Chapter Fifteen: Aedan

 “Aedan!”

At Myria’s shout, ice-cold panic ran through me.

Battling through the crowd of little pink monsters, I’d found myself with one of the shattered stone blocks between us.

I raced towards her, kicking the biting, clawing things out of the way.

But they were fine.

If I didn’t know better, I would say that Dayla was actually watching Myria’s back.

Maybe not doing the best job, but she swiped and snapped at anything within reach, keeping one beady black eye on the movement behind them, while Myria did her best to keep the ground clear in the front.

Her pants leg had been torn, an ugly gash bleeding freely. The brightly colored scarf around her neck only made her face look grayer.

She waved off my concern. “I have a plan, but I need to know what you can do.” She looked steadily at me. “What you can really do.”

“Well, um, you know, I’m a reasonably good fighter and… this wasn’t really the moment I’d expected to get into this.”

“No,” she argued. “I’m not stupid, and I’m not going to freak out, but I need the truth.”

Myria pointed to the gap in the broken arch above us. “Can you jump that length?”

“Yes,” I answered flatly.

And once I did, it would be over between us.

No fully human man could make that jump.

And Myria had made it clear how she felt about genetic modifications when we’d fought the creature in the river.

“Good.” She nodded. “Can you jump it while carrying me?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t go anywhere without you.” I smiled and tried to keep my voice light, but I knew that my answer meant it was over between us.

“Perfect.”

I thought for a moment, estimating tonnage. “I don’t think I could take Dayla, though, but I could try.”

Finally, Myria looked shocked. “I wasn’t going to ask you to. Dayla can take care of herself. I just need to get her pointed in the right direction.”

Myria took the makeshift reins from Sweetie’s hands and pulled them over the torwynn’s head. “Just hold tight right here,” she instructed as she wrapped the tiny fingers around one of the spines.

Sweetie had stopped calling the pink monsters pretty, but she didn’t seem to be overly worried about the entire situation. I didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing.

“Come on, Dayla, this way,” Myria said. “Aedan, can you do something about these?” she waved her free hand at the crowd of not-tessa between her and the base of the bridge.

Happily.

I might not understand exactly what the plan was, but I could keep those things away from Myria and Dayla as they picked their way across the cavern.

“Up you go, girl.” Myria walked backward onto the bridge, still leading Dayla, who seemed to look at the whole thing as an interesting trick she was being asked to perform.

A sudden thought struck me. “Are you sure the arch will bear her weight?”

Myria’s face paled. “I hadn’t thought of that. It’ll have to hold her. I don’t think there’s another way out of this.”

I hated to admit it, but I agreed with her.

Our options were limited, and dwindling.

Quickly, Myria took the remaining braided rope and fastened Sweetie as securely as possible to Dayla’s back.

“Come on, we’ve got to go.”

Slowly, the four of us made our way up the bridge.

“We need to stop here,” I said as we approached the gap. “Even I need a little bit of a running start.”

Myria checked Sweetie’s harness. “You stay here with Dayla. In a minute, Aedan will be back to get you, alright?”

Myria turned back to me. “And once Sweetie is over, I can call for Dayla, and we’ll all be on the other side. Easy.”

But her eyes were wide, as if she was still convincing herself this was a good idea.

“Sure,” I said, “but what happens when we get there?”

“For a start, we won’t be swarmed by the not-tessas.”

“That’s a good point,” I conceded. “Fine, let’s go.”

She gave a little gasp as I lifted her into my arms.

The not-tessas swarmed at the base of the bridge as if not entirely sure how to start the ascent.

I took a moment to breathe deeply of her hair, taking in the scent of her.

If I was right, this would be the last time I would touch her like this, hold her in my arms.

“Hold tight,” I said.

And we were off.

My feet pounded on the stone surface, and suddenly, we were in midair.

Myria’s shriek barely had time to leave her lips before we were safely on the other side.

I set her down gently, then turned to make the return trip for Sweetie.

“No!” Myria screamed.

For Dayla, faithful torwynn that she was, had decided not to wait.

She charged up the arch of the bridge, aiming straight towards us, either undeterred or spurred on by Sweetie’s howls of delight.

And then she jumped.

“Oh no oh no oh no oh no,” Myria chanted.

“BACK UP!” I shouted, grabbing her, pulling her with me as we retreated deeper into the tunnel.

Because Myria had been right. There was no need to worry about Dayla’s jumping ability.

And given the delighted grin on Sweetie’s face, we’d have trouble convincing the two of them not to do it again.

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