What’s up there, Kona? And don’t try that whole I-don’t-know routine again.
He was silent for a minute, as if debating how much to tell me. I narrowed my eyes at him—I really had had enough of being kept in the dark. He must have gotten the message, because finally he relented. It’s Tiamat.
Yes, she and some of her army are headed this way.
She has an army? I demanded. Since when does a wicked sea witch have a fighting force to back her up?
Since she uses magic to give them whatever they want and then fear to control them once they realize that material possessions aren’t worth their souls. It was his turn to glare at me. I want you to promise me that you’ll stay here. That you won’t even think about leaving this cave.
No buts. Someone sold us out, sold you out, and it might very well have been Jake or Aaron or Malu.
You don’t really believe that.
He didn’t answer right away, but then he didn’t have to. The fierce look on his face said it all.
Eventually, he said, I don’t know. Maybe. Someone certainly tipped her off.
You’re crazy. All of the stories he told me flashed through my brain at the speed of light. You think you’re just going to go out there and fight her, when one of the people you think is on your side might very well stab you in the back?
I’ve already sent a call out to my father. He’ll send in reinforcements soon. Besides, I can’t just stay in here.
Because this is my territory. The people who live around here are my responsibility. I can’t just leave them to fend for themselves.
But you expect me to? I’m supposed to stay in this cave and hide? What happened to all that stuff you said about me being able to take care of myself? What happened to the prophecy? I thought I was the one who was supposed to stop her?
You aren’t close to being ready to tangle with Tiamat yet.
How do you know that? You said you’ve been listening to the prophecy for years, waiting for me to be seventeen. And now that I am, you want to hide me in some cave?
I didn’t care about you then. The words burst from him. Before, you were just some abstract concept who was going to go up against Tiamat and win. Now— His hands wrapped around my upper arms, squeezed so hard he nearly cut off my circulation. Now you’re the woman I love and I can’t stand the idea of your facing her or any of the other things that might be up there.
His words pierced my heart, had tears blooming behind my eyes even as I shook my head. You can’t keep me locked away forever, Kona. The ocean’s a dangerous place. You can’t protect me from everything.
That’s not what I’m doing. I’m not, he insisted at the dubious look I gave him. But if you don’t believe me about anything else, believe me when I say you’re not ready to face her yet.
Don’t. His voice was harsh now, his eyes nearly black. Don’t ask me to send you up there. I can’t, Tempest. I just can’t.
He lowered his head, kissed me with bruising force. Then pulled away. Stay here. It was a definite order, one that I had no desire to follow despite the fear clawing its way along my every nerve ending. But the look he gave me promised all kinds of trouble if I didn’t listen to him. I’ll leave Oliwa to stand guard outside the cave and I’ll be back for you as soon as I can.
His wicked grin popped out, despite the seriousness of the situation. I always am, baby. I always am.
And then he was whipping away, swimming so fast he was little more than a blur in the cave’s darkness. After he left, I sat staring at the four walls of the cave, the acuity of my mermaid vision helping me pick out little details despite the near blackness of my surroundings.
A crab scuttled by, inches from my toes, and against the wall was a bed of clams or oysters—I could never tell them apart in the light, let alone in the middle of a dank, dark cave.
I glanced toward the room’s entrance, wondered if Kona had made it all the way out of the cave yet. Wondered what it was he was going to fight up there.
I wanted to follow him—had planned on it all along—but his last words echoed in my soul. The woman I love. I was the woman he loved. I didn’t know how I felt about that.
Part of me was ecstatic—who wouldn’t be upon finding out that the guy she was falling in love with felt the same way about her? But another part of me was terrified, and angry. How could he tell me that he loved me and then just take off toward almost certain death?
I pushed away from the wall, swam back toward the cave’s entrance. I moved a lot slower than Kona, partly because my eyesight wasn’t as good as his and I was afraid I’d smack into a wall, and partly because I was still making up my mind about what I was going to do.
Oh, I knew what I wanted to do—I wanted to hightail it back up to wherever Kona was and see what was going on—despite the warnings he’d given me. But he’d be furious when he saw me. Even worse, he’d be distracted, and the last thing I wanted to do was get Kona killed because he was too busy trying to protect me to look out for himself.
He loved me. Kona loved me. I hugged the words to my chest like a precious gift as I cautiously approached the first room of the cave. If he came back—when he came back—I was going to tell him that I felt the same. That despite everything I had fallen in love with him too.
For a moment, I thought of Mark, and my conscience screamed at me. How could I have done this, just fallen for some other guy when I was supposed to be in love with him? But the longer I was down here, the harder it was to picture his face, to remember what it felt like to be held by him.
Is it the water? I wondered. The mermaid in me? Or just the fact that Kona dwarfs every other guy in the room?
I swam a little closer to the cave’s entrance and as soon as I did, weird little vibrations seemed to shimmer through the water. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed them—or would have mistaken them for waves—but my body was different now. The mermaid side picked up on things the human half had no shot at sensing.
Holding out my hand, I let the strange water pattern run over my fingers and up my arm as I tried to figure out what it was. And then, as the vibrations reached my ear for the first time, I realized what I was doing. I was “feeling” the sound of what was going on outside the cave, above me.
The water muted noise down here—one of the many reasons I figured mermaids and selkies talked with their minds—but that didn’t mean that the sound didn’t travel in waves, like some kind of natural sonar. I thought back to what I’d learned in biology, during the lessons on sea animals. Mr. D’Angelo had told us a lot of animals used sonar. My mermaid ear must be able to pick it up like they could, though I still didn’t know how to interpret what it was I was “hearing.”
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t guess. A fight was going on out there, between Kona and the others and God only knew what. I shot to the cave’s entrance, peered out though I knew Kona would be furious if he saw me. But the not knowing was killing me. What if he was hurt? What if he was already dead?
No! I slammed a door on the thought, refusing to believe it. Kona was smart and fast and obviously knew what he was doing when he wasn’t trying to protect me from my own idiocy. Surely he could handle whatever was up there.