I didn't know if it could understand me, but I spoke to it anyway, "Who are you? Why are you following me?" I didn't expect it to answer. It was an animal. But at the same time, I felt like it understood me. It's ancient eyes held wisdom that I lacked. What kind of wisdom they contained was beyond me.
I rose, slowly, and walked towards it. Its enormous head rested on its forearms. The creature's talons were retracted. It watched me as I crossed into the shadows where it lay without moving. I stopped without getting too close. "What do you want with me? That must be the reason you're following me. Everyone wants me. Am I your next meal or are you looking for something else?" I cocked my head, looking at the beast. It was beautiful. I'm sure that made me a total freak - admiring the beauty of something sent to kill me - but he was. Each massive scale was black in the center that faded into a rich purple at the edge. When the light moved across his body, it illuminated him in a breathtaking way. His eyes were brilliantly stunning and utterly terrifying. Those jeweled eyes followed me, seeming to understand what I said, though he didn't respond. Before I turned away I said, "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen...Everything from your eyes to your lacey wings. I know I should be terrified of you, but I'm not." We looked at each other, surrounded by silence.
Eventually, I backed away and began walking again. After a few minutes, a gust of wind hit my back, as the dragon took off and flew away. Maybe he wasn't smart. Maybe he couldn't speak. I didn't care. He seemed like me in some ways - massively powerful and completely alone.
Descending deeper into Hell was terrifying. There were more beasts down here. They had grotesque bodies and deformed heads. Most of them looked like rotting beasts that were dipped in acid with decaying skin falling off their gangly frames. And the stench! The sulfur was so thick I could barely breathe. The living weren't supposed to enter down here, but I was very much alive. The oxygen could run out. That was a thought I didn't even want to ponder. I moved my body silently through the shadows, avoiding any creature I saw. It made my progress slow down significantly, but I couldn't risk being caught.
During the last descent, before I found all the freak-show creatures, I practiced calling my powers. I tried to call the purple flames that engulfed Shannon, or the shattering fists that cracked the Guardian's teeth. Fixating on anger didn't work although I did notice I was usually pissed when my powers came to me. The powers had to be a mixture of good and bod, although they felt neither Martis or Valefar. If they'd been Valefar, I'd know. All of their power is paid for in pain. Using the power when it came to me didn't hurt. It actually felt good. That's how I knew it wasn't Martis power either. They didn't reward their goodie-two shoed servants. It was something else. It was me. If I called tooth-cracking power once, I should be able to call it again. If I threw Shannon's ass back to Long Island on a violet bolt of lightning, I should be able to do it again. But no matter how hard I tried, nothing happened. My eyes didn't even rim. Maybe my powers only came when I needed them. I hoped to God I was right, because there was nothing to protect me down here. My silver comb couldn't ward off an army of demons. I was in their land now and they were all around me.
Pushing my back into the shadows, I edged around a stalactite, as two demons passed on the other side. Their voices gurgled as they walked by, "...said he knows that her powers are immature." I pressed my back to the stone, trying not to breathe. They were talking about me? Immature powers sounded right. That would explain why I couldn't control them.
Another raspy demon voice answered, "Does not matter. He will show her how to use them. She is most precious to him. Master is patient. He will wait for his bride."
My heart pounded in my chest. I listened as they walked away, but they said nothing else about me. I closed my eyes slowly and rested my head against the stone behind my back. "He knows I'm here." Breathing deeply, I tried to deal with that information. Before I could guess that Kreturus thought I might be here, but now, I knew for certain that he was aware of my presence.
A rock skittered across the ground and slid into the side of my foot. Instantly, I jumped backwards and scanned the darkness. There were very few paths in this part of the Underworld. The stone floor was jagged and dropped off constantly. It made it difficult to sneak around in the shadows. I might fall into a chasm at any moment. But, that also meant that no one else should be in the shadows, not unless they could fly. So who was watching me?
My eyes fixated on a dark patch certain that something was there. But, I saw nothing. My Martis vision couldn't cut through some of the shadows. It was like the inky blackness was a being, rather than the absence of light. The thick, dark masses oozed, filling every crack and crevice. I stayed away from those, too. Right then the weird shadows were the only things dangerous that I saw. Were the shadow creatures throwing rocks at me? I shook my head at thinking something so stupid, and turned to continue my slow progress through the pointed stones.
I didn't get very far. Suddenly, a hand was at my throat, and I slammed backwards into the rock. A shallow gasp left my body, as the air was smacked out of me. I grabbed at the hand, trying to pry the fingers loose, before looking up into red rimmed eyes. Fear shot through me in an icy blast.
"Oh my God. Eric."
Every muscle in his body was flexed, pressing me into the stone. He breathed in my ear, crushing his face to mine. His voice came out fast and hushed, "What? Don't like what you did? Is that why you ran away and left me for the Lorren, Ivy?" I tried to push him away, but he tightened his grip. His fingers pressed harder against my throat cutting off my air supply. Panic spread through my body. Wide eyed I looked at him, unable to speak. His eyes were rimmed in red. The bloodlust of battle was making him act like this. If his eyes pooled red, if the gold completely disappeared, then that meant he'd totally lost control. Death by Valefar wasn't something I wanted. Jake's attack, the bastard who gave me the demon kiss and turned me into the freak show I am, still terrified me. The Lorren and the Guardian were different. I could fight those. I wasn't able to fight Jake. I would have happily kicked his ass, but he'd trapped me before I knew what was happening. Later, I learned from Collin that a Valefar consumed by lust wanted nothing more than to capture his prey. Right now that was me. Eric was singularly focused on me. Don't fight him I thought to myself. Try and talk him down, wait for his eyes to return to amber.
I rasped, "Eric. I thought you were dead." I twisted sharply and slipped out of his grip.
"I was," he said, advancing again with his muscles flexed. "And you left me. Being turned Valefar kind of knocked me on my ass. At the very least, I thought you'd wait around for me to wake up." Each step he took towards me made my heart beat faster. The insane look in his eyes revealed an Eric that I didn't know. It was like someone turned him inside out, and the only thing that was left was the hatred, betrayal, and pain. It was raw and flowing off him in waves.
"Eric," I said with my hands up in front of me, trying to back away. "I didn't know. I tried to save you. You couldn't speak. I thought this was what you wanted. I thought..."
His face pinched together in a scowl and he cut me off, "You fucking thought wrong." I flinched at his words. He leaned in so close to me that we were nearly touching, "Don't like what you made, Ivy? Too fucking bad. Deal with it! And since you forgot to bind me, there's nothing to protect you from me."
My heart was racing. This wasn't the Eric I knew. Apryl still had some Aprylness to her, but Eric - he was gone. This was a Valefar! What did I do? Oh God. He didn't want me to turn him. There was no way to take that back. Stay focused. Calm him down or kill him. There were no other options. And Eric was getting madder. I needed him to talk, to get rid of the anger. Unsure of what to say, I said whatever popped into my mind, "I didn't need to bind you."
He tensed, breathing heavily in front of me, hesitating. "Yes, you did. I remember every last speck of pain you caused me. I remember the dust and then that kiss stripping my soul from my body. I'm going to crack you into tiny pieces right here. Half of Hell is looking for you to drag back to the old demon. The other half wants you for themselves. But, I want you dead. I'll drain you the way you did me and leave you in the Lorren to die!" He lunged at me, slamming me into the wall. I took the hit, not fighting back. But, I couldn't let him think I was the one who killed him. Whoever did that was gone by the time I got there.
"Do it!" I screamed in his face, leaning towards him. "Do it, Eric. Kiss me. Rip me apart. Ravage me." He hesitated. I knew his memories were blurred. He confused the brimstone dust with his demon kiss. I needed rational Eric, and I knew he was still in there. He had to be. I smacked my open palms into his chest and screamed, "Do it!" His hand gripped the back of my neck hard, and jerked me towards him. His lips were right in front of mine. His hard breaths washed across my mouth. I didn't fight. I didn't pull away. Confusion lined his face, and he hesitated. "Do it," I growled. His grip on my neck became tighter, as he pulled me roughly to him. I stared at his eyes, hoping they would return to normal.
They didn't. He pressed his lips to my cheek hard and breathed in my ear. A shiver ran down my spine. I tried to suppress it, but I flinched. A wolf-like smile formed slowly on his lips. "Ivy, you're all smoke and mirrors. All bravado and no bite. Your heart is pounding beneath your breast in that thin little shirt. It's beating so hard and fast that it's going to explode." He grazed his teeth along my neck, pressed his face into my soft skin, and inhaled deeply. "You're delicious, Ivy. Absolutely mouthwatering..."
I stiffened. "Do it, Eric. What are you waiting for? Every Valefar wants to kill their maker. I made you. DO IT!" The vein in my neck was throbbing as I yelled. He was right. I was all smoke and mirrors. And this wasn't working.
Eric pressed his lips against my cheek, dragging them across my skin, inhaling my scent deeply. He stopped at the corner of my mouth, and turned slightly to rest his forehead against mine. The viselike hold he had on the back of my neck softened. His voice was a whisper, "Why didn't you bind me?"
"You were a warrior," I said softly. "warriors shouldn't be bound."
"I am a warrior. From the time I woke up, I fought. I've tracked you, following the scent of your blood. That is supposed to help a Valefar find their maker when they're called. I used it to track you. I killed the creatures that wanted you. You're mine, I told them. You're mine..." his voice trailed off and he looked up at me. His eyes weren't rimmed anymore. They were golden orbs.
I put my hand on his cheek, but he pushed it down and stepped away from me. "Eric, who covered you in Brimstone? Was it the Lorren?"
He arched an eyebrow at me, and turned his back. His hands slid together smoothly as he folded his arms. "It was you."
He spun around, anger painted across his face. "Eric, the Lorren was killing me while that happened to you. You were a few feet in front of me, right in front of the exit. I found you as I was leaving. Do you remember? I held you...I told you it would be all right, but it wasn't. You died in my arms. The entire time it looked like you were pleading with me, asking me to make it stop. This was the only way I knew to stop the pain. I turned you Valefar, but someone else covered you in brimstone dust first."