Luca winced and one of his legs buckled. He fell onto his knee and clutched his clawed hand over his heart. His sharp teeth clenched together as a strangled cry came from his lips.
I gasped as I felt the same pain reverberate through me. My legs, too, shook and I slumped to the floor.
“Diana!” Pennae shouted as she hurried to my side and grasped my arms. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
I lifted my gaze to Luca who shut his eyes. His face was a picture of focused pain as his dragon nature began to fade into his body. In a few seconds he was a man again. The pain I felt inside me faded as Luca’s attention fell on me.
Luca studied me for a long moment and his pained expression deepened. He stretched out his hand and grasped one of mine. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
Miss Smith strode up to us and frowned down at him. “I, too, would like to hear how this came about.”
Ethan sauntered up to his sister’s side while brushing the dust off himself. “We might have heard a better story from those guys you let go.”
“Do you honestly think they would know anything?” she challenged him as she folded her arms over her chest. “Besides, they’re no doubt equipped with magical devices that prevent them from ever speaking.”
Luca eased himself onto his feet and with our joined hands he helped me onto mine. Pennae stayed close at my side.
I looked Luca over. His face was slightly pale and there was a strange, slightly unfocused look in his eyes. “What did they do to you?”
Miss Smith strode up to him and grabbed his jaw in her hands. She turned his head left and right as she studied his face. “Dragon Bane.” She dropped her hold on him and he cupped one side of his face in one hand. “They were eager to capture you. There is hardly anything more rare in the world than that herb.”
He flexed his loose arm and winced. “So I noticed.” Luca dropped his arm and his face softened as he smiled at me. He cupped my cheek in his hand and smile at me. “But you freed me.”
I blinked at him. “I did what?”
“Your dancing,” Luca explained as he tapped the floor with one foot. “I felt your presence, and when I heard you being captured by the pirates it gave me the strength to awaken from my slumber and come to your aid.”
Ethan sighed and shook his head. “As cute a moment as this is, don’t we have bigger problems to worry about? Like a missing key?”
Luca’s good humor faded as he pursed his lips. “The key isn’t here, but I think I might know where it is. The main jailer was a little too loose with his tongue around me, thinking I was unconscious.”
I couldn’t help but look at the largest hole behind me. “I’m guessing that was Draven.”
Luca nodded. “Yes. I followed the trail of the explosive magic used on the man we captured in the alley and found myself at The Gull. Draven and his men managed to corner me in the side hall and doused me in the Dragon’s Bane.”
I looked him up and down. “So what does it do to you?”
He pursed his lips. “It limits my ability to change into my dragon form, and even hinders my human strength. To try to change into my dragon form takes a great effort, and to remain in that form for any amount of time-well-” His saddened eyes fell on me. “You experienced that pain.”
I winced. “Yeah. . .”
“The effects will wear off in a few hours,” Mia assured him.
Luca nodded. “Yes, but in that time the sun will have set and Pond King will have made his entrance into the city. No doubt he works toward that aim as we speak.”
“So what happens if he breaks out?” Pennae spoke up.
I caught her eye and shook my head. “Nothing good. He makes a new entrance and the city gets their water contaminated.”
Pennae wrinkled her nose. “Isn’t it already dirty with all those dwarves down there?”
“The sealed gate keeps anyone from tampering with the city water supply, either through magical means or other more conventional efforts,” Mia explained to her.
I looked up at Luca whose furrowed brow showed his concern. “So where do you think the key is?”
“On their ship in the port,” he revealed as he looked at one of the nearby holes in the floor. “And I believe these tunnels lead to the port.”
Mia blinked at him. “The whole five miles? How can someone dig such a trench over that distance without anyone noticing?”
Luca folded his arms and frowned. “I’m not sure, but the smells down there suggest they have.”
My eyes widened. “The saltwater scent!”
He nodded. “Just that.”
Pennae leaned over the edge of the hole and winced. “That doesn’t look very safe.”
Luca turned to her. “It isn’t, and it would be best if
I clasped Pennae’s hands in my own and smiled at her. “Thank you for all your help. I couldn’t have gotten this far without you.” Her beaming face was my reply as she nodded and stepped back out of my reach.
Ethan clapped a hand on his sister’s shoulder and jerked his head toward the entrance. “If you guys are done with me, I think I’ll be going with this beautiful feathered siren.” A slight blush touched Pennae’s cheeks.
Mia pursed her lips, but nodded. “Thank you for the help.”
A grin stretched across his lips. “It’s been a long time since you thanked me.”
She returned his smile with one of her own. “Try not to make it such a long stretch next time.”
He backed up and shrugged. “I can’t make any promises.” He turned toward the door, but paused and looked over his shoulder. “And Mia?”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“Don’t get yourself killed down there.”
She grinned. “I can’t make any promises.”
He rolled his eyes, but a smile danced across his lips. “Touche.”
“You would be better to join your brother and Pennae,” Luca spoke up as he turned to me and grasped my hands in his own. “And I would prefer you go with them.”
I frowned at him. “And leave you to do this all alone?”
He nodded. “It would be safer for you.”
I snorted and patted my chest over my heart. “Well, according to practically everybody I’m already connected to you, so if you go I go. Literally and figuratively.”
He pursed his lips and bowed his head slightly. “I’m sorry. I should have told you the whole truth.”
I offered him a teasing smile. “You’ll have plenty of time to do that later because I’m coming with you to make sure you don’t get captured again.”
Mia stepped forward. “Then I’m coming with you.”
Pennae raised her feathered hand. “And me!”
Luca shook his head. “This is too dangerous, and two people would be easier to hide from our foes than four.”
Ethan draped his arms over those of the two women and gave them a lopsided grin. “You heard His Highness. Time to march upstairs and drink a toast to their luck.”
Mia wrinkled her nose at him. “You still smell like you drank enough for a barrel full of luck.”
“Then we’ll fill another one!” he proposed as he turned them toward the hall and led them out of the room.
I looked up at Luca who had raised one of his eyebrows. “You have some interesting citizens here.”
He looked down at me and smiled. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Shall we?”