The world has fallen in love with Nick Gautier and the Dark-Hunters.
Now Nick’s saga continues in the next eagerly anticipated volume…
Go to school. Get good grades. Stay out of trouble. That’s the mandate for most kids. But Nick Gautier isn’t the average teenager. He’s a boy with a destiny not even he fully understands. And his first mandate is to stay alive while everyone, even his own father, tries to kill him.
He’s learned to annihilate zombies and raise the dead, divination and clairvoyance, so why is learning to drive and keep a girlfriend so dang hard? But that isn’t the primary skill he has to master. Survival is.
And in order to survive, his next lesson makes all the others pale in comparison. He is on the brink of becoming either the greatest hero mankind has ever known.
Or he’ll be the one who ends the world. With enemies new and old gathering forces, he will have to call on every part of himself to fight or he’ll lose everyone he cares about.
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It wasn’t every day you learned that you were the son of a ferocious demon and that your destiny was to end the world. Or that the guy you thought was your whacked-out uncle was actually you from the future trying to prevent not only your death, but that of basically everyone else…
All in all, being that he was only fourteen years old, Nick Gautier was handling it pretty well.
Yeah, not really. Stunned into complete silence, which very seldom happened, Nick couldn’t breathe as brutal reality sucker-punched him. Hard. Mercilessly.
Right where it hurt most. Well, not physically there. But mentally it felt like his gonads had been stomped straight into the ground. His head swam from nausea.
Trying to get a handle on everything, he clutched at the broken stones on the stoop where he sat outside his new apartment building on Bourbon Street. Ambrose—the future him—stood to his left, towering over him with a pitiless sneer.
How was it possible that he was Ambrose?
Or more to the point, Ambrose was what he would become…
How could he, an average kid roaming the backstreets of New Orleans, be the ultimate evil? He didn’t feel particularly evil. Most days, he didn’t feel anything except stressed out by school, or tired of his mom nagging at him about everything from the clothes he wore, to the length of his hair, to how late he stayed up. Some days, it felt like she was looking for a reason to be ticked off at him.
Boy, if she knew this about him, he’d never hear the end of it. She’d probably ground him until he was at least three or four thousand years old. Yeah, it sounded ludicrous even to him, until he looked at Ambrose standing all bad ass and tough at his left.
Ambrose is me from the future…
He glanced around the section of Bourbon Street where his new apartment was located. Everything looked the same. The broken sidewalks that made up the French Quarter. The cars parked in a line on both sides of the street. The row of shotgun houses that led to stores and restaurants…
But nothing was the same.
Most of all, he would never be the same again.
I am a demon.
“No, no, no,” Nick repeated as he tried to come up with some other explanation. One that made a little more sense and that didn’t leave him as a tool for the darkest forces in the universe.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t one. Not that any of this made sense. It was all pretty farcical when you thought about it.
Him. Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier—smart-mouthed, streetwise kid. Typical teenager. Gaming guru. Anime and manga obsessed otaku. Socially awkward around
any girl his age.
Dang, his principal had been right all along…
He really was demonspawn. Too bad Peters had gotten eaten by zombies before he found out the real truth of Nick’s parentage. Old fart would have been proud to be proven right.
Nick really was destined for a life of total destruction.
Even though he wanted to, he couldn’t deny it. Ambrose had the same exact blue eyes and dark brown hair he had. The same sneer that he often wore when things ticked him off—the one that got him grounded every time his mom saw it. More than that, Ambrose had the identical scar on his palm that Nick had been given when Xenon cut his hand for blood. A scar that hadn’t been on Ambrose’s hand the last time he’d seen him.
I’m in a flippin’ Twilight Zone episode.
He had to be. Nothing else made sense.
So where was his voice-over, telling the audience how he’d screwed up and taken a wrong turn down some suburban street or some such crud? C’mon, Rod Serling. Don’t let me down. I need you to come in and tell me that I’m in a nightmare. Tell me about this new dimension of sight and sound.
But there was no reprieve. Not from this skewed reality.
And not from the fact that he was the hated and hunted son of a demon…
“I’m evil.” He tried to accept that and still he couldn’t. If it were true, how could he go to Mass all the time with his mom? Shouldn’t he burst into flames when holy water touched him? Feel a burning sensation or something when he took communion? For that matter, he’d been an altar boy for years.
But he’d never once experienced the slightest bit of discomfort from any of that. The worst thing that had ever happened to him in church was when the priest had fallen asleep during his last confession—which said it all about how boring his life had been prior to all of this.
Yeah, okay, and then there was the time when he’d tripped going down the center aisle and spilled incense all over the place. But that hadn’t been a result of his birthright, unless you counted clumsiness and the fact his thrift store shoes had been too big for his feet.
“I am evil,” Nick repeated one more time.
Ambrose shifted his weight to one leg as his dark scowl intensified. “No, Nick. We’re evil. We were bred to be soldiers for the darkest of powers.” He said that so lackadaisically—Like, Hey, the sun’s shining. Look, the neighbor’s dog is in your trash again. Dude, you’re wearing one ugly shirt.
Oh, and by the way, you’re a demon in human form.
Much like the tacky Hawaiian shirt Nick was wearing, it just didn’t fit.
“Then why are you trying to help me?” he asked Ambrose.
Ambrose snorted. “I ask myself that every day, and I have no answer. Part of me wants to tell you to just embrace your birthright and go with it. To let the evil have its way and carry you to the Nether Realm for your enemies to use as they see fit. God knows, fighting it never gave me any peace or comfort. Not once. Just a giant sized ulcer. You want the honest truth? Caring about others has made my entire life suck from beginning to end. When you don’t care about anyone or anything, nothing can hurt you. When you do…”
Your enemies had you by your stones. He’d already learned that lesson.
“You haven’t answered my question.”
Ambrose sighed. “Because I don’t have an answer, kid. Contrary to what you think, we’re all mice lost in a maze. No one really knows what they’re doing. You go left for whatever reason, but you don’t know if it’s the right direction or not until you’re either electrocuted or you get the cheese. By the time you find out which it is, it’s too late to turn back. You’re either dead or you’re fed. There’s no third option.”
“I have to say then, that I prefer fed over dead.”
Ambrose laughed bitterly. “So do I. Some days, anyway.” He glanced skyward as if looking for divine guidance of some kind. “I seriously hope I’m not about to make another mistake.” He rubbed his hand against his forehead as if he had a pain there, then leveled a piercing stare at Nick. “Fine. I’ll tell you the truth. All of it. For better or worse. Let’s put the cards on the table and see how we screw things up this time, shall we?”
Nick wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. But either way, he wanted to know exactly what was going on and what he was up against.
Ambrose faced him. “This isn’t my first rodeo, but it is most definitely the last. You, Nick, are the only hope I have of getting it right. I’ve tried three times before this and each one was worse on the outcome than the last. When I started tampering with our lives, I had more humanity in me. I’ve all but lost it now. My last attempt burned out something inside me, and I’ll be honest, it scares me. And I don’t scare. Ever. Not after everything I’ve been through. But the degree to which I don’t care anymore—about anything—is a frightful thing. At times, I want it all to end. Because when it does, my pain will stop and I’ll have some degree of peace. Finally. It’ll seriously suck for everyone else. But like I said, I’m to the point where I really don’t care anymore. I’m holding on to my humanity by the thinnest thread imaginable, and any day now, I expect it to break. God help us all when it does.”
A chill went down Nick’s spine.
Nick glanced around to make sure no one else had seen him do that. “Yo, D, the freak eye thing? Dead giveaway, man. Sit down before the wings pop out, and we both end up in a real science lab, under the microscope.”
“Malphas?” their teacher snapped. “You have trouble finding your seat?”
Caleb turned at Mr. Tendyk’s question. “No, sir.” He sat down beside Nick.
The bell rang.
After closing the door and dimming the classroom lights, Tendyk turned on the overhead projector that displayed his desktop for everyone in the class to see. Nick sucked his breath in sharply while the rest of the room erupted into chaos.
Instead of the boring icons they were used to staring at on a vomit green background, Tendyk’s desktop wallpaper was a montage of Brynna Addams naked, doing extremely lewd things.
Tendyk almost broke his computer as he fumbled to turn it off. “Who’s responsible for this?” he demanded angrily.
Utter silence rang out.
Until Stone laughed again. “From the looks of it, I’d say Brynna Addams. Who knew that was hidden underneath all those high buttoned shirts and sweaters?”
Laughing, Mason high-fived him.
Pandemonium returned as everyone had a foul or gross comment to make. Everyone except Nick and Caleb. Nick was too horrified by how Brynna would react once she found out about it. And he was sure some snotwit would beeline right to her with the news. There was nothing the goobs in his school loved more than to be the bearer of really bad news, especially to the person it related to. It was like they enjoyed seeing the misery it caused, firsthand.
He turned to Caleb. “That wasn’t Brynna, was it?”
Caleb shook his head. “That was someone’s idea of a sick joke.”
Speaking of sick, Nick felt ill over it. His stomach heaved in sympathetic agony for her. “Can you tell who?”
He did that weird head cock move as if he were listening to a song only he could hear. “No idea. But it was done for sheer malice.”
“Brynna will die when she finds out.”
“I know.” A tic started in Caleb’s jaw. “Can you feel the hatred behind it?”
“Now that you mention it…is that what the icky tickling is down my spine?”
Nick sighed heavily. Well at least he knew what was causing that symptom. “Is it demonic?”
“No. This is human evil. Demon hatred comes with a distinctive odor to it.”
“Yeah, well, this stinks, too.” Nick was repulsed by whoever had done something so vicious to someone so kind. Why would anyone hurt Brynna so? In all the years he’d known her, he’d never heard Brynna say a mean thing about anyone.
Not even him.
“All of you!” Tendyk snapped. “Line up in the hallway and be silent. Stone, I want you to go to the office and tell Mr. Head that I need him down here, pronto.”
Laughing, Stone went to obey.
Nick reached for his backpack.
“Leave it, Gautier,” Tendyk snapped. “No one is to take anything out of here.”
Nick hesitated. His grimoire and pendulum were in his backpack, along with his Malachai dagger. If his bag was searched and they happened upon those…
It would get ugly, especially since his grimoire was written in blood. Granted, it was his blood. But adults didn’t seem discriminating when it came to kids bleeding on things during school hours.
I’ve got it covered, Caleb said in his mind.
Releasing a relieved breath, Nick headed outside with everyone else.
Caleb crossed his arms over his chest as they lined up against the wall of bright red steel lockers. “You know what the only thing worse than an evil demon is?”
“My mother when she’s really ticked off at me, especially when it’s justified.”
Caleb snorted. “No, Nick. Human cruelty. All the centuries I’ve lived, I’ve never understood it. Instead of banding together, your kind seems ever determined to tear each other down. And for what? Jealousy? I just don’t get it.”
And coming from a demon, that pretty much said it all. “You’re not seriously telling me that demons are never cruel?”
“Some are. But you know who they are, and you see them coming. You can smell them from days away. Humans, on the other hand, are insidious. You don’t see it coming until they’ve stabbed you in the back and through the heart.”
Nick scowled at his implication. “What are you saying, Cay?”
“I can’t tell who did this, but I can tell why they did it. This was meant to shame Brynna and hurt her to the deepest level.”
And as those words left Caleb’s lips, Nick became aware of the conversations around him.
“I told you Brynna was a slut. My mother said her mama was one, too.”
“I always knew her goody-two-shoes persona was an act.”
“Man, I wish I’d known she’d do that. You think she’s busy Saturday night?”
Nick cringed at their ugliness. “It wasn’t Brynna,” he said defensively.
Mason scoffed at him. “You’re an idiot, Gautier.”
“Yeah,” another student concurred, “didn’t you see that in there?”
“With farm animals, too! Oh my God, I’m so disturbed.”
“You are? Imagine how that horse felt.”
They all burst out laughing.
Nick started to respond, but Caleb stopped him.
“Let it go.”
That was easier said than done. “Brynna’s my friend.”
Before Caleb could comment, the principal stalked past them and into the room. Nick stood on his tiptoes so that he could see Tendyk show the principal the horrific montage through the window in the classroom door.
His pocket started vibrating. Nick pulled out his Nokia 9000 and flipped it open to see he had a new e-mail. As he tried to access it, his phone blew up with texts about Brynna and the photographs. Apparently, their classroom wasn’t the only one spammed with that filth.
An instant later, a door down the hallway opened. Brynna ran out, sobbing hysterically. Laughter from her classroom rang in the hall and mixed with the laughter of the jerks around him. Laughter that was only drowned out by a few dickweeds making offers to her.
His heart aching, Nick started to go after her and calm her down.
Caleb caught his arm in a tight grip. “I can’t stress enough to you that you need to stay out of this.”
“Use your powers, Nick. Look at what’s about to happen.”
Nick glanced around until he found something shiny enough to use for scrying…the silver on the water fountain. It wasn’t very big, but it was enough that he could focus his powers with it.
And there in that small, two-inch strip, he glimpsed the horror that was about to become Brynna’s life over this single act of cruelty.
In that moment, he completely disagreed with Caleb. “She needs a friend.”
“Yes, she does. But right now, the administration is looking for someone to blame for this. You walk in there too soon and this will be hung around your neck. Trust me.”
That would be his luck, too.
Even so, Nick would deny it if not for the fact that Caleb had a lot more life experience to draw from. You didn’t argue colors with Picasso. Car facts with Richard Petty. And you definitely didn’t question human behavior with Caleb.
Standing down, Nick felt that strange sensation again. While Caleb had assured him this was human in origin, he wasn’t so sure.
There was something else here. Something dark. Cold.
And it wasn’t Caleb.