Tempest, no! She’ll kill you. This time it wasn’t Kona’s voice in my head. This one was softer, sweeter, the same one that had sung me lullabies as a child.
I felt its impact like a knife to my gut.
If I don’t, she’ll kill you, Mom.
I’ve always known she would, Tempest. Why do you think I left? Better me than you.
Her words hit me like bullets, ripping into me so fast and hard that I was shocked I wasn’t bleeding out. I pushed them away, tried to concentrate as Tiamat tightened the circles she was making around me until she was so close that I could reach out and touch her if I wanted to.
I have to say, your manners aren’t quite what I expected, the sea witch snarled. I came all this way to make nice and you don’t seem very receptive.
Funny how seeing my mother chained up puts me in a nonreceptive mood.
Don’t taunt her, Tempest! My mother’s voice was sharp now, warning. I glanced quickly at her, saw the fear for me she didn’t even try to hide—as well as her resolve to die in my place. But I wasn’t about to let her do that, no matter how angry I was.
You gave up the right to tell me what to do six years ago, Mom, so back off.
You don’t know what you’re doing.
She was right about that. But I could feel the power stacking up inside me, growing with every second that passed. Was it me doing that? Or were Kona and my mother somehow fueling the fire raging inside of me?
I have to do something!
Leave. Swim away.
I can’t. I’m not like you, Mom.
I felt more than heard her indrawn breath, and I wanted to turn to her, to see what she looked like, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off Tiamat a second time. Not if I wanted a chance in hell of keeping my mom, Kona, and myself alive.
I wanted to spare you from having to make a decision like the one I made, Tempest. Leaving my family was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But you did leave. And you never came back, not once. It was a child’s cry, but one I couldn’t hold back after all these years.
Tiamat was so close now that I could reach out and touch her if I wanted to, and I slammed a block down between my mother and myself, pushed my emotions down deep inside of me. I could deal with them later, after we’d found our way out of this mess.
I hate to interrupt such a touching scene, Tiamat said as she slithered around me.
She hadn’t been able to eavesdrop on the conversation I’d had with my mother, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t guessed what was going on. The fury in her eyes showed how much she disliked our moments of communication.
I thought with all that rage inside of you, you’d enjoy seeing your mother this way. Tiamat made sure the words echoed around us, made sure my mother understood how angry I was at her—though I didn’t know how the sea witch could possibly know what I was feeling.
Still, I refused to let Tiamat see that she’d gotten to me. You thought wrong.
Did I, now? Perhaps I picked the wrong … offering? She slid closer to Kona, trailed one long, razor-sharp talon down his chest, leaving a trail of blood in her wake. He knocked her hand away with a growl, but she only laughed. You’ll make such a good king—all that power and passion on the throne. It excites me just to think about it. That is, if I let you live.
She’s no threat to you, Tiamat. Leave her alone, Kona answered.
I’ll say who’s the threat, dear boy. Her eyes grew cold. Seize him.
Four of her guards grabbed him.
No! Kona! I reached for him.
Stay out of this! Tiamat shoved me back, hard, and a wall of water rose up between Kona and me. I tried to go through it, tried to get to him, but it might as well have been made from bricks. There was no way to break through it, though I continued to try.
I can see you come by your name honestly, Tempest. Relax, now. You’ll get your chance to save him soon enough.
I was really beginning to hate that superior tone of hers. What do you want from me?
What do I want? Her lips pursed in fake surprise. It’s not what I want from you, it’s what I want to give you.
And what is that?
She came back over to me, ran one ice-cold hand down my shoulder, then leaned in and whispered, Power beyond your wildest imaginings. Control over the seven seas. Eternal life. You can have it all, Tempest. I promise I’ll give it to you.
I raised one eyebrow, tried to look like I might be interested in what she was offering, when in truth I was so disgusted I could barely look at her. You would give me all that?
Her eyes glowed a voracious red. I would give you that and more.
In exchange for what?
Your loyalty. Your allegiance. Your blood. She licked her lips at the last and my stomach turned. Imagine it, Tempest. Imagine what we could do if we combined your power with mine.
The water had gotten so rough that her guards were having trouble keeping their positions—the waves were tossing them back and forth like so much fluff. The ones guarding my mother were being hit particularly hard and the looks they exchanged were full of alarm.
Tiamat didn’t seem to notice and part of me wanted to strike right then. I couldn’t stand seeing my mother and Kona at her mercy.
But I held myself back, held it together. I still didn’t know how to control the roiling magic within me, so I knew I would only get one shot at this. If I blew it, we would all die before I got another chance.
I yawned, forcing a boredom into my voice that I wasn’t close to feeling. Don’t you mean if I gave you my power?
Are you laughing at me? Her teeth came together with an audible snap.
No. But I’m not interested in the lies you’re trying to sell me either.
You’re. Not. Interested. It wasn’t a question.
Not particularly, no. It was a calculated risk—I knew that. But if I could get her angry enough, maybe her temper would give me the advantage I needed. Behind her, Kona shook his head, frantically trying to get my attention. But I ignored him. He might be the bait, but this showdown was between Tiamat and me.
Well, perhaps I’ll give you some incentive. She turned to the men holding Kona. Take him to the Lusca.
No! The cry was ripped from my throat, and as soon as it escaped I knew I had made a huge tactical error.
From the smile on her face, Tiamat knew it too. So it wasn’t just an act. You do have feelings for the boy.
I didn’t answer, but then I didn’t have to.
So let’s make a deal, sweet Tempest. You come with me now, and I’ll let him live. You defy me and I’ll kill both him and your mother.
You’ll do that anyway.
No. I’m a woman of my word.
So you’ll let them both go?
I didn’t say that. Cecily will pay for what she did to me, but your little boy toy … him, I’ll let live.
My mother’s and Kona’s voices exploded in my head at the same time, my mother’s burrowing under the block I’d slammed down between us. Don’t trust her, Tempest! Don’t listen to her!
I ignored them both, concentrated instead on gathering as much energy as I could. The ocean began to circle around us, an underwater cyclone that teemed with the rage I could no longer control.
Tiamat’s guards shouted in alarm but both of us ignored them as we squared off. Give it up, little girl. I’ve been planning this a long time. You can’t win.