Her voice washed over me like calm, cool water. I lifted my head and saw her shadowed face, the compassion in her slate blue eyes. 

Don’t leave me. I told her in my mind.

She shook her head. “I promise.”

Another deep breath. Then I struggled to my feet, hunching over in the still too-small tunnel. I brushed the dust off my skirt as best as I could. 

Thea stood as well, but she didn’t try to turn around. Instead, she took my hand and stepped backwards. “Just look at me and take a step.”

I did. She coaxed me to take another, and another. My eyes didn’t leave her face. She walked backwards, slowly, talking to me, encouraging me, and smiling, all the way to the end of that first tunnel.

When the tunnel finally widened, I stood upright and threw my arms around her. “Thank you,” I said against her shoulder. 

She hugged me. “Of course.”

“What is going on, you two?” Delphine demanded. 

I stepped away from Thea and swiped my eyes with the back of my hand, hoping Delphine couldn’t see it tremble. “Nothing.”

Dietrich emerged from the small tunnel into the larger utility tunnel. “Are you all right?”

I couldn’t help backing away from him. I told myself he was safe. But my body refused to believe me. I was pretty sure my fear hurt him, but there was nothing I could do about it. “I’ll be fine.”

“What happened?” Delphine asked in a nasty tone. “Did you see a widdle-bitty spider?” 

“Shut up,” Thea snapped.

“She doesn’t like small spaces,” Dietrich said. 

I groaned, glaring at him. He looked startled. It figured. Even a sensitive chap like him couldn’t tell when to keep certain information to himself. 

Delphine stared at me. “She’s been through there at least four times now! Never had a problem before.”

I wasn’t going to admit that each time I’d been on the brink of falling apart.  “I’m fine. Just…more people than I’m used to.”

Delphine snorted. “And you think I’m a diva?”

“I have an idea,” Dietrich said, with the peace-making tone of someone who greatly dislikes conflict. He eased around me and Thea to stand near Delphine. “We’re going to practice the rest of the way.”

Delphine wrinkled her face. “How?”

“You’re going to shift into Nadine and stay there until you get to the Noggin. Or at least as close to Nadine as your magic will allow.”

She made another pouty face. 

It was a brilliant idea—as Nadine, she couldn’t really bitch out on me all the way to the Noggin. As Nadine, she’d have to act as if she liked me. I glanced at Dietrich, and his tiny smile said he’d made the suggestion for that reason. A burst of grateful warmth chased away the lingering presul fears—for now. 

He turned back to Delphine. “Unless practicing Nadine will wear you out too much before your performance tonight?”

I smothered a giggle. No vicimorph I knew wanted to admit that they didn’t have enough stamina for shifting.

She glared at me as if she knew what I was thinking. “That won’t be a problem. But I don’t see the point to it.”

His jaw tightened. Thea gave me a little grin. I think we both liked seeing Dietrich’s stubborn side.

Chains of Silver (Alchemy Empire Book 1)Read this story for FREE!