MY BIOLOGICAL MOTHER IS LILITH. As in, the mother of demons from human legend. The same Lilith who made herself a god on one of the Otherlands and kept my biological father, Rasputin, in a dungeon, with occasional torture thrown in for good measure. Yeah, okay. Getting up, I grab some clothes as I attempt to process all this. My mother is an ultra-rare Cognizant with double powers—that of a vampire and probability manipulator. She was going to raise me in such a horrible way that Rasputin had to steal me away and hide me on Earth with my non-Cognizant parents. And now, armed with my full name, she’s looking for me. What does she want with me? Somehow, I doubt she’s hoping we go to a yoga retreat together. Not that this is my biggest concern right now. My vision started off with her looking for Nero. She wants revenge for what he did on her world. He’s potentially in more trouble than I am. Accidentally putting my right foot into the left leg of my jeans, I nearly faceplant. Catching myself on my desk, I finish dressing and locate my phone.
Wow. I have countless missed calls from Mom, my adoptive—but no less real—mother. Is she back from her trip? Or does she want to stay in Paris longer? Oh, and I also have a few missed calls from my adoptive dad—and he definitely should be back from his vacation by now. Great. I got so busy seeking my biological parents, I abandoned my real ones—which is just unacceptable. Mom and Dad are the people who raised me. They should always matter to me more than the virtual stranger that is Rasputin. And let’s not even start on Lilith. The good news is that Mom doesn’t seem to be in panic mode just yet; she’d be calling nonstop if that were the case. Or maybe she’s beyond panic mode and in a new phase I haven’t seen yet? But no.
Then she’d be over here. That, or have the cops looking for me. Deciding to deal with the potential life-and-death situation of Lilith seeking revenge first, I call Nero. He doesn’t pick up, so I leave a voicemail urging him to call me back. Usually my boss is pretty quick to get back in touch, but seconds tick by and nothing happens. So as not to go crazy, I make my way into the bathroom and do my morning routine. When I’m done washing up, I text Nero to call me back now, and my eyes don’t leave the phone as I walk to the kitchen. No reply. Felix and Fluffster are both eating oatmeal when I walk in, and the cat is munching on her Fancy Feast. Looking up from her plate, she gives me a look that seems to say, “Another peasant Our Majesty has to patiently tolerate.
Our mercy knows no bounds.” Felix is holding a spoon in one hand and a phone in the other. “Maya, I’m really sorry,” he says over the food in his mouth. “I wasn’t ignoring your calls and texts; I was in a place with no reception. I’ll explain—” Ah. So I’m not the only one in trouble for going incommunicado. Felix wasn’t reachable either—and is now having to explain himself to my almost-eighteen-year-old friend from Orientation. Oh, and the guilty way he’s defending himself makes it official. He and Maya are dating. “Sasha,” Fluffster says mentally.
“You’re up early. How are you feeling?” “One sec,” I mumble and email Nero an even more pointed demand to get in touch. Noticing me, Felix rattles out more apologies to Maya, explains that he can’t talk right now, and hangs up. As I wait for Nero to reply, I grab a bowl and ladle some oatmeal into it. “Are you okay?” Felix asks, his unibrow quivering as he eyes me quizzically. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” “No,” I say after I swallow my first blissful spoonful of nourishment. “I learned something this morning that’s really disturbing.” Checking my phone for Nero’s reply every few seconds, I proceed to tell them about my vision of Lilith. A stunned silence follows, with no one but the cat eating.
“I don’t know what to say,” Felix finally mutters. “That… thing is your mother?” I grimace. “I know. And now I can’t reach Nero. I hope she didn’t get to him somehow.” “Nero can take care of himself,” Felix says confidently. “This is Earth. Lilith can’t do the stunts from her world here.” “But Nero can’t turn into a dragon on a whim either,” Fluffster says. “Maybe that evens things out?” “Right,” I say, the food feeling like a brick in my belly.
“But why is Nero not calling me back?” “He could be in a meeting,” Felix says. “Give him a few minutes before you start to freak out.” “You’re right.” I spoon more oatmeal into my mouth. “I’ll give him until I’m done with breakfast.” As I chew, an idea occurs to me—something I should’ve done right away but forgot in my panic. I can look at Nero’s future to make sure he’s okay. Eagerly focusing, I end up in Headspace and dwell on Nero’s essence. For good measure, I add my very complex feelings for Nero to the summons, mimicking what Rasputin does when he wants a vision about someone. I even go as far as to remind myself that we’ve had an intimate encounter where Nero pleasured me but didn’t give in to his own desire out of fear of losing control and hurting me—whatever that entails.
My work pays off. A bunch of safe-seeming shapes show up around me, and I reach for the most promising one. I’M BODILESS—WHICH means the vision doesn’t include me. Nero is in his office in the club on Gomorrah. Walking up to the wall, he opens the safe. Reverently, he takes out the sword he left there yesterday—the sword I came to think of as mine. It’s made of something like the technology of the gates, and Lilith used it to kill Nero in one of my visions. Is he planning to attack Lilith with it? If so, does he know she’s already on Earth? Rasputin did warn him that since she has Nero’s blood, she’ll be coming for him out of vindictiveness. Then again, Nero said he was going to leave to go look for Claudia regardless. Is that what he’s about to do? Go after this woman whom he thought dead but has just discovered is alive? Is he leaving me without so much as a goodbye? Nero presses the button on the sword hilt, and the shimmering lightsaber-like blade shows up, illuminating his menacing expression.
Nodding, he presses the button again to hide the blade. I’M BACK at the kitchen table in my apartment. Felix and Fluffster are talking about something, but my thoughts are with Nero. This vision explains why he didn’t reply to my calls, emails, and texts. He’s probably already on Gomorrah, about to do what I just saw in that vision. As upset as I am about his leaving, I’m also relieved. From now until the near future in my vision, he’s safe. And since he’s in his own club on Gomorrah and has that sword, he’s better equipped to deal with Lilith. Still, for good measure, I go into Headspace and focus on Lilith again. EXAMINING MY BIOLOGICAL MOTHER, I notice more resemblances between the two of us, from pale skin to a certain mischievous glint in her eyes.
She’s standing next to the Apple store with a new-looking iPhone next to her ear. Interesting. She’s either adjusting to modernity annoyingly well or has been on a world with our level of technology before. Soon, this goddess of evil will be texting eggplant emojis to her minions and posting pictures of her disemboweled victims on Instagram… or pinning them on Pinterest for other evil gods (or my new cat) to admire. “No, that will take too long,” Lilith says in an annoyed tone into the phone. “I’ll text you what path to take through the Otherlands. If you follow my instructions correctly, you should be here in—” MY VISION CUTS out before I can eavesdrop on more of that cryptic conversation, so I go right back into Headspace—but this time, my vision isn’t of Lilith talking on the phone. It’s of her walking out of the Giorgio Armani store in Midtown, dressed as if for a cover of a fashion magazine. Well, that’s reassuring as far as evil priorities go. How did she even pay for those threads? Does vampire glamour work when those kinds of prices are involved? “I still can’t believe she’s your mother,” Fluffster says in my head when I come out of Headspace.
“Does that mean you’ve inherited her powers?” Numbly, I stare at my chinchilla domovoi. I haven’t considered the genetics aspect of this yet. “It’s unlikely,” Felix replies in my stead. “Double powers like Lilith’s are rare, let alone triple powers.” “But I’ve always been pale,” I say, shifting my gaze to my hands. My fingers, locked spasmodically around a spoon, are so white I could’ve been an albino. Frowning, I look up. “Does it mean I’m a pre-vamp?” Felix adds some brown sugar to his bowl and shrugs. “There’s no way to know for sure until you’ve lived a long time without showing any signs of aging. Even then, my understanding is that not all pre-vamps—or at least people who think they’re pre-vamps —turn into vampires when they die.
” I draw in a calming breath and focus on stirring my oatmeal. “Well, that’s just bad terminology then. The suffix ‘pre’ makes it seem like a sure thing. Given what you’re saying, the term should be ‘maybe-vamp’ or ‘hopefully vamp.’” Then something occurs to me. “Wait, no. I’m not a pre-vamp. I’ve seen myself die in visions before, and I didn’t turn into a vampire when that happened. My dead body would just lie there.” “Then you’re probably not a pre-vamp,” Felix agrees, and I exhale in a mixture of relief and disappointment.
As cool as it would be to not die and have all the vampire powers, I don’t know how I feel about the blood-drinking thing. “What about probability manipulation?” Fluffster chimes in. “How can we know if Sasha inherited that?” “There are no physical characteristics like paleness that I know of,” Felix says. “Tricksters don’t like seers, and Sasha is a seer—which makes me doubt she can be both, but I have no rational basis to prove this.” “Wouldn’t I have more luck in my life if I were a probability manipulator?” I ask, remembering all my recent misadventures. “I don’t think that being a probability manipulator prevents all bad things from happening to you.” Felix picks up a large spoonful of oatmeal. “The universe is just too chaotic for one person to fully bend it to their trickster power.” He shoves the spoon into his mouth. “You might have a point,” I say.
“Chester lost his wife and his seat on the Council— though I guess that last one doesn’t count since Nero might give it back to him.” “I’d learn more about tricksters if I were you,” Fluffster suggests. “I’ll chat with Chester,” I say. “He actually owes me some lessons about his power.” “Interesting how he owes you the very thing you need,” Felix says over the remnants of food in his mouth. “How lucky.” “I have a feeling I’m now going to question every happy coincidence,” I say. “Oh, and if I am a probability manipulator, I wonder if my TV prediction gave me a power boost in that regard. When that performance was on YouTube, many comments said I just got lucky with my prediction—meaning tons of people believe in my luck.” “It’s possible,” Felix says thoughtfully.
“Come to think of it, I wonder if some of the stuff we’ve attributed to your seer abilities are due to luck… like, say, your stock picks.” The mention of stocks reminds me of Nero, and I check my phone. Nope. No response. If I want to talk to him about his plans, Claudia, and what’s going on between us, I need to catch him in his club on Gomorrah—and since I don’t know when the events in that vision will take place, I better hurry. Then I recall something important I’ve been meaning to ask Felix. “Can you hide my online presence?” I blurt before I can forget again. “Lilith knows my name, and she might google me.” “I’ll do it on my way to work. Speaking of that”—Felix looks at the clock and cringes —“I better run.
” “Wait, one more thing,” I say. “Can you figure out who Lilith was speaking with on the phone?” He looks at me blankly, so I tell him about her cell phone conversation in my vision. “That’s not a lot to go on,” he says, frowning. “Do you know her number, or the number of the person she called?” “I’d tell you if I did,” I say. “Right. Sorry. I’ll do my best when I have time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you,” Felix says. “Fair enough,” I say. Shoveling the remainder of his food into his mouth, he jumps up and sprints for the door. I follow his example, swallowing my food without chewing as I jump to my feet.
He’s already gone by the time I get to the hallway and put on my shoes. Stepping out, I see Thalia—my non-speaking nun/martial arts trainer/bodyguard—and a guy I’ve never met before. A distractingly attractive guy with perfect facial features that make him look like one of the Hemsworth brothers. He has a Mandate aura, which means that unlike some other guards Nero had assigned to me, this guy is some kind of Cognizant. “Hi, Sasha.” The new guy’s smile rivals Ariel’s in its perfection. “My name is Eric. Nero asked me to help Thalia make sure you’re comfortable in your apartment.” “Comfortable?” I look them both over. “Were you instructed to keep me prisoner here?” CHAPTER TWO THALIA GRAVELY NODS, then turns away, about to leave.
“No, wait. I need to go somewhere.” I instinctively grab her shoulder. The nun moves as she would on the training mat. Grabbing my wrist, she sidesteps behind me and painfully twists my arm behind my back. To my shock, Eric grabs the nun’s wrist. “No one’s allowed to hurt her. Nero was very clear on this. That includes you.” Thalia rolls her eyes but lets me go without a fight.
She then takes out her phone and types out: Sorry, but you’re going to have to take a little staycation. With that, she goes to summon the elevator. “I’ll get you whatever you need,” Eric says soothingly as he herds me back toward the door. “Food, movie rentals, magic books—you name it, someone will fetch it for you.” “I have an urgent matter that I need to discuss with Nero,” I say, digging my heels in when I’m a foot away from the apartment. “Do you have a way to reach him?” Thalia shrugs before entering the elevator, and Eric says, “He warned me he’d be unavailable and asked me to apologize to you about this in advance.” “I find that last bit very hard to believe,” I say, desperately thinking of a way to bypass Eric. The elevator closes, taking Thalia away. “Don’t worry,” Eric says. “It’s not just me and Thalia guarding you.
I have people surrounding this building—including the back entrance. No one can come in without me knowing.” Implication being that no one can leave without Eric knowing it also. Well, let’s see how good he is at his job then. I convince myself that I’m going to just run for it—which isn’t hard, as I’m itching to do it. Next, I inhale a deep breath and jump into Headspace. The shapes around me seem unpleasant but not deadly. Going on instinct, I reach for one. “FAIR ENOUGH,” I say to Eric and turn back toward the door, my muscles coiling for a sprint. “Give me a shout if you need anything,” he says.
Without a reply, I leap to the side and sprint for the staircase—just to bump into Eric’s hard body. Wow. He must have super speed, to get in my way so quickly. “Please, Sasha,” Eric says, steadying me by my arms. “Just go home.” Huffing, I twist away and walk back into the apartment. BACK IN REALITY, I jump back into Headspace and attempt a few more visions of escape. In each, Eric thwarts me, and in some, he carries me home with varying levels of kicking and screaming on my part. Exiting Headspace for the last time, I enter the apartment and slam the door in Eric’s face. Pacing the hallway, I strain to come up with a way out of this unfortunate predicament.
Could I threaten him with a gun? Bluff my way out? The problem is that I left my gun in the lab near the JFK hub. I go into Ariel’s room and look for a gun she might’ve stashed there. She takes her Second Amendment rights very seriously, so I have a chance. After a long search, I locate a pair of handcuffs in her nightstand, two knives in her closet, and a box of bullets under her bed—but no gun. I don’t want to give up, though. There has to be another way out of the apartment. I resume pacing until I see Fluffster staring at me quizzically—which is when an idea occurs to me. I quickly explain the situation to the chinchilla and head for the door. “Hi, Eric.” I smile at the guard when I open it.
“I’m sorry if I was cranky earlier. Nero gets under my skin, but I shouldn’t take it out on you.” “No sweat.” He beams at me. “I don’t like this either. I thought I’d be a bodyguard, not some jailer. But I owe Nero a favor, and he said this is to keep you safe, so…” “Do you want some coffee or tea?” I say as nonchalantly as possible. “Maybe a chair, so you don’t have to stand here in the hallway?” His smile widens. “Coffee would be great, thanks.”