“Release it,” Amarantha called. I trembled to the marrow of my bones as a grate groaned, and then a slithering, swift-moving noise filled the chamber.
My shoulders rose toward my ears. The crowd quieted to a murmur, silent enough to hear a guttural kind of grumble, so I could feel the vibrations in the ground as whatever it was rushed at me.
Amarantha clicked her tongue, and I whipped my head to her. Her brows rose. “Run,” she whispered.
Then it appeared.
It was a giant worm, or what might have once been a worm had its front end not become an enormous mouth filled with ring after ring of razor-sharp teeth. It barreled toward me, its pinkish brown body surging and twisting with horrific ease. These trenches were its lair.
And I was dinner.
Sliding and slipping on the reeking mud, I hurtled down the length of the trench, wishing I’d memorized more of the layout in the few moments I’d had, knowing full well that my path could lead to a dead end, where I would surely—
The crowd roared, drowning out the slurping and gnashing noises of the worm, but I didn’t dare a glance over my shoulder. The ever-nearing stench of it told me enough about how close it was. I didn’t have the breath for a sob of relief as I found a fork in the pathway and veered sharply left.
I had to get as much distance between us as possible; I had to find a spot where I could make a plan, a spot where I could find an advantage.
Another fork—I veered left again. Perhaps if I took as many lefts as I could, I could make a circle, and somehow come up behind the creature, and—
No, that was absurd. I’d have to be thrice as fast as the worm, and right now, I could barely keep ahead of it. I slid into a wall as I made another left and slammed into the slick muck. Cold, reeking, smothering. I wiped it from my eyes to find the leering faces of faeries floating above me, laughing. I ran for my life.
I reached a straight, flat stretch of trench and threw my strength to my legs as I bolted down its course. I finally dared a look over my shoulder, and my fear became wild and thrashing as the worm surged into the path, hot on my trail.
I almost missed a slender opening in the side of the trench thanks to that look, and I gave up valuable steps as I skidded to a halt to squeeze myself through the gap. It was too small for the worm, but the creature could probably shatter through the mud. If not, its teeth could do the trick. But it was worth the risk.
As I made to pull myself through, a force grabbed me back. No—not a force, but the walls. The crack was too small, and I’d so frantically thrown myself through it that I’d become wedged between it. My back to the worm, and too far between the walls to be able to turn, I couldn’t see as it approached. The smell, though—the smell was growing worse.
I pushed and pulled, but the mud was too slick, and held fast.
The trenches reverberated with the thunderous movements of the worm. I could almost feel its reeking breath upon my half-exposed body, could hear those teeth slashing through the air, closer and closer. Not like this. It couldn’t end like this.
I clawed at the mud, twisting, tearing at anything to pull me through. The worm neared with each of my heartbeats, the smell nearly overpowering my senses.
I ripped away mud, wriggling, kicking, and pushing, sobbing through my gritted teeth. Not like this.
The ground shook. A stench wrapped right around me, and hot air slammed into my body. Its teeth clicked together.
Grabbing onto the wall, I pulled and pulled. There was a squelch, and a sudden release of pressure around my middle, and I fell through the crack, sprawling in the mud.
The crowd sighed. I didn’t have time for tears of relief as I found myself in another passageway, and I launched farther into the labyrinth. From the continuing quieted roars, I knew the worm had overshot me.
But that made no sense—the passage offered no place to hide. It would have seen me stuck there. Unless it couldn’t break through and was now taking some alternate route, and would spring upon me.
I didn’t check my speed, though I knew I wasted momentum by smashing into wall after wall as I made each sharp turn. The worm also had to lose its speed making these bends—a creature that big couldn’t take the turns without slowing, no matter how dexterous it might be.
I risked a look at the crowd. Their faces were tight with disappointment, and turned away entirely from me, toward the other end of the chamber. That was where the worm had to be—that was where that passage had ended. It hadn’t seen where I went. It hadn’t seen me.
It was blind.
I was so surprised that I didn’t notice the enormous pit that opened before me, hidden by a slight rise, and it was all I could do to not scream as I tumbled in. Air, empty air, and—
I slammed into ankle-deep mud, and the crowd cried out. The mud softened the landing, but my teeth still sang with the impact. But nothing was broken, nothing hurt.
A few faeries peered in, leering from high above the gaping mouth of the pit. I whirled around, scanning my surroundings, trying to find the fastest way out. The pit itself opened into a small, dark tunnel, but there was no way to climb up—the wall was too steep.
I was trapped. Gasping for breath, I fumbled a few steps into the blackness of the tunnel. I bit down on my shriek as something beneath my foot crunched hard. I staggered back, and my tailbone wailed in pain. I kept scrambling away, but my hand connected with something smooth and hard, and I lifted it to see a gleam of white.
Through my muddy fingers, I knew that texture all too well. Bone.
Twisting onto my hands and knees, I patted the ground, moving farther into the darkness. Bones, bones, bones, of every shape and size, and I swallowed my scream as I realized what this place was. It was only when my hand landed on the smooth dome of a skull that I jumped to my feet.
I had to get out. Now.
“Feyre,” I heard Amarantha’s distant call. “You’re ruining everyone’s fun!” She said it as if I were a lousy shuttlecock partner. “Come out!”
I certainly would not, but she told me what I needed to know. The worm didn’t know where I was; it couldn’t smell me. I had precious seconds to get out.
As my sight adjusted to the darkness of the worm’s den, mounds and mounds of bones gleamed, piles rolling away into the gloom. The chalkiness of the mud had to be from endless layers of them decomposing. I had to get out now, had to find a place to hide that wasn’t a death trap. I stumbled out of the den, bones clattering away.
Once more in the open air of the pit, I groped one of its steep walls. Several green-faced faeries barked curses at me, but I ignored them as I tried to scale the wall, made it an inch, and slid to the floor. I couldn’t get out without a rope or a ladder, and plunging farther into the worm’s lair to see if there was another way out wasn’t an option. Of course, there was a back door. Every animal’s den had two exits, but I wasn’t about to risk the darkness—effectively blinding myself—and completely eliminate my small edge.