The stairs were long and made of marble, so it took quite an effort for Max and Jonas to hide their footfalls as they raced to the second floor. The hallway stretched farther than any either boy had ever seen before—and at the end stood a man and a woman dressed in black robes.
Max gave Jonas’s arm a tug, and they both began to creep toward the people. Their backs were pressed against the wall; if either of the adults walked into them, they were done for.
“…killed in the basement,” the woman was saying. “They gave him no chance what so ever to live.”
“Well, he’s gone onto a better place, hasn’t he?” the dark-haired male replied. He let out a disturbing laugh and neither boy could place the correct emotion behind it. “I mean, neither side needed him. He was…disposable.”
“Disposable!” the woman scoffed. “He was one of our best agents.”
“Maybe to a small mind like yours, he was.”
“One of these days, Angus…you’ll get what’s coming to you.”
The man laughed. “It will never happen, Ruth.”
Slowly, the man and woman walked down the hallway, their feet barely making a sound on the marble. They passed Max and Jonas, nearly plastered to the wall, and the air around them swirled with a sickly odor. The boys followed them, making sure they kept back a few paces.
“I don’t see why we just can’t attack them and get it over with now,” the one called Angus was saying, his voice rough. “There have been too many losses on our side. We need to make up for them, and there’s only one way to do it now.”
“We didn’t get orders to go to war yet. The time isn’t right.”
“Well, Lucifer can’t wait forever to begin it all—”
The woman gasped. “Don’t speak his name!”
“He’s losing valuable time! Why not just get this whole ordeal over with, already?”
“You talk about him as though he’s your brother,” Ruth mumbled. Jonas had to strain himself to hear her.
Angus gave out another disturbing snicker. “You never know.” They walked a few more paces until they were at the top of the stairs. Suddenly, Ruth stopped and gasped.
Max nearly ran into her back—Jonas yanked his arm backward, and the two stumbled down the hall and fell. Ruth and Angus spun around, surprised by the sound of their footsteps. They exchanged glances: Ruth one of terror, and Angus, an unrecognizable expression.
“You don’t think…” Ruth’s voice trailed off.
“Of course not.” Angus stepped down the hall toward the boys, and reached out a hand. Both held their breath—they were going to be discovered—Max clamped his eyes shut and concentrated, willing both his and Jonas’s molecules to go free.
A feeling washed through him as Angus’s hand slid through the air around them. It worked! They were safe; they wouldn’t be caught…
He felt Jonas’s hand tighten around his wrist, and could just barely hear his contained breathing. Angus took one last look at the spot where they were sitting and backed away, confusion spreading across his face. He quickly erased all emotion when he turned back to Ruth.
“I told you not to speak his name!” Ruth whispered crossly, her eyes narrowed. “He could be watching us now—with all that power he holds—”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you worry too much?”
Ruth paused. “Only you, Angus.”
The two continued to descend down the stairs, leaving Jonas and Max sitting on the marble floor, still invisible. “I quit,” Jonas whispered as they stood. “Now what?”
“Let’s go back to the room they just left, see if we can get into it…maybe I can get this other power under control.”
“If you get me stuck between two walls, I’ll hurt you…somehow,” Jonas mumbled as they turned around. He began to walk forward. “Honestly, now. What were we thinking when we took this job?”
Max wasn’t moving. In fact, he was frozen in place.
“What’s wrong?” Jonas asked, turning to look at his friend, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to see him. However, Max had become a hazy form in the hallway, staring straight ahead.
Jonas turned, aware that his body was slowly fading back into view. At the end of the hall, the same bloody apparition that had attacked two days earlier was staggering toward them, charred and rotting.
* * * * *
“Landon, I’m getting worried,” Ness said, pacing in the cover of the trees. Her Sight had recently given out, and the two boys inside still hadn’t made communication with Landon.
“Just wait…I’m sure something’s going to come through…” Landon’s voice trailed off, his face tight with concentration. Ness could practically feel his mind frantically searching for a way to break the barriers around the house.
“No. We have to go,” Ness told him as the wind picked up speed through the trees. The leaves were rustling in the breeze—egging her on, it seemed, begging for her to become one with the wind.
“What if something went wrong? They might need help. We can’t leave them in there like that. We should have all went in together in the first place.”
She felt Landon’s mind recoil as he turned to her. “Alright, then.”
“How do you suggest that we get there?” he asked.
“Well…I could try to turn us into wind,” Ness said carefully, thinking. In her dream, it had been her and Jonas that got captured by the strange black-cloaked people, not her and Landon. It had to be safe; her dreams—just another power—had to be just as reliable, like all of the others.
She took Landon’s hand and closed her eyes. It would be hard to turn them both into wind when she barely even knew how to control the power. And, of course, there was the fact that her fingers were laced through Landon’s—but she quickly erased any emotion or thought connected to that, as he could, after all, read her mind. Instead, she put all of her concentration into the physical structure of their bodies and pictured them both melting into the wind.
Slowly, her body began to change. Air flowed freely through her molecules, and then she became it. It was a feeling that was far from explainable, or even possible…yet there it was, happening to her, controlled by her.
They lifted off the ground and began to float lazily toward the big brick house. The breeze picked up upon Ness’s will, and the two rushed off and flowed easily between the cracks in the doors.
* * * * *
Jonas was now fully formed on the second floor of the mansion, scared stiff as the bloody figure wobbled toward them. However, there was a spark of bravery deep within him, and he didn’t feel so afraid when he moved between Max and the Bloody Guy.
“Max, you can’t do this,” he whispered to the blonde boy. “You can’t leave us up here exposed like this.”
Max didn’t move, nor did he reply. His eyes were fixed straight ahead, locked on the zombie-like man. His breathing was heavier, almost panicked.
“You have to get us out of here,” Jonas was saying, his voice low and calm. “You’re going to get us killed…or worse.”
“He’s going to kill us all,” Max mumbled, almost inaudibly. The zombie was advancing—he would practically be on top of them in a matter of moments. There was no point in running.
“Not if you can help it. Fire isn’t going to kill him, Max…but the people in this house will kill us if he doesn’t do it first. Get us out of here.”
“He can see me when I go invisible.”
“But no one else can! We can get away from him easily.” Jonas pushed Max and physically turned him around. He grabbed Max’s shoulders and said, “Please make us invisible. You’ll get away from him. We’ll get away from them.”
However, Bloody Guy had other ideas. He appeared in front of them now, popping out of thin air. Jonas spun around, praying that there weren’t two of them…
The hallway behind them was empty, and now the zombie was mere feet from Max. Jonas raised his arm, prepared to torch the sucker again, even if he still came back.
He didn’t get a chance to, though. The air around them stirred and Landon dropped from it, smashing into Max and knocking him to the ground. They rolled across the marble and into the wall, causing a muffled thud to seemingly resonate throughout the house.
Jonas watched as Ness dropped from the air. She, unlike Landon, landed on her feet—but she stumbled down the hall and almost fell, anyway. She caught herself, narrowed her eyes, and sent Bloody Guy flying down the hall and into a door with such force that he broke through it.
The newly busted door revealed the interior of one of the upper rooms. Jonas could just barely make out hundreds of colored crystals lining the walls before a cloaked figure stuck its head through the splintered opening. The man was white-blonde, but his eyes were glaring red as he stared the four down.
In a second, it seemed as though a silent alarm was going off throughout the house. Every one of the second-floor doors flew open and five or six black-robed figures escaped from them.
That was it. They were trapped—there was no way out now.
Ness was standing, her eyes narrowed. Her power, even though it proved to be very strong, was no match for all of these people. Who knew how great their strength was? Even his fire and Landon’s lightning combined would have trouble dealing with the streams of people escaping into the hallway.
Without thinking twice, Jonas clamped his hand on Ness’s shoulder and dragged her backwards. She let out a yelp, struggling with him for a moment.
“Stop it, Ness, it’s me.” The people were getting closer.
Jonas practically had to trip her to bring her down to the ground where Landon and Max were, still trying to collect themselves after being rammed into the wall. He carefully made sure that both of the boys had skin-to-skin contact with him somehow, and then he opened his mind.
Time stopped as soon as one of the cloaked men reached out to grab Ness’s ankle. He glanced at his watch and saw that the second hand had stopped ticking completely: his power was working.
It was the first time he’d used his power since Camael met them in the woods, and he wasn’t exactly prepared for it. It filled him with the most overwhelming rushing feeling as the normal empty buzz filled the air.
However, time didn’t simply stop: it began to move backwards.
Jonas watched, horrified, as the second hand on his watch ticked counter-clockwise once, twice, three times…then it started speeding, and the world dropped away. Color folded around all four of them, blurring together until they were surrounded in blackness. Ness screamed.
Oh, God, he thought, I can turn back time.
“Don’t,” Jonas told her, not taking his eyes of his watch. “You’re okay.” Somehow, even though he’d never used this new power before, he knew they’d be okay.
The world was utter blackness to Landon, Ness, and Max, but Jonas could see it clearly in his head. He pictured his car and the area around it, void of people and animals. There was a big patch of grass by the side of the road…
That was a perfect landing spot. Jonas checked his watch; they were an hour and a half in the past—any longer and the car wouldn’t be there; they’d have to wait for themselves to drive up.
He let go, and the four of them fell from the void and slammed into the patch of grass. Jonas grunted as the wind was knocked out of his stomach—he was too frustrated and surprised to actually try and concentrate on landing.
Landon sat up, rubbing his elbows. “Jeeze, Jonas, you never told us you could turn back time.”
“Is that what happened?” Ness asked, dazed.
“I didn’t know I could,” Jonas told them. “Trust me, you would have been the first people I told.”
“It was fun,” Max said, smiling. He picked up his glasses from ground next to him—apparently they had fallen off—and said, “Who wants to go again?”
* * * * *
If Ness thought that her new house was big, she had another think coming. Jonas’s house sprawled for what seemed like endless miles, almost bigger than the brick mansion they had invaded earlier. It almost reminded her of some of the houses that lined the streets in Beverly Hills.
“My mom is home,” he warned them as he parked his car in the massive driveway. “Be quiet if you’re going to say anything about you-know-what.”
The four of them got out of the car and entered the cavernous house, going through the garage and entering the kitchen. Mrs. Gonzales was at the stove cooking something, as usual.
“Hey, Mom,” Jonas said, reaching in the fridge and tossing some drinks around. “We’re going upstairs. Talk to you later.”
“Wait, don’t you want anything to eat?” she asked in her Filipino accent. She was always trying to feed Jonas and his friends.
“No, thanks,” Landon, Max, and Ness said together.
“Oh, no, you have to eat something. Look at you all—so thin! Don’t your parents feed you? Come on, have some pot stickers. I’ll make soup later, okay? Do you all like wonton?”
“No, Mom, it’s okay—”
Mrs. Gonzales, however, turned a deaf ear on her son and sent the four upstairs with a massive plate of noodles and soy sauce. They filed into Jonas’s spacious room: Landon and Ness sat on the couch, Max took the window seat, and Jonas, the bed.
“So, um…did the whole house incident even happen today?” Max asked Jonas carefully.
“That was pretty freaky,” Landon said, shifting on the couch and rubbing his temples. “You know, your mum thinks really loud. And half of it’s not in English.”
“I’ll tell her to be quiet next time, okay?” Jonas replied sarcastically.
“But seriously…did today happen?” Max asked again.
“Actually, I think it did. I think you created a time loop,” Ness told Jonas.
“A what?” Landon asked.
“A time loop. We were walking toward the house and everything happened, but in the future, Jonas turned time back to a few minutes before then. We landed back at the car at a time when we were still walking toward the house—so we were at the car, but we were still going to Westchester Drive. Then, in our present, we turned back time, got to the car, went to Jonas’s house…while all of that action at Westchester Drive was still going on,” Ness explained.
“Whoa. Now that’s complicated,” Max said, shaking his head. “How do you know all of this?”
“I don’t. But I’ve read theories…only that kind of time travel involves black holes and bending space and all that. Hey, you never know—maybe the darkness was a black hole that Jonas created,” Ness continued, now talking to herself more than anyone else. “But that totally negates the whole idea of ‘spaghettification,’ ‘cause obviously we’re still intact…”
Jonas rolled his eyes and let Ness go off on her intellectual rant. He got up off the bed, headed toward his bathroom door, and opened it. “Time travel really makes you—holy shit!”
Suddenly Camael came out of the door, folding a newspaper. “Yeah, I guess you could call it that.” He handed the sports section to Jonas and walked into the bedroom. “So, how’d the infiltration go?”
Jonas turned to Camael and asked, shocked, “What were you doing in my bathroom?”
Camael ignored the question. “How’d it go?”
“Max froze up again,” Jonas mumbled. Max glared at him.
“Doing what?” Camael asked.
The group was silent for a moment, but Ness spoke up. “I think they’re sending a zombie after us, or something. Well, maybe just Max. He attacked us on Friday night…”
“A zombie, huh?” Camael wandered over to the mirror above Jonas dresser and started to fix his hair. “What kind of zombie?”
“How are we supposed to know? I’ve never seen a zombie before ol’ Bloody Guy,” Landon told Camael.
The angel turned to Max. “Whenever this thing comes around, how are you feeling right beforehand?”
“I don’t know…” Max’s voice trailed off and he looked out the window. “Kind of…worthless, I guess. Weak, like I can’t do anything. Just…low.”
“Sounds like Mensa Corpus to me,” Camael said simply.
“Mensa…what?” Ness asked.
“Mensa Corpus. It’s a word someone up there thought of…basically, it’s your inner demon, Max.”
“‘Inner demon?’ Yeah, right,” Max scoffed.
“Look at yourself…every time you feel low like that, he comes around. Think about it. It’s the embodiment of your negative emotions.”
“Okay, so why does he come after me?”
“A Mensa Corpus is almost literally your low self-esteem eating away at you. Well, just think of it as attacking yourself, but to a much higher degree. You want to kill yourself.”
“Max!” Ness exclaimed. “You do?”
Max didn’t say anything—he just pushed his glasses further up on his nose.
Camael broke the silence. “The Mensa Corpus is that little demon inside your head that tries to make you bring yourself down. Since you’ve been resisting for so long, he’s going to do the job for you. Now, there’s only one thing to do: when he comes around next time…either you have to kill him, or he’s going to kill you.”
Max looked at the floor. “I can’t kill anyone. I’m the one with the shitty powers.”
“You don’t need powers to kill your inner demon. You just have to overcome it. That is, if you have the strength to do it. But, hey, you could always let him kill you instead and everything would be over with.”
“What the hell?” Landon spoke up, his gray eyes burning. “Are you telling him to kill himself?”
“Sure, why not?”
“There’s something wrong with you,” Ness told Camael. “You’re not an angel, you’re—”
“You’ve never heard of reverse psychology before, have you?” Camael interrupted.
“You’re just…just…” Ness couldn’t find her voice. Either she couldn’t think of the perfect insult, or she couldn’t see herself insulting an angel.
“Think about it, Max. You’re going to have to do one or the other,” Camael said.
The room buzzed with silence until Mrs. Gonzales’s voice floated down the hallway. “Jonas! You and your friends come eat, okay?”
“You can’t tell him to kill himself,” Jonas said to Camael, ignoring his mother. “If you really want us to keep this…this ‘mortal angels’ job, you need all four of us. And you’re an angel, for Christ’s sake—aren’t you supposed to be against suicide? If a lifetime in Catholic school has taught me anything, it’s that suicide is a sin.”
“Jonas, did you hear me?” Mrs. Gonzales asked, poking her head into the room.
She was looking right at Camael.