Chapter dedicated to Justthepanda. Thanks angel for reading and voting!

Chapter 129 –Together or Not At All – Raine's POV

The night sky was dense. The forest canopy and clouds hid the brilliance of the stars as we ran silently, each lost in our own thoughts. Had we been human, the steep incline of the mountain terrain would have presented a significant challenge. But we weren't human. And as such, we easily glided along, navigating effortlessly around the plentiful trees and mixed foliage.

Cage tilted his head, his glance falling on the phone he held in his hand. The bright screen glowed even brighter against the black sky. He studied the map of the area for a moment. "It's just over the next ridge. Be prepared for company. There is no telling who we may encounter."

York gave an affirmative hiss. He didn't trust Acheron almost as much as Cage. Maybe more, if the hard frown etched on his face was any indication. Anxiety and adrenaline formed a tight ball in my stomach.

My grandfather.

Cage had said he was reclusive and held no loyalty for anyone, least of all Armand. But according to Ileana, Acheron had already committed to helping her break the mate bond she held with Armand. So, our request shouldn't really come as a surprise to him.

We reached the top of the ridge and stopped. I stared at the topography below in confusion. There was nothing. No building or even a sign, just more land.

"Um..." Echo said, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. "Are you sure we are in the right location?"

Cage was silent, his brow creased, his attention riveted to the map on his phone. He pressed two fingers on the screen and drew them together, making the image in smaller, and then slid it around with his finger, searching.

York circled the group, checking various viewpoints. His neck was stiff. His muscles strained. The bass in voice reverberated even in his hushed words. A warning. "Cage, even if we head back now at full speed, we won't make it back before sunrise."

Cage spun around to face Queen Ileana, his face livid. His sterling eyes stormy. "What is the meaning of this? Have you led us into a trap?!"

She took an instinctual step back, but her shoulders remained stiff, her head high. "Why would I lead myself to my own death? This is the location Acheron's man provided me. I am certain of it."

Cage shook his head in frustration. His jaw clenched. He turned back around, once again facing the endless forest below. He spoke through gritted teeth, "Then that fucker meant for you to die out here in the wilderness."

"No..." Ileana whispered. Her shoulders dropped. Her head lowered. A bitter smile worked its way onto her face. "I knew it was too good to be true."

Echo interjected, "Fuck, I hate to suggest it. But we could dig. Bury ourselves beneath the earth. Once the night has begun fresh tomorrow, we will be able to make it back."

"I hate being buried alive," York hissed.

My eyebrows shot up. How many times had he been buried alive? His words implied more than once. His aversion to it was also clear in the way he swallowed hard, his Adam's apple working. I didn't relish the thought either. I wasn't claustrophobic, but I would rather not get intimate with the creepy-crawlies in the ground. I shuddered.

Cage stepped forward. "Let's at least take a closer look at the landscape. Maybe we will find something we missed."

We followed, our descent slower than before. A pace more conducive for caution. Silence blanketed us once more. The tension of the group almost palpable in the air. When we reached the clearing below, we broke apart, each searching in different directions. Tobias kept a close distance to me as we walked, both intently studying every inch around us. We found nothing.

His voice was low, reassuring, "Sleeping under the earth is not all that bad, my Queen. It will be over before you know it."

I tried to give him a small smile, but wasn't successful. I appreciated his effort to cheer me up, but rubbing elbows with the creepy-crawlies wasn't my biggest concern right then. I worked to contain my disappointment. "I know. I just hate that we couldn't find a solution to free the Queen from Armand. We've come so far. Only to end up with nothing."

His eyes softened in understanding. We were interrupted when Echo called for him. Tobias looked over his shoulder to Echo, who stood about a hundred yards away. He was deep in conversation with Cage. Tobias returned his attention to me, hesitating.

"Go ahead," I murmured. "I'll be fine."

He gave a quick nod and then spun around. When he was fifteen feet away, he stumbled, pitched forward and then disappeared altogether!

"Cage!" I cried out.

Cage's head whipped up, his eyes locked on mine, while his body was already in motion toward me.

"Stop!" I shot out my palms.  In another few steps, Cage would have reached the same spot where Tobias had disappeared.

Cage rocked back on his heels. Echo careened into him at his sudden halt. Every nerve ending in my body trembled on high alert.

"What is it, Tigru?" Cage growled. His hands were out, his shoulders low, ready against an unknown adversary.

I tried to keep my voice steady, "Tobias. He just stumbled and disappeared!" I pointed to the location. "There!"

Cage's steel gaze snapped the empty landscape where I pointed. Echo ground out, "Maybe we are in the right location after all."

Cage nodded.

"What do you mean?" I whispered, trying to make sense of his comment.

"It wouldn't be surprising if Acheron had his location hidden," Echo explained.

Cage's voice was hard, "I should have suspected as much. What do you think it is? Cloaking, witchcraft, portal?"

"The fact that Tobias can't hear us rules out cloaking. I'm praying it's a portal because I fucking hate witchcraft. Those bitches are tricky little motherfuckers. And sadistic. I wouldn't put it past them to create some fucked up protection spell, where we cross some invisible line and then our dicks fall off."

"Fuck!" Cage cursed.

Every male in the group reflexively put their hands between their legs, a natural instinct to protect their manhood above all else. If I weren't so anxious, I would have found their collective reaction amusing. But I couldn't muster even a tiny smile. Not now. "Right before he disappeared, he tripped over something."

Cage's stance dropped even lower. He slunk carefully, slowly across the tall grass, shuffling his feet ahead of him, feeling the landscape before he took each step. Five steps later, he abruptly stopped, his foot making contact with an unseen object. "I feel it!"

York moved in closer, tension rolling off of his large frame. "What the fuck is it?"

"Solid, like rock," Cage described. He reached his hand out and then his fingers disappeared!

"No!" I cried frantically, and closed the distance between us, grasping the back of his shirt.

He pulled his hand back and flexed his fingers, examining them. He looked up at me, his expression grim. "What do you want to do? Go home or continue on?"

I chewed on my bottom lip and looked around at each person in our group. "Tobias is lost because of me. I won't leave him to fend for himself. I have to continue. I have to try to get him back. We have no idea what we are facing, so I will leave the decision up to each of you. You may follow or you may turn back. The choice is yours."

I faced Cage and clutched his warm hand in mine, entwining our fingers, and whispered, "Together, or not at all." I refused to be separated from him, even for a moment.

"Together," he growled and swept me into his arms. I held my breath. He cradled me tightly against his chest and stepped over the unseen rocks.

And then we were falling, our world black...

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