"I have no idea what we'll find down there. They'll have the area well guarded, and they know we're coming."
"I understand. I'll stay out of the way."
"Good. I would have preferred to leave you behind, but you're presently with the only people in the Twilight who have any desire to keep you alive."
Lyssa's lower lip quivered, and she bit on it. Everyone in this world wanted her dead.
They whizzed over a low mountain and bore down with stunning force toward the lake revealed on the other side. "Follow me," he yelled to the others, then much lower, "Get ready."
She took a deep breath, and instantly found it seized in her lungs as they plunged headfirst into the icy water. Trying not to struggle, Lyssa quickly grew dizzy, her lungs spasming from the unbelievable chill. It felt as if it should be slushy with ice. Just before she passed out, they lunged upward into warm, humid air.
Sputtering and gasping, she was hauled out of the water and thrust roughly aside. Lyssa wiped the water from her eyes and saw the melee their arrival had instigated. Her Elite guards fought with swords against a legion of gray-robed figures who also wielded deadly blades. The space was small and cramped, dominated by a circular computer console and a clear screen of rapidly flickering images. Depending on her angle, she could see right through to the room beyond, a space filled with wide beams of light like the one she had jumped out of earlier. Slipstreams.
The sight of the hallway on the other side of the cavern galvanized her into action. She leaped out of the way of an Elder who was retreating from an Elite sword. Dodging falling bodies and wicked blades, Lyssa crossed the space and made her escape, desperate to find Aidan.
Entering a hallway carved out of the rock, she took off at a run, pausing at each doorless archway to look inside. She heard footsteps behind her and turned, relieved to see that it was Philip sprinting after her. Before her was a seemingly endless row of doorways. Her feet squelched inside her wet shoes, and the loose pants, so light when they were dry, were now a heavyweight against her legs. She wished they were dry, but seemed unable to effect the change.
"Keep going," Philip urged, taking over the task of looking in the rooms on the left. He, too, was still soaked.
The next threshold she paused at revealed a man in a cylindrical glass chamber. She gasped, hope rising, then she realized the dark-haired man inside wasn't big enough to be Aidan. Moving on, she found more men in more glass tubes. They all looked to be asleep. Or dead. "What is this place?"
"Hell." Philip's hand fisted with white-knuckled force around the hilt of his weapon.
They kept going.
Finally she found him, his black garments a stark contrast to the white outfits the other poor blokes were wearing. "Oh my god," she breathed, her stomach churning dangerously. His head hung low, his chin to his chest, his body held upright by no discernible device. Lyssa ran to the chamber and banged on it, trying to find a door or some way to open it. "Aidan! Aidan, answer me!"
The thought that he might be dead made her so ill, the room spun around her.
"Watch out!" Philip grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way.
A flash of movement in her peripheral vision was her only clue to Philip's distress until a blade whizzed past her, almost severing her arm.
"Christ!" She feinted to the left as the Elder lunged toward her again.
"Kill her, Lieutenant," the Elder ordered, just before he stumbled back from Philip's parrying sword with such force that his hood fell to his shoulders. "What are you doing?" he cried.
Philip thrust her behind him and fought back. "How do I get the captain out of there?"
"He is sequestered for the benefit of all."
Lyssa gaped, horrified by the sight of the man inside the robe. He looked like a corpse, his skin papery thin and wrinkled, his hair a shocking white. He glared at her with pale eyes, and she knew, without a doubt, that he wanted nothing more than to murder her.
"I'll ask you again, Elder," Philip said, nearly catching his opponent with a swipe to the abdomen. "How can we free Captain Cross?"
"I'll never tell you!" the Elder promised viciously.
Lyssa watched in stunned amazement as the two men, so different in appearance—one youthfully virile, the other risen from the grave—clashed in a show of skill that she couldn't help but admire. She retreated step by step as the battle continued, finally coming to a halt with her hips pressed up against the edge of a counter. Risking a glance at what she was up against, Lyssa saw a computer console similar to the one she had seen in the cavern, but a great deal smaller. The writing on the touch panel was foreign, but the rounded slot for a key was unmistakable.
Okay. Taking a deep breath, she ignored the shivers that wracked her body and tried to imagine what type of key of she should be looking for. Then she felt it.
Looking down, she was startled to find a rounded key hung from a chain in the center of her palm.
"Holy shit," she breathed, awed at her power in Aidan's world. No need to hunt things down, apparently A quick check with the lock proved that she had the right key. Now she just had to help Philip get rid of the Elder.
"Got it!" She grinned as she imagined a pitcher with a handle, and it appeared in her hand. Fat at the bottom with a narrowed lip for pouring, it looked exactly like the Kool-Aid mascot. She waited until the perfect moment, then leaped into action, bashing the Elder on the head when he came close enough.
The glass shattered; he made a gurgling noise and then collapsed at her feet, his sword clattering to the ground. Left with a pitcherless handle, Lyssa tossed it aside and dusted off her hands on her wet pants legs.
"Whoa," Philip said, his swinging arm stilling in midair.
"Here." She tossed Philip the key, and he caught it in his free hand. "Get Aidan out of that tube."
He moved over to the console. "I'm on it."
Philip powered up the touch pad. A moment later, a loud hiss of air signaled the opening of the chamber, and Lyssa hurried to it just in time to catch a stumbling Aidan.
"Baby," she murmured, her legs spread wide in an effort to bear his weight.
He clutched her tightly to him, straightening, his cheek nuzzling against hers. "You're wet," he noted in a slurred whisper. "And not for the reason I'd like."
"Sex fiend," she retorted, her throat tight with relief. Part of her had been terrified to see him so helpless, this man who was larger than life. Even when he was asleep, there was a taut alertness about him that never let anyone forget how dangerous he was. He had lacked that in the tube. "Are you okay?"
His large hands cupped either side of her spine, pulling her hard to his body until there was no space between them. He held her like that for a long moment, then she felt his head lift and his frame stiffen as he processed their surroundings.
"No, I'm not okay. I'm pissed and freaked out. What the hell are you doing here?"
"Can you stop thinking about sex?"
Aidan's reluctant chuckle rumbled against her chest. "Hot Stuff, you drive me crazy."
Her hands slid up his back and into the thick, silky hair at the nape of his neck. She snuggled into him, and then rose to her tiptoes so she could press loving kisses along his jaw line on the way to his throat. As her tongue licked across his pulse, he groaned and trembled. "Lyssa," he breathed, cutting off her air with the strength of his embrace.
"I was so worried."
"I'm terrified. This is the last place I want you to be."
She rubbed up against him, and he hugged her tighter, his hands wandering possessively over her back and hips.
Lifting his head, Aidan gave a nod to the bowing lieutenant. "Thank you."
"Well," Philip began dryly, "our motives aren't entirely altruistic. We're going to need some leadership in exile."
"Who's with you?"
Philip rattled off a list of names.
"I take it this is solely a rescue mission?" Aidan set her away from him, his focus now fully on the situation.
"For the moment. I spent some time in the Temple today."
"In the control room?"
Nodding, Philip said, "I think most of what we need is in there. The Elders have hidden so much from us. Did you know it's possible to move about in her world through a Dreamer?"
"Yes. I knew that."
"And it's possible to traverse planes freely. Did you know that, too?"
"So you can come back!" Lyssa cried, the flood of hope she felt making her dizzy.
Aidan shook his head. "I don't think it's safe to be with you, and until I can be certain that it is…" He inhaled sharply and looked away.
Lyssa bit the inside of her cheek to keep from arguing, fighting, and venting her frustration with the unfairness of it all. She and Aidan had never done anything in their lives to deserve this. All this time they'd been waiting for each other, and now they would be parted for reasons having nothing to do with their own actions.
For a long moment, Aidan stood unmoving, his stillness fraught with an underlying tension, as if he was steeling himself for some onerous task ahead. Goose bumps swept across Lyssa's skin even though she wasn't cold.
"Why are you dawdling, Cross?" Connor boomed, jogging into the room. His gaze moved to the glass tube and then back to Aidan. "You're not fuzzy anymore. And you're out of your slipstream. I thought only she could do that."
"Only she can. I'm not dreaming. I'm here."
"The Elders retrieved me," Aidan explained grimly. "All of me."
"Bullshit." Connor snorted. "If they could create closable fissures, we would have moved into the mortal realm long ago and left the Nightmares here."
"There's a hell of a lot we don't know. Like these tubes. They're filled with Elders-in-training."