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Jude is the one to answer. “He’s in charge of the trials.”

That’s it?

That’s their whole point of conjecture?

“If you have a little more evidence, now would be the time to share it,” I whisper-yell at them. “You’re accusing the devil’s son of a crime,” I remind them.

They do nothing.

“He’s only in charge of the fun stuff,” the devil states dismissively, once again not seeming offended. If anything, he’s amused.

“I had no idea you even existed until you were entered into the trials,” Manella says on a sigh.

“That’s a lie. He and Lilith discussed the quads making it through the night, and a hit that was out on you during the gauntlet run.” Then I pause. “Well, that was after the first part of the trials, though, wasn’t it?” I muse aloud.

Kai gives me a shut-the-hell-up side eye before returning his attention to Lucifer.

Right. Talking aloud is just distracting, since the four of them are the only ones who can hear it.

“Surface guardians, though greatly appreciated, especially in such trying times as we currently face, are not exactly under royal view,” Manella goes on. “We rarely know what they’re doing up there unless one of us has gone back as a mortal.”

The guys exchange a brief look, but their expressions give nothing away.

“Whoever has been trying their damnedest to keep you out of hell has been very influential in the part of the equation we’re very lax in,” Lucifer goes on. “Perhaps we should pay better attention to the surface guardians after all.”

Manella groans like that task has just been pressed upon him.

“Would you rather Lilith or Cain be the ones to oversee it?” Lucifer asks him, eyebrow arched. “Perhaps the twins or Hera?”

Manella curses under his breath. “I’ll start it as soon as the trials are complete,” Manella relents grudgingly.

When the devil steps down, he’s suddenly right in their faces. I pass through the guys immediately, stepping between the devil and them like I’m ready for anything.

Lucifer immediately takes a step back, a knowing smile gracing his lips when his eyes settle on me. He doesn’t meet my gaze, so I really hope that means he can’t see me.

“There you are again,” he tells me, still grinning. “You do like to protect the weaker from me, don’t you?”

The guys, for the first time, seem a little worried. At least I think so. I can feel their tension more than I can see it, because I’m not taking my eyes off the devil.

“Just where did you stumble across this thing that guards you?” he asks them.

I’m assuming he certainly can’t see me if he’s not referring to me as a woman. It’d be rude to call me a thing otherwise, and though the devil is evil, he’s not overtly rude. At least not from my observations.

Though he did kill a bunch of guys just because he couldn’t sense a lie.

I suppose they probably found that rude.

The guys hesitate for too long, and a bit of pride swells in me when I think they’re not going to tell him.

“He already knows I exist. Just be honest,” I say to them, my eyes still on the devil.

He tilts his head, studying them, that smile lifting more as they all give him their attention again.

“A little over a month ago we discovered…it,” Kai tells him.

I turn and glare at him. “It? Fucking really?” I snap.

His lips twitch, but his eyes remain on the devil.

Muttering a few choice words, I face the devil again, only to see him too intrigued.

“Very interesting indeed,” he says, stroking his jaw thoughtfully. Manella has sat up straighter, his eyes passing over me like he’s searching for me as well. “And has it protected you?” he asks.

Jude clears his throat. Ezekiel answers, “Yes.” No elaboration.

“A gift from my eldest, I presume?” Lucifer asks, his eyes on my forehead, though they pass over me a couple of times too.

“Lilith has taken a special interest in us these past several years. It’s the reason we assumed the royal family held an interest in surface guardians,” Gage answers.

The devil tilts his head. “I suppose I need to convene with my eldest.”

He claps his hands together, his eyes flitting over the four of them. “As of now, I don’t find it in your best interests to keep you protected in the throat. You’ll return to the surface until the trials commence. I’ll grant you some parting gifts that will certainly protect you up there.” His eyes pass over me again. “Though it’s clear you already have one form of protection.”

He turns and walks back toward his throne, sitting down with flourish and that same enigmatic grin as the boys neglect to show gratitude.

At least it’s not just me they don’t thank.

I’m distracted by the sound of a cry of pain, and my breath catches as I strain to listen.

The devil starts talking again, but I tune him out, listening as Lamar shouts.

“Lamar is under attack!” I shout, rushing out, passing through the walls and following the sound of his voice as it grows louder.

“I’ve been exonerated!” he shouts.

Just as I pass through a room full of black décor, my eyes widen.

Fifteen or more guards are surrounding a bleeding, weak Lamar who is bruised and battered, staggering as he clutches his wounded gut. I dive to his side, my heart hammering in my chest now.

He’s in his boxers, seemingly caught unaware while his guard was finally down.

They all charge forth, and the power shoots from me with so much force that it blows them all back. Some even crash through the walls, and I whirl around, feeling that acidic power rattling around in my veins, hungry to deliver death instead of just disorientation.

Some scatter and disappear, even as Lamar struggles to use his power. His veins are turning the same black I’ve seen before, and I try to heal him the way I did Kai.

It doesn’t work. No tingles are present.

Just as another man charges forward, I send him flying back again with one harsh wave of my hand. The acidic power remains burning in my veins, wishing to be used.

I’m terrified to use it so close to Lamar though, especially with him already in the process of dying.

By the time the rest of them leap to their feet, my guys are bursting forth, and Jude blurs to two of them, his fists hitting them so hard in their chests that the fists go through the bodies. They shake violently and collapse to the ground, their bodies instantly turning to ash.

Kai grabs two by the heads, and their veins turn red as they start to convulse. My mouth dries when I see Jude’s and Kai’s blackened eyes.

Gage and Ezekiel trot in and prop against the walls, unaffected by the whole thing.

But just as more appear, they all burst into flames. My heart pummels my chest, worried the guys are next, but it’s only the traitorous guards who scream in agony.

Lamar is on the ground, and I drop to be beside him as the devil walks in. Manella charges into the room, rushing to Lamar’s side. His hands go to him as Lamar starts to shake violently, the poison eating away at him.

Manella whispers a few words, and Lamar’s eyes roll back in his head as the veins in his body start to slowly push the black out. It comes out through his nose like it’s running away, puddling on the ground as it vacates his body.

Manella blows out a breath of relief as he cradle’s his lover’s head in his lap.

Lucifer takes in the scene curiously, his eyes flicking to me again like he can sense my presence more.

“I’m afraid it’s time for you boys to resurface. I’m going to have to restrict access to these floors,” Lucifer announces dispassionately, never looking at them. “It’ll cost you your lives if you tell anyone what happened here today.”

He gives them a dark grin. “Wouldn’t want someone thinking I’m so weak that I can’t even control my guards anymore.”

The guys all give one nod of understanding.

Lucifer returns his gaze to Manella, as Lamar takes his first easy breath, groggily waking up as his body continues to heal.

“Thank you,” Lamar chokes out, looking around like he’s searching for someone.

My stupid smile spreads when I realize he’s seeking me out to offer gratitude.

Kai arches an eyebrow at me, and I wipe the grin from my face. Ezekiel smirks at me, and I roll my eyes as I turn and pass through the wall, ready to return home.

“Don’t forget your spirit when you go,” the devil says. “You’ll need it more than Lamar will. And apparently there’s only one to go around.”

Jude casts me a curious gaze as he walks out and steps into me, but I say nothing as we vanish from hell with the devil’s blessing.

I’m not sure what the devil’s blessing incurs, and I dread finding out.

Chapter 21

The second we’re back in their massive excuse for a home, Jude steps away from me, going to the fridge to grab a beer. The other three appear, and he tosses them all a beer as well.

Ezekiel goes to grab his phone from the kitchen island as it appears as well, and he immediately orders several pizzas. The rest of them are already drinking, and I stand off to the side, now feeling like the awkward outsider again.

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