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“You speak of her like she’s still alive… ” I glanced up at him. “Don’t you mourn the dead?”

“Don’t assume to know me, Ivy Taylor.” Lorren bit the words at me, and turned away. He walked back to the table and sat on the top, swinging his legs off the side. He still wore solid black clothing that seemed too big for him. His dark hair hung in his eyes. It was quiet for several minutes before he spoke again. “What of your wound? Why didn’t you do as I told you?”

Pressing my lips together, I looked away from him. I found I was speaking before I knew what I would say, “I can’t. I can’t do that to him. Surely you can understand. You spared Eric.”

But he shook his head, “No, I don’t understand. Collin didn’t serve angels for centuries upon centuries. He didn’t risk his life to save others. He allowed Kreturus to use him and manipulate you. And yet, you could kill Eric, but not Collin?” He arched a dark eyebrow at me.

My face scrunched tightly as I was about to spew out words. When I realized there would be no convincing him, I turned my head away and said nothing.

Lorren finally spoke, “The ending is the same for him, Ivy, whether you do it now or later. Collin’s a Valefar. Stay away from him.”

I stood, and looked at Lorren. “Al trusted him. Why can’t you?”

“Al was human and prone to making mistakes. That is a luxury that you no longer have. Stay away from him Ivy.” When I didn’t answer, he added, “I’ve made it so that you cannot kiss him again—not without taking your soul back.”

“What?” I shouted at him, rounding on him. Every muscle in my body tensed.

He rose and walked towards me. Lorren towered over me, and crouched slightly so we were eye to eye. The gesture made me want to punch him. “I’m forcing you to do what you must to survive. One of the gems I healed you with will seek out to repair you fully. You cannot stop it. You have to defeat Kreturus. And you can’t do it half healed. Every second your soul is in that boy is another second that gives Kreturus the opportunity to defeat all of us—without a fight.” He stood and looked down at me, sliding his hands into his pockets. “I removed the traces of demon scales and burning snakes. Do not allow them to return. I don’t want to see you again until you have your soul back.”

CHAPTER SIX

Lorren was difficult, but I had very few allies left. Apparently psychotic Eric was an ally, which was hard to swallow. If an angel hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have believed it. As it was, I didn’t want to believe it. It was much easier to hate Eric for killing Al than it was to try and understand what was happening around me. Angels and demons didn’t think like people. They did things, things that I didn’t understand. And instead of trying to fathom it, I forced myself to accept Lorren’s words as truth. Although that didn’t mean I’d forgiven Eric.

Once again, I found myself moving through the Underworld alone. Lorren sucked me down here with his fancy angel magic, but he couldn’t put me back. I had to walk out. Maybe he knew it would allow my anger to burn off by the time I reached the portal. As I walked, I wondered why Lorren was trapped down here. It was something I couldn’t accept if it happened to me. To never have the sunlight on my face again—the thought was unbearable. This place was filled with shadows so thick they seemed to breathe. A lacy shadow covered my body in a blink and was gone. When I looked around, nothing was there. A tingle ran up my back, and I kept looking over my shoulder. It felt like someone was watching me. I quickened my pace. My feet bled leaving a trail of stained stones behind me. The screech of grackles lingered in the distance. When I turned back to see how far away the demon birds were, I slipped and came crashing down. The knee of my jeans tore open. Cursing, I rose and looked for the birds. But there was no sight of them. I walked faster.

Staring at the Underworld made it easy to think. This is where I was supposed to rule. This ungodly portion of land was what Kreturus ruled for eons. Shaking my head, I realized that it was time. It was time to stop playing—time to step up and accept who and what I was. I am the Prophecy One—the Demon Queen. The thought made me uneasy. It was like admitting that I failed, but part of me longed for the peace it would bring. Accepting the prophecy meant that I’d accepted myself. I once knew who I was. I was a sister, and a daughter. I was kind and smart. But now, I had no idea. Accepting my role and accepting the fact that I’d defeat an ancient demon scared the hell out of me. But I no longer thought of it as someone else’s life. This was my life. I was surrounded by Valefar, Martis, demons, and angels. And I was getting used to it.

Sitting down on a large stone, I grabbed my bare foot and rubbed it. Although my skin healed fast, walking through the rocky ground barefoot was ripping my feet apart. Sitting for a second would allow them to heal enough to keep moving. I glanced around me. Rust colored stone surrounded me. The sound of water dripping was louder than the screech of birds. I swallowed. Without realizing it, I was sitting on the stone where I saw Collin when he thought I was dead. I remembered the slump of his shoulders and the void in his eyes. Pressing my eyes closed, I shook my head and stood. I couldn’t ever see him again. I didn’t know how I’d keep him away, but I had to. I had to buy enough time to find Satan’s Stone. If I could find it, I could use it to heal me, and then I wouldn’t need my soul back. Collin would survive with his scrap of soul and mine. I hadn’t forgiven him for using his blood on me, and didn’t know if I could, but I couldn’t give him a demon kiss. It didn’t matter what Lorren did to me. I couldn’t.

A lacy shadow spread over my body, slowly sliding across me like a blanket. I looked up. My heart constricted and rose into my throat, until I realized it was the dragon-stalker that’d been following me last time I was down here. She landed next to me like a giant cat.

“Why are you following me?” I gazed at her, but her ruby eyes held no answer. She gazed at me, as if she wanted something, but I didn’t know what.

I looked at my bare feet and then back at her ruby-colored eyes. Riding would be far less painful. And she kept the demons and grackles away. I still didn’t understand why she followed me, but it didn’t matter right then.

I stood and walked over to her, running my hand along her scaly face. “Why are you here? You seem to show up at strange times, and I have no idea if I’m supposed to talk to you or what…” It felt like she should be the equivalent of a cat—a really smart one—but still an animal. But something about her made me feel like she wasn’t an animal at all.

The dragon lowered her head, and slowly pushed at me with her maw until I climbed on her back. When I was in place, I dug my fingers around a scale to keep from falling off. It didn’t seem to hurt her. Taking a step forward, she lurched rather gracelessly and took off, much like a flying cow. “Where are you taking me?” I asked as she turned the wrong way. But she kept flying, ignoring my tugs to turn around.

We flew past the jagged rocks below and over the unforgiving terrain. The wind rushed by, pulling at my hair like giant fingers. She slowed and landed in a part of the Underworld I’d yet to see. Darkness clung to every corner, and the rust colored rocks seemed to hum with a life of their own. Small sounds shifted through the shadows, but when I looked nothing was there.

She took me to a different set of catacombs—a different portal out of the Underworld. When I slid off her back, I moved slowly toward the portal wondering why she took me to this exit. I asked her over my shoulder, “Why’d you take me here?” But when I turned around, she was already gone.

The sound of sand skittering across rock made me pause. Twisting on my foot, I touched my comb to my mark and extended the deadly blades. The silver tines grew in my hand as I peered through the darkness at my attacker. Dull green eyes started at me. The sound of my racing heart pounded in my ears. I stared at her wondering if she still recognized me. Her black blade was drawn and her body was half crouching as if she was ready to attack, but she hesitated. The look of confusion that lined her face held me in place.

Apryl.

Her eyes narrowed as she studied my face. Finally she asked, “Ivy?” At the moment she asked my name, the rigidness in her spine melted, and her weapon slid to her side. Her brow pinched together as she looked behind me and then back at my face. “What are you doing here?”

“I had to get… ,” I paused realizing that I shouldn’t tell her about Lorren. An angel in Hell—well he was already in a precarious situation. I didn’t want to do anything to make it worse. “I needed something from the Lorren.” She didn’t detect the lie. “Then the dragon dumped me here. I didn’t have much of a choice.” After a moment, I asked, “What are you doing here? I thought you were bound to the Pool of Lost Souls? It’s not nearby, is it?” I turned my head, glancing around, still trying to figure out where we were.

Her hair seemed more brown than red in the darkness. She wore the same outfit I saw her in last time, a nondescript pair of jeans and a tee shirt that had once been white. She would have traded them in for a dress, before she was turned Valefar. Now, I wondered if she would don a skirt over pants. I wondered how much of my sister remained behind those eyes. Either way, it was good to see her, even if she didn’t remember our past. It saved her from experiencing the pain of our mother’s death, the loss of our childhood home… and the realization that her sister was the antichrist.

Apryl’s wide green eyes gazed at the stone walls like she didn’t know where she was. After watching her mannerisms for a moment it seemed like she was dazed. The longer I watched her, the more certain I became. Apryl was acting like a person who was hit by a car and kept on walking, unable to deal with the trauma.

She bit her lower lip, “We’re not by the Pool of Lost Souls.” She blinked hard, as if trying to remember something that was just out of reach. When she looked at me she said, “I was. I am bound to the Pool. But, something happened, and now I’m here. He carried me here…” The fingers of her right hand pressed to her temples.

I lowered my comb, but didn’t retract the silver blades. Something was wrong. I’d never seen a disoriented Valefar. It didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest if they didn’t know where they were, as long as there were souls nearby to feed from. Cautiously, I stepped toward her, asking, “What happened? What happened at the Pool?”

She lowered her hand and glanced around. It was as if she were afraid something had followed her. I peered through the shadows surrounding us, but saw nothing. However I had the haunting suspicion that we were being watched. It made a chill rake my spine and I shivered. Her green eyes looked back at me, “I don’t know. One moment we were both there, and the next, we weren’t."

She wasn’t making any sense. “Who?” Apryl didn’t answer. She seemed to not realize I was standing in front of her. I took a step closer, and when she didn’t respond, I put my hands on her shoulders. Unblinking green eyes peered into mine. I asked again, “Who’s we, Apryl?”

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