Infamous – Sherrilyn Kenyon

It wasn’t every day you learned that you were the son of a ferocious demon and that your destiny was to end the world. Or that the guy you thought was your whacked-out uncle was actually you from the future trying to prevent not only your death, but that of basically everyone else.… Literally. All in all, being that he was only fourteen years old, Nick Gautier was handling it pretty well. Yeah, not really. Stunned into complete silence, which very seldom happened, Nick couldn’t breathe as brutal reality sucker-punched him. Hard. Mercilessly. Right where it hurt most. Well, not physically there. But mentally it felt like his gonads had been stomped straight into the ground. His head swam from nausea. Trying to get a handle on everything, he clutched at the broken stones on the stoop where he sat outside his new apartment building on Bourbon Street. Ambrose—the future him—stood to his left, towering over him with a pitiless sneer. How was it possible that he was Ambrose? Or more to the point, Ambrose was what he would become.

… How could he, an average kid roaming the backstreets of New Orleans, be the ultimate evil? He didn’t feel particularly evil. Most days, he didn’t feel anything except stressed out by school, or tired of his mom nagging at him about everything from the clothes he wore, to the length of his hair, to how late he stayed up. Some days, it felt like she was looking for a reason to be ticked off at him. Boy, if she knew this about him, he’d never hear the end of it. She’d probably ground him until he was at least three or four thousand years old. Yeah, it sounded ludicrous even to him, until he looked at Ambrose standing all bad ass and tough at his left. Ambrose is me from the future.… He glanced around the section of Bourbon Street where his new apartment was located. Everything looked the same. The broken sidewalks that made up the French Quarter.

The cars parked in a line on both sides of the street. The row of shotgun houses that led to stores and restaurants … But nothing was the same. Most of all, he would never be the same again. I am a demon. “No, no, no,” Nick repeated as he tried to come up with some other explanation. One that made a little more sense and that didn’t leave him as a tool for the darkest forces in the universe. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one. Not that any of this made sense. It was all pretty farcical when you thought about it. Him.

Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier—smart-mouthed, streetwise kid. Typical teenager. Gaming guru. Anime and manga obsessed otaku. Socially awkward around any girl his age. Total evil. Dang, his principal had been right all along.… He really was demonspawn. Too bad Peters had gotten eaten by zombies before he found out the real truth of Nick’s parentage. Old fart would have been proud to be proven right.

Nick really was destined for a life of total destruction. Even though he wanted to, he couldn’t deny it. Ambrose had the same exact blue eyes and dark brown hair he had. The same sneer that he often wore when things ticked him off—the one that got him grounded every time his mom saw it. More than that, Ambrose had the identical scar on his palm that Nick had been given when Xenon cut his hand for blood. A scar that hadn’t been on Ambrose’s hand the last time he’d seen him. I’m in a flippin’ Twilight Zone episode. He had to be. Nothing else made sense. So where was his voice-over, telling the audience how he’d screwed up and taken a wrong turn down some suburban street or some such crud? C’mon, Rod Serling.

Don’t let me down. I need you to come in and tell me that I’m in a nightmare. Tell me about this new dimension of sight and sound. But there was no reprieve. Not from this skewed reality. And not from the fact that he was the hated and hunted son of a demon … “I’m evil.” He tried to accept that and still he couldn’t. If it were true, how could he go to Mass all the time with his mom? Shouldn’t he burst into flames when holy water touched him? Feel a burning sensation or something when he took communion? For that matter, he’d been an altar boy for years. But he’d never once experienced the slightest bit of discomfort from any of that. The worst thing that had ever happened to him in church was when the priest had fallen asleep during his last confession—which said it all about how boring his life had been prior to all of this.

Yeah, okay, and then there was the time when he’d tripped going down the center aisle and spilled incense all over the place. But that hadn’t been a result of his birthright, unless you counted clumsiness and the fact his thrift store shoes had been too big for his feet. “I am evil,” Nick repeated one more time. Ambrose shifted his weight to one leg as his dark scowl intensified. “No, Nick. We’re evil. We were bred to be soldiers for the darkest of powers.” He said that so lackadaisically—Like, Hey, the sun’s shining. Look, the neighbor’s dog is in your trash again. Dude, you’re wearing one ugly shirt.

Oh, and by the way, you’re a demon in human form. Yeah … Much like the tacky Hawaiian shirt Nick was wearing, it just didn’t fit. “Then why are you trying to help me?” he asked Ambrose. Ambrose snorted. “I ask myself that every day, and I have no answer. Part of me wants to tell you to just embrace your birthright and go with it. To let the evil have its way and carry you to the Nether Realm for your enemies to use as they see fit. God knows, fighting it never gave me any peace or comfort. Not once. Just a giant sized ulcer.

You want the honest truth? Caring about others has made my entire life suck from beginning to end. When you don’t care about anyone or anything, nothing can hurt you. When you do…” Your enemies had you by your stones. He’d already learned that lesson. Still … “You haven’t answered my question.” Ambrose sighed. “Because I don’t have an answer, kid. Contrary to what you think, we’re all mice lost in a maze. No one really knows what they’re doing. You go left for whatever reason, but you don’t know if it’s the right direction or not until you’re either electrocuted or you get the cheese.

By the time you find out which it is, it’s too late to turn back. You’re either dead or you’re fed. There’s no third option.” “I have to say then, that I prefer fed over dead.” Ambrose laughed bitterly. “So do I. Some days, anyway.” He glanced skyward as if looking for divine guidance of some kind. “I seriously hope I’m not about to make another mistake.” He rubbed his hand against his forehead as if he had a pain there, then leveled a piercing stare at Nick.

“Fine. I’ll tell you the truth. All of it. For better or worse. Let’s put the cards on the table and see how we screw things up this time, shall we?” Nick wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. But either way, he wanted to know exactly what was going on and what he was up against. Ambrose faced him. “This isn’t my first rodeo, but it is most definitely the last. You, Nick, are the only hope I have of getting it right. I’ve tried three times before this and each one was worse on the outcome than the last.

When I started tampering with our lives, I had more humanity in me. I’ve all but lost it now. My last attempt burned out something inside me, and I’ll be honest, it scares me. And I don’t scare. Ever. Not after everything I’ve been through. But the degree to which I don’t care anymore—about anything—is a frightful thing. At times, I want it all to end. Because when it does, my pain will stop and I’ll have some degree of peace. Finally.

It’ll seriously suck for everyone else. But like I said, I’m to the point where I really don’t care anymore. I’m holding on to my humanity by the thinnest thread imaginable, and any day now, I expect it to break. God help us all when it does.” A chill went down Nick’s spine. He didn’t want the bleak, lonely future Ambrose described. Most of all, he didn’t want to become Ambrose. While he was jaded and suspicious by nature, there was still a part of him that honestly believed people were good and decent. Most of them, anyway. He glared at Ambrose as he absorbed those words.

“Then why should I listen to anything you tell me? For all I know, you’re setting me up so that you can have your peace and end the world.… And what do you mean you’ve tried three times? How?” “I forgot how ADD I once was.” Ambrose shook his head. “No wonder Kyrian was so sharp with me so many times.” He took a deep breath before he answered Nick’s question. “I’ve mentored three different Nicks before you. Four if you count my original childhood.” “Ooooriginal?” He dragged the word out as that thought played through his mind. Did that mean…? Ambrose let out another bitter laugh. “My life was slightly different from yours.

Not much. Little things. But it’s those little things that can make a huge difference in what happens to us later.” Yep, it was exactly what he’d suspected. And that truthfully terrified him. Never underestimate a man’s ability to screw up the best laid plans —that was one of his friend’s favorite sayings. “Such as?” Nick asked. “The first attempt I made at correcting the past, I had Nick tell our mother about the Dark-Hunter world as soon as he was dragged into it.” He winced as if the memory was unbearable. “I really thought that was the perfect solution.

I did. All these years, I kept telling myself that if only she’d known about the paranormal, she’d have been wary of it and not—” He broke off to curse under his breath. Then he turned back to Nick. “But she couldn’t handle it or believe it … It was a total disaster. Because of our father, she thought it was a mental defect—schizophrenia to be precise. That first Nick ended up medicated in an asylum with no one to protect him from our enemies. I’m still scarred by what was done to him. Worse, without us living at home, Mom never stopped working at her club and she was shot dead during a robbery.” Nick wanted to vomit at the mere thought. “Are you serious?” Ambrose nodded.

“There’s nothing like watching multiple outcomes play out before your eyes and then live in your memory. I now understand why Savitar sits on his island, away from everything.” Who? Nick had never heard of such a person. “Savitar?” “A being you’ll meet one day. For now, it’s not important. Just remember, you can’t talk to your mother about any of this. She doesn’t want to know, and she’ll never accept the fact that she had the son of a demon.” Who could blame her for that? He personally couldn’t think of any woman who would welcome that news. Hey, hon, guess what? Your son that you nurtured in your body for nine months and then sacrificed your life and dignity to raise is destined to end the world. Aren’t you proud? Yeah, that just didn’t work.

All right then, he wouldn’t tell his mother about himself, his father or his Dark-Hunter boss Kyrian. Truthfully, he’d been tempted to let her know why Kyrian was dif erent, why he worked so late at night and wasn’t around in the daytime. But every time he’d thought about it, his gut had kept him silent. Score one for the gut. Too bad his brain wasn’t as smart. For the very reason Ambrose had named, he’d been afraid of how she’d react. There were times when he felt like his mother was looking for a reason to have him committed or institutionalized. Like she feared him becoming his father so much that she was itching for some sign to confirm that he was every bit as violent and awful, and lock him up before it was too late and he hurt someone. “What happened with the other attempts?” “Next we were sucked into the Nether Realm at age seventeen where…” His voice broke off and he visibly cringed as if that memory was even worse than the one before. “Whatever you do, kid, stay away from Azmodea.

Don’t believe any demon who tells you lies about how great it is. Because for you, it’s not, and I can’t stress the not part enough. Whatever you do, avoid creatures named Azura and Noir. Only slavery waits for you there. A slavery so brutal, you can’t even conceive of it. And it would give even Quentin Tarantino nightmares.” That was an impressive thought and he took Ambrose’s warning to heart. “Never heard of that place, but will add it to my ‘under no circumstances’ list.” Like eating broccoli, doing laundry, or feeding Mark’s “dog” that was actually a thirteen foot gator with a nasty attitude and a taste for Cajun. “And the Nick after that?” He let out a slow breath.

“Suffice it to say, it didn’t go well either.” “How so?” 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—” “Nick!” 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?” Ambrose nodded. 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? Girlfriend? 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.” “Why?” “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?” “I can’t.” “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.” “I am.

” 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.” His mother. 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. Dark-Hunters die in sunlight. But not Ambrose … How could he be outside and on the street when he shouldn’t be able to? How was he able to hide his Dark-Hunter traits? The wind sent a chill down Nick’s spine that he felt all the way to his soul. “Because of you,” Ambrose sneered that word, “and your stupidity, your mother, Bubba, Mark, and … others close to you die horribly. That is the landscape we’re trying to repaint. And if you fail them this time, it’s over. For all of us.”

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