Nick scowled. / dont understand. Whydidyourun from me at Madaug's?

"I wasn't running from you. I was trying to save your friend before the mortents hurt him. But like you, he didn't listen to me."

Yeah, right. Why dont I believe this?

"It's true, Nick. Remember the little girl in the alley? The one who attacked you?"

Duh. Not like I could forget that Wes Cravenesque encounter anytime soon.

Then again, they'd done something to him that he had forgotten it. But now he remembered every single detail.

WTH?

"I told you they were called mortents. They crawled out of their hole, and this time, they claimed your friend Madaug and his family. They want to use his video game to control the living—because the living still possess their souls and their free will, living zombies are immune to our silkspeech and powers of manipulation. We can't control them like we can the dead. If the mortents can get the game from Madaug, they can use it to control you in particular, and they can build an army out of the living to attack the world."

Why me? I dont understand why this is happening and why theyd give two spits about controlling me. I cant even walk across the floor wthout getting grounded.

"Nick, you are key to some of the rawest, most potent powers ever created. The battles for your possession will scar you in ways you won't know until it's too late. If you listen to me, I can save you."

I'm key? Dude, you seriously have me mistaken for someone else.

"No, I don't. I, better than anyone else, know exactly how powerful you are and what you can do. And deep inside, you feel those powers too. You've spent your whole life denying them. Saying it was Menyara or a sixth sense. It's not a buried sense. It's your birthright and you have got to embrace it or you will lose everything that matters to you."

And if I dont believe this crap?

Images of a dark, frightening hole flashed in his mind. He saw himself in the future looking a lot like Ambrose. Alone. Bereft.

Tortured.

Most of all, he was inhuman and cruel. "If they can turn you evil, they will be rewarded and you will be ruined. And everyone you love will pay the price. "Everyone."

Nick shook his head in an effort to dispel the horrific images. Terror choked him as he feared becoming the monster his father was. Of becoming the creature he'd just seen. / dont want to be evil.

"You can't just say it and make it so. It's not that easy."

Of course it is. My mom tells me all the time that we decide between good and evil. What we are is completely up to us.

"And things drive us to make decisions that are beyond our control. Just like your mother. You know how much she hates dancing and yet there she is every night, right on time, often working double shifts to bring in more money. For you. And you haven't been betrayed yet, Nick. You don't know what that's like. What it does to you. The scars it leaves that never fade."

Not true. Alan, Mike, and Tyree had all betrayed me. "And you want their blood for it." / want to bathe in it.

"That's exactly what I'm talking about. That's the evil that's seducing you. The malevolent power that is crawling through your blood tempting you onto a treacherous path that will cost you everything you love and hold dear. You have to let that anger go before it's too late. Vengeance always turns inward and it will consume you until nothing's left but an empty hole that nothing can fill."

Nick bristled as he saw that night again—the glee in Alan's eyes as he pulled the trigger. They shot me!

"And they will pay, but not by your hand. Trust me. Karma has her own plans for them and what she has in store is more painful than you could ever dream."

/ dont know about that. I have one great imagination. And letting it go is much easier said than done.

Ambrose laughed in his ear. "Believe me, I know."

All of a sudden, Nick saw Ambrose in the car beside him.

Translucent, he manifested on the other side of his mother, leaning against the car door as if he really was another passenger.

His dark eyes filled with absolute misery, Ambrose reached out and touched Nick's mother's cheek. There was so much anguish on his face and tenderness in his touch that it made Nick's stomach clench. Ambrose touched her as if she were a ghost who'd haunted him for centuries.

Most of all, he touched her as if she were unspeakably precious. Someone Ambrose had never thought to see again. Even Ambrose's lip quivered while he brushed his hand through her hair.

You love her, Nick sent his thoughts to Ambrose.

Ambrose nodded, then met his gaze so that Nick could see the sincerity burning in his eyes. "I would do anything to keep her safe. Anything to keep you on the right path."

And it was then Nick knew he could trust him. There was no way to fake that depth of emotion. He meant every word he said. Even though it kind of grossed him out that his father's brother loved his mom he believed Ambrose was trying to help them.

The look on Ambrose's face seared him. "Will you trust me, little brother?"

/ guess. But only as long as you don t betray me.

Ambrose gave a cocky grin. "I'm the last person who would ever do that, Nick. I would sell my soul and give my life to keep you from becoming what I am."

Nick nodded. Then tell me what I need to know

"You're going to have to learn to take control of the zombies.

Nick laughed out loud, which caused Caleb to jump in startled alarm and glare at him. "Sorry," Nick said out loud. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Caleb snorted before he relaxed. "It takes more than you to scare me. Must be amusing in that head of yours, Gautier. But remember the rest of us aren't in there with you."

Yeah, only Ambrose seemed to have that power.

Nick returned his attention to Ambrose. Car lights shone through his body, making it shimmer in the darkness. Can Caleb not sense you?

"Only if I allow it."

And obviously, he wasn't allowing anyone but Nick to see and hear him right now.

What are you? he asked Ambrose.

"We"—he indicated the two of them—"are the last of a cursed race. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing as it's our prime nature to hurt others. When they're weak and hurting, we swoop in for the kill. But I'm hoping you have enough of your mother in you that you'll learn to curb those impulses and learn to let the things go that I never could."

Nick hoped so too. / dont want to be anything like Adarian.

That eerie red tint returned to Ambrose's eyes—not that Nick needed a reminder that the creature next to him wasn't human. "Neither did he and he's not quite the jerk you think he is. In time, you'll understand him better than you'll want to. And together, if we're lucky, we'll keep you from following in his footsteps. In the meantime, I have to teach you everything I know as quickly as I can."

What's the rush?

Orange flickered in his red eyes, like dancing flames. "My time's running out and soon I won't..." His voice trailed off. You wont what?

"I won't care anymore. About anyone or anything ... not even you." Ambrose took Nick's hand and manifested an ornate gold dagger in his palm. The pommel held an elaborate pattern that looked like a circle of ancient birds spiraling out. And on the cross hilt was a bloodred ruby that seemed to be radiating warmth. Nick frowned at it. What's this?

"The seal of the Malachai. With that dagger, there's nothing you can't kill. Gods, demons, zombies ... you name it or, more to the point, stab it and they'll all fall to you."

Why are you giving this to me?

"In part so that it won't tempt me, and so that you can cut through the zombies who'll come for you tonight." He took Nick's hand and laid his palm over the center of the dagger. "Close your eyes and imagine it the size of a pocket knife."

Do wiat?

"Trust me, Nick."

Nick did as he said and the moment he had the image in his mind, the dagger shrank. Gasping, he opened his eyes to see it no longer than his index finger.

Ambrose handed him the sheath for it, which was a matching size. "You can carry it with you anywhere you go. To make it bigger, just imagine the size you want it. It can be a sword, a dagger, or a knife."

Are you serious?

He nodded. "It'll even go through airport security. No creature or machine will ever detect it." Howis that possible?

That familiar sadness returned to Ambrose's face. "I'm going to show you things you never thought possible. Show you a world you never dreamed existed. And for that I'm sorry. But it has to be done and better I show it to you than you learn it the way I had to."

It was obvious from his words and demeanor that he was a summa cum laude graduate from the school of massive groin kicks. And as Nick watched him stare at his dozing mother, he couldn't help wondering one thing. Howold are you?

Ambrose sighed before he answered. "I've lived hundreds of years."

Nick gaped in awe. Ambrose didn't look a day over twenty-four. Was it really possible to live that long?

Then again, Ash had. And with that thought came another one that he was dying to know, even though in his gut he already had a good idea of what the answer was.

What about my dad? Howold is he? 'Cause right now, Nick was going to bet he wasn't the midthirties he appeared to be, either.

Ambrose took his mother's hand into his and held it to his heart. "Much, much older than I am."

He'd suspected it, but the truth hit him like a cheap gut shot. He tried to imagine what it would be like to live through centuries. It had to be a lot of fun.

And extremely lonely.

Will I live that long?

"With luck, and I hope you live those years much happier than I have." Meaning?

"Meaning, I need you to focus. If you want to save Madaug, you need to listen to me or the mortents will eat both of you Pop-Tarts for breakfast."

I'm listening.

Ambrose cursed as the car slowed down. "We're at Kyrian's house. This'll have to wait."

Nick started to ask what he meant, but the moment he looked out the window, he understood. There was a small crowd of people gathered in front of the house. Male and female, half of them carried baseball bats and staves. Interesting weapons that made him wonder what they carried that he couldn't see.

Nick looked at Caleb. "Uh, is it just me or is that half our class?"

"Yeah, I'm thinking it's a reunion or, since it is our classmates, a collection of idiots. Let's call it a meese. Like geese, only with morons."

Bubba pulled into the driveway, where Tad was issuing orders to the others.

Nick got out first while Ambrose materialized beside him.

Tad had his back to them while he spoke to a group that included Kyle and Alex Peltier, Stone, Casey, but oddly enough no Brynna. "Since there are only four Dark-Hunters in the city tonight, they're doing everything they can to combat the Daimons, who are taking advantage of the zombie situation to come out in force and feed and blame the deaths on them."

Nick frowned at Caleb while Bubba went to the back to get his mom.

"What's a Daimon?" Nick asked Ambrose. "You really want to know?" "Enlighten me."

Astrange light flickered in Ambrose's eyes. "Soulsucking vampires. While theydrain humans of blood, they don't feed on that. They only drink the blood to kill you and then once you're dead and your soul leaves your body, they suck it into their bodies and live on its essence."

Nick took a step back in disbelief. "You're screwing with me."

Ambrose shook his head. "No I'm not, and you will one day be very intimate with several of them."

"I don't like your tone, Ambrose." Most of all, he didn't like what Ambrose was implying.

"You'll like it even less on the day you meet a Daimon named Stryker. But that's another story...." Ambrose indicated Tad with a jerk of his chin. "He, on the other hand, is a good friend to have. Entertaining as all get out."

Nick scowled as he listened to Tad's speech while Bubba carried his mom into the house.

"Since the Dark-Hunters are busy, Eric needs us. For those who haven't heard, who are wondering why you were called, his mother and brothers are missing. Taken, we think, by the bokor. Eric doesn't know where they are." His gaze went to Stone and the Peltiers. "We need you guys to help us track them and find them."

Stone sneered at the Peltiers. "They can't track for crap."

Alex started for him, but Kyle caught him and held him back. "You don't want to kill the wolf, A. They taste like dry chicken."

Stone stiffened in outrage. "Who you calling a chicken?"



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