â€œSo . . . do I have to go punch Stone in the face, or just burp in Richardson’s class?â€
Nick scowled at Caleb’s bizarre question as he took his backpack from him in the hallway outside their next class. â€œDo what?â€
â€œI’m trying to gauge how much detention I need to earn to match yours. Therefore I’m asking the severity of my grievance and who to assault for it.â€
Nick snorted. â€œI don’t know. Depends on Richardson’s mood. With that evil witch, you could get more detention for the burp than you would if you cold-cocked Stone and made him sterile. Which might not be a bad thing. Future generations would thank you for it.â€
â€œVery true.â€ Caleb brushed his dark hair back. â€œSo . . ?â€
â€œYou’ll be proud. I’ve finally mastered my ability to manipulate the weak-minded without turning anyone into a goat or exploding the Space-Time Continuum. . . . I got none.â€
Instead of being happy that Nick’s power had worked for once and nothing had exploded, melted, or summoned a terrifying higher deity or hell-beast from another dimension, Caleb grimaced. â€œWhile I am more than thrilled at the prospect of not having to suffer through another round of teenage-after-school-angst and drama with you, I feel the need to caution you about using those powers for something so trivial. Remember, magick comes with a cost. Even for a Malachai. Ain’t no such thing as a free ride in life, my friend. Sooner or later, we all pay the piper. And when that bastard comes home to roost, he always craps right on your head and ugly, oversized shirt.â€
â€œDuly noted.â€ Nick sidled up to Kody. â€œYou mad at me, cher?â€
She paused to rake a suspicious grimace over him. â€œUh . . . should I be? What mischief have you wrought now that I don’t know about?â€
â€œFor sending Aeron to spy on you.â€
That took every bit of friendliness out of her stare. In fact, he could flash freeze fire with that stare, and a certain part of his anatomy crawled back into his body as she scorched him with it. â€œWhen was this?â€
â€œWhile I was mind-melding with Head.â€
She glowered even more. â€œAeron didn’t come into the room.â€
â€œYeah, he did. I sent him straightaway.â€
â€œNo, he didn’t,â€ they said in unison.
His stomach knotting, Nick gave each one of them a bitter glare as they headed for their next period. â€œYes, he did. Because he knows I would not be happy with him if he didn’t. And an unhappy Malachai kicks his culo loco.â€
â€œWell,â€ Caleb said drily, â€œWe can stand here and argue like children until one of us sticks his tongue out at the other, or you can call him and see. But I’m here to tell you that the Celt did not step foot in that room. I’d have known it. I didn’t even smell him in the building.â€
Kody groaned. â€œI wish you two would lay off the odor thing with each other. Neither of you smell. Good grief.â€
Ignoring her chiding, Nick pulled out his phone. â€œPrepare to eat those words, Caliboo. One slice Humble Pie coming up, piping hot.â€ He dialed for his favorite surly war god. Then waited.
And waited some more.
It rolled to voice mail.
Okay, that was not good. Scowling, he met Caleb’s smug expression. â€œWhy would he have left when he said he wouldn’t?â€
â€œExactly. He’s not you.â€ Nick put the phone in his pocket. â€œHe doesn’t know a lot of people here. It’s not like him to run off and visit anyone. Or go trolling after loose women on Bourbon Street . . . unlike a certain Daeve I know.â€ He cleared his throat meaningfully.
â€œYou’re just jealous you can’t go into any of those clubs, baby-face.â€
Luckily, Kody didn’t take him serious and ignored that jibe. â€œHe has a point, Caleb.â€
Caleb sighed. â€œYeah, he does. Two, if you count the one on his head, and I hate it. â€˜Cause if Aeron’s missing, it doesn’t bode well and I’m getting really tired of ill bodings.â€
Nick wrinkled his nose at the term. â€œIll bodings? Is that word?â€
â€œOf course it is. I just made it up.â€
Nick snorted. â€œFine. Whatever. We’ve got to find him. If for no other reason, we don’t need him to do something that could out himself in public.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Caleb said sarcastically. â€œThey have laws against exposing yourself in public.â€
Kody let out a long-suffering sigh. â€œI think I know now why the gods made the two of you so incredibly hot. You’d be insufferable, otherwise.â€
Laughing at her uncharacteristic barb that proved she’d been hanging out with them way too much, Nick paused in the hallway as he saw Nathan walking past them.
A few feet away, Nathan stopped and turned around in a slow circle as he attempted to decipher their misbegotten room numbers and his schedule.
He almost felt sorry for the kid since he still remembered his first days here when he’d been just as lost and confused. The room numbers on the first floor had been arranged by some chaos demon bent on driving the unwary to utter madness. They really made no sense in anyone’s world except whatever drunken lunatic had initially placed them on the doors for some kind of sick mind game.
As much as Nick hated himself for the compassion, he found himself wandering over to the warthog. â€œYou need help?â€
â€œRoom 114?â€ Nathan scratched his head. â€œShouldn’t it be right here, between 112 and 115.â€ He gestured at the red lockers where a door ought to be. â€œBut then I can’t find room 113 either.â€
â€œThat’s because 113 is the gym.â€
Nathan scowled. â€œHuh?â€
â€œExactly. Ours is not to question why. It’s merely to go to class and try not to cry.â€ Nick laughed at the truly confounded expression on the kid’s face. â€œWelcome to St. Richard’s of the Severely Dyslexic and Homicidally Crazed. 114 is the biology lab. Down the hall, to the right. Next to the bathroom and across from room 130. â€˜Cause that makes all the sense in the world, to absolutely no-body.â€
He shot one brow north.
â€œYeah . . . don’t ask. Logic and sanity waved bye-bye to this place a long time ago. Why you think they call it an institution?â€
Nathan laughed. â€œGuess so. Thanks.â€
He held his hand out toward Nick. â€œI’m Nathan, by the way.â€
â€œNick.â€ With a slight bit of hesitation, he shook his hand. Though now that he was close to the guy, he didn’t know why he’d been so weird earlier. Nathan seemed okay, except for the fact that he was the same six foot four height and Nick rather liked towering over other people.
He had so little ego in most things that it was the one and only thing he could normally take pride in that no one, other than Acheron, Xev and Papa Bear Peltier, could take away from him. And Acheron and Papa Bear positively dwarfed his Cajun hide. At almost seven feet in height, the two of them were truly giants in the modern world.
Nick squinted at Nathan. There weren’t any horns hiding in that mass of thick dark blond hair. No other warning bells went off as their skin touched. His blue eyes were clear and normal. Intelligent, not demonesque. No diamond-shaped pupils.
No pimples either, rank dog.
And of course, punk was better dressed. But then, who wasn’t? Since Cherise Gautier thought these tacky, heinous Hawaiian shirts of the middle-aged tourist kept her only son out of troubleâ€” and they definitely were the best birth control ever invented â€˜cause no female looked at him and thought, hey, gotta get me some of thatâ€” Nick wore them with as much pride as he could muster.
For the record, that amount of pride would fit onto the tip of a flea’s needle.
Dropping his hand, Nathan glanced past Nick’s shoulder to where Kody and Caleb were waiting. â€œYeah, Kody told me you were her boyfriend. Sorry if I pissed you off earlier. I had no idea. But I should have known that a girl that pretty would have been taken. I was just kind of hoping, you know?â€
Nick would have felt a little better had Nathan not dropped his gaze meaningfully down to his garishly orange glow-in-the-dark shirt. But he was man enough to take it. Besides, if the school lost power, this shirt doubled as a glow-stick.
Who would feel the fool then?
â€œSorry I overreacted.â€
Nathan snorted. â€œIt’s okay. I get it. I’m the new kid in town and I overstepped. Won’t happen again. I promise.â€
Yeah, dang straight on that.
The bell rang.
With a sharp, nervous twitch, Nathan shifted his books. â€œDown the hall? Right side? Across from 130?â€
As Nathan left, Nick had that feeling that he’d lived this moment before. A phantom memory that hung just at the edge of his mind. Teasing and annoying. He could see the faintest outlines of it. But the harder he tried to look at it, the more elusive it became.
What was his mind trying to tell him? Why did he feel like this particular moment was a repeat?
It was the strangest sense of dÃ©jÃ vu.
He went back to Kody and Caleb. â€œIs it me or is there something oddly familiar about this day?â€
Kody nodded. â€œI keep thinking that, too. And the same with Nathan. I feel like I’ve seen him before, somewhere.â€
Scratching at his chin, Caleb shrugged. â€œI have no comment. Humans all look alike to me. And all my days run together, even the ones where we’re fighting demons.â€
Nick knew he wasn’t serious about the human comment. He was just being contrary. However . . . â€œSo Nathan is definitely human, right?â€
Kody pulled back. â€œYeah, why?â€
â€œI don’t know. I had a strange sensation when he first appeared earlier. Kind of like my Wonder Twin powers activated for no reason. It’s why I’m walking around like a cat in a Doberman factory. I can’t shake the unsettled feeling I had. Makes me wish I still had Nashira in my pocket. Not that she’d have given me a straight answer. Still, I’d have felt better with her cryptic crap, than being completely blind, going with nothing but a bad feeling in my gut.â€
Caleb groaned. â€œBad feelings in your gut, give me an ulcer.â€
â€œTell me about it.â€ He laughed as he went into class and checked his phone for messages.
Still nothing from Aeron.
Something was definitely up. It wasn’t like Legolas to space like this. He didn’t just drift off and vanish for no reason.
He nodded. I’m on it. I already heard your nervous thoughts about our errant irritant. Out loud, he got up and went to ask to go to the bathroom.
Nick wanted to go too, but knew better than to ask. Teacher would never approve that. One student out, okay. Two equaled delinquents up to no good in the minds of the establishment. Dang inconvenience when the safety of the entire world was at stake.
Maybe I should fake a heart-attack?
Nah, he knew better. Karma was a bitch, and he didn’t mean Karma Deveraux, who could be quite special when stirred. Real karma had a way of delivering up nasty retribution and anytime he ever told even the smallest lie, it came back on him with interest. If he faked a heart-attack with his luck, some coronary hell-beast would rise up to rip his heart out and eat it, or worse, feed it to him during lunch. That was just how Nick’s luck went. He was the type of guy who could buy a lottery ticket, scratch it off and it would be a bill he’d have to pay.
As Nick started taking notes another thought occurred to him.
Where was Nashira? He hadn’t heard from her in awhile now, either. Nor Dagon for that matter.
His Power Rangers had abandoned him. They didn’t normally do that . . . Definitely weren’t supposed to do that.
As his generals, they were under his direct control and were supposed to stay near him at all times. Not just because he could come under fire from Grim and his forces at any heartbeat, but because they were not used to the modern world. All of them had been kept imprisoned in various hell-realms for centuries and had no idea how to really function in modern society.
Other than Caleb and Kody. Caleb because he’d been the right hand of Nick’s father and had been out in the world even longer than Adarian had, and way longer than Nick. And Kody because she’d never been sequestered from people. Not to mention that unlike the others, she actually liked humanity and didn’t want to see them die screaming in agony, inside a fiery pit of demon breath.
Nashira could function alone a tiny bit, only because she’d been able to hear and see from the confines of her book enchantment.
But Xev, Dagon and Aeron . . .
They did not need to interact with the general public without direct and intense supervision. At all times.
Ever. Heavy emphasis on the ever part.
Yeah, his ulcer was growing like a radiated lizard in a Godzilla movie. And if he didn’t hear from one of them soon, it was going to have a baby the size of the Empire State Building.
Will this day ever end?
Nick cringed as the thought went through his head and he quickly glanced up at the ceiling. Yo, up there? I said day end. D-A-Y. Day. Not world. Daaaay. Please, do not get those two words confused or mistake my request, â€˜cause I know how you get. . . . when you want to prove a point to me. I don’t need that lesson today. Really. Thank you, PTB. Peace out.
Now if he could just keep the bad luck fairy parked for a bit, he might be all right.
Caleb came back into the room with a look on his face that added a good six feet to the ulcer.
Nick arched his brow.
No sign of him.
Nick made a sound of distress. Which caused the other students to turn and stare at him. He flashed a bashful grin. â€œPuberty. It’s so embarrassing.â€
â€œExcuse me?â€ his teacher asked.
â€œEveryone was staring at me like I’d grown another head so I was trying to lighten the mood.â€
â€œHow about you lighten it on your own time, Mr. Gautier?â€
â€œYes, ma’am.â€ Nick dropped his gaze to his textbook and pretended to study so as not to get into anymore trouble. Last thing he needed was another trip to the office. That would get him suspended. While he could pull the mind trick once, he couldn’t erase the records that said he’d been up there less than an hour ago. So unless he committed a crime, which he wasn’t willing to do, he had to calm his nervous body down.
Releasing a zen breath, he sent his thoughts to Caleb. Did you learn anything else?
When he didn’t get a response, he glanced over to his bodyguard. Caleb?
He acted as if he couldn’t hear him.
Okay . . . Had he pissed him off? Nick turned toward Kody. Are you two talking right now?
Like Caleb, she didn’t so much as blink in response to his question. Now that was really odd. Even when they were fighting, she at least gave him dirty looks.
Kody? I can see your bra strap.
She definitely didn’t hear him, because even if she’d been mad at him for something, she would have checked to make sure that it wasn’t showing. That was a pet peeve of hers.
Instead, she carried on with their assignment oblivious to his comment.
What the heck?
Worried, Nick held his hand out toward his pencil and attempted to command it with his telekinesis. Normally it would fly into his grasp without any effort.
Not this time.
No, no, no, no!
Fear wrapped around his heart at the thought of his powers being drained. But how? He was the Malachai. No one could do that to him.
No one other than his son, and he’d done nothing that could cause that. And he meant nothing.
Impure thoughts notwithstanding. After all, he was a healthy teenage boy and those couldn’t really be helped, especially not when he had a girlfriend who was exceptionally pretty and smelled really nice. But that being said, all they’d done was kiss. Nothing more.
Having been born to a teen mother, and having spent the whole of his life raising her, he wasn’t anxious to start parenting someone else anytime soon. He had enough paranormal brats he was responsible for already. Running after them, and cleaning up their messes, kept him plenty busy.
And then there was Kyrian who was in a special class by himself.
So, no . . . there was no one who could drain his powers.
Yet the hairs on the back his neck rose as he had the sudden sensation of being watched. Glancing around the fluorescent lit room, he caught the gaze of Stone Blakemore fastened on him like he was the barely-clad centerfold of the Swimsuit Edition of Sports Illustrated.
Yeah, that was some major stink-eye. Not like he’d done anything to Stone, ever. He basically left the knuckle-dragging werewolf alone. But Stone had hated him since the moment he walked through the school doors. It was as if Stone had smelled the Malachai in his genes and reacted to it on some primal level.
It took him a second to realize Kody was speaking to him. â€œYeah?â€
â€œAre you all right?â€
He blinked slowly. Honestly? He was a little light-headed. â€œI think so, why?â€
Nick glanced around and realized the room was empty. Kody and Caleb were standing beside him with worried frowns.
What the heck? He’d just been looking at Stone . . .
â€œSomething’s wrong. I was trying to talk to you both with telepathy. Didn’t you hear me?â€
â€œNo.â€ Kody knelt by his side and brushed the hair back from his forehead so that she could press her hand against his skin to test for a fever. â€œYou are flushed and clammy.â€ Biting her lip in an adorable manner, she glanced up at Caleb. â€œCan a Malachai get sick?â€
Caleb shook his head. â€œNot once his powers come in.â€
Grateful for her concern, Nick caught her hand and kissed her fingers. â€œCould it be the Eye messing with me?â€
She grimaced at Nick. â€œPlease tell me you left that thing at home.â€
â€œIt’s in my pocket. I was going to use it to play the lottery after school.â€
She said something under her breath he was pretty sure was a major curse in one of her parents’ native tongues.
â€œWhy?â€ Now there was the tone an impatient parent used when their kid did something exceptionally bright, like stick tweezers in an outlet.
â€œIt wasn’t good for anything else. I figured it owed me a Powerball for the trauma it’s put me through.â€
Spreading her fingers wide, she had an expression on her face that said if she held his Malachai powers, she’d be Force-choking him right now.
Caleb placed a steadying hand on her shoulder. â€œRemember, you loooove him, Kody.â€
â€œI ask myself that every time you say it out loud.â€
â€œWay to prop up my ego there, buddy.â€ Nick brushed his hand against his forehead and squinted in an attempt to clear his vision. â€œYou think the Eye’s messing with me?â€
â€œNo.â€ Caleb picked Nick’s backpack up to carry it for him. â€œBut you look weak . . . like your father used to get right after you’d visit him in prison.â€
Kody’s jaw went slack. â€œWhat are you saying?â€
â€œI said what I’m saying.â€ Caleb held his hand out to Nick. â€œGive me your fist.â€
â€œJust do it and stop whining!â€
Suspicious of what he intended, Nick didn’t like that tone. Talk about things that didn’t bode well. And when he obeyed and Caleb used his claw to slice open part of his hand, he knew why. Sheez!
â€œHey! They hurt, you dick!â€
Caleb ignored his words and cursed as he released Nick’s bleeding hand. â€œYou think that hurts? You’ve got no idea. And we have a massive problem.â€
His breathing labored, he retracted his claws and narrowed his gaze on Kody. â€œYou know the cosmic laws. He’s my master. I shouldn’t have been able to harm him, at all. The only way for me to do that. . . .â€ He jerked his chin toward the blood on Nick’s hand. â€œSomething’s draining the Malachai out of him.â€
â€œHow’s that possible?â€ Kody breathed.
â€œI don’t know. I’ve never heard of it before.â€
The color faded from Kody’s cheeks. â€œCaleb . . . if anyone finds out about this . . .â€
â€œBelieve me, Nyria, I know. . . . He’s dead.â€