8. All that glitters

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ZARA

The walls of Taurin's fortress trembled again, a roar of crumbling stone echoing through the corridors. Panic constricted my chest as I struggled to stay focused amidst the chaos. Smoke and dust clogged the air, stinging my eyes and choking me with each laboured breath. This was a nightmare, and it felt like there was no escape.

Blaze and I found ourselves trapped, our lives precariously hanging by a thread as we dashed through the narrow passageways, dodging debris that threatened to bury us alive. The ground shook beneath us, leaving us at its mercy. I stumbled and fell back, desperately trying to keep on my feet as the sounds of destruction pounded inside my head like drums.

We raced past collapsed arches and tumbling stones, the grating noise making my teeth clench. I gripped Blaze's arm tightly, gasping for air as we narrowly escaped an archway that gave way before us.

"Blaze, we need to get Taurin." The Zodiac we left behind filled my thoughts.

He hesitated, his eyes darting around as if seeking an escape route. But another violent tremor shook the fortress, dispelling any doubt. "We need to get out of here first. If we don't survive, we won't be able to help anyone."

My pulse quickened as I agreed, following Blaze towards a hidden door that had split open amid the chaos, revealing a thin passageway.

I glanced at the narrow passageway, swallowing hard. "Are you sure this is safe?"

"Trust me." His gaze met mine, filled with determination and resolve. "We have to escape before this place collapses."

The darkness of the passageway felt like a physical weight, pressing down on us and stealing the air out of my lungs. My skin grazed against the rough walls as we ran through, Blaze's hand a steadying presence in the suffocating blackness. Panic clawed its way up my throat, threatening to overpower me. Countless fears whirled through my mind, but all I could do was keep running and pray for the best.

"Are you okay?" Blaze inquired, sensing my distress.

"I'm fine." But my voice shook, betraying me. I wanted nothing more than to admit how scared I was, to let him share my burden, but instead I mustered up whatever strength I had left and kept going.

After an eternity of twists and turns, we emerged into daylight, gasping for fresh air. My legs trembled from the strain, and terror wrapped around my pounding heart like a merciless serpent. The fortress's tremors intensified, and the once-magnificent structure groaned under the pressure, shedding debris. We stood there, covered in grime, the taste of dust lingering on our tongues as we watched Taurin's sanctuary shudder violently yet remain standing.

"Do you think Taurin escaped?" I asked, dread rising within me.

"I don't know," Blaze admitted, squeezing my hand.

As if in response, Taurin and the others appeared in the distance, their faces etched with shock. Despite the devastation, everyone seemed unharmed, and relief washed over me.

My gaze wandered to the serene forest surrounding us. Yet, something felt... off. The hairs on my neck bristled as if unseen eyes watched our every move. I scanned the area, searching for signs of someone observing us, but found none. Though it seemed irrational, I couldn't shake the feeling that something lurked just out of sight.

I glanced at Blaze, wondering if he sensed it too. However, his attention was fixed on Taurin and the others.

Concern surged through me as memories of everything that had happened since we arrived in Meadow Manor replayed in my mind. After a moment's hesitation, I finally voiced the doubt that was nagging me. "Do you think the earthquake was caused by that symbol we saw?"

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