Invision – Sherrilyn Kenyon

“So this is your great solution? Really? When the going gets tough, the tough drown themselves in chocolate milk and beignets?” Irritated at being disturbed, Nick Gautier arched a brow at the sarcastic tone that normally he’d appreciate. But right now, he didn’t want to hear it, especially not from some cocky demon overlord who was supposed to be his subordinate bodyguard. Besides, it was easy for Caleb to judge. Lord Malphas was tall, ripped, and had those perfect dark good looks that got him anything he wanted. Any time he wanted it, without even having to use his powers of persuasion. Provided it didn’t come from one surly, unreasonable Cajun half-demon teen who was currently trying to drown his misbegotten woes in a mountain of beignets and chocolate milk. So yeah … Caleb had it right. This was what Nick wanted to do with the rest of his life. Growling low in his throat, Nick reached for another powdered sugar–covered pastry. “Don’t you have a baby to eat or village to terrorize or something?” With a deadly grimace, Caleb dared to pull the sugary confection from Nick’s hand before Nick could stuff it in his mouth. He was lucky Nick didn’t take a plug out of his flesh. “Or are you trying for a diabetic coma?” Caleb dropped his gaze to the six plates on the small round table that were stacked in front of Nick. All of which attested to just how upset Nick was that he’d gobbled them down like a Charonte demon on a three-day bender after an all-week fast. “Please tell me you didn’t eat all of those on your own.” He would tell Caleb that, but it would be a lie.

Nick passed a grudging grimace to his friend. “What do you care?” “We care, boyo.” He winced at the sound of Aeron’s deep, lilting accent as the ancient Celtic god came up behind him through the small crowd that was seated at the Café Du Monde around him and Caleb. Tall and muscled, the blond war deity moved to stand beside the demon so that the two of them could stare down at him with the same disappointed smirk. Beautiful. Just what Nick had put on his Christmas list. The mutual disdain of two ancient beings who wanted to collectively kick his half-demonic ass for being a churlish baby. And why not? He was long past due for a good old-fashioned pity party. All that was missing was the balloon animals. And Häagen-Dazs.

Along with zombie clowns from hell, trying to eat the tourists and kill Nick for his powers. ’Cause face it, here lately that was how every party Nick attended ended. “So that’s it, then? You’re just going to quit?” Oh yeah, that helps. Bring in the girlfriend. ’Cause I just don’t feel worthless enough. Nick sighed as Nekoda Kennedy piled on with the other two. Lithe and ever graceful, she was still the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen offscreen. With brown hair and vivid green eyes that usually lit up whenever she looked at him, Kody had won his heart the first day they met and had held it in her hands ever since. But right now … He just didn’t want to hear it from anyone. Not even his angelic girl.

Hanging his head, he pushed his chair back to face her. “What do you want me to say, Kode? You saw what I did. It’s hopeless. I’m going to end this world. Whether it’s tomorrow or a thousand years from now. I’m going to lose it all. Break bad and tear humanity apart.… Doesn’t matter what we do. Whatever we try. We just delay the inevitable outcome.

So I’m going to sit here with my eats. And just…” He let his voice trail off as the full horror of his future played through his mind for the five millionth time. He was the end of everything. Everyone. All he loved. The entire world would one day fall to Nick’s army of demons. Yeah, there was something to put on his college applications. That ought to have schools lining up to accept him. Who wouldn’t want that as their alumnus? We have graduated senators, presidents, movers-and-shakers, and the Malachai demon who ate the world whole … It was the one reality Nick wanted to deny and couldn’t. Everything eventually came back to that one inescapable fact he wanted to run away from and couldn’t.

I’m only sixteen. Too young to deal with this crap. He was supposed to be worried about his grades. About keeping his girl happy. Staying out of trouble. His mom finding his friend’s porn magazines stashed in his room. Getting to work on time. Making curfew. Not hell-gates and demons coming for the throats of his family and friends. Definitely not about the fact that his birthright was to bring on the destruction of the entire human race.

Suddenly, Nick stood up as a severe panic attack hit him so hard that it left him reeling. Unable to cope with it, he stumbled toward the rear exit of the café that led toward the French Market that ran parallel to the Mississippi River. This time of day, it was completely empty. Thankfully. His heart pounding wildly and with no real destination in mind, he rushed down the back alley where bronze statues were poised beside benches as he tried to catch his breath and find some semblance of sanity in this madness that had become his extremely complicated life. Yet as he ran, those statues seemed to be watching him today with their beady, blank eyes. Yeah, it was a stupid thought, but what the heck? Nothing made sense anymore. After all, the River Walk was actually a front that opened to a back-world prison ward that held off demons. So why couldn’t these statues be as alive as the ones there? For all he knew, Caleb could pass his hand over them and they could be just as mocking and demeaning. Made as much sense as the fact that Nick’s girlfriend was a ghost, his best friend an immortal demon, and his newest crew addition was a Celtic god of war who’d been cursed into the body of a púca that Nick had rescued from a hell realm where he’d been sent as a test to save his mother’s life.

And that he was the Malachai … Yeah! His life was that screwed up. “Nick!” Caleb tackled him to the hard concrete sidewalk. Ah, jeez! He seriously needed those additional bruises to explain to his mother, who already thought he was getting mugged on a regular basis. “Get off me!” he roared in his demonic tone as he shoved at his friend. But Caleb didn’t flinch. He kept him pinned on the ground. “What’s going on in that head of yours, Gautier?” Nick pulled the Eye of Ananke out of his pocket. “I saw it!” he snarled. “Everything. All outcomes lead to the same final conclusion.

Don’t you understand? It’s hopeless! I’m a monster and you’re all dead!” Kody staggered back. The color drained from Caleb’s face an instant before he let go. “You’re wrong.” But the conviction was missing from his words this time. Nick shoved the medallion at him. “See for yourself. I’m going to kill you, too, Cay. And Aeron. All of you!” Caleb took the ancient amulet that looked like some freaky green dragon eye set in the middle of a beveled, rust-colored disc, and held it to the center of his forehead so that he could see the future that had haunted Nick since he’d made the mistake of looking at it. Nick scowled as he realized that by doing it, Caleb had just admitted to something he’d been concealing from all of them.

He had the blood of a fate god in his veins. Otherwise, that amulet would have destroyed him. Not even Kody dared to touch it. But Caleb hadn’t thought twice about taking it in his hand. Very interesting. Kody sat down on a bench a few feet away as unshed tears glistened in her green eyes. “I refuse to believe it. There has to be a way to stop the future. The Arelim wouldn’t have sent me back unless there was hope.” Aeron swallowed hard.

“You know the cosmic laws. A pith point is a set piece. If it’s to be…” “It’s not.” Caleb pulled the Eye away, then rubbed at his forehead. “There are other outcomes.” He glanced at Kody. “But you’re not going to like any of them.” Nick glared at Caleb. “That’s not what I saw when I looked into that thing.” Caleb snorted at Nick’s churlish tone.

“You’re fatalistic. You know … Caleb,” he mocked Nick’s Cajun drawl in a falsetto, “I don’t have a headache, it’s a giant brain tumor eating the flesh off my head. I know it. I didn’t stub my toe, Cay. I amputated it! Look! That’s not a hangnail. It’s a bleeding stump.” Nick shoved at him. “Shut up.” “It’s true and you know it.” “So what’s the solution?” Kody asked.

“The simplest?” Caleb sighed. “What Ambrose said. We erase everything. Reset his meager little brain to zero and let his life play out to the first pith point.” “No!” Nick growled. “My mother is not some arbitrary pith point we lose! I’ve seen a different solution. I will not sacrifice her life in this. I’d rather die. Just kill me and be done with it.” Aeron laughed out loud as if the mere suggestion was preposterous.

“You’ve got your full Malachai powers, boyo, and Adarian’s dead. There’s no dying for you now. Only slavery. With torture being optional.” “Until you have a child…” Yeah, Caleb just had to toss that reminder into the mix. “I have a brother. Can’t I give this to him and let him be the Malachai instead of me?” Caleb shook his head. “That ship left the harbor when you took the Malachai sword and picked your šarras for your army. You are the full Malachai now, Nick. There’s no undoing it.

Not until you have a son who kills you for your powers, and he designates his own generals.” Pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes, Nick cursed them all. “Why didn’t you stop me from taking that stupid sword from Livia?” Caleb stood up. “Like you would have listened.” “I might.” Kody shook her head. “No, you wouldn’t have. You never do.” They were right. He just didn’t want to hear it.

“If we erase everything, where does that leave me?” “With a migraine,” Aeron said under his breath. Before Caleb could answer, the statue beside Kody opened its eyes and turned its head to stare at Nick. “I knew it!” They all ignored his Tourette’s as Kody jumped away from the statue to eye it warily. “Malachai.” It smiled eerily before it stood and headed for Nick. Both Aeron and Caleb cut its path off. The statue tsked at them. “Still hiding behind your friends? Shame you don’t have the same loyalty to them.” Rising to his feet, Nick scowled. “Excuse me? I emphatically disagree.

I protect my friends. Always.” “You can disagree all you want. But I know the truth and so do they.” The statue held its hand out toward Nick and opened its palm. A ball of light hovered there, showing him images of another ally they’d thought had died in their last battle against the demons that had been trying to kill Caleb in his own home. “Zavid isn’t dead, Malachai. He’s only abandoned by you. Have you the nerve to come get him? Or will you stay and protect the princess?” It glanced meaningfully at Kody before it turned back to sneer at Nick. “After all, he who leaves Rome, loses Rome.

” And with those words spoken, the ball vanished and the statue returned to being immobile again. Nick’s jaw went slack. “Zavid’s not dead?” “It’s a trap.” Caleb turned to face Nick. “Don’t listen.” “You knew?” Caleb shook his head. “It’s not as simple as you think. Noir used his body to attack you. No one survives that kind of possession. Not even an Aamon.

While his soul might be with Noir now, his body isn’t.” In that moment, Nick’s Malachai powers kicked in and fed him the information he needed. The aether around him began to whisper with information and facts. He saw Zavid in the Nether Realm, being tormented in a pit where Noir threw his enemies. Wincing, he couldn’t believe that no one had told him about this. “I have the powers to bring him back and restore him?” “Again, not that simple.” Nick stared aghast at Caleb. “How is it not that simple?” “You haven’t learned those powers. Yes, you sort of … kind of…” Did Caleb always have to use that mocking tone? “Learned some necromancy—” “A little bit,” Kody added for emphasis. “But you’re not at the level where you can actually command those powers with any degree of skill.

” “Yeah, boyo, you could bring him back as a goat.” “Already did that to Madaug,” Nick mumbled, then louder, “but I got him better and made him human again.” “Sort of.” Nick rolled his eyes at Caleb’s sarcastic tone. Was it too much to ask for his friends to have Alzheimer’s? They were old enough to be senile and then some. But no … Leave it to him to be surrounded by demons with perfect recall. “You’re not being helpful.” Nick growled under his breath. “I can’t leave Zavid in Azmodea.” That was a hell realm of unimaginable horrors.

He’d only been to it once, and briefly, but it’d been long enough to leave a crappy impression. Cocking his brow, Caleb crossed his arms over his chest. “Thought you were out of the fight? What happened to drowning your woes with beignets?” Nick glanced at Kody then Aeron before he met Caleb’s gaze. “That was before I found out one of our own was being held by He-Who-Wants-Me-Chained-to-his-Bony-Throne. I don’t leave my friends behind to suffer in my stead. Especially not Zavid. Not after he saved my life and not after everything he’s been through. I made him a promise and I intend to keep it.” With those words spoken, he headed toward home to make plans. Kody watched as Nick lowered his head and went into that sexy predator’s lope that he always fell into whenever he had a mission to protect someone he loved, or was heading to fight for someone else.

He had no idea that he even did it, nor did he know just how incredibly adorable he was when he did so. That stubborn Cajun blood and his ever-faithful heart were why she couldn’t bring herself to complete her mission to assassinate him. Why she loved him even though he would one day kill every member of her family. Kill her. It was so hard to reconcile this decent young man with the beast she knew she’d one day face in battle. How could anyone change so much? She cut her gaze to Caleb. “What did you see in the Eye? What changes him?” “The ruthless bitch who ultimately betrays us all. Death.” A single tear slid past her tight control. Caleb was right.

Death changed everyone. Each time she’d buried a member of her family, it had left a savage hole in her heart. One that never fully healed. Nick had so little family to begin with, and as a Malachai, his natural state was that of hatred and cruelty. His mother and her unwavering love were the only things that kept him from becoming the same monster his father had been. The monster he was destined to become. “So Cherise is definitely a pith?” she asked Caleb. Pith points were those events that were chiseled solid in everyone’s life. Predestined intersections, such as birth and death, that were unstoppable moments nothing could alter. What happened in between to bring them into being were transitory and subject to free will.

Humans and other creatures could move things around the pith points and make a thousand changes—those arbitrary events were never predetermined. But a pith … It was set in firmly in the Divine Book of Fate. Nothing and no one could change that. Caleb shook his head. “No. She’s not a pith. Her death isn’t necessarily what sends him over.” “So we can save her?” He nodded. “At the cost of your future. Everything’s a trade-off.

” Aeron flinched. “All magick comes with a price.” “And the balance must be maintained.” Caleb sighed before he returned to speaking to Kody. “You and his mom were both born of the primal source to balance the Malachai. Cherise in the past and you in the future—both of you his possible anchors. The two of you should have never met.” But the Arelim had cheated and altered the rules. Now the law of the universe was attempting to right itself and correct their audacity for daring to tamper with fate and natural order. Of all beings, as the Keepers of Cosmic Order they should have known better.

Unfortunately, desperate people moved in desperate ways and did desperate things. “And what of the prophecy? Can we save him?” Caleb rubbed nervously at his neck. “Maybe. But it’s not so simple. It requires a supreme sacrifice. One of utter love to reach him at his darkest hour … even then, there aren’t any guarantees.” Kody despised those last four words. Every bit as frustrated as she was, Caleb raked his hand through his hair. “We wanted Nick motivated … but not this motivated.” He dropped his hand.

“He goes into Azmodea and we’re screwed.” She couldn’t agree more. However, they had one not so small problem. “We can’t stop him. His powers are too strong now.” “Believe me, I know. I’m lucky I got him tackled just then. Worse? I can’t go in there with him. Neither can Xev. Our father would chain us down beside your uncle and hand-feed us to Noir’s demons if he saw us protecting the Malachai.

” He looked at Aeron. “Don’t be cutting them eyes at me, Malphas. Not sure if I can or not. Might be able to swing an invite from Thorn. But that’ll only get me so far into that realm. Same for Dagon. You know how it goes when you’re born of other pantheons. They tend not to let us come a’playing in their backyards.” Caleb let out a fierce groan. “Have I said today how much I hate your boyfriend, Kody?” “Only a few dozen times since lunch.

” “Good. Don’t want you to forget it.” Growling, he headed toward the street. “Where are you going?” “To get my butt kicked again. You should come watch. You might actually enjoy it. I know I won’t.” How she wished that was a joke. Unfortunately, before this was through, they were all likely to get their butts handed to them. And their heads, too.

.

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