I urged the dragon-thing back to the funnel and stuck my head through again. Valens waited five feet from me, the glassy, solid looking water still under his feet. Kieran was now beneath the surface.
That was good. Water rejuvenated him.
“Well, well, well,” Valens said, and the strength of his presence nearly pushed me back. His rugged features were just shy of striking, and a strange glimmer lit his turbulent eyes. It was clear Kieran had gotten the lion’s share of his looks from his mother, but his large and muscular bearing certainly came from this man. “Look at this, the pretty little treasure has courage. You will make a mighty prize.”
I rammed my power into his middle, trying harder to seep down in. He jerked back and released another wave of his enormous, heady magic, dunking me in a blazing fire of pain. It felt like it ate through my skin and dripped acid down my middle. Water closed over me, a tomb, and I started rising.
I squeezed my eyes shut and doubled down, battering Valens with everything I had. My dragon-thing swam furiously and its slimy surface slipped from my grasping hands. Mind-numbing pain consumed me, dripping down my esophagus, and jabbing white-hot spikes behind my eyes. Still, I kept at it, draining myself of energy and holding my breath, shaking and jerking and punching Valens’s spirit box.
And then something wormed through the blinding agony—a comforting feeling, throbbing in my middle and cooling Valens’s fire.
I blinked my eyes open and saw the most beautiful sight I’d ever set eyes on—Kieran streaming through the water with a glowing trident. Valens turned from me just in time for the sharp points to pierce his gut. The pain eating away at me eased. The water tomb pushing me upward vanished.
Kieran yanked the trident from Valens’s body and struck again. Valens met the trident with one of his own, battering it away. The rest of his magical hold vanished from around me, and I swam in their direction. My energy increased with each stroke, though minimally. I didn’t have much left, and not even the water and Kieran’s magical gift could help me.
I summoned everything I had left and pulled magic from the Line for one final assault. Kieran barely dodged a strike and brought his trident down on his father. Valens ducked, taking the blow across the shoulder. He jabbed his pronged staff forward, grazing Kieran’s side. Blood trailed into the water.
I struck again, intent on one thing. Getting to that soul.
Spirit wrapped around Valens’s spirit box and started to seep in. A shock of power from Kieran barreled into him a moment later. Together, we converged, taking Valens from both sides. He was forced to split his defense and offense. I clenched my teeth, desperately trying to ignore the painful stabs.
My spirit kept seeping in, the progress painfully slow. Kieran battered Valens with his magic and stuck his trident in a second time. Then a third. The water moved around us—pushing me away (Valens), then pulling me closer (Kieran). I released myself to the currents, losing my bearings and closing my eyes, focusing everything I had on reaching that spirit.
Valens yelled, the sound twisting through the water, a frustrated and pained sound. Currents continued to shift and change around me, Father and son fighting over my proximity to their battle.
His spirit box’s density shifted, then started the change. Valens froze for a brief moment.
That was the window Kieran needed.
A rush of his magic slammed into Valens, bending him in half. Backward. Valens’s spine cracked, a fearsome sound heard throughout the water. The prongs of the spirit box loosened with the prospect of death, ready to let go. I reached in…and grabbed his soul.
Nearly spent in a way he had never been before, every inch of his body aching, Kieran watched in utter shock as his father’s body went limp. His head floated in the water. His legs drifted.
Valens’s spirit blinked in utter confusion at Alexis.
The Line materialized and pulsed below them, and Alexis looked back and forth between the two, then at Kieran, needing direction.
The waters stilled around them as Kieran let go of his magic. Silence filled the space, expectant.
They’d killed his father. He was an orphan.
An unexpected sadness filled him. He’d hated his father for so many things, but now that he’d gotten vengeance…it had left him feeling hollow.
He had to remember this wasn’t just about him. It was about his mother, and magical San Francisco, and all the people the Demigod had unlawfully killed for some reason or other. It was about the future, and the harmony between magical and non-magical societies. Killing his father was bigger than him.
“Send him across—” Kieran started to say, but a strange blurriness invaded the water, like the figure he and Bria had seen in the smoke the other day while Green’s body lay on the concrete. The soul connection weakened—and then began to blink out. The blurriness shot through the water and stopped by Valens’s spirit, somewhat obstructing Kieran’s view. Valens’s face changed to one of shock, then anger, then fear, before his spirit started to dissipate. It didn’t move toward the Line, it just…faded away.
“What’s happening?” he asked, starting over.
The blurred form turned, and Kieran could swear it looked right at him.
The words echoed in his head as the blurry form faded away with his father’s spirit. A moment later, there was nothing left. They were both gone.
Alexis jolted. Her eyes snapped opened and she gasped, sucking in a lungful of water.
“Oh shit, no. Alexis!” Kieran could speak and pull oxygen from the water. This was his territory. But though his blood gift allowed his chosen few to spend longer than normal in the water, they couldn’t subsist here. If he didn’t get Alexis to the surface, she’d drown.
He rushed at her, dissipating the trident and wrapping his arm around her middle. She coughed and grabbed her throat, sucking in more water. Trying to get air.
He swam faster than he ever had in his life, straight up while parting the water at the surface to get her to the air faster.
“Hang on, baby,” he said, sheer terror stopping his heart. “Hang on. Almost there.”
He crested the surface he’d created, letting the water push him the rest of the way up to sea level. He pushed on her chest as she gagged. Water dribbled from her mouth. She coughed, clutching at him.
“Breathe, baby, it’s over. We made it,” he said, floating to the top and cradling her in his arms. “We made it. Breathe.”
Jack cut through the water, four boats held high with his tentacles. Each held a member of his Six, their faces pale, their eyes anxious. Zorn’s gaze found Alexis, gasping for breath.
He readied to dive into the water, just as at home there as Jack, though not nearly as powerful. The brunt of his power existed on land.
“I have her. Stay in the boat.” Kieran swam her closer and handed her up before climbing in himself.
She coughed and gagged, emptying the liquid in her lungs into the boat. She sucked in deeply, replacing the water with air.
“Is she okay?” Donovan brought his boat closer. The way it shook in the air indicated he was tired. They all were.
“Yes,” he said as a wave of relief washed over him. He hugged her close and looked up at the sky, a million emotions racing through him. “Yes.”
Zorn was lifted away and dumped into Donovan’s boat. “Sorry, bro. I’m about out of steam,” Donovan said.
Kieran looked down at Alexis’s beautiful face before brushing the wet hair off of her cheek. Her chest rose and fell, still gasping for air and coughing up water, but she was alive. They both were.
“Is it done, sir?” Boman asked.
Kieran looked at the shimmering surface of water, also calming, erasing the evidence of the enormous whirlpool and hard-fought battle. “Yes. It’s over. His body is below.”
“Will you leave it there?” Zorn asked.
Kieran shook his head and returned his gaze to Alexis. “It’s tolerated, maybe even expected, for Demigods to fight one another for territory, but still, some may mourn him. I’ll give him a proper burial so the people of San Francisco, and the world, can pay their respects, such as they are. But that can wait. My people below will guard the body, and his people have probably already taken off. Let’s get home.”
The boats started to move, propelled by Jack’s Kraken form. He hadn’t had much to do but swim. He’d be the only one with energy to spare when they got back.
Kieran sagged against the side of the boat, sitting on the bottom. He settled Alexis a little more firmly in his lap and sighed in relief when she curled up into his arms.
Earlier, when he’d felt her draw near, he’d been both scared she was in danger and incredibly relieved. His father had been too much for him. If she hadn’t risked her life to save him, his body would be floating down deep instead of his father’s. He had so much to be thankful for, and so much to apologize for, that he didn’t know where to start. So he met her entrancing eyes, and said the first thing that came to his mind. “Will you marry me?”
“There she is, the little heart breaker. My girl!” Bria put up her fist as I entered the kitchen. “Finally found sense.”
Daisy and Mordecai looked up from their bowls of cereal. Thane sat at the island next to Bria, the only one of the Six who’d physically battled from start to finish, helping Bria, Dara, and the wolves clear the parking lot and the beach. He and Bria had gotten the week off to recuperate, like I had.