The Elemental: Rootbound Part 14
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Finley nodded, pulled her shoulders straight and swept past me, snapping her fingers at Dolph. "I want a proper report of the Deep within the hour for the past six months. I have been controlled for the last time." There was more than anger in her voice; a low simmering rage radiated off her.
He bent at the waist and raised grateful eyes to me. "It will be done, my Queen."
I nodded at him as I went by and he touched the top of my hand in a gesture I'd not seen since I'd been in the Pit. A sign of respect; one he gave to both Bella and Peta as well.
I followed Finley, catching up to her easily. Which turned out to be fortuitous for her.
As we circled around a corner, two Sylphs approached, their strides as long as the rest of them, their movement anything but friendly as their hands went to their weapons. Their long white hair and white leathers marked them as Enders for their people. Fighters and enforcers.
The hallway we stood in groaned as a hard wind curled through it, tugging at the tapestries and painting that hung above us.
"Why am I not surprised?" I pushed Finley and Bella behind me as I snapped my spear out, holding it in front of me to bar them.
The Sylphs held up their hands in tandem and the wind picked up, howling as though a hurricane had been unleashed within the Deep. "Peta, take the left."
She leapt in front of me in her snow leopard form. She raced ahead, her body close to the ground.
Finley flicked a hand and from below the Sylphs, the Deep rumbled. "Finley, I can't breathe under water."
"With the ring you can!"
h.e.l.l, I did not want to put the ring on. What if I was controlled? But she was right, it would at least allow me to breathe water as though I were an Undine. And maybe I'd hear the voice try to tell me what to do.
"Peta, find high ground. Bella, get back!"
Peta skidded and leapt for an open window. Finley snapped her fingers and the hallway flooded between one breath and the next, filling to the rafters, but never spilling through the windows or doors, like a self-contained aquarium. At the edge, I saw Bella pacing and Finley with her hands held out holding the water steady.
I slid the ring on and took a breath. The Sylphs would have no problem breathing with their connection to air, but they fumbled in the water. I swam toward them, my spear clutched in one hand as they tried to backpedal.
I grabbed the foot of the Sylph closest to me, yanking him through the water so we were eye level. He swept a hand toward me, the glittering edge of his knife cutting through the water with ease. I caught his wrist against my arm, spun my hand and grabbed his hand. With a sharp twist I broke several of his fingers and the knife fell.
Arms snaked around me from behind, as the Sylph in front of me kicked out, nailing me in the stomach. A burst of air bubbled out of my mouth, but didn't float away. As I struggled to breathe, the bubbles hovered in front of me. They floated closer until they pressed against my eyes.
Air pressure and eyes. Not a good combination as far as I was concerned.
I jerked hard, loosening the hold on me, but not breaking free entirely. The air bubbles flitted around my face, pressing against my cheeks as they slid closer to my eyes.
Worm s.h.i.+t and green sticks, this was not going well.
Kicking backward, I caught the Sylph in the family jewels, and his hold disappeared. The Sylph in front of me drove his knife at my face, the blade's edge so close I knew I couldn't dodge it.
I jerked my head backward, already knowing it would too be slow, that the knife would cut across my eyes.
He was yanked down and back, the blade going with him. Below him, Peta had her jaws clamped around his ankle as she bit down, pink swirls of blood flowing from the wound.
I swung backward without looking, using the full length of my spear. It buried into a body and I yanked it forward. Peta wouldn't have long before she needed air. I spun in a circle and saw Finley and Bella arguing by the way their hands were moving. The Sylph I'd dropped was injured, but still alive as he floated downward, his eyes closed with pain.
Perfect. I swam forward and grabbed the Sylph Peta had in her jaws. Holding him by the throat with one hand, I drove my spear through his heart with the other. His body convulsed, blood spilled into the clear blue water and his eyes fogged over. Bubbles raced from his mouth and this time they did as they should have, floating up above our heads.
I let him go and gripped the blue stone. With a quick gesture I sent the water out the windows.
It dropped in a rush, and I belatedly realized Peta and I were going with it.
I reached for her, barely catching her by the tip of her long tail. I tapped into Earth and pulled us toward the tile floor even as the power fought me, bucking against the hold I had on it. The spire around us trembled, the sandstone cracking under the pressure. As soon as our feet touched I let go of Earth, but Spirit was having none of it. "Bella, help me!"
She raised her arms and her power collided with mine. The stone around us groaned, but held steady as I brought Spirit to me and eased off on my connection to the earth. I lifted a hand. "Good enough."
Peta pressed her body against mine, her fur plastered to her frame. "What is it about you and water?"
"d.a.m.ned if I know," I muttered. I spat, trying to clear out the taste of salt water. Finley sat across from us on a bench, the Sylph on his knees in front of her as he clutched his side.
"He won't speak, Lark. Can you help?" Finley's voice was as sweet as I'd ever heard it.
If I were the Sylph, I'd be worried.
I pushed to my feet and moved to stand beside her. The Sylph wouldn't look at me. He could have still fought. His power was strong enough that there was no doubt he could have battled us with the water gone. But he didn't, which was strange.
"You were sent to kill the queen?"
He rolled his eyes and drew a slow breath but didn't answer.
"So you were sent to kill me?"
His jaw tightened.
I cringed thinking about using Spirit so soon after it fought me. Bile rolled in my guts and I had to force my hand to settle on his forearm. I sent a pulse of Spirit through him, clearing out any connection he would have had to another Spirit user.
He glared up at me.
"He's not under any compulsion. Which means he's here on orders." I slumped against the wall, struggling to speak around the need to lie down and close my eyes. Each time I used my connections to the earth or Spirit, the struggle worsened. In that Talan was right; soon enough I would lose control completely.
I knew my limits, and I was fast approaching them.
Finley tapped a finger to her chin. "How could they even know you were here? And why would Samara send a.s.sa.s.sins after you?"
I wasn't entirely sure they were only after me. "If they could have killed you, the Deep would be in upheaval again. You have no obvious heir to the throne."
"But what would that do to help Samara?" Finley shook her head. "It makes no sense."
In that I had to agree. I couldn't see what Samara hoped to gain by attacking Finley.
Peta cleared her throat. "Finley, may I ask him a question?"
The young queen nodded. "If you think he will answer."
She trotted in front of the Sylph and sat down. "You are an Ender, so you are trained to withstand interrogation so I will not ask why you are here. I only wish to know if your queen still wears a gift we gave her. A sign of peace. The smoky diamond?"
He grunted, his lips curling downward. "There is no peace between us, so while she wears it still, do not count it in your favor."
Clever, clever cat. I ran a hand over her head. "Peta, you are a gem."
"Oh, I know." She winked up at me, and Bella smirked, though she covered it with a hand.
The smoky diamond was the stone that controlled air, giving its wearer more power, as the blue sapphire had done for Finley and water. So whoever was controlling Finley was also controlling Samara. And that was the true enemy. The one behind the stones.
"I'd throw him in the dungeon until you know more," I said. The dungeons of the Deep blocked an elemental's ability to touch their power, rendering them useless.
Almost like a human.
Dolph and three more Undine Enders bolted into the hallway. "What the h.e.l.l happened?"
Finley smiled. "We took care of it. Take this Sylph to the dungeons, Dolph. I will question him later. And send a healer to him, I don't want him dead. Yet."
The Sylph twisted in her hands and whipped out a short knife. Everyone was too far away; he had a perfect shot at Finley.
I lunged for her, my instinct to protect overriding any sense of self-preservation. But the Sylph didn't swing at the queen.
He twisted the handle around and drove the knife into his own heart. His body convulsed and blood bubbled out of his mouth and over his chin. With a final breath, he slumped to his knees and fell back onto the sandstone, blood pooling around him.
"d.a.m.n." Dolph looked from Finley to me, and back to Finley again. "I've noticed there's only trouble when Lark shows up. Perhaps her visits should be shorter."
I grimaced. "We are leaving, right now."
"Dry clothes first," Bella said.
Finley stood next to me. "I can fix that." She snapped her fingers, blue lines swallowing her hand. The moisture leapt from her clothes and hair, leaving her as dry as if she'd never been in the water. I raised an eyebrow at her and she snapped her fingers at Peta, Bella, and me.
The moisture whipped off me, hanging in the air in front of my face in a thousand tiny droplets before splas.h.i.+ng to the floor. Finley did the same for Bella, whose skirts moved loose around her legs once more, a puddle of water at her feet. I glanced down at Peta and burst out laughing. She had the most water at her paws, but her hair was fluffed up as if she'd been in a windstorm for three days running.
Frowning, she glared at me. "Not funny."
Finley laughed softly. With a gentle wave of her hand, Peta's hair smoothed back down. "I took too much water is all; that should be better." Her words set off a riot of thoughts in my brain.
Too much water. Too much air. Too much spirit and earth. Too much of every element, and yet . . . there was something missing.
I felt as though I was on the edge of understanding something vital to my survival. And yet, once more, it slipped away from me.
Close, child, you draw close to the truth. Be ready for its violence.
I tightened my jaw to keep from responding, because what would I say? Whatever the voice was, I knew the truth was far harder than the lies. That had been my entire life.
inley went with us to the stable to gather Shazer. "I want to see you off."
"You mean you want to make sure we don't cause more problems?" I laughed, but even I heard the bitter notes in it.
Finley shook her head. "No, Dolph is right. You have a knack for uncovering the darkness in our world, Lark."
I grimaced. "Yeah, I've noticed that too."
Peta sat on my shoulder, once more in her housecat form. "The issue is that the news of something happening here that involved Lark will get to the other rulers before we can. Is the amba.s.sador from the Pit still here?"
Finley raised a hand. "Dolph, can you answer this?"
He strode to her right side. "He left last night, shortly after Lark arrived."
I shook my head. "It doesn't matter, not really. The stones are used as a form of compulsion. Whoever is using them already knows I'm on the hunt for them. The amba.s.sador will only confirm I'm on my way." I could only hope that meant Blackbird would also be stalled. Or that he started searching after me, and followed rather than beat me to the other rulers. Who was I kidding? Certainly not myself; Blackbird was hunting as actively as I was. I'd just been lucky so far. Which meant we had to keep moving.
We stopped on the white beach, and Shazer went to one knee. Bella mounted and I leapt up behind her. "Be safe, Finley."
She raised her hand. "You have my word, Lark. I will not be fooled again."
Before I could answer, Shazer took off, galloping down the beach and gaining speed; right at the edge of the water he leapt. His hooves skimmed the surface and a dark torpedo-shaped body glimmered underneath us. I shuddered and looked away. We were done with the Deep.
It was the next family I needed to focus on.
Shazer glanced back at me. "Eyrie or Pit?"
Neither choice left me with much hope, but at least with the Salamanders, I'd left on good terms. Not so much for the Eyrie, seeing as how I'd destroyed their home.
"Pit. We leave the Eyrie for last and hope we have enough by then to take Samara down easily."
Shazer snorted. "The Sylphs never go down easily."
I thought about the two Enders who'd tried to kill Finley and me. "No, they don't. Which means the more stones I can collect before I face her, the better. Not that the Pit is going to be an easy in and out."
Bella looked back at me. "But is that not true of Fiametta? You have two rings already. Could you not use them to take her down?"
"The Pit is on an active volcano which Fiametta has direct control over. I'm not sure that going in swinging with all the power at our fingertips is a good idea."
"Then what's the plan?" Shazer banked to one side, angling us west across the continent.
"I'm hoping Peta can help me with that," I said. Peta looked up at me from my lap.
"What do you need?"
"Your first charge, Talan. He was a Spirit Elemental. I need you to tell me all the things he could do."
The Elemental: Rootbound Part 14
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The Elemental: Rootbound Part 14 summary
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