The bitter wind licked across my skin, stealing my warmth.
“Trials?” I murmured.
“What the fuck for?” River snapped, his arms holding Syn tightly by his side, while Caspian stared into the air where the apparition had been seconds earlier.
“We should do as it said,” he suggested. “We all know there’s something special about this water. The three of us have abilities from when we almost drowned here.” Caspian turned to me. “Never look a gift horse in the mouth, brother. If that fucking thing wants us to do a trial so we can save Syn, then fuck it, we do it.”
“I’m not saying I wouldn’t do everything for Syn, but I’m also not going to go into this blindly,” I snapped, before taking a deep breath. “Let’s head to the lake,” I growled looking around us with distrust. “The sooner we can leave this place, the better.”
Everyone nodded and I scooped Syn into my arms and began walking into the thick jungle of trees. It had been years since I’d been here. But I still remembered it as if it was yesterday. The three of us trudging from the lake to the shore as boys, completely lost and alone.
We were all silent as we went along, the occasional squawk of a bird the only thing disrupting the silence.
It was only about a mile from the beach to the lake, but it seemed to last forever.
At least we breached the trees, and there it was, spread out before us, a still sheet of blue water. It looked placid and serene, no sign of the magic beneath its depths…or whatever trials that being had mentioned.
I set Syn down on the rocky shore bed and took a deep breath.
“Want me to go first?” River asked, squaring his shoulders and beginning to take off his shirt, but I instantly shook my head.
“No, I’ve got this. I will find out what we’re dealing with for all of us.”
Syn stared into my eyes with a painful expression on her face, and I couldn’t help but reach for her, cupping the sides of her head. “I promise everything will be okay, little wolf. For you, I’d find a way to pluck the stars out of the sky. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do to save our baby.” My insides hurt with the heartache at seeing the misery on her face and knowing that something beautiful we’d created with her might be taken from us.
I lowered my hand to her stomach. “We will save our wolf pup.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks and she nestled in against my chest. I felt her fragile body tremble, and my heart constricted. “Please, be safe and come back to us. Okay?” Her shaky voice gave me the resolve to do whatever the fuck it took to fix this.
“I give you my word.” Reluctantly, I broke away from her warmth, then I slipped my boots off and stripped. The lake was cold as I entered.
Trepidation snaked up my spine as I took another step forward, the soil on the lake floor squishing between my toes. My mind flooded with memories of the past , of my father dragging us out here. Of him trying to kill us.
I’d had nightmares of this place, woke up screaming, and yet here I was again. But for some reason, I wasn’t the crumbling mess I’d always imagined I’d be if I came here again. Standing in the water with a greater purpose for my coming back, something else came over me.
A strength that reminded me this had nothing to do with me, I was doing it for her. I was doing this to protect our future and those I loved the most.
“Hendrix, please be careful,” Syn called out, drawing my attention back to the ache in her eyes, the worry, but I also noticed the way she clutched her middle and scrunched up her face from the pain. The more she hurt, the more determined I was to rip the world apart to find a solution.
The woman I loved carried our child. I never understood true terror until now, until my unborn child was on the brink of losing their life.
Lifting my chin, I said, “Keep fighting, little wolf. I won’t be long. Caspian and River, take care of her until I return.” I walked in deeper, the gritty floor descending fast, and when the water lapped up to my chest, I threw myself forward, diving headfirst into its cold embrace.
Eyes open in the murky water, I swam forward, figuring whatever my trial was, it may be lying in wait under the surface.
And fuck being snuck up on. My beast lingered just below the surface of my skin, feeling the tension, knowing we were headed toward danger.
Kicking through the water revealed nothing. A muddy floor, dead branches, but nothing else. Not even fish.
I pushed myself back up, my head breaking the surface as I sucked in air to fill my lungs.
“Anything?” Caspian called out.
“Nothing,” I replied, spinning on the spot in the water, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. What the hell did I miss?
With another lungful of water, I dove back under, kicking furiously when a spear of light caught my attention from up ahead. A green glow grew bolder the closer I swam, and soon I discovered I was looking at a small underwater cave. I guessed that was my cue to follow.
Kicking savagely, I glided closer and pushed myself through the gap, quickly starting to realize that one side of the wall resembled a set of steep steps that had been carved into the stone. Faint light led me along the upward passage, and the longer I swam, the tighter my lungs ached for oxygen.
Giving up wasn’t an option, not even close, so I kept going until I emerged from the tunnel into a new cave filled with water. The kind that sparkled and was as crystal clear as the ocean around my island.
Driving myself upward, I broke free and gasped for air.
Dark cave walls and ceilings glinted with a green hue, while light poured inside from a fissure running the length of the ceiling.
Everything was too peaceful, too calm, which gave me the creeps.
The abrupt scraping sound of stone rubbing stone flared up from behind me, raising the hair on my nape. I jerked around in the water to find what I guessed was my trial.
A monstrous beast clung to the side of the wall on all fours, talons scraping over the stone each time it moved. His skin was weathered and leathery, the color pasty white as if it had never seen the sun. Its head resembled a skull with no eyes and only a mouth full of razor teeth. It paused there, hanging off the wall, hissing at me, its round head lowering in attack pose.
“You fucker, get down here. Don’t know what you are, but if your death means saving my Syn, then you’re about to become extinct.”
It suddenly scuttled across the wall, making a terrifying bug-like scratching sound that had my skin covered in goosebumps.
Fuck that. I frantically scanned the enclosure for a way out of the water. I wasn’t exactly made to fight in water, but considering I came up short, I’d make it work.
The beast hurled itself into the water with me, and panic laced through me.
Desperately, my beast poured out of me, my spine bowed as I followed the race to change, fur spurting out, my body stretching.
Fighting to stay above water was another problem mid-transformation, but the moment I embraced my form, I roared. Anger pummeled into me, and I dove underwater to find the monster.
Just then, something brutally crashed into my back.