Page 15

Contact with the Pool didn't make me writhe as I stepped into the waters. I felt the cold snares trying to snake through my legs, searching for my soul, but I had very little soul left to steal. I hoped they wouldn't find it before I reached the Guardian - the perfect image of Collin. My pulse pumped the blood through my body so fast that it felt like I'd run miles. Anticipation and dread pooled together violently in my stomach as I neared him. His cool eyes rested on me, watching me approach. He ignored Shannon, as she dragged Eric out of sight.

Apryl sat watching, eyes wide and mouth hanging open.

This is an illusion, I told myself. It's not him. Certainty washed over me as he stood inches from my body. I could reach out and touch him. So, I did. I threw my arms around his neck and pressed my lips against his. A cold blast was created as soon as our lips joined. It collided with the shadows I called to shroud my scent. Combined, they tore through me in a wave of sharp, cold pain. The familiar feeling of flesh ripping from bone consumed me. As the piece of soul I had remaining, broke free, I shivered. If he took that piece, if it was large enough, I would be Valefar. And yet, this was the only way to pass into the Underworld without Kreturus being aware of my presence. I felt the golden warmth of my spirit traveling rapidly towards my lips. I hoped I knew what I was doing. There was nothing to base my decision on, but a hunch. When my soul passed my heart, the coldness clamped down harder. It felt like I was being crushed under a massive block of ice. My body was resisting, but I could feel it wouldn't be mine to command much longer if I finished this kiss. The Pool was already doing something to me. I felt the demon blood coursing through my veins like shards of glass. I wanted to scream out unable to endure the pain.

My soul approached my mouth slowly, like it was caught on a line. The Guardian's kiss carefully pulled it closer and closer to my lips. His fingers threaded through my hair, gently brushing my cheek. It was the way Collin had kissed me. That kiss lingered in my thoughts constantly. I leaned into him wishing it were Collin. My eyelids suddenly became heavy, as a flash of warmth shot through my belly. The pain was erased. It made me feel like I could stay like this forever with him - just the two of us, wrapped together, with his lips on mine. When I leaned into him more, a distant voice shrieked, but I didn't stop. This was where I wanted to be. This is where I was safe. Here with Collin. Bliss shot through me, coursing through my veins and making me feel invincible.

It wasn't until I felt the warmth of my soul flood my mouth, that I heard his voice.

A faint voice brushed the inside of my mind. It's not me Ivy. Drive the Guardian back before there is nothing left of you.

Collin? Collin! I could hear him! Oh God, then who was I kissing? Fear snapped me back to reality. Before I knew what overtook me, my powers surged. Black mist swirled around me, encasing my soul-ravaged body. A bright light no larger than a spec of sand flashed. At the same time, I was thrown back onto the shore. The remaining piece of my soul slid back down my throat when I hit the ground, and warmed my blood in the process. Disoriented, I looked over at the lake to see Collin's ethereal form shoot back into the Pool and dissolve into the waters. I breathed deeply, relieved.

But, this wasn't over yet. The creature resurfaced, snarling with a mouth filled of daggers. Its water-like form was blazing with blue and green flames. The Guardian's red eyes locked with mine as it cried out in rage. Too terrified to move, I stood there watching. The Guardian shot across the water, making a deafening noise that paralyzed me with terror. My heart was about to explode in my chest. There wasn't enough air to fill my heaving lungs.

A hand pulled at my shoulder urgently, "Go! Go now! Once you pass, it can't touch you." Apryl was yelling in my face, but I couldn't move. She slammed her body into mine, attempting to force my legs forward. "Ivy! Move! It can still reach you! Move now or die!" But her words rolled off of me. I couldn't move. It didn't matter that I knew I would die if I stayed here. It was like I was trapped by something I couldn't see. The Guardian was somehow holding me in place. Before I knew what was happening, the Guardian was in front of me. Its shining silver teeth gleamed red in the glow of the cave making them look like they were covered in blood. It let out another ear piercing cry, and lunged at me.

Every muscle in my body heaved, trying to move before those teeth ripped the flesh from my bones. But it didn't matter how hard my muscles flinched or how fast my heart pumped, I was trapped. A scream erupted from my throat right before the creature's teeth ripped into me. My arms flew up to cover my face when another scream drew my attention back to the Guardian. The piercing cry tore through the power that immobilized me.

It was Apryl's voice - Apryl's cry. She'd thrown herself between me and the Guardian still screaming at me to run. When I didn't move, she'd stepped in front of me allowing the razor sharp teeth to tear through her arm. Three deep red gashes slashed through her pale skin from shoulder to wrist. She cradled the bleeding arm close to her body, screaming in agony. The creature lunged for her again, teeth first. I watched in horror. This couldn't be happening. I just found her. And now this beast had me trapped and it was ripping my sister's skin from her body.

The Guardian's teeth sank into her other arm, jerking her away from me with a flick of its head. The creature was twice my height. Its mouth was covered in my sister's blood. Her voice no longer filled the cavern with screams. Rage seared through me. The Guardian did not release the bonds that immobilized me, but my powers were greater. Heat burned through me, but I had no idea how the power would manifest itself. A raw screamed ripped out of my throat, as the Guardian's bloody red teeth rushed at my face. When its sharp edges clamped down to bite into my flesh a loud crack erupted, and the teeth that touch my skin exploded. Silver blood-covered shards flew through the air, as the creature screamed in horror. It lunged at me again, but the same thing happened. When the silver teeth touched my skin there was a loud crack and more of its teeth shattered. Sweat covered my cowering body.

The beast's cry filled the cavern, as it became increasingly enraged. Its eyes flamed red, as it lunged at me one last time. It lifted its maw directly above me. Saliva dripped off the remaining silver dagger-like teeth, dripping onto my body below. Terror coursed through my veins. The Guardian changed the way it would attack. Its wide spread jaws were going to swallow me whole. It shrieked as its massive head lunged toward me. The thick scaly maw snatched me from where I stood.

As soon as the Guardian's lips closed around me, everything went dark. The bonds that had immobilized me below were now broken. I could move. The creature's tongue was trying to push me towards the back of its mouth. It swept at me, trying to knock me over and shove me down its throat. A dull violet glow filled the creature's mouth. My hair was still flaming. That meant that I still had the power I'd conjured before. The Guardian's tongue swept past me once as I fell between its tongue and its teeth. I extended my arms and quickly grabbed hold of a tooth, and hoped that it would still work. Burying my face in my shoulder, I looked away as the loud crack echoed in its mouth. When its tooth shattered, the Guardian's maw opened in a raw scream.

As soon as its jaws shot opened, I jumped. It was impossibly high, but it was better than being eaten. But, I wasn't out of harm's way yet. As I fell to the ground, it snapped at me, trying to catch me. The Guardian was moderately successful. I fell on the outside of his maw. My hand collided with its massive red eye. The Guardian shook violently, but I lodged my fingers in its eyelid and had no plans to let go. The power was still in my hands. I could feel it coursing through to my fingertips. I held onto the Guardian's eyelid with one hand and sunk my other five fingers straight into its flame red eye. The crack erupted, echoing off the cave walls, as the Guardian's eye exploded in its socket. Its head shook violently as it bellowed, but I held on.

Did I have to kill this thing to pass the Pool of Lost Souls? Or could I sneak by? I wasn't certain. I also had no idea why my hands were making things explode. Was that coming from me? Or was it like putting gunpowder next to a campfire? Some things just ignited each other. I wasn't sure, but it knew it was now or never. I pulled the silver comb from my hair and touched it to my mark extending the tines into long razor sharp blades. Creatures of darkness could only be killed with Celestial Silver. It was possible the beast would shake its head and I'd fall while I reached for my comb, but I had to. Something told me that blowing up both eyes wouldn't work. I had to sink my blade into the beast. Without another thought, I lunged at the Guardian's other eye. The blade sank deep into its pupil in one swift stroke. The Guardian cried out, shaking its head. My body was thrown to the ground. I was right in front of it. If it wanted me, it could have lunged again and it would have my soul. All of it. But the Guardian turned its blind head from me and slid back below the surface of the water.

An eerie silence drifted over the Pool. Shannon and Eric were nowhere in sight. Neither was Apryl. I slowly stood, although every bone in my body protested. Something glimmered to my right. I bent to pick it up. It was a shard of the Guardian's silver tooth. It was thin and jagged where the tooth cracked. I wiped the blood and flesh from the point, and tied it to my belt out of sight. I might need it. My heart was still racing when Apryl walked up behind me.

"You beat the shit out of the Guardian." Apryl sounded amused.

I turned to look at her, not expecting what I saw. Valefar were supposed to heal quickly from non-fatal wounds. Especially if no silver was used. Her arms were both marred. The fleshed peeled away from bone in places. Her face was white. "Apryl...Oh my God. Why aren't you healing?"

She collapsed next to me. "It'll heal. Eventually. His teeth were celestial silver filled with sapphire serum. Every single tooth. The Martis originally put the Guardian here. The Guardian kept the living out and kept the demons in. The sapphire serum makes it more deadly. Damn Martis. Basically, if it buries its teeth deep enough in you, you're dead no matter what. It doesn't matter if you're Martis or Valefar, demon or angel. That stuff is deadly no matter what you are. The Guardian's sapphire serum rips the soul from the living, and its razor sharp tooth tears the flesh from the dead. No one gets past that thing, but you shattered its teeth and blinded it." She let out a weak laugh. "You're insane."

"Will it heal?" I asked looking back at the water.

"Doubt it. Nothing is more deadly than Celestial Silver to Underworld creatures. It seems to amplify wounds, and prevents them from healing. I've seen Valefar try to get the thing to back off with brimstone weapons, but the Guardian just snapped them like twigs. It's something about the teeth being infused with the sapphire serum and being made of Celestial Silver. It's stronger...More powerful. That combined with whatever you did - well, it won't heal. But I doubt it'll die. That's what made me remember you." She smiled faintly.

"What do you mean?" I was glad she remembered me, but I didn't want to ask how. Was it because she sensed the demon blood flowing through my veins? Maybe she only recognized me as another Valefar.

"I can only remember things from the time of my death and forward. When I first saw Eric on the pier, I thought he looked like the kind of boy you'd date. You always went for the wholesome, nice-guy types." She was right. I did go for guys like Eric before she died. But that was a long time ago, before my life came crashing down around me. When she spoke again, her voice changed. It sounded distant and lost. "That's why I remembered. I watched you march up to that beast like you owned it when it attacked Eric. You protected him...against something that should have killed you. Only one person I ever knew was that crazy." She smirked, "My whack-job little sister. Who else would be crazy enough to show up down here? Everyone else wants to get out and you're trying to break in. God, I miss you..." She closed her teary eyes, as her head swayed.