Chapter Twelve

Lewis's chin set in that stubborn line. A muscle flickered in his jaw. "They can't see it. I think the only ones who can are the Djinn and humans with all three forms of Warden powers."

"Meaning, only you."

Lewis nodded.

Patrick slurped through another spoonful of slimy crap. "My, doesn't that just make you indispensable, my friend? Fate of the world, depending on you? Whatever did we do before you came along?"

And the award for most cutting sarcasm goes to ... Even I flinched. Lewis, not accustomed to having people accuse him of megalomania, just blinked and looked a little lost. "I'm just giving you the facts."

"The fact is that you want it to be you." Patrick leveled a spoon at Lewis like a nun with a ruler, ready to slap hands. "You need to be the hero, boy. A common human failing."

Lewis opened his mouth, shut it with a snap, and pushed his chair back. "Fine. Sorry to have bothered you. I'll just see myself out then. Oh, and I love what you've done with the place, Patrick. Kind of a whole Christopher-Lowell-goes-over-to-the-dark-side thing."

Another shovelful of crap into Patrick's mouth, this time the weird otherworldly-looking flat blintzes. "Oh, don't be so sensitive. I didn't say you were necessarily wrong. Occasionally you should be the hero. I'm just saying that it's not a good habit to acquire. No long-term prospects. Cowards live longer."

Lewis, already standing, wavered indecisively between staying and going. I put my coffee down and stood up, too. "I understand what you're trying to do," I said. "I just don't think I'm ready."

"Yeah. I get it. Thanks anyway."

He turned to go. I grabbed him by the arm. "I didn't say no. Convince me."

"Of what?"

"Why I'm ready."

He moved closer, or maybe it just felt that way; he had that kind of aura. Once it grabbed hold, it sucked you in. I felt weightless, drawn in by the intensity of his power and conviction.

"It doesn't matter if you're ready," he said. "Nothing ever stops you, Jo. Nothing ever has. I need you because you're the only person I've ever known who's completely incapable of losing a fight."

I felt a blush burn hot up through me-not a human blush, not really, this was more happening on the aetheric level than traveling through capillaries-and I said, with more humility than I probably ever had in my life, "Yeah, well, you don't know very many people, Lewis. Your communication skills kinda suck."

He gave me a long, slow smile. "You didn't always think so."

Which led me to memories that were neither situation-appropriate nor really germane, but were damn nice to recall. Storm energy flaring all around us, two bodies naked and moving in that sweet, hot rhythm, lubricated by sweat and lust and the awesome power of the moment . . .

Not a bad way to lose your virginity, all things considered.

"So," he said, and raised his eyebrows. There was that cute little line between his eyebrows again, the one I wanted to smooth away with my thumb. "In or out, Jo?"

Patrick, still sitting at the table, rustled his paper as he turned pages to check out the funnies. "She's in."

Lewis didn't glance at him. "Is she?"

I reached out and scooped the perfume vial off the table. I held it out and dropped it into his open palm, then folded his fingers closed over it. "Guess so."

There was a surprising lack of ceremony to the whole thing. First we waited for Patrick to finish his breakfast, which looked more revolting by the moment, and then for him to shuffle off to another room with his paper and unmentionable bathrobe. Lewis and I played my-God-how-tacky-is-that? with Patrick's collection of objets d'crap, finally coming to the conclusion that only a going-out-of-business sale at a whorehouse could really explain a lot of it. When my own personal Obi-Wannabe reappeared, he looked sober and dressed for action in khaki slacks, a black silk shirt, and around his neck some kind of silvery chain that had a bit of the disco period to it.

Lewis excused himself. I watched him go, then turned my attention back to Patrick.

"Does this have the Jonathan seal of approval?" I asked. It was kind of a joke. And kind of not. Patrick shot me a nakedly assessing look.

"Jonathan doesn't concern himself with the details of the manufacturing process," he said. His lips twitched into a strange little smile. "Not anymore. Although he once was-how would you say it? A great deal more hands-on in his management style."

I settled down on the banana couch and drew my legs up more comfortably, hugging the tacky leopard throw close around my shoulders. There was a chill in the air-or, more likely, in me. "You know, nobody's been overly forthcoming about the guy. What's his deal?"

"Jonathan?" Patrick's thick white eyebrows climbed heavenward. "You realize you're asking a foolish question?"

"An obvious no."

The eyebrows compressed again, this time into a frown. "You can know the history of anything and anyone you wish, Joanne. All it takes is a bit of concentration. You should know this." He looked woefully disappointed in me. "You tell me about Jonathan."

He reached out and touched me with one blunt finger, right in the center of my forehead.

It was like being hit by a cement truck at eighty miles an hour, head on.

My head exploded into color, light, chaos, pain, heat, cold, fury. I gasped and struggled to hang on to something, flailed around, found a memory. I grabbed it and held to it with iron strength.

Jonathan, handing me the cold, sweating beer bottle.

Jonathan's eyes, dark and endless as space, meeting mine for the first time.

There. Patrick's silent whisper in my head. Go there.

He shoved me, hard, from behind, and I tumbled out of control into chaos.

When I got my footing again-whatever footing consisted of, in this place-I was standing on a raw piece of rock, dizzyingly high up, and an ice-sharp wind blew through me. It caught my long black hair and snapped it back like a battle flag. I was different, here. Snow-pale, dressed in filmy black robes that rose on the wind like a cloud.

I faltered when I realized that I was inches from the drop, that gravity was singing at me like a siren. I dropped down into a crouch and put both hands on the cold stone. Lightning flashed in a hot pastel curtain overhead, and far down below, far down in the mud, men were dying.

I could feel that. Feel every wound, hear every scream, taste every drop of blood being shed.

" 'And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul,' " Patrick whispered. He was next to me, solid and flaring white-hot. Beside him, behind him, a black ice-edged shadow. "Although this is not that Jonathan, or that David, the verse is still true. If you want to know about Jonathan, you will know it here."

Here. That was the Ifrit's silent whisper. I looked down, trembling, wanting desperately to go because there was so much death here, so much pain.

So many dying.

There was one who shone. Glittered with power. Warden. He was tall, spare, moving with grace and speed as he turned and fought against the ones coming at him. The lightning kept calling to him, but he wouldn't answer. The Earth was calling to him, her voice like thunder, like rivers flowing, like the slow rising cry of mountains.

He wouldn't answer her.

"Oh God," I whispered. "He's like Lewis."

No, he was more than Lewis. The world itself was wrapped around him, through him, like a lover holding him. Not just a man who controlled the elements, but was loved by them.

Fiercely defended.

Rain sheeted down, silver as tears.

He was rejecting her love, there on the battlefield. He was fighting as a man, not a Warden. Sword in his hand, solid blows of metal on metal, his leather and metal armor taking cut after cut. Blood . . .

I felt it coming. The world around me felt it coming.

A lunge. A spear angling up, punching past hardened leather and too-soft bronze, ripping . . .

I cried out. It didn't matter, the whole world was crying out, the Mother crying out for her dying child, and even though I was at the mountain's peak, looking down on a struggle of ants, I could see Jonathan, see him struggling to pull the spear out of his chest with both hands, face fierce and bloody with determination.

No no no . . .

Lightning hit him, burned the spear to ash, melted metal.

Transforming him in a crucible of pure fire. That wasn't just lightning, not just energy and plasma and science. That was something else.

Pure, implacable magic.

Someone else on the battlefield crying out, too, crawling through thick bloody mud, a man, just a man-dying already, with a dagger buried in his chest.

Crawling into the fires of life in a useless attempt to save his friend.

There was a feeling of an indrawn breath.

Every creature left in that valley died-sucked instantly dry of life, of breath, of soul. Gone. Empty bodies fell as one, thousands of them, gone. It spread in a ripple of falling corpses and armor in concentric circles from the place that lightning still danced and raged.

It kept spreading. Farther. Shepherds and sheep dying on hills miles away. A village, twenty miles farther. A city of thousands falling limp.

"Stop!" I screamed. But it wasn't going to stop. The raving grief of the world was pouring out, like blood from a heart wound, and it was going to take everything in its madness.

Patrick's hand pressed my shoulder, hard. I heard his deep intake of breath . . .

. . . and saw one man drag another out of the white flare of lightning, far below.

Whole. Unharmed.

No longer men at all.

Djinn.

" 'And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die,' " Patrick said softly. "Now you know what it takes to make a Djinn, little bird. The wrath of the world."

My attention was riveted on the two Djinn below. One was holding the other, staring numbly at the death around them.

Jonathan's eyes were still dark, dark as space. Dark as the day that had birthed him.

David's eyes were as copper as the dagger that had killed him.

He held Jonathan in his arms and wept in the rain, and I knew he was weeping for joy, for sorrow, for guilt because he hadn't pulled his friend out of that fire soon enough to stop all this death.

"You wanted to know about Jonathan," Patrick continued. "No one ever wakened the Mother before him. Pray no one ever does again."

He touched me between the eyes, and took it all away.

It hadn't been more than a minute. I huddled there on the couch feeling cold in a rain that didn't exist, tingling from the memory of unbelievable power, and clutched the leopard throw in a death grip around my shoulders. Patrick still stood looking down at me, utterly unaffected by what I'd seen.

"How many?" I whispered. His eyebrows twitched. "How many died?"

"That day?" He shrugged. "Enough to create Jonathan. Enough left over to create David as well. We're born of death, didn't you know that? But so are humans. So is everything. Don't let it get you down, sunshine."

I just sat and shivered.

Lewis emerged from the back, hesitated over the sight of me all cold and shaken, and gave Patrick a look. Patrick shrugged again. "Jo? You okay?"

"Sure." I closed my eyes and willed it all away. "Why the hell wouldn't I be?"

Lewis took an uncomfortable perch on the shoe chair. Patrick himself picked a plastic thing in the shape of a hand, wished some kind of alcoholic beverage into his hand, and waited for the show with the genial half-interest of a golf fan at a tennis match.

"Go ahead," he said. Lewis and I looked at each other. Lewis rolled the bottle between his fingers again, testing it for durability, apparently. "Just do it. It's not that hard."

I wasn't sure I could do this. I wasn't sure anymore I wanted to do it. God, if it took that much power to create a true Djinn, how was this going to help me? How could it help anyone? I squeezed my eyes tight shut again, fighting back tears.

Someone took my hand. Large, blunt, warm fingers. I looked into Patrick's sea blue, tranquil eyes.

"Do you want to die?" he asked me, very softly.

"If you do, stop now, Joanne. Stop before you suffer any longer."

I thought about David, running through the rain and mud, bleeding out his life, reaching out for something greater than himself. Stopping the greatest power in the world-of the world-from consuming life.

That was my heritage.

That was what had given me life.

Seemed pretty damn cowardly to give it up without a fight.

"No," I said. "I'm fine. I'm good. Back off, Santa."

Patrick smiled and resumed his seat.

Lewis took a deep breath, opened his palm and balanced the open bottle there. "Okay. Ready?"

"No. Just get it over with."

"Be thou bound to my service," he said. I was expecting something portentous in his tone, but this was an off-the-cuff style, so portent-free he could have been ordering pizza. I didn't feel any different. I made a little come on gesture with my hand. "Be thou bound to my service."

Patrick leaned forward on the arm-thumb?-of the plastic chair, and I wondered how it would feel to sit in a chair that was shaped like a hand. Like having your ass grabbed by a giant, maybe.

"Be thou bound to my service," Lewis finished, and something changed.

It wasn't immediately evident to me what it was. I mean, yes, I knew, but it started at some cellular level and worked its way up. Fast. I felt odd, then I felt weird, then I felt out-and-out funky.

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