My throat constricted like she’d kicked my neck. “I didn’t consent to that!” My hand tightened around hers. “The bargain was your teachings in exchange for an angel. That was it!”
She shook her head as she laughed. “The blood made the bargain, not me. Look at the liquid that appeared in the cup. I’ve seen many substances appear to bind the bargain. It provides a little insight as to what might occur if we abandon the agreement. Once a blood bargain is made, it cannot be broken.” She reached for the black goblet and thrust it into my hands. I looked down at the swirling contents. The liquid was thick and dark—completely opaque. I couldn’t see the bottom of the cup. There might as well have been tar sitting under the blood. Locoicia spoke, as she removed the glass from my hand. “It’s black as night, and viscous. Thick. That only means one thing—there is no way to escape a bargain of this magnitude with a slap on the wrist. No, liquid this thick and dark only has one repercussion—death.”
The musty scent of the warehouse filled my senses. Before I knew what happened, I peeled my eyes open and looked around. Sunlight was pouring through holes in the metal exterior. I sat up slowly, and clutched my hand to my chest. Breathing hard, I tried to calm down. Apryl was sitting across the room on a pile of crates watching me. When I said nothing, her attention went back to a magazine she had on her lap.
I rubbed my eyes and pushed my hair out of my face, and took a deep steadying breath. It wasn’t real. It was a vision. Or a dream. I shook my head, trying to dislodge the thoughts. Pulling a ponytail holder from my wrist, I yanked my hair back, and wrapped the narrow piece of elastic around several times to hold my hair in place. As I rubbed my face once more, I dropped my hands to my lap. That’s when I saw it. There was a pink jagged line across my right palm—exactly where the Demon Princess sliced.
The sound of my voice cut through the empty space and echoed back in my face. Apryl jumped off the crates and was next to me in seconds. “What?” she asked. “What happened?” She crouched next to me, trying to fathom what had spooked me. She looked back at my face, but I didn’t look at her.
I couldn’t look at her. Oh my God. What did I do? It couldn’t have been real. Yanking down my shirt, I pulled my neckline until I could see the scar. Smooth pale skin. Nothing else. No blue line marring my breast. No mark of venom trickling through my body and slowly killing me. As my heart thumped in my chest, it felt like the world stopped turning. Everything was sliding away in one slow motion. There was no gravity, no feeling of safety. Nothing was taken for granted. Life itself was never a promise. And my life, the life I knew, the one I’d been fighting for—it was over.
All the things I’d done, all the chances I took, and the lives I risked—it was all for nothing. There would be no going back to school. No dates. No prom. No normal, not anymore. I sucked in a ragged breath trying to wrap my mind around it. Lorren had lied to me. An angel lied to me! How was that even possible? Locoicia, the Demon Princess, said he could have healed me and didn’t. Lorren said the only way to do it was to get my soul back from Collin first. But he lied. The Demon Princess said he lied.
And I struck up a blood bargain with her. Of course, I did. It made perfect sense. It sounded totally rational in my mind when I did it, but now, now in the light of day—it was insane! I took the word of a demon over the word of an angel.
I jumped up. Apryl watched me. The expressions shifting across my face had started rather calmly compared to what I was feeling now. I clutched my head, “This can’t be happening. It can’t be. I never left, right?” I turned sharply to Apryl who stood behind me, not knowing what to do or what was wrong.
She shook her head. “No, you didn’t leave. What’s the matter?” I didn’t answer her. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t admit it. I continued to pace until she stepped in front of me. Her green eyes were wide like two big green dinner plates. “Stop.” She put her hands on my shoulders. I froze and looked at her. “What happened?”
My jaw opened and I meant to speak, but nothing came out. The words, blood bargain rang in my mind. The sound of my heart pumping seemed so loud. Apryl didn’t release me, so I stood there until words formed. My mouth felt stiff, like it was made of wood. My lips wouldn’t form words, they couldn’t. But Apryl wouldn’t let go, and I didn’t want her to. I wanted my sister. I wanted my life back.
Swallowing hard, I told her. “While I slept, I had a vision. And… I made a blood bargain with a demon.” I pressed my lips together, fearful to say more. Apryl’s mouth dropped open as her grip on my shoulders slipped. She took a step back. Her horror only made it worse. I added, “I had to. There was no other choice… There never is.”
I folded my arms over my chest and pulled them tightly to my body. I never thought my inability to call light would lead to something like this. I shook my head, knowing that wasn’t true. That wasn’t what made the blood bargain—it was me. I did it. Willingly. I pressed the palms of my hands to my face and rubbed, as I walked away from Apryl.
“What do you owe the demon?” she asked hesitantly. I couldn’t bear to look at her. She might not remember me, but I remembered her. The lines carved between her crinkled brow deepened as she waited for my answer. Her fingers twitched subtly at her sides.
My eyes cut to her worried face. There was no denying it. I had to tell her. “An angel. I promised a payment of a living angel. And if I default, I die.”
Apryl’s mouth opened in horror. “Do you know what you did? Do you know what you offered?” She smacked me with two hands, in rapid succession, one after the other on either side of my head. I didn’t block her smacks. She leaned into my downturned face, asking, “How the hell are you going to bring an angel to the Underworld? That demon set you up. You will default on that bargain. There is no way to get an angel into the demon realm alive! You can’t put a bow on him, and drop him off at the demon’s doorstep. The demon asked for a payment you couldn’t possibly provide. What the hell were you thinking?” She slapped me again, but this time I grabbed her hand. Glaring at her, my hand tightened around her wrist. She shook with anger as she hissed, “You gave your crown to someone else. You made a bargain you cannot keep.” I released her hand and it fell to her side like a piece of dead wood.
She turned from me, and wrapped her arms around her middle. It was something our mother did when she was worried. She’d walk a few steps, turn, and repeat—all while keeping her arms folded snugly across her body. We both had the same mannerism. I nearly choked as I watched her. My mother would have… I shook my head, dislodging the thought. I had no idea what my mother would have done. Both of her daughters had demon blood flowing through their veins. That was different than any life she would have imagined for us. I blinked away the thoughts.
Something Apryl said made me pause. I spoke quickly, sensing she was ready to walk away from me. “Why can’t an angel enter Hell? They took it over during one of the wars. They were down there once before, right?” Lorren was down there. He was an angel, right? That was why I thought I could bring one to the Demon Princess. Because of him.
She looked over her shoulder at me. Her eyes were glassy. Apryl’s lips turned into a thin line as she fought to control her emotions. She laughed softly, “You don’t understand.” She turned towards me, arms still folded across her chest. “When you kill Kreturus there would have been peace. You had no intention of attacking the angels. But not now,” she shook as she spoke. “Now you will drag an offering to the demon who helped you. That’s clearly an attack. And they will reciprocate if you force one of their kind down there. The Guardian was left there so the angels could leave. Their kind doesn’t take well to the Underworld. It… Affects them oddly.
“Ivy, if you fail to complete your bargain, then you’ll die. That demon that struck the bargain with you, will steal your crown, and I have no doubt that an angel attack would follow. The angels would never see it coming. They would have had peace with you, but then you die when the blood bargain takes effect. There will be war no matter what you do. There will never be peace. There will never be rest.”
Her jaw hung open, as her chest constricted. She looked up at me with her eyes creased in the corners, “I will never be free. I will never die, because the Valefar will not be released.” I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off. “No! You listen and you listen well. You had no more time for mistakes. There were no more chances to waste.” She shook her head, looking at me with complete disgust. “You could have walked away. You could have said no. A blood bargain is willingly entered into by both sides. You chose this.” She shook her head, making her dark auburn hair brush against her cheek, and turned away.
I watched her leave without calling after her. As Apryl pulled open the door the morning sun drenched her in golden light. Her dark hair looked like it was on fire, as she hesitated in the doorway. She stood there for a moment. My breath caught in my throat. Apryl didn’t act like a Valefar. She wasn’t full of vengeance like Eric. She wasn’t deceitful like Jake. She seemed to find her own path and stuck to it. The only life she’d known was torn away when the Pool of Lost Souls was attacked. The Guardian was dead for all I knew, just like the sister I’d grown up with. But this Apryl, the one that was walking away scared me. She saw through me, unmasking things fast and furious. She was helpful. And for some reason, she was on my side—until now—until I did something that was unforgivable. I watched her pause in the doorway, waiting to see if she would look over her shoulder, but she didn’t. Apryl took a step forward, and the door closed behind her leaving me alone in the darkness.
Days passed. The sun swept across the sky, and sank into the sea every night. But Apryl did not return. Nor did I expect her to. I saw the look on her face. I failed her. She was trapped, and I wasn’t the one who could free her. I couldn’t even free myself. As time passed, I no longer worried about the Guardian’s death. He had to be alive down there, otherwise the world would be overrun with hellish creatures. Since there were no demons running through the streets, I thought we were okay. My visions came and went. They turned into tutorials—lessons on how to harness my dark powers. Locoicia pulled me through every vision, every time. There was no rest. The venom in my chest didn’t weaken me as it had, but it still took a toll. And the Demon Princess was irritated if I didn’t show my face once a day. She said there was no time. And there wasn’t.
Her black cowl covered her face, as always. “Do it again.” Her words were cold. The dark gauzy fabric of the gown clung to her, showing off her slender form. Dark gloves lined her slender fingers, resting on top of her folded arms, gently tapping as her eyes cut into me.
The things she was asking me to do weren’t innate. The acts weren’t something that I wanted to know how to do. I had no desire to learn to do them, but I needed to know. Locoicia said it was necessary, and I bargained to learn everything. Everything without exception. As our lessons continued, I realized the insanity of that request. What was even weirder was her willingness to accept the bargain, and teach me. It made me wonder who was crazier. Her? Or me?