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“Good. Now, be a good boy and don’t lose your heart.”
* * *
Nick pulled back from the scene with his stomach knotted and his fury hot. How dare the coach make a pact like that. And for what?
He’d never understand it.
Kody sighed, drawing his attention to her. “Well, now we know how it all began.”
Nick opened his mouth to respond to that, but before he could, images started playing through his head. They came fast and furious, as they’d done in the mirror. And just as in the mirror, he had no control over them. It made him dizzy and nauseated.
Oh, the pain …
Gasping, he lay on the floor and pressed the heel of his hand to his eye, trying to alleviate some of misery. It felt as if his brain would literally explode.
“Nick?” Kody sucked her breath in sharply as she watched him convulse on the floor.
What was happening? What should she do?
She didn’t sense him being under attack by anything, and yet that’s what he acted like. Had she accidentally unleashed something on him? The very thought terrified her.
“Nick?” she tried again.
Again he didn’t respond.
She thickened her protection in the room, just in case. It was so tight now, nothing could breach it. She pulled Nick’s head into her lap and held him, hoping whatever had him would let go.
Nick heard the girl’s voice in his head. Julianne … She was talking to him in a tone that sounded like Madaug’s little brother. High-pitched and painful.
Free me, she begged him. Please. I don’t want to hurt anyone else. I want to go to my rest and be left alone. Why won’t he go away? It’s been so long, and I’m so very tired.
It was the girl Devus had murdered. She …
Something thick and warm went through his veins. It wasn’t like the other times when his powers had seized him. This was different. For once, he felt like he had control of it. Like he could channel and direct it.
Closing his eyes, he tried to focus.
Kody gasped and pulled away as she saw an orange aura engulf Nick’s entire body. It was a demon’s essence, and it made the hair on the back of her neck rise.
When he opened his eyes to look up at her, they were no longer blue. They were a vibrant lavender. The kind that didn’t belong to a human.
“You have to teach me how to raise the dead.” His voice was low and deep, and sounded nothing like the Nick she knew.
She blinked twice as her mind wrapped itself around his request. “It’s forbidden.”
His voice calmed down to its normal cadence as he pushed himself up to face her. “No, it’s not. It’s ill advised. But the only way to stop this is to let the girl confront her killer. She wants to be free, and I think we should let her.”
Kody shook her head. “We can’t do that, Nick. You’re not strong enough, and you have no idea what doors that will open. Doors that don’t shut easily.”
She’s lying to you.
Nick groaned as an unfamiliar voice filled his head. “Who are you?”
It didn’t say.
But he’d felt it and honestly, he was tired of having Grand Central Station for a head. People, things, animals. Keep out! The station was closed for business. Go haunt somewhere else.
Kody put her hand on his forehead to check for a fever. “I’m Kody. Are you all right?”
He gave her a no duh look. “I wasn’t talking to you. I hear voices in my head.”
“What do they sound like?”
He struck himself against his ear in an effort to try to clear it. “I can’t explain it exactly. I … My powers are slipping. I can feel them. They…” His words ended with a fierce groan as his insides twisted until he couldn’t breathe.
Kody panicked as she saw his eyes changing again. His skin was marbling and swirling. She had to do something fast or she’d lose him.
“Look at me, Nick!”
He ignored her.
She had to calm him down and force those powers to recede. Get his thoughts to focus on something other than his pain. With no better thought, she kissed him.
Nick shuddered at the sensation of Kody’s mouth on his. And as he tasted those full, soft lips, an inexplicable calm came over his entire being. He felt like he was floating. Cupping her face in his hands, he let the warmth of her mouth soothe him until he could think straight again.
In one act, she’d cured his headache and grounded him back in this reality.
Pulling back, he stared at her. “Thank you.”
She inclined her head. “Anytime. Now, can you explain to me what you heard?”
“No. Not really. At first it was the murdered girl, Julianne.”
She appeared less than convinced. “Are you sure it was her?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s extremely simple for a demon to appear as a dead person. It takes very little energy, and it’s an easy way to motivate people to do things. Go to someone in the guise of a loved one or child, and they’ll do most anything you bid them. Think of it like a cheat code.”
Nick didn’t care for the thoughts of that, but at least he understood what she was getting at. “You’re right. She could have been lying. But I don’t think so. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that nothing is ever easy. And the mirror Devus thing even warned him not to lose the girl’s heart. I’m telling you, Kody. The key to this is the girl whose death started it.”
He could see the reluctance in her eyes before she banished it. “You’re right. In order to undo things, you usually have to go to where they started. But…”
“You’re talking about necromancy, Nick. That’s not something to play with, and it’s not something you learn in a few hours or days. Necromancers are a different breed entirely.”
“To do what they do, they lose a part of their soul every time. And you are talking about the darkest part of evil. It’s not just the reanimation of the vessel—making the body move again. You have to reunite the soul, which means you’re ripping that soul out of wherever it’s gone to. And if it’s been reborn … I don’t think anything or anyone can touch it. But again, I don’t know. I don’t go there. For real good reasons.”
He begged her with his eyes. “But you know someone who does—”
She remained firm in her conviction to avoid this catastrophe. “No, I don’t.”
“But you know someone who knows someone.”
His persistence was as annoying as it was playful and cute. Ugh! She was the train derailing, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
If she knew anything about Nick, it was that he was stubborn. There was no way she could sway him from this.
“We both know that someone. C’mon, grab your jacket and let’s go to Caleb’s.”
* * *
Pacing in front of his giant marble foyer, which was so elaborate, it made Kyrian’s look like a pauper’s, Caleb glared at Nick and then Kody. “Are you out of your collective minds? I swear I can’t leave you two alone for three seconds that you don’t go off and hurt yourselves.” He narrowed his gaze on Nick. “I expect stupid out of you, but you—” He turned on Kody then. “—know better.”
She shrugged helplessly. “I tried to tell him that. He won’t listen to me. Tag. You’re it.”
Facing Nick, Caleb gestured toward her. “Listen to her, Nick.”
Nick wasn’t trying to be difficult. He wasn’t. He understood their panic and concerns, and he was grateful for it. But he knew what he’d seen and heard. “You two listen to me for once. While I may not be as well versed in this as you are, I do know what I saw. You two and everyone else keep telling me to learn my powers—arr, learn my powers—” He imitated a parrot before he continued on in his normal tone. “—and then when I do, you tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.” He slung his hands out in surrender. “Fine. You win. I quit. You two deal with this. I’m going home. Packing up all my personal items, and when you, Caleb, end up dead because the coach has your jockstrap or something else I didn’t steal but someone else did, don’t call me. I’m done and I’m going to hide in a bunker until all of this is over with.” He started for the door, but the moment he reached it, it locked in his face.
“I hate you, Nick,” Caleb drawled.
“Feels mutual, Demon.”
With a sigh of irritation, Caleb turned to Kody. “Do you really think this is wise?”
“Not at all. But I have no better idea. Do you?”
“I feel like I’m about to enter a Monty Python skit,” Caleb muttered as he pulled out his phone and then dialed it. He glared at them while it rang and rang and rang.
Grimacing at the delay, Nick glanced toward Kody. “Do necromancers not have voice mail?”
“Hey,” Caleb said finally. “It’s Malphas.… Yeah, been a long time and I need a favor. How far are you from New Orleans?”
Nick could hear a deep voice on the other end, but he couldn’t make out any individual words.
“All right. I’ll see you then.” Caleb hung up the phone and continued to grimace at them. “He’ll be here in a few hours.”
“Where’s he coming from?” Nick asked.
“Wouldn’t say and I know better than to pry.” He rubbed the line of his eyebrow. “You two better know what you’re doing.”
Kody turned on Nick then. “For the record, Nick. Using the mirror shouldn’t scare you. This should.”
“Stop complaining,” Nick said “I know, all right? I’ve either made a huge mistake or ended this. Instead of expending our energy on so much negativity, why don’t we do something positive?”
“Like what? Pull the arms off Nick until he cries like a girl?”
Needless to say, Nick didn’t find Caleb’s sarcasm amusing. “Thanks for selling me out,” he said to Kody.
She sobered. “I haven’t done that yet, but the night’s still young.”
And they had school tomorrow. Nick checked his watch. “Crap. I need to head back home.”
Caleb contradicted him. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Any chance your mom would let you stay over for the night?”
“If I tell her we’re studying, she might.”
Caleb scoffed. “We are studying. Ways to survive the next few hours. It’s a really important subject, too.”
Nick couldn’t agree more. Pulling out his phone, he called his mom, who was still on the clock at Sanctuary.
“Hey, baby, whatcha need?”
“Can I spend the night over at Caleb’s house? We’re working on a project together and I need more time.”
“Nick.” Her voice was full of suspicious irritation. “You know I don’t like for you to do that on a school night.”
“I know, Mom. And I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t really, really, really important. Please?”
She made a noise at him. “Fine. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
“Call me if you need me.”
“All right. Tell me you love me, and I’ll let you go.”
His face turned red hot as he gave Caleb and Kody his back. “I love you,” he whispered.
She made a kissing sound at him before she hung up.
Nick passed a sullen glare to Caleb. “Not one word.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. And I have to say that I’m impressed.”
“Your mom didn’t grill us this time.”
Nick snorted. “That’s ’cause she already did that and you passed. Be grateful.”
Kody swung her arms in front and behind her body so that she could clap her hands together. “So, gentlemen? What are we going to do for the next few hours?”
Nick smiled as he had a brilliant idea. “Hey, Caleb, any chance you have a system and some games lying around in this sprawling mansion of yours?”
“You know it. Name it and I have it.”
* * *
Nick was in the middle of pwning Caleb for the three thousandth time when the doorbell suddenly rang.
All three of them jumped out of their skins.
Kody covered her heart with her hand. “Guess that’s our friend.”
Caleb used his powers to flash himself downstairs to let him in.
Nick took the more human route and walked through the house until he reached the landing that looked down below. From the way Caleb and Kody had carried on, he’d expected some huge, hulking long-coat-wearing brute of a mountain man to appear.