Sweat ran down the side of Casidhe’s face in spite of cool air in this dark underground tunnel. Standing in chest-deep water and facing the possibility of dying here jacked her pulse out of sight. She hadn’t left a note at the hotel for Daegan to shield him from the danger of meeting up with Herrick. She did not want a battle of those two dragons. Unfortunately, she’d told Tristan she needed some time to herself.
Daegan would be honorable and respect that, dammit.
“No whinin’,” she muttered, tired of standing in water.
She’d gotten herself into this and would find a way out. Moving her booted foot again, she wiggled it beneath what felt like a crisscross of roots trapping it.
Her routinely insubordinate sword had surprised her by finally sliding from the sheath after another obligatory begging. The blade pointed down, now glowing underwater. One would think that would illuminate the black hole, but she could see nothing past a few inches beneath the surface. All she had to do was cut enough roots to free her boot, then finish trekking the rest of this tunnel to the escape point.
Not a big deal, right?
More sweat trickled down her face.
Her backpack pulled on her shoulders as if it held big rocks when she’d only packed clothes and other necessities for traveling.
Not even a heavy book this time.
Had she made the right decision in sending her books with Tristan to a realm she couldn’t enter?
Her books were safer than her at the moment. Good point.
“Stop stallin’,” she grumbled, which did little to fill her with confidence.
If she jabbed wrong, the razor-sharp blade with a cranky attitude might slice through her boot and take her toes off.
She blew a breath upward, knocking a damp lock of hair from her eyes and poked the sword slowly around her feet. She tapped around, feeling for an opening for the tip.
Maybe she should have taken her normal escape route she’d used for years, but every supernatural person looking for her could pick up her energy trail, her scent, or whatever, to follow her. Someone with a larger body than her average size would have a tough time following the main tunnel, but it would be even more difficult to reach her here.
That’s why halfway through the main tunnel, she’d broken loose the dirt and rocks covering the entrance to this off-shoot from the primary path.
She’d told no one about this alternate route for the ten years she’d lived in Galway.
Not even Fenella.
Casidhe hadn’t hidden anything about the tunnels from her friend. The woman did not like to be in a small place and feared darkness. Avoiding conversation on it seemed considerate.
Shoving harder, her sword skipped off toward her leg.
Her leg felt intact. She took a deep breath and kept moving the tip around six to eight inches from where her boot felt stuck. Panic rattled her chest.
She could die here.
Would anyone care if she never showed up again?
Not Fenella. Maybe not even Herrick if he had decided she was disposable.
Her stomach soured with the lingering hurt of betrayal.
Fenella had been her closest friend for ten years. Her only friend.
No more. That’s why Casidhe needed to reach Herrick’s mountains before Fenella sent a message through the squire family system to him.
Fenella’s family, not Casidhe’s. She had never been part of any family. Only someone trained to do Herrick’s bidding.
Light from the sword dimmed.
Shoot. “Okay, I’ll try harder,” she pacified the sword, which had a mind of its own at times.
Taking a couple deep breaths of dank tunnel air to steady her grip, Casidhe changed her hold on the hilt and prodded around her boot with more effort. She slowly pushed her muscles, silently begging the damn sword for help.
Evidently the sword approved. Light glowed really bright beneath the surface.
If she lopped her toes off, she should be able to grab them when they floated up.
Pressure on top of her boot backed air up in her chest. What was the sword doing?
She pressed down a tiny bit and the root moved down on her boot. The sword blade must be right on top of the root. Easing the blade to her right, she tapped a couple times.
That confirmed what she thought as the tapping didn’t put pressure on her boot again.
Only one way to find out for sure.
Closing her eyes to enhance her sense of feel, she started sawing up and down over the root. After a couple minutes, it felt as if she made no indentation.
Was the root dead and petrified?
Her shoulders drooped. She could not stop now. Moving the tip around, she tried to find a place to pry the root aside so she could wiggle her foot free of the boot. Not ideal, since she would face continuing without one foot protected against the chewed-up floor of the tunnel, but that beat staying here.
A distinct sound of rocks hitting the ground way behind her stopped her motion.
She’d been focused on her task and failed to pay any attention to noises. There shouldn’t be sounds down in this tunnel except water dripping and her exertions.
She held her breath, listening.
The bare clacking of rock on rock sounded again. Was someone down here?
Her heartbeat took off like a rabbit trying to outrun a mountain lion. She tried to stay quiet while putting renewed effort into stabbing the damn sword around to free her boot.
“Cassssidhe,” sang through the air in a whisper. The voice sounded male.
Chills raced up her arms. Who was in the tunnel with her?
Heart pounding furiously, she jabbed the sword down hard. Missed her toes, but still failed to break any root.
“Cassssidhe.” The whisper gained strength.
Her body trembled and her hands jerked the sword. “Cut the root!” she hissed at the sword and shoved the tip down again.
The blade slid off the root.
She wanted to scream.
Gripping the hilt with white knuckles, she begged, “Please, please cut it.” Once more, she jammed the sharp tip down and the blade kept going into the root. Now it was stuck.
“Casidhe!” the angry male voice shouted. “Bring me my book!”
She knew that voice. Cathbad.
What would he do when he found out she’d sent his book to Treoir with Tristan?
She wiggled the hilt back and forth, trying to free the sword. It wouldn’t move an inch and wouldn’t pull straight up. Damn irritating weapon.
“Ya need to come to me, Casidhe. I know ya read the section I warned ya to not read without me. ’Tis fine by me. Now I can call ya to me.”
Could he do that?
Hell, yes. He was a druid thousands of years old.
She had to get out of here fast, which was pretty much impossible without power.
Furious, she hissed at the sword, “Either help or get out of the way, dammit.”
Light glowed brighter beneath the water. The sword yanked down hard, pulling her shoulders to the water. She strained to keep her chin dry. She couldn’t even pull her hands from the hilt.
Well, hell. She’d pissed off an ancient sword.
All of sudden, the sword eased up. She pulled it gently as she raised her body upright.
She turned her boot back and forth, working it free of the roots now that a big one had been cut.
“I am not jokin’, Casidhe. I would prefer not to bang yar head, but I have no control over how my power drags ya to me, only that it will obey me. Ya have until the count of ten to convince me ya are comin’ back, but no more. I am out of patience with everyone at the moment.”
Go to him voluntarily or get dragged by majik? Screw that.
Cathbad shouted, “One!”
As soon as the blade cleared the water, she waded forward, her boot free and foot still inside it.
Her body moved faster than she would have believed possible for slugging through the rocks and mud. Terror would do that to a person. The uneven ground tossed her off balance.
She swallowed the urge to whimper. What would he do to her? Now she could walk, but only bent over.
Her legs and back muscles burned, but she would not stop. If she felt herself go backward, she’d try to use the sword to brace her.
The sword stopped glowing.
Of course. She shoved the blade into the sheath in her backpack, leaving her arms free to pull her through a narrow opening.
Her body stopped suddenly. The blasted backpack got stuck.
Wait. What happened to six?
Wiggling out of the straps, she turned and yanked, dragging her pack through the opening. Rocks and dirt fell loose from above.
The next steps were slow and difficult through areas she had to turn sideways to pass through. The backpack needed to slim down, but that wasn’t happening. She dug in her heels and leaned back as hard as she could.
Tears burned her eyes. Fear gave her another burst of power. She leaned forward then threw her body backward toward the exit, pulling with all of her weight.
The backpack broke free.
She landed on her bum.
A cracking sound rippled overhead. Then another.
“Ten!” Cathbad roared.