What happened next was a blur. Caleb leapt from the shadows and brought a sledgehammer crashing down against Rhys’ head. A thud echoed around the chamber as Rhys’ scalp split, blood gushing from the wound. He collapsed on the floor, his limbs twitching before becoming still. My insides churned at how crushed his skull looked.
Micah lost no time in yanking the end of his chain away from Rhys’ loose grip. Caleb’s arms slid around my waist as he grabbed me and held me to him. I wrapped my legs around his torso, my hands around his neck, and held on like a monkey as he raced toward the exit. I looked back to see Micah following closely on our heels. Tears of relief spilled from my eyes, running down my cheeks and wetting Caleb’s bare shoulder. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be in his arms. I found myself kissing his cheek, neck, shoulder blade, any part of his parched skin I could reach. I hated to think how long he’d gone without blood now. But even in his weakened state, he raced forward.
Caleb was practiced at shutting out pain. If I knew anything about him after all this time, it was that.
“How many days have passed?” I croaked.
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“You were locked in that thing the whole time?”
Caleb nodded grimly.
We reached the exit, but as Micah reached out to open it, it wouldn’t budge. He swore, wiping sweat from his brow. Caleb brushed him aside and, putting me down, barged into the door. He made no more of a dent than Micah. Both men tried together, but their efforts were in vain. We shared the same panicked expression as we looked at each other.
“The other door,” Micah whispered.
“Hand over the girl.” Rhys’ voice rumbled through the chamber. His towering form had appeared on top of the lions’ cage fifteen feet away. His wound had closed, though the stains of blood remained.
Caleb lurched into me, making us both fall to the floor. Balls of fire bounced off the wall where we’d been standing. I hoped Micah had been fast enough to dodge Rhys’ curse. “Hold on,” Caleb breathed into my ear. He’d crawled over me as I lay on my back. He lowered himself so I could wrap my legs around his midriff and lock my arms around his neck. He placed a hand on my back, pulling me closer until his heaving chest was flush against mine.
I felt like a monkey, clinging on to him as he darted for new shelter behind the zebra cage. More balls of fire ricocheted around the chamber. The caged animals were beginning to panic at the disturbance. Shrieks, whinnies and growls echoed off the walls.
Caleb moved from cage to cage, but even as we kept dodging Rhys, my hopes of escaping were fast evaporating. There was only so long we could play cat-and-mouse with the warlock. He would burn the whole chamber down if that’s what it took to smoke us out.
“Hand her over, vampire,” Rhys boomed. “I won’t ask you again.”
Where’s Micah? There was still no sign of him.
As we reached a cage containing three restless rhinos, Caleb broke open the gate and let them loose. I wasn’t sure what good this would do. We already had Rhys to dodge, and now these rhinos… but I wasn’t about to question him. Next, Caleb moved to a cage filled with half a dozen leopards and let them loose too. He continued from cage to cage, until the floor was swarming with animals.
Caleb’s plan seemed to have worked. At least, there were more distractions for Rhys. But there were also more distractions for us.
“Caleb.” A whisper came from behind us. Micah stepped out of the shadows and hurried toward us, clutching a gun. “I found it in the vehicle. We need to shoot through Rhys’ palms. It won’t kill him, but it will disable his powers… at least temporarily. If you—”
Balls of fire erupted feet away from us. Micah dove for shelter beneath a car, while Caleb crept further round the chimpanzee cage with me.
Caleb and Micah locked eyes and began communicating silently with their hands. I was petrified by what they seemed to be planning. When Caleb looked back down at me, he had resolution in his eyes. He set me down on the ground and pointed to Micah beneath the car. “Go to Micah.”
His eyes blazed into mine. “Just do it,” he said through gritted teeth.
Trembling, I threw myself across the floor and scrambled beneath the car next to Micah. He placed an arm over my back, drawing me closer to him until his mouth was next to my ear.
“He needs to cause a distraction,” the wolf whispered.
I stared in horror as Caleb caught the side of the empty cage closest to us and with one mighty push sent it sliding across the floor. It smashed into another empty cage. Micah pulled me back further beneath the car. Caleb ducked behind a pile of luggage on the other side of the newly created clearing just before Rhys landed in its center a few seconds later. Rhys’ fists were clenched as he looked around. Micah placed his hand over my mouth to stifle my uneven breathing. Then he reached for the gun, slowly, silently, and began to position it.
“Just keep in mind,” Rhys said, “the longer you drag this out, the longer your punishment will be.”
I almost cried out as Caleb sprang from his hiding place and leapt upward to the ceiling, out of sight. Rhys’ eyes shot upward to the vampire. Micah pulled the trigger. The bullet lodged deep into Rhys’ ankle. Rhys grunted, staggering a little. As Micah motioned to pull the trigger again, he yelped suddenly and let go of the gun. A deep growl came from behind us. I looked back in horror to see that a leopard had closed its mouth around Micah’s leg and was dragging him out from beneath the vehicle.