Helena, who is standing next to me, steps forward as though she wants to speak, but stumbles to the ground. I kneel to help her back up. She smiles at me, and I smile back, the two of us then turning again toward Brogan.
“Don’t they trust you?” I ask
“It’s about control, not trust,” he explains. “Regardless of how the council members might feel about your sister, they will want our people to believe that they were behind this mission.”
I’m about to ask another question when the gunfire starts getting louder and closer, like those above us are running down the tunnel toward in our direction. I hear men yelling, and seconds later the sound of someone screaming in agony. Then I see the last person I would ever have expected emerging from the entryway above us. Astor.
“What are you doing here?” I yell as I run toward him, other soldiers appearing behind him.
“They’re right behind us,” he gasps. “We need to find another way back to the surface.”
My eyes turn down hopeless, even as gunfire starts to blaze behind us where the creatures emerge in frenzied pursuit.
“There is no other way out,” I mumble under my breath.
As I utter those words, a light rumbling begins to hum all around us, steadily at first and slowly rising. Pieces of rock begin falling from the ceiling above, some of the heavier chunks breaking against the narrower causeways and sending pieces of them into the chasm beneath the room.
“Brace yourselves,” Kat orders. “It’s an earthquake.”
But as I look toward Helena, who is kneeling down, her open palm supporting her on the ground as her lips whisper something quietly, I realize that this quaking isn’t some natural occurrence at all. She is making it happen.
The creatures roar distinctly like they sense her power and are angry, pressing forward with even greater ferocity. The heavy gunfire continues, but they start making progress despite it. This is it, I think. Even Helena can’t stop them.
“There are too many,” one soldier panics.
“Don’t relent!” Kat yells.
“Ammo,” another calls out, prompting someone nearby to toss him a dark case containing more bullets.
Then, to my relief, the tunnel collapses in front of us, and we are suddenly safe. I stare in awe at Helena, who stands up slowly, elegantly, the quaking immediately ceasing. Kat, too, admires her, seeming to recognize why we’re still alive.
“They’re resourceful,” Helena says calmly. “They’ll find another way in.”
Brogan turns and gawks at her, mouth half-open. His eyebrows raise and his head tilts slightly, like a confused dog. Then he says something even more unexpected.
“So can you just zap us out of here?”
There’s a subtle humor to his voice, a little too much like he’s trying to cover up some amount of discomfort. If he didn’t believe in powers beyond understanding, he certainly must now, though I can’t tell quite how he’s taking it.
“It’s not that simple,” Helena explains. “We were fortunate. I was just as likely to bring us crashing down as I was them, but I had no other choice.”
Things become quiet for a long moment after she speaks. But just as I’m about to break the silence, Brogan turns and charges toward one of the soldiers that accompanied Astor, grabbing him and slamming him up against a wall.
“I suppose you were just on patrol,” Brogan says sternly, receiving an amused grin from the soldier.
“And if we were?” he replies playfully, then shoving Brogan back. “After the breach you found was reported, the council wanted us close by just in case—”
“In case we needed to call for help from someone we didn’t know was there,” Kat interrupts.
“You went radio silent,” the soldier refutes. “How would you know we didn’t try to reach out to you?”
“Why did you bring the child?” Brogan asks, calming down a little.
“We didn’t. He followed us. Quite a resourceful youth. We weren’t able to detect him until we were down here. He came running to help us when we got ourselves cornered.”
I smile at Astor, who grins slightly at the compliment.
But this brief reprise soon ends, ushered away by a strange scratching that starts sounding from the collapsed tunnel. Brogan and the soldier continue talking as I stare at the closed passageway. I can’t imagine what the creatures could do to get through such a barrier, but they seem to be trying.