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As I stepped toward him, the guards pressed in around me, shielding Eric from me, like they were protecting him. I looked at them with hostility flashing in my eyes. "Move," I commanded. But, they remained between Eric and me. The guards didn't do this to Shannon or Al. I didn't expect them to do it to Eric, but they did. Anger burned within me as I looked at the guards. Being treated like a caged animal was making me act like one. My fingers curled into fists, ready for a fight.

Eric turned, and stood. His amber eyes looked back and forth between the guards, taking in my expression and stance. A crooked smile formed across his lips. Half laughing he said to me, "This must be driving you nuts." I locked my jaw, staring at him. In a more serious voice, he turned to the guards and said, "You can leave us."

The two guards remained where they were, and stole a glance at each other. One finally answered, "Sorry, but we were commanded to remain between this person and all other Martis; especially if she shows signs of hostility."

Eric laughed, and put his hand on the guy's shoulder. "I'm here to testify for her. She won't hurt me. I'm her ticket out of this place." Eric's smile was as genuine as his words. He tilted his head waiting for the guard to respond, still smiling. There was unspoken guy moment, and the guards stepped back.

By then, my fists were balls, hidden in the crook of my arms. I folded them so tightly over my chest that they were turning white. I hated this place. Being treated this way for so long was messing with me. It was making me want to lash out at them. I didn't think it was right to hate anyone. Live and let live. Plus, hating people is a waste of time, but I was feeling the hate right then - for all of them. I wanted to scream, but I locked my jaw instead.

Eric's smile faded as the guards backed away to their normal positions, flanking me from a distance. "How long have they held you here?"

My eye twitched when I answered, "Almost three months." I bit off the words. I sounded bitter, because I was. Three months of searching for a way to help Collin and finding nothing. Three months of hostile stares. Three months of tears no one saw me cry. It was the loneliest, most enraged time of my life. And now the guy that killed my sister was standing in front of me like everything was fine.

But it wasn't.

His eyes widened a little, before he turned back to his desk, and kicked out the chair next to him. "Sit. Ask. I see it on your face. Someone told you."

I stood for a moment, watching him slide back into his chair. His eyes looked tired. Not the kind of tired where you don't sleep for a night, but the kind of tired that comes from within. It's a fatigue that is so burdensome to bear that it nearly crushes you flat. I know. I bore it. But, why did he have that weariness? Eric didn't look like that the last time I saw him. But then, I hadn't seen him for very long. He was insisting on telling me something that he never got to say. Julia whisked him off to some place before he had the chance.

With my spine straight, I sat in the chair next to him. I didn't unfold my arms. My mouth wouldn't work either. Words wouldn't form. The truth was that I was a coward. I didn't want to know what happened to Apryl. I didn't think I could handle it. What if his words made it worse? What if she suffered? It would shatter me completely. And I didn't trust myself to not attack Eric. I could kill him instantly.

A piece of Brimstone hung around my neck disguised as a pendant. Brimstone was a powerful weapon that the Valefar forged from rare black rocks in Hell. The dark stone was lethal to Martis. One scratch from my tiny Brimstone flower and Eric would die. While he was training me back at the church on Long Island, Eric had told me that Brimstone was most commonly made into Valefar weapons, but that it was given other deadly forms, too. The most horrifying was dust. The Valefar would grind down Brimstone until it was a powdery dust that was so fine that it was barely visible. Then during combat, the Valefar blew it onto Eric's troops. One minute the Martis were slashing their Celestial Silver through their enemies, and the next they were crying out in agony. The Martis had inhaled the fatal powder. It snaked through their lungs, burning them alive from the inside out. It was the worst attack Eric had ever survived, and it was purely by chance that he wasn't near the front lines when the dust was dropped.

Eric knew what was going through my mind. I wanted to hurt the person who did this to her. I couldn't leave it alone. And if it was him, if Eric did kill Apryl, I couldn't let him walk away. His eyes said he knew I'd kill him, but his actions said something else. Why did he send away the Martis guard who would protect him? What really happened to Apryl on that pier?

Eric was cautious, but my silence caught him off guard. "You're glaring at me because someone told you, right? That I didn't directly cause your sister's death? You know. And you're mad that I said I did it. You don't know who to believe. But, you're too afraid to ask me what really happened."

"I'm not afraid of anything," I lied staring him defiantly in the face. Why was I so mad at him? Shouldn't this make it better? He wasn't the one who killed her. But then, "Why did you cover for whoever did kill her? If it wasn't you, why'd you take the blame? You lied to me, Eric. About something that was unbearable..." I shook my head, and turned away too disgusted to look at him.

His eyes dropped to the floor. "It wasn't like that. I didn't lie to you. Ivy, I took the blame, because it was my fault. I was reckless in how I pursued her and it led to her death. The Valefar who said I killed her were right. It was my fault."

"You weren't the one who stole her life. You weren't the one who physically killed her, though. Were you?" Direct questions. Ask him direct questions and he can't lie.

His amber eyes settled on my face. "No. I didn't take her life. I wasn't the hand that physically killed her. But I should have protected her. You were right. She was a tourist, and didn't deserve what happened to her. I'm sorry Ivy." He glanced down at his hands, as he folded his fingers together.

I was quiet for a moment. He didn't say what happened to her. He released me from that pain. But I couldn't let it go. "Eric, did you see her die?"

He gazed up at me. "Please don't ask me to tell you." His face was melancholy, as he looked me in the eye. "It won't help you. You won't heal this time. Not if you know the whole story."

He verbalized the thought that frightened me the most. It wasn't until recently that I even realized that I wanted to live. Before that, things were in a painful survival mode. How would I manage the pain this time, especially if it was worse?

Maybe I should have just believed him, and left it alone. I blinked hard, looking away. That was when I saw Casey returning with a stack of books that threatened to knock her over. Martis were freakishly strong, but it was still an odd sight. The corner of my mouth tugged up at the display. She looked cartoonish, as she wobbled slowly towards us.

I pushed my hair out of my face and looked at Eric. "I believe you. I won't ask. Not now." I don't know what expression was on my face, only that Eric made an unexpected response. His eyes darted away, before turning to Casey. I felt like he was hiding something, and he was. It just wasn't what I thought.


Shannon caught up with me a few hours later, and was startled to find me sitting with Eric. "I thought you were gonna kill him earlier. How are you guys sitting here like nothing ever happened?" Her hands were on her hips and she was smiling. She looked up, noticing the guards advancing, "Um, she didn't move. And she didn't say kill - I did. Geeze." She pulled out a chair and sat on the other side of me.

I smiled weakly at her, closing the book that I was reading. "What can I say? We made up." That wasn't the whole truth, but it was close enough. Eric was easy to trust, but I knew something wasn't right. It would be foolish to blindly trust him. No, I couldn't rely on anyone anymore. Things would never be so simple again.

Shannon leaned forward, glancing between the two of us, waiting for more of an explanation. There really wasn't more of an explanation that I wanted to share. I didn't want to know everything that Eric knew. It was more pain, and I wasn't in a position to handle it - not right now. I would ask him eventually. But right now, I had to salvage what was left of my loved ones. Collin was still alive. I'd seen it in my visions.

"So," she said to Eric, "when are you supposed to testify? Again."

Eric looked up at her. "Tonight." His amber eyes shifted to me. "Ivy, this isn't good. I already told them that you sealed the portal. They wouldn't have called me back over something minor. Julia was irate when I left."

"Maybe you left something out?" I shrugged, feeling irritated with the whole thing. "Maybe it's nothing Eric." Even as the words left my mouth, I knew they weren't true.

Shannon said, "Oh, it's not nothing. Something has them in a huff. There are Martis darting everywhere this morning. No, I think Eric's right. Something's wrong. It seems like they already made some sort of decision."

"Let's hope not," Eric said as he stood. "I'll catch up with you after the testimony. In the meantime stay out of trouble." His brow was pinched together as his eyes fell to the floor. He walked away leaving Shannon and me alone with the ancient tomes.


Flustered, I flicked another page. "There is nothing in here!" I slammed the book shut and Casey gave me a warning glance. A sigh left my throat, as I dropped my head onto the massive open book in front of me.

I'd been reading for hours. The sunlight had turned golden as the end of the day was nearing. Eric's hearing was in a few short hours and I still hadn't found what I was looking for. I don't know what I expected, but I was hoping it was something that indicated a door or passage that had superstitions associated with it. It would be something that was part truth and part folklore to scare people away. It had to be. That was the way they did things thousands of years ago. Since Kreturus was sealed in so long ago, it made sense that the stories and folklore of the day would point towards something. The entrance was sealed after he was conquered. But, there was nothing here.

I looked up and saw Shannon walking towards me. Her chair scraped the floor as she pulled it out to sit down. "Hey," she said looking at my pile of books. "Find anything useful?" I shook my head. Shannon glanced down at the books and then back up at my face. I wasn't lying, but I guessed she suspected that I'd never stopped looking for a way to get Collin back. She didn't mention it. Instead she said, "I'm worried about Eric. I think I'm going to see if Al can get me into his hearing. I think he might be in trouble."

I nodded my head, "If anyone can get you in, it'll be Al." Weariness was making me less cautious than I should have been. "And you should go. I have the same feeling. I keep trying to tell myself that it's nothing, and that I can leave whenever I want, but...I don't know how to describe it. It feels like if I leave, I might never come back. And it has something to do with Eric, but I don't know what." My voice trailed off. The dread that had been bubbling in my stomach as the sun set was tenfold what it had been the entire time I was there. It was like my body knew what I was in for, even if my brain didn't want to admit it, yet.