She replied, "We're in part of the Underworld - the Lorren shows you everything you ever wanted, but never had. It's pure temptation. No one has passed through this tunnel and lived." Her gaze was wide, as her fingers pressed against a golden lily.
"How do you know that?" Eric asked. He walked briskly toward her, and she turned from the flower. His brow creased at the center when he asked again, "How did you know that?"
She flinched, unable to back away from him. I asked, "What's the matter, Eric? Why wouldn't she know that?"
He turned sharply, with an agitated expression, "Because only The Seeker knows that. Only the Seeker knows what the Lorren is, and how it traps the Prophecy One. I was supposed to use it to trap you, so you couldn't escape. No one escapes from this tomb." He turned back to Shannon. "Answer me. How did you know?"
Shannon tried to laugh it off, but Eric was in her face. She rested her hand on his shoulder, "Eric, it's not..." but he shook her off.
He was practically growling now. "Answer me. How did you know about the Lorren?"
She rolled her eyes, "Fine. I'm not as saintly as you, all right? Are you happy now? I overheard Julia talking about it. With you. I heard about the whole thing."
Eric's expression softened, but he didn't back away. "When?"
"I don't know," she answered annoyed. "It was some time last year before you knew you were tracking Ivy." She slid past him and looked to me for help. "Martis or not, I'm still a little bit of a snoop. How could I hear part of that conversation and keep walking? Ivy, come on. Tell him."
"She has a way of knowing everything and never getting caught." I shrugged. "Is that not a Martis-ie thing to do?" I knew it wasn't, but Eric seemed to think it was on the same level as something really bad.
"No, it's not." His amber gaze bore into Shannon's back. I reached for his arm, but he shook me off. He turned toward Shannon, "So tell us about the Lorren. Tell us why we can't pass this way."
Shannon's eyes shifted between Eric and me, but it was Eric she had to appease. He seemed very uneasy now. "It's what I said before. The Lorren can manifest temptations specific to the individual who passes through the tunnel. It will create the deepest desires that hide within your heart. The Lorren uses it to isolate it's victims, and leave them encased in gold in their fantasy forever. The carved flowers and gems on the wall aren't carvings, are they?" she asked him.
"No, they aren't." Eric replied.
My fingers had been touching a rose with a jeweled stem. I turned and asked, "What are they then? It has to be a carving. The image was stamped into the gold on the walls."
"Tell her." Eric said.
Shannon looked uneasy and walked away from him. She stood next to me and stared at the flower. "They were people. People who were trapped here. They became part of the tomb. It's part of the riches that lure new victims into the tunnel." I pulled my hand away, horrified. Each exquisite flower had been a person?
Eric nodded. "Victims thought they would be in ecstasy forever. They were given the thing that was most desirable - the thing that they longed for but didn't have. It's pure bliss at first." His gaze met mine and didn't waiver. "But at the last moment of consciousness, their temptations twist into a terrifying perversion of what they had desired. The victim's horror is frozen in time, as their body is devoured by the Lorren. When the Lorren is finished, the victim's remains are etched into the walls. That is what the Martis intended for you Ivy. That was the way to bind you so you could never return."
I swallowed hard as horror poured over me. "Eric, I did nothing to deserve this. How did the Martis send me here? How did they do this!" I was about to burst into tears.
He reached for my shoulder, as he bent to look me in the eye. "They didn't. The bond is pulling you through here. Why we have to come this way is unimaginable. I also don't know if we can follow you. I couldn't get past the Pool of Lost Souls. I know who will be waiting in the tunnel for me. I know what guise the Lorren will be wearing for me." His voice trailed off as his gaze shifted toward the golden tunnel.
Shannon said, "We'll go through together. That should help, right? As long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other, we should be able to walk out the other side. It's stopping and giving into the Lorren that will kill us. We can do this Eric. We're Martis."
"No," his voice was razor sharp and his eyes burned with anger, "I'm not. Not anymore. They cast me aside Shannon. They thought I turned on them. I may have angel blood flowing through my veins, but I'm not one of them. Not anymore."
We stood silent staring at Eric. Such an outburst was unusual for him. I wasn't sure what to say, but I had to say something. "Labels don't matter. You are who you are. You're Eric. And you can do this. You have the benefit of knowing Lydia will appear in there. You know it isn't her. This isn't like the Pool at all. That thing tricked you into thinking she'd been made a Valefar. She's not. She isn't down here, so whatever you see in the Lorren isn't her. You're insanely rational Eric. You can do this. Me on the other hand...God knows what I'll see." The thought sent a shiver down my spine.
Shannon snort laughed, "Of course you know what you'll see. It will be Collin. So you do the same thing. Tell yourself it isn't him, that he isn't in there, and keep walking. And if you don't, I'll pull you."
I gazed at Eric and could tell he had a better idea of how hard that would be than Shannon did. But what choice did we have? This was the way to get to Collin. We had to pass through it. "So, stick together and don't stop. We can do this." My words didn't convince me we'd succeed, but they solidified my resolve. And I wasn't spending eternity in the Lorren. Screw that.
Shannon walked in first with her dagger drawn. Eric followed next, with me at the rear. As we walked into the tunnel the etchings became more numerous and more elaborate. The golden carved flowers had cascaded in bunches, each with its own jewels nestled in the petals. My throat tightened, as I breathed in controlling breaths. Beware beautiful things, Collin had said. The Lorren was the most beautiful part of the Underworld that I'd seen yet, which meant it was the most deadly.
I slid one foot in front of the other, waiting for something to happen as we walked into the golden tunnel, but nothing did. From the looks of it, the Lorren was a circular tunnel made from gold. It looked like a long slender tube, large enough to walk through. Although we couldn't see the other end, it looked pretty straight forward - walk through the tunnel and come out on the other side. As we walked deeper into the Lorren, I looked at the flowers on the walls. They were people who didn't make it out. And the place was full of flowers. I swallowed hard. We had to make it out. Staying together was our only option. We all naturally closed any space between us. Shannon and Eric must have been thinking the same thing. Silence surrounded us. The sound of dripping water was gone. No grackle noises. No dragon's wings. Just the sound of our footfalls.
When we entered the Lorren none of us thought it was very large. We were wrong. None of the things Eric was taught prepared him for what happened. He was never supposed to step foot inside the Lorren. His job was to capture me, kill me, and leave my body here. When he refused, he turned his back on his own kind. I looked up at him. He was walking next to me now. We all inched closer to one another. My eyes were darting everywhere trying to foresee what was coming. What happened was so incredible; there was no way I could have seen it coming. The Lorren was more deadly than I knew, and I was about to learn why.
As we walked further into the Lorren, the golden flowers were plentiful. They rose off the walls like they were cast in gold, and not just carved into it. I touched the wall with my fingers thinking of all the lives lost in this place. My stomach sank as the air began to move gently through the tunnel. The three of us instinctively stopped. Shannon and I reached for our blades, but it didn't matter. It turns out that you can't fight the Lorren.
The gentle breeze became instantly violent, and spun me around before throwing me back into the shining wall. The room twirled as the wind forced us apart. Eric was ripped from my side. The wind hurled his body deeper into the Lorren and out of sight. At the same time, I heard Shannon's scream erupt and suddenly die. As I tried to peel myself off the wall, a shimmering gold curtain formed around me. I pushed forward, forcing one foot down at a time. The wind pushed me back. For every two steps I took forward, I was pushed back one. My long hair whipped about my face and stung my skin. Finally, I made it to the golden curtain. I pulled it back and looked through. The golden flowers seemed to sway as the violent wind died. The gale finally stopped, and it was utterly still. There was no trace of Eric or Shannon anywhere. They were gone. My pulse was thundering. I turned in a slow circle wondering what would happen. Would the Lorren attack me now? Would it send a fake Collin to finish me off? I had to get out of there, but the spinning made me uncertain of which way I'd come in. There were no landmarks, and all the flowers looked exactly the same.
"Eric! Shannon!" I called out. But, the only sound I heard was my own voice echo back like I was standing in an empty hallway. I breathed in deeply and ran through the golden curtain. Neither end of the tunnel was within sight. The wind had pushed me further into the Lorren before it tore us apart. I clutched my face. This couldn't be happening! I knew staying still wasn't an option. Freaky things would happen if I stood still. The Lorren would seduce me if I stood still, so I chose a direction and ran. The narrow golden hallway turned and forked in separate directions. Fear clutched at my stomach as I realized that this was not a tunnel.
It was a maze.
I slowed my steps, looking at the fork in the golden path and wondering which way I should go. Each path was equally ornate and looked exactly the same. Golden flowers draped the walls as far as the eye could see. Not knowing what to do, I shook my head and chose a path. I walked past hundreds of golden flowers that were once living people. Now they were trapped in gold.
Panic was choking me. I took off at a full run. It was only a matter of time until the Lorren presented me with a temptation that I wouldn't be able to refuse. But it didn't matter. This was going to be impossible. The Lorren wasn't a tunnel. I couldn't walk straight through. I never thought it would be easy, but I never thought I'd be trapped here. My fingers touched the petals of the golden flowers as I slowed down my pace. My eyes stung as tears tried to form, but I couldn't let them. I had to get out of here. Now. The problem was every path looked the same. Row upon row of golden vegetation and gleaming gemstones filled my eyes, but there was no way to know if I was getting closer to the exit. The only clue I would have is when the amount of flowers thinned out. And, where I was, they were still so thick that the flowers hung off the walls in cascading mounds. Desperate anger rose within me and I screamed. I wanted to punch something, but there was nothing to hit.
My fingers threaded through the golden jeweled flowers hanging off the walls. My muscles flexed in my arms needing to release tension. An impulse shot through me and I wanted to rip the golden flowers down, as if it could hurt the Lorren. But, I couldn't rip them away. They were people. Well, they had been people. If it were possible any of their humanity was still trapped within the flowers, I couldn't destroy them in a fit of rage. Turning slowly, I looked at the paths before me. I could do this. Just keep wandering until the leaves thinned. Then I would be out - either back at the beginning or at the ending.