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Vivienne’s hands were still shaking as she followed Blake up the mountain behind the fair. She had changed into gym sweat pants and an old hoody that she kept in her locker. Her shoes were still soaking wet but she barely noticed. All she could think about were Calbert’s blue lips and lifeless eyes. She kept replaying the day in her mind, wondering what she could have done differently to save him.
Blake led her through an opening that was so choked with ivy that one could barely see there was an archway underneath it all. Behind it all, there was a row circular stones surrounding a sandy clearing. It looked insignificant during the day. It could have been easily missed as a natural formation had Blake not paused at the center of it.
“So, this is Satan's Hollow?” Vivienne asked. “Maybe I did hallucinate everything.”
“No,” Blake said, his eyes staring far off into the distance. “Follow where the rocks lead. It is deep below us.”
Vivienne let go of his hand and wandered along the rocks. They split off into a narrow path going lower, and lower. Vivienne followed the pathway down until the rocks under her feet became slippery and wet. She slowed down, inching down cautiously until the path disappeared under a still pool of water. Blake caught her by the arm as the water lapped at her toes.
“Come back, Viv,” he said, softly. “That is no ordinary lake.”
Vivienne took a step back and steadied herself on the precarious steps using him as support. “What’s down there?” The waters were shielded from sunlight by the deep walls of the sunken cavern but she felt as though they could never reflect the sun. They were waters that flowed under an eternal night, their surface eternally black.
“Down there is the heart of this sleepy little town,” Blake said, his eyes fixed on the pool in unabashed fascination. “That is Satan's Hollow.”
“Why is it that you won’t let me touch it?”
“Because that is where all the demons are created. There is another lagoon like this in Coral City. The royal family controls it. Those who drink from it become part demon. I found it by accident when I went searching the vampire graveyard when we were children. Those who have a sip of this water become mindlessly obsessed with obtaining more. The more they get, the more they steadily lose their minds, unless they bind themselves to a another human’s life force.”
Vivienne took a step closer and crouched down closer to the surface of the water. There were figures moving under the surface. Ripples of black velvet appeared from creature swimming underneath.
“Every year, during the harvest, they hold a ritual sacrifice. You might have seen the children at the school preparing for it. They gather here and on the night of a full autumn moon, the water level recedes and the cave can be entered. They serve the valuable function of purging the cave of its demons once a year.”
“The fall dance?” Vivienne asked. She blinked her eyes to break out of her trance-like fixation with the black waters. Although it was completely black she could sense the dimensions of each droplet refracting and simmering with darkness.
“Yes, around that time Remin sends their strongest children into the cave. Those who are chosen to enter are usually women. Your life force is simply stronger because of your ability to create life. It is more tantalizing to the demons inside. On the other side of the caves there lies a single boat. It fits only two people, usually the survivor and their pet monster. The girl who makes it out of the caves becomes the grand master of Remin until the next fall.”
“And you want me to be that girl?” Vivienne was starting to understand why Blake had brought her here. She began to see his plan to attack Coral City unravel. He intended to command the town of Remin. “I don’t want to kill anyone.”
“You won’t, not directly.” Blake assured her. “You only need to make it to the other side of this cave. I’ll be with you the entire way.” He placed his hand on her shoulder reassuringly. His hand could have been a claw for all the comfort it gave her. “If anyone dies, it is the cave that kills them. When dawn breaks, the water level will rise again and trap all those still inside. They become part of the hoard of demons that curse this town.”
Vivienne took a moment to let his words sink in. “So, you’re saying that’s a good chance if we go into this cave, we’ll never come out.”
Blake chuckled and rolled his eyes as those her concerns were mortally offensive to him. In Blake, Vivienne saw a boy who was so battle-hardened that he no longer batted an eye at matters of life and death. “You’re going to make it out of there alive, darling Viv. You have my word.”
Vivienne somehow doubted Blake could be so sure. She felt nothing but misgiving about the idea of finding out what lurked below those black iridescent waters. Yet, she also knew that her fate was leading her to Satan's Hollow. She needed to go in there to find the answer to all questions buzzing in her head since setting foot into Remin. She couldn’t let Calbert’s death go unanswered.