I quickly learned that immense power coursed through my veins, and that I could command it with simple words or gestures. The dark magic felt heavy and thick, like hot fudge clinging to my insides. The first time I recognized the sensation, I was shocked to realize exactly how much power I had. It was power that Apryl lacked. It was power that Kreturus wanted. Locoicia explained that demons have limited abilities, as do angels—but me… I was different. I was a hybrid of both races, which gave me more power than all of them. I just had no idea how to use it. It turns out my power manifested during my enraged fits, because I was tapping into the same place within me, calling on the same power source to fuel my burning anger. Apparently, I didn’t have to risk turning into a demon to use my power. There was no need to tap into my ability to Akayleah. And no reason to tell her I even had that ability. Or that I’d already used it. After all, I never promised to divulge everything.
So, Locoicia taught me. She was impatient, demanding, and expected me to learn things the first time with no questions asked. I didn’t like her, which was fine because the feeling was mutual. I could tell. She’d fumed away, trapped in a piece of glass forever, irritated. Meanwhile, I was the one who was going to do what she couldn’t—kill the demon king. It wasn’t that I was stupid, or a slow learner. I grasped proficiency of her lessons quickly. It was the depth of my mastery that made her fume. We skipped straight from beginner to advanced during the same lesson. And I didn’t like the advanced applications. My stomach twisted just thinking about it.
But, she didn’t give me time to think. Locoicia’s teaching methods were sink or swim. I sputtered along half sinking, until I got it. And when I failed, I felt the brunt of her power.
The lesson she was teaching me wasn’t going well. A sharp pain pierced my thoughts and slid down my spine. Concentrate, I scolded myself. Locoicia pressed into my mind, forcing me to maintain my focus in order to keep her out. Her attempts to slip into my mind made it difficult to consider what I was doing. The moral implications didn’t have time to emerge in my mind. She would mentally berate me as I tried to accomplish the task she gave. I was much stronger than she was, but she was more resourceful and more skilled.
It wasn’t her power that made Locoicia dangerous. It was the way in which she used it.
Darkness flowed through me thick and hot until a seam on the forearm of her gown split opened. Locoicia’s blood was black as tar and flowed from the wound. I stopped, and the severed skin closed immediately. The Demon Princess smoothed her hand over her torn garment and the threads retied themselves into proper stitches. I did what she wanted. I tore open her arm in one controlled slice.
“And the price?” I asked.
She looked over her shoulder at me. The flesh on her forearms was pale with tiny black spots—demon scales. Was she human or demon? Or a human turned demon from too much Akayleah? Locoicia had more power than she let on. She responded promptly, “Pain, of course.”
The moment she said it, it felt like my stomach was ripped from my body. In one swift moment the air was stripped away and replaced with searing pain. When the instant passed, I realized I was clutching my gut and had started to turn inward to try to ease to deal with it.
She flicked her wrist, as if she were holding an imaginary whip, and a small red line appeared on my left hand. It stung for half a second before the skin was sliced opened. I winced, and she was next to me in a second hissing in my ear. “I will cover every last bit of you in lashes, if you fail to hide your pain from me again. Pain is weakness.” She moved away. “Everyone pays the price. Only the weak acknowledge pain. You will not be weak. You will recognize the pain, but you will not feel it. You will feel nothing. Do you understand?” I nodded. In theory, I understood perfectly. Hide my pain. In practice? Well, that was another issue. She said, “Again.”
We worked for hours until I was so tired, I couldn’t see straight. She managed to get into my mind more than once. That scared me the most, which almost seems funny. Calling forth dark powers didn’t scare me. Slicing open the Demon Princess’ skin or scales or whatever she had didn’t faze me. But, the thought of her perusing my mind—the thought of her seeing bits of my shattered life was non-negotiable. It made me fight harder to keep her out. I had no idea what she was capable of, but I wouldn’t underestimate her. Kreturus did that and look what happened—she was alive and training his assassin.
The lesson shifted. We were learning something else. Locoicia walked next to me, leaning over my shoulder. I was barely able to stand. The lessons did not have a power price, like they did for most. But they still exhausted me. A human body could only endure so much pain. There was a point of no return. If I passed it, if she mis-estimated my pain threshold, I’d die. My body felt stiff, no longer wanting to bend as I moved. I ignored it.
Locoicia insisted that I learn standing up. So I stood, with my feet apart and my hands at my sides. She said, “Reach into your pocket. There will be whatever you need—a key, coin, or gold. Riches are all within your reach, now. Simply do as I say, and extract them.” She explained the charm once. There was no repetition in her lessons—no wasted words. If I didn’t glean everything from her meager verbiage, she became angry.
Nodding, I did as she said, and reached into my pocket. At first there was nothing there, just the rough cotton lining of the pocket between my fingers. But a different sensation brushed against me, and I felt the paper bills form in my hand. I pulled the money out of my pocket and put it on the table, in front of Locoicia. That was incredibly easy. I stared at the paper bills, somewhat shocked.
There was no more time to fathom the cash on the table. Or ask if it was real, fake, or where it came from. The pain price hit me half a second later. It felt like I was being cut from neck to navel. The feeling of the knife slicing through skin and muscles, until it stopped in my stomach, was real. Horror washed over me. My hands pressed on my abdomen, frantically searching for the weapon that caused the sensation. My fingers twitched, as I curled forward, cradling my body from the onslaught of pain. The blade, the blade I couldn’t see, lodged in my stomach and slid up to my neck leaving a hot stream in its wake. My hands were pressing on me, following the trail of agony up to my throat, but when I pulled my palms away there wasn’t a speck of blood on them. Terror made my voice ring out. My hands clutched my stomach, but there was no wound. The pain was completely internal. Unable to bear another moment, I felt my body dry heave. Everything inside me curdled and came out my mouth, and onto the floor.
Locoicia showed no compassion. Gasping for breath, my bare hands clutched the stone beneath my fingers until the spasms that raked my stomach stopped. When I looked up at the hooded figure, her violet eyes were calm. There wasn’t an ounce of anger within their depths. Without a word, she crooked her finger, and flicked her wrist. A welt the size of her fist ripped down my spine. My back arched in response, as a cry ripped out of my throat. The pain intensified as I felt a warm trail of blood run down my skin, and stick to my shirt. I bit back a second scream as the sting dug deep into my muscles and more blood spilled from the wound. Failing to remain still, utterly failing not to flinch, my jaw opened and a ragged breath contorted with pain emerged. The sound of my raw scream echoed through the room. Horrified, I clutched my sides, unable to reach my back. Unable to see or feel with my hands what she had done to me. I didn’t know if it was real or only in my mind.
My heart beat wildly, as I looked up at the Demon Princess. Blood red lips were pulled into a tight thin line. Indigo eyes were cold and merciless. She stepped toward me, one horrifying step at a time, until she stood over me. Her black skirt billowed at her feet. I broke my gaze and lowered my head, looking at her shiny black boot. Fear coursed through me, rushing through my veins in a deafening thunder. Fear surpassed the agony of flesh torn open on my spine. I was silent.
She didn’t bend over. She didn’t speak kindly in my ear. Her voice was passionless, “You will learn. And I will teach you.” Her boot scraped back, away from me. She flicked her wrist, and the process began again.
Flick by flick, she covered my body in lashes. By design, they tore open skin slowly, cutting through muscle, and nicking the bone. Every inch of me wanted to scream out and make it stop, but I didn’t. Another lash sliced across my back. And then another. My hands moved frantically, trying to stop her, but there was no stopping her. Locoicia wanted me numb. And as long as I still felt my skin tearing apart she would not stop. Desperately, I tried to bite back pain, but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. There was no reprieve. There was no rest. Lash after lash fell on me. Eventually, I could no longer stand. My cheek pressed against the cold stone floor, lying where I fell. Locoicia’s wrist flicked, again and again. She didn’t stop until I didn’t scream. She tormented me until I failed to flinch, until I was near dead by her feet.
My heart beat faintly in my ears. I felt nothing—not the pumping of my heart. Not the cool air slipping down my throat as I breathed. The rocks beneath my head were neither cold nor hard. The sensations that they produced did not affect me. Lying on my side, I stared at nothing. My eyes no longer throbbed. My throat no longer burned from the frantic screams that I bellowed. There was nothing. Numbness flooded every inch of me, cancelling out the pain that had been screaming in my mind for hours. The open flesh covering my body did not pain me. The blood seeping through my shirt was a fact, not a sensation. Strips of open flesh lined my back, and wrapped around my torso. Blood pooled underneath me, clinging to my waist and seeping through my shirt. My hair was tangled and bloody. There wasn’t an inch of flesh that she didn’t rip open. There wasn’t any part of me that she didn’t torment.
Locoicia stood over me with dead eyes. Her black boot was close to my head. My eyes stared, unblinking at her boot. My mouth hung open. She leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Kreturus would have captured you in seconds. He would have twisted your naive emotions into a tangle of truth and lies that you couldn’t have navigated. Now you will feel nothing, and your ears will hear the truth.” She paused. “You will thank me for this. One day, you will thank me for this.”
My eyes flickered until I managed to pull the lashes apart. I was back in the warehouse. Alone. Every muscle in my body strained as I tried to move, and failed. Somewhere in the back of my mind, weariness unlike any I’d ever known called out to me. Sleep pulled at me, and I wanted nothing but to cave and allow the brief bit of rest that would restore me. I pushed my tangled hair out of my face, and slid my hands down my cheeks. Dried blood flaked off in my hands. My chest rose, as I took a shallow breath. I was weak, my muscles were frail. It was a fact, not a feeling. I knew what my body needed, but not yet. Not yet.
I pushed myself off the pallet I made on the floor, and leaned back on my arms. Halfway up. Another push and I sat upright. A swirling sensation in my head almost smashed my face into the floor, but I caught myself. I pressed my hands to my body wondering how badly I was hurt. My hands slid through holes that slashed my shirt. It looked like my shirt belonged to an eighty’s rocker who didn’t believe in safety-pins. The fabric barely hung on. I turned my head slowly, cracking my neck. Another breath, and this time it came easier. When I exhaled white vapor appeared in front of my mouth. I pursed my lips and blew it away. My skin was covered in goose-bumps. It was freezing—cold enough to snow. I’d have to move. Go somewhere warmer. Get dry.