Cody and Peter stood there, both of them grinning from ear to ear. "What do you want?" I asked, stepping aside for them when the door opened. "I was sleeping."
"I can tell by your hair," said Peter, flouncing on my couch. "And what are you doing asleep? It's the middle of the day."
Still groggy, I squinted at my clock. It was a little after three. "Yeah, I know. I didn't feel good. It's weird. I just suddenly felt wiped out and dizzy."
That smile had never left Cody's face. He sat beside Peter. "How do you feel now?"
I shrugged and settled onto my loveseat. "Fine, I guess. A little tired, but the worst is over." That nondescript something isn't right here feeling was still with me, though.
"You shouldn't be cooped up inside," said Peter. "It's a great day."
"Look at all the sun," agreed Cody. "It's like summer came early."
I followed his gaze to the window. Warm golden light spilled in onto my floor, much to Aubrey's delight, and beyond the neighboring building, I could see blue sky. Still, I wasn't impressed. "We're barely into spring. This is a fluke. It'll probably be cold tomorrow."
Peter shook his head. "You sure are grumpy when you wake up." They both seemed so absurdly pleased with themselves, and I couldn't figure out why.
"Maybe you should get outside," said Cody, exchanging smirks with Peter. "We were going to go for a walk after this. It might cheer you up."
"Yup. Nothing like a bright, sunny afternoon to perk up the old spirits." Peter's grin grew even bigger.
I leaned my head back against the loveseat. "Okay, okay. What's the joke I'm missing here?"
"No joke," said Peter. "We just think it's a great day."
"A beautiful, sunny day," Cody concurred.
"Will you two stop already? I get it. It's a nice day. The sun is out the, the birds are singing-"
I stopped. I felt my eyes go wide.
I looked at the smirking vampires, then looked at the sun-filled world outside, and then looked back at them. I swallowed.
"How," I asked quietly, "are you guys out in the middle of the day?"
Their pent-up mirth exploded, and they both dissolved into laughter.
I felt wide awake now. "I'm serious! What's going on? You can't be out in daylight, and how-wait. I didn't sense you guys at the door. I still can't sense you."
"I know," said Cody. "Isn't it crazy?"
"No! Well, I mean, yes. But it's not...it's not supposed to happen," I argued. I didn't understand how they could find this so entertaining. Something was wrong. Very wrong. All the drama with the Army was gone from my mind. That niggling worry that I'd woken up with turned into a hard knot of fear. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I'd gone cold all over. "How is this possible? The sun should fry you."
"Hell if we know," said Peter. "We were in our coffins and then just suddenly...woke up. We got out, and there we were. Out and about in the middle of the day. You know what else? I don't want blood. No desire whatsoever. Not even a drop."
"And so what, you guys just decide to go stroll around and enjoy the day? You didn't contact Jerome? You didn't question the fact that something has seriously altered your immortal existence?"
A mischievous look crossed Peter's face. "Not just us, Georgina."
They both watched me expectantly.
"Don't look at me like that," I told them. "I've always been able to go out in the sun."
"You don't have a signature either. We can't sense you," said Cody.
I stared at them for several heavy seconds, trying to parse the meaning here. An uneasy feeling began building in my stomach as I recognized their implication-except what they were implying was impossible. Unthinkable.
"You're wrong," I said.
Slowly, carefully, I touched my face. It was exactly the same as it had been this morning. My build was the same. My height was the same. I was still me.
I exhaled with relief. "I'm the same."
Peter's eyes danced. "Fix your hair. It's a mess."
Shape-shifting is an instinct for a succubus or incubus, practically subconscious. It's like tightening a muscle or taking a deep breath. You barely think about it, send the message from your brain, and it happens. So, I thought about my hair, willing it to smooth out and tidy itself into a ponytail. There was usually a slight tingle when that happened, resulting from the burn of using up a piece of my stored energy. And of course, there was always the tangible evidence-the actual change of my appearance.
This time, there was nothing. No tingle. No hair movement.
Peter leaned forward. "Ooh, it did happen to you! You're the same. None of us are working."
"No," I said frantically. "That's not possible."
I tried again, willing my hair to change-to turn a different color, grow short, restyle itself...but there was nothing. I tried to shift my clothes, urging my jeans and Henley to become a slip dress. Or maybe a track suit. I even attempted to make my clothes disappear altogether.
In pure desperation, I did the unthinkable: I tried to give up the unconscious hold I always maintained in order to keep a form that wasn't my natural one. I let go of all control, allowing my body to shift back to the one I was born with, the one my essence always wanted to return to-the one I fought very, very hard to hide from the world.
Nothing happened. I stayed the same.
I couldn't shape-shift.
It was like having my arm cut off. Until that moment, I didn't realize how much of my self was tied into shape-shifting. As a mortal, the power had been unimaginable. After having it for a millennium and a half, it had become part of me, and its absence was now unbearable. I didn't have to see my face to know I wore pure panic. Peter and Cody were still laughing.
I shot up, incredulous. "This isn't funny," I cried. "We have to talk to Jerome. Now. There's something seriously wrong with us!"
"Or right," suggested Cody.
"Why do you think this is a joke?"
"We don't," said Peter calmly. Underneath his mirth, I saw the tiniest bit of concern in his eyes, concern he was clearly trying to ignore for now. "We just think it's cool. You don't think Jerome already knows about this? Whatever it is, they'll fix it soon enough. Nothing we can change."
The tirade I was about to unleash on them was interrupted by more knocking. Just like with the vampires, I sensed no immortal signature. Anyone could have been at my door. Yet, peering out the peephole, I saw Hugh. I let him in, feeling relieved. Hugh would sort this out. He always knew what was going on since he and Jerome maintained such constant communication. Hugh's confidence and typical know-it-all air would fix everything.
Instead, he looked miserable. Dejected. He trudged in and dropped onto where I'd just been sitting. He put his elbows on his knees and rested his chin in his hands.
"Hey, Hugh," said Cody. "Isn't it a great day?"
I knelt down on the floor in front of Hugh, so I could look straight into his eyes.
"Hugh, what's going on?"
He simply stared at me, dark eyes mournful and bleak. I'd seen Hugh angry, elated, and exasperated over the years, but I'd never seen him depressed. It would have bothered me, if not for the fact we had a few other things to worry about than his hurt feelings just now.
"Hugh! We've all lost our..." I frowned, not sure what to call it. Powers? That sounded too Justice League. "...abilities."
"I know," he said at last. "So have I."
"What powers did you even have?" asked Cody, apparently not minding the superhero comparison.
"Multitasking?" teased Peter. "The ability to balance books and collate?"
I shot him a quick glare over my shoulder and then glanced at Cody to explain. "Imps see souls-everyone's life energy. They can tell whose soul is good and whose is bad."
"I know that," said Cody. "I just thought there was...more."
Hugh sighed. "You can't imagine it, Georgina. Not having that ability now. It's like losing one of my senses. Or going colorblind."
"I know exactly what you mean," I told him.
"Not likely. When you can't see energy and souls around living beings, the world is so...empty. It's dull."
"Why did it happen?" I asked gently, trying my best to squelch my own escalating fear. Internally, I was still reeling. My shape-shifting was gone. My immortal signature was gone. The marks that defined me as Georgina Kincaid, succubus, were gone. "What's going on?"