Zombies, demons, vampires, shapeshifters—another day in the life of Nick Gautier—and those are just his friends. But now that he’s accepted the demon that lives inside him, he must learn to control it and temper the very emotions that threaten the lives of everyone he cares for. Something that’s hard to do while trying to stay off the menus of those who want his head on a platter. And no one wants him more than the dark gods who created his race. Now that they know where he is, they will stop at nothing to reclaim him. And without knowing it, Nick has just embraced the one person he should never have trusted. The one person who will hand him over to his enemies to get back the life they lost.
Nick has finally accepted his fate, now he must learn to defy his destiny, and the dark, deadly forces that will stop at nothing to destroy everyone he loves so that they can again return to the world of man and own it.Read an Excerpt
Nick glanced around to make sure no one else was in the bathroom with them before he flashed them to Caleb’s house. It was the only safe place he could take Caleb to heal where neither his nor Caleb’s enemies could get to him.
The Aamon demon Zavid who lived with Caleb appeared at his side immediately, then stepped back as soon as he saw Caleb’s weakened condition, and heard his babbling. Like Caleb, Zavid had dark hair and the kind of build and good looks that left Nick feeling without. “What did you do to him, Malachai?”
“Nothing. He got sick.”
That didn’t help Zavid’s attitude toward Nick. If anything, he only became more suspicious. “We don’t get sick.”
Caleb began coughing up blood as he staggered away. He only made it as far as the stairs before he sat down and leaned against the wall.
Nick cringed at how awful his friend looked and sounded. Those were deep, bronchial coughs like Nick used to get when he was a kid. He had no idea what to do for him. He seriously doubted an inhaler would help. “I feel like I ought to make you chicken soup or something.”
His breathing labored, Caleb stared at him. “How does anyone stand this?”
“Usually? With a great deal of whining and begging for my mom to come baby me.”
Zavid scowled. “This isn’t a joke? He really is sick?”
Zavid glanced from Nick to Caleb and back again. “Not injured? Sick?”
“Sick,” Nick repeated.
Arms akimbo, Zavid stood in a state of utter disbelief as Caleb sat on the stairs with his head in his hands. “How is this possible?”
“No idea. Isn’t there a demon doctor or something I can take him to? What do you guys do when you get ill?”
“We. Don’t. Get. Sick.” Zavid enunciated each word slowly. “Ever. We get injured. We get ticked off. We get dead. We never get sick.”
Nick gestured at Caleb. “Obviously, you’ve been misinformed.”
Zavid rolled his eyes. “Liv!” he barked, which given the fact he was a demon-wolf in his other form meant something.
Dressed in a white flowing nightgown and with long black hair, Livia appeared instantly by Zavid’s side. Unbelievably beautiful, she was also a demon general who was even more bloodthirsty than the guys. It made Nick glad that she was on their side.
Yawning, she rubbed at her eyes. Obviously, she’d been sound asleep when he shouted for her. “What?” she said irritably.
“Ever heard of a demon getting sick?” Zavid asked.
She pursed her lips. “Of humans? All the time. It’s what we live for.”
Zavid laughed. “No. Catching a cold.”
“Oh. . . .” Yawning again, she rubbed at her head. “Don’t be stupid. Demons are immune from germs.”
“And we’re back where we started. Beginning to feel like I’m riding a hamster wheel.” Nick jumped away as Caleb began a gurgling sound like he’d made right before he’d trashed Richardson’s shoes. “I should probably mention that C doesn’t have his powers so one of you might want to get him a little closer to a bathroom. Just in case he starts blowing another gasket.”
Zavid turned his attention to Livia.
Livia gaped at Zavid then Nick. “What? ‘Cause I’m female I’m the wet nurse?”
“Well, yeah . . . you have the anatomy for it we lack,” Zavid said snidely.
Nick shrugged. “Don’t look at me for this. As stated, I lack the necessary female equipment. And I once killed a cactus and Bubba’s goldfish watching over them. No offense, I don’t want to kill Malphas or find a toilet big enough to flush him down. Not even sure how to water him or what to feed him. Come to think of it, I don’t recall him eating anything around me. Ever. Last time he went down, he told me he wanted blood to heal, and I only do that for the Red Cross.”
Caleb looked up to curl his lip at Nick, but didn’t comment on that. “Can someone please get me to bed? I don’t think I can make it up the stairs. And you should be grateful, Gautier. If I had the energy to stand, I’d probably strangle you. Or take an involuntary blood donation from your jugular.”
He vanished instantly.
Zavid walked over to Nick. “I sent him to his bed. But really, what’s going on? How can Malphas be sick and without his powers?”
“I don’t know. Is there some kind of demon that preys on us?”
“Many,” they said in unison.
Nick groaned. “Great. Good to know.” Caleb had been right. He should have never said the day was going good. Everything had just skidded off the Crap Exit rails into Hexville.
“But,” Zavid interrupted his mental anguish. “Never heard of anything like this.” He glanced to Livia. “You?”
She shook her head. “Not with a demon as powerful and old as Malphas. If they had that kind of ability to strip his powers, they’d have attacked the Malachai before him.”
“Yeah, but for once, nothing hit me.”
Caleb let out an eerie, pain-filled howl. Terrified some new enemy was trying to kill or eat his best friend, Nick bolted up the stairs and into the bedroom to find Caleb motionless on the black sheets.
His heart stopped. Caleb looked so dead. His normally dark olive complexion had a bluish-gray cast to it.
Please. Please, don’t have died. He really wasn’t ready to say goodbye to his friend.
Not like this.
Nick approached the bed slowly and cautiously. There was no telling what could be going on. Terrified, he reached his hand out to check Caleb’s breathing. It was faint, but it was still there.
Overwhelmed with relief, Nick sank to his knees by the bed and whispered a grateful prayer. “Hang in there, buddy. I’m going to find an answer for this. And get you right back on your feet. I promise.”
He had no idea how, but there had to be some way to cure it. Some way to restore Caleb. It had to be a spell or curse or rabid dog hair, or something odd that was causing this. And if it was, then it could be undone.
Rising, he returned to Livia and Zavid who waited at the bedroom door. “Watch him and make sure nothing else happens to him.”
Zavid caught Nick’s arm. “Where are you going?”
“To find a cure.”
“And if you can’t?” Livia asked.
Nick glanced back at Caleb and in his mind he saw the future where he lost everyone he loved. Saw himself standing alone, surrounded by flames and destruction. It was a future he refused to embrace.
His genetics, family and birth would never define his fate. Only he would control his destiny. Not the gods and not some bullshit prophecy.
He met Livia’s gaze and answered her question with every bit of Cajun stubbornness he possessed. “I will save him from this. Whatever it takes. Caleb has fought too many battles for me for me to turn my back on him now.”
Zavid inclined his head respectfully to Nick. “I’ll guard him with everything I have.”
“Thanks. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Determined, Nick returned to school. He left the bathroom to find Kody still waiting for him in the hallway.
She glanced around Nick’s shoulder, to the door. “Did you leave him in there?”
“Flashed him home.”
She let out a relieved breath. “How’s he doing?”
“Not good. He’s in a coma or something.”
Gaping in disbelief, she paled. “What? How is that possible?”
Nick shrugged. “I don’t know. What do we do, Kody? I don’t even have a clue on how to start to make him better.”
“Me, neither. I’ve never heard of this. What did Zavid and Liv say?”
“Demons don’t get sick.”
Nick glanced to the door where the rider had vanished before homeroom. “Did you see or feel anything earlier?”
“What do you mean?”
“Before class started? When you were trying to get my attention? I saw the rider on a black horse with scales come tearing down the hallway. He rode straight through me and out the door.”
She arched a brow at what he was saying. “Yrre? You saw Yrre? Here in the hallway?”
He shrugged. “I guess. Was that Yrre?”
“Dressed all in white?”
She nodded slowly. “But Yrre isn’t a guy. It’s a woman.”
“Oh. I didn’t get that. I couldn’t see a face or body shape. All I saw was the horse and the robes and scales. . . . You think she had something to do with this?”
She took a minute to consider that before she answered. “You and Caleb closed the gate, right? You sealed everything?”
“Caleb said we did.”
“Then there’s no way Yrre could be free. The ušumgallu can’t assemble and ride without the Malachai to lead them. You’re their head and they need your blood to rise. . . . I think it must have been another of your visions. It’s probably why you didn’t know she was a woman and couldn’t see her face. Maybe she was trying to reach out to you to get you to free her?”
That made sense, then. And she was right. In the past, Nick had always seen the riders in their true forms. Bane, Laguerre, and he was on first name terms with Grim. They had come up to him as flesh and blood beings, not as the Ghost Rider of St. Richard’s Before the Bell.
But something was attacking Caleb. Something that was out to harm them all.
“You think it might be a sickness the Arelim sent to weaken him and get back at me?” An ancient society of divine protectors for humans, the Arelim were charged with maintaining order and ensuring that the Malachai demon remained dormant. Unfortunately, some of them had decided the best way to do that was to kill off Nick before he came into his full Malachai powers. They were the ones who’d originally resurrected Nekoda after her death in a future battle, and had sent her back in time to kill him before he matured.
Now that he had inherited his father’s powers, they wanted him dead before he mastered any more of them. And because Kody had blatantly refused to carry out her assassination orders, she wasn’t on good terms with them anymore, either.
Their rebel sect wanted her dead as much as they did him.
Kody shook her head. “If they were able to do that to Caleb, they’d have gone after you instead.”
Everything kept coming back to that one basic oh-so-stomach-shriveling fact. While the Arelim were in the middle of a bloody civil war, Nick was the number one target for the rebels. They’d give anything to lay hands to him.
Kody was right. If they had something powerful enough to take down Caleb, they wouldn’t have wasted it on Nick’s protector.
They’d have unleashed it on Nick and taken his head as their trophy.
“This day just couldn’t get any stranger.” No sooner had those words left his lips than the lights went out in the school and the building shook as a loud clap of thunder sounded right before hail pelted down.
“Nick . . . you’ve got to quit saying such things.”
Kody covered his mouth with her hands before he could speak another word. “I’m not kidding. You are one of the handful of beings who can call down Armageddon and from the looks of things, you just did it. Congrats. Now until we have more information, you should probably play mute.”
That was good advice.
For once, he’d take it.
At first, Nick just thought the storm he’d seen earlier had arrived. But there was something ominous about this one. A heaviness to the air that wasn’t quite right. Every part of him sensed it. And he wasn’t alone. Everyone in the school seemed to be on edge, all of a sudden.
As the storm picked up volume, and the hail started striking the old brick building with enough force to shatter windows, teachers brought students out to the hallway in a tornado-style drill.
Nick slid his gaze to Kody. “You know, I’ve been through more than my fair share of hurricanes and tornadoes . . . I ain’t never heard anything like this. What about you?”
And since she’d been through one or two of them, she’d know.
She gave him a hard stare. “When you and Caleb closed the hell-gate and released your father’s powers, you are sure you sealed it properly? Right?” she asked again.
He gave her a droll stare. “Are you seriously asking me if I said all the words? ‘Cause yeah, I basically said it. Yeah. Almost in the right order. With all the right syllables.”
She rolled her eyes at his play on one of his favorite movies, Army of Darkness that he’d made her see enough times that she now groaned out loud at the mere suggestion of it. “Yeah, it was definitely an N word . . . necktie . . . nickel . . . nectar.”
“Not funny . . . Nick.”
“Yeah, I know. I suck as a dung-eating boyfriend.”
Kody snorted. “No. There, you don’t. Other departments . . .” She rocked her hand at him.
She flashed an attractive grin and winked. “Any time, baby. Any time. Hail to the queen.”
Suddenly, Stone started making a low howling noise from where he stood with his class, lined up against the opposite wall. And he wasn’t the only one. Mason. Alex. Justin.
Every one of the shapeshifters. They were all but whining and barking.
Well, that can’t be good. Especially when added to everything else that had already happened. It was as if they were reacting to something only their animal senses could detect. Like the way animals fled or panicked before natural disasters.
This just keeps getting better and better.
The teachers and staff who doubled as Squires, and knew about the preternatural students, began to get nervous that the shapeshifters were about to expose themselves to the “baretos” or normal humans who knew nothing about the supernatural world that coexisted with them and attended St. Richard’s. The Squires were all charged with protecting and concealing the identity and existence of the Were-Hunters.
“Attention, students!” Mr. Head said over a bullhorn as he walked down the hallway. “Your teachers will be dividing you into groups for either the cafeteria or the gym until such a time as we have power restored. Please move quickly and quietly to your assigned area.”
Nice. Good way to divide out the student body without the baretos being the wiser. This way if something caused the preters to break into their animal bodies, it wouldn’t freak out or endanger the uninitiated. Or betray the existence of the Were-Hunters.
Unfortunately, because the staff members didn’t know better and had no idea she was actually a corporeal ghost, Kody was placed in the baretos group. Nick, who worked part-time as a Squire for an immortal warrior, was sent to the gym with the shapeshifters and the humans who knew about them. It was so aggravating to keep secrets. But as much as the humans thought they knew, there was a lot more to this world than even they suspected.
And no one could ever know who or what Nick really was. Not with the bounty on his head. Even a Squire might be tempted to take a shot at him. There were very few he could trust with that knowledge.
As Nick entered the gym, Brynna, whose entire family had been Squires for generations, sidled over to him. “Scary isn’t it?”
“Highly unsettling.” Nick glanced over to Stone who seemed to be struggling to hold on to his human form. He was sweating and shaking. Pale. While the two of them had never gotten along, Nick almost felt sorry for the werewolf.
Nah, not really. Stone was too much of a pack animal bully for that. He enjoyed using his superhuman strength and psychic powers to push others around.
As if on cue, Stone shoved his girlfriend Casey back when she moved to check on him, and growled ferociously at her.
Casey screwed her face up as she twisted her arm out of his fierce grip. “Ugh! Hope you die from whatever rabies ails you, Stone.”
Stone hissed at her, then grimaced at Nick. “What you looking at, trailer park?”
But that made Nick curious about one thing.
“Hey, Bryn . . . if the Were-Hunters break into their alternate forms. How much human would be left in them?”
She glanced over to Stone. “In theory, especially in the case of Stone, those who have human hearts would remain cognizant of their behavior and in control of themselves.” Her gaze went to Alex Peltier. “Those who are Katagaria . . .” They were the ones who held animal hearts and weren’t as human as their Arcadian cousins.
“Let me guess. We’d be on their menu?”
“Like Brian on Scott,” she said, using the name of the football player who’d taken a bite out of his best friend after he’d played Madaug’s demon-enchanted Zombie Hunter game. “But we do have enough Squires here that they should be able to quell them before that happens.”
“The should in that sentence doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me.”
She laughed before she turned toward LaShonda to discuss homework.
The demon sense inside Nick picked up on something. He wasn’t sure what. But he’d learned from past encounters to pay heed to that prickly sensation. It was worse than Spidey sense.
Especially with the weather outside so unnatural while he felt it. It was just such a state as this that had heralded the arrival of Zavid when the Aamon had been sent after him. And not to play Parcheesi and watch videos.
Again, he felt that weird slowdown of time before everything sped up like some kind of computer game lag.
What the heck?
His vision darkened in that peculiar way that let him know he no longer saw the world around him as a human being. He was now viewing the world with his perspicacity.
That wasn’t unusual.
Nah. What freaked him was the sight of the odd creatures moving through his classmates and around them as if searching for something very specific. Huge and bird-like, they reminded him of mummified plague doctors that were armed with adamantine sickles and wearing black cavalier hats and saturated in blood.
Invisible to the rest of his class and teachers, they paused and turned in his direction. Then in the next heartbeat, they headed straight for him.