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"We didn't know what evil could attack and disappear without a sound. Some thought it was evil spirits, while others thought it was raiders. Our village didn't have gates or walls to keep enemies out. Before then, there was no need. We were a small town on the coast of a Mediterranean trade route. Ships stopped to rest, traded, and were on their way. That was how we survived. But soon, every stranger was a suspect - every trader a possible demon. And, the attacks were not like the ones we'd seen in the past. There might have been a fight over land, or something that made sense. These didn't. Those being abducted had nothing in common - not status, appearance, or family. The evil struck at random, when we least expected. And without a body left behind, there was no evidence as to what happened." He took a deep breath to steady his voice. The horribly vacant expression in his eyes hid a tremendous amount of pain buried beneath his calm façade.

Eric glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and continued, "After a while it was obvious that we were being attacked. People moved through the streets cautiously, and there was an unnatural silence that fell over us. We went on with the daily routine of things, and did what had to be done. But no one stayed out after dusk.

"I remember sitting with Lydia, as she rested her head on my shoulder. We looked out across the water. The sunlight glistened on the surface like precious stones. After everything that happened, that's still the memory that stands out the most. It was the last time we were together. Our wedding was four days away, and we thought we'd have a lifetime together. But things didn't work out that way. I had no idea how much I would lose before sunrise the next day.

I slid my fingers along her bare arms, enjoying the smoothness of her skin." He laughed, "That was risque then. It thrilled me to push the line just a little bit. Ivy, I couldn't wait to be married, and have her as my wife. To hold her every night, and make sure she was safe. To provide for her and start our family. Lydia was my life. Everything. And I lost her. I lost everything in one careless act." Eric's feet slowed so much that he was barely moving.

I touched his shoulder gently, "Eric, you don't have to talk about this."

"It's not like that, Ivy. It's more like how did I get here? I'm walking through Hell with you and Shannon. The Martis condemned me to die. I'm a traitor to my own kind. Meanwhile, my entire life has passed and I have no idea how I got here. It started that night with Lydia. It stems back to her death. I'm here with you now, because of what happened then." He shrugged. "You have a right to know who I am. I screwed up. The last woman I swore to protect died in front of me, and I was powerless to help her. Then seeing her again...My God, Ivy, it feels like I'm reliving the same nightmare. How can I possibly protect you? I'm out numbered and out matched, just like I was then."

A confused mass of thoughts slid through my mind. Was he comparing me to Lydia? Why would he do that? Even with the circumstances as they were, I didn't see what he saw. But Eric was acting like he was ready to crack, and it stemmed back to Lydia. I didn't want to ask. I didn't want to know what happened to her or what he saw. This was the side of Eric that he kept hidden, neatly packed away beneath pressed shirts, and creased jeans. I don't know if it was stupidity or curiosity, but I asked anyway, "What happened to her?"

He pressed his lips together. I was uncertain if he was going to answer, but eventually he did. "I was mortal and weak. Those last few nights I watched her family's home without sleeping. I felt like if I watched, then I could do something if the time came. But when the time came, there was nothing I could do. I wasn't strong enough. In the end it didn't matter that I was there at all." His eyes stayed fixed on the ground as we walked. He shoved his hands in his pockets as his face took on a completely vacant stare. "A man appeared that last night. He walked into her house like he owned it, and emerged moments later cradling a limp body in his arms. Dark hair fell over his arms from the lifeless form, and I knew it was her - Lydia. I ran out at him with a blade in my hand. He laughed at me, brushing off my stab wounds like they were flea bites. I realized that he wasn't going to stop, and I couldn't let him go. I attacked again, jumping onto his back and dragging the blade across his throat. He should have crumpled to the ground covered in blood. Her body should have fallen from his arms. But, it didn't. Instead, he turned and grabbed me by the neck and dragged me with them. Lydia was still breathing, but she didn't look right. At first I thought she'd passed out, but that wasn't it.

"The man met up with a friend, at which point I was knocked out. When I came to, the only sound I could hear was Lydia's scream tearing from her throat. She was still alive and fighting, but it was no use. There were two of them. She tried to run, but they caught her, laughing like it was a game. They used her body," he swallowed hard as his face contorted into sheer hatred, "and when they were done, they drank her soul. That was the first time I saw a Valefar. The first time I witnessed a demon kiss. And it was done to my..." he didn't finish.

"How'd you survive?" I asked. "You weren't Martis yet, right?"

Eric shook his head. "No, I wasn't. I didn't know anything about any of this. I thought they were demons. After they killed Lydia they came at me. They untied me, and beat me. I lost consciousness a few times. It was like a cat playing with a mouse. I got smacked around for their amusement, and when they got bored they'd end it. At that point rage flooded me. I wanted them to die. I wanted to hurt them until every last drop of sanity left their bodies in an agonizing scream. But, I didn't get the chance. An old woman came across us. She acted like the two Valefar like they were nothing, and chased them off. After that, she took me in, healed my wounds, and my mark appeared a few days later." Eric's rigid stance suddenly deflated and his shoulders slumped. The lines of hatred that twisted his face had washed away, as he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye.

"It was Al, wasn't it?" I asked. What other crazy old woman would it be?

He nodded. "She healed me, told me what I'd become - a Martis. She trained me. It took every shred of patience that I had not to chase after the Valefar who killed Lydia, until I was certain I could destroy them. When I found them later, Ivy..." he paused looking at me out of the corner of his eye, "I couldn't punish them enough for what they did to her. Tormenting them wasn't enough. It didn't heal anything inside of me. Instead, it just ripped everything open again. Al said that I'd have an innate need to kill Valefar, but with those two, I resisted - tormenting them, keeping them alive until they begged for death. I learned to control my Martis urges long ago, but the damage the Valefar did - I didn't heal. I couldn't get past it. There's never been another woman, not in all this time. And seeing her. Here. My God. For a moment, I thought she was a Valefar. I didn't know how I'd..." he stopped and turned to me, just then realizing what he was about to say. He still harbored an enormous amount of disgust and hatred toward the Valefar, but at least now I knew why. "Ivy, I'm so sorry. I meant that I thought I'd already seen the worst that could have possibly happened to her. I thought I knew the worst of what happened to her, but..."

I held up my hand, not wanting to discuss it. Demon blood was dirty. I already knew he thought that. I already knew that on some level, he despised me because of it. Of course that would be worse than death to a Martis. So I said, "I know what you mean."

By now Shannon was irritated that we were having a prolonged conversation without her. She was walking faster with her arms folded. It was a classic pissed-off Shannon stance. She could go ahead and be mad. I didn't care. It wasn't my story to tell, and he didn't tell her. He told me. "Come on. We better catch up with her before she starts jogging."

Eric grabbed my wrist to stop me. "Ivy, I feel like I have to protect you. Like it's what I was destined to do. But, I have no idea how." His eyes shone bright gold as he stared at me.

I don't know if he thought I'd condemn him for his bloodlust, but I couldn't. Not after living through a demon kiss. Not after seeing my sister turned into a Valefar. Rage and vengeance had become my allies when there was no one else. But, there was something else revealed in his past too. He was shattered and hardened. He learned to control his Martis instincts for his own satisfaction. And, he was as screwed up as I was. Those golden eyes were locked on my face, staring at me with complete hopelessness. Swallowing hard, I couldn't take it anymore. This wasn't a time to be gentle. We had no time.

Shaking my head, I said, "Eric, you're not reliving the past. I'm not Lydia. I'm the most powerful being between the Martis and the Valefar combined. The fact that you're here - that you and Shannon came with me - means more than I can say. And I know I didn't give you much choice. I got you into this. You're right. You're here because of me. Hell, everyone is here because of me!

Apryl wouldn't be here if she wasn't my sister, and Collin wouldn't be here if he..." suddenly I lost all my steam and my eye lids felt like lead. "It's my fault... " My body crashed to the ground as I felt the vision coming, but this time - everything changed.


My lungs burned as I gasped for air. When the black mist cleared, I was on my hands and knees. It felt as if my ribs were being crushed like a soda can. I shook my head, trying to get my bearings...trying to stand and shake off the disequilibrium that the vision brought. But, it was no use. I fell to the floor and found my cheek colliding with cold dirt. My fingers clawed at the earth, trying to escape, but something pinned me. I couldn't get up. When I finally stopped struggling, the pressure on my ribs let up and I could breathe again. But as soon as I tried to stand, the process repeated itself. I learned quickly that my visions had changed. In the past, I felt like I was watching the vision from a distance. It was something that hadn't happened yet and most of the scene revealed to me was lost in shadows. I couldn't see everything. Now it felt like I was in the vision. My surroundings were crystal clear. All of them. I didn't have the impression that I was watching from a distance. No it was more like I was living in the vision. Did that mean I was in the present? Or the future? And things could hurt me now, and they were. I didn't know what happened, where I was, or what to expect.

Heart pounding, I scanned the room for any signs of life. It felt like I was in a closet. The entire room was filthy and masked in shadows. The air smelled rancid, like rotting meat. I tried not to gag on the stench. I wasn't able to turn my head, so I just scanned everything, trying to take in every detail. There wasn't much to see. The place was disgusting and terrified me. Bad things happened here. There was a feeling of death and decay that reeked in this place. My eyes were wide as I looked around, trying to figure out where I was. Through the shadows I saw his prone form, with sapphire eyes silently staring at me.

Collin's position was mirroring my own. One hand was outstretched over his head, as he lay motionless on his side. His beautiful face was slashed from temple to chin. A long bloody gash severed his lower lip. The clothing he wore when he came to me last was still on his body, but covered in filth clinging to him like a second skin. The dirty fabric hid more scars beneath. One bloody lesion was caked with rust-colored scabs that oozed down his leg. The demons left no flesh untouched. He was brutalized on every inch of his body. There was no part of him unscathed, except for his eyes. His beautiful deep-blue eyes were still perfect.