Stone Cold Touch (The Dark Elements 2) - Page 47

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There was no answer from Zayne, and a ragged sob rose from the depths of my soul. My heart cracked wide-open. “I don’t understand...”

Abbot raised his gaze to me. “ did this?”

I curled my hands around Zayne’s, shoulders shaking. “It wasn’t supposed to happen. He kissed me—”

He shot forward so fast I didn’t even see him move or feel the blow until I crashed through the dollhouse. Wood splintered and broke as I hit the floor.

“Abbot!” Dez shouted, shooting forward. As he moved to get between us, Abbot hit him across the chest with a broad sweep of his arm, knocking him into the wall.

“Stay out of my way,” Abbot warned as he stalked forward. “Geoff. You know what to do.”

I stumbled to my feet, pain firing through my senses as Geoff darted from the room. “It accident.”

“That is my son—my only son!” Abbot roared, shaking the photos on the wall. “I brought you into my home, protected you and this is how you repay me!”

Backing up, I raised my hands as if that could ward him off. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t happen.”

Rage spread like blood across his face. “Elijah was right. I should’ve let him put you down the moment we found you.”

The words stung, but I didn’t have time to fully feel their effect. Abbot reached for me and as I lurched to the side, the demon inside me pushed hard against my skin and bone. Like the night of Paimon’s attack, there was no hesitation. The change that came over me was too powerful to fight.

“Stop!” Danika screeched. “Please! She would never hurt Zayne, not on purpose.”

Her protests fell on deaf ears as Abbot advanced on me.

Instinct kicked in. If I stayed in this room, I’d be dead. There was murder in Abbot’s stare and the demon inside me wanted to live. It wanted to fight, to rip through the roomful of Wardens, but it also knew it was outnumbered.

The back of my shirt tore as my wings spread out from behind me. Fangs punched through my gums and my hands lengthened into claws. Someone in the room cursed as I crouched, kicking off the floor. I just missed Abbot’s reach as I landed on the other side of him.

I spared a quick glanced toward Zayne. Nicolai was by his side and I thought—I hoped—I saw his chest rise in a shallow breath, but there wasn’t time. The doorway had never seemed so far away before, so out of reach. My fingers scraped down the door just as my legs went out from underneath me. There wasn’t even a second to brace myself. I went down hard, my head cracking off the doorjamb. Black bursts darkened my vision as I lay there stunned.

Maddox was on me, flipping me over, and I blinked slowly. All I saw were wings the color of the sky before a storm as he hovered over me. Two heavily clawed hands punched the floor on either side of my head. He threw his head back, muscles straining and popping out of his neck as I slammed my knees into his midsection, knocking him back.

I popped up. Wet warmth trickled down my face. Everything spun as I rushed through the bedroom, reaching out and slamming the door shut behind me. Each step felt like a spike being driven through my head. Pain consumed me but instinct drove me to overlook it.

Vaulting over the banister, I propelled myself into the air. My wings unfurled, slowing the decent. I landed with a crash in the foyer, my feet denting the hardwood floors. To my left a Warden blocked the door to the living room, where the soft cries of the toddlers could be heard.

I ran for the door and just as I reached it, Geoff barreled forward. I whipped around, preparing to defend myself. His hand shot out and a small glass jar flew from his hand. I raised my arms, but it was too late. The jar exploded against my chest in a shower of glass and a milky-white substance rained down. The liquid immediately soaked through my torn shirt and jeans, seeping in through the pores in my skin.

Confused, I lifted my head. Geoff stood a few feet from me, breathing heavily. At the top of the stairs, Abbot appeared. I had no idea what the Hell Geoff had just tossed on me, but I didn’t have time to stand around and ask questions.

Turning, I reached for the door, prepared to give my wings a try and take flight, but as my hand came into view, I froze as the marbled skin tone was quickly replaced by lighter, pinker flesh.

My heart skipped a beat as my hands shrank back to their normal, ineffective size. The claws were gone. The fangs retracted and my wings folded into themselves. Twisting back to Geoff in dawning horror, I tried to walk, but my brain wasn’t communicating with the rest of my body.

“Bloodroot?” I whispered, recognizing the substance now.

I thought, and maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I saw remorse flicker across his face. And then there was nothing as my legs buckled out from underneath me. I was out before I hit the floor.

* * *

When I opened my eyes again, I was surprised to find that I was still alive. Or maybe I wasn’t. I was surrounded by darkness. Had my eyesight checked out? But as my senses kicked back into gear, my sight adjusted to the shadows.

The first thing I saw were bars.


I drew in a shaky breath as my heart rate kicked up. My stomach cramped as I opened my dry mouth, trying to get a deeper breath. A musty, dank scent was heavy in the air, as well as the pungent odor of vomit. Underneath my body was a cool piece of rigid board.

I knew where I was.

Down below the compound, I was in one of the cages used to trap demons. I hadn’t even known if they’d ever been in use before. Demons never really made it close enough to the compound to end up here, but the bars would be impossible to break through. Not that I could try. I couldn’t move. The bloodroot was still kicking around in my system.

A painful, tight spasm rolled through my muscles, making my breath catch. I panted through it as I lay there. There was a steady dripping sound from somewhere behind me. The only sound that let me know that I wasn’t in some kind of black hole.

As I stared into the darkness, I saw Zayne’s pale face and dilated eyes and heard Abbot’s harsh accusation. Had I really seen Zayne’s chest move before I left the room? Was he okay? The fateful kiss and its aftermath replayed over and over again in my head. I didn’t understand. We’d kissed—a lot—before and he’d been fine. What had changed?

There were no answers in the blackness that surrounded me and my heart ached. Every time I thought his name, it cracked open and festered into an ugly wound. If I had hurt him, if I had changed who he was, I could never forgive myself. And no amount of punishment, nothing that Abbot or the other Wardens planned, would be truly fitting.

The sickness from feeding on Zayne’s soul took hold. When it passed from my system, leaving behind the chills, I screwed my eyes shut and refused to see the part of him I stole.

Was he okay?

I didn’t understand why the soul had sickened me now when it hadn’t before. There were a lot of questions, and again, no answers.

After a little while, the ache in my cheeks and sides became a steady throb. The bloodroot prevented me from shifting and had to have also affected my body’s natural healing cycle. With each passing hour, different parts of my body began to hurt and then tiny pangs of hunger spliced across my stomach. The back of my throat burned. Water. I became fixated on it, obsessing over how it would feel slipping down my throat.

Finally I could speak above a whisper and I called out. And I kept calling out until my voice gave way.

No one came.

More time passed. Hours. Days maybe? Eventually I could move my legs and then my arms. I could almost sit up without hitting the bars of the cage.

And still no one came.

Tiny squeaks, along with the rasp of sharp claws against cement, joined the sound of dripping water. Rats. They came closer, their eyes shiny in the darkness. I curled into the back of the cage, pressing into myself.

Had they forgotten about me or had they left me down here to die of thirst and hunger? The backs of my eyes burned. I didn’t want to die in the cage. I didn’t want to die at all. It wasn’t the demon in me fearing that. It was me. I wanted to live.

But more time passed and I couldn’t feel my toes. It was so cold down there and the rats drew closer, sniffing around the bars, looking for a way in.

I’d lost track of time when a small light flared to life somewhere beyond the cage, sending the rats scurrying back into the thick shadows lining the slippery walls. Muscles cramped and weak, I forced myself to turn around.

More light flooded the room, blinding my too-sensitive eyes. There was the sound of heavy footsteps approaching the cage and finally the light receded. I could see.

The Warden in front of me was young, only a year or two older than me, obviously one of the newest recruits, straight from the house where the mated Wardens lived with their children. But that wasn’t what held my rapt attention. It wasn’t even the opaque glass he carried in his hand that was probably full of much-desired water.

It was what I saw before I could pick out the Warden’s features.

I saw the pearly translucent glow around him—his soul.

“I see your soul,” I whispered in a thready voice.

Those words were lost on the Warden as he knelt in front of the cage. He glanced over his shoulder and I saw the other Warden’s aura. When it faded, I recognized Maddox. “Are you sure it’s okay to open the cage?” the younger Warden asked.

Maddox stopped by an empty cage, crossing his arms. “It’s fine. She’s not going to do anything.”

My gaze shifted back to the newer Warden. A look of doubt crossed his features as he reached for the lock, which was unnecessary. I could barely keep my head up.

“Is she supposed to look like this?” he asked.

Did I look that bad? But then my gaze dropped to my own arm. With the light, it was the first time I could see myself. Through the torn shirt, my skin was mottled—gray, black, and pink. My eyes widened. What in the holy Hell?

I tried to speak again, but the words only scratched at my dry throat.

“She’s a mutt—part demon and part Warden,” Maddox explained as he came closer, kneeling down beside the other Warden. “The bloodroot is keeping her from fully shifting in either form. Give her the drink, Donn.”

The door to the cage opened and Donn extended an arm in. It took a lot of effort to reach for the glass, but thirst was a powerful motivator. The glass shook as I raised it to my lips and drank greedily. The moment the liquid sloshed down my throat, I jerked back, dropping the glass. Water spilled across the cage, seeping into torn, dirtied jeans and then through to my skin.

Maddox sighed. “The drink isn’t poisonous. It’s just bloodroot mixed in with the water. We can’t have you shifting.”

My head pounded disbelief. “Wh-why?”

“We need to move you out of here, to the warehouse,” Maddox explained, and my heart stuttered weakly in my chest. I knew what those warehouses were used for. “And we want as little trouble as possible.”

I wanted to point out that I wasn’t going to attack them unless they gave me no choice, but the room started to swim again. Before I slipped away, I forced his name out. “Z-Zayne?”

Maddox’s face blurred as he shook his head no, and my heart cracked all over again. This time, I welcomed the nothingness.

* * *

I had no idea how long I was out this time around, but when I came to, I wasn’t under the compound any longer. The little bit of relief was quashed when I remembered what Maddox had said and realized just where I was.

It was one of the places in the city where the Wardens brought demons for interrogations. Fear trickled over my skin, seizing my insides. Oh, this was bad....

Part of me wasn’t surprised that they’d brought me to this warehouse. They wouldn’t want to take care of their...dirty work on their own premises. Why would they want that kind of reminder?

There was a chain around my neck that connected to the one that secured my wrists behind my back. Not just any chain—but iron. No demon, not even an Upper Level one, would escape these chains.

I was lying on my side. The room I was in was empty with the exception of a tall folding table. From my position, I couldn’t tell if anything was on it. Knowing what happened in this place, my stomach dipped at the prospect of all the horrible instruments of torture that could be there.

My thoughts were disjointed and I wasn’t sure if it was due to the bloodroot or the lack of food and the injuries I could tell still hadn’t begun to heal. Each breath I took hurt and, as my head started to clear a little, I recalled the way Maddox had shaken his head when I asked about Zayne. My worst fear swamped me, threatening to drag me under. A sob worked its way up, spilling into the air.

“You’re awake.”

I forced my head back and saw boots and leather-clad legs. And then hands were on my shoulders, sitting me up so I was leaning back against a wall.

My head was fuzzy, as though every thought was covered in wool, and my tongue felt thick as I tried to speak. “What...Zayne...?”

The Warden backed up, coming into my line of vision. After the pearly glow faded, I saw that it was Maddox. I didn’t see any other Warden. He strolled over to the table. “I’ll make a deal with you, Layla. An answer for an answer.”

I rested my head against the wall. The position wasn’t comfortable, with my arms secured the way they were, but it was the least of my pains.

He picked up something from the table and light reflected off it in a way that caused nausea to crawl up my throat. When he turned to me, I saw he held an iron dagger in his hands.

Oh crap.

“Tell me where Tomas is, Layla.”

That question? Of all questions, it had to be that? Sweat dotted my brow. If I answered the question honestly, then it implicated me and like I needed that right now, but I needed to know about Zayne.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy