Page 13

I swallowed hard. "This is it. There's no going back." My breath was shallow, as my skin prickled with anxiety. I turned to Eric, "Are you sure?"


The sound of feet slamming into the ground kept us from walking through the portal. I spun around, with my comb extended towards the noise. The razor sharp tines extended. I knew who it was before I could see her. Shannon's long hair flashed burnt orange as I recognized her long stride. "They are coming!" she screamed. "Casey told them you were here! You have to leave. Leave now!"

She stopped, doubling over on her knees. Eric looked at her, and back at the portal. "Do they know you're here? Do they know you came to warn us?" She nodded her head. Eric turned to me, "Ivy, we can't leave her here. They'll kill her if they think she tried to help us."

Without another word I grabbed the other piece of bone shard from the dirt, filled it with shadows and sealed them in with my blood. The shard was ice cold.

I said to Shannon, "Hang this around your neck and pretend you're a Valefar. We were going through that portal. All of us." Her body tensed, but she didn't refuse. A noise echoed behind her and we all jumped at the sound.

Martis. Lots of them.

I took a deep breath, pulled Apryl's necklace out of the slot, and we stepped through the portal.


The grave slid closed behind us, and drowned out the sounds of the approaching mob of Martis. I hesitated before taking a step forward. We were in the Underworld; the world of the dead and the damned. The Martis would not follow us here. To do so risked everything. No, they would stay in the catacombs waiting for us to return. Now we had other things to worry about.

I breathed in the cool air, and looked around. I don't know what I expected, but it was kind of lackluster in there. We were standing in a cavern. It stretched higher than the eye could see, and there was a single path carved into the stone in front of us. House-sized, pointed stalagmites would keep any adventurous folks from wandering off the path. The sounds of water dripping surrounded us, but the path was dry. Cawing birds echoed somewhere in the distance. The sound was eerie. I swallowed hard and looked back at Eric and Shannon.

"This is it," I said. My heart was racing. It felt like I was just doused with a bucket of dread. Shannon's eyes widened as her mouth fell opened. Eric's face held a similar expression. I turned slowly, knowing that the Guardian was standing behind me. Thoughts rushed at me as my mind tried to prepare for what it would see. But, there was no amount of preparation that would have made the Guardian less horrifying. Clutching my comb in my hand, I turned, thinking that the Guardian would be a beast. I expected that we would have to kill it to pass into the Underworld, and we had to pass. The lub-dub of my heart was so loud I thought everyone could hear it. As my eyes landed on the Guardian - I froze. Suddenly I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think.

She looked exactly the same. Her voice was laced with the rich tones that I remembered, "You cannot enter here. Turn back and return to where you came from." She held a brimstone sword and blocked our path with her body.

I stood there dumbly, too shocked to respond. Too shocked to do anything but feel my shattered heart tearing in half again. She repeated herself, but I couldn't move. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. My breath caught in my throat, as my hand flew to my mouth. She looked exactly the way I remembered her; long flowing hair the color of the setting sun, wide curious eyes that were never quite sure if they preferred blue or green, and the same pale sweetheart-shaped face that I had. Everything was the same with one glaring difference - a red scar marred her perfect complexion above her brow.

I choked out her name, "Apryl?"

My emotions were strangling me. It couldn't be her. No. No! My hands flew to my hair as I shook my head, taking a step away from her. Eric's hand was on my shoulder pulling me back. Shannon stood silently staring, too shocked to move. I sucked in a strangled gasp of air still unwilling to believe what was in front of me.

My sister was a Valefar.

Her eyes narrowed, "How do you know my name?" She pointed the blade at us, looking at us more closely now. No recognition flashed across her face when she saw me. She didn't know me. But, when her gaze fell on Eric she visibly bristled.

Her voice turned dark and menacing, "You...You're the one who did this to me!" Her eyes burned with hatred. "You were there the day I died. I'll never forget your face." She lifted her blade towards Eric. "Don't deny it. The only thing I remember about my previous life is how I died. Every grizzly detail is etched in my mind. I can see it when I close my eyes, when I try to remember who I was, and what happened to me. And you were there! You led them to me." She took a step closer to him, ignoring Shannon and I. "Do you know what they did to me? Did you stay around to watch?"

I swallowed hard, forcing my neck to turn towards Eric. I couldn't shake my shock. She remembered Eric, but not me? It felt like someone was choking me. I couldn't stand it. She was Valefar. She was the Guardian I'd have to kill to pass into the Underworld. But Apryl was still fuming at Eric. She was singularly fixated on him. Rage filled her eyes with venom that I've never seen before.

A chill racked me violently and I couldn't stop shaking. "What's she talking about?" I asked Eric. "You led the Valefar to her? And then you watched her die?" Horror choked me so that I could barely utter the words. He didn't. That would be hideously cruel. Dear God, please deny it Eric.

Apryl's eyes burned with anger. "Tell her," Apryl commanded, "Yes, let's tell her. But I think this story should come from me." Apryl's eyes were narrowed into thin slits. She gazed at me intently for a few moments without speaking. Her head tilted to the side, and her expression softened. "I know you," she said uncertainly to me. "I can't remember why or where, but I know you. Don't I?" I nodded, unable to speak to her. I was muted by fear and grief. She waited for me to say where she knew me from, but I couldn't answer.

Having this conversation wasn't something I ever imagined. Valefar don't remember their previous lives, except for how they died. That they remember in vivid detail. It's a way to inflict pain on the new Valefar and allow them to carry that pain for the rest of their immortal lives. She remembered Eric because he was there, but she didn't remember me. She didn't remember her sister because I wasn't there. And I couldn't find the strength within me to tell her.

She finally said, "Well, it doesn't matter now anyway. It doesn't matter how hard I try, I won't ever remember you. And from the shocked expression on your face, I'm guessing you thought I was dead. Death would have been better than what happened to me.

"About a year ago I sat alone on a dock in Italy. My friend and I had been laughing and enjoying the sunshine. She ran off to get gelato, and I decided to swing my legs off the end of the pier and wait for her. I heard footfalls behind me. I was surprised she returned so quickly, but when I turned it wasn't her standing behind me - it was him." She gestured to Eric. "I remember those golden eyes staring at me, drinking me in. It made my pulse race and I blushed. I actually blushed! No one had ever looked at me like that before. I smiled at him, but he said nothing. He just stared. I got to my feet, and walked over to him, barefoot in my little sundress. I thought something was wrong... like he was lost or something. I thought I could help. But, before I reached him, he turned abruptly, and walked away. He disappeared into the crowded street and I didn't see him again. I thought nothing of it at the time. Maybe he was lost. Maybe he thought I was someone else. There had to be some reason for his strange behavior. And there was.

"I settled back at the end of the dock, and hung my legs over the side. When I looked up, I saw him standing on the opposite pier. That was the last time I saw daylight. Someone rushed at me, and pulled me over the edge. I screamed as we fell into the water. I tried to swim to the surface, but they wouldn't let me." She took a steadying breath before continuing. "We were underwater. He yanked my hair away from my face, pushing it off of my forehead. I couldn't breathe. He stared as if he couldn't believe that nothing was there. Then his lips smashed down on mine. Violently, he kissed me with his arms crushing me to him. He held me like that until every last bit of soul was ripped from my dying body. When he pulled me to the surface, I didn't gasp for breath. I couldn't do anything.

"His words echoed around me as he spoke to someone else. The other voices were uncertain. They kept asking, Is she the one? But, they didn't know. So, one of them took a blade and cut a gash in my head right here," she pointed to her scar, "and another slit his finger and rubbed his blood into the wound. They laughed while they did it, passing me around like a rag doll. They all kissed me, but there was no soul left to take. After a while, they took more than kisses. They touched me. They used my body however they wanted. When they were done, I thought I'd climb onto the shore and cry. I thought someone would find me. But they didn't give me the chance. The boy who knocked me into the water took out a silver blade no bigger than my finger. It was wrapped in fine cloth, like it was some precious metal. He jabbed its sharp edge into my stomach and twisted. I screamed out in pain, but no one heard me. No one saw. Except him. When the Valefar dropped me into the water, I slid beneath the surface and through a portal. I've been here ever since."

Eric had remained silent until then, and said, "And Kreturus saw you? And posted you here?"

Apryl's jaw locked as she spit out the words, "Yes, that demon owns me now because of you! They told him that I was someone else, and his disappointment was brutal when he found out that I wasn't." She stared at Eric with hatred in her eyes. "It was you. Your fault. You led them to me."

Eric didn't look away; he didn't waiver, "It was my fault."

"Then I think you should die a death ten times more painful, and more humiliating than what I went through." Her face contorted as she filled with rage. The black sword swung in an arch towards Eric. It collided with the blades of my silver weapon, as I stepped between her and Eric.

"You can't kill him," I said. "He's already dead, and he was told to bring me this way." I strained pushing back against her blade. "Lower your weapon."

Apryl let out a hysterical laugh. "Lower my weapon? No one can pass this way no matter what you say. And since you didn't turn to leave, you'll die too." She lifted her blade and swung it at me. I blocked her again, not wanting to advance. I couldn't hurt her. It didn't matter that she didn't know me anymore. I was still thrilled to see her - thrilled and terrified.

I took a step back, disconnecting our blades, "I won't fight you, but you have to let us pass."

She laughed again, but it was hollow. "Let you pass? This isn't the way into some park. It's a road to certain destruction." She stepped towards me, swinging her blade again. We were backed up against the cavern wall. "Last chance Little Princess. Turn back."

As the words fell out of her mouth, all the fight drained from her body. She called me Little Princess when we fought at home. Mom would tell her to be nice, but that was her go to name when I got what I wanted and she didn't. Did she remember me? Her eyes widened as she looked at my face. Her blade fell limply at her side. The memory was inside of her, but out of reach. She didn't remember me. When she spoke again, I knew she didn't. "All three of you want to pass this way, but none of you will want to pay the price. You might as well turn back."