Read Immortal Online

Authors: J.R. Ward

Immortal (5 page)

BOOK: Immortal
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Chapter
Five

“We need her. What do you want from me?”

As Adrian waited for Jim to respond, he shifted his weight on his feet, trying to find some distribution of tonnage where his bad leg didn't feel like it was in a meat grinder. No luck.

Jim glared up at the stairs Sissy had just put to use. “I don't want her involved in this.”

“Yeah. You've said that.” Adrian glanced around at the total absence of chairs and sofas in the front foyer. “No offense, but I gotta take a load off.”

Limping across the shallow space, he headed for the parlor over on the left side of the house. When they'd first moved in—how long ago was that? A week? Fifteen years?—the house had been entering the final throes of age-onset molting: Wallpaper had been curling up in the corners of rooms, ceilings had been stained and flaking, old Victorian Orientals had been threadbare and unraveling.

Now? As he entered the sitting room, the velvets on the sofas, the silk of the drapes, the molding around the bookcases and the tops of the varnished tables were all pristine—as if he'd walked into a carefully preserved museum piece of life in the late eighteen hundreds. The same was true of that kitchen they hung out
in, the forties-era appliances suddenly working like a collection of brand-new GEs, the Formica gleaming showroom-fresh. Upstairs was the same deal, too, all the lace in the privacy curtains and the girlie bedspreads magically filling their own holes and fixing their frays. Creepy shit—at first he'd assumed it was because someone, not him, was cleaning stuff. But no Dyson job could restitch a rug, repair the hem of a chair, replaster a wall.

There was so much else to worry about, though.

As he breathed in, the lingering stench of smoke sharpened the air, and he looked to the hearth. The charred detritus in and around the burned logs looked like paper, as if someone had tried to burn up an old set of encyclopedias. But nah, it wasn't that. The shit was the remains of all the sheeting that had been draped over the old furniture. Sissy had been the one who dragged everything over to the fireplace and lit the match.

Can you say
Phhhhhu-mp!

The smoke damage had charred the walls around the hearth, and that forty-by-twenty-foot rug, even though it was doing the Oriental carpet version of Botox with the anti-aging, had been toasted but good in a semi-circle.

They'd probably lost their security deposit, thanks to her.

And hell, maybe Jim had a point. If Sissy was already lighting things up . . . this recon trip Jim was about to head off into wasn't going to help her mellow out.

“And why did you tell her?” Jim demanded from the doorway. “What the fuck is that all about?”

“Tell her about what?”

“About Devina and me.”

Ad turned around. “I didn't—”

“Bullshit.”

Ad leaned forward even though his hips let out a holler. “Let me make this perfectly clear—I didn't say one goddamn thing
about you and Devina. You think I want to make this situation worse than it already is?”

Jim stalked into the room, going all caged-animal as he paced around. “Then how did she know—”

“Here it is.”

As Sissy came in with the book, Jim froze and just stared at her—and in the strained silence, the only thing that came to Ad's mind was . . . why the fuck couldn't the bunch of them, at least once, have something go their way. Because the math was looking really bad at the moment: Jim had clearly not said anything about his demon lover. And Ad might be an asshole, but he knew every word that had come out of his own mouth, and he sure as shit hadn't spilled.

There was only one other source of that knowledge.

“Now, are you going to tell me about Purgatory,” Sissy said. “Or are you two going to try to get through these stereo instructions on your own?”

Jim let off a fantastic string of curses that did nothing to share any information, but did suggest that inanimate objects were in imminent danger of getting thrown.

When the savior finally went quiet, Ad found himself wanting to rub his face with a piece of sandpaper. 'Cause that would be less painful than all this bullshit.

Clearly, the pulpit was his and no one else's. “Okay, so we have a boss—”

“God,” Sissy cut in.

“No. Although the Creator is a huge part of everything.” Well, duh on that one. “And Jim's bright idea is to go and bring him back.”

“He's dead? I thought we were all immortal.”

Hadn't he come in here to sit down? He picked a sofa and sank into it with all the grace of a knapsack falling off a counter. “Our boss is no longer in existence, how about that.”

“So there is a way out of here? Like, this life—or whatever it is.”

“No.” He thought of Eddie, but decided, given Sissy's too-intense expression, he was going to keep quiet on that one. 'Nuff to worry about already. “Our boss is in Purgatory, and that's just a different kind of immortal hell.”

“There has to be a way of doing this without her,” Jim growled in the corner.

Sissy leveled a stare at the guy that could have blown a hole through a bank safe. “You wanna ask your girlfriend? Maybe she can help.”

Jim's eyes burned across the room. But he didn't say anything else, the whole by-the-short-hairs thing shutting him up.

Ad shook his head. Man, now he knew how Eddie had felt back in the beginning when Jim and he had gone at each other.

“That book”—Ad pointed to the damn thing—“does it have anything in there about Purgatory? That's what we need to know. I can't read it—Jim can't, either. Eddie could, but he forgot his reading glasses in Heaven.”

Sissy came over and sat down on the opposite couch, putting the ancient tome on the short-legged coffee table. The book creaked as she opened it, and a subtle glow seemed to be released by the parchment pages, like it was its own reading light.

Okay, that was one book that was never making it onto the
New York Times
list. There was one and only one copy, and it was not supposed to be in the hands of the angels. Made from the skin of sinners, its “ink” supposedly came from the ejaculate of Devina's minions. Who knew who had composed it. The thing was pure evil, inside and out.

If Devina knew they had the thing? Big fun.

“There's no table of contents,” Sissy muttered as she idly flipped through. The writing was so dense, it was as if each page had been brushstroked in black, and it made his head hurt just
trying to focus that tight. “And there's no internal organization, either. I've spent hours going through it . . . and I'm not sure how helpful it's going to be about anything.”

“Frankly, I'm impressed you can read even a word of it,” Ad muttered.

“Well, I took Latin in high school.”

“Is that what it is?”

“Or a derivative of it. The good news is, the longer I stick with it, the easier the going gets.” Sissy looked over at Jim. “So tell me what you want to do, and I'll see if I can find something on it.”

Jim stopped by one of the floor-to-ceiling windows and stared outside. With the morning sun hitting his face, he looked worn-out, instead of refreshed. And that did not bode well for them.

Ad cleared his throat. “I got out only because I was freed by the Creator—thanks to Nigel going to Him.”

“You mean Purgatory?” Sissy asked.

“Yeah.”

“Holy . . . wait, you've
been
there?” Sissy shook her head. “Boy, all these things I thought were made up . . . I should have listened more in Sunday school, huh.”

“Like I said, I was freed at the Creator's will, and I don't know of anyone who's gone there and gotten out on their own.” Ad shifted his eyes to the savior. “I will say this—you won't have a lot of time, Jim. Once you're over there, you start to get into trouble almost immediately. The true wearing down takes a while, but you begin to lose yourself directly upon entry. By the time Eddie came in, I was nearly a goner. And I later found out I had been there only a short time.”

“Hell was like that for me,” Sissy said quietly. “It was . . . forever.”

Jim's eyebrow began to twitch and he brushed at the thing.

“So you're going there to bring this guy back—why?” she asked.

“I don't have a choice,” Jim muttered as he patted his pockets. Taking out a pack of Marlboros, he lit up. “Either we get Nigel back or I end up taking his place—and after all this shit? I want to be the one who takes down Devina. Plus it's the right thing to do.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I killed him. Not directly, but his death is my fault, and even though I'm a professional soldier, it's one I can't live with.”

Sissy stared at the man for the longest time. Then she ducked her head into the book and went back to the first page. “Anyone got a pad of paper around here—and a pen?”

Hours later, as Sissy flipped through the pages of the ancient book, she was relieved to find that the words scribbled on the thick parchment were as easy to read as something between the covers of a Nancy Drew. What was not so hot was that, even with the increase in comprehension, she wasn't finding anything on Purgatory.

Most of the passages seemed to be the ramblings of a twisted mind, the commentary loosely integrated and focusing on the nature and composition of souls, the origins of physical life, the layout of Heaven, the balance between sin and virtue.

And the statistics were just plain weird. Why would anyone care to number the stones of some castle up in the sky? The Manse of Souls, it was called?

So, yeah, the pad of yellow paper remained blank beside the book, the blue Bic pen unused. But still, all the getting-nowhere was kind of useful: She hadn't thought of lighting anything on fire for however long she'd had her nose in the book.

Letting out a groan, she stretched her back and eyed the fireplace. When a soft snore percolated up next to her, she glanced at Ad. He was out like a light, his head back on the cushions of the velvet sofa, his bad leg extended at a strange angle with its boot kicked to the side—as if the bones of his calf had healed together wrong.

Jim had left about ten minutes ago, stomping out and taking the black cloud over his head with him.

Sissy pushed the book away, got to her feet, and cracked her right shoulder. Then she walked out of the parlor, intending to go to the kitchen and grab a quick bite—but her plan changed as she caught a flash of red through the windows on either side of the front door.

“What the . . .” In fact, there was a red glow . . . emanating through seemingly every piece of glass around the house.

Rushing for the door, she yanked the heavy panels open.

It was as if someone had dropped an ink bomb on the property—only it had frozen in place on the free fall, forming a blanket around everything: On the far side of the transparent curtain of red, she could see the ugly lawn, the noontime sun, the sidewalk and the street . . . as well as Jim standing off to the left, his palm raised and glowing even brighter, as if it were the source of the illumination.

“Jim?” she said.

His head lifted and his eyes opened. After a moment, he dropped his arm and came through the stain in the air, stepping right past the barrier he'd created.

“What is this?” she asked in wonder.

“More protection.”

“From what.” But like she really needed to ask that?

“Devina. She's already gotten in here at least once.”

A chill went through her. “When?”

“The other night.”

As he walked up onto the front porch, she put her hand on his arm. “In the house? How?”

Jim pointedly moved himself out of range and laughed with a bitter edge. “She turned herself into you. How 'bout that.”

“What?”

“You heard me. She was you, everything from your hair to your eyes to your . . .” His blue stare went to her mouth and stayed put until he seemed to shake himself out of something. Then he leaned in, his heft dwarfing her, his tired eyes nonetheless sharp as knives. “Look, when I say I don't want you in the middle of all this, it's for a good goddamn reason, okay? I don't want to lose you again—and I sure as shit don't want to be thrown off my game by worrying about you.”

Sissy frowned, thinking back to—

“When I came and knocked on your door,” she said, thoroughly creeped out. “And you were shocked to see me. That's when she did it. Didn't she. That's when she became me.”

He turned away and started walking back into the house.

She grabbed his arm again. “What did she do?”

In the tense silence that followed, she remembered when he'd opened up that door of his. He'd looked at her strangely, as if he'd never seen her before. And he was doing the same thing now.

Sissy refused to back down. “What did she—”

BOOK: Immortal
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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