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Instead I felt a stony coldness flow through the bond. When I looked up he had stepped away from me. His lips were pressed together. His arms were still folded over his chest with the muscles corded tight as if they could snap at any second. I swallowed the lump in my throat.

As his foot slid away another step, he asked, “Are you still going after the Satan’s Stone?” Turning toward him, I gazed into his face for a moment and nodded. He cut eye contact, as his gaze slid off my face and onto the wall. The tension in his stance didn’t shift. It didn’t change. “You’re not going to try to use Eric again, are you?” My mouth went dry. I needed Eric to find the stone. I needed the stone to live. I needed the stone to kill Kreturus. Collin saw the answer before I had a chance to speak. He stepped towards me urgently, “You can’t be serious. You can’t get what you need from him. He’s a rogue. Eric won’t do what you expect, Ivy. And next time… ” he stepped closer to me, looking down into my eyes with a remorseful expression, “he’ll kill you. Al was a warning. He manipulated us.”

I could barely think. There was something Lorren had said about Eric, but the words were too far away, lost in the back of mind. I couldn’t pull them to my lips. I couldn’t tell Collin why Eric had to help me. I couldn’t tell him that an angel handpicked the boy and I screwed him up. The words were lost, drifting away into the recesses of my mind. But Collin’s gaze didn’t turn away. He continued to stare at me with no comprehension on his face.

I pressed my lips together, and said, “There are very few choices then. I die if I approach him. I die if I don’t.” My heart quickened wondering if he would sense the lie. I didn’t have to approach Eric to help me. Eric wasn’t the only person who could save me. There was one other way to save me. One other means of removing the sapphire serum lodged in my chest, but I’d never tell him.

Collin’s jaw twitched. He opened his mouth and then snapped it shut. Turning on his heel, he ran his fingers through his hair, half pulling half pushing it out of his face. When he turned back to me his eyes flickered like twin blue flames. “I’m not losing you. Not after all this.” He sounded like he was talking to himself more than to me. He took a quick step away and I thought he was going to leave, but he turned suddenly.

I sucked in a gasp as he stood less than an inch from my face. He towered over me. The tension in his neck made the muscles throb under his skin. His gaze caught mine. His midnight blue eyes had a ring of fire surrounding them. “There has to be another way to heal you. Some other way to do it without that stone, and without his help.”

The words shot out of my mouth like bullets, “There’s not!” I replied. “This is the only way. If you try to stop me, you’ll kill me. You might as well do it now and save me the agony.” My brow pinched together as I looked up into his face, hardly aware of the words I’d said. I hadn’t meant to say them.

Collin laughed, “That’s the last thing I want. I’ll find another way.” He paused, his tone softened, “And if there isn’t one, I’ll track him down myself. Don’t do this alone. Ivy, please… ”

His hand rose as if he was going to touch my face, but I jerked away. Panic laced my thoughts and spurred my feet into motion. I stumbled backwards nearly losing my footing. The feelings in the pit of my stomach were intensifying the entire time he spoke. Trying to control myself, I breathed slowly, intentionally, as he spoke. My hands turned to fists to keep myself from reaching for him. Every inch of my body wanted to feel him pressed against me. I couldn’t maintain the distance much longer, but I didn’t have to. Collin watched me. He looked at me as if he’d never seen me before.

Ivy, the thought brushed against my mind.

Icy terror poured down my spine. He was in my mind. I croaked a sound and stepped backwards, pressing my hands to my head as if I were in pain. Collin remained where he was, watching me withdraw from him. When I looked up at his face, the crimson ring was gone.

Finally, he turned to leave. Just as he reached the door, he stopped and turned back to me and said, “He won’t touch you. If you go after him, I’ll know. And I’ll be there.” Collin reached for the door and left without another word.

CHAPTER TEN

I wanted to kill Lorren. My body was strung as tight as it could go. My voice came out in rapid squeaks as I yelled at no one and punched the metal support beam in the center of the warehouse. Apryl should have been back already, but she wasn’t. My hand balled into a fist and I crushed it again. The sting of cold metal meeting warm flesh abated my anger. As I crashed my hand into it again, I felt the jolt of the impact travel up my arm and into my shoulder. Shaking out my fist, I turned back to the door.

Apryl was standing there, though I didn’t see her enter. She wore a wool dress with a pair of black boots that came up to her thighs. Dark hair fell down her back in a shiny sheet. Was Kreturus controlling her? There was no way to know. An eyebrow arched as Apryl walked toward me, throwing down a brown paper bag onto the floor. It tilted sideways and the contents spilled onto the floor. Apryl ignored the bag and continued to walk toward me with a strange expression on her face.

When she was a couple of steps away, I turned sharply. “What?” I growled.

Apryl stopped and shook her head. “Look at your hands. They’re covered in blood. And that one looks broken.” I gazed at my fists. My hands were still balled tightly, and she was right. They were bright red and slick. Streamers of blood wrapped around my wrists and dripped onto the floor. My left hand had a bone poking through the skin. I opened my hands, flexing the muscles. Apryl sighed and walked back toward the bag and grabbed a bottle of water. She twisted the cap off and turned back to me. As she walked, she scolded, “You can’t beat the shit out of poles. If Kreturus showed up now… ”

My hands bunched back into fists as I growled, “If he showed up now, I’d kill him.” The anger wasn’t spent. I could still feel it in muscles, burning with a bright ferocity that was difficult to suppress.

Apryl paused for a moment and then stepped toward me. She gestured for me to extend my hands and poured the water over them. The blood turned pink and spilled to the pavement in a splatter, and splashed onto my bare feet. She turned away and grabbed paper towels and tossed them to me. “Here. Clean up. I got you some shoes too.” She tossed them at me. It was a pair of black Chucks. I nodded thanks, cleaned up and slid the shoes onto my cold feet. “It’s not anger, ya know.”

Her words made my head jerk up as I tied the second shoe. “Then what is it?”

She walked over to where I sat. The wet, bloodstained cement was in front of us. She pushed the brown paper bag toward me. It scraped across the pavement making a noise that made my skin crawl. I peered inside. There were snacks and a tray of Chinese food. The tray had condensation sticking to the lid. It was still hot. I picked it up and ate as she spoke.

“Thought you’d be hungry. Didn’t know what you’d want, so there’s a bunch of stuff in there.” I nodded thanks, and she continued. “Anger is something that you can control. But that burning intensity that feels like anger, it’s really something else. Only the strong have it, and even very few of them get it. I thought it had to do with age, or the demon that made you. You know, the older the Valefar, the purer the content of demon blood. That in turn would make a stronger Valefar… but with you,” she arched her eyebrow, “I’m not so sure.”

I shoved a piece of broccoli in my mouth. “If it’s not anger, what is it? You still didn’t tell me.”

She hesitated. “I didn’t tell you, because it may not be the same for you. If you really are a half-breed,” I looked up at her unamused, and she smiled sheepishly, “or whatever you want to call it—then it might affect you differently. Anger is an emotion—it’s a reaction to a stimulus that upset you. Anger is a defense mechanism, and helps your body prepare to fight. Well, demon blood works in a similar way. It’s called Akayleah. It’s like anger in that it manifests in response to a stimulus, but it’s unlike anger in that you cannot control it.”

Her words strung questions together in my head. I put down the tray of food and grabbed a can of Coke. As I pressed the metal tab the can hissed opened. “But everyone is telling me that I can control it. They also thought it was anger.” I shook my head. “This doesn’t make sense, Apryl.”

Her eyebrows shot up as her shoulders shot back. Her jaw hung open for a spilt second before she spoke. Her voice was defensive. “I’m not lying to you. Why would I? You’re the only person who can free me from this shitty life.” Apryl’s spine resumed its former slump as she leaned forward and stabbed a piece of broccoli. “I don’t know who you’re talking to, or why they didn’t know. It’s not like its common knowledge. This isn’t basic Valefar stuff. It’s stuff I learned from being at the Pool of Lost Souls. Every demon has blood. Its power is from age and acquisition.” She laughed, ”Acquisition, that’s the nice way of saying they viciously took the power from someone else, and then, that person died horrifically as a result.

“Anyway, the power makes the demon. The demon made the Valefar with their blood. You should know that part.” When she looked at me I nodded. Some of it was new, but I knew most of it. “Akayleah is a demon ability. It’s kind of like an emotion, but it’s not. Something has to cause it to occur, and when it does—then there’s no stopping it. Imagine being so angry that you go into an insane rage. Imagine it contorts your mind, your body, and every bit of your appearance. That’s what Akayleah is. It’s when your blood overtakes your mind, and you have the compulsion to act without thought. The more powerful the demon, the more severe the Akayleah.”

My jaw dropped open while she was speaking. My wrists went limp, dropping the piece of food that was skewered on my fork. The piece of chicken slid onto the floor, and I didn’t move. It felt like all the air was sucked out of the room. I stared unblinking for a moment, utterly shocked.

“Why didn’t they know?” I asked. “How is that possible? The angels think they know everything about the demons. They made it sound like the war was all but won—until I came along. But that can’t be. Not if stuff like this is possible, and they didn’t even know about it.” I paused, thinking of the ramifications for me, “Akayleah destroys the demon’s mind? Their body? Everything?” I asked, horrified.

She nodded, “From what I understand, it does. But Ivy, I barely know about this and I shouldn’t. I’m a nobody. I don’t have enough demon power to effonate, never mind have issues with Akayleah… but, maybe you do.” I pressed my hands to my face, and rubbed hard, pushing my hair back. Apryl watched me. “Once Akayleah starts, you can’t stop it.”

Looking at the floor, I pressed my eyes together. “It’s already started.” My voice was flat and listless. “It started in a battle last year. My anger got away from me. I felt insane. I killed so many Valefar and I felt absolutely nothing. Their deaths didn’t plague me later. Their cries of agony didn’t haunt me in any way.” Taking a deep breath, I sighed and looked at my sister—my Valefar sister who I would have killed with the rest, without a second glance, if she stood in front of me that night. “Why don’t the angels know about Akayleah?”

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