk with me, rolling around like the fog that covered the Deep, keeping it safe from the humans.
Soon enough, we stood in front of a narrow, short set of doors. I lifted an eyebrow at Peta. “The Undines are not this short.” I tapped the header of the door, which was at my eye level.
Peta shrugged. “Not an issue for me.” She put her head against the door and pushed it open. A tang of salty air swept around me, air that hadn’t been moved much. I peered in, seeing a young woman bent over a desk, holding a candle above a book that was at least two feet across.
I cleared my throat and she lifted a hand. “Come on in. Let me know if I can help you find anything.”
Her voice tugged me closer to her and the memories filled in the gaps. There was a flow to her body that reminded me of my niece, River. Of course she would have the same flow; she was River’s half-sister.
“Stealing into the galley for food lately? Or is Finley turning out better than Requiem?” I asked.
Ray spun around, her hand going to her mouth. Her hair was as blue as her mother’s had been, and her eyes as big and round as when she’d been a child. “Lark?” She looked past me. “Bella?” Then down. “Peta?”
I smiled at her and she flung herself at me, shocking me. Her arms tightened around me and just as fast she let go, and slammed the door shut, throwing a bar over it. “You shouldn’t be here. Weird shit has been going on.”
She hugged Bella, and ran a hand over Peta’s head, but her eyes never left mine.
I raised both eyebrows. “Weird shit?”
She sat on a stool as she shook her head several times. “Finley is being . . . weird. I don’t have any other word for it. Did you come to kick her off the throne? Like you did Requiem.”
My turn to shake my head. “No.” I glanced at Bella and gave another slight shake of my head. “I’m looking for some old papers.”
Ray slumped in her chair. “Sure, I can help you with that. Even though it’s rather boring.”
I glanced at Peta. “Peta said you have some of the oldest records in all the elemental families, is that right?”
“Yes, though why they would keep them here is a mystery. With all the salt and moisture in the air, documents are hard to keep together.”
“Unless someone wanted them to slowly disappear.” Peta said exactly what I was thinking. I dropped a hand to her head, quieting her, but it was too late.
Ray’s eyes widened. “Is this a mystery? Oh, please let me help. I’m bored out of my skull in here.”
“No, not a mystery. Just an old story I’m looking into.” The last thing I wanted was for Ray to get wrapped up in this mess. If things went badly with Finley and me, I didn’t want anyone else to bear the brunt of the fallout.
The young Undine sighed. “Of course not. You know Sting became an Ender. They wouldn’t allow me to try out. They said—”
“Not everyone can be a fighter,” Bella said with a smile. “I had to learn that, too, that I was the diplomat, and my sister the fighter and protector of our family.”
Her words shocked me. Never once had Bella indicated she was anything but happy with her lot in life, in being the diplomat. But maybe that was why she wanted to come with me.
Ray sighed again. “I know, I just . . . I just want an adventure, you know?”
“Be careful what you ask for,” Peta said. “I used to want an adventure, and look what I got,” she tipped her head toward me, “the biggest trouble maker of them all.”
Ray and Bella laughed and I snorted.
“As lovely as it is to catch up, we have things we need to be doing,” I said.
Ray stood. “Of course, I’m sorry.” She beckoned for us to follow. We wove through barely balanced stacks of books that made up hallways. “We have a few things kept under sealed glass, but the oldest stuff is kept in the queen’s chambers.”
I glanced back at Peta who frowned, her tail twitching. “Under sealed glass there too?”
“No, it’s not. Which is . . . weird again. Finley only just took the papers with her a few days ago. Prior to that, I wasn’t even sure she knew the library existed. She sent others to gather anything she needed.”