Watching him squirm at my feet, I said nothing. I blinked once, making my decision. My arms folded across my chest. There was a moment. I could pause now, but once the last letter was strewn across the mirror, I could not stop. The shadows fled from Eric as soon as I released them. He sucked in a jagged breath before jumping to his feet. His gaze burned into my body as he walked toward me, but I didn’t blink or back away. “Explain it.” I was certain that her lie would be detectable. “How do you summon a demon?”
Eric looked at the glass, and then back at me, “He’ll effonate to you, using your power to do so, when you call his name, but… “
“And if the demon is bound? Then how do you call him?” I asked glaring at him.
“There is no way to call a bound demon. The magic used to hold him will prevent you from effonating him.” Eric pointed at the mirror, shaking his head. “You see. Something’s wrong. This shouldn’t be here. This blood and glass should have nothing to do with calling a demon.” He looked at the reflectionless glass. “What’s it supposed to do?”
I was wasting time. The world around me was dying. Curtly, I replied, “My blood, a brimstone blade, and his name is supposed to suck Kreturus through this glass. The moment he is through, I’ll kill him. Eric. It’s our only chance. It won’t exhaust my power. It’ll end this. Isn’t that what you want?”
More gold flickered through his eyes like a light bulb that was about to burn out. He drank in my face like he’d never see me again. Eric pressed his lips together and stepped away from the glass, sweeping his arm forward, allowing me to write the last two letters on the glass.
Staring at Eric from the corner of my eye, I stepped passed him. My blood clung to the glass with all but two letters to complete his name.
I lifted my hand to the glass with my index finger outstretched. Pressing my finger against the black glass, I carefully smeared the remaining letters. My eyes shifted from the mirror to Eric. My gaze ran down his tense shoulders to the black blade that was clenched in his grip. He was half crouched, and ready to fight whatever came through the glass.
My blood-strewn letters soaked into the glass. It was like watching letters cast in magic marker disperse in water. Our reflections appeared in the glass. It was changing. I could see Eric standing behind me, watching the enchanted mirror, and waiting… The black pane came to life. It rippled once, then twice. I reached for my hair, grabbing my comb. The tines extended, as I pressed them to my mark. Demon magic flowed through my veins as I called to it. Anticipation and determination cemented inside of me, as I felt Eric step closer.
The words of the dark magic Illeca had trained me to say lingered on the tip of my tongue. A dark form appeared in the glass, as if it were very far away. A figure stood frozen, getting pushed towards us at incredible speed. Good. It was working. I tasted the words in my mouth, rolling the death spell over my tongue. My heart raced inside of my head, as I watched the figure get closer and closer. What took a matter of seconds seemed to last a lifetime. Kreturus stood with his head slumped, appearing completely human. My jaw tightened at the sight. Locoicia said it would be easier to kill him in human form. A tangle of dark hair masked his downturned face as the glass forced him forward. Faster and faster he approached, and the words were ready, ready to say—ready to kill.
My mind was disconnected from my emotions, as it needed to be. Dread didn’t wash over me in cold sheets. I stood there facing the being that would kill me, and felt no fear. But in the back of my mind, something whispered—something I promptly suppressed.
The figure in the glass didn’t slow. He was hurdling faster, frozen, unmoving as he was summoned to die by my hand. I stared with hatred at the broad shoulders, and the dark hair that covered his face. His body hurled through the glass as if he were no heavier than a piece of lint. I didn’t have time to think, and by the time his body pressed to the glass, it was too late. The words were ready to roll off my tongue. They had to. There was no alternative. No choice. And it was more than my bargain with the Demon Princess that forced me to say the spells. I had to stop the destruction that was strewn around me. And the only way to stop the demons was to kill the one commanding them. There was no going backwards. There was no other way.
I uttered the first word as the boy was thrown through the glass, and cast face-down on the ground at my feet. He shook his head and curved his shoulders to rise, but the spell grabbed hold of him. He tried to free himself as the spell threw him down. His voice was gravelly—unearthly—like a voice suspended in a throat-tearing scream. A second passed. No more, no less.
The next word fell from my lips and splashed to the ground. His head turned to the side. Dark hair covered his face, as the spell crushed the breath out of his lungs, pinning him to the ground. His body heaved, making the sounds of a drowning man gasping for his breath. One second passed. No emotion filled me. I didn’t care that he couldn’t breathe. I didn’t care that it was my words that were killing him. I felt nothing. No compulsion to stop, no empathy—nothing.
My mouth opened and the third word fell forth. His gravelly voice, a voice that was trying to speak to me, was suddenly muted. Though his mouth moved, not sound protruded. I caught a glimpse of Eric’s face in the mirror. His eyes burned with hatred, but his gaze seemed shocked.
There was no mercy. I uttered a fourth word. The boy’s back arched, but his body was still pinned to the ground. His mouth open in a silent scream. I could see every tooth inside his mouth. The veins in his neck were ready to pop, as his eyes were crushed together trying to endure the pain I inflicted.
One word left. Only one word remained.
As I watched, waiting for the second to pass, something whispered at the back of mind. This was not what I expected Kreturus to look like. He was vulnerable in this form. Why would he use it? Was he really just the victim of faulty timing? Was it true that luck was with me, and I caught him in a human body, instead of his own hideous form? I watched the boy as his pale pink lips remained parted in agony, frozen in a silent scream that never ended.
The pain price was about to slam into me. Payment would be made as the fifth word rolled off my tongue. The spell was death. After I said the word, the boy’s writhing would stop. His body would go limp at my feet in less than a second. Hideous things would happen to me for uttering the words I said. The pain price would be unbearable. I stared at the boy. Kreturus had already killed him. At best he was a Valefar. Death would free this boy, and let him die in peace, while the rest of us figured out how to endure the new Hell.
One word left. The second swept by, surreally slow. The boy’s face remained contorted in pain and covered by his dark hair. As I moved my jaw, and slid my lips around the final word, a plume of smoke blew into my face. I pressed my eyes closed and heard my voice ringing the beginning of the death incantation in my ears. The wind whipped the smoke away quickly. My gaze fell down to the boy screaming in agony at my feet. The sudden gust revealed his face. And I saw him.
I felt nothing. Shock didn’t wash over me. Horror didn’t twist my stomach into a thousand tiny knots. My voice didn’t ring forth, ripping out of my throat with complete devastation. I felt nothing as I saw his beautiful face contorted in pain. His eyes were pressed closed, trapped in a silent scream. His face. His perfect face was in utter agony. Collin’s normally smooth and confident brow was wrinkled in torment. His lips, the lips he’d pressed to mine—the perfectly pale pink lips that I wanted to cover my body—they were pulled back in silent horror. His screams didn’t resonate. He writhed at my feet, bound on the frozen earth.
The word, the last incantation was pouring from my lips, unable to stop. The words were already falling from my mouth when I saw his face. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t withdraw the words. I stared at him with horror screaming through my mind like a rush of wind that I couldn’t feel. There was no choice. Tears did not stream down my face. Numbness flowed through me as I looked down at Collin, knowing that his death was imminent.
Silence followed the final word. A black shimmer surrounded his body and dissipated. If I blinked, I wouldn’t have noticed. Part of me wondered if that was the last bit of his soul leaving his body. Eric stood behind me, wide eyed, and staring. That was when the pain price began. It was designed to start after the last word was spoken. It was made so that I could say all five spells in succession without pause. Without hesitation. Without error. The price of all five spells began, one after the other.
I stood perfectly still, staring straight ahead. My jaw locked as the first wave of agony washed over me. Breath was choked from my body as every piece of muscle was shredded to bits within me. The muscles that were normally woven together, unwrapped strand by strand. Pain coursed through me. It was only in my mind. It wasn’t really happening. That was the way it worked last time, but this time I wasn’t so sure. My mind didn’t connect with the pain, although I felt my body screaming inside my head.
I didn’t move. I didn’t flinch. I felt nothing. Sucking in a breath of air, the next pain price started. My fist balled at my side. I stared as Eric moved to face me, utterly fascinated. His eyes slid over my body in a way that was too sensual. When his gaze touched my throat, it felt as if it was split opened with a hot knife, and wrenched back. The muscles in my neck tensed. My control was faltering. The price of these spells was higher than I expected.
The next two payments in pain doubled up. My mind was screaming, telling me to stop it or I’d die, but I couldn’t stop this. There was no reprieve. There was no other choice but to bear the agony I cast on myself. My body stood frozen, unwilling and unable to move. I was aware of Eric, but my gaze fixated on Collin. He lay motionless where he fell. His dark hair rustled as the wind whipped it about. His fingers didn’t twitch. His chest didn’t rise or fall.
The final pain price crashed into me, and I fell to the ground. Blood poured from my mouth, soaking the earth under my face. The pain price was real this time. It wasn’t only in my mind. The pain tore through me, spilling my blood as it went. The pain price of death was blood. The price rebounded and doubled as it tore through me, intensifying. My body stiffened in response, trying to deal with the agony. The venom in my chest burned, suddenly brought to life. My fingers wanted to move and clutch my chest, but I couldn’t. Weakness held my head to the frozen dirt. The chill didn’t pierce my skin. I felt nothing. I did not move. My eyes were the only part of me that retained motion. Eric’s foot was next to my head, as he watched me at his feet. I couldn’t see his face.
As the pain raked through me, more blood spilled from my lips. The warm liquid spilled over my lips, pooling under my cheek. The poison burned in my chest. It was moving. Flowing. I could sense it within me. My gaze fixated on Collin’s face as the pain price began to fade. Every inch of me was numb. There was no comfort. There was no one to help me pick up the pieces when I rose. There was nothing left of my previous life. Warm blood had collected under my head, sticking to the side of my face and seeping into my hair. My lips were parted, and a trail of crimson streaked along my cheek and to the ground.
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