Darkness Arisen - By Stephanie Rowe Page 0,1

the surface. But she didn't move, willing herself to hold the same sacrificial position she'd held upon entry, even as she tumbled in all directions, the disorienting movement stripping her of any sense of which way led to the surface.

She knew it was a test. A test she had to pass. A test of courage. A test of fear. A rite of passage to see how much control she had over terror and her survival instinct. The water grew colder, the undertow more violent. Her lungs began to burn with the need to breathe, and real terror began to build inside her.

What if she were wrong to let herself be sucked down? What if surrendering to the sea was actually the opening that death was waiting for, instead of being the one chance she had? Panic began to beat at her, and her muscles burned with the need to strike for the surface, to fight to live. No! She screamed the orders at herself. Don't fight!

She squeezed her eyes shut, willing her body not to resist. But still the fear crept through her, growing in strength as memories surfaced of the last time she'd died. She vividly recalled the pain, the panic, and the terror that she wasn't going to make it back to life. Fear lashed through her, screaming at her to fight to save herself before she died again, for a final time. Her skin burned with the bruises still present from the demons who'd tortured her, damage that should have been healed when she came back to life, damage that showed exactly how close she still was to death, a grim reminder that she might have finally used up her "come-back-to-life" frequent die-er card.

If she died today, it might be the end. Her final death. The destruction of her last chance to save her sister.

Her chest constricted, and her body began to shake as terror plunged through her. No, she screamed. Don't give in! But even as she shouted the denial, her body tore free of its defenseless pose, thrashing violently toward the surface, fighting desperately for another chance at life, shredding her last chance to save the one person who mattered to her. Dammit!

Panic took over, and she succumbed to the terror, swimming frantically toward the luminescent glow of the blue-green moon invading the black ocean. Harder and harder she swam, her lungs screaming with the need to breathe, but she couldn't get any closer. It was too far.

Horrifying realization plunged through her. Dear God, it was true. The rumors were true. Because she'd failed the test, the ocean would kill her. No, not the ocean. She would be murdered by the Mageaan, the magical beings she'd been trying to reach when she'd leapt into the water. Elusive creatures who were her last hope. Bitter, angry beings who welcomed no one into their world, unless they were brave enough not to fight death.

She hadn't passed the test. So now, the sea would obey its mistresses and kill her.

No! She couldn't die. She had to get to Catherine. Catherine! Alice stretched her hand toward the moon as her mouth opened, compelled by her lungs to take a breath. Water poured into her mouth and filled her lungs—

Something grabbed her hair and yanked her downward, away from the surface, away from her last chance at life, away from Catherine's final hope for survival.

She knew she was dead.

Dammit. She absolutely did not have time to die again.

* * *

Calydon warrior Ian Fitzgerald swore as Alice's hair slipped out of his grasp. Her ponytail tore from his hand as she fought against him, trying to swim deeper into the ocean, as if she had no concept of which way led to the surface. "Alice!"

He lunged for her, diving into the water that should be only inches deep, yet was somehow a bottomless pool of blackness. The green-blue moon cast shadows deep into the water. He almost reached her...his fingers brushed her hair...and then she was swept out of his reach, tossed ruthlessly by the violent water. As she tumbled away from Ian, that all-too-familiar sense of despair and anguish arose within him. That same voice, that fucking voice that had tormented his father and grandfather into lethal hell beat at him, taunting him. She is lost. You have lost her. Die, soldier. It is the only choice.

Ian swore as his brands burned in his forearms, his weapons straining to be released so he could plunge them into his chest and