Chapter Twenty-one

"Bad Bob wasn't exactly a paragon of truth and virtue," I told him. "He lied to me, too, lots of times. Look, you can trust me, Kevin. I promise that I won't try to hurt you."

I came around to the other side and sat down on the edge of the couch, looking down at him. He kept staring at the ceiling, but there was a suspiciously bright shine in his eyes.

"I can't go home," he said. "She'll kill me now. She really will."

"I won't let her."

"Yeah?" A hot, burning flick of those miserable eyes. "Like you could stop her. At least while she has that guy of yours."

"I'll fight if you will," I said. "Come on, Kevin. You told me you wanted her dead. How about just removed? Taken away? Unable to hurt you again? What about that?"

He thought about it, fiddled with the loose riveted button of his jeans, and finally nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Just so long as I never have to see her again."

I sucked in a deep breath, closed my eyes, and let it out. I propped myself in a chair and dialed a number from memory. As my fingers moved, I saw them picking up blue sparks, and shook them to get the crap off-not that I could feel it, but it creeped me out. I'd seen for myself how the stuff was drawn to the use of power, back in Seacasket-we'd been swarming with sparks.

Paul Giancarlo's rough, Jersey-flavored voice said, "Yes?" The tone was sharp and impatient. Maybe he'd been dealing with telemarketers all day.

I opened my mouth, started to speak, and suddenly hesitated. This was a step I hadn't expected to take, and I sensed that it was a big one. Maybe the kind you couldn't take back later.

Things would never be the same.

"Hello?" He sounded pissed, and two seconds from slamming down a hangup.

"Paul?" I said. My voice shook a little. "It's Jo."

Silence. I couldn't tell what was happening on the other end. Then, very quietly, "Jesus."

"No, just Joanne, although I can see how you might make the mistake, coming back from the dead and all." I sounded too maniacally cheerful. "It's a long story, and I don't think we have time right now."

"You're alive?"

"Again, yes, and we don't have time. I need to find Lewis-"

"Lewis?" Paul had recovered fast. His tone was back to crisp and businesslike, at least so far as I could tell. "Yeah. He came here. Had one hell of a head wound. I tried to get him to let an Earth Warden take a look at him, but no way would he do it. He took off about an hour ago, maybe less."

"Did he remember what happened?"

"Do you?" Paul countered. "He said your name, but I figured . . . you know . . ."

"Head injury, yeah." I rubbed numbed fingertips together. "Things have gotten complicated."

"More than you with a Demon Mark?"

"Yeah."

"Fuck me running . . . okay. How much trouble are you in right now?"

"About all there is." I closed my eyes, went up briefly into the aetheric, then back down, fast. "Not just me, though. All of us."

He grunted. "I don't have time for coming-back-from-the-dead riddle hour. You got some ghostly warning to deliver, just do it-there's a storm off the Atlantic seaboard that's going nuts-"

"And a fire in Yellowstone, and tectonic pressure in California," I said. "I know. And it's worse than you think. Way worse."

That got a moment of silence. Paul was a pessimist. If it was worse than he thought, it was pretty damn bad, and he knew it.

"Jesus, Jo, what the hell are you into now?" he asked.

"Favor for a favor. You do for me, I'll tell you. You've got a Warden working for you named Yvette Prentiss?"

He made a sour noise. "Nominally. I've got an allhands call out right now, and she ain't even picking up the phone. She's fired, soon as I get the time to sign the paper. Not that I shouldn't have fired the crazy bitch years ago, but she had some friends-"

"Yeah, Bad Bob, I know. Listen, I need you to get Miriam and the Power Rangers over to her place. Now. She's broken just about every Warden's code there is, and what's left won't last the night."

"Look, I don't have a lot of time for disciplinary-"

"She's stolen a Djinn," I said flatly. "She's torturing him. Paul. She's going to destroy him."

Silence, again. Long, crackling silence.

"Paul?" I prompted.

"Lewis already asked me for her address. Shit, Jo, I can't do this right now. We've got all hell breaking loose around here. I'm sorry about Yvette, and yeah, we'll take care of her as soon as we can, but right now we've got innocent lives to save, and three fronts to fight on. So it'll just have to wait." He sounded grim, but determined. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah." I tasted ashes. "I understand. Thanks."

"Wait, tell me-"

I hung up on him. Immediately, the phone began to ring. Caller ID, auto callback, something like that. I let it clamor for attention and sat, thinking hard.

"They're not gonna help," Kevin said. He was sitting up, draped over the back of the couch, acne-spotted chin propped on thin arms. "I knew it. Nobody ever helps. Well, fuck her anyway. We can go anywhere, right? Do anything? I don't need her. She can just do whatever."

Lewis had asked for the address. He knew that Yvette was involved. But he was going over there hurt, disadvantaged, and she had David to use as a weapon . . .

"We're going back," I said.

Even from across the room, I saw Kevin's morose expression turn mulish. "In your dreams."

"Kevin, we have to go back. It's up to us to stop her-"

"From screwing your boyfriend?" He blew a raspberry and flopped back down on the couch, out of sight. His voice stayed annoyingly stubborn. "No. Not gonna happen."

"She'll come after you."

"No she won't. She's got what she wanted. Me, she's just as happy to be rid of." Leather creaked as he stretched. "You know what this place needs? A bitchen big-screen TV. With adult channels."

Indirect. I ignored it. "Kevin-"

"I want a big-screen TV. With adult channels."

I screamed inside with frustration. I could have wasted time optioning him to death-Standard or widescreen? Brand name? Model number?-but time was something I no longer had. I just used the power he poured inside of me to find the biggest, most ostentatious TV I could find and transport it to an empty wall in the apartment. Plugged it into main power. Created an invisible satellite hookup. Materialized a remote control on the coffee table. "Anything else?"

"DVD."

I gave him that. I also skipped the intermediate steps and gave him a cutting-edge sound system, big honkin' speakers, a full CD rack based on the most recent Billboard charts, headphones, amplifiers, every movie in the last twenty years (at his age, he wouldn't care about anything else).

"Bitchen," Kevin said, awestruck. He got up to fiddle with the remote. "Whoa."

"Let me go," I said. He froze, hands still twisting knobs. "Kevin, please. I'm asking you as a friend. Let me go and do something."

"Friend?" he echoed. There was something lost and little-boy in that word, something fragile. "I don't even know your real name."

"Joanne," I said quietly. "My name is Joanne."

"Huh." He pulled out a CD and examined it. "I liked Lilith better."

"Kevin . . ."

I watched his shoulders hunch together under the threadbare, ripped T-shirt, remembered his stepmother's love of S&M . . . S, probably, in his case. He'd never had a friend, at least not since Yvette came into his life. Alone. Scared. In pain.

I could bully him into anything I wanted. I would, if I had to, for David. But it would haunt me worse than anything else I'd ever done.

"If you're really my friend, you won't go," he said. "You'd stay here. Take care of me."

How young had he been, the first time she'd hurt him? The quaver I heard in his voice was the cry of a child too small to understand why it was happening. Bitch. I ached with the need to do something to her, anything, to even the score. I understood David's black fury now, when he'd seen her at the funeral. He'd had a close, unclean relationship with her for too long not to hate her.

I walked around the couch to where Kevin was randomly picking up CDs and sliding them back into the rack, hands shaking.

I put my arms around him. For a frozen second it was like embracing a corpse-no response at all- and then I felt his muscles relax and huddle into me, accepting the comfort. He smelled bad, but I didn't have to breathe if I didn't want to. I wondered how much of his slovenly approach to hygiene and housekeeping was designed to keep the perfectly coifed, house-proud Yvette at a distance.

I caressed his oily, lank hair and whispered, "Kevin, I am your friend. And I'll come back to you. Just please, let me save him. You don't want to leave him there. You know what'll happen to him. You've seen it. You've felt it. You have the power to save somebody, Kevin. Use it."

He slipped a hand into the pocket that I knew held my bottle, but he didn't bring it out. It was almost like he was clutching a rabbit's foot . . . his own personal lucky charm.

"You'll come back?" he asked. "Promise?"

"I swear."

I held him for another few seconds, which ended when I felt a palm slide down to my butt. "Hey! Hands!"

"Sorry," he mumbled, and moved back. "Don't- don't let her hurt you. And come back."

I reached out and kissed him. One chaste, gentle kiss. When I pulled away he was staring at me with wide, stunned eyes.

Never been kissed. Nothing sweet about the sixteen he was living.

I spread my arms, ready to rise into the aetheric.

"Stop!" Kevin cried. I looked at him and saw that he'd taken the perfume vial out of his pocket. His knuckles were white around it. "Wait. I can't. You're all I have." A deep, chest-heaving breath, like a sob.

"Kevin, no-"

"Back in the bottle. Sorry."

I screamed out my frustration, but the gray swirl was already sucking me down, helpless, into oblivion.

I didn't want to dream, because I knew what it would be. Something bad. I'd come to the conclusion that the only things Djinn ever dreamed, trapped in oblivion, were really nightmares.

I hate being right.

In my dream, the Djinn were dying.

Each of the three sentient events out there-the forming earthquake, the strengthening fire in Yellowstone, the storm cell gathering in the Atlantic- had drawn Wardens in response. Of those, the top masters of each area had Djinn to focus and amplify their powers. Perhaps a hundred, all total . . .

... a hundred victims.

I watched, helpless, as the sparklies saturated in a slow, graceful rain through the aetheric, bathing the Djinn like radiation; the more power each Djinn sourced, the greater the concentration of cold blue rain around them. They knew. They knew it was killing them, and they couldn't prevent it.

Some of the Wardens understood what was happening. They pulled their Djinn back, sealed them in bottles, hoped that the damage could be contained.

The rest pushed blindly ahead, focused on the objectives.

In California, tectonic plates rippled, shifted, slid. Earth Wardens were pushed aside by the forces at work, their weakened Djinn useless. The first shudders began, working deep in the earth.

In Yellowstone, fire flowed unchecked, like a river; it crested a hill and raced down, leaping from treetop to treetop, lapping the trunks in a molten river of flame. Trees cracked and exploded with sounds like gunshots as sap boiled inside. There were no animals running ahead of it; the superheated air had raced ahead, killing everything in its path.

Fire Wardens were struggling to build containments, but it was useless. Their Djinn were failing.

Yellowstone was going to burn. Again.

I couldn't even bear to look at the raging fury that was forming out to sea. Please. Tell me how I can stop this.

The combined might of the Wardens couldn't stop it. The idea that I could do anything, anything at all, was sheer lunacy.

I felt a presence with me. Something cool and peaceful.

Next to me sat a tall woman with unearthly beautiful features, hair white as snow, eyes pure amethyst.

Sara, I said. She gave me a sad, gentle smile.

Am I? She looked out at the devastation below. So much pain, for so little. I wish this would end. I wish I could stop it.

Can anyone? I asked. Rhetorical question. I rested my chin on raised knees like a little girl, and watched the end of the world in fire and flood and the slow rolling of the earth.

Oh, yes. Sara seemed surprised I didn't know. Of course. You can.

I straightened up and met her eyes. Such cool, deep eyes, all the flecks and facets of a jewel. No wonder Patrick loved her. No wonder he'd do anything, no matter how horrible, to ensure her survival.

Me?

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***