“Move, Will! Swim!” Perry yelled.
Funnels lashed down, closer now, and waves that had been five and six feet high minutes ago doubled into monstrous surges that spilled over the jetty.
“Grandpa!” Willow screamed suddenly, like she knew. Like she’d had some sense of what would come next.
Old Will disappeared beneath the water.
Perry covered the distance between him and Wylan in four leaps. He grabbed hold of the rope. Behind him, Gren’s and Reef’s voices boomed, “No!” just as he pushed off the rocks and dove.
The quiet beneath the water shocked him. Perry took up slack on the rope, firming his grip, and kicked away from the jetty. His foot struck something hard—a board? A rock?—as he came up. Waves rose in huge, rolling walls around him. He could only see water until a swell lifted him out of the trough. His stomach lurched as he rose up, and then he was at the crest, able to see the rocks where he’d just stood. Only seconds, and he was nowhere near where he thought he’d be.
Perry swam toward where he’d last seen Old Will. The current was brutally strong, pulling him back toward the jetty. He spotted movement in the water. Flea paddled twenty yards off. Nearby, Old Will thrashed in place, his silvery hair blending with the whipped sea foam.
The fisherman’s skin was ghastly white when Perry reached him. “Hang on, Will!” Perry tied the rope around him. “Go!” he yelled toward shore, waving his arms.
Seconds passed before the fibers of the rope stretched taut beneath his hands. He was pulled forward, but barely. Another tug and he couldn’t deny that together they were too heavy for Wylan. He caught another glimpse of the jetty, seeing the dark granite boulders flash white for an instant. The Aether storm was closing on them.
Perry let go of the rope, and Old Will surged away from him. He swam after, demanding more from his tired muscles. Every stroke felt like he was lifting his own weight. He could hear Reef’s and Gren’s shouts as he neared the jetty. He pushed himself. Peered up through whipping spray. A few more yards.
A sudden current gripped him like a hook, pulling him away, back toward the open water. Just as suddenly, the tide shifted, and he saw the jetty closing fast. He covered his head and pulled his legs up. His feet struck hard; then he whipped sideways and crashed into the rocks.
Pain speared through him. Spine cracking. Everywhere. The ache solidified in his right shoulder. He reached up, not recognizing his own shape. His shoulder jutted the wrong way, dislodged from the socket.
This couldn’t be happening. He swam with his good arm and begged more from his legs, but every movement sent stabbing pain across his shoulder. Through the crashing surf, he caught another glimpse of the jetty. Bear and Wylan pulled the rope hand over hand, bringing in Old Will. Willow and Flea stood nearby, shaking and soaked. Reef and Gren perched on the rocks, yelling for him, ready to hoist him out of the water. Perry kicked harder, but his legs wouldn’t answer. Wouldn’t move the way he wanted them to. He was coughing up seawater and couldn’t catch his breath.
There was only one way out of this. He stopped swimming and plunged underwater. He grabbed his wrist and took an instant to shore up his resolve. Then he pulled it across his body. Spots of red burst before his eyes. It felt like he was ripping his own muscles, the pain an explosion inside his shoulder, but the joint wouldn’t spring back into place. He let go of his arm. Couldn’t try again. Was sure he’d pass out if he did.
He pushed up, cutting through the churning water, his breath running out. He kicked harder, searching for the surface. Searching.
Suddenly he couldn’t tell which way was up. Fear threatened to overtake him, but he forced himself to swim with calm strokes. Panic would mean the end. Long seconds later, his lungs screaming for oxygen, panic came anyway, and he felt himself thrashing wildly in the water, his body moving beyond his control.
He knew he couldn’t breathe. That he wouldn’t draw in air. No matter how he fought against it, he couldn’t stop himself. The ache in his lungs and his head was bigger than the pain in his shoulder. Bigger than anything.
He opened his mouth and inhaled. An explosion of cold shot down his throat. In the next instant, he pushed it back out. The bright red bursts came back, and his chest convulsed, pulling, pushing. Needing, rejecting.
He slipped down into colder water, where it grew darker and quieter and darker still. He felt his limbs relax, then an aching sorrow spread through him, replacing the pain.
Aria. He’d just gotten her back. Didn’t want to leave. Didn’t want to hurt her. Didn’t want—
Something slammed into his throat. The Blood Lord chain … strangling him. He grasped for it, and then he realized someone was above, tugging him upward. The chain loosened, but now he felt an arm around his chest, and he was moving, being towed.
He broke the surface and retched seawater, convulsing with his entire being. He felt a rope being tied around his ribs, and then Gren and Wylan were hauling him up to the rocks while someone pushed him from behind. It could only be Reef.
Bear grabbed for his arm, cursing as he almost slid into the water.
“Shoulder!” Perry gritted through his teeth.
Bear understood, wrapping his arm around Perry’s waist and carrying him beyond the reach of the crashing waves. Perry kept going after he was set down. He clambered across the jetty, desperate, until he reached sand. Then he sank and folded around the pain in his gut—in his shoulder—in his throat. His lungs felt like they’d been beaten blue.
A circle formed around him, but he kept coughing, struggling to find his breath. Finally he swiped the saltwater from his eyes.
Shame hit him hard. He was on his back, broken in front of his people.
Gren shook his head, like he couldn’t believe what had just happened. Old Will stood with Willow tucked into his side. Reef’s chest heaved, the scar across his cheek bright red. Above, the Aether turned in massive, vengeful wheels.
“His arm’s out of its socket,” Bear said.