I didn’t see Eric or Collin. Neither was dead on the floor. They were both gone. I walked to the end of the row, and crouched to move through the doors that were blasted off their hinges. And the sight on the other side stripped every sense of right and wrong from my body. Suddenly there was no meaning to anything. Shock sucked the breath from my body in one swift motion as I gazed in disbelief. For a second I didn’t realize I’d stopped breathing until I sucked a gasp of air. I was outside and the front of the church was gone—ripped off and hoisted away. Rubble scattered across the remains of the front lawn that was now pitted with holes and dirty snow. The winter wind bit my cheeks and tossed my hair wildly about, as I gazed in horror.
Destruction was as far as I could see. Locoicia’s words meant nothing to me until I saw it with my own eyes. The church, the little brown ugly church that had stood in the center of a nice little neighborhood, was gone. The houses were gone. The streets were torn to shreds. Asphalt was cracked into pebbles that scattered through the snow. Wind bit into my cheeks as it whipped by, unaware of the things happening—unaware of the horror that stole my breath. The only thing that remained was the center of the church building where I’d emerged. The beautiful houses that lined the street stood in piles of burning rubble. Streams of smoke littered the landscape with various size plumes reaching upward. The sky was a color I’d never seen before. The entire thing was streaked in shades of scarlet. It was as if God himself were bleeding into the heavens and staining the sky.
As far as I could see, everything was the same; broken homes, shattered glass, splintered, burning wood under a bleeding sky. Plumes of smoke choked the snow out of the air. My feet faltered, as I staggered back, not believing what my eyes saw. Blackened bodies, twisted into deformed shapes of gleaming black scales and burning red eyes moved in the distance. Demons. They moved between the smoke and rubble walking farther and farther away from me. They marched onward to destroy the homes and families that lay beyond the horizon. There was no formation as they moved. It was strange. The demons were clearly moving as a unit, but it didn’t look like any formation I’d ever seen. Someone was commanding them.
I turned slowly, almost too afraid to look behind me, when I saw him standing a few yards away. “Eric.” I breathed his name as if it were my last breath. His hands were at his sides, covered in blood and black soot. His shirt clung onto his chest by a few threads. His brimstone blade was in his hand. He watched me with uncertain eyes. I ran to him, stopping a short distance away. “Eric,” I breathed again. “Eric, what happened?”
He glared at me. Hatred wasn’t hidden in his eyes; it was front and center, burning like wild fire. He reached for my throat, crunching my collarbone under his hands. I didn’t scream, as I heard the bone crack in his grip. The pain registered somewhere in the back of my mind. I slipped out of his hold and remained far enough away so he couldn’t grab me again. The bone began to mend itself.
Eric’s face was covered in sweat despite the snow. He breathed, flaring his nostrils, his shoulders tensed and his arms ready to fight. “You,” he spat. “You did this. Where have you been?” he yelled. “I held him off and you disappeared.”
My eyes flicked to the destroyed landscape and back to Eric’s face, “I wasn’t gone that long, and… ”
He rushed at me, and I was too shocked to move. Eric grabbed my wrists, and pulled them up to my neck, pinning them together. His body shook as he stared at me, increasing the pressure on my wrists. “And, nothing. You left. And now you come back? Now you want to save us?” He laughed, and threw me to the side. My body landed hard on the frozen ground forcing the air out of my lungs. I gasped, looking up as Eric began to walk away into the burning sun that was setting in front of him.
I shot up, and he turned with speed that I didn’t expect. “I had no choice. How much time has passed?”
There wasn’t a speck of gold in his eyes, “Five weeks. It’s been five weeks since you left me here. Five weeks of hiding, of running, of fighting. There’s nothing left. The demons destroyed everything looking for you.” His gaze raked my body, and he laughed. “And I thought… ”
“You thought what?” my voice scratched from inhaling so much smoke. The wind shifted and we were lost inside a cloud of burning rubble. I coughed, unable to see him. “I was gone for seconds, seconds! When I came back, you were gone! There was nothing left.” I paused. “I thought you found the memory you needed. I thought that you… ”
His fingers wrapped around my arm, digging into my skin. Eric pressed his face to mine, “You thought what?” he hissed through the smoke. “You thought I found what I needed? You thought I found where the Satan’s Stone is?” He shook me hard, yanking me out of the cloud of smoke as he did it. “There was nothing. Nothing. None of that memory remained in your mind. I searched for it, but it was gone.” The cloud of smoke was behind us, as Eric pressed his face to mine, spitting words in rapid succession.
Something inside me stirred, dropping into my stomach like lead. “So the book… The page… ” I asked, looking into his face. “It was for nothing? You don’t know where the stone is?”
His grip dug in tighter before he released me. “Where were you? Where did you go while your world bled to death? Every Valefar was forced to slay anything that breathed, while they searched for you. Collin was in the first wave to show up. Since then there has been nothing but attacks. Your screwed up blood spared me from being forced to battle with the Valefar. I have their mark on my face, but I killed them just the same. I waited for you. Hoping you’d come back. But you didn’t. Where were you? ” His voice was rough. Eric’s gaze searched over my shoulder before returning to my face.
I couldn’t tell him. The blood bargain forbade me to speak of it. It prevented the words from tumbling out of my mouth. So I did the next best thing and I called the demon glass. Eric turned his head looking at the place next to me as it shimmered and turned black. Within moments the Glass of Locoicia stood next to me. I pointed to it, “I was in there. My blood bargain required me to go. Time usually stops when I step inside, but this time, it didn’t.”
Eric’s eyes were wide. A flicker of gold swirled around his black pupils before extinguishing. He leaned towards it, and then pulled me away like it was poison. “Shit. Is that what I think it is? How do you find this shit? Fuck Ivy!” He ripped his hands through his hair and looked down at me. “Your blood bargain was with Locoicia? She did this?” I nodded, watching rage and fear collide in his eyes.
“She knew I couldn’t stop this, either that or she made certain that I couldn’t stop this.” Turning my head, I gazed at the landscape. There was no trace of suburbia. It looked like someone dropped acid on the ground and smashed the trees with boulders. The ground was cracked and covered in rubble and blood. Glittering black scales floated by on the breeze. Plumes of smoke rose into the air from a million places of differing size. This was the epicenter of the destruction. Maybe I couldn’t stop it. It was too late for that, but maybe I could do something else. If I was their Queen, they would have no choice. I turned to Eric. “I have to call him. I have to end this. Or there will be nothing left.” The bleak landscape said there was already nothing left, but I couldn’t accept it.
He shook his head, “I don’t know where the stone is. Without it, you’re too weak.”
Ignoring him, I grabbed the black blade out of his hand. Eric watched with his lips parted, as I pushed the blade against my palm. A thin red line trailed after the blade as it swept across my palm. When I finished, I thrust the blade back into his grip. Stepping toward the mirror, I raised my arm. Streamers of blood ran down my wrist and dripped on the earth at my feet. I pressed my fingers to the glass, feeling its sudden resistance beneath my palm. Swallowing hard, I wiped my bloody hand across the black glass.
“Ivy,” Eric said from behind me, “Don’t. Don’t do this. Assuming Illeca is alive and she told you this, you… You just can’t trust her.”
Silence filled the air. I stared at the mirror watching my blood change the nature of the glass. Our reflections appeared within its smoky depths. I knew Eric was right, but it was too late for that. It was go forward and kill Kreturus or die. “I made a blood bargain, Eric.” I glanced at him as I lifted my right pointer finger and smeared K onto the glass. “She can’t lie.”
He grabbed my shoulder and twisted me around, “What are you, new? Of course she can lie! She’ll break the bargain in a heartbeat if she thinks it’ll free her. And you’re too weak to do a damn thing about it. Shit! We should have found the stone when we had the chance!” He turned from me, and I stopped halfway through smearing the letter R. “I feel like I should know. I can feel it, but I can’t remember. Why do I know about it? Why did I know about Satan’s Stone at all?”
My eyes slid over his body. He was sincerely asking. My face went slack as the answer came to me. I suddenly knew why he knew about the stone. Why he had notes in his book. Why he was the authoritative expert on the subject. Eric saw it happen, he saw the curve of my mouth drop, and the recognition in my eyes as my hand moved away from the glass in shock. Eric yanked me away from the mirror.
He flung me to the ground, pouncing like a crazed cat, and pinned my shoulders to the frozen earth. “Tell me. You know. I saw it in your eyes. You know something.”
Eric shook my shoulders, but I called shadows. Within seconds they snaked down my throat and protruded from me until they wrapped around his arms, and pulled him off of me. I rose, and walked back to the glass and added the letter E. My blood didn’t dry or freeze or drip down the black mirror. The swipe of blood was exactly as I’d left it.
Eric cursed me over my shoulder, screaming obscenities at my back. I shook my head, considering the explanation. “It can’t be. It makes no sense. You had a life, a wife—and Al found you.” I smeared the letter T. “I was mistaken.” I turned to look back at him. Eric was held to the ground with invisible bonds as shadows snaked around his wrists and feet, binding him to the earth. I turned back to the glass and smeared an U through the blood before Eric spoke.
“Don’t make me do it,” he said. I turned to look at him after I wrote R on the glass. “I’ll kill you the same way I killed those demons the last time I saw you. Their skin was filleted from their bodies. That’s why there were scales everywhere. And that was only the beginning… And don’t think I can’t do it. It has nothing to do with how powerful I am. Don’t think it won’t have any effect on you, cause it will. It’s your power, not mine. When I kissed you searching for the memories, I borrowed some of your power. Only the tiniest drop, small enough that you didn’t notice.” But I did notice. I’d felt the power drain, but didn’t realize what he did. It wasn’t the venom that weakened me after Eric’s kiss, it was Eric! His fists clenched into balls at his sides, as he writhed on the ground fighting against the shadows that bound him. Smoke billowed around us, blowing in the winter wind. Eric growled, “Don’t make me do it, Ivy. I will. If you write one more letter on the glass without releasing me, you’ll force my hand. I can’t sit here, tied up and let you do this. If she lied to you, you could free Locoicia, and then we’ll have to deal with her and Kreturus.”