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“She’s all I could see for a minute. It was…not the outfit. It was something else. Something in the air,” Jude goes on.

“Why a dolphin?” Gage asks.

“Really not the important part,” Ezekiel says. “What happened?”

Before the guys can explain to him that once again I did something suspicious, the door swings open.

Five men come walking in, and my heart stutters. Why isn’t the spell keeping them out of they mean them harm?

Leaping off the rest of the steps, I race to follow them.

“Hands on your heads,” one of the men shouts.

Running up behind them, my hand comes up reflexively, but Jude’s eyes meet mine, and he gives me a subtle, but still distinguishable, shake of his head.

His hands go to the top of his head, jaw tensing as he holds my eyes for a minute longer. I barely manage to stop the power on the tip of my fingers, because it knows something is wrong. And it only works when they’re in trouble.

Life threatening trouble.

And I really want to use the power. It almost hurts not to when it’s so close to the surface and begging to be set free.

Kai gives me the same barely-there headshake, also telling me to stand down.

My hand falls to my side, and I ignore the annoying prickles that spread over me, punishment for denying whatever this power inside me is.

Ezekiel’s gaze meets and holds mine as the men start walking behind all of them. They pull out cuffs, and Gage glances my way before speaking.

“What are we being taken in for?” Gage asks.

I wish they weren’t all staring at me like they’re worried I’m about to save them—as though it would be the worst thing ever. Don’t they want to be saved?

When no one answers him, Kai speaks, even as they continue to pull their hands into some weird black cuffs one at a time.

“Under the guardian’s privilege rules, you’re required to tell four guardians who’ve entered the trials the reason they’re being taken in,” Kai tells them dryly.

“It’s protective custody,” one of the guards tells him flippantly. “There’s still a hit out on your names, and as contenders in the second round of the trials, we’re required to offer you protection under the crown.”

The guys all stare at me, until Ezekiel finally makes a subtle gesture with his head for me to join them. Right. They’re about to be zapped out of here, no doubt.

I barely make it to him in time to stick my hand out, and then we’re suddenly inside a cell. The men who cuffed them are nowhere to be seen, and I whirl around, taking in the blackened stones surrounding us.

The iron door will be twice as hard to pass through, so I opt to go through the creepy stone, poking my head through to see what’s around us.

Bad idea.

My breath runs out in a rush when a flame shoots straight up into the air like it’s trying to take my face off. I reel back, but carefully peer back out to take in the cylinder prison we’re in.

All the many pointless cell doors are visible in this large circle tower. Right in the middle of us is an endless pit of fire that shoots straight up whenever it has to hiccup or fart or something.

I’m assuming we’re in hell right now.

Just a guess.

Why even have the doors when you clearly can’t walk out of them?

“Not even the soul stones stop her from passing through,” Gage muses, not sounding even the least bit distressed by the fact we’re literally in a hell cell.

“I thought nothing could breach them,” Ezekiel immediately adds.

Pulling my head back in, I look at the four of them in all their relaxed glory like they’re idiots.

Kai pulls his cuffed hands under his legs and works them down until they’re in front of him. The other three do the same—like they’ve done this a hundred times.

“Just curious if the four of you have figured out Manella has put you in here to kill you finally, since you’ve managed to thwart his attempts in the other world,” I decide to point out.

“Of course we’ve figured it out. It’s also why they’ve cuffed us, so we can’t use our abilities,” Jude states with a shrug.

“I’m not even sure what your abilities are,” I tell him honestly as I turn around and poke my head through another wall, hoping to find a hallway or something.

No such luck. It’s another big pit of fire in the center, cells lining up as high as I can see to a fiery ceiling as well.

So I stick my head beside us, finding another cell and a very gnarly looking occupant.

Both of his eyes are dangling, and he’s hunched over like he’s looking for his precious, while chewing on a mangled piece of meat that smells rancid even from here.

Pulling my head back in, I shudder.

“Doesn’t matter what our abilities are,” Gage says.

“The cuffs keep them contained. It’s sealed with the devil’s crest.”

“How do you get the cuffs off?” I ask them when they withhold any answers about their abilities.

I turn around as Kai shrugs. “They’ll wait a few days before attempting to kill us. It’d be too obvious to kill us too soon, so we have time to figure it out. It’s easiest to trick a guard into taking them off, since they know the words to speak.”

“There are words to speak?” I ask, perking up. I can go find these.

“Not just anyone can say them. They have to be spoken by the chosen guards who’ve been blessed,” Ezekiel calls to my back, but I’m already passing through to Smeagol’s cage.

“We could use a protective spirit right now,” Jude calls out, acting amused.

I step back in immediately, then see their mocking grins.

“Real funny. Why does this guy next to us look like a Gollum? Are those real?”

“No,” Ezekiel says, his eyes dancing with humor. “It’s hell, Keyla. If you’re cast here after death, your soul starts transforming, morphing into the monster you really are, depending on your transgressions. Once the metamorphosis is complete and a physical form has manifested, they decide what to do with you, based on what you are.”

“What’s Smeagol’s role gonna be?” I ask, curious.

“Likely, he’ll be a food distributor to the prison cells. We’re in hell’s throat right now. It waits until you’re finished devolving or evolving before it spits you out or swallows you. The worst of the monsters get sent below or to Purgatory to guard it.”

Good to know. I’ll be a damn good girl when I get whole. Neither of these places seem like a life choice I want to make.

“She’s thinking about being a good girl right now, even though she’s admitted she wants a four-way tag from a quad hell squad,” Jude says, grinning like the asshole he is.

Rolling my eyes, I leave them to mock me, and scamper past Smeagol to see where this circle leads. Eventually, I have to find a hall. Surely it can’t all be pits of flames in the middle of a cylinder prison tower.

I pass through another cell, and stifle a scream. There’s a hairy beastly thing that looks like he used to be human. He snarls and tears at the sides of the stone walls. His sharp claws don’t even leave a scratch behind.

Hell is so not cool. Which I guess is obvious.

A few cells have these dark shadows bouncing around like pin balls. Apparently they can’t pass through the stones as easily as I can.

Don’t even get me started on the guy who looks like he has a sledgehammer sticking through his face.

I keep poking my head through the walls on either side, and only keep finding fire.

Several have actual people in it. I suppose they’re going to be used like my guys who never died but still turned into whatever these people are once their soul finds a new, mostly immortal body to attach to.

One cell has a fairly attractive man in it, and I linger, trying to see if he can see me like my guys can. But he can’t. I’m not sure who he is, but he looks a little broken. For whatever reason, I sort of feel sad for him, and I hang out beside him like I’m commiserating with him.

He curses before running a hand through his hair. He looks exhausted, almost as though he’s lost all hope. Not like the other men in here I’ve seen. His hands are cuffed, just like the guys. I’m assuming he’s not a soul in transition.

“I didn’t do it!” he shouts suddenly, as though he expects someone to hear him. “I’m being framed!”

Frowning, I study him. For no reason I can think of, I find myself believing him. I don’t even know what he’s referring to, yet I’m convinced he’s innocent just by the compelling look in his tortured blue eyes.

“We have nothing to gain from this! I have nothing to gain from this! Why would I risk such a thing?” he goes on.

When I figure out how to free the guys, I’ll return to free him as well.

Getting up, I start going from cell to cell again, collecting nightmares for the day I can finally sleep. Again. I only got to experience it that once, and apparently I’m a damn sound sleeper. I didn’t even dream.

And I would love to know what the actual hell happened.

Anyway, a few more monsters make me swallow a scream, and idly wonder just how wretched and foul they must have been.

Next thing I know, I’m suddenly bursting back into the cell with all the guys, who are staring at me like they’re not surprised.

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