“WATCH OUT, SABINE!” JULES’S LOW and scratchy voice calls from a mineshaft above. I barely have time to move aside before she drops into the tunnel. A rush of air hits Bastien’s candle, and the flame sputters out. We’re thrown into absolute darkness.
“Merde,” Bastien curses.
“Relax,” Jules says. “Marcel always has a tinderbox in his pack.”
“And another candle,” Marcel adds.
“Excellent,” Jules replies. “The thunderstorm is loud enough now. It’s time to blow that wall.”
We’re in the mines beneath the catacombs close to Beau Palais, the castle where Prince Casimir lives, where he’s holding Ailesse captive. Not for much longer. My heart beats faster.
Today, we rescue my sister.
A few seconds later, flint and steel strike together. The soft glow meets a candlewick and snaps into a brighter flame.
Bastien and I elbow forward for the candle. The alliance I’ve made with the boy who loves Ailesse—who she somehow loves in return—is tenuous at best. Just because he and his friends are helping me free her from her abductor doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven them for also holding her captive.
“I’ll do this myself,” Marcel says.
“Wait!” Jules’s eyes widen at her younger brother.
It’s too late. He lowers the candle to the powder.
Fire streaks an angry line toward the cask.
Jules yanks Marcel to his feet. Bastien spins and runs the other way. I shove him faster. Ailesse would never forgive me if he died.
We race until the dense atmosphere eats up all light and sound behind us. My nerves sting, waiting for the explosion. Did the fire burn out before it reached the cask? I glance over my shoulder.
A massive burst of flames zips toward us and throws me backward. I hit Bastien. We crash onto the ground. A second later, Marcel and Jules topple onto us. Chalky smoke and debris flash by. Sharp rubble scrapes against my sleeves. The chaos finally settles into fat flakes of twirling ash.
No one moves for a long moment. We lie in a tangle of legs, arms, and heads. Finally Marcel slides off our piled bodies, and his floppy hair bounces. “I may have misjudged the impact of the blast.”
Jules groans. “I’m going to murder you.” She rolls off and shakes dust and ash from her golden braid. “You better hope that sounded like thunder, or any moment now all the soldiers in Beau Palais are going to flood this tunnel.”
We’ve been waiting for the perfect storm to mask the noise of the explosion, and as poor luck would have it, it fell on the same day as the new moon. Ferrying night. If this rescue attempt fails, I’ll have to lead my famille on the land bridge myself and ferry the souls of the departed—the sacred duty of each Leurress, given to us by the gods of the afterlife, who we descend from. But I can’t lead my famille. Ailesse is the only person alive who knows the song on the bone flute that opens the Gates to the Beyond. She was meant to be matrone, not me.
I scoot off of Bastien and offer a hand to help him up. He hesitates, then exhales and takes it. Despite our bickering, I want his assistance. We’ll find Ailesse faster if we work together.
We stand side by side and stare into the hazy gray light shining in from the blasted hole. I inhale a deep breath. After fifteen long days, we finally have access to Beau Palais.
“Everyone ready?” Bastien cautiously rubs his back where my mother stabbed him. The wound is still healing. Only in the last week has he been able to walk without grimacing.
Jules nods and adjusts her cloak. I tighten my fists. Marcel settles into a comfortable position. He’s going to serve as watch. If the tunnel is compromised, he’ll light a small explosive filled with sulfur and pepper seeds. The stench will warn us not to come back this way. Meanwhile, Jules is going to guard our point of entry into the castle above.
Bastien waves Jules and me forward. The three of us advance to the end of the tunnel. I reach the wall first and climb the rubble. Through the blasted four-foot hole, I stare inside a dry castle well lined with river rock. Its construction isn’t yet complete. King Durand, Casimir’s father, commissioned it to replace a more vulnerable well outside the castle keep.
While Bastien and Jules have been spying in Dovré and gleaning these facts about Beau Palais, I’ve been forced to spend most of my time at Château Creux with my famille.
The Leurress are shaken by the news of Odiva’s death. All I told them is our matrone died ferrying alongside Ailesse on an ancient bridge in an underground cavern. If they knew Odiva ran through the Gates of the Underworld to join her true love—my father, a man who wasn’t her sanctioned amouré—it might spark anarchy. Once Ailesse comes back and rightfully replaces me as matrone, I’ll let her decide what to reveal about our mother, and I’ll retreat to the comfort of her shadow.
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