“An angel used the stone, and died to stop the demons both times?” She nodded. “The solider, the angelic warrior who stopped the first war by holding up the Satan’s Stone—his name was Lorren?”
She nodded again, “Yes, and he died. His wings were stripped off his back as he was smashed to bits. Nothing remained of him. And no one remembered him.” Her expression shifted, looking past me to the horizon as if she could see something that I could not. Her eyes didn’t blink. “Lorren was the warrior who held up the stone.” Her eyes pressed closed. Long lashes swept against her cheeks.
A million questions raced through my mind, but there was no time. “Lorren? Tall, young, thin Lorren? Lorren with black hair, a snarky mouth, and an affinity for healing?” Her eyes flicked open, wide. “That Lorren?”
She nodded. “The gate of the Underworld was named for him… I named it after him. To remember him by… ”
“Ah,” I said, “then I have some news for you.” My lips turned up in a smile. “Lorren is alive.”
Jeanna Marie’s face was frozen, as still and unmoving as the snowflakes that were around us. “Did you hear me? He’s not dead, Jenna Marie. Lorren is alive. He’s the one who healed me, well, half healed me.”
Her perfectly pink lips twitched as my words sunk in. She shook her head, “That can’t be. An angel can’t survive without his wings. The bones within the wings provide us with energy and… for lack of a better word—magic. They give us power, and provide us with life.” Her head cocked to the side, “And I know what you are thinking. Mine are hidden, as are all of the angels’ wings.” She shook her head, “So there is no way that Lorren survived. He couldn’t have. He can’t. His wings were ripped off his body. The stone’s price was his life.”
“No,” I shook my head, “the stone’s price was his wings. Lorren is alive.” I repeated myself, then added, “I don’t care if you believe me or not. However, I do care about this place,” I pointed to the school, “and the people who live here. I can’t let Kreturus destroy this place. I can’t. Tell me where the stone is Jenna Marie. Tell me where I can find Satan’s Stone.”
Still half dazed, she shook her head, “That’s just it. The stone splits in two so it cannot be used. The second time we found it was a fluke. The second half turned up in the Underworld, of all places. The Guardian gave it to the angel who trapped Kreturus. That angel was the last to have the stone.” She shook her head, “But I don’t know who it was.”
Stepping towards her, I asked, “Why not?” The snowflakes twitched as if they would start to fall again any second. “Why, not? How could you remember Lorren but not the second angel?”
The snow around us hissed as it began to fall again. The world came back into color as noise pelted my ears again, chasing away the silence. Jenna Marie didn’t raise her downcast gaze when she spoke. Her pink lips turned into a faint smile. “Because Lorren was mine.”
Jenna Marie stared at me as snow fell around us. Her face said she wanted to believe me, but there was something in the curve of her mouth that said something else. “Take me to him.”
“I can’t, not yet.” I glanced at her and back at the school. “I need you to tell me something. You’ve been alive long enough to know the truth.” She turned her gaze toward me, suddenly more interested. A lump formed in my throat. I didn’t want to ask her. Part of me didn’t want to know, but I had to know. “How old is Collin Smith?” She started to scold me, telling me to stay away from him, but I cut her off, “Just answer the question! If you were around so long, you would know. The only other person helping me is a fucked up Valefar who’ll rip my throat out when I least expect it! I need you to tell me. Tell me the truth. How old is he?”
Jenna Marie tilted her head to the side, and bit back a word or two. Snow clung to her hair in tiny pieces making the golden tresses sparkle like they held tiny diamonds. The snow didn’t melt when it touched her. “Collin’s young, less than a millennium. But that doesn’t mean he’s safe. There is no such thing as a safe Valefar.”
“There’s no such thing as a safe angel either,” I said. Then before she could speak, I asked, “Why would he hide? Why would Lorren not want anyone to know he was alive?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
The basement was empty. The props and backdrops draped the walls casting strange shapes across the narrow room. I padded across the darkness to the worn leather couch, and fell onto its thick cushions. I pressed my hands under the crooks in my arms, trying to warm them. I sat where he sat, where I’d found Collin so many times before. Oddly, we shared the same fondness of small dark spaces that tend to freak most people out. But for me, it provided four walls of safety and comfort. Collin came here when he needed to think, as did I.
Something called me to this place. I effonated inside without disturbing the sapphire serum in my chest, but I was feeling weaker. Locoicia said she removed the venom’s mark and nothing more. I would still die if the poison remained buried in my chest. The toll of the poison did not go unnoticed. Drawing in air took effort, as it became harder and harder to force myself to breathe. I wanted to sleep. To close my eyes and dream, but I didn’t dare. Awake I could resist Locoicia’s calls. Awake, I could defend myself against Valefar, Martis, and misguided angels. The cement store room was four walls of peace.
I leaned back into the cushions, slouching and pushed my hair out of my face. Getting down here wasn’t easy. Jenna Marie wouldn’t leave. She insisted I take her to Lorren, but Lorren isn’t part of my plan. The entire situtation with Lorren bothered me. He’s supposed to be dead and he lied to my face. Those were two serious issues that needed to be remedied. Nothing was as it seemed. No one was trustworthy. Not now. Not ever. Tilting my head back, I gazed at the rafters on the ceiling. They were sprayed with a chunky plaster compound that had collected a lifetime of dust.
His voice made me jump, “Have you reconsidered?” Collin stood across from me in the shadows. His hands were in his pockets. “Or are you still insisting on going through with it?” The tilt of his head, the gleam of his eye were confrontational. He came looking for me.
I didn’t move. Thoughts slashed through my mind in a vortex or doubt. My eyes lingered on his lips for a beat too long, before they slid away to the floor, I said, “No. Have you reconsidered?”
He stepped towards me, blue eyes piercing into my soul, “I can’t.” His dark leather jacket clung to his body. The lapel was open, revealing a black shirt beneath.
“Neither can I,” I answered. Collin’s gaze shifted between my mouth and my eyes. I couldn’t feel his thoughts. I couldn’t sense his emotions. Rising, I walked toward him. His eyes dropped to my hips, taking in the gentle sway of my walk until I stopped in front of him. I resisted the urge to reach out and run my fingers across his cheeks. I resisted and asked, “Do you really think I’d kill you?”
His jaw tensed. “It’s not whether you want to or not. It’s what happens.” Impossibly blue eyes locked with mine. “I have to tell you something.” Looking up into his face, I wanted nothing more than to press my lips to his and melt in his arms. But I didn’t move. He stepped forward, and tilted his forehead down, touching it to mine. His fingers tangled in my hair, as his breath washed across my lips in a rush. “I have to tell you… something.” His words were barely audible.
My breath caught in his throat. I lifted my hands and placed them against his chest, touching the exposed skin at his throat just about his neckline. My finger traced along the edge of his shirt. “Tell me, then.” My hands slid around to the bare skin at the base of his neck. It was the only chink in his armor, the only place where we could still feel each other.
His words brushed inside my mind, It’s not what you think. Nothing is.
I don’t understand, I replied watching him, waiting for more. Collin stood frozen in front of me. The bond was reduced to an ember of what it had been.
Collin’s body twisted out of my grip, and the bond shattered. He stepped away, slipping out of my reach. “I have to go.” His voice caught in his throat. His fingers stretched once, and relaxed. He looked away.
Blankly, I stared at him. A wave of intense emotions pelted into me before he released me. Staring at the smooth leather that followed the curve of his back, I watched him step away. The emotions that swam through the bond were vibrant and wild. They made no sense, but the main thing that startled me was the remorse that blared through everything else. It was so devastatingly thick that he could barely breathe. It was as if Collin couldn’t force his body to breathe. It felt like the same thing that was happening to me, but much worse. The wire bands that restricted his chest made him feel trapped. There was nothing I could do. This is where we stood. I said nothing, as he turned to leave. There was nothing more to say. The heat surrounding him intensified and he effonated away leaving me alone in the darkness.
Anxiety laced my erratic movements. I shoved my hands in my pockets as I walked through the doors of the church and came to a screeching halt. Black scales lined the floors, strewn about as if they were confetti. My jaw dropped as I turned my head, taking in the scene. It was so bizarre. It was so wrong. My eyes shifted through the shadows. No noises emanated from within the building. Carefully, I called out “Eric?” When there was no reply, my throat constricted and I called his name again, “Eric!” The only answer I received was more silence. Something was wrong. The scales, I knew what they were, but they couldn’t be. They couldn’t be what I thought. It wasn’t possible.
My head whipped side to side as I searched, frantically running through the building looking for Eric. The glimmering black scales littered the floor throughout the entire church, and clung to the seats on some of the chairs and tables. I rounded the corner and flung open the doors to the auditorium. Eric sat on the wooden altar, staring at the patches of colored glass as if nothing was amiss. More scattered scales lined the aisles and pews.
My voice echoed through the room before me, “Eric. What happened? Are these… ” I couldn’t say it. The thought. What it meant made my blood freeze in my veins.
He turned toward me, golden eyes rimmed in scarlet. The front of his shirt was torn, hanging off his body with bloody gashes across his chest. “Yes. They got out. They came looking for you… The demons are here, Ivy.”
My feet crunched over the black scales until I threw myself into Eric’s arms, surprising myself and him. I pulled him to me, holding him tightly. The warmth of his body reassured me that he was all right. When I pushed him away, the red ring around his irises faded. His forearms were lined with pink welts from lacerations that had started to heal. Eric tilted his head as his brow pinched. I had hugged him. The gesture confused him. That was fine, it confused me, too. I stepped away from him, eager to ignore what I just did.