(I’ve been listening to horror songs too long…let’s see how this goes.)

“Remember: stick to the plan. And don’t touch anything.”

“We remember,” Dee grumbled in response. “Your meticulous planning is drilled into our brains.”

Amarantha nudged him. “Hey, be glad Jason’s finally taking some responsibility for once. Remember how he used to run headfirst into danger without a care in the world?”

“I remember,” Dee laughed softly. “‘I’ll improvise,’ he said. ‘I’ll fight on-the-spot if I need to.’”

“Follow this blue line,” Nephthys whispered, interrupting them. “It may lead us somewhere.”

Artemis scampered ahead, Winter following to light the way with her faint blue aura. “Wait up!” Jason called as loud as he dared, hurrying forward as Cara-delle streaked past him and vanished into the darkness after them. Dee and Amarantha followed close behind Jason, leaving Nephthys alone with Roran as they took a slower, more cautious pace.

Nephthys held her spear aloft. “So, what do you think?”

“Of what?” Roran’s silver blade shone faintly in the dark, illuminating the way.

“Of us. The team.”

“Of them, you mean.” Roran shifted the sword in his hand. “I can tell you never considered yourself one of them.”

Nephthys’s guard went up. “What makes you say that?”

“Ah, see, now you’re suspicious of me.” Roran grinned. “I say that because you seem so detached. Speaking only with myself, Arion, and that ever-strange fox. You’re not usually like this, Nephthys.”

Nephthys frowned. “I speak with everyone.”

“But only with meaning to us three,” Roran reminded her. “Because we are the ones that stand out. Arion because he’s the unmortal, myself because of my history, and no one knows who Cara-delle is, which makes her all the stranger.”

“I do feel like I know her, though,” Nephthys admitted. “For some reason, she reminds me a lot of someone I know, but I can’t quite place my finger on it.”

Roran shrugged. “If you ask me, that fox is a pretty suspicious character.”

Nephthys nudged him playfully. “Everyone is suspicious to you.”

Now Roran looked ahead. “This is a pretty long hallway.”

There was the sound of glass shattering. “Great Lord above!” Roran cursed, rushing ahead. Nephthys followed close, not wanting to get lost alone in this place.

Before long, Nephthys could make out the faint outline of a wooden table. Lying facedown on the floor was a mirror, the shattered glass shards scattered across the ground.

“This is getting creepy,” Nephthys mumbled. “And where’s the blue line?”

Roran raised his sword higher. “I guess we’re officially lost.”

“Well, that’s great.” Nephthys raised her spear as the toll of a giant bell echoed softly throughout the corridor. “Shall we turn back?”

“I think I can see something there, though.” Roran pointed with his sword in a far-off direction.

Nephthys squinted in the darkness. “There’s, like, a tiny speck of grey in that.”

Roran shrugged. “Hey, it’s better than nothing.”

“True that.”

They began to walk, weapons raised high in a defensive position. Nephthys took the time to think about the last time she’d done this; it had been long before, when she was trapped in an underground cell with what was called an “endless loop hallway.”

“Hey, the speck’s getting bigger,” Nephthys realized. Her hand gripped Roran’s. “Almost there.”

“It’s been a long time since we’ve done this together,” Roran whispered. “Now, let’s do it again.”

Nephthys nodded and let go as they stood just before the source of the light. It was a doorway, which was no longer grey but a faint blue, like the line they’d found on the floor. It flickered, dancing back and forth. Is it a fire? Nephthys wondered.

Both of them leapt inside at the same time, weapons up. “Hey!” Nephthys yelled, since she knew there was no chance of any stealth or secrecy anymore, then she gasped.

They were standing outside a ring of blue fire, marks etched into the stone floor. The flames blazed up around the center, where a figure in a black hooded cloak knelt, gripping Arion’s throat. A silver blade flashed in its skeletal hand as it held it up to sever Arion’s major arteries, but the figure froze as Nephthys yelled.

Roran dashed right through the flames. Nephthys was astonished to see the flames not clinging to his flowing cloak, but she realized it must’ve been made of the same material as the hooded figure.

He didn’t get far, however. Dropping Arion, who huddled on the ground, the hooded figure thrust out his skeletal hand. Roran fell back, the sword clattering away, and didn’t get up.

“No!” Nephthys cried out, lurching forward to crouch beside him. She didn’t care that the flames were burning her as she dragged Roran backwards and propped him up in the corner. Shrugging his cloak off his shoulders, she pulled it around herself and lunged forward, spear raised and poised to throw.

With a flick of its wrist, the figure launched a set of identical, glowing white spears at Nephthys. With an agility she never knew she had, she ducked and rolled, dodging them. It didn’t stop there, though, and she found herself doing gymnastics trying to avoid them all. Some tore at the cloak, leaving her vulnerable to the flames, but she dodged most of them and finally heaved Arion to his feet, clipping the cloak around him and pushing him towards Roran, who was beginning to wake.

Nephthys turned to the hooded figure. “I should’ve known you’d be behind this,” she hissed. “Who better for Dessidre to put on the job?”

No voice came from the hood this time; the time for acting had long come to an end. Instead, it reverberated in her head. This is all for the ritual, Nephthys. You must see that.

“That ritual is nothing but a ploy for Dessidre to keep you busy,” Nephthys spat, swinging at the figure with her spear. “Stopping it will not kill you.”

Au contraire. We have tried it once before, and the demon rose up, taking the souls of many of my people. We cannot allow it to happen again.

“Fight it, then!” Nephthys urged it. “You can do it.” She raised her spear to block another attack.

No. The figure shook its head. We need a sacrifice. True, we have chosen the boy – the unmortal, as it seems. We got lucky.

“Well, you’ll have to go without him,” Nephthys retorted, jumping forward to thrust.

The figure sidestepped the spear easily; its skeletal hand shot out almost faster than Nephthys could see and snatched it away, breaking it into pieces that scattered into dust and dissipated. Yes, I suppose we cannot have our intended choice. Nephthys caught a hint of amusement in that, and suspected the figure was smiling under the dark hood.

It raised its bony hand and the room around them began to blur; even it began to flicker out, moving in and out of focus. Tiny pinpricks of white light dotted the expanse, but Nephthys realized she was no longer standing on anything, but floating, weightless, in midair; there wasn’t anything beneath her at all. The figure had once again twisted her reality.

We may not have the unmortal, but we do have you.