I waited until a park ranger moved on before I spoke. “What now?”
Roth glanced up. “We wait until the moon comes back out.”
A minute and ten thousand years later, the cloud rolled on and the silvery light of the moon was revealed inch by inch. Swallowing hard, I watched the water, wondering if we really did have the right place.
In the pale light of the full moon, the Washington Monument’s reflection started at the center of the pool farthest from where we stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The pillar sped across the pool as the reflection grew, until the pointed end reached the edge of where we stood.
I held my breath.
And nothing happened. No doorway suddenly appeared. Horns didn’t hail. Indiana Jones didn’t appear out of thin air. Nothing.
I looked at Roth. “Okay. This is really anticlimactic.”
He frowned as he scanned the area. “We’ve got to be missing something.”
“Maybe Sam was wrong or the seer was just messing with us.” The level of disappointment I was feeling sucked. “Because everything looks the same.... Wait.” I took a step forward, still holding on to Roth’s hand as I knelt at the edge of the pool. “Is it just me or does the water where the monument is reflected look sort of...shimmery?”
“Yeah,” I replied. It was faint, but it looked like someone had tossed buckets of glitter on the water. “You don’t see it?” I looked up at him.
His eyes were narrowed. “I do, but that could just be the water.”
With my free hand, I reached down and dipped my fingers into the water and jerked my hand back. “What the Hell?”
“What?” Roth was kneeling in a second, his eyes glowing in the darkness. “What?”
It was way too hard to explain. The water...wasn’t water at all. My fingers had gone completely through it and were dry as the desert. “Put your fingers in it.”
The look on his face said he had a really disgusting comment to follow that up with, but he wisely kept his mouth shut. Using his other hand, he put his fingers into the pool.
Roth laughed. “Holy crap, the water...”
“Isn’t there!” Amazed, I shook my head. “Do you think the whole thing is an optical illusion?”
“Can’t be. There are idiots who jump in this thing all the time. It has to be some kind of enchantment that’s reacting to us.” He moved his hand along the fake water, covering about a six-foot space until he must’ve hit the real deal, because a small ripple moved across the pool. “It’s in this space.” His gaze followed the center of the pool and then flicked up. “It’s the entire length of the reflection.”
I hoped so, because I was pretty sure the pool was at least eighteen feet deep and drowning didn’t sound like a lot of fun.
“You ready to do this?”
Not really, but I nodded as I stood. Roth went first, testing the theory of the water not really being water. His boot and then his jean-clad leg disappeared. There was no ripple or movement.
He smiled. “There’s a step, and it’s not wet.” He moved farther down until the darkness swallowed him up to his thigh and our arms were stretched as far as they’d go. “It’s okay. Whatever this is, it’s not really here.”
Taking a deep breath, I took the first step. Water didn’t soak through my sneaker or my jeans, and then I took another step and I was inches from Roth. “This is so damn weird.”
“I’ve seen weirder.”
Part of me wanted more of an explanation than that, but then I’d just be delaying the inevitable, which was my head going under whatever this stuff was. When the darkness reached my shoulders, I shuddered. It was like stepping through thick fog that had substance you could feel but couldn’t grab on to. My gaze flicked up, meeting Roth’s, and he smiled reassuringly. Out of habit, I held my breath as I slipped under.
The crashing weight of thousands of gallons of water didn’t come down on me. My hair was still a dry, wavy mess falling over my shoulders and down my back. I inhaled through my nose and didn’t choke on water. There was a wet, musty smell that tickled the back of my throat.
“Open your eyes, Layla.” Roth’s voice was close to my ear.
I pried one eye open and my jaw dropped. “Crap on a cracker...”
He chuckled as he let go of my hand. “Elegantly put.”
We were inside the reflecting pool, or at least that was what I assumed, but it was like being in a different world.
Lit torches lined the tunnel every few feet on both sides, casting flickering shadows over the damp pathway. The roof above us wasn’t really a roof, just the bottom of whatever the substance was that we’d come through.
“I’m going to hazard a guess and say we’re on the right track,” I said, smoothing my damp palms along my jeans. “Or we drowned and are hallucinating.”
Roth’s chuckle was as dark as the tunnel. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”
We started down the tunnel, our footsteps echoing off the cement walls. Roth was humming what I now thought of as his song. Walking for what felt like forever, we had to be nearing the museums when we came to a spot where the tunnel branched off into two sections.
“Too bad there wasn’t a map we could’ve picked up for this,” Roth joked as he started toward the right. About six feet down, he stopped and backtracked. “This door is cemented over. So I’m going to hope that’s not where we’re heading.”
Left with no other option, we chose the tunnel to the right. Wrapping my arms around my chest, I shivered in the cold and damp air. Another block or so down the corridor, it curved to the right. Up ahead was an old wooden door. With its wide wooden planks and steel joints, it looked like something straight out of medieval times.
“Any second, a Knight Templar is going to come barreling out that door,” I said.
Roth’s lips curved up at the corner. “That would actually be kind of entertaining.”
“Wouldn’t it be? And then he’ll ask us to choose—”
A gust of wind whipped down the tunnel, lifting my hair and causing the torches to flicker in a mad dance. All the fine hairs on my body rose as I twisted around. “Roth...”
The sound of something clicking on cement rose in a crescendo, like a wave of superfast tap dancers. I took a step back, my stomach sinking to my toes. The clicking grew, drowning out the sound of my pounding heart.
“LUDs,” Roth said, hands curling into fists.
“Little Ugly Demons,” he explained. “You’ve seen The Princess Bride, right?”
Roth grimaced. “Remember those really big rats in the dark woods?”
My eyes popped wide. “Oh, dear.”
“Yeah, so try to get that door open. Like real fast.”
Spinning around, I darted toward the door and let out a ripe curse. The thing wasn’t locked, but it had a steel bar across the front. Wrapping my hands around the bottom, I tried to lift it. Even with the demon and Warden strength in me, the thing didn’t budge.
“Uh, Roth, this isn’t—” The words faded as the clicking gave way to chattering. I turned, seeing shapes barreling down the tunnel.