8. Tremors

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Cold wind whipped through the air as we approached Taurin's stronghold, the symbol of Taurus' earthly domain. The formidable, shadowy walls rose high, entwined with ivy and moss, signifying the indomitable power of nature. At the foot of the fortress, the terrain unfolded in undulating hills and lush meadows, dotted with ancient oaks and crisscrossed by meandering streams.

Beside me, Zara's breath caught, her eyes mirroring the unvoiced hope that within these walls might be the key to Zephyr's death. Her fingers fiddled with the hem of her shirt, her gaze shifting between the stronghold and me.

"Are you ready, Blaze?" she asked, resting her hand on my arm and edging closer. My heart raced at her touch, an unexpected warmth flushing my cheeks. Why in the stars' name did it affect me so profoundly, leaving me craving more of her presence?

I had to look away, attempting to shake off the vivid memory of the moment we shared last night. A moment that replayed on a loop in my mind as I tossed and turned, struggling to sleep. Fortunately, neither of us mentioned it this morning or during our journey to Meadowland Manor.

"Yeah," I replied, striving to concentrate on the hand. "Remember, we need to pretend that you are my assistant."

"Oh, I haven't forgotten. I'm your adoring assistant, aren't I?" Zara stepped closer, her breath warm on my neck. "How many sugars would you like with your coffee, sir?" she asked, rolling her eyes, a playful smirk crossing her lips.

"With that attitude, you'd make a terrible assistant, Dimples. Just stay close and follow my lead." My voice was laced with amusement as I wrapped my arm around her and drew her nearer. "And don't forget that we are supposed to be having a.. thing." I glanced at her, noticing a slight blush tingeing her cheeks.

Why, for stars' sake, did I suddenly feel flustered? It was baffling how this woman managed to unbalance me at the most unexpected moments.

"A thing?" She arched an unimpressed eyebrow at me, but laced her fingers with mine as we moved forward together. I knew we needed to maintain this affectionate façade to keep up our cover, but ‌it was all too easy to lose myself in the warmth of her touch. "I hope your dirty talk is better than that, Blaze, or everyone would pity poor Aurora."

"Wouldn't you like to know?" I smirked, regaining some of my usual confidence. "So, do we dare put a label on this 'thing' we've got going on?"

"Yes, Blaze, it's called 'we are on a mission'."

A pair of guards eyed us warily when we approached the entrance.

"Sagittarius here, with my assistant. We are here to speak with Taurin."

The guards exchanged a glance before one of them spoke up. "Wait here." With an imperious nod of his head, he strode away.

But as we waited, the other guard's hushed conversation with a patrol caught my attention.

"Have you heard about the weird things happening lately? My mom said she's never encountered anything like it before," one guard mumbled.

"Yes, I've noticed them too," the other replied. "It's unsettling."

Before I could catch any more details, the first guard returned, nodding at us. "Taurin will see you now. Follow me."

Inside the fortress, the air was cool and damp, carrying the earthy scent of moss that clung to the stone walls. Zara and I followed the guard through a labyrinth of corridors, lanterns casting a soft glow on ivy-covered walls, making it resemble more a hidden sanctuary than a fortified stronghold.

But the moment we stepped into Taurin's laboratory, it felt as if we had been swallowed by the earth itself. Shelves of geological specimens lined the walls, meticulously labelled and arranged in a dazzling array of colours and textures. Glowing orbs hovered near the ceiling, casting a warm, golden light that seemed to breathe life into the stones themselves.

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