And yet—there was a strange feeling in the dark water near the opening of the cave. A strange consistency that made it feel thicker than usual, heavier.
Maybe I should just go check on Oliwa. We could swim out together a little ways and see if we could see anything that was going on—
A black hand reached out of the darkness, grabbed my head, and shoved me—hard—into the cave.
I wasn’t braced for the attack and I flew against the back wall of the cavern, smacking against it hard enough to disorient me for a second. It was all the advantage he needed. I watched in horror as Malu swam toward me, a wicked-looking knife clutched in one of his hands and murder on his face.
What are you doing? I asked, frantically scrambling along the wall as I tried to put as much distance between us as I could. If I could get outside, get to Oliwa …
Another thought occurred to me as I pictured Kona’s youngest brother, with his ready grin and sparkling eyes. If Malu was in here then he’d somehow gotten past Oliwa. Visions of my new friend lying injured on the ocean floor assaulted me, had me rushing toward the cave’s entrance as fast as I could go.
Malu caught me and sent me spinning back against the wall for a second time.
I’m ending this thing now, before it gets completely out of control.
Seeing as how he was coming at me with the intention of killing me, I was pretty sure things were already out of control.
You don’t want to do this, I said, then could have kicked myself. I sounded like every too-dumb-to-live heroine who had ever bought it in a horror movie.
Sure I do. He came a little closer.
That wasn’t the response I’d been hoping for. Why? I demanded, even as I tried to formulate a plan. I needed to get out of there, needed to check on Oliwa, because everything inside me was screaming that the strange consistency I’d felt in the water a couple of minutes before was blood. If it was—and he was injured—I had to get him to Kona. But Malu was in front of the cave’s opening. I’d have to swim right by him to reach it—which meant he’d be able to grab me at any time. And frankly, I didn’t relish another spin against the cave walls. Already I could feel a bump rising on the back of my head.
Not to mention that if I actually managed to get by him, I’d end up trying to outrace him, which was patently absurd if he was anywhere near as fast as Kona. I was quick, but without my tail I was in no way able to compete with someone who’d lived his entire life underwater.
Because you’re more trouble than you’re worth. Tiamat has nearly died twice trying to get her hands on you. Once you’re gone, she’ll be safe. We all will be.
Was he for real? He was trying to protect the sea witch from me? What had I ever done to her besides defend myself?
I didn’t have time to think about it, because Malu was getting closer. With every step he took toward me, I got a better look at him, and any hope I’d been holding out that I could reason with him—which, let’s face it, wasn’t a lot to begin with—died a quick, painful death. His eyes glittered with the fervor and excitement of a fanatic and his mouth was set into a grim snarl straight out of my nightmares.
No. There would be no reasoning with him and no swimming by him. Which meant my only chance was—
I took off, full speed, toward the back of the cave, zipping from one room to the next without taking the time to look where I was going. I swam by memory, by instinct, until I found myself slamming through the entrance to the seventh and final room.
I only had a few seconds—the element of surprise had bought me that but not much more—and I looked frantically for some place to conceal myself. Some place that would give me a couple of minutes’ respite to try to figure out how I was supposed to get out of this.
But there was no place to hide here, other than in the jagged crevices of the wall. I ran for the biggest one I could find and pressed myself deep inside of it, bowing my back so that no part of me stuck out from behind the rocky edges.
The walls were rough, sharp, and they dug into my shoulders and back, reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. I wondered, for a second, if selkies could smell blood the way sharks could. But I wasn’t planning on hiding in here for any length of time no matter what—just long enough to give myself a chance to regroup.
I ran my hands over the jagged curves of the rock, searching for a crack, an edge, any weakness that might give me a chance of prying loose a piece to use as a weapon. It wasn’t great, but it was the best chance I had. Which wasn’t much against a knife, but dwelling on how screwed I was wasn’t going to make things any better.
And then even that thought was gone as I realized Malu was in the room with me. He hadn’t found my hiding spot yet, but he knew I was here. It was only a matter of time. I had hoped to catch him off guard, had hoped it would take him a little longer to track me so that I could catch my breath and find a weapon, meager though it would be.
But that obviously wasn’t going to happen. My time was up.
My heart was beating so fast that I was sure he would be able to sense it, would find me from the vibrations it alone created. With each second that passed I became more certain of discovery. With each step he took deeper into the room I tried to imagine what it would feel like to die.
My insides started to hum, to vibrate with fear until it was all I could do to stand still. I used my right hand to keep searching for a crack, for some small piece of rock I could break off to use in a fight. But the cave wall was solid and I was shaking so badly that I could barely pull at it anyway.
The humming inside me grew worse, took over me, until I felt like one huge, vibrating guitar string. I didn’t know what it was, had never felt anything like it before. I wondered if it was terror—if this was what the true, absolute fear of dying felt like—and then there wasn’t time for me to think. Wasn’t time for me to do anything but react as Malu’s eyes locked with mine.
He headed toward me, knife raised, and I threw out a hand to defend myself. But as I did, I felt something come from deep inside me, a strange pulse of energy that worked its way up from my center to my arm and then out my fingertips—heading straight at Malu.
It caught both of us unaware and he stumbled backward. I did it again and he almost fell. But the third time he was braced and ready for it and he swam right through it, like a high-speed torpedo on self-destruct.
A scream ripped through my mind as he barreled toward me, all rational thought gone as the need to survive kicked in. At the last possible second I ducked, hitting the cavern floor hard. Malu careened into the wall, but within moments had righted himself and was headed toward me again.
I crabwalked across the floor as fast as I could—I didn’t have time to try to propel myself upward—my fingers desperately searching the ground for something, anything, I could use as a weapon. I was almost against the wall when I found it, a long, razor-sharp piece of shell that sliced deep into my finger.
Ignoring the pain and the blood that was making my already-slick hands slicker, I wrapped my fingers around the shard and waited.
He was almost on me, a look of murderous rage on his face as he started to bring the knife down toward my unprotected jugular. He was bent over, trying to reach me, and I took what I knew was the only opportunity I would get. I sat up abruptly, startling him, jerking my body out of the way of his knife as, screaming inside, I drove up as hard as I could with the shell fragment.