Page 24

"Do you remember that night in the old church?" I asked him. "You said you couldn't be what I needed. What did you mean?" Something, a thought, was floating around in my mind just out of reach. Why couldn't we be together? I couldn't remember.

His voice was smooth and deep, "I can be what you need now. Kiss me, Ivy." He whispered in my ear, "Kiss me."

I shivered and felt the mental fog thicken again. The warnings my mind was emitting were muted. Nothing got through. His words were so...seductive. He pressed his forehead against mine, while his fingertip traced the bow of my lips and then slid slowly along my lower lip. I kissed his fingertip before he pulled his hand away. "What do I need?" The words came out playful.

"A man to hold you. A man to kiss you. You need me, Ivy. I can be exactly what you need."

Looking into his eyes, I stroked his cheek. His words washed over me slowly. The richness of his voice was irresistible. His lips were so close to mine. All I had to do was press my lips to his. Then we could be together. Then he could be my man. Man? The mental haze was fighting to maintain its hold. It was pressing further into my mind, but small thoughts slipped out. Man. He wasn't a man though. Then, what was he? I couldn't remember. Bond. The bond. Ah, I remembered that. It frightened and fascinated me. The bond created that feeling of oneness with Collin. Where was that now? Why couldn't I feel it? Didn't he lead me here?

It was as if he knew the power he held over me was fading. His voice sounded more demanding this time, "Kiss me, Ivy." He knotted his hands in my hair, but I didn't move. Where was the bond? The bond never went away. It would be there until one of us died. If this were Collin, I'd feel him. The bond would be telling me things.

Reaching out, I tried to brush his mind, Collin. Say something to me. Speak to me the way that only you can.

I waited but there was no reply. No bond. The boy laying on top of me wasn't Collin. He couldn't be. The fog that clouded my brain lifted. Suddenly I could think again. I could feel things besides lust. Anger surged through me. An imposter - the Lorren - had nearly trapped me here. I would have been a golden flower, trapped in this Godforsaken place forever! My jaw locked as rage spilled through my veins, flooding every part of me.

I spit in his face, "Get off of me. I know who you are." White-hot heat pooled in my fingertips. Collin sat up looking horrified.

"I can't let you leave. I have to hold you here...don't!" But I did. Whatever made my eyes rim and my hair turn to violet flames didn't agree with the Lorren. The false Collin fizzled like water on a hot skillet, and I was alone.


I felt totally drained after my encounter with the Lorren. It played me perfectly. If I'd been weaker, if my mind accepted the fake Collin easier, I'd be another decoration in the golden tomb. It made me question everything I saw. Things shouldn't be taken for granted down here. It was too dangerous. Maybe that wasn't even the exit. It was possible that the rust-colored light at the end of the tunnel wasn't even real, or if it was, it just a manifestation that the Lorren concocted to screw with me. Or maybe this screwed up maze was a circle, and was going to dump me out back at the beginning. I decided not to think about it. I'd have to deal with things as they came. At least I didn't have to worry about the Lorren attacking me again for a while. I had the feeling that it left, not that it was gone. It was unclear to me what had caused it to retreat. Rimming violet eyes and flaming hair never did anything before. I should have asked Eric if the Valefar made the Lorren, or if the Martis stuck it here. Then I'd have a better idea of how to kill it.

Brushing myself off, I stood and straightened my shirt, assessing myself. It seemed like I was okay. I just felt like an emotional train wreck. Things couldn't possibly get worse from this point. The Lorren almost cast me in gold, Eric and Shannon were lost or killed and turned into golden lilies, and I was alone again. Of course it would show me Collin. I knew it walking in, but it still messed with me horribly. Seeing him in front of me, even his likeness, was crushing. He was close. And I was getting closer. I just had to get out of this hole of gold and sapphires and find him. My hand glided over my waistband where the Guardian's tooth was concealed. The shard had torn a small hole in my black shirt. The deadly silver tip poked through the fabric. It needed to be covered. For all I knew, it could kill me. I already knew the tooth would kill Valefar and Martis. Since I was a combination of the two, this tooth was likely one of the only things that could kill me completely. I'd accidentally overheard Eric's discussion with Julia back when he was the Seeker, and it reminded me of what they'd said about me. For some reason my combined powers made me extra hard to kill. They had devised a way to permanently get rid of me. And I was standing in it. That seemed like an awfully big coincidence. If I hadn't been following the bond, I wouldn't have believed that was all it was.

Now, to cover the tip of the tooth. If I got sliced with Celestial Silver or Brimstone, I'd heal. But the sapphire serum inside was another story. The best thing to do was to cover it somehow. But, how? It's not like there was the Underworld Gift Shoppee where I could buy a holster. Glancing around, I looked down and watched the sapphires glittering under my feet. "No, it couldn't be that simple," I said to myself. Bending down, I used the tooth to pop up one of the smaller dark blue stones. I held the rock in the palm of my hand and rolled it around. Then, I pressed the shard's poisoned tip into the rock. It melted into the stone like it was putty. The sapphire was like a sparkly pen cap. I removed the blue stone from the tooth and looked at the silver tooth.

Did the poisoned tip touch the Lorren? Is that why I regained my powers? Did the sapphire serum in the tooth lessen the Lorren's mental hold on me? Something changed, allowing me to free myself, but I wasn't sure what. Intoxication doesn't even begin to describe what the Lorren did to me. Losing control over my body like that scared me. Lust had never burned inside me that way before. Whenever it popped up, I tried to squash it back down. The thought of being totally out of control with some guy didn't sound appealing, but back there - when I thought he was Collin - it sounded perfect.

"Stop thinking about it," I scolded myself. I slid the gemstone cover back onto the point of the Guardian's tooth, and put it away. The little stone pressed into me, but it wasn't so uncomfortable that I'd move the weapon. It needed to remain hidden. It might be the only thing I had that could kill Kreturus.

I started walking towards the light that was shining at the end of the tunnel. I couldn't see anything to confirm that it was the end of the tunnel, but I had to go look. If it was the beginning again, I don't know what I'd do. That was the worst thing I could imagine. I couldn't go through this again. At least having Eric and Shannon there for a while before helped. Now, I was on my own.

The golden flowers thinned as I walked. I promised myself right then and there that I wouldn't freak out no matter what was at the end of this tunnel. Falling apart wasn't an option. The pep talk I gave myself did absolutely nothing for what lay in wait at the end of the Lorren.


My feet pounded the golden floor as I ran toward him screaming his name. Eric's body was steaming with white vapors that drifted upward from open sores all over his body. He lay on his back, unmoving, less than three feet from the end of the Lorren. The exit was right in front of him. It was right in front of me.

"NO!" I screamed, as I crashed to the ground next to him. "Eric!" My arms wrapped around his body, and I pulled his head into my lap. Frantic fingers touched his face trying to assess the damage. There was so much. Sobs lodged in my throat. I couldn't breathe.

His golden eyes looked up at me. Recognition was slow. "Ivy," he breathed. "Don't touch me. Deadly." His back arched in pain as an ear piercing cry erupted from his throat. I didn't let go. I didn't back away completely horrified, although I was. His skin was melting, being eaten away by something I couldn't see. The worst parts were on his arms and chest. Sections of flesh were eaten away past the muscle, and down to the whites of his bone.

I held his face, trying to call him back to me. "Eric. Eric. Listen to me. What happened? Tell me what did this?" His flesh was burning away like a smoldering flame devouring a dried out leaf. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air.

Eric kept trying to speak, ignoring my question, "Don't. Put me down. It'll kill you."

Frantically, I asked, "What? What'll kill me? What did this?"

His face contorted with pain. His voice was changing, and becoming more garbled. The acid that was eating his flesh was inside his throat, destroying his voice. Killing him from within. "Brimstone. Dust. She..." he trailed off.


Horror washed over my face. Brimstone was the only thing that could kill Martis. Eric's body was covered in it. But, the dust was so fine I couldn't even see it. Oh my God! He'd breathed it in, too! It was destroying him in every possible way at the same time. Tears welled up in my eyes. I knew the Brimstone wouldn't affect me. My demon blood protected me from it. Apryl's necklace had a Brimstone disc that constantly touched my skin. I was immune. Eric was not.

I hushed him, "It's all right. It won't hurt me. I'll stay with you. I won't leave you here like this." Tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn't help it. Eric was my anchor. I didn't understand him very well, but he'd helped me more than words could say. And, now I was holding him in my lap while he died, helpless to do anything about it.

This was a slow death. The Brimstone spread over his body, sending out runners like mold and then growing into the flesh and dissolving it. When the Brimstone finished devouring the flesh, it ate down to the bone. His eyes closed after a while and he lay shuddering in pain in my lap. He kept trying to say something, but I couldn't understand him. The Brimstone dust had devoured his vocal cords.

His face was one of the only places the deadly dust had yet to spread. Eric's eyes pleaded with me, remaining locked on my face. His breaths were slight, but his golden eyes didn't waver. I spoke softly to him, "I'd do anything to stop this. Eric, I don't know what to do."

Well, that wasn't true. One thing crossed my mind. It was the only thing that would save him, but the cost was too high. I could give him a demon kiss and turn him Valefar. But, Eric would rather die. But looking into his eyes, I wasn't so certain any more. His body had gone still. Too many muscles were torn, dissolved away from bone for him to move. The pain was etched across his face as the microscopic spears of Brimstone dust shot blackened lines up his neck.

His eyes remained locked on my face, pleading. But pleading for what? What if he only wanted to tell me something? What if he wanted to die, but I turned him into a Valefar? It might not even work. I'd never given anyone a demon kiss. I didn't know if I could even make someone into a Valefar. My blood was tainted with angel blood. It might not work. Then what? What would he be then? Oh my God! There wasn't enough time, and his eyes! The pain, the remorse, the pleading! Maybe he wanted me to.

I asked, "You want me to, don't you? Eric, I can't do it. I'm not a full Valefar. It may not even work." I knew he was running out of time. He blinked slowly at me. His eye lids were so heavy that he couldn't keep them open. He was slipping away. His life was about to end in failure. The things he'd told me about the night Lydia died and how he failed her rushed to the front of my mind. He was leaving behind a legacy of failure, his own kind thought he was a traitor, and he died in Hell following the girl that he was trying to help. Me! No, this can't happen. He couldn't die. This was my fault! He wouldn't have been labeled a traitor if it weren't for me. I didn't know what to do. Eric blinked one final time, and did not reopen his eyes. The shallow pants that filled his chest ceased and his body lay utterly still.