“How’d they get here? Are the gates of the Underworld really open? That’s the only way they can get out, right?” My eyes darted around the room. There wasn’t a section of the carpet that wasn’t covered in demon scales. Eric seemed sedate. His gaze remained affixed to the floor, occasionally glancing at my face. “What did you do to them?”
He stared at my face, and arched an eyebrow. “Do you really want to know?” I shook my head. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know how many demons there were or exactly how they died. It was apparent that he skinned them somehow. I gagged back the stomach acid that climbed up my throat. I didn’t need details.
Eric slid off the altar, looking down at me still somewhat baffled. I looked away, my eyes searching for more carnage, more signs of a fight. But there was nothing else. He said, “That’s all that remains of that pack. There were more than I could handle. So I… did that to them. It was the only way to survive.” He glanced at me. “They want you. They came here looking for you.” Eric moved his arms over his chest, as he pushed his toe through a pile of shining black scales. “Do you believe me now? Do you believe he’s after you?”
“No, this wasn’t Collin,” I replied staring at the room. My ribs were ready to splinter into a million pieces, as my heart raced in my chest. An eerie calmness protruded from my thoughts. “This was Kreturus. He’s done waiting. We’re out of time.” Eric was standing in front of me. My gaze shot up to his face. His lips were pressed tightly together in a thin line. “The Guardian must be dead.”
“Why would the Guardian be dead?” Eric shook his head, his eyes coming back to life as I spoke.
“Apryl said—something happened. She was attacked. I found her wandering through the Underworld alone. She couldn’t remember what happened. They did something to her. But she thought they did something to the Guardian, as well.” I turned to Eric. “If the Guardian’s dead, then what’s holding the demons in Hell?”
“Absolutely nothing. And there’s more than demons down there that will come racing out.” His arms unfolded, as he walked toward me. “We need to find Satan’s Stone now. We need the last memory. Let me take it before it’s too late.” His hands slid around my waist as he pulled me closer without waiting for me to answer. The look on his face, the depth of the sorrow in his eyes was different. I didn’t have time to consider it, or even agree to his demands. His lips were pressed to mine and he was kissing me.
As the kiss deepened, I tried to think about the things I’d learned about Satan’s Stone. But it didn’t seem to help. Eric’s kiss didn’t lighten and end as quickly it usually did. Instead, he pulled me closer, causing my waist to bend as our bodies pressed together. I could feel the heat of his skin as he pressed himself to me. His fingers tangled in my hair, pulling me nearer, tighter, as his tongue stroked mine. A chill ran down my spine. It felt like we were being watched. Breathless, I pushed him away. My fingers brushed the taste of him off my lips as I breathed through my mouth, looking up at Eric.
“Did you get it?” I asked.
He shook his head, but as Eric started to speak, another voice rang out. “So, this is what you do when I’m not around?” Collin. Collin stood there at the end of the rows of pews. Demon scales were everywhere, but he didn’t seem to notice them. He glared at me. Me in Eric’s arms. Me wiping away Eric’s kiss from my lips.
Eric tensed at the sound of Collin’s voice, and slid his arm around my waist. He jerked me back toward him tightly. His heart pounded in his chest. Eric’s muscles tensed, as he spoke, “She’s mine now, Smith. Leave before I make you.”
Collin stepped towards me, and with every footfall my heart jumped up my throat another lurch. I didn’t pull out of Eric’s grip. It felt like time had frozen and thawed, and the only thing I could look at was Collin’s eyes dripping with anger and envy.
Collin laughed. The sound made me skin crawl. “You think so?”
Eric’s grip around my waist was crushing me, but he didn’t release me. If anything he pulled me tighter. He whispered in my ear, “He seems off… ”
And he did. Collin’s body was tense, rigidly lined with tight muscles that were exuding power. The air seemed to take on a different life as he passed through. The most unnerving part wasn’t that the air hissed as he neared us, it wasn’t that the demon scales burned into oblivion under his feet—it was his eyes.
Ruthless, dead, wax blue eyes that fixated on my throat.
“Leave,” Eric hissed in my ear. His arm loosened around my waist as he started to shove me behind him. “I’ll give you a head start.” I began to protest, but he only shoved me harder, “Go!”
Collin’s eyes were two pools of burning fire. The slant to his shoulders, the step of his foot—none of it seemed like him. I’d seen Collin fight. I knew him, but this boy, this thing walking towards us… I didn’t know at all.
I ran. Turning on my heel, I ran out the preacher’s entrance and up the back stairs of the church. My feet slid across the floor as I tried to get traction and failed. Demon scales were everywhere. What did Eric do? I didn’t have time to think about it. There was no time. The black glass appeared in front of me, as I called it, and I dove through head-first.
Lying on my side, I looked up at her. Locoicia’s eyes narrowed as her face pinched together. “Ivy.”
Breathless, I explained, “We’re out of time. Kreturus sent demons after me. They entered an old church looking for me.”
The Demon Princess nodded. “So. You want your final lesson?” I nodded. Breathing hard, my chest filled with air and felt like a vice was squeezing me when I exhaled. Locoicia stood in front of me. Her dark hood hid her face. “It’s simple. You call him, and say the last five spells I taught you in order.”
“I thought he couldn’t be summoned?” I asked, but she laughed.
“Don’t be a fool. Of course you can call him. There is always one way to summon a demon, and they have no choice but to answer.” The smile faded from her red lips, “But you have to be ready to slay him when you call, or you will die. Calling him is your advantage. Certainly, even Kreturus thinks he’s safe. It’s the one thing that I never got to use on him… ” she placed her palms together and turned from me. Her long black cloak billowed as she walked.
“There are already demons attacking. Tell me how to call him! I have to end this!” the facts were pressing into my mind. Demons. Demons had broken through the gates of Hell. They were free, roaming through the world while I was here—safe inside a piece of glass where time stood still.
Turning sharply, she said, “You cannot end this, little one. It has already begun. And while you stand here in front of me, time rages on.” My eyes widened in horror. Locoicia said time passed differently in the mirror. In the past, I stumbled out of the glass at approximately the same time I entered. She looked into my mortified face lost inside her black hood, perfectly calm. She lifted her fingers to my shoulder and removed a piece of lint that didn’t exist. Her lips twisted into a thin smile. “There are too many things pulling on you—too many chances for you to back out of our bargain. I had to ensure that you would complete your end of the bargain. I allowed time to continue as it normally does from this side of the glass.
“Your home is now the epicenter of the battle. The gateway to the Underworld that hinges open, unguarded, is by your childhood home. All the people you grew up with, all the people you saw every day for seventeen years are in danger, as we speak. There is only one way to keep the battle from spreading. There is only one way to stop it, Ivy. You know what it is. You know what you must do. Complete the incantation, and when you do, take his power through a kiss, and use it as you will. Stop the destruction. Save what remains of your home.“ She gestured, sounding completely apathetic. Denial coursed through me. There was no way I could accept her words. Locoicia finally said, “Kill Kreturus. Save what you can.”
“I could call them back,” I said. “I could push the demons back into Hell.”
She smirked at my naivety, turning from me. “Kill him, first. Then, deal with everything else.” She moved across the room, and sat at the stone chair at the head of the table. Her back was straight, rigid. Her cloak masked her face, and violet eyes peered at me.
Dread grabbed a hold of my throat and squeezed. I repeated her words, “With everything else?” She nodded. I blanched, “What else is there?”
She stood in a swift, fluid motion. Her voice was louder this time, “We are wasting time. Deal with it later.” She swirled toward me. The black fabric billowed at her ankles as she walked back towards me. “Your lesson. Listen carefully. Failing to do exactly as I say will have hideous consequences that you do not want to pay. Do you understand?” I nodded. I understood. The pain price would go askew and anything could happen. She nodded, tilting her head. There was excitement in her voice, a quality that was normally absent. “Calling him is simple. Conjure my glass, and then cut your left palm with a brimstone blade. Cut from,” she took my palm in her leather-clad hand, and slid her finger from left to right, running across the many lines of my palm, “here to here. Wipe the blood across the black mirror and with your right hand, right to left. Then smear his name, letter by letter, into your blood with your index finger.” She dropped my hand.
Her lips pulled into a tight smile as she spoke. “Within seconds, the demon will be forced through the glass. He will fall at your feet, unaware that there was any magic that could have done that to him. You must say each incantation—one per second—to kill him. You must not hesitate. The spells must be said in order, without pause. One word per second. No quicker. No slower. Begin the moment he falls through the mirror. After the fifth word falls from your lips, the demon king will die at your feet. And when he dies, perform your demon kiss on him, but instead of taking his soul, you will be stealing his power.” She pressed her fingertips together, as she paused. Her voice became lighter, more amused. “And you will be the Demon Queen.”
A chill ran down my spine, but I didn’t shudder. Nothing moved me. I nodded and turned away from her. I placed my hand on the glass, and felt it melt beneath my palm. Looking over my shoulder, I asked, “And you have taught me everything? Everything I need to know to defeat Kreturus?”
Her lips twisted into a confident smile. “Yes. My end of the bargain is complete. Go kill your demon, little one. I’ll call for you when it’s time to complete your end of the deal, and bring me my angel.” With that, I slipped through the mirror and stepped back into the church.
Silence screamed through the darkness. Not a sound came from the place I’d left Eric and Collin. My chest swelled as I drew a breath. I didn’t dare call out. Instead, I moved slowly, quietly, one foot at a time. Splintered wood lent to the rubble strewn beneath my feet. There wasn’t a single pew remaining. They had all been smashed to splinters. The rainbow of colored glass that hung in the rose window was laying scattered across the floor. The blood red pieces of glass gleamed like pools of blood amidst the rubble.