"She was a famous warrior. She died two decades ago, a glorious death in battle."
"Warrior? Battle? I thought Valkyrie were docile."
Nïx laughed. "Did the demon tell you that?" She made a tsking sound. "Cadeon Woede! For shame."
"Just having a bit of fun with that."
"What was Greta like?" Holly asked.
"She was part Fury - "
Cade made a strangled sound but covered it with a cough. "No way." The most fierce race of females in existence. Valkyrie were violent. Furies were...incomprehensible.
Hell, if Cade turned her over to Groot, Holly might off the sorcerer herself.
"Look at Holly's violet eyes, with the dark ring around the iris. A Fury's eyes."
"Why did she give me away?" Holly asked. "I know there must have been a good reason."
And there was Holly's signature confidence. She expressed no bitterness or self-doubt over the fact that she'd been given over.
"I've put together a welcome package with a letter that will explain more. But for now, you need to leave. It's dangerous for you here."
"Where am I going?" Holly demanded.
Nïx nodded in answer.
"Um, that wasn't a yes-or-no question."
"I thought we were supposed to meet Cadeon's brother here."
"You were," Nïx said. "But he's not here."
Exhaling impatiently, Holly said, "Just tell me, how did I become like this."
"You make it sound like it's a tragedy."
"I...no, I didn't mean to, but I just want to go back to my old life. I'm a single code away from getting my doctorate, and I have classes to teach - "
"Yes, well, if I had students like your delicious football players, I'd be eager to return, too. Re-rowr."
Cade prompted Nïx, "Again, how'd she get like this?"
Nïx looked confused as if she didn't understand the question, then finally answered, "The seed was always there but was given water and sun with the lightning bolt." She turned to Holly. "And now you'll grow into the Valkyrie you were always meant to be."
"Cade told me that it's reversible?" she said in a tone tinged with disbelief.
"Did he, then?"
He pinched the bridge of his nose, prepared to be busted.
"He's right," Nïx said, shocking him, going along with his lie. "Only one man can reverse this. His name is Groot the Metallurgist. He's a powerful sorcerer. If you get to him before you become fully immortal, he can change you back," she said, though Cade knew that she knew that wasn't true.
Without a word, Nïx sauntered back to her car, leaving them no choice but to follow. "Now, I took the liberty of visiting your vampire-infested building and packing a bag for you. I know you'll want to change."
Nïx popped the trunk, displaying a large suitcase atop another pile of sand. She lifted the weighty-looking bag with a finger, setting it on the ground. "Oh, and here are your spare glasses." She pulled a pair from her jacket pocket, handing them to Holly. "Style name Smitten Kitten - love it!"
Enunciating every syllable, Cade repeated, "Smitten Kitten?"
Sliding him a discomfited glance, Holly donned them.
Nïx continued, "Of course the glasses will become redundant, since your eyesight should continue to improve each day. And here are your pearls." She handed over a strand that looked exactly like the ones Holly usually wore. Naturally, she would have backups. "These items are your talismans."
"Do you feel stronger when you wear them?"
Holly bit her lip and nodded.
"Then, yes, talismans. Now, those pearls have been bespelled. When you wear them, you'll be protected from scrying eyes."
Holly turned to Cade, as if for translation.
"It means, don't take them off." He collected the necklace from Holly and turned her around by the shoulders. "Pull up your hair."
When she piled up all those red-gold curls, he just prevented himself from kissing her slender nape....
He shook himself and finished.
"You need to get dry," Nïx told her. "You're still a vulnerable little mortal. Oops, I forgot - you want to stay that way." She tittered behind her fingertips as if that inclination was so misguided it was cute.
Seeming dazed, Holly took the bag and turned toward the station bathroom.
"What do you think you're doing?" Cade snapped.
He tore into the bag and snatched the first pair of shoes he could find, shoving them on her feet. Then he took the bag and escorted her to the women's bathroom.
She groaned when he followed her inside and checked the stalls. Before he left, he pinched her chin. "Little bit, if anybody f**ks with you in here, you give 'em a taste of what you gave the demons. Clear?"
Anytime someone asked Holly what she'd done the night before, she answered: "Studied, went to the library, swam."
Occasionally she varied the first two by doing them with Tim.
Tonight's activities? "Slew demons in horrific bloodbath, got shot at by vampires with machine guns, had a mad car chase through a swamp. Found out who - and what - my birth mother was. Learned about a secret world existing side by side with our own...."
Too much to take in. She didn't respond well to change in even the most ideal circumstances. Now, she was just...numb, deadened to the shocks that kept coming.
At least, she hoped that she was numb. Otherwise that would mean she didn't particularly feel bad about her mass murders this evening.
Yes, those men were monsters, and, yes, Holly believed they'd gotten what they deserved, but shouldn't she feel a twinge of something that she'd done it? Revulsion? Fear?
She stood in front of the mirror and stared at her eyes. The rings that had always circled her irises were much more noticeable. Because - don't you know - I'm part Fury.
Whatever that was.
Nïx's eyes were also uncanny, but their golden color was breathtaking, while Holly's violet was merely odd.
Holly drew back her hair, unable to ignore her sharply pointed ears any longer. Again, ears like this looked great on Nïx - exotic and interesting - while seeming foreign and weird on Holly.
One of the most classic OCD symptoms was an unfounded fear of losing oneself. But Holly's fear wasn't unfounded. She truly was losing herself, one feature at a time. If only I had my -
Her eyes widened. If Nïx had picked up things for her, surely she would have noticed all the pill bottles Holly had left lined up on the counter.