Chapter 9

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Delphine tromped across the expanse toward the utility tunnel entrance on the other side. Dietrich and I trudged after her, he with a large electric torch, and I with my harness packed full of gadgety goodies. Thea trailed behind us, staring up at the roof of the cavern and the giant pillars holding up the theater, entranced by this new world. 

I finally dropped back a few steps to grab her arm. “If you gawk all the way there, we won’t arrive until after midnight. Delphine has a schedule to keep.”

She picked up the pace a little. “It’s just amazing—you’d never know all this is here from the outside.”

“Just wait until you see the tunnels.”

By the time we reached the second grate, Delphine was already ducking through. Dietrich motioned to us. “Ladies first.”

I hated this first tunnel. But seeing Dietrich standing by it, sensing the usual pressure of his presul magic, made it a thousand times worse. My stomach felt full of stones, and my mouth went dry as the dust on the floor of the cavern. But I didn’t want anyone to know. “You go first,” I told Thea, coughing a little.

She gave me a quick, assessing glance, but stooped to enter the tunnel. I drew a deep breath, trying to steady my pulse, and followed her, bent at the waist. No thinking, just walking. No paying attention to the sound of Dietrich’s footsteps behind me. Just walking.

Dietrich’s light cast long shadows along the narrow walls, highlighting the low ceiling. The grate creaked shut. The sound echoed down the tunnel. I froze, letting out a little moan.

I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move. 

Couldn’t stand up. The tunnel seemed to narrow on me. I felt dizzy.

Presul magic flowed around me. I dropped to my knees in the rubble, shuddering. That blank, dead place I used to go to in my mind when things got really bad called to me now. 

But then I felt the electric prickles of Thea’s psychic magic all over me. “Minx?” She couldn’t turn around, but I heard the worry in her voice. I let her into my mind because I still couldn’t speak.

I heard her shuffling ahead of me, and when she spoke again, she had managed to turn around and crouch in front of me. “All right. Everything’s going to be fine.” She put her hand on my head, stroking my hair gently. 

“What’s wrong?” Dietrich, behind me, sounded concerned. 

“She’s frightened of small spaces.”

“Let me—”

I cringed. Thea sat up a little. “No. You’ll just make it worse.” 

“Oh.”

I could feel his hurt and confusion. He shuffled further back toward the grate. 

“Are you able to help her?”

“I think so.”

She leaned over me. “Come on, Minx. You can do it.” Then she whispered near my ear, “You don’t want Delphine to notice, do you?”

I shook my head, still unable to raise it.

“All right then, you’ve got to get through. But I’m here. If you were back in that place, I wouldn’t be here, right?”

The thought made my heart rate slow down the tiniest bit. I took a deep, slow breath.

“That’s right. Breathe. See? Everything is going to be fine.” She caught my hand, and I gripped it tightly.

I heart footsteps in front of us. “What is taking you all so long?” Delphine’s voice rang sharply against the tunnel walls.

“We’re coming!” Thea called back to her. Then in a lower voice, “See? Unless you want to rust her gears, we’d better hurry. She’s not very far ahead of us—and she’s standing upright. That will be us in just a few more steps.”

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