Sudden light blinded Varajas as thoroughly as the shadows had, but it faded and he could see again. Could see Ruan before him, pulling at shadows like spiderwebs that clung and stuck beneath Ruan’s hands.
Varajas blinked, trying to figure out if mere seconds had passed, or if he’d been wrapped in that darkness for hours.
Ruan put one hand on Varajas’s shoulder and with the other, took Varajas by the chin, tilting his head down so Ruan could study his face. “Look at me. Focus on me. It’s all right.”
It wasn’t all right. Nothing felt right. This fucking place. “What just happened?” His throat felt rough as he spoke.
“You just…disappeared. Everything got dark. I had to—it was like swimming through it to find you. I had to break through it. It was magic.” A shiver ran through Ruan that Varajas felt through the hands that were still on him. “Bad magic.”
“This whole place is bad magic.”
Ruan’s eyes met his and for a moment, it was like no time at all had passed between them, like the years of betrayal and separation hadn’t happened. “Yes. I’ve noticed.” That edge of sarcasm, of impatience, of warmth all blended together in a tone that was so Ruan…
Ruan’s voice dropped to barely above a whisper. “I almost couldn’t find you. It was like you weren’t even there. Except…I could hear you, from very far away. You were…you were screaming.”
Bolt nosed into Varajas’s right hand, which was when he realized he’d dropped his torch. It was nowhere to be seen. His sword, thankfully, was still gripped tightly in his left.
Varajas had no memory of screaming. He had no memory of anything after it had gone dark. But his heart was pounding and his throat was raw and everything was so very very wrong.
Except for the soft warmth of Ruan’s fingers against his skin, that look of worry and concern in Ruan’s beautiful eyes.
Ruan had saved him. With that thought came the sharp, painful memory of how it had felt when they’d been each other’s everything.
That was a lie. They wouldn’t be here if they’d actually been each other’s everything. When the moment had come, when the decision had been in front of them, they’d both decided other things were more important.
It was possible Ruan’s thoughts had been following a similar path because his face suddenly shuddered and he pulled back. The chill had returned to his voice when he asked, “Can you keep going?”
They had to find Samir. They had to find a way out. What choice did he have? “I can keep going.”
Ruan’s lips pressed together, and he thawed just a little. “Keep up, please. It slows me down to have to come back and rescue you.”
“Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule.”
Ruan had no smile for that, but the tilt of his head, the slight lift of his eyebrow—this was a language Varajas knew so well. Too well.
As they set off again, following the dog, it occurred to Varajas that the dangers in this place extended beyond the fractured, hellish dreamworld.