I growled, the pain zipping up my spine. I kicked the thrashing water to face the beast.
It was gone.
Another jab at the back of my legs. I snarled, heart hammering, and I was getting pissed. I’d worked out its attack mode. Always from behind.
And just as I felt the faintest of currents across my back, I spun around with all my strength, snatching the piece of shit by the throat underwater. I squeezed while driving my fist into its chest. Talons clawed at my chest and arms, the sting excruciating, but I never let it go. I stared at the bony face, constricting its throat as it snapped those sharp teeth at me.
“Nothing you do to me compares to what I’ll lose if you don’t die.”
And we attacked each other, clashing, claws and teeth. I wasn’t holding back. Blood tainted the water, but I fought with everything I had.
In a flash, the creature had me by the chest and moved us with such speed through the water, it was terrifying. He slammed me up against the jagged wall, the stone cutting into my back. I lashed out and fought, but when he bit down on my shoulder with those teeth, I bellowed.
With all the terrifying agony thumping in my shoulder, the burning sting of flesh tearing, a voice flared over my mind. And it wasn’t mine.
“Are you prepared?” he seemed to almost hum the words. “What are you willing to sacrifice for the girl with child? What would you do to save the ones you love, Hendrix?”
I paused momentarily at hearing this beast say my name, to speak so clearly.
A sudden jab came out of nowhere, striking my ribs like steel. Pain pierced deep, and I groaned, but when another strike came, I was thrown backward through the water with such force that I had no way of stopping myself.
In a heartbeat, the pressure around my legs eased and I was no longer being dragged. I swam to the surface and sucked the air into my burning lungs.
My insides squeezed tight as I looked around to find myself surrounded by a thick, green mist. The longer I padded around in the water, searching for the creature, the more my vision blurred.
I blinked and rubbed my eyes, but nothing focused. It got worse. My sight darkened.
I spun in the water, splashing my face with water, but nothing made it better. The tunnel vision darkened. Goddess, what was happening to me? Was I going blind?
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. I only splashed madly, unable to see where to go, how to escape. And instead, I felt like the world was pressing in around me, suffocating me, locking me away in darkness.
Goosebumps raced, and my beast retreated just as quickly. I floated there, and with a single blink, my vision vanished.
Terror raked claws down my back.
Nothing but darkness filled me.
I spun, and the cave felt like it spun. But the agony of what I’d lost slammed into me.
With my heart beating in my ears, shock throttled me. I had to remember my mission.
Syn and the baby.
Then the beast’s words came to mind.
What would you do?
The words swam over my mind, while I kept kicking to stay afloat, trying my best to not lose myself to panic.
I kept repeating his words, realizing I had to make a sacrifice to save Syn and the baby. With it came the dreadful reality that the cost to me would be my vision.
I didn’t move for a long time, knowing without a doubt that I’d give my life for Syn’s. I’d give her everything I had, and if that meant I would never lay eyes on my beautiful woman or see the smile on our baby’s face, it was a sacrifice I’d accept.
Warm tears rimmed my eyes, and I wasn’t a man who cried. I had been dealt a hard life, but these tears weren’t for me. I would give Syn everything she wanted. I was broken…fucked.
Something suddenly grabbed my legs and yanked me downward. I was thrown left and right, and that was when I smacked into the wall with the steps, recognizing I was being dragged back the way I’d come.
The whole time, a voice repeated in my ears, “Someone among you betrays you.”
Frantically, I grasped for the stairs, but my hands slipped, lost on what he was saying let alone what was going on with me.
I hadn’t taken a full enough breath either, and now my chest burned for air. When my legs were finally released, I kicked, waiting to hit the surface. When I did, I sucked in the oxygen, beating my legs to stay afloat.
Still, I saw nothing but darkness.
Reluctantly, I called out, “Caspian, River.” My voice echoed around me as though I remained inside a cave. As much as I told myself that I’d be alright, a terror-stricken fear came over me that I’d be lost in this cave for eternity. No one would find me. And I’d never discover the way out.
Worst of all, I’d never again lay eyes on Syn or our child.