Stone Cold Touch (The Dark Elements 2) - Page 7

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“Can we get to the point?” Cayman asked gamely. “Time truly is of the essence.”

Abbot exhaled deeply, nostrils flaring, but he nodded.

“We have a huge problem,” Roth said, focusing on the clan leader. The smirk slowly slipped from his face, and a chill slithered down my spine. “A Lilin has been born.”

All the Wardens stared at him as though he’d dropped his pants and done a little dance. I gaped at him, mind rapidly replaying what Roth had said. We couldn’t have heard him right. There was no way a Lilin—a race of demons that could strip souls with just a touch—could have been created. They were so vile that stripping the souls didn’t just kill the human or Warden in question, but turned them into vengeful wraiths—spirits hell-bent on causing destruction. The Wardens had been created to wipe the Lilin off the Earth back during the times of Eve and that damn apple.

“That’s impossible,” Zayne snarled. “What kind of crap are you trying to pull?”

Roth shifted his gaze to him, his expression a hard mask. “I’m not trying to pull anything and trust me, there’re more interesting lies to be told.”

“It can’t be true,” Abbot stated, folding his massive arms across his broad chest. “We know what it takes to raise the Lilin and those things didn’t happen. Not to mention, Paimon was stopped before the ritual could be completed.”

“A demon trying to lie to us?” Dez snorted as a cold breeze stirred his hair. “Such a surprise.”

Mischief, the kind that would bring down entire cities, flared in Roth’s eyes. He opened his mouth, but I stepped forward. “How is this possible? You—we know that it’s not.”

Roth kept his gaze trained on Zayne. “It is.”

“How do you know?” I demanded.

A Warden snorted and muttered, “Can’t wait to hear this story.”

His lips curled up on one side. “As all of you should know, if you’ve read your ‘when the shit hits the fan’ manual, there are four chains securing Lilith in Hell.”

I nodded. I knew that Lilith, my estranged mother, was chained in Hell, but didn’t see how that had anything to do with this.

“Two of the chains broke when Paimon tried to perform the ritual, leaving only two chains secured,” he continued. “A third—”

“Wait.” Abbot raised a hand. “How exactly did two chains break? Paimon was stopped and Layla’s innocence—the key to the ritual—remains in place. So this cannot be true.”

Oh my God...

The whole innocence thing again. I bit back a groan as I folded my hand around my necklace. For the Lilin-raising ritual to have been completed, several things had to have taken place. The blood of Lilith had to have been spilled and that had come from the ring I still wore around my neck. My blood had to have been drawn and that also had happened, but the last two were the biggies.

I’d had to have taken a soul and would have had to have lost my innocence, like in the biblical sense. Only Zayne and Roth knew I’d taken a soul and Abbot could never know or he’d put me down. The other part? I was still a virgin, so it couldn’t—

“Paimon had the blood parts down,” Roth said, following my train of thought. He didn’t look at me as he spoke, but there was a razor-sharp edge to his words. Knots formed in my belly. “She was cut. I saw it.”

How in the world he’d seen the tiny prick during the fight was beyond me. “Yes. Paimon drew my blood and it spilled, but...” That night came back to me in a rush. After Roth and Paimon had been trapped and sent to the fiery pits, the floor had been scorched where they’d stood and there’d been a hole in the ground, right where I’d been tied down.

Abbot’s brows slammed together. He opened his mouth and then turned a piercing stare on me. I shrank back from the accusation in his glare. Did he know about Petr? That I’d taken the Warden’s soul in self-defense? I could already feel the noose circling my neck. Zayne shifted closer to me, and the air leaked out of my lungs.

“Your innocence,” Abbot said in a low, deceptively calm voice. “You claimed that you were still innocent, Layla.”

Claimed? “I didn’t lie to you.”

“Then how did the chains break?” he demanded.

“Now he believes us,” Cayman said, shaking his head. “How quickly he doubts Layla.”

Even though that accurate observation stung, I ignored the infernal ruler as my gaze tracked over the demons and Wardens. Nicolai looked away when my gaze met his. Dez and Maddox stared at me with a look of dawning understanding. I couldn’t even look at Zayne to see if he was also jumping to conclusions.

The only good thing I could see right now was that no one assumed I’d taken a soul. Instead, they believed I dropped my undies. My lips pursed. I was torn between denying what they were assuming, thereby revealing what I’d actually done, and keeping my mouth shut.

Zayne let out a deep breath. “Layla told us that she’s...well, you know what she said. We have no reason to doubt her, but we have every reason not to trust them.”

The relief that coursed through me was short-lived when Roth arched a graceful brow. “Considering I threw your ass out of that trap and took your place, I’d think you’d have a tad bit more faith in me.”

I closed my eyes. This conversation was about to go downhill fast.

“And I thank you for that,” Zayne responded in clipped tones. “But that doesn’t change what you are or the fact that Layla is still—”

Heat swamped my cheeks. “Okay. Stop. All of you. This gossipfest about my virginity is not something I want to continue.”

“You and me both,” muttered Dez.

“But I was still rocking a hymen the last time I checked, which means I’m a virgin.” My hands formed ineffective fists when Roth’s brows climbed up his forehead. “So can we not talk about this anymore?”

“Then if what you’re saying is true, the demon is lying,” Abbot spat.

“The demon?” Roth scoffed. “That’s ‘Your Highness’ to you.”

“Okay.” Cayman glided forward, raising his hands in mock surrender as the Wardens bared fangs in warning. “Nobody is lying—not our Crown Prince or our wittle, precious, virginal Layla.”

I shot him a dirty look.

He grinned. “As always, the text in which the ritual was written does not go into detail explaining how or what it takes for Layla to lose her innocence.”

“I wish you would stop saying that,” I muttered, rubbing my brow. I was starting to get a headache. “It’s not like you can just ‘lose’ your innocence or accidentally misplace it somewhere and forget about it.”

Abbot’s eyes narrowed.

“Good point.” Cayman shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans as he rocked back on the heels of his boots, and by the glee in his expression, I had this horrible feeling that I’d just talked my way into a corner. “The loss of innocence refers to carnal sin and it’s not like you have to do the deed to experience the pleasure of sin. Correct?”

Blood drained from my face as my mouth dropped open. Oh, I had experienced pleasure with Roth. That blood rushed right back to my face as the hours before we’d gone for the Lesser Key played out in my thoughts. Roth and I...we hadn’t done it, but we’d done other things. Well, he’d done things with his hand that I had only—oh God, I really needed to stop thinking about that right now.

Roth’s impossibly long lashes lowered as what Cayman had said sank into the minds and imaginations of all those present. One by one, they looked at me I’d murdered a nursery of babies and then bathed gleefully in their blood.

“What?” I said, shifting my weight from one foot to the next. I glanced at Zayne. A muscle throbbed along his jaw.

Cayman dipped his chin. “In other words, all she needed to do was have an orgasm.”

“Oh my God,” I moaned, smacking my hands over my burning face. I’d rather be back in the alley, about to be sliced and diced by the Warden, than where I was.

“And most likely not by herself,” Cayman added. “Besides, that is the only explanation.”

Someone kill me now.

Zayne swore under his breath and I thought I heard the word whore muttered from someone in the peanut gallery behind me, but I couldn’t be sure because no one reacted to the low murmur. It didn’t take a genius for anyone to figure out whom I’d experienced “the pleasure of sin” with. Wasn’t like I had a lot of options considering the whole “getting too close to anyone with a soul” thing.

“Well...” Roth drew the word out. “This is awkward.”

I slowly lowered my hands. “You think?”

He didn’t look at me. “So now that we have this covered—”

“But what about the taking of the soul?” Nicolai demanded.

Hair rose on the back of my neck. The change of subject should’ve given me happy feet, but Hell, it just got worse.

Roth shrugged. “The Lesser Key is an ancient text, remember? That means it’s not the easiest thing in the world to interpret. Clearly we all got something wrong, despite my superior intelligence. You have the Lesser Key. See if you can figure out what.”

The Wardens seemed to believe that for the moment, but Abbot shot me a look that said we’d talk later and that was so not a conversation I was looking forward to.

“But back to the issue at hand—three of the chains broke, meaning there is a Lilin.”

That again. “Wait,” I said, drawing in a deep breath. “I didn’t know her chains would break if the Lilin was created.” Unease curled in my belly as I glanced at Abbot, Zayne and then back to Roth. “None...none of you have told me this. You all just said that if the Lilin were created, everyone would be too busy rounding them up to worry about Lilith.”

“It wasn’t necessary to tell you,” Abbot responded in a clipped voice.

A hot and ugly emotion replaced my anxiety as I twisted toward the man I once looked upon as the closest thing to a father I’d known. I was so sick of the lies—about the fact that Lilith was my mom, that Elijah, a Warden who acted as if he loathed my very existence was actually my father. Abbot had kept all of that from me. “Really? Considering who she is to me, how isn’t it necessary?”

“Good point,” Roth acknowledged.

“You didn’t tell me either,” I shot back. His lips formed a hard line, and I willed him to look at me, to explain why he’d kept that major detail to himself. When he didn’t, apprehension took root deep inside me. “And if the fourth chain breaks, then Lilith is freed?”

The third demon, who’d been silent up until that point, shook his head. “Lilith won’t be freed. The Boss has her locked down now and I’m pretty sure Hell would freeze over before she gets out.” He laughed at himself, and I arched an eyebrow.

Abbot’s shoulders jacked up. “Even if Lilith is still in captivity, if there’s a Lilin, we have a huge problem on our hands.”

“Right now, there must be only one, because if there were more, you all would know. You’d have an overpopulation of wraiths. But even one Lilin can turn this city into its own personal soul-sucking playground,” Roth said. “They can take a soul with a single brush of their hand or they can mess with people—slowly stripping away who they are, changing their entire internal moral code. The Lilin could turn a Warden if they got their hands on one.”

Oh, that would be bad. Very bad.

“And they’re the only ones that can control wraiths,” Cayman added. “If they take a soul completely, that vengeful thing they create will answer to the Lilin. It’s like...double the suck.”

Wraiths were what became of any creature who once had a soul and then lost it. They didn’t go to Hell. There was no in-between for them. They lingered on Earth, stuck, and bitter hatred festered within them. They quickly became dangerous and they were powerful, able to interact with humans on a not-so-friendly level. Sometimes they targeted people they’d known while alive. Other times they didn’t discriminate, going after anyone who crossed their path.

“You know, with the rules and all, the Alphas—your big, bad guys in the big, bad sky—aren’t going to be happy.” Roth folded his arms across his chest. “So we need to find the Lilin before the Alphas decide to step in. Otherwise, we all will be at risk, including the Wardens.”

Alphas were the ones in charge. Angels. My half-demon butt had obviously never seen one. “Why would the Wardens be at risk?” I asked, confused.

It was Cayman who answered. “The Alphas aren’t the biggest fan of the Wardens, even though they created them. Isn’t that right, fearless leader?” When Abbot didn’t respond, the infernal ruler grinned. “The Alphas will see the existence of a Lilin as a sign of the Wardens’ inability to handle things, making them useless. They’ll wipe them out as punishment, right along with the rest of us.”

Oh my God, Alphas didn’t mess around.

“So we need to work together,” Roth stated.

Maddox laughed harshly. “Work with demons. Are you on crack?”

“Like I’ve said before, the Boss frowns on drug use while on the job.” Roth’s expression slipped into his bland look. “And you’ll have to get over your bigotry. We’re in a city that has over a half a million people in it, and that’s not counting the suburbs. The kind of damage even one Lilin can create is astronomical.”

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy