Stone Cold Touch (The Dark Elements 2) - Page 20

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“And I know why you guys are here. You ain’t getting shit from me. So you know where the door is.” He looked at me. “But like I said, you—”

“Finish that sentence, and you’ll be limping for the rest of your life,” I warned, and Zayne smiled. As I stared at Dean, I tried to see the quiet boy from class, but he leered back at me like a forty-five-year-old man who’d had too much to drink. “Are you still in there, Dean?”

“I think we know the answer to that,” Roth said, kneeling down beside the bed. Dean turned his attention to him. “Whatever piece of humanity is left in him, I sure as Hell don’t see it.”

I couldn’t believe that. The thought of this boy slowly being stripped of his soul sickened me. Maybe it hit too close to home. I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to believe it was hopeless. I stepped around Zayne. “Do you know who did this to you?”

Dean was still for a moment and then he sprang from the bed, so fast that he was nothing but a blur for a moment. I wasn’t sure if he was heading for me or not, but Zayne intercepted him, catching the boy by the shoulder. One hard shove and Dean hit the bed on his ass. “Try that again and you’re not going to like what happens.”

Dean drew in a ragged breath and then a great shudder rolled through him, shaking his slight frame. He lay on his side, tucking his knees under his chin. His entire body quaked as if someone was shaking the bed.

“It’s constant,” he said, raising his hands to cover his ears.

My pulse kicked up. “What’s constant?”

“It. I hear it all the time.” His fingers curled into his hair. “It never stops. It never gives me a break.”

“What is it?” Zayne asked.

The boy’s face scrunched up and his cheeks paled. “It doesn’t stop.”

“I think he’s in pain.” I looked to Zayne for help. “What can we do?”

Zayne’s brows rose. “He’s not possessed. You can tell by looking at his eyes.”

“What’s wrong with him is that he’s missing a good chunk of his soul and that probably feels like a gunshot wound.” Shaking his head, Roth rose fluidly. “Dean, we need you to tell us what happened to you.”

“I don’t understand,” he moaned.

He was still rocking in a way that made me want to gather him up and hold him, despite his earlier behavior. Roth asked him the question again and then Zayne repeated it. Neither of them got a coherent response.

I edged closer to the bed. “When did it start, Dean?”

Dean didn’t respond at first and then, “Days and days ago.”

Roth glanced at me and nodded for me to continue. “Where did it start? School?”

“Yeah,” Dean croaked. “It started there.”

Zayne moved back, coming to stand beside me. “Did someone make it start?” I asked.

Dean’s rocking slowed as he lowered his hands, revealing a bleak stare. I shifted my weight, uncomfortable as he continued to stare in my direction. He looked at me as if I should already have known, but that didn’t make any sense to me.

When he didn’t answer, Roth placed a hand on his bare shoulder. Dean jerked on the bed as if he’d been branded with a hot poker. His mouth dropped open and he howled loudly, like a wounded animal.

“What did you do?” demanded Zayne.

Roth snagged his hand back. “I didn’t do crap.”

I turned as the bedroom door opened. His mom came in, obviously out of whatever trance Roth had placed her in. “What are you all doing? What have you done to my son?”

“Shit,” Roth muttered as he stalked to Dean’s mother. Clasping her cheeks, he cut off her tirade of questions. “Shh, it’s okay. Your son’s fine.”

Mrs. McDaniel trembled. “No he’s not,” she whispered, the broken sound tugging at my heart. “He’s a good boy, but he’s not okay. He’s not okay at all.”

“We’re here to help him,” I said, relieved to find that Dean had stopped howling.

Roth stiffened, but he kept his gaze locked on her. “Everything is fine. You just need to go downstairs and start dinner. Chili dogs would be great.”

After a tense moment, Mrs. McDaniel pulled away and left the room, once again humming Roth’s song. Letting out the breath I was holding, I turned back to Dean. He was holding his headphones.


“Get out,” he said, and when we didn’t move, he lifted his gaze and a cold chill skated over my skin. There was something empty in his stare. “Get out.”

Zayne held his ground. “We need—”

“Get out!” Dean was on his feet and he cocked back his arm, throwing the headphones straight at Roth’s head. “Get out!”

Roth’s hand snapped out, catching the headphones before they smacked his nose. The plastic was crushed in his grip and then tossed to the floor. “I seriously hate it when people throw things at my face.”

The boy didn’t seem to care. He whirled on Zayne and charged him. Zayne must’ve seen something in his stare because he shifted. The shirt ripped right across from back and chest. Granite skin replaced human flesh. Wings unfurled, seeming to take up the whole room. Zayne caught Dean and spun him around, curling a massive bicep under his neck.

Dean went crazy—kicking and clawing at the air as he wailed a steady stream of Latin.

“Show off,” Roth said, rolling his eyes. “Like you needed to shift.”

Zayne ignored him as the muscles in his arms flexed under Dean’s neck, cutting off the inhuman sound emanating from the boy. Quickly, Dean settled down, his arms and legs going lax. He was down for the count.

Shifting back into his human form after carefully placing Dean on the bed, Zayne glanced down at his tattered shirt. “Sorry, but I don’t think we were going to get much out of him after that.”

“We didn’t get much out of him anyway,” Roth responded, lip curling as he stared at the unconscious boy. “All he did was confirm that he came into contact with the Lilin at school.”

“That’s something, right?” I said.

Neither of the guys responded. As we left the McDaniels’ residence, I couldn’t help but feel a little defeated. I didn’t know what I’d expected from coming here, but I hadn’t thought I’d see Dean like that. None of us seemed to have a clue as to what Dean could be hearing.

Once we were inside the Impala, Roth leaned forward and tapped my shoulder. “You shouldn’t have said what you did up there.”

I caught Zayne’s frown as I twisted toward Roth. “What do you mean?”

“When you told his mom we could help him,” he said, an oddly serious glint to his amber eyes. “You shouldn’t have said that.”

My stomach took a little tumble. “Why?”

“I don’t think we can help him. At all.”


“I have an idea.”

When Roth spoke those words at the beginning of Tuesday’s bio class, I was immediately prepared for any amount of cray-cray, especially after our visit with Dean.


“Since we didn’t get anywhere with Dean yesterday, I’ve been thinking.” He lowered his head and spoke quietly. “No one’s really checked out the old gymnasium, have they?”

“Not since that night as far as I know. So?”

His eyes shone brightly. “Who knows what kind of evidence we’d find down there since it was where the Lilin was kind of born. Doesn’t hurt to check it out. Thought you’d be interested in scoping it out at lunch.”

I opened my mouth, but snapped it shut. This was exactly what Zayne had asked me not to do. Granted, checking out the gymnasium in the bowels of school wasn’t exactly running off with Roth.

“I know you don’t want to sit around and let us take care of it,” he cajoled, tilting his head to the side. “At least, the Layla I remember was more of a get-involved kind of gal, not someone who’d rather sit by the sidelines.”

My eyes narrowed. “I know what you’re doing. You’re goading me into going with you.”

“Is it working?”

I sighed. “Yes.”

“Perfect,” he replied, twisting toward the bio door. He held it open for me. “It’s a date.”

When he laughed, I knew there was a good chance I was going to kill him and stash his body behind the bleachers.

* * *

Instead of going to lunch like a normal person, I left my bag in my locker and headed in the opposite direction. I’d spent the vast majority of the morning telling myself I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and as soon as I saw Zayne after school I’d tell him that we’d checked out the gymnasium.

The hall was empty and the conversations behind closed doors muted. Overhead, the red-and-gold banner rippled softly as the heat kicked on. As I passed the computer lab, the door opened and Gareth stumbled out.

His legs and brain seemed to not be connected. He staggered to the side, leaning into a locker. Bending at the waist, his chin dipped to his chest.

I stopped, biting my lower lip. By no means were Gareth and I friends, and I’d been shocked that he’d even known my name when he’d invited me to watch football practice not long ago. According to Stacey, Gareth probably knew my bra size, which creeped me out a bit.

His body shuddered as he dragged in a deep breath.

But he was in trouble—perhaps the Lilin kind of trouble.

Taking a quick breath, I walked over to him. “Gareth? Are you okay?”

Gareth folded an arm across his waist and when he didn’t answer, I touched his shoulder lightly. He jerked up, knocking my hand off his shoulder. Bloodshot eyes met mine.

I took a step back, shaken. Like with Dean, behind the red veins and hazel irises, there was something empty in there. Something gone.

“What are you staring at, freak?” he asked, and then laughed. “Freak-a-deek-a-deek...” he mumbled, giggling as he shuffled slowly off toward the cafeteria.

Good God...

Hurrying to the stairwell, I leaned against the wall down there and lifted my head as I heard the door above me open. A second later, the space that was empty in front of me was filled with six-and-then-some feet of Roth. Gasping, I jerked back.

“God! Why do you do that?” I pressed my hand to my chest. “You could’ve just used the stairs.”

He grinned as he rocked back on the heels of his sneakers. “What fun is there in that?”

“I don’t care. Stop popping in and out.”

“You’re just jealous you can’t do that because you’re not a hundred percent, full-blooded awesome demon like me.”

I rolled my eyes, but there was a little part of me that was envious of that ability. God knows it would come in handy every time I found myself in a situation I wanted to pop myself out of.

Ignoring the comment, I focused on the important. “I think Gareth is infected.”

“Can’t say I’m too torn up over that prospect.”

My eyes narrowed.

“What? Like I said before, Gareth and his daddy are well on their way to spending an eternity clawing out their eyes or some messed-up crap like that.”

“Gareth may be a crappy person, but he doesn’t deserve to lose his soul.” When Roth looked unfazed by the statement, I sighed. “Does human life mean nothing to you?”

“I’m a demon,” he replied. “Should it?”

I knew better. His words may be cold and brash, but I knew Roth was more than just a demon. I wasn’t going to start that conversation again, though. I headed down the final flight of stairs. I didn’t want to hang around in the stairwell with him and end up poking memories loose. He followed behind me, quiet as a ghost.

“The door is locked,” I said, motioning toward the chain wrapped around the handle. “You can break it?”

Stepping forward, he grinned devilishly over his shoulder. “Easily.”

All it took was for him to put two hands on the chain and pull. The metal gave way with a clank. The ease with which he broke the chain gave me pause. Roth was dangerous, something I couldn’t afford to forget.

Musty, cold air seeped into the hallway as he pushed the heavy door open. Stepping into the abysmal darkness, he searched for a light switch while he hummed softly under his breath.

Pressure clamped around my heart, squeezing it dry as I realized he was humming “Paradise City.” The song made my chest achy, and I wished I could plug my ears.

Roth found a switch, and a low whirr reverberated through the room. A few large dome lights flickered along the ceiling before clicking on. The light was dull and it took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust.

He’d already moved forward, heading for the area near the hoopless basketball pole. All the occult and satanic stuff had long since been removed, but there was an evilness that still lingered in the cold, dank gymnasium. The place gave me the creeps.

Wrapping my arms around myself, I trailed after Roth, noticing where the Rack demons’ claws had scored thin slices into the flooring. There had been many of them that night. The area where I’d been tied down was scorched black from the fire that had claimed Roth and Paimon. Lifting my gaze, I stared at Roth’s back, wondering if being here made him feel anything.

He knelt, running his hand along the floor, brushing aside dirt and dust. “ and Stony?”

Sighing, I edged around him and the faint white line that marked where the pentagram had been drawn. Scanning the area, it wasn’t hard to see myself there. Chilled, I took a deep breath.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy