Groaning, Nick saw Bubba lying unconscious, pinned between the steering wheel and seat. His brow was split and blood trickled down his face, dripping onto his shirt. Alex was breathing like a woman in labor as he tried to open his door. He was covered in blood with a split lip and swelling eye. But the most shocking was Caleb, who'd lost his human appearance entirely.
Whoa, not only was his skin red, but it glowed in the faint light. And those serpentine eyes with their diamond-shaped pupils were off the creepy weird chart.
Nick tried to move. But raw pain pounded through him, making it hard to breathe while Caleb tried to unbuckle his seat belt. One of his hands looked like it might be broken. Even so, Caleb didn't let it deter him at all.
"Alex?" Caleb said, his voice reverberating with a deep accent. "We're under attack. Can you get out?"
Alex made the sound of an angry grizzly. "Something has my powers locked. I can't do squat, not even undo my seat belt. Are your powers working?"
"No. I can't even hold my human form."
All of a sudden Nick smelled the pungent stench of sulphur and death.
Caleb cursed as he started kicking the side window. As soon as the glass was out, he grabbed Nick and shoved him through the opening he'd made. Nick hissed as agony erupted down his shoulder and arm from the manhandling.
Dang, it hurt.
Caleb climbed out and grabbed his good arm. Dragging him along behind him, Caleb was speaking in a language that Nick couldn't understand.
"Dude, I don't think we're supposed to be moving until the medics get here after a wreck like that. I think I broke something. We could sever our spines or something."
"You're about to break a lot more than your spine." Caleb turned and looked up over their heads. Cursing, he grabbed Nick and shoved him into a drainage pipe. "Don't move, and breathe only if you have to."
What kind of stupid comment was that?
Nick started to argue until he saw what had Caleb so worried. These were ...
You wish. 'Cause instead of being cute little blue things in weird suits and hats, the things after them were huge, ugly creatures that turned his stomach. With bald heads, talons, and Shar-Pei-like skin, they gave foul a whole new meaning. And they smelled like rotten eggs. No, they smelled like four-day-old powdered eggs that had been left to mold in the August sun.
Or Bubba's shoes...
Their stench was so pungent, it was all he could do not to heave.
Caleb turned to fight them. They swarmed over him like the birds in the old-timey Hitchcock film. Nick couldn't even see the outline of his body as they took him down.
Terrified, he fell back deeper into the drain, out of their sight. Pulling the sword out, he whispered a prayer for some serious divine intervention.
The sound of wings beat against the night like a thunderous heartbeat. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he considered his options. He couldn't see much of anything in the darkness. If he went out there to run, they'd see him and swarm him too.
He froze as he heard his mother's voice and what sounded like her sobbing. It's a trick. There was no way she could be here. None.
"They're hurting me, baby. Help me. Please!"
It's not her. It's not her.
But what if it was?
What if it's not?
He put his hand on the cell phone, tempted to call her and see. But if it was a trick, they'd hear him. What do I do?
He tightened his grip on the sword as he heard something crawling along the ground outside. It sounded like it was coming closer. He looked down at the bright ruby in the hilt and hesitated. This was his only weapon. If he lost it, he'd be completely at their mercy.
He had something else that might help. At least he hoped it would. Pulling out the book, he crouched low with it and used his cell phone as a light so that he could see the blank pages. Repeating whatAmbrose had shown him, he pricked his finger with the dagger and let his blood fall on the page.
"What are these things after me?" he breathed.
His blood drew a picture of them that was even uglier than what he'd glimpsed. Then words appeared underneath the image to explain what they were. Taahiki demons. Third subculture w'th limited powers. They are fetchers sent in to retrieve objects and creatures for their masters. In this case. .. you.
"How did they immobilize Caleb and Alex?"
Beneath the picture, another image appeared. This one was a small medallion that was highly ornate. Once again, words appeared. Starof Ishtaryn. Demon kryptonite. Will weaken and cage any demonkyn who comes into contact wth it, which includes half-breeds such as you.
And it's not good for werebeasts either.
The book had some serious attitude.
"So what do I do?" Nick asked it.
The blood crawled to the opposite page.
When all is said and all is done,
The best thing for you to do nowis to run.
"Run" appeared as a giant, jagged word. Nick slammed the book shut, put it in his pocket, and did exactly what it said. He tore out of the pipe and hesitated as he saw the remnants of Bubba's SUV. Please dont be dead.
He barely had time to finish that thought before the demons saw him and reversed course. With a shriek, they turned like a flock of birds and came for him, wings flapping. He shrank the sword and put it in his pocket. With his head down low, he ran with everything he had.
For several minutes he seemed to be making ground.
Then, just as he was sure he'd escape, they dropped and shoved him hard. The motion propelled him forward, to the ground. Nick cried out as his shoulder and arm hit the street. The pain was so severe that for a moment, he thought he'd pass out from it.
Run/The word screamed through his mind. He pushed himself up, but the demons hit him again and again across his back. This time, they stabbed him with their talons repeatedly until the pain overwhelmed him.
Dont pass out. Dont you dare.
But it was too late. His sight was already dimming. The last thing he saw was Bubba's SUV bursting into flames and exploding.
Then everything went black.
Nick came awake to the worst pain imaginable pounding through his skull. He felt like someone was clawing out his right eye. How anything could hurt this bad and not kill him, he couldn't imagine.
Then he heard the faint sound of a little kid crying. Blinking open his eyes, he realized he was lying facedown on a cold earth floor in a tiny cell. The crying came from a boy around the age of ten who sat in a corner with his legs pulled tight to his chest. His brown eyes swam with tears as he sobbed against his knees.
"Shhh," Nick breathed. He didn't want the kid to be upset. But more than that, he didn't want the sound echoing through his head.
The boy looked up as he sniffed back his tears. "Are you going to hurt me?"
Nick started to tell him only if he kept crying, but luckily he caught himself before he traumatized the kid further. "No. Are you Madaug's brother?"
"You know Madaug?"
"Yeah.""Is he okay?"
Nick grimaced as more pain laced through his skull. "I have no idea. Have you seen him?"
He nodded. "They brought him in here when theytook my mama. Then they locked me in here and haven't been back. I'm so scared."
"It'll be all right." At least Nick hoped he wasn't lying to the kid.
"That's not what they told me. They told me theywere going to eat my brains." "Nah. Only older brothers do that." The kid actually laughed. "My name's Ian. Who are you?" "Nick."
"Can you get us out of here?"
Nick looked around. The room didn't appear to have a door or anything else, which meant no, he couldn't. But he didn't want to tell the kid that. "How did we get in here?"
Ian pointed to the wall to his left. "A door appears right there whenever they want in or out."
Nick got up and looked for a switch or trapdoor or something. But all he saw was the wall.
He pulled out his cell phone and tried to call Kyrian. Big surprise, it didn't work. But at least he still had his book and the dagger. They weren't completely defenseless.
Yet he felt completely defeated as the magnitude of this situation hit him hard. How could he not? Everything had gone bad tonight. Bubba and Alex were dead. Tabitha, Eric, and Mark were probably dead too. And Simi and Caleb.
No one, including him, knew where he was.
What am I going to do?
He didn't see a way out of this.
"Ambrose?" he called, trying to summon his guardian to him.
There was no answer.
"Dude, c'mon," he called out to Ambrose. "You've popped in all night long. Can't you come the one time I actually want to see you?"
Of course Ambrose still didn't answer, 'cause, again, that would just be too easy.
Nick sighed in frustration. This was not how he'd imagined this day playing out. Yet here he was about to be eaten by demons or turned into a zombie.
Who'll take care of my mom now?
That wave of hopelessness washed through him only to be replaced by one of raw determination as he thought about his mom being left defenseless. He would not go down like this. Whining on the floor like the kid in front of him. He'd survived too much to just lie down and die like some cheap bimbo in a horror movie.
Oh no. He was Nick Gautier. A kid born standing up and talking back. No one ever got the better of him and he'd be damned if they were going to start now.
If whatAmbrose had told him was true, he had powers inside him. Powers he should be able to use. All he had to do was figure out how to tap into them.
Pulling out the book, he used the blood incantation again. "How do I get out of here?"
Ian crept forward to see what he was doing, but he didn't say anything while he watched. The blood swirled around the page until it answered Nick's question.
Here you are and here youll stay Until you leam a better way.
"Uh, hemoglobin, a little clarity would be nice. Could you be a little more specific for me?"
Bom of time. Born of space. First you must find your place.
"Can I get a yes or no from you? Are you going to tell me how to get out of here or not?"
Yes or no is not forme to speak. Rather the answer is for you to seek.
Nick curled his lip in disgust at the cryptic answers. "Oh, you suck."
Suck and blowso you say.
But I'm not the one trapped wth no getaway.
Anger ripped through him. "Leave it to me to find the only book known to sass its owner." Growling in aggravation, he slammed it shut and choked it.
Ian frowned at him. "What are you doing?"
"At the moment, wishing I could burn a book." It heated up in his hand to the point it was actually painful to hold. "Stop that!" he snapped at it.
It cooled down.
Nick raked his hand through his hair. How did he use those powers?
Closing his eyes, he concentrated like he did to make his dagger bigger and larger.
Except his headache got worse. A lot worse. This is useless.
"We're going to die, aren't we?" Ian asked.
Nick shook his head. "No, Ian, we're not. I'll keep you safe. I promise."
"What if you can't?"
"Dude, have a little faith. Okay?"
Sniffing back his tears, he nodded.
Nick had always wondered what it'd be like to have a brother or sister. He could see where they might get on his nerves, but the way Ian looked up at him like he was a hero ...
A guy could get used to that. And it made him want to be worthy of that look.
The door in the side of the wall opened. Nick put himself between Ian and the tall, sinister figure who came through the newly created doorway.
It cocked its head as it stared at him and Ian. "Are you not pleased by your offering?"
Nick was perplexed by the question. "What?"
The black blob gestured to Ian. "Does he not meet with your satisfaction, my lord?"
"Satisfaction for what?"
Another figure stepped around him. This one was a small, tiny woman with dark tawny skin. She looked like a beautiful angel. "Your human sacrifice. We thought by now you'd have devoured him." lan's eyes widened as he stepped away from Nick.
"I'm not going to hurt a kid."
They looked as baffled as he felt. Were they crazy?
An evil laugh rippled in the air around him. "Stand down, my children. He's not our Malachai yet. Our embryo is still thinking he's human. But he'll learn. Now bring him to me." Ian started crying.
Nick refused to go without him. "I'm not leaving him alone. He's scared."
The female scowled. "What do you care?"