Page 28

 Sherrilyn Kenyon

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“Hi,” he whispered, half-afraid he was dreaming and that she’d vanish on him.
Her smile widened. “Hi.”
Kody knew what her job was. Keep Nick straight or deliver his head on a platter to the powers who commanded her. But every time she looked into those dark blue eyes of his, she lost a part of herself to them.
A part of herself to him.
He was a hard man not to love. All that power wrapped in the body of someone who was still unsure and vulnerable. Someone who always put others’ needs above his own. He wouldn’t teach himself his powers to serve his own interests. It was to protect others that he sat here in utter frustration.
She closed her hands around his. “You’re trying to force it.”
“I need it to work. Don’t have time for bull crap.”
She gave him a chiding glance. Her brothers had always been like him, too, blindly forcing their way whenever they ran into opposition.
You see where that got them.
She forced her pain aside. This wasn’t about them and the stupidity that had damned them both and ruined all their lives. A stupidity that had almost ended the world.
This was about Nick and his current idiocy. “And if you’re building a bookcase and you break the nail in half because it won’t obey you, what do you have?”
She smiled. “Indeed.”
Nick shivered as she leaned against him and held his hand in hers. She had the softest skin he’d ever felt. Like warm velvet.
“Close your eyes.”
Her breath tickled his skin as he obeyed her.
“Now, picture in your mind what you want to know and then listen to the universe as it speaks to you.”
He tried, but right now all he could really focus on was how good she felt against him. Oh yeah, I’m twisted.
“Are you getting anything?”
Um, yeah, but he wasn’t about to go there. “I’m never going to make this work.”
She dropped their entwined hands, then took the hematite into her palm as if to test its heft. “Maybe the pendulum isn’t your thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone’s different. What works for one doesn’t always work for another.” She held her hands out in front of her and cupped them so that they formed a ball in her lap. She whispered in a beautiful language he couldn’t decipher. But it was one he could listen to all day. Especially with the sweet musical cadence of her voice.
As he watched, a strange blue light emanated from her hands. It pulsed like electricity, then swirled around until it began to form a shape. After a minute, the mist became a dark gray, almost black mirror. But the surface wasn’t glass. It appeared more iridescent and fluid.
She held it out to him. “It’s a scrying mirror. Try it.”
Still skeptical, he took it into his hands. “What do I do with it?”
“It’s a window to the universe. Empty your mind and look into it. It’ll show you everything you need to know and everything you seek.”
His luck, the only thing it’d show him was that he had something stuck between his teeth.
Or worse. Something hanging out of his nose.
Cringing at the mere thought of that horror, he did as she said. The moment he did, he immediately saw the mirror begin to smoke. He started to drop it, but Kody wouldn’t let him.
“It’s okay, Nick. Watch it.”
His skepticism faded as shapes began to take form and move. At first, he couldn’t identify them, but one by one they clarified until he could hear voices in his head. Wow, it was like watching TV or a closed-circuit camera. He saw people he knew and some he didn’t. One scene quickly blended into another, shifting and changing so fast, it was dizzying. “What am I looking at?”
“Your device.” She put her hands over the images. “This is the one you’ll be strongest with. The one that spoke to you the moment you touched it. Your divination gift is scrying not dowsing.”
Finally, he had something he could actually do. Grim’s lessons had begun to make him feel defective and inadequate. But this …
This he understood. It was just like when he’d looked into Kyrian’s car window.
The light in the room grew brighter.
Scowling, he met Kody’s gaze. “Why is the room alive?”
“It’s my shield around us. Since you’re unused to your powers, every time you really tap them and they flow through you, you send out a homing beacon to others of our ilk. It’s why Caleb threw you into the locker. Because you’re so strong, preternatural beings are drawn to you. But you don’t have the skills to protect yourself or fight them yet. Which means for now you’re their yummy treat. If they kill you while you’re weak, they can absorb those powers and use them for themselves.”
Oh, goody. “That would be bad.”
“Extremely bad, depending on who kills you.”
Those words stabbed him again as his insecurities swallowed him whole. I’m not ready for this.… He looked at her and admitted to her the one thing he’d never admitted to another living soul. “I’m scared, Kody.”
“You should be. But at the same time, you have me and Caleb and Simi, who will do anything to help you. We’re not going to let you get hurt.”
If only he had the same faith in himself. More than that, he didn’t know whom he could really trust. Everyone told him to trust someone else. His gut had its own opinion.
And all of it confused him.
“How do you handle all of this?” he asked her, needing to know how long it would take for him to feel normal again.
“I was born knowing who and what I am. You’re like an infant who just became self-aware. While you’re talking and walking, you still don’t know that the hot burner will scar you or that knives will cut you. You have to be taught the dangers of our world. The predators and serpents who lie in wait, hoping for a chance to sink their fangs into you.” She put both his hands on the mirror. “You’re stronger than anyone I’ve ever known, Nick. And I believe in you.”
When she talked like that, he could almost believe in himself, too.
Squeezing her hand, he took the mirror from her and studied it again. He saw his own reflection at first, and then the images returned. They appeared shadowy and ambiguous. Then more focused. With more clarity.
It took him a full minute to realize he was staring at the past. As Kody had said, it was as if he were watching through a window or like the proverbial fly on the wall.
He saw Devus in an old Victorian suit sitting at a large round table in what appeared to be an office of some sort with several men who were laughing at him.
“Second best is all you’ll ever be, Walter. You might as well accept it.”
Devus raked him with a sneer. “I assure you, Theodore, we’ll win the game. You can bet your millions on it.”
Theodore flicked his cigar ash toward Devus as he cast a scoffing glance at the others. “You were ever a dreamer, my boy. Ever a dreamer.” The older man got up and motioned for the others to follow. Which they did. Their actions reminded him of a group of puppies following their leader.
Devus was so upset, he appeared on the verge of tears. All of a sudden, he began to throw things and overturn the furniture in the room. He ripped leather-bound books from their shelves and tore at his own hair. “I will win,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “If I have to kill every player on the team to do it … I will win.”
When he went to smash the mirror on the wall, he froze. There gazing at him was his own reflection, but with a calm expression, not the crazed one he currently wore.
“Did you mean what you said?” it asked him.
He set down the marble paperweight he’d intended to toss at the glass. “About what?”
“Will you kill every player to win?”
He sputtered for several seconds, his eyes truly panicked. “Who are you?”
“I’m someone who can make it happen. But I need to know if you’re quite serious. Otherwise, I’m wasting my time, and that is one thing I will never do.” The image started to fade.
“No! Wait!”
When it returned with an arched brow, Devus licked his lips. “I—I—I meant it.”
“Then prove it.”
“If you are serious, I’ll need a heart brought to me. One freshly carved from the body of a fourteen-year-old child.”
Devus gasped in horror. “No. I can’t.”
“Too bad, then. The satisfaction of winning will go to another.” The image went away.
“Come back!”
It didn’t.
Devus sat there, shaking his head, pawing at the glass to see if maybe he’d imagined it. “I’ve gone crazy. I know it. And yet…”
Nick could see the gears working in Devus’s mind as he debated what to do. He couldn’t believe the coach would even consider it. Was the man insane?
He had to be.
The smoke from his scrying mirror swirled again as it showed other images. Horrific images.
Appalled and sickened, Nick turned his head as the coach stalked an innocent girl who was making her way home after work from a factory job. In a dark alley in downtown Atlanta, the coach cruelly strangled her, then removed her heart.
For a moment, Nick thought he’d vomit. How could anyone be so cold? So brutal? Any sympathy he might have had for Devus was gone, and in its place was a harsh, cold conviction.
Devus had taken his last life. This madness was going to stop here and now.
Kody watched as Nick struggled not to be sick. As he kept his head turned away from the grisly actions of the coach. That gave her hope. He wasn’t curious or interested in the brutality at all. He was disgusted—as any normal person would be.
In fact, he didn’t watch again until the coach had returned to the mirror with the girl’s heart inside a wooden box. And even then, Nick cringed.
Please let me save you, Nick. Please. Stay like this so that I won’t have to kill you. She had enough blood on her hands. She didn’t want any more.
Kody turned her attention back to the coach as he made a bargain he should never have made.
Devus opened the lid to show his enchanted mirror what he’d done. There was no missing the proud glint in his eyes. The hopeful swagger of a man who would achieve his goal at any cost. “Is this good enough?”
The image in the mirror smiled. “Perfect. Better than I’d hoped.”
“Then tell me what to do to win.”
“You will have to gather a single, very personal item from each one of the players.” The image in the mirror reached out with one hand to give Devus a red velvet bag. “Put their items into this.”
Devus took it and nodded as the arm curled back into the mirror. “Then what?”
“You will burn wormwood and arsenic mixed with basil and cedar. Put those ashes in the bag with your players’ personal items, and then at three a.m. on the morning when you’re to play, you will spread them over the heart you took as a sacrifice. So long as you keep the box with you for the whole of the day, you will be invincible. Nothing can harm you, and no bad luck will befall you. Your team will play as they’ve never played before, and you will be victorious.”
“You swear this to me?”
“I do, but don’t be so happy, Coach. For this all comes with a steep price.”
Devus’s brow furrowed with confusion. “I’ve already killed a girl. What more is there?”
The mirror image tsked at him. “Her heart is only the catalyst for your players to do their best. That has nothing to do with your payment.”
He swallowed in trepidation. “And that is?”
“Your life.”
His face went completely white. “What?”
“You will have fame, Coach. Just as you wanted. A brilliant win over your opponents. I’ll even be kind and give you an evening to bask in that victory. But come noon the next day, you and your players must die together. Imagine the news coverage then. Oh, the tragedy of champions dying on the heels of their great success. You’ll be legendary. Over and over again.”
Devus gulped heavily. “That’s not what I want. I didn’t sign on for that.”
There was no pity in the mirror’s eyes. “Yes, you did. You should have asked the terms before you made your contract. Have you never been told to read the fine print?”
Devus’s hands shook uncontrollably. “It’s not fair.”
“Life never is. But don’t despair. Unlike your players, you won’t stay dead.”
“What do you mean?”
“That is your bargain, Walter. So long as you gather souls for me, I won’t take yours. However, if you fail to deliver the winning team to me by noon, you will suffer unimaginable torment for the rest of eternity. Do you understand?”