Ambrose gave him an arch stare. “I’m you, Nick. Trust me when I say you don’t want to go there, and let’s leave it at that. There are some memories no one needs to have. And I’d give anything to purge it.”
“Yeah, but if you know me, then you know—”
Gah, he hated that exasperated tone adults used.
Fine. Whatever. He wouldn’t press the issue. There were plenty more questions he had. And he dreaded the next one, but he had to know. “And with me?” I.e. how’s it going in comparison to the others?
Please don’t add me to the nightmare list. He wanted life to get better, not worse.
“It’s different this time, too. But in unique ways. Some things are the same and others…”
“Name some,” Nick prodded when he didn’t continue.
Ambrose paused in his pacing before Nick’s stoop. “You already know about the Dark-Hunters and Squires. I didn’t find out about them until I graduated high school. You met Simi at fourteen. In my original past, I met her just before I became a Dark-Hunter.”
Nick sucked his breath in at that unexpected bomb. “I become a Dark-Hunter like Kyrian?”
That wasn’t good. Thoughts whirled through his mind. Dark-Hunters were immortal warriors who protected mankind from the preternatural evil that preyed on them. While each DH came from a vastly different culture and time, the one thing that united them all was that something horrific had happened to them. Something so bad that they sold their souls to the goddess Artemis for an Act of Vengeance against the one who hurt them.
Nick wasn’t sure he wanted to know what would happen to him that was so awful that he’d do such a thing, especially if he couldn’t see it coming.
Or stop it.
“Did you get shot the night you met Kyrian?”
Ambrose nodded. “Nothing about that event changed. It played out for you, the same way it played out for me and the others. For some reason that is lynchpin event and it never alters. It’s what happens after that, that goes in varying directions.”
Nick let that rattle around in his head. What would be worse than being shot by a friend? I mean yeah, I want revenge on Alan and Tyree for that, but not so much I’d sell my soul to get it.
So most likely, he wasn’t the one who died. Who else would be in his life in just a few years that he’d care that much about them?
Wife? Would he be married by then?
Possible, he supposed. His wife’s betrayal was what had made Kyrian a Dark-Hunter. Talon became a Dark-Hunter after his wife died and his sister was killed.
Who do I lose?
Not wanting to think about that right now, he returned to quizzing Ambrose. “What else is different?”
“You’ve already met Tabitha Devereaux—” A smile played at the edge of his lips that made Nick wonder what caused it. “I didn’t meet her until I was out of school and working for Kyrian. But the change that concerns us most is that my father died when I was ten.”
Nick frowned. “My dad’s still in prison. And alive as far as I’ve been told.”
“Yeah. This is the first time that’s happened. Damned if I know why. He should be dead by now. Because he’s not, it’s allowing enemies to find you sooner than they should be able to.”
Nick definitely didn’t like the sound of that. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is there are currently two Malachais using their powers here in New Orleans—you and our father—and there should only be one in existence at a time. Once a new Malachai is born and reaches puberty, the other dies—usually violently so—”
“Are you telling me that if I ever have a kid, it’s going to grow up and kill me?”
A cruel smile twisted Ambrose’s lips. “You can have them. But it’s like playing Russian roulette. If they don’t inherit your powers, the human part can’t handle your Malachai demon blood and they die before they’re ten. The one who reaches ten and lives … that’s the one who will replace you.”
That explained so much about his father’s attitude toward him. No wonder he hated him so. “Meaning I’ll die around their tenth birthday?”
Ambrose sarcastically touched his nose to let Nick know that he was correct. “That’s the way it’s always worked in the past. One of the beautiful things about us … Until we use our powers, we are invisible to almost all other gods and preternatural creatures. If they try to see our future, they see one that looks human. Kids, grandkids, the whole package. They have no way of knowing who and what we are until we evolve and flex our powers. But the one thing that has always held true—there can only be one Malachai demon with full powers at a time.”
“It was a bargain made after the Primus Bellum—the first major war of the gods. Both sides were required to put their soldiers down.”
Nick grimaced at what he was sure was a euphemism. “You mean kill them?”
Ambrose nodded. “But the commander of each side was spared. One Malachai. One Sephiroth. They exist in balance and so long as the truce holds, there can be no more than the one.”
“So what changed?”
“No idea. With our luck, by coming to the past as a Malachai, I screwed the pooch to the point it’ll never walk again. It’s the only thing I can think of. But since you didn’t have powers yet, I didn’t think it would be a problem. Whatever the cause, something is out of synch here, and no one knows what it is. All we know for sure is that your power is concentrated with Adarian’s. So long as your father lives, there’s a cosmic bounty on your head so steep it’s staggering.”“Why?” Nick asked.
“Whoever kills you, gets to take your powers as a bonus. It’s why you’re in the worst sort of danger imaginable. No one, except you, can kill Adarian, so no one will try for him.”
Which meant it was open season on Nick.
“If I die, can’t my father have another child?”
“You don’t have to die for it. He can have another kid at any point—but only one of you can have the Malachai powers and only one of you will live to adulthood—that’s the theory, anyway. However, death isn’t the worst fear you should have, kid. There are many things a lot worse, and those things are after you right now. You can’t trust anyone … except me. I’m the only one who truly has your back.”
“You said earlier that I could trust Kyrian.”
“You can. He’s a good man, but he’s not powerful enough to fight what’s coming for you. No one is, except you.”
That reignited Nick’s temper as he remembered the fact that Ambrose had left him alone to face one demon already when the jerk could have helped him. “And you’re not going to help me?”
“Yeah, right. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you already screwing with cosmic law by being here?”
“This isn’t about cosmic law. It’s about survival. Our mutual survival, and saving the people we both love more than ourselves.”
“Then help me.”
Nick was aghast at his simple answer. Sitting on the bench wasn’t helpful. He needed a teammate, not a water boy. “By doing nothing?”
“Exactly. If I use my powers here to fight, that will be three Malachais using power in a single location. Even you know what that means.”
Yeah, triangulation. With three points, anything could be located.
Ambrose gave him a droll stare. “You don’t want me to do that. Really.”
True, but that meant he was going this alone and he wasn’t learning things fast enough. Most of all, it meant he had a giant target on his back. “Man, this is so screwed up.”
“Welcome to our life,” Ambrose said bitterly.
“Yeah, well, no offense, you can take it and put it where the sun don’t shine.” Nick sneered in disgust as he digested everything Ambrose was telling him. “And how do I know you’re not lying anyway? You say to trust you, but trust is earned, not demanded, and I don’t think enough of you to give it to you.”
Ambrose grabbed him by the front of his shirt and yanked him up from the stoop. “Listen to me, you little punk,” he snarled in Nick’s face. “I hate you. You understand? I hate you with a passion that burns brighter than the hottest star in the universe. If I could, I’d tear your throat out and end everything right here and now. But the one thing I know is if we die, something a lot worse than us will take our place and the tiny handful of people I still love will suffer unimaginable agony. That I cannot allow to happen. Even if it means stomaching you for a little longer. We, who were born to end the world, are the only hope there is for saving it.”
Nick tried to break free, but it was impossible. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Ambrose shoved him back. “Tell me about it. But that’s where we are. I can guide you and advise you. That’s it. I can tell you where and how I screwed up and what the other Nicks did wrong, but you will have to live this life and—”
“I’m so confused. How can you remember everything? Do my actions not affect you?”
Ambrose laughed. “My powers are infinite and beyond your comprehension. Some days, they’re even beyond mine. But this particular one that allows me to come back to the past and talk to you, I borrowed. And I had to bargain hard for it. The demon gave me three chances to set the past right. When I failed and he came for me, I killed him and took his blood. That’s what’s allowing me to help you now. Once I’m out of his blood—which is why I can’t always come back to save your ass—you’ll be totally on your own and I won’t have any memory of ever tampering with the past. Whatever you do will be my final memory and the rest will be gone forever.”
“Dude, that’s so messed up. You drink blood?”
Ambrose gave him an irritated grimace. “Is that all you got out of what I just said?”
“No, but that’s so disturbing. How can you drink someone’s blood?” Nick shivered in revulsion. “Gah, I can’t believe I’d ever be that gross.”
“Son, you’ll do a lot more than that before all is said and done.”
Nick made gagging noises.
Ambrose cursed. His expression said he was imagining Nick’s neck in his hands and Nick’s eyes bulging as he choked the life out of him. “I can’t believe my fate is in your hands.”
Now that was just rude and it thoroughly riled him. “Yeah, well, from what you just said, it’s not like you did any better yourself. I can’t believe your ugly butt is what I have to look forward to becoming. Talk about a letdown. You know, I had plans. I was going to be a lawyer. Do some good in the world. Not become,” he gestured at Ambrose, “some self-absorbed dickweed.”
His expression turned even colder. “If I were self-absorbed, I wouldn’t be here. But it’s easy for you to judge me. You haven’t been betrayed.… Yet.”
“Not true. I was shot by my best friends.”
“Alan, Tyree, and crew … that wasn’t betrayal, kid. Deep inside you knew who and what they were. What you were in for when you threw in with them. What to expect. You can’t fault a snake for biting you when it’s the very nature of the beast to do so.”
Ambrose narrowed his gaze on him. “No, Nick. I’m talking real betrayal. The kind you don’t see coming. The kind that tackles you to the ground and kicks your teeth in, and forever ruins your life. The kind that stays with you for decades after it’s over. By the time you graduate, you’ll consider what Alan did to you a favor. It got you off the street at a time when you were headed in the wrong direction, and it made your mother’s dreams come true.”
A bad feeling went through Nick as everything came together in his mind. As another realization groin kicked him. While Ambrose looked tired, he wasn’t that old. Probably not even as old as his friend Mark, and definitely not as old as his mother, who was only twenty-eight.
In less than ten years, I’ll become a Dark-Hunter.…
There was only one thing he could think of that would make him do something so drastic in that amount of time.
“Mom dies, doesn’t she? That’s why you became a Dark-Hunter, isn’t it?”
In that instant, Ambrose’s eyes changed from blue to the same black color as Kyrian’s. The wind blew his long coat out from his legs and swept his hair back from his face. A double bow and arrow—the mark of a Dark-Hunter—appeared on his cheek and his fangs flashed in the fading daylight.