The Elemental: Rootbound Part 12

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Laughing, I shook my head but said nothing to dispute her. We both knew it wasn't possible.

We crossed the white sand, and before long, stepped onto the cobblestone streets. We approached the stables and I slowed. Set up like an open barn with no real stalls, the stable was heavily bedded with dried seaweed for the livestock. Shazer dozed under the shelter off to one side. His head jerked up as I approached, his nostrils flaring.

"We leaving?"

"Tomorrow morning." I paused in front of him. "Your creator, did he have a name?"

He ruffled his wings and stretched out his front legs. "I don't even remember my own name, and you expect me to remember the name of the elemental who made me?"

"Couldn't hurt to ask. Seeing as how we may have to deal with him at some point."

Both Shazer and Peta stared at me with open mouths.

"What?" Peta blurted.

Shazer spluttered. "I hope you're kidding. Tell me you are joking, Lark."

The words had slipped out, but as soon as they'd escaped me I wished I'd caught them. Not because they weren't my true feelings, but because I couldn't yet explain how I knew what I knew.

"Never mind."

"Oh no, you aren't getting out of this that easily." Shazer blocked my path. "Get talking."

I cleared my throat. "It's like-"

Bella rounded the corner, flushed and out of breath, saving me from explaining myself. "There you are. I've been looking all over for you."

"Take it things didn't go well with Finley?"

She shook her head. "She is . . . stubborn doesn't even begin to describe it. It is like she is blind to anything around her. Nothing I said got through, not a single word about my concerns."

"The ring?" I lifted an eyebrow.

Bella shook her head. "I'm sorry, I did try. I offered her my hand as we met, and she refused to take it. A clear offense if I didn't know why she refused."

Undines paused as they walked by, slowing to hear us. I put a hand on Bella's elbow. "Come, walk with me."

Shazer snorted. "This conversation is not done."

"Later," I said over my shoulder.

Bella talked as we strode through the street. "I think the same thing is happening to Finley that happened to me. It was almost like she knows we are here for the sapphire."

"Not possible; only the mother G.o.ddess knows." I turned sideways to let an Undine carrying a full basket of apples go by.

Bella glanced at me. "I knew what you wanted, the second you stepped into the dining hall."

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 G.o.ddess was once again manipulating me. Asking me to retrieve the five stones, and then warning those who held them that I was coming.

Worm s.h.i.+t and green sticks, how the h.e.l.l 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 s.h.i.+t 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 s.h.i.+t?"

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, doc.u.ments 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 gla.s.s, but the oldest stuff is kept in the queen's chambers."

I glanced back at Peta who frowned, her tail twitching. "Under sealed gla.s.s 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."

Ray stopped in front of a stack of books and touched the spine of a broken-down book in the middle. It scooted in and a door made up of books swung open. "Secret pa.s.sage." She grinned at us.

The interior of the secret room was tight, and spa.r.s.ely littered with papers in gla.s.s cases. I stepped farther into the room and Ray waved a hand. "There isn't much, but if it can help you, you're welcome to it."

Peta s.h.i.+fted into her housecat form and leapt up onto my shoulder. "I can see better from here."

"Which are the oldest ones?" I asked.

Ray nodded. "If you can describe the papers, I can help you find them quicker."

Peta tipped her head to one side. "The ones I remember were a small pile of notes, as if they'd been ripped out of a book, one edge torn up, the other rough. Handmade paper by the thickness, and the writing was in a pale gray ink."

"Most likely it started out black and faded." Ray bent over one of the gla.s.s cases. "I know the papers you speak of. They are here, I just cleaned the case yesterday." She flicked the edge of the case open, then frowned.

"Nothing?" I guessed.

Her frown deepened. "How did you know? They are gone. The queen must have taken them with the others. She is the only other one with knowledge of this place, even if she has never visited." She frowned. "Or I thought she didn't."

I rubbed a hand over my face, feeling things begin to spiral around us. "Bella, where was Finley headed after talking to you?"

Bella touched one of the papers under the gla.s.s. "I believe she was staying in the throne room. It looked as though she was dealing with supplicants."

The three of us left the tiny room and headed back to the main part of the library. "Ray, can you request for the papers to come back to you?"

"I can, but she can ignore me. She is the queen, after all. And it would take several days. Can you wait that long?" Her eyes were hopeful.

I shook my head. "No, I can't."

"Lark, does it not seem strange that those papers went missing on the day you arrived?" Peta asked.

I gave another sharp shake of my head. "No. Nothing in my life surprises me anymore. A d.a.m.n elephant could show up and tell me he's a cousin and I wouldn't be shocked."

Ray laughed softly. "It can't be all that bad, can it?"

"Not bad," I muttered, "just-"

"No, it's bad." The white tip of Peta's tail flicked back and forth. "If the papers weren't important, she'd have never taken them. Which means you need them as much as you need to do that other thing."

Bella sighed. "I hate to agree, but I think Peta is right. Both are important. If she would hide them from you, then you need to find them."

"What other thing?" Ray perked up, but I already had my hands raised to stop her.

"No, you can't help."

Bella touched my arm. "What do you want to do?"

I tipped my head back to stare at the ceiling as if the answers would be written there. "Ray, I need you to forget we were here. If anyone asks, you don't know anything, you never saw us."

"Why?"

I looked at her.

"Because we're going to break into the queen's chambers."

CHAPTER 12.

"his is a bad idea," I muttered as the three of us left Ray behind. The plan was to break into Finley's chambers, take the papers she'd hidden, then wait for Finley. We would surprise her, taking her down before she could react using the power of the sapphire.

No one would get hurt that way, and it wouldn't be a public trouncing of the Deep's queen. A win-win as far as I was concerned.

Right.

The hallways of the Deep were wide and tall and echoed my words. I clamped my lips shut as I strode forward. Confidence would take me further than looking like I was cringing. I did not want to steal from Finley, yet saw no other way to get the papers.

"It's your idea," Peta reminded me.

"It's not a bad idea," Bella said. "Surprising her might be the only way to get the sapphire without a battle."

The Elemental: Rootbound Part 12

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The Elemental: Rootbound Part 12 summary

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