The sound of Lucas zipping up the backpack caught my attention. “All right. Let’s go,” he said as he slipped the first one on his back. “The mine is this way.” He slipped the other one across his chest and started walking.

Gobble flitted down from the tree and settled on my shoulder. The image of tiny little teeth tearing into my ear raced across my mind, and I stiffened.

Lucas spun toward me. “Why are you—” He didn’t have to finish his question. “Get off of her. She doesn’t like you sitting there.”

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“Sure the tasty does.” His tiny voice screeched in my ear.

Lucas’ eyes flashed bright. “And she doesn’t like you calling her the tasty,” he said, with a low rumble in his voice.

They started arguing back and forth as we walked.

The day had just begun and I was already getting a headache.

Lucas had been dead on when he said it would take two hours to get to the mine. We stopped for a rest when we arrived. Weeds and branches covered up most of the entrance, blocking it from view. Without the map to tell us where to stop, we might’ve walked by it a million times and never seen it. It was too dark to see all the way inside, but a set of rusted and broken cart tracks ended at what looked like the mouth of a very long cave.

Lucas reached into his bag, grabbing out two flashlights. I took one, thankful for it. I hadn’t thought to bring one. It was rare that I found someone more prepared than I was. I kind of admired that quality in Lucas. It was nice.

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As we stepped inside, the air grew thick and heavy. It smelled stale and earthy, like no one had entered in a good long while. Spider webs ran down from the corners of the braced walls, and I moved to walk behind Lucas.

He glanced back to me. “Don’t like spiders, huh?”

“Does anyone like them?”

Gobble flew in front of my face. “I like them just fine. Tasty,” he squeaked.

“Right.” That didn’t surprise me in the least.

One of the branches off this mineshaft exited to a secret valley between the mountains, but I had no idea which part or how we were supposed to find the right path. The map didn’t show anything about the inside of the mine. My only lead was magic. The mages’ auras had stuck to the map. If they’d used the mine to access their temple, then it stood to reason that there would be more traces of pure white to follow. I just had to find them.

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We moved past a line of five rickety mine carts. The metal bits were rusted and the wood looked like it might disintegrate if we breathed too hard.

“Hop in,” Lucas said when he reached the last one.

I stared from him to the cart and back again. “In that?”

“Yes.” When I didn’t move, he continued. “It’ll be faster. You just tell me when you see the aura you’re looking for, and we’ll head that way.”

I knocked my fist against the side of the car. It didn’t collapse, but I still wasn’t convinced. “Is this safe?”

Lucas blew out a breath. “Honestly, I’m not sure.” He placed the backpacks in the cart before hopping in with one graceful move.

Yeah. I wasn’t going to be able to get in it without making a fool of myself.

“There are miles of tunnels down here. We’ve got to narrow it down or it could take days.”

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I closed my eyes and thought of Raphael. Every time I did, he felt father away. Our twindar used to bind us tight. If he was hurt or feeling something strongly, I could feel it, too. That had faded over the past few days and I didn’t think it was because of the distance. Now, my sense of him was almost gone. Thinking about what could happen to him made stabbing pain shoot through my chest.

“Fine,” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”

Lucas leaned down to grasp me around the waist, and then easily lifted me into the cart. It shouldn’t have been a surprise or anything to overreact to, but it made me feel safe. Protected. Even in this rickety thing.

Gobble flitted over to sit on my shoulder, but this time I didn’t stiffen. I was too worried about what was going to happen as Lucas started pumping the lever on the car. Slowly, we all rolled forward.

“Let me know as soon as you want to stop or if we need to take a turn.” Ahead of us, the tunnel split in three directions. “Like now. Which way?” Lucas asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, Claudia. Which way?”

“I don’t know. Gobble? Do you know?”

“You want Gobble’s help?” He flitted in front of me to grin with those sharp teeth and I suddenly felt hesitant. From what Cosette said, I shouldn’t make a deal with him. Not unless I really, really, really needed it. I wasn’t that desperate. Not yet, at least.

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