Chapter 21a

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When I reached the door to the basement of the theater, Dietrich was already there. His eyes brightened when he saw me, and it occurred to me that this was the first time we were alone together since I freed him from the lift. Had it really not been more than twelve hours ago?

His gaze wandered the length of me, and I thought I saw admiration in his eyes. But all he said was, “Trousers—good idea. Ready then?”

It seemed no time at all before we were through the underground cavern and to the grated entrance to the utility tunnel. We had scanned the storage room and the cavern, but no Delphine. We didn’t really expect to find her so easily, but it would have been nice.

Dietrich opened the grate, then hesitated. “Will you be all right going through here?”

He’d remembered this smaller first tunnel was my nemesis. The knowledge wrapped warm around my heart like a blanket. “I think so. But you go first.”

He stooped, entered, and then turned around, waiting for me like Thea had. I stepped through the opening. For a moment, the old fear threatened to pull me under its dark waters. But I focused on Dietrich. I pictured him the way he was in the lift the night before, grieving for me, healing me. He was real. I anchored myself to his reality and shut the grate behind me. 

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Talk to me.”

And he did. As we shuffled forward, he asked me about Raymond and Thea, and how we became friends, and who my favorite instructor was, and my opinion on our As You Like It production. Anything he could think of to keep me connected to the present instead of swallowed by the past. 

When the tunnel broadened, and we were able to stand upright again, he set his hands on my shoulders and studied my face intently. “There—looks as if you got through that in one piece. Good job.”

 “Yes. Thank you.” 

For a moment, our eyes locked, heat flaring. But the sound of something scrabbling over the rubble in the distance brought us back to our surroundings. Delphine was out there somewhere, we hoped. He stepped back reluctantly and pointed down the tunnel with his electric torch. “Lead the way—you know it better than I do.”

I scooted in front of him, my goddess torch on full power. As we started down the corridor, I glanced over my shoulder at him. His eyes flew up to meet my face, and he looked a little embarrassed. Huh—I bet I knew what he’d been looking at.

I chuckled. “So you think trousers were a good idea, do you?”

He started to speak, but had to clear his throat. “They have their benefits. From a practical perspective, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” I smiled smugly to myself and put an extra little wiggle into my walk. For practical reasons only.

But as we started our search for Delphine in earnest, the flirtatious mood vanished into the dark depths of the underground chambers. We hurried through the utility tunnel—small enough that it was easy to see Delphine wasn’t there. When it opened out onto the drainage channel, we slowed our pace and started calling her name. 

Dietrich picked up a section of a tree branch that had made its way down the channel and used it to measure how deep the water in the channel was. He drew out the stick and seemed grimly satisfied. “It’s only about two feet deep in the middle. If she’s in the water, we’ll see her.”

If she was in the water—as in drowned? I didn’t voice the question, but a snake of ice tightened around my chest. I shone my torch along the bricked walls of the channel, shouting, “Delphine!” My voice echoed down the damp corridor.

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