"Bock, bock,"A\ex said with a grin. "If the beak fits ..."

This time several others came between them as Stone lunged for Alex.

Tad growled at them. "Were-Hunters down. This is not the time for /all to be acting up. We need you."

Nick scowled. There was that word again. And in spite of what Tad had said, he was convinced itwasn'ta gamer's term.

Russell turned around and saw him and Caleb. "How long have the mundanes been here?"

Caleb scoffed. "Not mundanes, dweeb. We have more right to be here than any of you."

Stone sneered at Caleb. "You're out of your element here,

Malphas."

Caleb opened his hand. Just like Ambrose had done in the alley, he manifested a fireball. He threw it at Stone so that it landed at his feet and illuminated Stone's entire body. "Don't cross me, Scooby-Doo. I'm not an old man in a mask waiting to be thwarted by you meddling kids."

Tad nodded. "And Gautier is now working for Kyrian. It's not like he's not going to find out what we are sooner or later."

"And what are you?" Nick asked.

Carl Samuel, one of Tad's friends who had blond hair and blue eyes, stepped forward. "We're multigenerational Squires.

"Which means what?" Nick asked. "You prance around with tinfoil armor and plastic swords pretending to be knights?"

Carl laughed while Russ insulted both Nick's intelligence and parentage.

Tad ignored them as he answered the question. "We are humans in the service of the goddess Artemis who help her and her soldiers protect mankind from the evil that preys on us. St. Richard's is our New Orleans training ground for those of us who come from a long line of Squires."

"Yeah," Carl said. "It's why some of us haven't been real welcoming to you. We don't like being with mundanes who don't know about us. No offense."

No offense? Most of them had been royal jerks to him.

Carl indicated the Peltiers and Stone. "They're shapeshifters. Most of the football team is." His gaze went to Caleb. "We didn't know about you and your powers."

Caleb shrugged. "There was never any need for you to know about me, and none of you will know about me when you get up in the morning, either."

Stone snorted. "That don't work on us."

"Oh yeah, Scooby, it does. You and I have gone round many a day. I'm the reason you keep thinking you've had alien abductions."

Nick laughed. "I knew there was a reason I always liked you.

Caleb leaned forward, between Nick and Ambrose, then said in a low tone, "By the way, boss ... you're not as covert as you think, and I've heard everything you told the kid in the car." He looked straight at Ambrose. "Nice coat, but I prefer the black suit you had on the last time we met."

Ambrose made a Vader move that made it look like something had grabbed Caleb in an invisible choke hold. "Don't push your luck, Malphas."

Caleb relaxed as Ambrose moved away. "You know, Nick, I like you so much better than that prick."

For some reason, Nick wasn't sure that was a compliment.

"All right," Tad said, demanding everyone's attention again. "We need to break into four groups and see what we can find.

Alex Peltier indicated Nick with his thumb. "I'll head out with Bubba, Nick, and crew."

"All right. If anyone finds anything, remember to call it in, and we move as a group. I don't want anyone to be a hero. We don't need to die tonight."

Nick still wasn't sure what was happening as Alex came over to them. "Why did you pick us?"

"I like helping the newbs and most of the rest of them get on my nerves. If nothing else, Bubba and Mark are always good for a laugh."

Nick's stomach hit the ground. "Yeah, but I think the zombies ate Mark." "What?" Alex looked shocked.

"Yeah," Caleb said sadly. "When we were at Madaug's house, the undead zombies attacked and we haven't seen or heard from him since. It's not looking good."

Alex appeared ill. "That's a shame. I really liked whenever Mark would drink too much and play cards with my uncles and Eros. It's highly entertaining."

Nick indicated the door with his thumb. "I'm going to check on my mom and Bubba. I'll be right back." He took a step, then paused and returned his attention to Alex. "Are you really a shapeshifter?"

Alex nodded. "You know the club Sanctuary on Ursulines?" "Yeah."

"My family owns it and almost all of us are shapeshifters." Nick shook his head. "Get out." "Nah, for real."

Nick knew he wasn't kidding, but it was really too much to believe. "So what do you turn into?" "A bear."

Nick laughed as he finally understood one of Sanctuary's long-standing traditions. "You the bear people wrestle for free drinks?"

"Nah. That's my uncle Quinn."

And on that note, Nick went inside to find his mom. Bubba was in the living room talking to Phil. He interrupted them only long enough to find out where Bubba had taken her, then he headed up to the guest room.

Entering the bedroom, Nick approached the huge bed that was decorated with maroon and gold, and looked down at his mom as she slept. She looked so frail against the dark gold sheets.

Protect your mama, boy. His father's voice rang in his ears, but he didn't need to hear his dad to know his obligations. He was the man of the house and it was his job to protect her.

Even when she didn't want it.

And right now, they had to go stop an apocalypse and hopefully save a friend. Not to mention the city that would be overrun by zombies soon if they didn't get to the mortents and drive them back to their hole.

Nick shook his head at the irony. Just yesterday his biggest concern was catching up in chem class after having been shot. Now it was saving the world.

I'm too young for this....

"Unfortunately, you're not."

He turned at the sound of Ambrose's voice. "Where'd you go?"

"To get this." Ambrose handed him an old leather-bound book that was just a hair larger than a thin paperback novel.

Nick opened it, then frowned as he saw nothing but blank pages. "What is this? A journal?"

"Your grimoire. As you unlock your powers, incantations will appear that will allow you to further hone your skills. Pages will be added."

"Isn't that backwards? Shouldn't I have instructions first?" Ambrose shook his head. "It doesn't work that way." He indicated Nick's pocket. "You still have the dagger I gave you?

"Yeah."

"Pull it out and place it on the first page."

Nick set the book on the dresser since he only had the one arm. He pulled out the dagger and did what Ambrose said. The moment he did, a peculiar script wrote itself across the page in bloodred ink. He started to ask Ambrose what it said, but as he looked at it, he understood.

How could that be?

The veil is thin and so you see. What lies beneath the surface tree. In this regard they'll never fool. But still be wary of becoming their tool.

Ambrose took the dagger from his hand and used it to prick his fingertip.

Nick cursed. "What are you doing?"

Ambrose didn't answer. Instead he let three drops of blood splash on the page. "Dredanya eire coulet,"he whispered as they fell. Then the blood droplets rushed in a circle before they exploded and added more words to the page.

Tonight the moon rises full.

And you w'll feel evil's pull.

Stand strong and fight them to the end.

Only by remaining faithful w'll you w'n.

Ambrose handed him the dagger back. "Anytime you want advice or instruction, you can use that spell. In time, you'll be able to use it to find prophecy and foretell the future."

Nick gaped. "Really?"

Ambrose inclined his head. "And on that note, I have to go." He did look a bit pale, like something was draining his powers. "Good luck, Nick."

"Thanks."

Ambrose inclined his head before he faded out.

Nick took one last look at his mom, then the book, before he slid it into his back pocket. Steeled by determination, he left the room and went downstairs, where Phil and Bubba were still talking. He'd overheard Phil saying earlier that Kyrian had told him to come and look after him and his mom.

It didn't make sense to Nick that Phil would be at Kyrian's beck and call, but far be it from him to question it. If he knew anything it was that adults didn't like telling kids anything they didn't have to.

Phil smiled at him. "Don't worry, Nick. I'll protect her till you get back."

Bubba eyed Phil suspiciously. "I don't know if there's much you could do if someone broke in."

An insidious smile curved Phil's lips. "Don't let the suit fool you. I promise I'm a lot tougher than I look."

Nick frowned as he saw the strangest thing ... it was a spiderweb tattoo on Phil's hand. Granted it was faint, but there was no missing it. It completely went against Phil's posh dress and upper-crust demeanor. "That's cool. You get it when you were young?"

Phil covered the tattoo with his other hand. "I did indeed." "Nick?" Bubba said to get his attention. "We need to head out."

He thanked Phil for watching after his mom before he followed Caleb, Alex, and Bubba to the SUV. Nick sighed as he got in and took his seat. "Is it just me or has this been the longest night?"

Bubba snorted. "You do what I do, kid, and they get even longer."

Nick noticed there was a thick air of sadness around Bubba as he started the truck. "You're worried about Mark?"

Bubba bristled as if offended by the question, but Nick recognized that bluster. Bubba was definitely upset and concerned. "Why would I be worried about him? He's a tough little son of a biscuit eater. No zombie could get him. He's better than that."

But Nick could hear the truth in that gruff tone. Tough or not, it only took one hit to end a life, and that was what they were all keeping in mind as they headed out.

"So, Alex?" Bubba asked. "How you going to track?"

Alex held up a small handheld device. "GPS." He turned around in the seat to wink at Caleb and Nick.

Bubba wasn't so easily fooled. "How are you getting coordinates?"

"Madaug's cell phone."

"Ah, okay. Just tell me where to go."

Alex gave a sly grin as if he was holding back. After a second, he closed his eyes and Nick could tell he was using some kind of preternatural powers to seek out Madaug and his family.

While he did that, Bubba turned on the radio, which was playing an emergency broadcast signal that was followed by a newscaster telling them the mayor was issuing a citywide curfew due to a vicious outbreak of severe flu.

Caleb scoffed. "I told you they'd blame this on a disease."

Bubba turned left down Canal. "They don't want people to start panicking. For once I can't blame them. The more people on the street, the more vies in the morgue."

The newscaster continued. "The police are implementing a citywide curfew. All residents are urged to stay in while they secure the Quarter. Anyone found outside will be arrested."

"And all zombies will be shot," Nick added with a laugh.

"Should we head back?" Alex asked.

Bubba shrugged. "That's what common sense would say. What do you think?"

Nick leaned back in his seat. "Far be it from me to ever let my common sense get in the way of my stupidity. I say we press on. Caleb?"

He flashed a cheesy grin. "What's an arrest record anyway? Me, Alex, and Nick are minors."

"To infinity then."

Nick frowned at Bubba's words. "What's that mean?"

"It's something my dad used to say when I was a kid. To infinity, meaning you'd see something through to the end."

Nick didn't get it. "Infinity is never-ending."

"That's right, which means you keep going and going no matter what happens or what obstacles you meet. Over, under, around, or through. There's always a way. And if you have to chase something to infinity, strap on your big-boy pants, hiking boots, and go."

Nick opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, something slammed into the SUV. One minute, they were fine.

The next, they were spinning out of control.

CHAPTER 17

Nick's head slammed into the glass so hard, he saw stars as the SUV rolled over and over, careening out of control. It felt like it was never going to stop, and it didn't until something catapulted them against the concrete wall of the 1-10 overpass. They hit it so hard, he was amazed it didn't snap the truck in half.



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