Gage’s words cut off as I run my hand along the wound, tears in my eyes for no reason at all. I really don’t like Three. He doesn’t like me. But it still feels like my heart is breaking.
So much pain.
It’s almost like I can feel it too.
I look down as the skin tries tugging together under every swipe of my hand, and my spine stiffens. My hand freezes against his leg, and he hisses out another sound as the skin starts to slowly pull together, the charred pieces breaking apart like brittle fragments hiding new skin.
It’s a little slow, but it keeps going, and he sucks in a breath of what sounds like relief as his body relaxes. It’s not completely healed, but the burns are gone, and the skin is healing faster on its own now.
He darts a gaze to me—a mix of wary curiosity and guarded appreciation, but it’s gone before I can be sure.
“She put the fire out, and she healed his leg. I’m starting to think she really is a damn protective spirit to balance out the scales that have been tipped against us,” Ezekiel says as he studies me with narrowed eyes.
One corner of my mouth tugs in a grin.
“Let’s run then discuss what she is or isn’t,” Jude says as he helps Kai to his feet.
Kai is able to run now, not slowing anyone down. I look around for the woman in red, curious if she’s still watching. Fortunately, no one is.
I don’t really want anyone knowing they have a protective spirit.
That’ll mean more people than them trying to figure out a way to get rid of me.
I look back and quickly cover the same ground they just made in half the time. Kai looks over at me as I run beside him, but I don’t meet his gaze.
If he’s nice right now, I’ll rant about what a jerk he’s been. If he looks at me like I’m still gum on his shoe, I might just let them all die the next time and not give a damn.
Either way, it’s not a good time for either.
Running through Ezekiel and stealing some of those tingles, I keep going until they finally stop, heaving for air.
“What’re you doing? We still have to climb over the ridge,” I remind them.
“We’re lucky we haven’t come across any hell beasts yet, but we’re about to go up a ridge that is notorious for them. Those stones stole a lot of our energy, so we need a break before we climb that thing.”
My eyes lift, seeing the lava evaporate, and then sensing lives before I see them. A massive spiel of people who were likely trapped there are being let through, but this time it’s the Gemini twins who are atop a rock and grinning.
“I’m not sure how many are going to survive, but I strongly suggest running again just in case it’s more than twenty,” I point out.
“Shit,” Kai groans, turning to start climbing.
A surprise burst of tingles happen down below, and my eyes dart down to see a hand poking out of my pubic bone.
“What are you doing?” I ask Jude, knowing without a doubt those dark tingles are his.
“Seeing if you somehow offer a power charge too. Unfortunately, the answer is no.”
“Then can you withdraw your hand? At the rate I’ve been saving your lives, I’ll be powering up anytime now, surely. I’d rather not turn whole while your hand is in my vagina.”
Gage grins, and Jude laughs under his breath as he withdraws his hand. I stare at the ridge before us. It’s really like a thousand feet of mountainside that mostly goes straight up with a few ledges where you can hike instead of climb for a bit.
Already I see something scurrying into a dark cave on the side, a long tail whipping behind it a second before it darts out of sight.
A chill runs along my spine. Not cool.
That looked way too snake-like.
“What kind of monsters are we talking about?” I ask them as they start ascending, looking for footholds and such.
The horn of death wails loudly in the background, announcing a lot of fallen competitors. I suppose the Geminis are a little crueler than Lilith.
“What are the point of these trials? Other than to cull the weak? To show everyone how cold they can be?” I ask, turning to start scaling the mountain beside them.
“It’s another balance system. They can’t have the weak. The weak will betray far faster than the strong. They want to know who sticks with their team. They want to see how many will cheat. It’s called hell for a reason. Not the most trustworthy applicants are applying for these jobs,” Kai explains through strain as he hauls himself up.
It’s way easier for me to climb. I’m not pulling a muscled body up the oddly angled side.
“But some will always have favorites they want to succeed, because they usually already know the ones they don’t trust,” Ezekiel adds.
Another long tail whips over my head, and an embarrassing squeal shoots out of me before I can help it. It’s just a tiny lizard. In my head, that tail was forty feet long.
“Good thing you look like a leather-wearing badass today,” Jude says from above me.
“Fully equipped with unusable weapons,” Kai adds.
“Fake it until you make it. I’ve saved your lives more than once. Speaking of which, why was that girl going to stab one of you? That’s breaking the rules.”
“Like we said, they want to know who will disrespect tradition. Bad applicants don’t make it past purgatory.”
The clang of a sword has my gaze darting up, and I get a little queasy when I see the huge lizard snapping at Jude, raising a scorpion-like tail like it’s about to strike.
“No!” I shout, just as Kai launches his sword into the air.
The beast screeches and darts away, scurrying into a hole as the sword flies up.
“Yelling brings more,” Kai growls.
My eyes dart around in a panic, and I look around, worrying the entire climb where the rest are.
Screams from below me have me looking down—terrible idea, by the way.
I get dizzy as I stare below, watching the monsters pile all over the men and women, ripping things to shreds.
“At least it called them down there instead of to us,” Gage says, a hint of sadistic delight in his tone.
I’m busy staring down still, unmoving. I never knew I had an issue with being on the side of the mountain until this moment. Then again, it is the first time I’ve found myself in this predicament.
For a moment, I don’t realize I’m falling until the world is whirring by me. My eyes come up in a panic as I see Kai grab for me, his hand slipping through my body on my way down.
In the next breath, I’m suddenly clinging to the wall again like a wet cat dangling above water, my whole body shaking as I clutch it for dear life.
Jude’s chuckle comes right beside me when I see it’s him I’ve just landed by. I really like this being able to move without actually moving thing right now, even if it does leave me a dizzy and disoriented.
“A protective spirit who’s afraid of heights,” Jude mutters under his breath, still laughing a little as he pulls himself over a ledge.
I zap there too, happy that I seem to have that down pat, at the moment.
“It’s more of an aversion to being on the side of a mountain than it is the actual height,” I correct.
“We’re almost there. The second we reach the top, stay close. They kick us out when we cross the finish line,” Gage says as he leaps over the edge, joining us.
The other two join us as well.
At least they gave me a warning.
The mountain turns into more of a hiking trail that I managed to glimpse from the ground earlier, but it’s a lot higher up than I realized.
We cut through a huge forest I never would have known was up here, keeping a quick pace. I warily cast a glance in the direction of every sound.
I follow closely, since I have no idea what a finish line even looks like. I doubt there will be a bright red ribbon to run through.
May have to jump through a fire hoop or something.
Something loud roars, and the guys start moving a lot faster as the trees behind us start shaking fiercely.
It’s like a spike of adrenaline hits them, and they move twice as fast, causing me to struggle to keep up.
I see trees flying up as something massive barrels through the forest, a hint of dark fur peeking through the top of the tree-line as we start hiking a steep incline.
That’s not good.
A hellacious roar almost deafens me even in spirit form.
Just as it crashes through the trees and I get a glimpse of a mouthful of teeth, tingles shoot through my hand, and a white light blasts.
Stumbling into Ezekiel’s bedroom, I look around. I’m not sure how I just ended up here, but a sense of panic hits me when I don’t sense the boys.
Then their presence washes over me, and I relax.
“Where’d she go?” I hear Kai ask.
“Did she make it?” Ezekiel this time.
“I grabbed her hand,” Jude tells someone.
I start to go to them, then realize I’m actually a little drained. Emotionally drained that is.
I’ll wait until tomorrow for the inquisition into all I did today and what nefarious reasoning might have led to it. Or maybe they think I’m their protective spirit now, but doubtful. Jude even mocked it himself.
I’ll save the verbal sparring for tomorrow, because saving their lives has quite honestly exhausted me. I’ve never been exhausted before.
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