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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

Chapter Three

Nieve startled awake, her eyes wide in the darkness. There it was again, the coughing, the spluttering, the splashing…

She sat up, scanning the darkness warily. She’d gotten used to the darkness of the cave. Balor had left her no candles, his crude attempt to frighten her. He didn’t realize she’d learned to be quite comfortable with the darkness.

There it was again, a great, hacking cough, and then she heard the slap of limb against stone. She shuffled back on the dirt floor, looking toward the center of the cave. The well, the one Balor had threatened to throw her down several times, was a black, gaping maw, a darker void in the dark cave. The pale blur of a hand slapped over the rim, and Nieve gasped, scuttling back as a dark, dripping figure crawled over the rim of the well.

Was he one of her father’s men, come to rescue her? Or was it a creature from the deep below? A monster come to punish her for her sins?

The figure sagged against the wall of the well. On her, the rim reached her lower chest. He leaned his hip against it, then slid to the floor, his shoulders rising and falling as he tried to catch his breath.

She frowned. Well, if he was a creature of the deep, he wasn’t conditioned for such pursuits. She fisted her hand, getting ready to strike. He lifted his head, his features just a pale blur in the darkness.

“Where the hell am I?” he rasped.

# # #

Luke could barely make out his surroundings. He was sitting on a dirt floor, his back against rock. Someone sat across from him, but the presence was more of a sensing than a sighting.

“What are you?” A whisper came at him in the darkness. It carried a lilt, a lot like Seamus O’Dwyer’s. Irish.

He raised his eyebrows. “I’m a Luke. Where am I?” He whispered the words back, then wondered why they were whispering. He rolled to his knees but halted when he heard the scuffling in the darkness. Someone skittered away from him. Luke paused. Scared people overreacted. He held up a hand, palm out, in as nonthreatening a manner as possible, although he doubted the person could see it in the dark. “I’m sorry to intrude. I can’t see a damned thing.”

“Why are you here? Did my father send you?” Again, a whisper so soft it was barely audible. Even so, he heard the hope in it.

Luke frowned and squinted. He could hear some partying going on, but it was muted, as though a distance away from them. He wished he could see more, but there was no light available. “No…” The last thing he remembered was doing a swan dive into the Chicago River. “I didn’t swim up a sewerage outlet for one of the hotels, or something, did I?” It didn’t smell like it, but he couldn’t figure out just where the hell he was. “Where am I?”

“You are in Balor’s camp,” the whisperer answered.

Luke frowned. Was that some kind of new bar he hadn’t heard of?

Footsteps echoed down a stone corridor. Great. Maybe this person could help him, because he wasn’t getting anything much out of the whisperer. He rose to his feet. Light flickered down a tunnel off to the side. A makeshift gate made out of sticks blocked most of the passage, but he could see the light flickering through the gaps.

“Quickly—you must hide,” the whisperer hissed this time, panic giving the words some impetus.

Luke frowned. “Why?”

“They will kill you if they find you.” A dark figure came rushing out at him, and he had a brief impression of a pale face—a woman—and then she gave him a vicious shove to the side. He stumbled over a natural rock formation, his yell cut off as he face-planted into the dirt.

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