Muttering one of Logan’s favorite—and most vile—curses, I whipped off my halter top and pressed it to the wound, trying desperately to stanch the flow of blood.
This was good, I tried to convince myself as I fought off hysteria for the second time that night. It was better. Kona was jerking around as if in pain, but that was a huge improvement from where he’d been. At least it was proof that he was still alive.
Which was much better than being dead. But as blood soaked through the yellow fabric and coated my fingers, I wondered how long I could keep him alive when he was bleeding this copiously.
I pressed harder, but my halter top was saturated—unable to take any more blood at all. Why hadn’t I worn a turtleneck? It was February—who wore a halter top in February?
Use the sand.
The thought came to me in the same way the one about the water had—from a place deep inside me that I hadn’t known existed before tonight.
Without giving myself a chance to think, I scooped up handfuls of sand and packed them into the gaping hole in the center of Kona’s chest. Wincing, I tried to ignore everything I knew about bacteria and open wounds and focus instead on covering the entire cut with sand.
The bleeding slowed to an angry ooze, but Kona was getting paler by the second, the involuntary movements of his body becoming smaller, harder to distinguish.
It wasn’t enough. Nothing I was doing was enough. Kona was slipping away, my grand idea of using water to help him causing him only pain instead.
What had I been thinking? Following my instincts? What instincts? The same ones that had had me running from my own party? The same ones that had caused this entire mess?
For a second I contemplated running back to the house. My father could help—but I was too far away. The way Kona was bleeding, there was no way he would make it long enough for me to run home and back again. Besides, I wasn’t sure how I would make it through the lightning and pitching earth when I’d barely made it the distance to the water and back.
That was it. The thought ripped through me. Kona was a water creature. He needed more water—a lot more water than that stupid bucket could carry. It wasn’t that the water I’d gotten earlier hadn’t helped him—it was that it hadn’t been enough.
He needed to be immersed in the sea if he had any chance of healing at all.
Which meant his only chance was for me to get him into the water. I poked my head out from the rocks, nearly got it sliced off when a lightning bolt struck inches from where I was. How the hell was I supposed to get him down there, when I had barely managed to do it on my own?
I glanced back at Kona and knew I didn’t have a choice. While he was breathing on his own, each inhalation was shallow and rattling. It was either this—a last-ditch attempt to save him—or sitting there watching him die, for good this time.
Cursing my mother, my gifts, and whatever else was responsible for landing us in the middle of this whole freakish nightmare, I crouched behind Kona and grabbed him under his arms. Then I began to pull—and nearly fell over with the first tug.
He was a lot heavier than he looked—and he looked pretty heavy. Still, it wasn’t like there were so many other options floating around. So I tugged and pulled, yanked and wiggled him slowly down the sand as the world around us went completely insane.
I’d thought it was bad before, but what happened next really was the stuff nightmares were made of. The sand came alive around us, tried to grab on to my ankles, tried to anchor Kona to it with talons of steel. I ignored it, told myself it was just more mind games from the hideous sea witch thing that liked to lurk inside my head. It wasn’t nearly as easy to ignore the rawness in my ankles, from where I yanked and pulled against the abrasive sand. But I couldn’t let Kona die for me, I just couldn’t.
I took a few more steps and nearly sobbed with relief when I realized the water was closer than I had expected. Once again it had come up the shore to meet me, only this time it brought salvation instead of certain death. I didn’t pause to think about how strange it was that the water seemed to sense my desperation.
I dragged Kona the last few feet to the oddly high tide, heard the witch—or whatever it was—screaming and uttering vile threats inside my head. I ignored it like I had the clutching sand. There was no other choice.
I took my first step into the roiling sea, and pain exploded through me as the salt water licked at my bleeding ankles. I bit my lip to keep from screaming—or worse, whimpering. Then I moved deeper to ensure that Kona was submerged up to his neck.
But the second I got him all the way in, the second the ocean touched his wound, wrinkled black hands reached up from the water and grabbed his arms and legs, pulling him straight down below the surface.
I did scream then, Kona’s name—over and over again.
Then I plunged into the ocean, searching for him in the storm-tossed waves. I dove under the water until my lungs ached and my eyes burned, looking for some sign—any sign—of him. But he had vanished, and with him the frightening creatures that had pulled him under.
I surfaced close to shore, sucked huge breaths of air into my starving lungs, and realized with a start that the storm had vanished. The sky was clear and the ocean calm.
Had they gotten what they’d come for, then? Was Kona their objective all along, with me only a pawn?
But I remembered the voice, remembered the urgency as she’d demanded that I come to her. No, Kona hadn’t been her objective. I had—he had sacrificed himself to save me. The guilt was nearly overwhelming, the desperate need to find him and save him even more so.
I couldn’t leave him with those hideous things, not without at least trying to get him back. He deserved better than that. And every second I was sitting here, treading water, they were getting farther and farther away.
Taking a deep breath, I dove under the water once again. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of catching them as a human, but I was completely unsure of how to be mermaid. Just the thought of turning made me sick, but Kona was out there, and he needed me.
For a moment, I saw him the way he’d looked the night before—his eyes naked with his emotions for me. My feelings for him welled up inside of me and I knew I’d do anything—even this—if it meant saving Kona from the sea witch’s clutches.
There was only one problem. I’d spent so long fighting the transformation that now that I temporarily welcomed it—now that I needed it—I had no idea what to do.
I shot through the water, swimming straight out into the blackness of the ocean at night. My heart was beating like a metronome at top speed and I could feel myself shaking. I tried to pretend it was from the cold, but the truth was that I was warmer than I had been in a very long time. Still, adrenaline was coursing through me, making every stroke of my arms choppy and unsteady as I refused to think about the disaster I was suddenly courting.
Mermaid, I thought, even as I trembled at the magnitude of what I was doing. The magnitude of now seeking what I had so long tried to avoid.
But I couldn’t let them take Kona, not when the only reason he’d been on that beach was to save me.
I need to be mermaid, I thought again, concentrating as hard as I could. I swam some more, waited for the tail to come, for the gills to work. But nothing happened.
Why should I be surprised? I wondered bitterly. Nothing about this change, this choice, had been convenient so far. Everything had happened at the worst possible moment—why, then, would it happen now, when it was most necessary?