The hands that held my arms moved until they were wrapped around my waist, one arm squeezing brutally hard and upward. It hurt, but it also caused a gout of water to come flying out of my mouth and nose. Eww, gross!
I managed a sip of air, but then the coughing seized me. More water left my lungs, burning my throat fiercely on the way up. I got a little more air in, so I was almost able to scream when something once again wrapped around my ankle.
“Damn it!” my rescuer cried, and I realized it was Ethan.
I felt him kick whatever had grabbed me, and the grip loosened.
“We have to get out of the water, Dana!” Ethan yelled at me.
I was so with him!
I was still coughing and choking too much to swim on my own, so Ethan towed me. I blinked water and tears from my eyes and saw that Ethan was taking me under the bridge.
Whatever was in the moat made another grab, and I felt a hair-raising pulse as Ethan threw some kind of magic at it.
“Kick with me!” he commanded, and I did the best I could despite my continued struggle to breathe.
It was an agonizingly slow, terrifying swim. I sensed the moat monster lurking below us in the depths of the muddy water. Waiting for us to show a sign of weakness. Or maybe just waiting for Ethan’s magical attack to wear off.
I’d recovered enough of my mental faculties to see that we were heading for the base of the bridge, but what I saw there didn’t exactly give me warm fuzzies. There was a narrow concrete ledge that jutted out of the water, but it would take a pretty big reach to grab on to it, and I knew that even if I grabbed it, Iwouldn’t have the strength to haul myself out of the water.
“Almost there,” Ethan said, but though he was trying to comfort me, he sounded scared himself, which was not comforting at all.
A few more frantic kicks, and we butted up against the concrete.
“I’m going to give you a boost,” Ethan said, panting with the effort of swimming for both of us—and fighting off unseen monsters to boot. “Grab hold of the edge.”
I still didn’t think grabbing hold of the edge would do me much good, but I wasn’t about to argue. Ethan shifted his grip once again, and in any other situation, I’d have objected to where his hands ended up. But somehow, I didn’t think he was trying to cop a feel at the moment.
Ethan pushed me up out of the water, and I reached my hands above my head. They connected with the ledge, but I was still in the water from the butt down. It meant I didn’t have to support my full weight as I hung there, but it wasn’t enough to give me the strength to pull myself up. If I survived this, I was going to have to spend some time in the gym building up some upper body strength.
Beside me, Ethan lunged up out of the water, his hands grabbing the ledge without any helpful boost. Unless the monster was helping, which seemed unlikely.
“Hold on,” he ordered me, then easily pulled himself up and onto the ledge.
His hands had just closed around my wrists when the monster grabbed me again.
“Ethan!” I screamed, kicking wildly.
“I’ve got you!” he assured me, and started to pull.
The monster had let go with little encouragement the last couple of times, but maybe it saw that its prey was getting away and decided to make a last stand. Whatever the reason, it didn’t let go when Ethan started pulling.
I couldn’t help glancing down at the water, trying to see the creature that was trying so hard to pull me back in. The water was so murky, and the area under the bridge so dark, that I couldn’t see anything under the surface.
Something wrapped around my other leg, and I screamed again. Ethan cursed, but held firmly to my wrists as the two played tug-of-war for me.
A ghastly, dead-fish-white face rose from the water near my legs. Hair like sticky gray spiderwebs flowed all around its colorless head, moving this way and that, not—at least as far as I could tell—affected by any kind of current or wind. My stomach cramped as I realized it was the hair that was wrapped around my legs.
The creature’s eyes were as white as its skin, giving the impression that it was blind. But I didn’t think it was, because it sure seemed like it was gazing balefully up at Ethan.
“Mine!” the creature said in an awful gurgle of a voice. When it spoke, I saw the double row of needlelike teeth in its mouth.
“Ethan,” I whimpered. I would rather have drowned than let this creature have me.
“No, she’s mine, ” Ethan told the creature in a fierce, throaty, snarl that sounded barely human. Of course, Ethan wasn’t human.
The creature hissed, its weirdly grabby hair wrapping more and more tendrils around me.
Ethan’s eyes practically glowed in the darkness, and his grip on my arms hadn’t wavered, though I was beginning to feel like I was being stretched on a rack. My shoulders were screaming in agony, and I was afraid any moment now, muscles would start tearing.
Ethan said something in a language I didn’t know. I guessed it was either Gaelic, or some kind of weird Faerie language. With his words came a soft pulse of power that traveled down my body toward the creature.
The creature hissed again, baring its teeth at Ethan.
“You do not wish to make an enemy of me or my house,” Ethan told it through gritted teeth, and the look on his face would have scared anyone—or anything—that had two brain cells to rub together.
With a final sullen hiss, the creature let go of me and sank back into the water. The moment I was free of its grip, Ethan hauled me all the way out and onto the ledge.