Jan 30 2013 12:30pm
The heat is on, and a new threat to humanity has risen . . .
Nick has his driver’s license and he’s not afraid to use it. But turning sixteen isn’t what he thought it would be. While other boys his age are worried about prom dates and applying for college, Nick is neck deep in enemies out to stop him from living another day. No longer sure if he can trust anyone, his only ally seems to be the one person he’s been told will ultimately kill him.
But life spent serving the undead is anything except ordinary. And those out to get him have summoned an ancient force so powerful even the gods fear it. As Nick learns to command and control the elements, the one he must master in order to combat his latest foe is the one most likely to destroy him. As the old proverb goes, fire knows nothing of mercy, and if Nick is to survive this latest round, he will have to sacrifice a part of himself. However, the best sacrifice is seldom the sanest move. Sometimes it’s the one that leaves your enemies confused.
Get a sneak peek of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Inferno (available April 9, 2013) with an excerpt of the Prologue and Chapter 1.
In the far distant future . . .
Silhouetted by the setting sun, and completely rusted out on the inside from his hatred of every living thing, Nick stood on the top of what remained of the old Jax Brewery building, watching his once beloved city burn to the ground. His demon’s eyes ﬂickered with hunger and self-pride, mirroring the ﬁres that burned all around him. No longer possessing even a shred of humanity, he glanced at his hand, where he gripped a bloodied sword. From beneath his golden armor, his true demon skin showed its swirling black and red pattern. Lifting his chin, he stood tall and deﬁant, with his black wings spread wide. Fierce and terrifying to anything that neared him, he had ﬁnally come into his own.
And the massacre below was what fed him deep in his blackened soul.
Utter destruction and absolute human misery. There was no headier concoction. No better sight.
He couldn’t be happier as he surveyed the aftermath of his war against the humans and gods.
Shattered helicopter pieces lay scattered on the asphalt and across the whole of Jackson Square. But those weren’t the only remains lining the streets . . . . The grotesque sight would turn his stomach had he possessed any feeling whatsoever. However, his tender emotions, like the once great city and the humans who’d called it home, were gone.
Nothing except hatred and rage ruled him now.
As he watched, detached from it all, his demonic army feasted on the remains of the poor creatures who’d attempted to ﬁght or those dumb enough to try and ﬂee. Soon, there would be no one left to cry.
He laughed in triumph. He had won this war, and hereigned supreme. There was no one left to ﬁght him now.
Suddenly, the wind carried something odd to his ears. He heard . . .
Human voices. Not shrieking in fear or begging for mercy like the others. These were . . .
Inside the cathedral. They were the voices of warriors preparing to battle. But how? No one should be left.
Nick closed his eyes so that he could investigate the scene with his powers. Inside the once famed cathedral, screams from children rang out as his army pounded against the fortiﬁed door. Someone had piled the confessionals and pews against it to block his demons.
No, not someone . . .
Three women stood in the center of the nave ready to defend a handful of children and a small group of mothers who cowered behind the altar. Unlike the terriﬁed ones who cried and whimpered in helplessness, the three women took stock of their weapons.
In his mind, he could see them clearly. Twin sisters he’d once called friends, Tabitha and Amanda, stood with another woman whose name he didn’t know. She was familiar to him, but for some reason, he couldn’t recall her. Not that it mattered.
Armed with swords, knives, and a crossbow, the women appeared battle-worn and exhausted. Still, they stood as ﬁerce warriors, ready to ﬁght to the bitter end. Tabitha’s hair was dyed black while Amanda’s remained their true dark auburn shade. As per her usual fashion, Tabitha was decked out in leather. Amanda’s clothes were tight, yoga-styled, to allow her freedom of movement. The third woman wore guerrilla gear, complete with a Kevlar vest and combat boots. Her chemically straightened, long black hair was pulled back from her face and a deep bruise marred the dark skin of her left cheek.
“We can’t hold them,” Tabitha whispered to the other two women so that the children wouldn’t overhear her.
Amanda lifted her chin in determination. “Then we die defending . . . just like our families did.”
The third woman nodded. “Acta est fabula.”
Tabitha and Amanda scowled at her.
She checked the edge of her sword before she spoke again. “The play is over? Caesar’s dying words?”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “I know what it means, woman. I was married to a Roman general. But dang, if you’re going to quote Caesar, at least use veni, vedi, vici.”
“I came, I saw, I conquered?” Amanda asked incredulously. “Really? Nice try, Tabby, but unfortunately the only butts getting kicked today are ours.”
A loud strike echoed as the doors heaved under the latest blow.
Tabitha growled. “They’re coming through.”
Amanda and Tabitha stood side by side while the third woman held her arms out. Fire engulfed her hands, letting him know that this woman wasn’t human. She was a goddess. . . . Not Ma’at, who he’d grown up with, but she reminded him of the Egyptian goddesses he’d met and killed over the centuries. If only he knew which one.
Using her telekinesis, Amanda tried to hold the door. But all it did was give her a nosebleed as the demons broke through the wood and scattered the pews and confessionals in all directions. His army spilled into the building and headed straight for the children.
Like ancient soldiers of old, the women charged them and fought with an unparalleled skill. Tabitha took out three demons with one swing of her sword, while Amanda and the other woman killed even more.
For a few minutes, they appeared to be winning.
But they were no match for the sheer number of his forces as his demons overran them. Amanda went down ﬁrst and then Tabitha as she ran to help her sister. With them out of the way, his army turned to the last woman and swarmed her. She held them back with ﬁrebolts for two minutes longer. But in the end, she, too, fell to the greater number.
The children and women ran for the back. Not that it did them any good. In unison, his army tore after them.
“Bon appétit,” Nick whispered.
He started to turn away, until one demon caught his attention and held it there. Unlike the others, this one didn’t battle or pursue the humans. Dressed in black armor that appeared to ooze blood even though he wasn’t wounded, this demon was more ﬁerce than all of the others. Malphas surveyed the women’s bodies with a look of utter disgust and sorrow.
Until he realized Tabitha was still alive.
He knelt by her side and cradled her head tenderly. “Tabby . . . I’m so sorry.”
Grimacing, she opened her eyes as she labored to breathe. She laughed bitterly, exposing a set of bleeding teeth. “There are some things that sorry doesn’t ﬁx, Caleb.”
“Shhh, don’t speak. I can—”
“You failed us,” she breathed, cutting Malphas oﬀbefore he could continue. She licked her bruised lips, then went limp in his arms. Her eyes turned dull.
Tabitha Lane Devereaux Magnus was dead.
Wincing, Caleb held her close to his heart and stroked her bloody hair. “No, Tabby. I failed myself.” He glanced to the other two women as tears ﬁlled his demonic eyes. “Most of all, I failed Nick.”
Those words tore through Nick like a shredder. How dare his servant pity him! He was not some paltry human to be patronized as if he were nothing.
He was the Malachai! Lord and ruler of all the known universes!
His vision darkening with the weight of his fury, he manifested himself inside the cathedral, right beside Malphas. His gold armor gleaming in the dim light, Nick lifted his black wings as he towered over his servant. “You never did learn the proper tone or stance.”
He grabbed Malphas by his throat and lifted him away from Tabitha’s body.
“Go ahead,” Caleb dared him. “Kill me. My only wish is that you’d done it centuries ago before I was forced to serve what you’ve become.”
Fine then . . .
“I’m ﬁnished with you anyway,” Nick growled in his face. He snapped Malphas’s neck, then threw him against the wall so hard that his body went through the stone and landed in the alley outside.
Snarling in fury, Nick turned to go after those who’d ﬂed, but as he took a step, his gaze went to Tabitha’s arm. Blood stained her skin, yet that wasn’t what had grabbed his attention. Rather it was the Latin words tattooed on her forearm. Fabra est sui quaeque fati. She creates her own destiny.
For the ﬁrst time in years, Nick felt something other than fury and hatred. It’d been so long since he last hadthis emotion that it took him a full minute to name it.
Remorse. It ripped through him over what he’d done to the people he’d once called family. To the very people he’d loved and protected.
Kyrian Hunter had saved him and his mother, and how had he repaid him?
He’d taken everything Kyrian had loved and destroyed it, and then he’d taken his life.
How did I become this monster? There was no one left to blame for his transformation. After all his promises that he wouldn’t, that nothing could make him, he had given in. Nick looked down at his blood-soaked armor and clawed hands that had long ago ceased being human. He moved his gaze around the sacred room where he had marked all the major milestones of his human life, and saw what remained of it.
Only twisted, burning wreckage surrounded him.
Inside and out.
When had he lost himself so fully?
Throwing his head back, Nick roared in agony. . . .
Ambrose sat upright in bed, shaking from the premonition that had crept into his sleep.
Tears ﬁlled his eyes as he saw in his mind the image of Tabitha and Amanda dead on the same ﬂoor where he had attended countless Masses with his mother.
Where he’d once walked as an altar boy, and had sworn repeatedly that he would never become the monster his father was.
Instead, he’d morphed into something much worse.
How could I ever do such a thing? How could he ever allow himself to deteriorate into such a beast?
Grinding his teeth, he wanted to purge the images out of his head. But they were there. Aching. Taunting.
It was the future he saw, and he couldn’t let it happen. No matter what it took, he had to save them all.
He had to.
He ﬂinched as Artemis sat up beside him and touched his bare shoulder. Worry furrowed her beautiful brow as her red hair fell around her slender shoulders in perfect curls. “You’re trembling.”
Ambrose shook his head in denial. “I never tremble. Nothing scares me.”
She didn’t believe it. He saw the truth in her green eyes as she brushed his damp hair back from his face. “Is it your dream again?”
“It’s not a dream, Artie. It’s a vision. Acheron was right. We can’t change our fate. Only how we bring it about.”
“Is that really what you believe?”
Ambrose raked his hand through his sweat-soaked hair. “No. I can’t . . .”
He locked gazes with her, then spoke more forcefully. “I won’t.” In that moment, he felt his powers rising, trying to drown out his humanity and turn him into the creature he was born to be.
But he wasn’t lost. Not yet.
“No one controls me,” he growled in his demon’s voice, pushing that darkness into submission. “Ever. I will not become the Malachai!”
He got out of bed and quickly dressed.
“Where are you going?”
He hesitated, then answered with more conviction than he’d ever had before. “To alter my past so that I can change my future.”
When most guys said that their girlfriend was going to kill them, it was a gross exaggeration or extreme paranoia. In the case of Nicholas Gautier it was a harsh, brutal fact. One so solid, he could chisel a check on it. Especially since the warning that his girl was an assassin sent to murder him had come from Death himself. The one creature who would know a killer best . . . As the old saying went, you couldn’t argue with Death.
Stunned and numb from that unexpected land mine, Nick turned his attention to Nekoda Kennedy as she sat down in their chemistry class beside Nick’s best friend, Caleb Malphas. For once her tight cream sweater didn’t turn his mind to mush. Nor did the bright smile on her lips. Lips that held his attention and momentarily distracted his thoughts . . . Yeah, okay, she really was seriously hot, from the top of her soft, shiny brown hair to the tips of her pink leather boots. And don’t get him started on her green, green eyes that held an indelible ﬁre so bright, it was scorching. But a man had to have some standards, and not being murdered by his girl was deﬁnitely one of them.
Teenage hormones be deﬁed.
So then why did it feel like someone had kicked his tenders when her smile faded and sadness replaced the joy on her face? Why did it hurt him to see the uncertainty he caused her?
I am so messed up. . . .
That was the only reasonable explanation. No normal, sane person would care whether or not he hurt the feelings of a woman sent to kill him.
Except for Nick Moron Non Normal Gautier.
Nick dropped his gaze to the pink heart necklace she wore that he’d given her to celebrate their anniversary—and their escape from another near-death adventure. It had been a token of how much he loved her, and to let her know that her life meant a lot more to him than his own—that he would gladly die to protect her.
And yet she’d known the whole time that her mission here at St. Richard’s was to end his life.
Ain’t this the crap heap? I swear my undying loyalty and she swears to take my head.
Why was he even surprised?
Because, in spite of the fact that he was half demon, he wanted to believe in the goodness of others. That deep down people were decent. Even nonpeople people.
And as her gaze held his, he no longer saw his chemistry classroom or any of his classmates. Everything faded from his sight, except Nekoda. She looked so sweet and innocent. Just like any beautiful teenage girl. No one would ever guess she was anything except normal.
Same with Caleb. With his dark hair and eyes, and perfect build and features, Caleb was the quintessential Mr. All-American Rich Kid. He bore no resemblance to the winged demon Nick knew him to be.
For that matter, Nick looked normal on the outside, too. Well, except for the hideously foul Hawaiian shirt his mother had guilted him into donning. The only bright side to wearing it was that it’d been known to blind a few enemies sent to end his existence. Or crack them up so badly that he was able to get in a cheap shot before they killed him.
And it served as a great female demon repellant. Human, too, for that matter.
But Nick was anything but normal.
I know what I am. That wasn’t the question. He, like Caleb, was demonkyn, born and bred.
Nekoda’s species was the one up for grabs.
Who are you?
No. What are you?
He’d asked her that question repeatedly. And every time, she’d refused to answer, and now he knew why.
Which meant she could be human, god, demon, soul-sucker, shapeshifter, Fringe Guard . . . there were so many creatures he’d learned about over the last year that he couldn’t even begin to guess her origins.
For all he knew, she was some heart-eating ice cannibal. That at least explained the cold, bitter ache in the center of his chest.
“Are you planning to take your seat any time in the near future, Mr. Gautier? Or should I start class while you gape blankly in the center of the room?”
His classmates laughed.
Nick turned to glare at Grim over his shoulder. The famed reaper stood before the whiteboard, where he’d written the name “Mr. Graves.”
Yeah, you are whacked, Grim. Totally.
But only Nick saw Grim’s true form—that of a handsome blond man in his mid-twenties. Heck, he even saw Grim’s scythe that was secured with a strap across the creature’s back. To the rest of the room’s occupants, including Nekoda and Caleb, Grim appeared as an average, chubby, middle-aged man in a cheap brown suit.
Yeah . . .
Nick would laugh, but Grim might take that as a personal challenge and decide to help Kody kill him. Yet what Nick couldn’t get over was Grim’s presence in this room.
It was a sad day when Death had nothing better to do than pretend to be a substitute chemistry teacher. . . .
No, it wasn’t that simple. Someone in this room was going to die soon and Grim was here to toy with his victim. Nick could feel it with every inhuman part of himself.
Knowing he wouldn’t have an answer today, he smirked at Grim, which probably wasn’t the brightest idea. But far be it from him to ever let his common sense stop his stupidity. “By all means, commence . . . Mr. Graves. The last thing I’d ever want to do is keep you from your business.”
Death gave him a lopsided grin. “Wise, boy. I knew you could be taught.”
Nick didn’t miss the sinister undertone and reference to the fact that Grim had been his tutor over this last year. The specter had taught him a lot of interesting things, but those powers had a bad habit, through no fault of Nick’s, of backﬁring. Because of that, Grim thought him to be dense and stupid. But he was neither. He caught on quick and saw things other people missed.
Including the fact that Grim had his own agenda where Nick was concerned. He deﬁnitely wasn’t tutoring Nick out of the goodness of his black heart.
Nick had yet to uncover the truth of Grim’s motivation, but in time, he would.
Still, this latest information about Nekoda rattled him. Did he dare believe it? Especially since he knew what a troublemaker Grim was. For all he knew, Grim could easily be lying just to stir it up.
Trust her over Death. She’d fought by his side countless times and saved his life. And yet . . . he heard Ambrose’s voice in his head, warning him that he had yet to experience the betrayals that would one day kill him.
And his mother.
Sick to his stomach with that thought, Nick sat down between Nekoda and Caleb.
Nekoda reached out to touch his hand. “Are you all right?”
Nick slid his hand out from under hers. “Yeah, sure. Why wouldn’t I be?” He pulled his backpack open so that he could grab the books he needed for class, but paused as he saw her frowning from the corner of his eye.
Are you really going to launch at my throat one day, Kody? After we’ve been through so much? That was the question he wanted to ask her. But there was no need to get into this while they were in class. His school rep was already so low he’d have to use a tractor full of dynamite just to blast it up to gutter level. The last thing he needed was to publicly accuse his girlfriend of being some evil demon sent to end his life.
Bad enough they think I’m a criminal and trash. No need to make them think I’m crazy, too.
He opened his book and tried to focus on words that had lost all meaning. You should just drop out and forget this crap. Not like school taught him anything he needed in real life. It deﬁnitely didn’t teach him how to survive the predators who kept coming after him. How to avoid all the preternatural traps waiting . . .
Nick clenched his ﬁst as an overwhelming urge to go tell his principal where to shove this useless curriculum went through him.
I can’t do that.
It would break his mother’s heart. And he’d be labeled a real loser by everyone else . . . even himself.
If Caleb could suﬀer through all the indignities, hassles, and boredom of high school with only an hourly complaint or two, he could, too. And unlike Caleb, he hadn’t lived through the history and lessons that were being taught. To Nick, most of this was new.
What’s going on, Nick? Why are you suddenly mad at me?
He glanced over to Nekoda, who’d pushed her thoughts into his mind. He started not to respond, but she was the only one who could hear his telepathy.
Who are you, Kody. This time it wasn’t a question, he demanded an answer.
She glanced away. You know I can’t tell you.
Yes, you can. You won’t and that’s the problem.
She sighed wearily. Why are you on this again?
Because I learned the truth a few minutes ago. You’re here to kill me.
Her features blanched, conﬁrming Grim’s dire prediction where she was concerned.
Anger tore through him so fast and furiously that he could taste it. Are you not going to deny it?
She hesitated before she answered. What do you want me to say?
I want the truth, Kody.
Tears ﬁlled her eyes as she looked away from him. For a moment he felt like a heel for upsetting her, then he felt stupid for that emotion. What kind of chump worried about upsetting someone who’d been sent to end his life?
Nick Gautier. Moron. Fool. Bad dresser. Major loser dork. Kody touched his hand again. The only truth that should concern you is that I care for you. Deeply.
Deeply. Yeah, right. What kind of hackneyed crap was that? It ranked right up there with “he has a great personality” or better yet, “Why don’t we just be friends.”
Nick narrowed his gaze on her, trying to see the truth of her emotions. Did she really care about him or was she just that good an actress?
You are here to kill me. . . . Yes or no?
She pulled her hand back. It’s not that simple.
He gaped at her. Was she serious? “What could be simpler than that?”
Every head in class turned to look at him. Nick felt his entire face heat up. Oh yeah, like puberty wasn’t embarrassing enough. Now he had to shout out in the middle of class for no apparent reason.
“Channeling spirits again, Gautier?” Stone Blakemore—head jock moron—asked.
“Nah,” Stone’s best friend, Mason, said. “It’s probably some mental disorder, like Backwoods Tourette’s.”
The entire room erupted into laughter.
Embarrassed and ticked oﬀ, Nick glared at the aptly named Stone, who was about as intelligent as the average rock . . . not to insult rocks.
Grim arched a brow. “Are you in the midst of some personal problem? Should I write you a pass for the counselor?”
Nick had to bite back the urge to insult his mentor, but only a fool taunted Death. And the one thing Nick had learned over the last year was that Death didn’t have a sense of humor, and especially not when he was the brunt of the joke.
“No. It was a momentary jaw spasm.”
“Then I suggest you try to control your bodily functions in the future.” Death turned back to the board.
Nick ground his teeth. This wasn’t the time and place for this and he knew it. He’d never been big into drama anyway. Let’s talk about this later.
Kody stiﬀened. Fine. I don’t want to talk about it at all.
Of course she didn’t. Leave it to him to ﬁnd the only woman in the universe who didn’t want to talk about her feelings or their relationship. The only one who wanted to keep things status quo and undiscussed.
You all right?
Sighing, Nick nodded at Caleb. If they didn’t stop silently talking to him, he was going to look seriously mental soon.
Worse, Caleb leaned forward and glanced meaningfully to Kody.
Great. Now the two of them were talking to each other and he couldn’t hear it.
Nick raked his hand through his hair as his anger mounted. It was so ﬁerce, it made his ears hum. Over the last few weeks, he’d noticed that his quick-draw temper getting worse. But then he’d always had anger management issues. Way too quick to ignite and even harder to calm. It was why he tried to be easygoing and to let things slide. Why he tried not to care about much of anything.
Yet lately, every little thing annoyed him.
Was this the demon in him gaining power? His future self, Ambrose, had warned him repeatedly about allowing his temper to rule him. Normally, it was Kody who calmed him down when he got into these moods.
Yeah . . . not today. Today, the mere mention of her name ignited his fury. He felt on edge and closer to losing it than he ever had before—except for those times when he had actually lost it.
C’mon, class. End already. I deﬁnitely need a time-out.
Why couldn’t he have the power of time manipulation? According to Ambrose that was the only power he’d never possess. Not unless he stole it from others.
Of course, he did have the power of suggestive persuasion. That one actually worked most of the time . . . but not with Death. Dang you for teaching this class.
It felt like torture, and not the usual my-class-is-too long torture he was used to.
“Am I boring you, Gautier?”
Nick blinked as he realized Grim was talking to him. He chose to ignore the snickers and snide comments from the peanut gallery who were so easily amused, as most mindless creatures were, by his lack of attention. “Excuse me?”
“We’re going over the periodic table. I’ve asked you, four times now, what is R-U, and what’s its element category and atomic weight.”
Like he knew that? Who in their right . . .
His thought trailed off as the answer popped in to his head. “Ruthenium. It’s a rare transition metal. The atomic number is forty-four and its weight is 101.07. It has a melting point of 2334 degrees Celsius and4233 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point of 7502degrees Fahrenheit. Anything else you want to know about it?”
Wait . . . Did he understand any of that?
Yeah, weirdly he did.
But how? Was this another power that would come and go, and that would never work properly?
Grim nodded with a grudging light of respect in his eyes. “So you can learn by osmosis.”
That was one theory. ’Cause he had no other way to explain how he knew something he couldn’t remember ever seeing. It had to have seeped into his skin while he slept on top of his chem book. That made sense to him. “Apparently.”
“I always knew you were a freak, Gautier,” Stone muttered.
Nick’s temper exploded.
And so did Stone. One second he was mocking Nick and the next, his shirt caught ﬁre. Nick jumped up with Caleb and half the class. Some of the girls screamed and ran for the door while Grim stood back with an evil gleam of hope in his dead eyes.
Brynna Addams grabbed the ﬁre extinguisher from the wall and tried to work it.
Nick ran to her and held his hand out for her to surrender the red canister. Given the propensity of their old stove to spontaneously burst into ﬂames whenever they used it, Nick had a ton of experience using these.
Brynna surrendered it without question.
Nick quickly moved to Stone and doused him with a giant burst. White smoke ﬁlled the room, and it wasn’t until after the ﬁre went out that it dawned on Nick how wrong he’d been in the past.
Guess I would put you out if you were on ﬁre, Stone.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherrilyn Kenyon
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Sherrilyn Kenyon continues to top every genre she writes. With more than 25 million copies of her books in print in more than one hundred countries, her current series include The Dark-Hunters, The League, Chronicles of Nick, and Belador.