Nick rubbed his hand across his face as he tried to make sense of her prattle. But that was the thing about Simi. She seldom made sense. “I’m sorry your dad ditched you for his girlfriend again.” He seemed to do that to her every few months.

Simi shrugged. “It’s okay. Akri more miserable than the Simi is. And he say he come get me as soon as he can. Until then…” She pulled a white bib out of her coffin-shaped purse and tied it around her neck. “You wanna come get eats, too? You the only one the Simi knows who can eat as much as she does.”

“I would love to, Simi, but…”

“Akri-Nick grounded.”

He nodded. “Sorry.”

She sighed heavily. “Don’t be sorry. The Simi’ll eat some for you. Now cheer up. It all be okay.”

“I hope so, Simi.” He really did.

“Trust the Simi. She ain’t never wrong.” She made a kissing noise at him before she vanished.

It wasn’t until then that he remembered something.

Simi never set off the alarms in his home.

Caleb? He used his thoughts to summon his protector.

What? Wow, Caleb sounded put out.

I have a situation here. My walls are glowing and I don’t know why. He’d barely finished that last word before Caleb appeared in front of him.

Without a word, Caleb turned a slow circle as he scanned the room from floor to ceiling.

Nick frowned as he watched him. “What is it?”

“Not sure.” Caleb’s eyes glowed, then glazed over. He spoke in demon tongue with that thick, gravely voice that was made for scaring the life out of people. “They’re coming for you, Nick.”

“Who?”

“Noir. One of his demons found Adarian somehow. I have to go warn your father.”

Nick scowled. “I don’t understand.”

“And I don’t have time to explain,” he growled. “Nekoda! Come, sit on Nick until I return.”

She flashed into the room beside Nick. “I won’t go anywhere.”

“I’ll be back.” Caleb vanished.

Nick wasn’t sure he liked this at all. “What’s going on?” he asked, hoping she’d be more forthcoming than Caleb.

“I’m not sure. There’s something probing your perimeter.”

Lovely. Just what he needed. More demons who wanted him dead. “Who is Noir, by the way?”

For once she actually answered his question. “One of the six primal gods. And he’s the one who owns the Malachai.”

Now he fully understood the bone-deep chill. His master was trying to summon him home. “Why hasn’t one of you told me this before now?”

“We were hoping we wouldn’t have to. That we could keep you protected from him.”

“Why?”

“Because you and your father are what fuel him. He gets the majority of his power from the Malachai. Every time you think of him or say his name, you give him a charge. Do you understand?”

Yeah, he did and he hated it. “Even if I’m sleeping and I dream of him, I can charge him?”

“Even if you’re sleeping. That’s why we didn’t tell you. And why scare you when there’s nothing you can do about it anyway?”

For a full minute, he hyperventilated over the thought of being dragged into a hell realm and kept there like a pet. “Where is this … primal god?”

“At the moment, trapped in what’s called the Nether Realm, or more correctly Azmodea.”

The place Ambrose had told him not to go to. “How did he get trapped there?”

“Your father escaped him. And through his demons, Noir has been pursuing him ever since the moment he broke free. But for all of his other faults, Adarian is extremely crafty and has managed to avoid capture. Definitely not an easy thing to do.”

“So the war with the Malachai and Sephiroth—”

“Sephirii. Sephiroth is singular. Malachai is plural too.”

“So I would be correctly called a Malachoth?”

She snorted. “No. You’re always the Malachai, because unlike the Sephiroth, you are an amalgamation of evil. The sum of it all as it were, which is why your name always takes the plural form.”

Wonderful. He was the son of all evil. Just what a guy wanted to hear. ‘Hey, kid? You have pimples. Hair in uncomfortable places. Strange body odors you never had before. A body growing so fast it leaves you completely uncoordinated. You’re socially awkward.

‘And if that’s not enough fun for you, you’re going to morph into the evil Power Ranger and destroy the world.’

Nice.…

“You really know how to cheer a brother up, girl. Thanks. I always wanted to be called the sum of all evil. Makes me so proud I got up this morning.”

Kody shrugged. “Sorry.”

“So tell me more about he who can’t be mentioned by me.”

She sat down on the edge of his bed and he did his best not to let that take his mind to places that could only get him into some real normal boy trouble for once.

No female other than his mom had ever been near his bed before.

Down, boy. This wasn’t the time to be thinking about that.

Yeah, but you have a really hot woman on your mattress.…

And that just didn’t happen to him every day. Demon attacks, yes. Daily humiliation? Double check.

Hot babe on bed?

Never.

Unaware of the havoc she caused him, she toyed with the fringe on his blanket. “It’s really complicated, Nick.” She bit her lip, which really didn’t help the heat in his blood. “At one time, there were six gods who had dominion over the elements of the earth. Three who embodied the positive elements and three who were the negative. On the positive side—Verlyn, who was in charge of vegetation and fertility. He was an earth god and he fed everyone. Cam was the goddess of white and gold. The sun goddess. Her gift was love and light. Then there was Rezar. So beautiful that no one could even look at him without being filled with such lust it would cause them to spontaneously combust. He was the god of fire and passion. Those three were the divine guardians of humanity and the ones who created the Chthonians … beings taken from all sentient life forms on earth. The Chthonians were charged with making sure that none of the gods abused their power.”

“Kind of like a divine police force?”

Kody nodded. “And in all things, there is perfect balance. The gods of negativity are Braith who is essentially a war goddess. Though her color is gray, she is not ambivalent about her place in the dark order. She stands firmly with Noir and Azura against the light gods. She’s the goddess of metals, and was the one who taught mankind how to forge weapons out of the earth’s raw materials so that they could fight each other. Azura is the goddess of water. Seemingly harmless, she lures you in and then drowns you horribly. And lastly…”

“He whose name I cannot say or think.”

She nodded. “ Noir is all things dark and deadly. And the way the story goes, the gods of light, after Braith had taught mankind how to fight and they saw what the future would hold for man and the other sentient creatures, got together and created the Sephirii. They were to be the protectors of man and the consorts of the primal gods.”

Now that was an interesting word. Did she mean what he thought she meant? “Consorts?”

“Lovers.”

Yes, she did. Nick sputtered indignantly. “Ah now, that ain’t right. Why couldn’t I be one of them?” He’d much rather be a divine consort than the instrument of all evil. Definitely sounded like more fun.

Kody patted his hand. “Well, hon, you’d be dead now if you were.”

“No, you said there was one left. One Malachai and one Sephiroth.”

Her face paled. “Trust me, Nick, you don’t want to be Jared. His existence is nothing but pain and utter misery.”

“Oh … never mind.” He had enough of that in his own life. If Jared’s was worse, he’d gladly take evil tool status. “Please continue.” Nick sat down on his bed, but made sure to put a good amount of distance between them. “You left off with the consorts.”

“Noir, Braith and Azura were livid that the light gods had dared create an army to be used against them, so they forged their own to maintain the balance.”

That writing went all over the wall. Up, down, sideways and back. “And eventually, they all had it out.”

“Yeah,” she breathed. “That’s the problem with stockpiling weapons. Sooner or later, someone always pulls the trigger.”

Stacking his pillows against his headboard, he leaned back and didn’t mention to her that whenever she spoke about the primal gods, a strange light surrounded her. “You’re related to one of those primal gods, aren’t you?”

She averted her gaze. “What do you want me to say?”

“I’d like the truth, for once.”

Still, she refused to look at him. “I can’t give you that, Nick. Not where I’m concerned.”

“And that really bothers me, Kody. What if I did that to you?”

“It would bother me, too. But I would try to trust you and to understand why you were bound to keep secrets.”

He scoffed. “You say that because you’re the one holding the cards and I’m the one wondering if you really are here to protect me … or,” he paused on what concerned him most. People betrayed. Alan had taught him that when he stood over him and cold-bloodedly shot him for refusing to commit a felony. Kyrian’s wife, the woman he had given up an entire kingdom and his inheritance to wed, had ruthlessly handed him over to his enemy to be tortured and executed.

And he would become a Dark-Hunter in a few years because someone would bring about the death of his mother.

Was Kody the one?

“Are you here to ultimately harm me,” he finished, putting it on the table for her to confirm or deny.

Either way, she could be lying and he’d have no way to know for sure. We’re all rats in a maze. Truth isn’t known until we’re fed …

Or dead.

This time, she locked gazes with him. “Have I done anything to make you mistrust me?”

Not technically.

Nick tucked his arms behind his head as he eyed her. “Aren’t you the one who told me that omitting a fact is as good as lying?”

She shook her head at him. “Now I know why you want to go to law school. You’d make a great litigator.”

Yeah, but he didn’t really like arguing or confrontations. Not that he’d ever back down from a fight. That wasn’t in him. Still, he’d rather avoid conflict than seek it out.

If only other people would be kind enough to let him do that. Some days, it seemed like the entire world was on a quest to shove him as hard as it could, and not let him walk away.

“I want to go to law school, Kody, because I don’t like being pushed around. People use a lawsuit as the ultimate threat against other people. I want to be in the position to glare at them and say ‘come get some’ whenever they try it with me.”

She smiled at him. “You are ever, at your core, a warrior.”

And knowing he was the Malachai, it made sense. That was what his people had been created for. But why then, would he rather have peace than war?

“Why do you think my mother chose my father?”

Kody frowned. “What do you mean?”

Nick allowed his thoughts to drift to the one question his mother refused to answer. “I’ve always wondered why my mom, especially as young as she was, would do what she did with a loser like my dad. Why did she sleep with him? I just don’t get it. As beautiful as she is, she could have had anyone. Or better yet, no one until after she graduated high school. Or best of all, not until she got married.” It was his mother, after all. That’s what mom’s were supposed to do, and then only when they wanted kids.

As for himself, while his body was more than willing—a lot and especially anytime an attractive woman was near him—he had no intention of taking that chance while he was still a kid. He knew exactly how hard it was for a teenager to raise a child, and he had enough responsibility on his shoulders. The one thing his mother had drilled into him—You bring an innocent baby into this world, you do whatever you have to take care of it and provide for it.

For that reason, he wasn’t about to sleep with anyone until he was mentally and most of all, financially, ready for the possible outcome of having a wife and baby to support.

“Do you really want the truth?” Kody asked.

“I certainly prefer it to a lie.”

“Then take an honest look inside yourself, Nick, and face the beast you don’t want to know exists. You know your mother. Better than anyone. What do you think happened?”



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