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Grim rubbed at his forehead like his head was starting to hurt. Then he pulled at the gold chain around his neck to expose a strange hematite pendulum that had a gold skull securing it to the chain. He held it out toward Nick.
Nick hesitated before he took it. He ran his hand down the cold stone, noting that the skull had eyes made of bloodred rubies. The point of the hematite was so sharp, he could probably use it to stake Kyrian should his boss ever get too frisky with him.
He could also use it to prick his finger if he needed to ask his book a question. Yeah, this thing had a lot of uses.
“What you hold is one of the keys to the universe.” Grim’s voice had dropped an octave. “You can use a pendulum to answer questions, locate things and—”
“What sort of things? Can it find my mom’s keys when she loses them?”
“Yes,” Grim said between clenched teeth. “It can also locate people you seek.”
Okay, now that was handy. Nick swung it back on forth on its chain. “How does it work?”
Grim captured it in his hand and used the sharp tip to point at him. “It allows you to get in touch with your higher consciousness. In time, you won’t need it to do that. You’ll be able to access that part of yourself anytime you need to. But for now, you’ll require a tool to help you channel all the teenage hormonal ADD that’s bouncing around and through you.” He touched the tip to Nick’s nose. “The best part of this one is that the stone will change to meet your needs.”
“What do you mean?”
“For simple questions, it won’t matter what the stone is. You can use any kind of pendulum, made out of any substance. A ring, a stick, even a pen or pencil. But as we progress to other tasks, the material it’s made out of will matter exponentially. This one is currently hematite because that’s the strongest stone of protection. It limits and deflects negativity. Something you need, kid. And it will protect you. Evil and negativity gravitate to the hematite, and if you’re attacked badly enough, the stone will shatter and warn you while it deflects those powers away from you.”
Yeah, Nick could be pretty negative most days. And that was without trying. Once he put his mind to it, he could be really pissy.
Grim gave it back to him. “Pull your book out.”
Since Grim had already bogarted it from his pocket without touching it, he knew better than to delay. Nick grabbed it and handed it over.
Grim flipped to a blank page.
Nick frowned as words and letters magically appeared with arrows. In a weird way, it reminded him of a Ouija board. The two arrows intersected, forming a square cross with the words Yes and No highlighted.
No, wait. They were glowing.
“What’s it doing?” he asked Grim.
“This is your pendulum map. It’ll answer any yes or no question you ask. All you have to do is focus your mind on the question and hover the pendulum over the page. In time, you’ll be able to ask more complicated questions and it’ll spell out the answers.”
“Duly awesome.” Nick did as he suggested and hovered the stone above the words. He carefully kept his hand steady as he focused on the most important question he wanted an answer to. “Will I lose my vir— Hey!”
Grim snatched it from him. “Stop being stupid and take this seriously.”
Nick glared. “Can’t work with it if you snatch it out of my hands.”
He grudgingly gave it back.
Nick wrapped the chain around his forefinger. “What’s wrong with asking that, anyway?”
“It’s a stupid concern.”
Bull crap on that. It was the primary one he’d had for the last year.… Well, that and if he’d ever be able to afford a car. “What are you? Asexual or something?”
Pain laughed, then stopped abruptly as Death jerked his head in his companion’s direction.
“My libido is fine, Nick. However, it takes a distant second place to my need to kill people who annoy me.”
Normally, Nick would have mocked him for that, but he knew better. “Fine.” He returned the pendulum and stated his second-most-often-asked question. “Will I ever be rich?”
At first, nothing happened. But after a few seconds, it began to swing along the yes line. Something that made his blood rush. “Really rich?”
It swung even harder.
Oh yeah, he definitely rocked to this. “Like Rockerfeller rich?”
Grim snatched it away from him again. “Yes, kid, you’ll have money. Can we move on?”
“I suppose, but I’d really like to investigate the future of my not being broke a little more. I like that thought. A lot.”
Grim sighed heavily. “I swear I’m getting a migraine.”
“My mom suffers from those a lot, too.”
“Being around you, I imagine she does.”
Nick cupped the pendulum in his palm. “What else can this do?”
“Right now … nothing. Learn one technique, and I’ll teach you others. You can’t do geometry until you understand one plus one equals two. Besides, you two need to get acquainted with each other.”
Nick scowled. “What? Are we dating?”
Grim stared at him with a blank expression for several heartbeats. “And now that my blood pressure and patience have breached their safety valves, I’m going to take a break and leave you here to clean your mess.” He snapped his fingers. “Pain. Suffering. Come.”
Like two dutiful pets, they vanished right alongside him, leaving the mop to fall on the floor with a loud slap.
Dang … couldn’t they have finished first?
It’s what you get for running your stupid Cajun mouth, boy. His mom always said that 90 percent of intelligence was knowing when to shut up. One day, he’d learn to heed her wisdom.
Sighing, he went to the mop and picked it up to finish. But he’d barely gotten back on it when he heard someone knocking at the front door.
He turned to tell them the Triple B was closed, when he saw it was Caleb. Up until yesterday, he’d thought Caleb was just another overprivileged jackweed at his high school. Well, not entirely true—Caleb had never been mean to him, so he didn’t really qualify for jackweed status, but he had ignored Nick.
During the chaos of last night, Nick had learned that Caleb Malphas, captain of the football team and Mr. Popularity, was actually a high-level (he forgot the proper term ’cause it just wasn’t that important to him) demon who’d been sent to serve as Nick’s bodyguard.
How cool was that?
Nick held his hands up and gestured, letting Caleb know there was nothing he could do to let him in.
Caleb looked to his right and then to his left before he disintegrated on the sidewalk. He turned into a filmy red smoke that slid through the crack of the doors. It snaked across the ground like a weird mist and reassembled into Caleb in front of Nick.
He arched a brow at Nick. “You keep using that arm, boy, and everyone’s going to know you ain’t right.”
Nick handed him the mop and returned his arm to the sling. “I’m working on that.”
Always dressed impeccably in designer threads, Caleb had dark hair and intelligent eyes. He also possessed the kind of body and face that Nick would kill for. Muscled and Hollywood good-looking. While Nick wasn’t ugly, he was still gangly and awkward, like most guys his age. His body was growing so fast that he never seemed to know where his limbs were, so he was always banging into something or busting his knees. The worst part was that at school he constantly stepped on girl feet whenever he took a seat in the cafeteria.
Yeah … no wonder he couldn’t get a girlfriend.
“So how are you feeling this morning?” Nick asked.
“Like I got my ass kicked by a bunch of psycho demons. How ’bout you?”
“Slightly better than that. But only slightly. What brings you here?”
“I tried to call you and got no answer. After last night, it worried me. I was afraid something might have eaten you the few hours I dared to try and heal, so here I am, making sure you’re still breathing and that I continue to do so.”
Weird. His phone hadn’t rung at all. Nick pulled out his phone and checked it. Sure enough, he had a missed call. Hmmm … Grim must have blocked it. Evil death troll. But it made sense. Death wouldn’t want to be interrupted.
Caleb jerked his chin at Nick. “What are you doing here?”
“Bubba and Mark have me cleaning.”
Caleb rolled his eyes. “Pah-lease.” He snapped his fingers, and everything went back to the way it’d been before the fighting.
Nick gaped, impressed by his friend’s psychic demon powers. “Man, I’ve got to learn how to do that. But I should probably mention that this will out us faster than my using an arm that’s supposed to be injured.”
Caleb grumbled before he returned the broken doors and enough of the damage that it would look like normal cleaning. “By the way, I got a strange call this morning.”
“New football coach.”
Nick scratched his chin at that news. “Dude, that was fast.”
“Tell me about it. He said it was because of the state finals that the school called him up and offered him the job yesterday afternoon.”
Nick let out a low whistle. They’d barely allowed the old coach to get booked for killing their principal before they’d hired his replacement. That was so cold. “What else did he say?”
“He asked me if I knew you. Since we’re down about half the team due to the zombie attack, he needs replacement players.” Caleb inclined his head to Nick’s arm. “I told him you were injured and couldn’t play. He said at this point, he’d take a couple of benchwarmers just to fill out the roster and jerseys so that we wouldn’t have to forfeit the play-offs.”
“I can definitely warm a bench. It’s what my mom says I’m best at anyway.”
“What the—? How you get in here?”
They both turned to see Bubba staring at them from the curtain.
Caleb indicated Nick with his thumb. “Nick let me in.”
“In how?” Bubba rushed to the doors to make sure they were still chained closed.
“I squeezed in through the opening. I’m like a mouse. Doesn’t take much room for me.”
Bubba gave him a suspicious grimace. “Don’t do that again. You could have broke something, and then your parents would have sued me.”
Bubba glanced around the cleaned-up store before turning his attention to Nick. “Good job, snotnose. Looks great in here.”
“Way to pitch in and get things done. Now, if I could get Mark to put down his phone and stop taking breaks, we’d be able to finish up before Oprah comes on.”
Caleb exchanged an amused grin with Nick. “Bubba, what are you going to do when they cancel her show?”
“Shut your mouth, boy. That’s sacrilege in this store. You talk like that, and I’ll toss you through the window like an old-timey hobo in a Western.”
Caleb took a step back. “Given that I was almost roasted alive in your SUV last night, I don’t want any more injuries for a while if I can help it.”
Bubba pointed at him. “Remember that.” Then he turned around and left them.
Caleb shook his head. “That is the strangest man.”
“Tell me about it.”
When Caleb moved closer, the pendulum began to heat up. So much so that Nick hissed in pain. He pulled it out.
Caleb’s eyes flashed to their bright yellow orange demon snake form. “Where did you get that?”
A cold lump settled deep in Nick’s stomach as he contemplated what that reaction meant. “I was told it would protect me from evil. Why did it react to you, Caleb? What are you not telling me?”
No sooner had he asked the question than he saw an image flash through his mind.
It was a vision of Caleb killing him.
“What are you doing, Ambrose?”
Ambrose moved away from his black scrying mirror that he’d been using to watch the past unfold in an entirely new direction. With the flick of his hand, he laid it down on his ornately carved black desk and covered it with a black silk cloth as he confronted the last being he wanted to deal with.
Born to be a fail-safe to the gods who might abuse their powers, Savitar was one of the very few creatures taller than Nick. Dressed in a pair of white cargo pants and an open light blue cotton shirt, Savitar smelled like a sunny day at the beach. Normal for him, since he lived on a vanishing island, where he spent the better part of his days surfing. His dark hair held highlights from the sun, and his face had at least three days’ growth of whiskers around his goatee. Because of his ancient age—he was born not long after the dawn of time—and his omnipotent powers, Savitar was used to people wetting themselves the moment he entered a room.