**Continued from part IV**
The moment before he replied, confirming or denying what she had said, seemed infinitely long. She did not think until after she had uttered that name that perhaps it was not him after all.
“The last time anyone recognized me,” he intoned at last, “she was already dead.”
“So it is you…” Rowan breathed. “Peter Steele.”
“Part of the problem of being famous,” he said, somewhere between a sigh and a grumble, “is being recognized even in a place like this.”
Peter shrugged. “No idea.”
Rowan gazed at him for a long time, her mind pondering why this, of all people, was the one to meet her at the edge of Karabala. She remembered the book, the chapter about the realm of the afterworld– it referred to it as Karabala– but she had not completely understood some aspects of it. Could the music he had been listening to have anything to do with Peter being there now?
“But you’re my guide?” she asked, breathless in her struggle to understand what was going on.
Another shrug. “Where are trying to go?”
“I…” She took a deep breath, upset that she was having to repeat herself. “Komala died so young. I just…”
“Everyone wants to see someone who’s dead,” Peter said in a tone of sincere disinterest.
“Please,” Rowan replied, trying not to beg.
He stared at her for a moment before finally saying anything. “We’ll have to ask in the Necropolis. Are you sure you want to go that far into this place?”
Rowan nodded. “Of course,” she assured him.
Peter shrugged. “I’d say it’s your funeral, but…”
“In a place like this, it’s everyone else’s funeral,” she finished for him.
“And you’re not even dead,” he sighed. “All right, let’s go, then. Stay close; I want to be able to say that I got you back out of here later.”
Peter did not wait for a response before began to move along the the path at his feet. Rowan found that it was somewhat like a dirt path, but of a somewhat otherworldly soil, and far darker. She could hardly see a thing around her, and worried that it would be far worse to see what hid in that darkness. She kept her eyes on Peter, whose outline seemed to glow with an eerie shade of green. Now and then a firefly– or should she call it a will-o’-the-wisp?– flitted by, carrying with it the same green light that felt so unnatural.
But unnatural was what this place was. The Karabala, the Underworld, the place where the dead awaited their next fate, some for eons, and some for a span of time hardly longer than a thought. And at the center of it all, the Necropolis. The living were not meant to go there, Rowan had read, and the closer she got, the greater the danger that she was putting herself in.
None of that mattered to her, though. She was there for one purpose, and one purpose only: to see her best friend once again.
**Continued in Part VI**