Not only did this make for horrible swimming, but the beginnings of transformation seemed to make it harder for her to change into a mermaid. She was frozen midshift, unable to become fish or fowl.
Her body wasn’t healing, either. Pain tore through her back, and she couldn’t feel her feet. But that wasn’t even the worst of her troubles. She couldn’t breathe, and the waves were pulling her out. She was drowning.
After she’d frantically clawed her way toward the surface, the salt water began to affect her. The flutter ran over her legs, and her clawed feet shifted into fins. Her lungs burned, but the pain in her back subsided. Her body was healing itself.
When Gemma was about to lose consciousness, air finally flooded her lungs as she could breathe underwater. Her tail pumped frantically behind her, and she burst through the surface of the water, breathing in deeply.
The waves had taken her a little ways from the cliff, and she swam toward it. When she reached the rocks that jutted out of the water, she found a large one and crawled onto it.
That was easier said than done. The rock was slick and wet, and the waves and rain kept beating against her, trying to push her down. Not to mention that her mermaid tail was like dead weight as she clawed her way up.
Gasping for breath, she sat perched until her tail shifted back into legs. She thanked her lucky stars that she’d worn a dress today, but she still had bigger problems.
It would take her too long to climb up the face of the cliff. Daniel was in trouble, and if she didn’t get up there fast, Lexi would have him for dinner. She closed her eyes and tried to will the transformation.
The problem was that any other time she had started to change, it had been because her life was threatened. It was something that happened by instinct. And while she cared about Daniel and wanted to save him, her body didn’t have quite the same reaction.
“Come on, just do it,” she whispered to herself, her hands balled into fists on her lap. “Just change, dammit.”
Then finally she began to feel something. Not in her eyes or fingers, which were usually the first things to alter. Her shoulders were itching, and then she felt a sharp sting. Unlike all her other changes, this was painful. The wings broke through her skin, and it actually felt as if bone and feather were tearing through her flesh. She had to bite her lip to keep from crying out.
Two massive copper wings spread out behind her. She turned her head from side to side and watched them beating in the rain. The rest of her transformation seemed to halt, and while she would’ve preferred becoming the full monster so it would be easier to fight Lexi, she’d settle for this.
Flying seemed to come naturally, like swimming with her fish’s tail or ripping out Jason’s heart. With a little concentration on her part, the wings were flapping and lifting her up off the rock.
As she was flying up toward the top, a bloody head came falling down past her. Based on the stringy blond hair attached to it, Gemma guessed it was Lexi’s, and she flew even faster.
When Gemma made it up to the top, Daniel was half sitting up and appeared conscious and mostly okay. Gemma hovered in the air, surveying the scene before deciding whether to land or grab him and take off.
Penn was climbing off what was left of Lexi, both her hands covered in blood up to her elbows. Thea was inside the house, watching through the broken window.
“I told you we shouldn’t have let Lexi stay behind today,” Thea was saying. “I knew something was up with her.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re always right.” Penn licked some of the blood off her hands, then held them out so the rain would wash away the rest of it. “Thea, come out here and drag this body in the house before we lose all the blood. We’ll need it to make another siren.”
Thea groaned, but came outside to collect Lexi’s body anyway.
Gemma landed gently on the ground next to Daniel, and he looked up at her. A cut on his forehead left blood streaming into one eye. He smiled crookedly when he saw her, appearing both relieved and rather dazed.
“Thank God,” he said. “You’re not dead.”
“No, I’m not. How are you holding up?” Gemma asked as she looked him over.
“And you’ve got that whole thing.” He motioned up to her copper wings and ignored her question.
She crouched down next to him and spread her wings out wide, shielding both of them from the rain. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, he’s fine, no thanks to you,” Penn said. She walked over to them while Thea was dragging Lexi into the house through the back door. “What the hell were you doing? How did you let it get this far?”
“I was trying to fight back,” Gemma said. “But she threw me off the cliff, and I have no idea how to control this monster thing.”
“You should’ve just let it take over,” Penn said. “Then you could’ve killed her.” She waved it off, then turned her attention to Daniel. “Are you okay?”
“I have a few scrapes and bruises.” He held up his arm, which was covered in holes from Lexi’s teeth. “But I should live.”
“Do you think you’ll be well enough for tomorrow?” Penn asked.
“What’s tomorrow?” Gemma asked, bewildered.
Daniel kept his eyes fixed on Penn, and ignored Gemma. “I said I would be.”
“I want you at your best,” Penn said.
Gemma looked from one of them to the other. “What are you talking about?”
“You owe me,” Penn said, and at first it seemed like she was only talking to Daniel, but then she pointed to Gemma. “Both of you owe me. And I will collect.”
With that, Penn turned and stalked back into the house, leaving Gemma outside to deal with Daniel.
“What was that about?” Gemma asked him.
“Nothing.” He shook his head and wouldn’t look at her.
“Holy shit!” Marcy shouted from inside the house, apparently conscious and moving around again. “What the hell is that?” Presumably, she’d just encountered Lexi’s decapitated, eviscerated bird-monster corpse.
“We should grab her and get out of here,” Gemma said.
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed.
He started to stand up and winced, so Gemma reached out and put her arm around his waist to help him up. He carefully put his arm around her shoulders, mindful of her wings, and leaned on her for support.
As they walked toward the house to collect Marcy, Gemma said, “We’ll have to tell Harper about this, but when we do, we really need to play down how much danger there was.”