"Don't move," Rhett whispered, abruptly.
My eyes flared wide, as soon as he gave his urgent warning.
Letting go of my hand, he advanced forward with caution, pointing towards the ground as a signal for me to stay put.
We were standing a few feet away from the edge of a deep chasm, ahead. The gap in the sand appeared bottomless, like some kind of infinite abyss.
There was no way of jumping over it. The distance was roughly about one hundred meters wide and stretched as far as my eyes could see in both directions. Unless we could sprout wings and fly, we were going to be stuck here.
I couldn't see any viable way of getting across, nor did it look feasible to climb down to the bottom and come back up the other side.
My shoulders slumped as I stared down in despair, at what seemed like a deathly drop into pitch-black darkness.
For starters, I couldn't even see the bottom, and for all I knew, it was an endless void that leads to who knows where?
My heart sank to my feet, in the midst of hopelessness.
"How are we supposed to get across?" I asked, turning to Rhett, in search of the answer.
He seemed to be as concerned about this as I was. Seeing the fearless Lycan in distress didn't exactly inspire my confidence. If anything, it made me lose the last shred of hope that I had left.
His forehead creased as if he was thinking of a strategy. "I'm not so sure, but there has to be away," he replied, with determination.
I had to admire his optimism at a time like this. I, however, was no match for his efforts.
"I can't see the bottom," I panicked.
The situation felt completely hopeless. I kicked at the sand in frustration, causing a large amount to spill over the edge of the chasm.
I saw Rhett's eyes widen. "Do that again, Amara. Here, help me," he ordered.
He moved at lightning speed, distributing large scoops of sand with cupped hands. He had a look of sheer determination on his face, and his ripped, muscular frame, flexed and tensed with each arduous motion.
We piled more and more sand over the edge, noticing it stayed put. As soon as it started to form a pile straight ahead, seemingly in mid-air, we started to throw it further along. I gasped as it clung to something invisible to the naked eye.
Both of us gave out a breathy smile with relief, having found a way across.
"Look, you can barely see it, but it's made of glass. There's a pathway that goes straight across!" Rhett announced.
I felt the ground start to shift beneath me, and I froze.
My relieved smile faltered. "Rhett, what's that noise? It's coming from all around us." I gestured around with my index finger.
It sounded like a faint whooshing noise, like the sound you hear, when you hold a shell to your ear. The familiar sound of the ocean waves, crashing against the shore.
"Look closely around us, Amara. We're standing inside an hourglass. The sounds you can hear, are the grains of sand draining away, beneath us." Rhett announced, seeming completely unfazed by our current predicament.
For a minute, I almost lost composure.
"What? How can you tell?" I asked, in pure shock-horror.
I had no idea how he knew certain things, it was as if he was always prepared for the unexpected.
I couldn't believe how calm and collected Rhett was being. In a way, I was glad that he was. He was the calm to my chaos. I usually had a tendency to overreact.
We were perfectly matched.
"Look closer, Amara. Go ahead, try walking back the way we came. But approach carefully. There is a dome that surrounds us," he advised.
I walked forward apprehensively, holding out an outstretched hand. I didn't have to go far before my fingertips pressed against something firm. I gave out a shocked gasp.
"You're right, there's a glass barrier," I replied, in amazement. Rhett was right, we were inside a huge glass dome.
I had a feeling that this was our final trial, that everything rested on us getting through it safely.
"That's the least of our problems. We need to get across this bridge, quickly." Rhett warned.
I nodded in agreement.
He stood proudly along the edge of the deep chasm, and I had to admire his courage. He looked completely fearless, and it was his bravery that gave me hope.
"I'm going to go first. Grab handfuls of sand, as much as you can carry," he advised.
I realized immediately, that he meant for us to use the sand to spread across the path, making it more visible. I was impressed by his swift problem-solving logic.
We both took handfuls of sand. I followed behind Rhett, stepping carefully on the glass bridge.
I felt sick. I despised heights. The fact that the bridge was made of glass, made me feel nervous. The thought of it cracking, the further we moved away from the edge, sent chills throughout my body.
I advanced at a steady pace, although my legs were shaking and my knees threatened to give way beneath me.
"Stay close to me," Rhett advised.
He edged across the bridge, throwing a handful of sand to reveal the way forward, before holding out a hand, so that I could grab it if need be.
It was hard to keep the sand from slipping through my fingers. By the time we got halfway across, I barely had any left.
"Rhett, I'm almost out of sand. Maybe I should try collecting some from the path?" I suggested.
As soon as I turned around, I noticed the land behind had started to sink as if the ground was swallowing it whole.
"Rhett!" I screamed.
He whipped his head around, startled. He must've thought that I'd slipped over the edge. When he saw what was happening behind us, the only words that escaped his lips was a single warning.
"Run!" He ordered, gripping hold of my hand, tightly.
There was no time for hesitation. We hadn't the time to tread with caution, along the barely visible bridge. We somehow managed to reach the other side, with only seconds to spare, before the glass bridge cracked, smashing to pieces, and shattered into the darkened void. Although, I didn't hear it reach the bottom.
I clung to Rhett, shaking, and barely able to catch my breath.
"All this must have something to do with the amount of time we have left. We must keep moving," Rhett warned.
As soon as we reached the opposite side of the void, six doors appeared from out of nowhere, dead ahead.
Along the top of them, three lit torches burned, floating in mid-air. Each door was different in appearance. Some were familiar to me, and some were not.
I immediately recognised three out of the six doors, from the convent and orphanage. One was to my old dormitory, the second was to the library in the convent, and the last one was the door which led to Sister Mary Agnes's office.
"I recognize three of the doors," I explained to Rhett.
"I recognize two of them," Rhett replied. "One is to my grandfather's throne room, and the other, is the door to my parents private quarters, although I do not recognize that one." He pointed.
I followed the direction of his finger, to an old style, wooden door. It had strange markings engraved into the wood.
I immediately recognized the symbol with three spirals. The very same symbol cropped up, wherever there was an illusion of some sort.
I reached out to turn the handle of my dormitory door, only to find it locked.
My wrong choice caused one of the torches to extinguish.
"Careful, Amara, we only have two more attempts left." Rhett gestured to the two remaining lit torches.
"You try one," I suggested.
He walked over towards the door he'd said was to his grandfather's throne room, and turned the handle.
"Locked," he said, disappointed.
The second torch extinguished, leaving only one flame burning in the third torch.
"I've got a gut feeling that it's that one, there," I said, pointing to the unfamiliar door.
Rhett approached it and held onto the handle. "Wish me luck," he murmured, casting me a lopsided smirk.
"Good luck," I responded with a slight smile. My main focus was locked onto the door.
I closed my eyes tight and thought of a silent prayer. They snapped open again, the second I heard the lock click open. Rhett blew out a forced breath, before beckoning me to follow him.
The door slammed shut, as soon as I stepped through, as if blown by a harsh breeze, despite there not being any wind at all.
Rhett held out his arm in a warning and threw me back against the closed door. We were standing upon a narrow ledge from what appeared to be miles from the ground.
I screamed in fright. "Oh my God," I whimpered.
It seemed we were high up in the clouds, with no way of getting down. One slip and I was certain I would fall to my death. I immediately tried the door handle, to no avail. The door was locked firmly behind us.
"Do you trust me, Amara?" Rhett asked. He offered a hand for me to take.
I looked from him to the drop below and gave him what must have been a look of pure horror.
"Rhett, don't you dare!" I pleaded. I knew he was thinking about jumping.
"I have every faith that this is just another illusion. Just trust me and jump, hold my hand," he offered me his hand.
I shook my head from side to side, pushing my back firmly into the door.
"No! We're going to die. You're crazy, you'll die if you jump," I spoke through petrified tears.
Rhett winked, then leapt from the ledge, disappearing through the clouds. His sudden movement causing me to react. I attempted to reach out and pull him back, but I was too late. I gave out an anguished scream.
"Rhett!" I screamed, frantically.
"Amara, jump," he yelled from below.
I couldn't see anything but clouds and sky.
I didn't know if I could trust what I was hearing. For all I knew, he was lying dead miles below on the ground.
"I can't," I sobbed, clutching at my chest.
"You can, it's another illusion, trust me and jump," he yelled, more desperately this time.
I realized why he was so anxious. The scenery around me began to crack and crumble. The ledge I was standing on began to disintegrate under my feet, leaving me just inches of room.
In such a short space of time, I had been given no other choice but to place my trust in a stranger. I lacked faith as it was, but I believed in him, and in us, and I drew strength from that.
I knew in my heart of hearts, that he'd never let me down.
I took a sharp intake of breath, squeezed my eyes shut, then jumped.
I felt an awful churning sensation in my stomach, with the feeling of falling, but only for a brief moment.
When I opened my eyes, I realized we'd only jumped a short distance.
"I know, it appeared that we were a lot higher, perhaps to force us not to jump," Rhett announced.
"So, where is the exit?" I asked him, confused and still shaken.
I thought that would be the final trial for certain, but I was wrong.
There was nothing but darkness all around, with only a single ray of moonlight cast down upon us.
For a horrible moment, I thought I was standing back inside the room of mirrors.
I was staring at my own reflexion straight in the face. It was only when I reached out to touch it, the image recoiled as if scalded by my touch.
"Who are you?" It spoke in my voice, timidly.
"Rhett, what's happening," it asked, seemingly afraid.
"Rhett, why is there two of me?" I turned to face him, anxiously.
The fake me began to back away from me and walk towards the protection of Rhett.
It was trying to lead him to believe that I was the impostor.
"Rhett, that's not me, I'm me!" I explained, forcefully, pointing my finger at my chest.
Immediately in front of Rhett, a sword appeared, protruding out of the sand, hilt side up.
I watched, sickened, as the fake me attempted to seduce Rhett as if trying to coax him into killing me instead.
I had no idea if he could tell us apart.
The only thing I could do, at that moment, was to remind him of my promise to Petr, and hope that whatever decision he made, right now, that he would still carry it out.
"You promised to help me save my brother, don't you forget that. If I die today, here, in this labyrinth, I want you to carry out your promise to me."
I waited to feel the blow of the sword and wondered whether my death would be quick and painless.
When it never came, I opened my eyes to witness Rhett, plunging the sword straight through the chest of the 'fake me'. It gave out a blood-curdling scream, before disappearing into thin air.
"You killed the illusion. How did you know that wasn't me?" I asked, astonished.
Rhett threw the sword down beside him so that it stuck into the sand. It took three large strides of his thick, muscular legs, for him to reach me, pulling me into a passionate embrace. He leaned down to kiss me fiercely, completely sweeping me off my feet.
I broke the kiss to confront him. "You still haven't told me how you knew that wasn't me," I asked, whilst gazing up at him lustfully.
Rhett bit his bottom lip in hesitation, before deciding how best to answer.
"That illusion was identical to you, in every way, but it was missing one very important detail," he whispered, next to my ear, sending pleasant shivers along my spine.
"And what might that be?" I asked, out of curiosity.
He took a breath. "The faint heartbeat of our son," he replied.
It took me several long seconds to register what he just said to me.
Just as I began to ask him, how it was possible for him to determine a heartbeat of an embryo, that may have only just been conceived, the ground swallowed us whole.
We then fell into a swirling vortex of sand. I struggled to hold my breath and keep my eyes closed, as we spiralled through the centre of the hourglass, landing awkwardly onto the sand below.
Just when I thought we were done for, I recognised that we were now amongst the other Lycan's and their new brides.
"Rhett!" A blond-haired Lycan approached, offering him a helping hand.
"Fabian, you got here before me. Please, don't tell your father, I'd never live it down. What path did fate lead you to?" Rhett asked as he shot a wide smile to the other Lycan.
I got the impression that they were close friends.
"Integrity, my friend, and yourself?" Fabian answered.
"Illusion," Rhett replied.
The blond-haired Lycan gave Rhett a sympathetic look. "My father will tell you, my mother still suffers from night terrors, from time to time, after facing those illusions. Watch over your bride, she may suffer from shock and that won't be good for her, or the baby," he sympathised.
"Fabian, I need to ask a favour from you," Rhett asked.
Fabian gave Rhett a lopsided smile. "Anything my friend, you need only ask."
They clasped hands, in a gesture of brotherhood.
"I need you to cover for us at the feast. My parents will notice my absence, so I need you to tell them that I'm consoling my bride," Rhett explained.
Fabian nodded in understanding. "I don't need the details. I already know that I won't like whatever it is that you're going to tell me, so don't tell me. If I don't know what it is, then it can't be forced out of me," he replied. "But answer me this, what made you change your mind?" He smiled, gesturing to myself, who was standing awkwardly at Rhett's side.
"She did," Rhett replied, while wrapping his huge muscular arm around me, and pulling me close.
"Your father will be pleased, but why aren't you wearing the brooch?" Fabian asked, his eyes landed on the golden claw brooch that was still pinned to the left-hand side of my gown.
"I have to fulfil my vow first, then we shall return," Rhett explained.
He exchanged a few more words with Fabian, in private, before returning back to me. After reassuring me that all will be well, he told me that we needed to hurry if we wanted to escape to the mainland without the entire Lycan army hot on our heels.
We walked the short distance to the beach. It looked even more beautiful in daylight. I could fully appreciate the scenery under the glowing sun, the sand glittered with golden flecks, and the palm trees rustling in the breeze.
"I must admit, I'm rather impressed, Amara. It seems that you made quite an impression on my brother, Konrad," Rhett remarked, playfully.
"Oh, why is that?" I asked, nudging his side as we walked. I wondered if he was jealous.
Rhett pulled me to a brief stop and pointed straight ahead.
"Because, my love, he seems to be rather busy preparing the ship," he announced, with amusement.