I reached out, needing something to hold on to as I waited for the exit to appear, and Lucas grabbed my hand tight.
Oh my God. My heart raced. I found it. I actually found it.
Slowly, a crack formed between the crystals. It wasn’t a straight line. Instead, it followed the curvature of each individual crystal. Finally, the outline became visible.
This was it.
The door opened barely an inch, and then all was quiet.
I let go of Lucas’ hand, and pushed.
This time it swung open like it weighed nothing.
A breeze felt cool along my skin. There was a long staircase, but I could already see the pinks and oranges of the setting sun. I grinned. “We did it.”
“You did it,” Lucas said as he put his arm around my shoulder. His dark eyes sparkled in the light. “You did it.”
“I did, huh?”
“The tasty is no fun. No fun at all,” Gobble said before flying up into the sunlight. He wasn’t getting his deal from me. Not yet. And if all continued to go well, maybe not ever.
“Go on.” Lucas gave me a little push forward.
I started up the stairs. Excitement that we’d finally made it this far made my achy muscles a little bit more bearable. We hadn’t stopped much, but Lucas had occasionally handed me a bar to eat, some jerky, or a bit of dried fruit. I’d taken it and kept going. The urgency to help Raphael had never died down. Even with the exhaustion, I’d been so focused on finding the way that I hadn’t realized how much time had passed. “I can’t believe it’s been a full day.”
Lucas shook his head. “For a bit, I thought we might be sleeping in there.”
That was a terrifying thought. I never thought of myself as claustrophobic, but being deep in those tunnels had tested me nearly past my endurance. I wiped my sweaty forehead off on my damp T-shirt. “Well, it’s a good thing we don’t have to.”
When we finally stepped out and onto the grass, I was beyond tired. My thigh muscles quivered from the strain.
“We should set up camp and take a look at the map. See if we can figure out which way the temple is from here, and we’ll get started at first light.”
I knew we had to wait, but that didn’t help the pressure bearing down on me. I couldn’t feel Raphael at all anymore. He was beyond our twindar and I had no cell reception to check on him. “Let’s get set up then.”
“I know you want to keep going, but wandering around in the dark isn’t a good idea.”
“I don’t want to wander. I want to go straight there.” If I didn’t keep making progress, I’d start to think about the consequences, and that would do nothing but paralyze me with fear.
“I promised you that I’d get you to him in time, and I mean to keep that promise. Okay?”
I nodded, but I wasn’t sure how he could really promise that.
Lucas started walking, looking for a good place to pop the tent.
“You found the way,” Gobble said as he reappeared and settled back down on my shoulder.
“No thanks to you.”
He made an unimpressed noise. “Not my job to do it for you.”
That was debatable, but at least I didn’t owe him anything. Being bound to an evil witch was bad enough.
Lucas set down our packs in a small break in the forest. “This is enough room for the tent and a fire.” He started taking out the tent and setting it up.
I sat down on a fallen log and slipped off my shoes. My feet had swollen from all the walking, but by the grace of God, I’d managed not to get blisters. I worked my thumbs into my arches as the sky turned dark and stars appeared. As I sat there, I realized I really had to pee.
The thought annoyed me. Camping was not at all in my comfort zone.
Somehow, I managed to put my shoes back on. I made sure I still had some tissues from in my purse and checked my cellphone. The battery was dying, but one bar appeared before going away. It kept flashing in and out—which would do me no good—but I wanted it keep it with me at all times. Just in case. “I’m going to go…” I motioned with my hands.
“Holler if you get lost on your way back,” Lucas said.
I started off to find a bit of privacy, making sure I was far enough that I’d avoid any embarrassment because of his Were hearing.
When I started back to the campsite, a glow caught my eye. Something…
Just a little ways off from us. I’d thought I could see because of the moonlight, but it was so much more than that. The aura was a pearlescent white.
I couldn’t help but investigate. I made my way through the forest, breaking branches as I went, but not caring. The closer I got, the faster I went.