“It’s like some dystopian scene,” Bria whispered, looking out toward the cliffs.
The boom of a wave crashing against rocks interrupted the wind blowing against the shell of my ear. A rumble followed, the waves rolling down along the sand break.
“I hit this beach every so often,” Jack said, squinting through the fog to the cliff on our right, the one in the picture. “Never this far down, though. The base of that cliff face is really rocky, from what I remember. It gets hit with some hard currents and rip tides. If you got caught up in it, it’ll slash you up pretty good. Through the shifts in the fog over there”—he pointed—“it looks like a washing machine. All that white means keep out, rough seas.”
“Could Valens get in there and leave a trunk or something?” Bria put her hand up to shield her eyes, as though the sun were the problem and not a thick sheet of fog.
“He could, yeah. Easy.” Jack worked at the buttons on his shirt. “He could just still the waters and swim on out there. Or push the water aside and walk. He’s a descendent of the god of the sea. He has power over—”
“Right, yes. We got it,” Bria cut in.
“Pushing the water away,” I said, nodding. “That would make it easy. He could get someone across to refresh the spell on the skin. The treacherous area makes it safe, because even if someone wanted to check it out, they wouldn’t be able to because of what Jack said.” I blew out a breath and ran my fingers through my hair. “Which means we don’t have much but a hunch. Kieran will have to…”
Jack shrugged out of his shirt, displaying his robust chest and huge arms. He unhooked the clasp on his pants and pushed them down his muscular thighs. His underwear quickly followed.
“Whoa.” I jerked my head away. “Wow. Warn a girl.”
“I’ll check it out really quickly.” Jack jogged toward the ocean, and I couldn’t help getting a peek at his well-formed backside.
“What is his magic?” I asked as he waded into the water without so much as a shiver. He dove into the rush of an oncoming wave and disappeared below the surface.
“Kraken,” Bria said, watching the water.
I shifted so I could stare at her. “Are you serious? Those are real?”
She frowned at me. “Of course they’re real. Most of the myths and supernatural stories we hear were originally based off of magical beings. Why do you not know this?”
“No. I mean…” I looked out over the rough water. “I knew that, I just…” I shrugged. “I’ve never heard of a Kraken.”
“Clearly you have, since you just asked if they were real.”
“No, I mean, I’ve never heard of them as—never mind.”
“Is the dual-society zone a black hole, or something?” Bria asked incredulously. “Because wow. You are ignorant.”
“Right. Fine.” I tried to let it go. And failed. “But I’ve literally never heard of a real one. Not in society, anyway.”
“He’s a shapeshifter, then?” Mordecai asked.
“He is a shapeshifter, yes…obviously,” Bria said, watching the waters. “A shapeshifter of the sea. There aren’t many of them hanging with humans. Most of them stick to the sea. I think Kieran met Jack off the coast of Ireland somewhere. Or maybe it was Scotland. I don’t know how long ago—I only care so much, know what I mean? Sometimes when people talk, I accidentally stop listening. My mind is a more interesting place to be.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” I mumbled. “He doesn’t have an accent, either.”
“He gets that from the blood oath. All the Six automatically speak the local language anywhere they go. It helps them protect Kieran or something, I don’t know.”
“So…are Krakens really as huge as the myths say?”
“They can alter their size to fit various bodies of water they inhabit. Only the most powerful can get that big. Before you ask, they resemble a cross between a squid and a whale. They’re really weird looking, I’m not going to lie. But the strongest of them—like Jack—can take down ocean liners. He’s a big deal when it comes to the sea. Which is why he’s one of the Six. Each of the Six is exceptional in some way.”
“Would he ever think of adding more guys to the Six?” I asked, shifting from foot to foot. The waiting was killing me. I wanted to know if I was right. I wanted to know that if worst came to worst, I could still save Kieran’s mom.
“Then he’d have to change the name.” Bria frowned at me.
The seconds trickled by, turning into minutes, then handfuls of minutes. Mordecai walked up the beach toward the cliff, then back down. Bria and I stared out at the waters.
“That area couldn’t kill him, right?” I asked in a hush, my words drifting into the thick fog and disappearing.
“No. He might come back a little battered, but he won’t let himself get into a situation where it’ll kill him.”
“Is this why he’s the one who will be walking me through the change?” Mordecai asked, coming to stop next to us again. His voice quavered just a little, full of excitement and fear.
“Obviously.” Bria shook her head. “Wow, you two are about as magically dense as can be. How have you made it this far in life?”
“By not getting involved with magical people,” I replied.
“And look where that got you. You’re involved with the worst of the bunch.” Bria rolled back on her heels before checking the watch on her phone. “What’s taking him so long?”
“How will he show me, if…” Mordecai’s voice drifted away.
“Don’t know, kid. That’s not my area of expertise. Finally!” She pointed out at the water. Through the swirling fog I could just see Jack riding the top of a wave, his body as flat as a board and his arm held out. Body surfing. The wave crashed down, bringing him with it, and he disappeared under the churning foam. A moment later, he rose gracefully from hip-high water and jogged in our direction.
I jerked my head away, having caught sight of dangling bits I had no business noticing.
“What’d you see?” Bria asked, bending to gather his clothes.
He breathed deeply as he neared, catching his breath. “You hit the nail on the head.”
Excitement surged through me. I couldn’t help smiling and turning to him. “It’s there?”
He ran a hand over his short hair, flinging water. “It’s definitely there. It’s at the base of the cliff. It really is a washing machine in there. It’s fucking nuts. The current rips and tears you every which way, the rocks are extremely jagged, and more than a few spots could catch you and keep you. A human or normal magical creature wouldn’t have stood a chance. Not a chance. I barely made it in and out.”
I belatedly noticed the gashes along his arms and across his broad chest. Blood oozed down his skin, but he didn’t seem troubled by it.
“You’re sure it’s what we’re looking for?” Bria jerked her head back to the car and started walking.
“Oh yeah.” Jack nodded emphatically, a huge grin on his face. His energy sizzled, potent and infectious. The water had clearly revived him. “I got right up on it. It’s a sort of trunk—really classy—with her fucking name on it, man. And engravings of her in both forms. It’s her skin. It is her fucking skin. That prick made a shrine out of the box.”
“Sick fucker,” Bria said.
I pushed away the uncomfortable sinking of my heart. Kieran’s mother had been attached to the worst kind of man. He’d kept her in a living hell without her skin, and the bastard hadn’t even freed her from his honeyed trap after death. Yet he still clearly loved her. He had to have with the fountain and the picture. His mind must’ve been bent toward insanity when it came to her. Regardless, there was one thing I knew, it was that I could set her free.
“Tell Kieran,” I said, barely able to breathe. “We’ll have to do this on his timetable, but tell him. Whatever else happens, at least he can save his mom from a life in Demigod-made purgatory.”
“Freeing her is going to start the war,” Jack said.
Bria slapped her hands together and started rubbing. “Let’s hope so. I’m so ready to take that fucker down.”
Later that evening I sat at the kitchen table with wet hair, wrapped up in the coziest bathrobe in existence. Clouds in the shape of slippers adorned my feet, and my skin smelled of lilac. Until today, I hadn’t even known what lilac smelled like, but it was the fragrance of the silky lotion I’d shoplifted from my shelf in Kieran’s medicine cabinet. The guy had been very prepared for me to sleep over, which was a little surprising given it was his dad’s house and that was a no-go. He clearly hadn’t been using the ol’ noggin, which was good justification for snatching all of it and running. They weren’t pity purchases, but I was fine with treating them like they were.
Momma got some brand-new treats.
I took a deep breath and glanced at the phone sitting next to me on the dining table. I’d left Kieran a voice message earlier, giving him a summary of the impromptu visit Bria and I had made to Valens’s room, and what I’d concluded after seeing the photo. Then Jack had taken over and given a first-hand account of the trunk he’d found at the cliff-base.
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