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Eric spoke, but I failed to hear him. I swung and he dodged. A strange familiarity came over me as I fought him. We’d done this before, long ago. His golden eyes would dance as he fought me back then, and I would lose. I lost every time. Eric had been a warrior. He taught me to fight. He taught me to win. We’d run through the old gym at the church like children on a playground. Without a doubt, I knew Eric wouldn’t hurt me back then. Nothing was real at that time. Demons and angels were some distant thing that I would never encounter. I didn’t realize how deep I’d gotten. Eric was kind then. He helped me. He knew me. And I had no idea what I’d do to him. I had no idea how much pain I would inflict on him before his life ended. It made my heart sink long enough to hear what he was saying.

My mind jumped out of the past. The memories blew away like a feather in the wind. When the memory faded I realized that my body had been swinging my weapon, and attacking without thought. It seemed that my anger put me on autopilot. My advances were innate. I swung. I blocked. I attacked. Nothing was planned. And as Eric’s voice drifted up to my ears, I found that I’d beaten him. I’d inflicted wounds that I didn’t remember giving. Blood streaked his face dripping down his cheeks and into his hair as he lay beneath me. My legs straddled him, pinning Eric to the ground. He didn’t wince, or close his eyes. Instead he kept speaking words I couldn’t hear. Words that sputtered beneath a sea of static. I watched his lips move, as I swung my arms over my head. My back arched with my blade secure in both hands. Poised to strike. Ready to kill. All I had to do was plunge my blades down and into his heart.

Eric’s words cut through the haze of rage for a split second, and I heard him. “… cannot defeat him on your own. He’ll use you Ivy. He’ll make you into something you’re not. Fuck! Wake up! Listen to me!”

I paused, staring down at him, feeling my arms tremble as I held them still over my head. I wondered how I pinned him. I didn’t remember this. I didn’t recall throwing Eric to the floor. I was ready to strike and end his words forever, but something stopped me. It was like someone paused me.

His eyes were completely golden, without a bit of red. His voice was soft, neither pleading nor panicked. “I remember you. I remember who you are even if you don’t… Ivy, let go of the rage. Let it go and come back to me.”

In that second, my resolve hardened. There was no mercy, no forgiveness for what he’d done. And the fact that I’d made him what he was, was even worse. It was time to end this. It was time to end the pain I’d caused by trying to make him into something he wasn’t. By trying to save him. Every muscle in my body burned and I felt myself becoming more drained by the second. A scream erupted from deep within me and ripped out of my throat. Eric pressed his eyes closed, as my weapon swung straight towards his heart. As the silvery tip touched his flesh, I expected it to rip through him like a tissue.

But it did not. When my blade hit Eric’s chest the tip touched his flesh, sinking in slightly and then stopped. Eric’s eyes went wide, but he said nothing. Enraged, I threw my arms over my head for the second time. Not understanding what happened, I swung down a second time. There was no saving him from this. Eric would die. As the tines whistled through the air downward toward Eric’s chest, I felt something grab me. It felt like I was snatched from the spot where I pinned Eric to the ground. Mid-swing, I was pelted with cold air. Colors of light streaked past me so fast that all I could do was scream. It felt like I’d fallen into a black hole. The world rushed past me in a streak of colors and meaningless sounds. They continued to blare by without pause. Until it stopped. Then, with an ungodly thud, I landed on a slick golden floor. My comb clattered next to me with the blades retracted. A black boot stepped towards me, as a hand reached down and pulled me up by my shirt.

“Have you lost your mind?” Lorren screamed at me. My fingers wrapped around his grip trying to pull him off of me, but he tossed me across the room like I was nothing. I hit the golden floor of the Lorren.

CHAPTER FIVE

Rage poured out of my mouth, as I shot off the ground and ran at him. “I was about to kill him! You had no right to… ”

As I collided with Lorren, he grabbed my wrists, jerked more towards him and spat angrily in my face. “I had every right. You can’t screw this up. I’ll kill you myself, if you do. Look at yourself. Do you even know what you’ve done? You allowed your rage to consume you. Look!”

He thrust me towards a golden mirror. My reflection was… horrifying. Shaking my head, I couldn’t breathe. All the air was sucked out of my lungs as I stared at myself. Dried blood covered my torn clothes and dirt-streaked face. Long blue patches wrapped around my throat in three long bands—bruises from Eric’s grip on my neck. The blood and the bruises weren’t what made me gasp. That wasn’t the most disturbing thing. When I stopped struggling, Lorren released me. I moved slowly towards the glass as if it were made of poison.

My jaw hung open as my hands touched my face. Pure violet eyes gazed back. Long curling tongues of flame, that used to be my dark hair, lifted around my face. The flames glowed and danced like Medusa’s snakes swaying in a breeze that didn’t exist. Black marks marred my pale skin in small patches that resembled tiny gleaming scales. When I touched the black flesh, it felt cold and slick beneath my fingers.

Trembling my hand fell to my side. I turned back to Lorren with wide, pleading eyes. “What did this? What’s happening to me?” I stared at him for a moment hoping he’d show me compassion that I didn’t deserve.

He rolled his dark eyes, and grabbed my shoulders. Twisting me back towards the mirror, he pushed me forward and said, “Look once, and look hard. I will never offer you this again. Rage is poison, Ivy. It flows through your body and corrupts everything you are. You’re becoming what you feared the most—demonic. You hair will turn to snakes, your skin will turn to scales, and your eyes will burn with hate.” He twisted me back towards him. Tears streaked down my cheeks, and I couldn’t bear to look at him. He shook me once. Hard. “Never forget who you are. Vengeance is not justice. I put Eric and Al on your path to help you. You completely screwed up Eric, but Al knew it was her time.”

“What?” I squeaked, feeling the last rush of anger leave me.

Lorren didn’t look at me. Instead he moved around in the golden chamber, sifting through some loose things on a table. I had no idea what they were—they were odd shapes—and looked to be made of glass. Lorren picked one up and walked over to me. “They were both chosen a long time ago to make certain that Kreturus does not win. Al did her job. Kreturus played you. And you let him.” Lorren cracked one of the glass beads and poured its cold contents over my head. It sank into the flames that had been my hair, and cooled them. Soon the flickering violet flames became still, lying limp on top of my head.

“He played me? How? I haven’t even seen him. Not since I was down here.” I looked at Lorren and I could tell that he had no more patience with me. This was the end of it.

He spun me around again, and forced me to sit on a golden stool. He cracked another glass gem over my head. I didn’t dare move, even when it felt like bugs creeping down into my scalp. “He’s been following you, influencing those around you. He still wants you, Ivy. That will never change. When Al saw Eric in the clearing, she knew that the demon was influencing him. Eric didn’t act of his own accord. Kreturus’ hand forced him. Yes, Eric wanted the book. Yes, he has it. And yes, Al saw the manipulation. That is why she didn’t want you to go. You weren’t ready to face Kreturus. She gave her life to spare yours. She knew you still need Eric.”

Dazed, I stared straight ahead and said nothing. My scalp tingled as the unseen substance spread over my head. I replayed that night in my mind. Lorren remained silent allowing me to peruse my thoughts. Eric had been acting oddly. Even for the Valefar version of him. I didn’t understand why. I’d assumed that I’d misjudged him. I thought I was wrong about him. And the cost was Al’s life. But according to Lorren, there was more going on than I could see. I glanced at my hands, turning them over, avoiding Lorren’s eye, “So, all that time, Kreturus was nearby?”

He knelt next to me, and when I looked up at him there was hope shining in Lorren’s eyes. “Yes. He’ll never leave you alone. He’s there, silently stalking you—waiting to pounce. This outburst almost gave him the opportunity. If you’d killed Eric and allowed the rage to permanently consume you—you’d be with him now.” Horrified, I stared at Lorren with my jaw hanging open. “They both told you to control your anger. They both warned you several times… ”

“How did you know?” I didn’t doubt his words, but wanted to know if he was there the way Kreturus had been. I knew nothing about angels, and Lorren was one. “Were you there all along and I didn’t see you?”

At first Lorren didn’t reply. His dark hair hung in his eyes as he reached for another glass stone and cracked it, pouring its contents onto my head. Then he pushed his finger into the cavity of the glass, and smeared some of the colored goo on the skin that was now black scales. He touched it to my shoulder, the base of my neck, and slid the last bit across my left cheek. He looked into my face for a moment, then turned and sat down.

After throwing the empty piece of glass on the table he said, “I can see you. I’m an angel, and could have followed you, but I can’t leave here.” I went to open my mouth to ask why not, but he cut me off. “Don’t ask. I won’t tell you. It doesn’t affect your fate, only mine. I used the glass to see where you were and what you were doing.” He shook his head. “When you get off course, there is no middle road for you, huh? It’s crash and burn all the way.”

I stared at him for a moment. He was so odd. I wanted to know why he was trapped in the Lorren, but couldn’t ask. I leaned forward to stretch my back, and buried my face in my hands. When I sat up, I pushed brown hair away out of my eyes. Surprised, I grasped a brown curl between my fingers and looked at it. There was no trace of the flames. I glanced at Lorren, who was watching me intently. “You fixed it?”

He nodded. “It’s easier to remember who you are when you can still see it. But there are no second chances. Not anymore. That was nearly permanent, and I do not have the power to intervene like that again.” Lorren was silent for a moment, and moved closer, locking his dark eyes with mine. “You can not kill Eric. Period. He has my protection, no matter what form he’s in.”

My jaw dropped. “How? How could you protect him? He killed Al. She was a good person. He isn’t!” I felt anger course through me. I resisted the urge to grab it and hold onto it. Lorren watched me as I let the feeling subside.

“Mmmm,” his voice was deep. “What if things weren’t as you understood them? What if Al gave her life and Eric was the unlucky guy who got stuck holding the sword?” He rose and walked towards me. His face said he spoke the truth, although I couldn’t possibly understand how that could be. He stopped in front of me. “See with your heart. It’s the ability that will save you. It’s the gift Al knew you had. She said that your passions would damn you, but that she knew your heart could overcome anything thrown at you. She said you were strong. She knew you could do this.” Lorren’s dark gaze rested on my face. I wanted to squirm.

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