She pressed her lips together. “Me and the Guardian.”
My hands dropped from her shoulders, as my eyes widened. Alarm shot through me as I took a step away from her. “But… ” I shook my head trying to get through the torrent of thoughts sloshing through my mind. “But, that can’t be. The Guardian couldn’t leave. He was the one guarding the portal. He’s the one who keeps the Underworld, under the world, and separate.” I squeaked the last part, but Apryl’s daze didn’t fade. She gazed around the room, seemingly seeing things of interest that didn’t exist. I placed my hands on her shoulders again to get her attention. Her dull eyes met mine. “Is he dead?” The thought frightened me more than anything else. I was unable to kill the thing, so whoever did this was more powerful than me by far. When she didn’t answer, I pressed my fingers tighter into her shoulder, “Apryl. Is he dead?”
Apryl twisted her shoulders and I released my grasp on her. Her hands moved frantically, as she shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t remember a thing. I can’t… Remember.” She looked up at me with vacant eyes, eyes that had seen too much.
I glanced over her shoulder. The feeling that we were being watched didn’t subside. There was still someone there, listening. Waiting. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders, and began to usher her towards the portal. “You’re coming with me.”
Apryl followed me until I spoke, at which point her feet came to an abrupt stop. She shook her head from side to side. “I can’t leave. I can’t! Ivy, don’t make me.” She bent over screaming, pressing her fingers to the sides of her head. Something behind her moved. I didn’t need any more reasons to run. I wrapped my fingers around her arm and pulled her to the portal. I placed my pendant in the tiny slot and the tomb slid opened. Shoving a shivering Apryl ahead of me, we stepped over the threshold and the stone tomb slid shut behind us.
Gazing into the darkness, I couldn’t tell what I was looking at. Above us was a massive slab of white marble veined with pewter. And nothing else. The door to the Underworld was at my back. Apryl was squashed next to me. We were trapped inside a tomb, encased in marble. My heart began to race as the tight space seemed to shrink. Apryl was half hysterical already and muttering to herself words that I couldn’t understand. I told her it would be alright and began to try and slide my fingers around the edges of the marble, but there was no way I could lift it. Normally, I would have effonated away from this point, but I couldn’t. Cold fear began to pool in my stomach as I stared at the stone. I couldn’t get out of the tomb.
Apryl’s mutterings soon stopped when she seemed to realize that we were stuck. She sniffled and said, “PortosUglamaya.” When she touched the stone with her hand, her arm passed through the solid rock. It was if the marble had turned to milk. She retracted her hand and looked at me. “You’re a shitty Valefar.” A smirk crossed her lips as she shook off the rest of the somber haze. The marble rippled as my breath crossed the surface of the stone. “You’re right. It’s time to get out of here.” And without another word, she shoved me into the stone.
Panic shot through me as the cold stone surrounded me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t scream. Silken liquid stone flowed around me as I moved through the space. The rapid beat of my heart echoed in my ears, as I frantically moved forward, half walking, half swimming, trying to get out. The cool stone slid over my skin without pause, always moving, always flowing. Just when I didn’t think I could stand it for another moment, a hand grabbed my shoulder and jerked me out of the milky stone. I fell on the dark slate floor inside the mausoleum. The marble tomb we were trapped in moments ago was at my side. Apryl stood next to me and I was on my butt at her feet.
“You can’t stay in there. What’s the matter with you?” she asked. She looked down at me like I was an idiot.
Sliding my legs under me, I rose and brushed off my jeans. “I’ve never done that before. What did you do?”
She arched an eyebrow at me in disbelief. The corner of her mouth twitched into a smile. “You are a Valefar, aren’t you? I mean, you smell weird, but you don’t smell human either. And you aren’t Martis?” I shook my head and sneered as she said Martis. “Then what are you? Because if you were a Valefar, you could do basic things. Even with my brain half drugged, I could do it.”
“You were drugged? That’s why you were so despondent?” My brows bunched together as I stared at her. She seemed normal again, well normal for the Valefar version of Apryl.
She nodded, “Yeah, something like that. I can’t remember what cut me loose from the Pool, but I remember that the Guardian and I were both there, and then we weren’t. After that I wandered around unaware of dangers around me or where I was going. It felt like something was following me—herding me towards that portal. My mental abilities were,” she paused, searching for the correct word, “addled. I couldn’t think. It felt like my mind was wrapped in a sheet of plastic and suffocating. When you pulled me through the portal, it lifted and I slowly realized what was happening. Which brings us back to you… ” She cocked her hip and tilted her head at me. “Why couldn’t you drag us through the stone?”
I folded my arms over my chest and gazed around the large tomb. There was another stone door that we had to pass through to get outside. My eyes cut back toward Apryl. “I’m not a Valefar. I’m half. Half Valefar. Half Martis. The Valefar are trying to trap me. The Martis are trying to kill me. I have a Seeker after me, who used to be my best friend. And I accidentally turned a good Martis into a psychotic Valefar. He also wants to kill me, but it seems he’d rather torture me first.” Apryl’s jaw slowly dropped as I spoke. Her brows sliding further up her face as the list of crazy people following me got longer and longer. “I’m not good company. Not unless you have a death wish, but I couldn’t leave you there either. Not like that.”
She nodded towards the exterior marble door. It towered above us and hung on hinges the size of my head. “Take us through the door.”
I grumbled at her, “I can’t. I’m only half Valefar. I can’t do that stuff.”
She snorted, “Yes, you can. Who told you that you couldn’t?” She sighed. “You’re such a dope sometimes, Ivy. Think about it. You have demon blood flowing through you—why couldn’t you command it the same way the Valefar do? You’d have to pay the same price, but other than that—why couldn’t you?”
Looking at the massive door, I unfolded my arms and walked towards it. I’d never thought about it really. Collin had forbidden me from using anything other than the two things he taught me. He’d said the price was too high. Turning back to Apryl I asked, “What’s the price for turning the door to milk?”
She laughed, “There is no set price. It’s more of a sliding scale, based on ability and age. You’re too new for it to cost more than you have.” She studied me for a moment, and then walked toward the door. “Dark magic is always paid for in pain. Pain and power.” Her fingers pressed against the cold stone. She spoke as she traced the pattern carved into the marble. “It’s the way of things. Every ability has a pain price. It’s usually close to the person’s pain threshold. He made it that way—so that the person wielding the magic feels every ounce of pain and doesn’t have the luxury of passing out.” She turned to me. Her hair fell over her shoulder. “The power price is different. I have no power, so it cost me nothing. I’m the lowest of the slaves. You can’t get lower.” She started to speak and then stopped. She pressed her fingers once more to the stone, and then withdrew her hand. When she turned back to me she said, “How can he take a power price from you, if he has no control over you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Apryl walked around the room. The white marble appeared gray in the darkness. She stood in front of the ornate stone, slowly walking the perimeter of the room thinking. She didn’t seem like the old Apryl and I wasn’t foolish enough to think I could trust her, but she was telling me things that no one else had. And I could speak to her without the mental haze of blood lust. Damn, Eric. I still wanted to hurt him, even if I couldn’t kill him.
I turned my attention back to Apryl as she asked, “Well, he doesn’t. Does he?” She walked towards me, crossing the space in three strides. “Kreturus has been waiting for you to go to him, right? He didn’t force you?”
“He said he didn’t want to.” I paused, realizing how stupid that sounded. “He can’t force me, can he? The only way for him to use my power is if I surrender. He can’t use it otherwise. So I’d only pay the pain price to use Valefar magic, not the power price, right?” I gazed at Apryl.
She shrugged. “There’s only one way to find out. Go through the door.” She pointed at the mass of marble. “I’ll meet you on the other side.”
“Wait!” She turned and looked at me. I asked, “Why don’t you effonate? Why do this instead?”
She smirked at me. “Effonation has a high price in power and pain. If Kreturus took the power price from you, you’d know it as clearly as you know the pain of using the magic.” Shaking her head she moved toward me, and folded her arms across her chest. “You can effonate? And you have?” I nodded. Her lips parted as if she was going to speak, but she snapped her mouth shut and shook her head. “So effonate through the door.”
“I can’t. Well, I can, but… ” my voice trailed off.
“But what?” Apryl’s gaze cut into me. “We’re wasting time. In case you didn’t notice, something was watching us back there. We shouldn’t stay here. It’s right on the other side of the portal, and since I don’t have any memory of what happened to me—I don’t know what it is. Come on. Time to go.” She tugged at me.
“I can’t. I have to… ” She stopped pulling me and turned to look at me. “I’m wounded. I have sapphire serum in my chest.” I pointed to the remaining poison near to my heart. “I can’t effonate. I keep getting spliced and it hurts like hell. Plus, I don’t have any way to heal it.”
Apryl’s eyes were wide. “Shit, girl.” Without another word, she wrapped her fingers around my wrist and shoved me forward. I almost protested when she slammed me into the stone, but it turned soft right as my face hit it. I sank through like before and tried to swim across to the other side. Since I knew what was happening this time, I allowed my instincts to take over. My feet stopped kicking and settled on the bottom of the liquid stone. I took two steps forward, much like walking through a vat of paste, and stepped out into the night air. A cold gust of rainy wind hit my face as I gasped for air.
Apryl stood in front of me dripping. “You figured it out. Good. Now, let’s get out of here so we can figure out what’s going on.”