The Demon Princess laughed softly and returned to the table. She slid onto the stone seat again and surveyed me over her fingers, as she pressed them together. “There is no price, little one. The poison is still there. It will still kill you.” My mouth opened, but I snapped it shut again when she shot me a sharp glance. “I did more for you in that one action than anyone has ever done for you in your entire life. The fool who froze the serum was still allowing its venom to poison you.” I slid down in my chair, looking at nothing. Her words surrounded me, until I felt like I was drowning. “Sloppy work for an angel. He could have healed you, but he didn’t.” Her eyebrow arched. “How curious. And was this angel friend or foe?” She leaned backward slightly, resting against the back of the stone chair.
Apprehension laced my thoughts. This seemed like a dream, but I knew it wasn’t. It was like a living vision. This demon pulled me from my dreams and into her world. I was trapped. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked, “How’d you know it was an angel? And what did you do? It doesn’t feel the same.”
She tilted her head and leaned forward. Her black gloved fingers tapped twice, “Residue. Angel residue leaves a… taste.” Her nose crinkled as she said the word. “I took that from you, so I could fix it. He left the venom crystalized, so that you could not use your demonic abilities without it costing you. He was very clever. It was well masked. But I am too old and too powerful to be fooled so easily. I have not healed you, nor will I. The poison is there by your own hand and none but you can take it away.” She rose from her chair and walked towards me slowly. Her eyes slid over my body as I leaned on the table.
I clutched my weapon so tightly in my hand that my knuckles were turning white. I didn’t turn. I looked straight ahead wondering what the hell Lorren was doing. He didn’t seem like he was helping me at all. Yet, he was protecting Eric. That made no sense.
When she said I could heal myself, I laughed at her words. The sound was hollow and callused, “I can take it away?” I looked up at her, and she nodded. I could see nothing of her face, but I didn’t have to know that she was lying. I answered, “I would have, if it were possible.”
She laughed, “Foolish girl. You cannot put anyone higher than yourself, lest you die. When you destroy Kreturus, you can put everything the way you want it, but until then—you will waste away. The venom will slowly kill you from within—unless you remove it yourself. There is no stopping venom any other way, no matter what that angel told you. He limited your abilities by freezing the sapphire serum and nothing more.”
I flexed my hands and loosened my grip on my comb. The flick of her gaze said she noticed the movement, no matter how tiny it was. She stood in front of me, black gown billowing around her ankles. The light from the false sun above hid her face in complete darkness.
“Why did you call me here?” I turned my head to look up at her. “Why did you pull me through the glass?” I rose in my chair, stood, and looked her in the eye.
“To teach you to use your power,” she replied. “What other reason could there possibly be?” She tilted her head back as her red lips pulled into a tight smile. Silence passed between us.
There was no way for me to defeat Kreturus without using all of my abilities. It was something that I could feel in my bones. I just knew it to be true. But, learning from her—it made my gut twist into knots. Collin warned me not to use my powers, but I knew I would have to if I wanted to defeat Kreturus.
My eyes narrowed to slits as I took a step closer to her. “Why would you help me?”
“I believe it is exceedingly expected for demons to be vindictive and hell-bent on revenge.” She pressed the fingertips of her black gloves together and turned. Her gown flowed as she moved. When she turned to sit, the skirt swirled slightly higher than her ankle. Before the gauzy fabric fell back into place, I saw pale human skin on her leg above her boot. My eyes flicked back to her face before she saw me. She was human. The Demon Princess didn’t notice the flick of my eye. She looked up at me from her seat. “The question is… are you willing to learn?”
I leaned across the table, staring at her. This woman came looking for me. This Demon Princess that was supposed to be dead sucked me into this place for one reason—to kill Kreturus. It made an akward alliance. I didn’t see myself siding with a demon, but a scorned demon was better than winging it. She wanted to teach me, and I needed to learn. One concern rose to the top of my mind—if I killed Kreturus, and this woman’s dark powers exceeded my own—how could I keep her from killing me? She wanted Kreturus’ throne. If I won, what was keeping her from killing me and taking it? A plan formed haphazardly in my mind. I was a few inches from her shrouded face. “No,” I breathed, and she flinched. “The question is will you teach me everything you know. Will you teach it to me fully? Will you teach me so I cannot fail?” I leaned back, sliding into my seat. I swallowed hard, knowing the road I was about to choose had a steep price, and once chosen—there was no going back. That was the only thing I could think of that would keep her from trying to kill me later. She was powerful and somehow she outsmarted Kreturus, and survived his wrath.
The Demon Princess placed her gloved hands on the table in front of her. She leaned forward and smiled wide, revealing pointed eyeteeth behind her red lips. “Do I sense a bargain, young Ivy Taylor?” Her words were light and playful.
I leaned back in my chair, draping my arm over the back. “Yes, you do.” This was the most powerful demon there ever was, next to Kreturus. If I had her skills with my power, I could beat him. I could win. I’d survive. But I had to get her to agree to teach me, and demons had a way of withholding things. A bargain would force her to divulge the stores of her knowledge, all of them. “Teach me everything you know, without exception.”
Her hands folded in front of her in an attempt to hide her excitement. “And what would my payment be?”
Tension ran down my spine, and raced up the muscles in my arms. “What do you want?”
“In addition to killing Kreturus?” she asked leaning forward in her chair.
I nodded. “Yes. You said you’d teach me how to use my power to kill him without a bargain. What payment do you want for teaching me everything you know?” I tilted my head, gauging the princess. She would ask for something else, something big.
Her lips were smooth and in a perfectly straight line. “Bring me an angel.”
My eyebrow twitched. “An angel? What for?” I leaned forward, trying to hide my shock. My disdain.
“It’s not your concern. You asked what would be worth bargaining for. I could teach you enough to kill Kreturus without teaching you everything. If I allow you to overpower me, there must be a price. The price is angel blood from a living, breathing angel.” She leaned back in her chair; her hands remained on the table in front of her. Several minutes passed when she finally said, “If you are unwilling, then… ”
Something she said caught my attention, “I’m not unwilling. How do I know? How do I know that the things you teach me will be worth the price? How can I believe you have the power that I need to overpower him, when you failed to do it yourself? He defeated you. I’m taking lessons from the loser, and paying through the eyes for it.”
My words were too careless, the tone of my voice too flippant. Before I could blink, she flew across the table. My chair was knocked out from under me as we flew backwards with her forearm pressing against my throat. When my back slammed into the wall, she leaned closer to my face growling, “Because I was a careless, stupid girl. My arrogance cost me my crown. But he did not destroy me as he intended. I was stronger than he suspected—and you will be too, if you don’t make the same stupid mistakes.” I tried to suck in air as she spoke, but there was too much weight on my throat. She released me and I slid down the wall into a puddle on the floor. I wanted to jump up and attack her, but instead, I rose slowly, controlling my twitching muscles. She turned and looked over her shoulder and a sense of familiarity washed over me. I thought it was from my dreams, but I wasn’t so sure. “The price is an angel—a living angel. You will bring him to me after you defeat Kreturus.”
Swallowing hard, I looked at her. This was crossing a line. Once I stepped over it, there was no way back. A bargain with a demon was permanent—binding. Once I entered into the agreement, it could not be undone. “You’re certain that sapphire serum won’t affect me until Kreturus is dead? The venom won’t kill me first?”
She nodded once. “Yes. But remember this. A bargain is a bargain. There is no way to alter the terms. There is no escape once your blood is given. It’s more binding than an oath. Failure to complete the bargain has dire consequences for both of us. You would kill the Demon King and steal his throne. You would have more power than me. There would be no one to stop you.” She watched me as she spoke, her words slowly lulling me into thinking this was a good plan.
If I accepted the bargain, it would change me. But, I’d already changed so much. I just wanted to survive. I wanted this to end. There’d been so many things I wanted to do—wanted to be. Now all that was gone. My life was gone. This is what remained. I had the chance to kill the Demon King, and I knew she could teach me. I had the power. The hush murmurs were all around me. They knew I had power, but they also knew that I had no idea how to use it. I already demonstrated that time and time again. I wanted the certainty that this agreement would bring. I stared at her. Her arms were poised on the table. A gloved finger pressed into the stone. That was the only thing that told me that she cared about my answer. She wanted this. The angel she wanted was important, but I didn’t know how or why. And I had no idea how I was supposed to bring her a living angel. It didn’t matter. There was no other choice. I thrust out my hand, “You have a bargain.”
She reached for my wrist, and a black blade appeared in her hand. She sliced it across my palm in a swift motion, causing blood to pour out of the cut. I flinched as the blade tore apart my skin, and my mouth opened to ask what she was doing. Before I could speak, she sliced her own palm. With a quick movement she gripped our bloodied palms together and there was a loud crack overhead. I winced, and tried to pull my hand back to retreat. It sounded like the ceiling would cave in.
A black chalice appeared, catching the blood that flooded from our hands. When Locoicia reached for the cup, she swirled the contents. Two swirls of blood intertwined on top of the dark liquid. She grinned widely revealing her eye teeth, and set the object high on a shelf with several other gilded cups.
A wide smile snaked across her lips. “It is done. There is no such thing as a bloodless bargain. The chalice holds the bargain, and will dictate when it is completed and if either of us defaults on our end of the deal. Punishment for abandoning this bargain will be a prompt demise. How interesting…” Her violet eyes glimmered like precious stones.