And to make matters worse, I actually thought about giving myself to Kreturus. The lack of his presence concerned me, but just because I didn’t see him, didn’t mean he wasn’t nearby. Maybe he made Collin say those words. Pressing my eyes closed, I walked onward through the snow, to nowhere. I could effonate, but I needed to feel something. I let the cold bite into the flesh on my face, as snowflakes and wind whipped through my hair. My curls were wet as they clung half frozen to my shoulders.
Eric. Eric knew where the Satan’s Stone was. That rock could be the answer to everything. It could undo everything. It could heal me, free Collin, and stop the war that was about to begin. The gates of Hell could not and would not open. Not if I could stop it. The stone could stop it. The stone had stopped it before.
Maybe Collin was right. Maybe I hadn’t accepted my fate. I didn’t have time to consider it. I had to find that stone. I had to find Eric. It surprised me that Eric made no effort to find me after our last meeting. I kicked more snow into the air. Speckles of white blinded me for a moment as I walked through the cloud of snow. The sting on my skin felt good.
Since I’d been learning from Ilecica, my ability to feel sensations had been hindered. Hindered is the wrong word. My ability to feel was out of whack. I felt some things, but not others. It made me wonder if I could feel my arm if I set it on fire. I didn’t understand how I could feel good as Collin’s hands slid over my skin, but not feel the right emotions when he left. The entire time he spoke, it felt like someone was strangling me. If I’d felt something –anything—besides invisible fingers squeezing the air out of my lungs, maybe I could have changed things. Maybe I could have convinced Collin that we weren’t enemies. But I didn’t. And now he was gone.
I kicked another pile of snow and walked through it. Eric. I had to find Eric. He could find Satan’s Stone. He had the book. My fingers tensed, as I thought about it. I needed that rock. That stone was my salvation. That stone had fabled power that was stronger than any of us. I had to get my hands on it, but Eric had the book—the useless book that no one could read. The book that connected things Eric had once known about Satan’s Stone. Things he forgot because of me. It didn’t matter. He had the book. That was enough. We’d figure out how to read it, and I’d kill him if I had to. Screw Lorren and his ward.
My eyes scanned the winter white blanket of ground in front of me. I walked. My feet crunched over snow and ice and frozen ground. Barren trees stuck up out of the snow like bony hands reaching for the warmth of the sun. A smile slowly slid across my frozen face. I knew where he’d be. Without another thought, I effonated to the place.
Eerie quietness surrounded me as I shrouded myself with shadows, calling them to me like ink seeping into a quill. They moved towards me quickly. Quietly. Their corpse-like fingers stroked my throat and stomach as they entered me, but I no longer felt the pain. The sound of snow filled my ears as it fell from the heavens and softly touched the earth. It was utterly quiet.
The brown building stood in stark contrast to the pure white that covered its roof like a woolen blanket. The building itself was dark. Not a single light was blazing within the windows of St. Bart’s. I stood at the side entrance on the inside of a seldom used door, and moved through the shadowed hallways. Cobwebs clung to the corners of the walls, filling nooks with silvery threads. A thick layer of dust carpeted the dark wood floors making it look as if it snowed inside. There wasn’t a single footprint to be found. The building was deserted. No one had been here since Al left. The nuns had left. The church was gone.
This was no longer holy ground.
Eric was here. I was sure of it. My feet slid down the darkened halls puncturing the perfect dust, leaving long trails on the floor behind me. Turning, I saw the entrance into the nave. Moving ever so slowly, I slid one foot at a time—one breath at a time—until I was near the back rows of benches. Sunlight poured in through an overhead window making small beams of light pour down from the ceiling. Within the beams dust danced as it fell softly to the floor. Sliding past pews, I remained in the shadows, moving through the darkness still half frozen from being soaked by the snow.
A lone figure sat with his back to me at the front of the church. He was arrogantly sitting on the altar with his legs hung over the sides. His hands gripped the wooden table as he looked up to the colored glass high above. The bright winter sun shone through the window casting a kaleidoscope of color on the dark carpet. The patchwork of color also touched Eric’s arms and head. He held out his fingers, twisting his wrist, examining the light as if he were holding a piece of sunshine in his palm.
I slid my feet closer and closer. There wasn’t a sound. Not a single noise that let him know I was so close. So very close. My comb was already drawn. The tines were extended. I barely breathed as I neared his back. The wood altar under him was in the way, but the element of surprise was too great to throw away. I made my decision. Sliding up behind him, I got so close that if I breathed, he’d feel me. As Eric continued to contemplate the colored glass, I moved my head so that my mouth was next to his right ear.
And I breathed his name as I exhaled softly, “Eric.”
His spine straightened, as his back lost its relaxed curve. He tried to jump off the altar to his feet, but my arms snaked around his neck faster than he could blink. Yanking him backwards with one swift pull, he fell off the slab of wood, and lay in the center aisle with his back to the floor. Shocked golden eyes were wide as the air was knocked out of his lungs. Eric gasped for air, momentarily stunned. Before he could move, I straddled his chest, placing one knee on each side of him. The silvery tines of my weapon touched his throat. His skin hissed as he tried to press himself into the floor. He couldn’t try to throw me off without pressing the silver deeper into his throat. Eric’s body tensed and became perfectly still beneath me.
“Miss me?” A wicked smile pulled at the corners of my mouth as I leaned forward, lifting the tines slightly so they no longer touched his skin. The smell of burnt flesh dissipated. If Eric took a deep breath, the tines would resume full contact. Every single one.
Rage shook his body, as muscles rippled and contorted, but somehow he managed to keep himself perfectly still. He snarled at me, “What do you want?” That wasn’t the question I expected Eric to ask.
My bottom lip turned down, “No, you’re supposed to say, ‘How would you like to die?’ or something more Eric-ish.” I pressed the tines to his skin again. His lips pressed together so tightly that they disappeared into his mouth for a moment. I pulled back the tiniest amount and released him from the pain.
I wondered if I would feel pain like that anymore.
Eric tried to move his arms, but I was faster and stronger, which delighted me. I pressed my knees closer to his sides, pinning him in place, and making it so he couldn’t expand his rib cage to breathe. Eric’s golden eyes rimmed with fire. Something in his temple ripped as if it were ready to pop. “Kill me or get off of me, Ivy.”
“As you wish,” I smiled at him, rose, and before I took the tines away from his throat, I saw a smug smile form on his lips. It pissed me off. With a swift movement, I pressed the tines into his throat. They slowly slid into his flesh as I kneeled on his chest forcing my knees into his gut. I’d fall off in half a second, but he’d be dead by then… at least he thought he would.
A scream ripped from his lips as Eric expected the tines to press all the way into his neck, one by one. But they held. The tines remained above the muscle, just under the skin, as if he were made of stone. It didn’t matter how hard I leaned, the blades would sink no further. I stared down at Eric. Dark hair cascaded over my shoulders. When he saw my face, when it registered that I didn’t kill him, I pulled back my blades and jumped up. His hands flew to his throat. Eric’s eyes were burning like spun gold set on fire. Rage pumped his muscles into bulges and flared his nostrils. He shot up and threw himself at me.
But I remained perfectly still with a soft smile on my face. My heart pounded against my ribs, but I didn’t move. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t blink. Eric abruptly stopped whatever assault he had planned. My lack of motion unnerved him. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to feel no fear? I stood there with a smirk on my face watching him. Eric looked as if he didn’t know what would happen next. His hands dropped to his sides, but his shoulders remained tense and ready to pounce. We stared at each other, circling slowly, our eyes never parting as one foot stepped over the other slowly turning. The smile remained affixed to my face as we turned. It was like a dance, two people moving with thought and caution, carefully placing each foot, and fighting to be the lead.
After several turns, I asked, “Are we just going to dance around all day?” I smiled widely, crouching my body forward, beckoning him to come to me with my hands. “Come get me.”
Eric’s gaze never left my face. His hands were outstretched at his sides. The veins in his arms circled beneath his skin corded like thick ropes. His foot turned and slid, mirroring my movements, but making no effort to attack. His lips rippled as he replied, “Finish this. Take what you came for, or leave. I have no time for your games.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. My back straightened and the sound escaped my belly before I realized why it happened. Eric paused, no longer moving his feet, but he did not straighten his spine. He remained bent toward me, ready to attack. “Why were you playing with the light? It was like watching a cat with a sunbeam. If you had a tail, it would’ve been flicking back and forth.” I folded my arms over my chest. We had stopped circling.
Eric’s spine slowly straightened, but his hands remained flexed at his sides. “What do you want?” His words were sharp. His voice held an uncertainty that I was waiting to hear.
Shadows spilled across his face as he straightened, making it look like he was wearing a mask. Sunlight poured onto the top of his head. His hair looked like golden silk in the sun. Wild. Unkempt pieces of gold as lustrous as his burning eyes. Eyes that slid over my body and back to my face.
“I have something you’ll want to know.” A smile tugged my lips, as I leaned back against a pew, putting more distance between us. Shafts of sunlight pierced the darkness between us. “There’s a ward on you. You can’t die.”
Eric’s mouth opened, but he only managed to swallow air. The things that flashed across his face ranged from disbelief, to anger. When he finally spoke he said, “That’s what I felt, before? That’s what I felt last time?” The ring of fire around his golden irises extinguished as he thought. “It felt like a piece of lead smashed down on top of me.” He spoke as if speaking to no one, his gaze not focused on anything. Silence filled the room for three heartbeats before his neck snapped up and he glared at me, “And then you were gone.” He took a step back, leaning his back against the altar. All the tension still lined his body. He didn’t trust me.
I nodded as I tilted my head, and pressed my arms tighter into my chest. My wet hair clung to my back. I was freezing, but no one could tell. No one would see the pain of the chill deep in my bones. No one would see me shiver or shake ever again. “Mmmm. Some things need to be demonstrated to be learned.”