She was going to go for Kona first, I could feel it. She wanted to torture my mother, wanted Cecily’s suffering to last the way her own had—for half a millennium. But Kona, he could die now and she would have no more remorse than if she had stomped on a cockroach.
We struck at the same time, me sending every ounce of power I had directly at the sea witch, while at the same time rolling to put myself between her and Kona.
But I’d miscalculated, hugely.
Because even as Tiamat was flying backward, bleeding from her nose and ears and mouth, she was reaching for my mother, her own power blasting my mom up and into the arms of the ravenous Lusca.
No! I screamed, slamming huge waves of water into him with all the power I could muster. I started swimming, knowing even as I did that I’d never reach her in time.
Lightning sizzled inside of me, shocking me as it danced along my fingertips and over my skin. With a scream unlike anything I’d ever before uttered, I let it loose, sent it hurtling across the ocean straight into the Lusca’s chest—one second too late.
I watched in horror as the bolt struck home and he dropped what was left of my mother. The last thing I saw before everything went black was her torn, broken body floating silently away.
When I woke up, I was back at Kona’s. We were sitting on his beach, half in the water, half out, and he was cradling me in his arms. His eyes were closed and a silent line of tears were slowly making their way down his cheeks. Upset at the idea of his crying, I reached up and brushed them away with my fingertips.
His eyes flew open. “Tempest! Oh my God, you’re awake!”
“How long have I been out?” I tried to sit up, to get closer to him, but something was weighing me down, making it impossible for me to move properly.
“Two days?” I did push myself upright then, doing my best to ignore the heaviness in my legs. “What happened?”
His eyes searched mine. “You don’t remember?”
“No, I—” But I did remember; it was all coming back. Rolling over me like the nightmares of my childhood, trying to pull me back into the abyss. I fought off the darkness. “Oliwa. My mother—”
Kona shook his head. “I’m sorry, Tempest,” he choked out. “I’m so sorry.”
With his apology came the knowledge that Cecily was well and truly gone, and that I hadn’t been strong enough to save her. “Tiamat?” I asked.
“I’m not sure what you did to her, but whatever it was, you hurt her badly. She and her minions took off right after your mother died—and they did it the old-fashioned way. She couldn’t use any kind of magic to propel herself out of there.”
Which explained how Kona had freed himself. If Tiamat’s magic had failed, so had the bonds that held him.
I tried to take comfort in the fact that I had at least injured her, but it wasn’t enough to black out the truth of what had happened. My mother was dead and I had killed her as surely as I had Malu. Oh, everyone would blame the Lusca, blame Tiamat, but it was my arrogance that had put her in the monster’s hands.
I’d thought I had things under control, had thought that I was strong enough to save both her and Kona. I’d been completely, horribly wrong and my mother had paid the price.
I thought of her broken body, of the words she’d whispered to me before the showdown. She’d told me not to trust Tiamat, and what had I done to thank her but get her killed?
As I imagined all the ways I’d failed my mother—all the ways we’d failed each other—another terrible thought hit me. How was I going to tell my father and brothers that she was dead?
Would they think I’d done it because I was angry at her? That I’d chosen to try and save Kona because I couldn’t get past the fury I felt at my mother’s abandonment? It wasn’t true—or at least I didn’t think it was. I had tried to save her, had tried to do what I thought best. But in doing so I had made an irreversible mistake.
I thought back to the moment I had first seen the tapestry, of the stray thought that the decapitated mermaid in the Lusca’s hand had the same colored tail as my mother. It seemed unforgivable now that I hadn’t recognized the green tattoos across her shoulders, that I hadn’t realized that the mermaid’s tail was just like my mother’s. If I had realized it, if I had thought it through, I never would have made the choices I had.
Suddenly, I couldn’t stand to be touching the water. It was a reminder of my arrogance, a reminder of everything I’d lost because I was too stupid to understand how much my mother meant to me. I’d spent six years hating her for leaving and now I’d never get those years back. I’d never get the chance to make up for all the missed opportunities.
I pushed myself up, with some vague plan of sprinting down the beach in an effort to get away from the regrets. To get away from myself. But for some reason my legs wouldn’t hold me.
I glanced down, tried to figure out what was wrong. And felt what little blood I had in my face slowly drain away.
“Okay, Tempest, don’t freak out. It’s not a big deal.” Kona’s arms tightened around me.
Not a big deal? I glared at him incredulously. NOT A BIG DEAL? I had a tail. A long, curvy, purple and silver tail that sparkled in the sunlight. In what world was that not a big deal?
“Make it go away.”
“What? Me? I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?” I shoved at him, tried to maneuver my way farther onto the beach in an effort to get rid of the thing. But it was a lot harder to work with than I expected, and instead of moving up the sand, all I ended up doing was flopping around like a fish out of water. Which, I suppose, in essence was exactly what I was.
“When did it come?”
“Today. After the fight you were messed up. Bleeding, unconscious—I got you home and into bed. Had a doctor look at you while my father and I went back for Oliwa’s body.” He paused then, took a deep breath. “But you weren’t coming around. Nothing the doctor did—nothing I did—was working. So I brought you down to the water. I know it’s not supposed to heal mermaids but I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Let me get this straight. You put me in the water and I grew a tail?” I said the last through gritted teeth.
“Almost as soon as you touched the ocean. I’ve never seen anything like it.” He got a good look at my face and finally seemed to clue in to the fact that I wasn’t happy about the change.
“Tempest, I know it’s a bad time and all. But you’ve earned your tail. That’s a good thing.”
“A good thing? Are you insane?” I gaped at him, astonished. “Do you really think for one second that I want to stay here?
“Tell me one good thing that’s come out of my being in this place. Malu betrayed you, Oliwa’s dead, my mother’s dead, Tiamat’s on the warpath. Seriously, why on earth would I want to stay?”
Kona’s eyes were carefully blank when he answered, “I thought we counted as a good thing that came out of this.”
I should have stopped then, should have just kept my mouth shut. None of this was Kona’s fault—I didn’t blame him for anything except maybe getting me down here to begin with. But even as I told myself to shut up, to just walk—or in my case, swim—away, I couldn’t keep my anger from spewing forth all over him.