The back of the chair he was tied to slapped the water loudly as he fell. It was depressing to think that that might be the last sound he ever heard.
Max managed to shake off the daze from his head wound enough to wrench himself toward the arm of one of the people half carrying, half dragging him. He felt the man’s arm against his face and he bit down, hard. The man yelped, even though his skin was tough and stank of glyptodont, and let go of Max. Max turned and kneed his other captor in the groin. He wrestled his gun away from the second man, firing as he pulled back and hitting him somewhere in the chest. It was enough to send him to the ground, almost certainly permanently, so Max stopped paying attention to him.
The man he’d bitten was reaching for his own gun, trying to awkwardly draw it from his holster with his wrong hand. His right arm was held tight to his chest and dripping blood. Max knew how to bite like he meant it.
Max shot him, not wasting time to make sure he fell before he staggered into a run back across the lawn. The grass was lush and green, a status symbol of the hydromancer who lived there, but more importantly, it was thick and dewy. Trying to run on it was like running on wet sponges, and Max struggled to keep going. His head throbbed, and blood was trickling down into his eyes.
The cool water closed over him. It felt like he was falling too slowly, the silvery surface of the water staying only inches above his head for longer than was right. But maybe that was only his lack of depth perception, and his fear slowing the world down.
Max was lucky: his captors must have had orders to kill him, because the sound of gunshots hadn’t put the rest on alert. They were clustered by the edge of the pool, watching it instead of on the lookout for him. They were shadowy figures, lit from below by the pool lights, but he could smell the magic of the one in the middle. She was the water mage, and it was her he aimed for.
His first shot hit her in the shoulder, which wasn’t bad for shooting while running, and the distance he was at. It knocked her off balance, and it must have hurt like hell, because she didn’t pull up any of her defenses. Her muscle, three tall, bulky shapes smelling of glyptodont and a whiff of Columbian mastodon, reached for their guns.
Max ignored them—and the bullet that drew a hot thin line of pain along his side—and fired again. His second shot took the hydromancer in the side of the head, and that decided it. Her underlings were there for money, not loyalty, and once she fell they didn’t bother with more than a few desultory shots to cover their own retreat.
He hit the bottom with a bump, the chair legs striking first and then the back following soon after. His hands were tied, and anyway, they had emptied his pockets of anything useful—like, say, a vial of ancient water that would help him breathe underwater, or a valve tapped into his own mandala that he could open and push himself up with a jet of water.
Max made it to the edge of the pool. He didn’t know how long it had been since he was knocked unconscious. Long enough to for Gabriel to end up in the pool, bound to something. Max jumped in, diving toward the dark shape on the bottom.
His lungs were burning, and his vision was doing an interesting thing where it was both flashing and fading out. Eventually, Gabriel opened his mouth, taking in some of the other hydromancer’s water. He tried to make it obey him. He had nothing to control it with, but he thought he might as well try anyway. Even if Max had fallen so heavily to the ground next to him, and lain so still…
Max grabbed Gabriel’s shoulders, trying to lift him. He was too heavy, still fully dressed and tied to a chair as he was, and Max couldn’t pull him more than a few inches up off the bottom. So instead Max swam down deeper, holding himself down against the concrete. He wedged his hands under the back of the chair and pushed with his feet, levering Gabriel up. He got him off the bottom, and kicked wildly to keep them headed up to the surface.
He just barely got them there. He was almost out of air, and nearing exhaustion, by the time the broke the surface. Luckily Gabriel had gone down right at the edge, and Max was able to grab the lip from where they had come up. He dragged himself up, and then painfully heaved the chair up after him.
Gabriel was unconscious, at best. He definitely wasn’t breathing. Max ripped at the rope tying his hands to the armrests, and then the ones biding his feet to the legs. When he had Gabriel free, he flopped him onto his back on the patio. He moved like a corpse.
Max gave him two breaths, mouth-to-mouth, and then started the chest compressions.
It took several more rounds of increasingly-desperate breaths and compressions before Gabriel stirred and gaged. Max helped roll him onto his side to vomit up pool water. The water reeked of magic, and Max wondered just how long Gabriel had been down there.
“Gabriel,” Max tried again.
Gabriel weakly attempted to turn his head towards Ma, but fell back in a fit of coughing. It was air that he was hacking up, though, so Max thought it was probably a good sign. He hauled Gabriel into a sitting position, so he he could cough more easily without choking. He smoothed back some of Gabriel’s sopping wet hair while he waited it out.
“You’re alive,” Gabriel gasped, once he could talk.
“You should really stop pissing people off,” Max told him.