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He twisted the page as he read, translating it to me. “The pendant will seek its owner. There is no stasis. It’s living and needs contact with its entity. The pendant,” he paused looking up at me while his pointer finger pressed on the parchment, “this word is written to infer plurality—which makes no sense—so I’m reading it singular. The pendant was used during the last angel demon war.” Eric twisted the page. The letters looked to be upside down, but he read on. “Comprised of angel bones, wings according to the legend, and brimstone, the pendant will remain dormant, asleep until awakened.” He pointed to the words encircling the picture, “These are describing it—there are two intertwined flowers nestled together. Blood ignites the charm when the pendant, plural, is needed.” He twisted the page again. “Use varies by user, power, and ability. Cost. Question mark.” He looked up at me, as if to say, see I told you that you wouldn’t understand. “Any epiphany, Taylor?”

I frowned at him, grabbing the page and studying the lines that made no sense. “No,” I admitted, “but how could it not help? At the very least, the stuff written on this page will be floating at the forefront of my mind now. If you tried to take the memories now, would you be able to?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know if it works like that. I have no idea how it works. You’re… ”

“Stop talking,” I said, grabbing the front of his shirt. He tensed, ready to shirk me off. I yanked the fabric in my hands, pulling him closer. “The more we say, the more this stuff slips into the back of my mind again.”

His jaw tensed. Two golden eyes burned into me like the summer sun. His hands reached for my waist, jerked me closer in one swift motion that closed the gap between us. And he kissed me. He hated it. He hated every moment of pressing his lips to mine. He hated that I didn’t respond the way that he did. He hated that my anger was repressed, or masked, or hidden so deeply within me that he couldn’t touch it. He wanted to evoke a response. He wanted to make me writhe, in pain or ecstasy—but to respond to his touch. To him. It was my reaction that calmed him in the past; my fear and anger. He wanted me to experience agony like him. But I didn’t. Now it was gone, nowhere to be seen.

After a moment, Eric’s kissed softened, and his fingers that pressed into me relaxed, like before. I felt the black cloud he was searching as his tongue swept against mine. He pushed through the memories, the remnants of his former life that still lived within me. There was so much, but I never felt any part of it. The residue from his former life was invisible to me before this. I didn’t even know it was there. But now, now I could sense it like an eyelash resting softly my cheek. The only way to know it’s even there is for something else to brush up against it. And that’s what Eric was doing. His mind swam through the memories as if he were gently blowing an eyelash away. The sensations lingered at the back of mind, echoing with the lust conjured by his blood. My body knew he was there and wanted to respond, but my mind wouldn’t allow it. The emotional response, the need for him, was disconnected.

But, then the distance faded, silently falling to the background, and the only thing I could feel was him. Eric. Eric kissing me. Eric’s arms around me. Eric’s scent, his taste, his touch on my body. The lust that burned through me last time he’d fed me his blood tore through my stomach like a burst of flame. The connection re-established itself. I could feel him. I wanted him. My heart exploded, shattering into a million pieces, all equally starved for his touch.

Horror raced through my veins, and I tore away from him, wide eyed. “What’d you do?” The words flew out of my mouth in a rushed panic. My clothes clung to me. My skin glistened. It was so damn hot.

Eric studied me before he spoke. His gaze slipped over my body taking in the sheen on my skin, the pounding heart inside my chest, and the jagged breaths that were too shallow. Too uneven. His lips curled up at the corners, as he folded his arms across his chest. “Nothing. I found the memories from the time that page was written, but you pulled away before I could make sense of it.” He watched me for a moment. And in that moment the connection between his blood and my mind sizzled like an electrical wire downed from a storm, erratically coming into contact and burning anything around it. I pressed my hands to my head, pulling away from him, but his fingers didn’t release my waist. He watched the turmoil play out as my frantic mind tried to connect with my emotions.

I blinked once, feeling hot, when a dark haze clouded my vision and started to pull me down. My face slowly lowered to the table, pulling out of Eric’s grasp as I fell, but I didn’t stop there. The downward thrust pulled me so hard. My head felt so heavy. It was as if a sandbag had been tied to each curl. The weight was too much. I couldn’t stop myself from falling forward. My heart raced, pounding against my ribs as my cheek pressed against the cold floor. Eric stood over me watching me.

Her voice was in my mind, calling me. The Demon Princess was beckoning me, pulling me into the vision. I tried to speak, but the words didn’t fall out. Breathing softly, I stared at Eric with my lips parted. His hands were pressed into his pockets. His head was lowered, watching me with wonder, not moving to help. Not a trace of concern on his face. As my eyes flickered shut, a soft smile lined his lips, and then everything was gone.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

“You’ve been avoiding me, little one.” Her voice was cold. She was cold. She stood next to me, casting a glance down over my shoulder. “After our last lesson, I thought you’d be eager for more.”

I repressed every urge I had. There was no other way to survive this. Pressing my eyes closed, I felt my heart racing in my chest. I sucked in a slow breath and ignored it. The tension flowed out of my body as she began again without waiting. She spoke, and I did as she said. It was the bargain. This was what I asked for. These things, they were the things that I’d wanted to know. But as she taught me, I saw the horror in Collin’s eyes all over again.

She was speaking, saying words that fell flat from her bored lips, “It is called Hellsfire or Hellsflame. You can call it. It has the power of fire, plus a little kick. It can destroy. It can kill.” She moved past me, her dress swirling as she turned to look back at me. Her gloved hands were delicately placed together in front of her abdomen. She wore the cloak with the hood that covered her completely. There wasn’t a drop of light within that hood. The only thing I could see were a pair indigo eyes shining from within.

“And the price?” I asked, before she failed to tell me. Again. She never told me anything. She just wanted me to do it. But not this time. Conjuring something from the Underworld, something lethal, had to have a hefty premium.

She turned toward me, the heels of her boots click-clacking against the stone floor. She stopped in front of me. Locoicia appeared lifeless, not breathing, not moving as she stopped in front of me. Blood rushed through my ears in a loud hiss, and my pulse quickened. The woman placed her hands together lightly, and pulled them to her chin. Her ruby lips twisted into a false smile, “Did you wish to only learn bits and pieces of things from me, or was that not what we bargained for?” My mouth cracked open to speak, but her hands flew apart—one dropping to her side and, as she stepped toward me, pressed the other to my lips silencing me. “No. I know exactly what our bargain was. I teach you everything I know. Part of that, dear girl,” she lowered her gloved finger and turned away, “is learning to deal with the price—even if it is greater than you imagined.” She pressed the palms of her hands together, and kept her gaze on her hands. She didn’t turn to me. There was no explanation. No information. No price given. “Call it. Call the Hellsfire into your palm. Do as I say or you break your word, and I collect my price.”

My body was already weary. She didn’t have sapphire serum in her chest. It didn’t matter that no one could see it. It didn’t matter that she insulated the poison so I could use dark magic—I still felt it. It still took its toll. And I was already tired. Eric’s kiss had already drained me. It seemed as he stole back his memories, he also took some of my energy.

Pressing my lips together, I knew I had no choice. The only way out of this was to move forward. Tired or not. I did as she said. Uttering the words clearly in my mind, I focused my unblinking gaze on my open palm. This felt so similar to calling light, but it had a more sinister twisted edge to it. Hellsfire was more potent than regular fire. It didn’t burn itself out. It never stopped burning, so calling it was insane. You had to know exactly what to do with it and how to get rid of it once you were through using it. Trying to swallow back the lump in my throat, I felt the heat form in my hand. I glanced up at Locoicia to see if she would tell me to stop, but she did not. As I stood there, liquid fire poured from nowhere into the center of my palm. It splashed down, licking tongues of blue and white flames as it slid its snakelike coils into my palm.

A scream erupted unexpectedly from my lips. The flesh on my hand was being melted away by the Hellsfire. I could feel every lick of pain registering in my mind with utter clarity. It wasn’t the faint echo of a disconnected thought. The pain was a loud gong of affirmation. My ability to feel pain wasn’t hushed. The Hellsflame burned through it, and was melting the skin of my palm as I watched in terror. Stray hairs clung to my glistening face as I looked up to the Demon Princess for help. But she did not speak. Her eyes did not waiver. She wanted me to hold onto the flame. If I released it, she would only make me do it again, so I held on.

Twisting tongues of fire danced in my hand, hissing and searing as they moved. Clutching my arm with my other hand, I held it in place. No screams poured through me. The only sign of stress were the beads of sweat rolling down my temples, leaving a cool trail in their wake. The pain of the Hellsflame burrowed deep down into the bones of my hand. The fires found the tiny bones in my fingers and multiplied over and over again, until the pain and the heat was so intense that I thought my bones would shatter from within. When I felt my body begin to slump from the sapphire serum, the hooded woman stepped forward, and grabbed the flame from my hands. It extinguished in a puff of smoke.

Breathing hard, I fell to one knee. There was bitter disappointment in her voice when she spoke, “I thought we were past this.” She sighed, and flicked her wrist. My body spasmed in pain, but I bit my lip so I wouldn’t cry out. “Why would you possibly negate your apathy?” The flick of her wrist flashed again, and I fell to my other knee. My teeth bit down hard, too hard, drawing blood from my lip. She stepped towards me. “Must I keep teaching you this lesson? Have you not learned it yet? Do I really have to take you within a breath of death to make you realize what you have to do! This is not a game, little one. You cannot defeat Kreturus without learning this lesson!” She flicked her wrist again. Pain coursed through me, and I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why I felt her lashes on my back. I didn’t comprehend why I could feel my skin rip apart slowly, bit by bit. My eyes pressed closed tightly, trying to endure the pain. My mind searched for the connection, desperately seeking to sever it again. But it came back. My feelings returned. And I didn’t know why.

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