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"Whoa, Apryl." I rushed to her and held her upright. "What can I do?"

She went limp in my arms as I lowered her to the ground. Her eyes opened into little slits. "Kill the bastard responsible for making me into this thing. I'm not alive, but I'm not dead. I'd rather die, Ivy. If that thing - the Guardian - ripped me to pieces, it would have been worth it. I would have finally been free from this curse. But Kreturus made sure the Guardian wouldn't kill me. He did something to me so that the Guardian will only chomp on me once or twice before deciding I'm not worth eating."

"What curse? What are you talking about?" I kneeled next to her. Some of the color was returning to her face. Although her wounds still looked like raw meat.

"We're cursed, you and I. It's the curse of the Valefar. Some say we're damned, but it's not the same thing. Damned means you did something wrong before. It means you had a choice about what became of you." She shook her head softly, "But that isn't what happened. The curse of the Valefar is something that happens to you - whether you're good or bad. You have no choice, but to become this vile, soulless thing that doesn't deserve to be alive." Her expression was vacant as she spoke. "The demon blood gave me power to do and take whatever I wanted, except for the one thing I want more than anything. My soul. The curse leaves the person a shell of themselves. I can't remember much about my previous life, except that I loved it. The curse allowed me to remember some of my previous thoughts, enough to know that what I am is evil. Guilt gnaws at me, but I can't do a thing about it. I need souls to survive. I've killed people, Ivy. People who stumbled on the Pool. It doesn't happen often, but I didn't let them get to the Pool. I'm evil. I'm one of the things that killed me on the pier. If I could kill myself, I would. That's why you have to kill him. Kill him for me, Ivy. Make him die in the same agony that I'm forced to live with for eternity."

The lump in my throat was so big that I couldn't swallow. The pain in her voice was unbearable. I'd do anything to make it better, but I was afraid to ask who she was talking about, even though I already knew. It could have been Eric, or the Valefar on the pier, but somehow I knew that wasn't who she meant. "Who, Apryl? Who are you talking about?"

Her hazel eyes pierced mine. She clutched my hands hard, and whispered his name with such utter hatred that I had no doubt she meant it. "Kreturus. Kill Kreturus." I nearly choked. She'd just asked me to do what the prophecy said I would do. Her words made my skin prickle. She saw the expression on my face. "That's what you're here for, isn't it?" She laughed hollowly, pulling her slashed arms tighter to her body. "There isn't one of us who hasn't wished that old demon was dead. And, I've never seen anyone do what you did to the Guardian. If you could do that, I bet you can kill him. There's something different about you. I can sense it. Kill him for me, Ivy. Kill him for stealing my life. Kill him for making me this monster. Kill him for taking me from you."

Those last words made my rage burn. Apryl's death was his fault. My mother's death, my house burning, the demon kiss, losing most of my soul, the pain, losing Collin - all of it was his fault. If Kreturus didn't want me so badly, none of those things would have happened. Apryl would be at home with Mom. The force that was destroying my life was his fault. I wanted to kill him at that moment. If it were possible, I would have buried my blade in his chest and did so with glee. But, I knew there would be major problems if I killed Kreturus. Somehow, if I killed him I would become Queen of the Underworld. I didn't know how that would happen, but it was part of the prophecy. I didn't want to stay down here. I didn't want to be the Demon Queen. Screw that! But, there was no point in explaining that now. There was no point at all. She was trapped here. The best I could do was to give her some hope. So I nodded at her, "I'll try. He has two things I want. And I'm not giving them up. Not for anything." I smiled at her, glad to talk to her again. Just sitting by her and hearing her voice was amazing. My sister was back from the dead. She was damaged, but she was still mine.

I stood up slowly. Apryl was sitting next to me, her arms slowly healing. "Come on. Let's go find Shannon and Eric. They have to be nearby. I'm glad they ran. There was no point in all three of us getting eaten, but I didn't see where they went. Hopefully, they didn't go too far." I brushed the dirt off of my jeans.

Apryl remained seated, leaning her head against a stone. "Can't. I'm bound to the Pool of Lost Souls. I can't leave here. I can move between the portal that you entered and the Pool. That's it."

I looked down at her for a moment. There was only one way to help her, and it was the same path that would free Collin. I'd have to kill Kreturus and deal with the consequences. "I'll come back for you."

She nodded up at me. "I hope so."


Leaving Apryl behind felt wrong, but I knew the Valefar could be forced to do certain things and they had to obey. She was bound to the Pool of Lost Souls and could not leave. My feet stumbled in the darkness. I could see all right, but I was so tired. I'd been walking for hours and was no closer to finding Eric and Shannon. It was difficult to keep track of time in this place. There was no natural rhythm to things; no rising or setting of the sun, no sleep or wake. I wasn't the only one down here who didn't sleep. The echoes of creatures could be heard constantly, never pausing, never falling into the natural silence of slumber.

I'd hoped to find Shannon and Eric by now, but it was becoming doubtful that I would see them again. Holding my arms tightly against my chest, I continued walking alone. They were down here somewhere, lost, because of me.

Eric's reaction at the Pool surprised me. I didn't expect him to be the one to falter and step into the Pool. If we hadn't been warned... If we all walked into the Pool... I shook my head clearing the grizzly thought from my mind. It didn't matter now. They were gone. Lost. I'd be lucky if I ever saw them again. Hopefully they were still together.

Maybe the reason I hadn't seen them yet was that they turned back. It would have been easy to run from the Pool of Lost Souls and back out the portal. A small part of me hoped they turned back. It was possible that Shannon pulled Eric back to the entrance. Martis were strong. She could have dragged him the entire way. It was possible they were safe in the catacombs right now. But, if that were true then Eric wasn't safe. There was a crushing sensation in my chest as I thought about it. The Martis condemned him to death. Eric was in danger no matter where he went. I didn't know whether to grieve, because they were lost in the Underworld, or be upset that they ditched me and left. Or they could be dead - killed by some creature I'd yet to see. The thought of two people who cared about me dying before we even started was unbearable.

Don't think about it, I told myself. They're fine. They're... somewhere else. Safe. Take care of Ivy. Keep walking. Don't stop.

This place was too deadly to let fear overtake me. I had to focus. There were no more free passes, and no one left to help me. Having people with me had made me feel more secure. Even if we weren't best friends, we all wanted to stay alive. It gave us all a common goal, at least for a little while. There was no talk of demon blood, Seekers, or Martis. Now they were gone and a creepy feeling that I was being followed was gnawing at me. Ignoring it, I decided to focus on what I came here for - to get Collin out. I didn't even know how to find him down here.

After I passed the Pool of Lost Souls, the rocky terrain shifted to flatness. There was flat rock as far as I could see. It gave off the same dull rust-colored glow that was on most of the rocks here. Darkness masked the cavern ceiling. It was so high above me that creatures could fly overhead without me seeing them. I felt a gust of wind periodically or heard the flapping wings of some oversized creature. By the time I looked, they were either gone or masked by darkness that my Martis vision couldn't penetrate. The eerie sounds of dripping water and the calls of a million muffled birds echoed around me. The birds - at least I hoped they were birds - weren't next to me, but they were nearby.

There were so many paths to choose from that I had no idea which way to go. There was no trace of Eric and Shannon. I decided to keep heading towards Collin. If I met up with Shannon and Eric again, good. But if I didn't, I was here for Collin.

I took a step onto one of the paths, hesitated, and stepped back. Which way should I go? Where was he? I kicked at the dirt with my sneaker. Before I realized it, I was stepping onto each path. I stood there for a moment, moving the dirt around with my foot, and stepped back. The trails splintered into eight paths after the Pool. When I stepped on the second to last path, I felt something. I didn't expect it, but it was there. The bond. When I stood on that trail, the old feeling of the rubber band in my gut pulled me gently. It wanted me to go down this path. So, that was how I decided where to go. It took some time whenever I was at a junction, but I was sure I was going the right direction.

After walking for a while, I came to grips with the fact that I was alone. The odds of me finding Shannon and Eric again were miniscule. This place was a maze. And the deeper I went into the Underworld, the scarier it got. I wasn't sure how I was going to do this. I sat down hard, and leaned against a large rock that protruded from the ground. The cold crept through my torn tee shirt and felt good against my sore back. I closed my eyes for a moment. When I reopened them, Collin was standing in front of me.

His dark hair hung in his eyes, as he looked at me. At first I thought it was my imagination, or another demon trick to get me to fork over my soul. I drank him in anyway. God, I missed him so much. His voice. His smile. His touch. When he was around I felt more complete. More like the girl I should have been. I gazed at the Collin-mirage, wishing it were really him, but knowing that wasn't possible. He was a prisoner somewhere down here. His powers were gone, or he could have efanotated himself out. No, whatever stood in front of me was not Collin.

"Oh Ivy, you shouldn't have come here," he said. He didn't move towards me. He just stood there, looking down at me. My eyebrows rose on my face in disbelief. His voice. That was his voice. Could it be him? Was this really Collin? I rose slowly and took a step towards him. The bond tugged faintly. The bond. It's him! Without another thought, I rushed into his arms. He wrapped them tightly around me as I buried my face in his chest. Tears flowed down my cheeks, as I looked back up at him. His fingers laced through my hair. He looked at me like he thought he'd never see me again. He whispered, "You're not safe here. You need to go back."

I pulled away from him. "But, I came for you. And I found you. We can go back now. We can just leave this awful place." I threaded my fingers through his and pulled his warm hand, but he didn't move. He looked like he wanted to say something, but no words fell from his perfect lips. "What is it?" My eyes widened, as dread filled me. Something was wrong. Why wouldn't he tell me?

"I can't leave." He swallowed hard, with his blue eyes piercing mine.

I shook my head, not understanding. "What? Of course you can. I kicked the Guardian's ass. We can walk right past and he won't even see us leave. Collin, it's not far." But the expression on his face told me it had nothing to do with how far it was. I felt my heart sink into my stomach. "You have to tell me. I'm not leaving here without you. Tell me, Collin. Please."