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Jude blocks my vision, stepping in front of me. “Lamar has a lot more knowledge of the heirs and their powers. He figured out something we’ve been piecing together, but now we’re certain of it.”

“What?” I ask, confused.

“That Lilith couldn’t have created an actual being. I don’t even know if Lucifer can create something like you,” Gage answers.

A chill slithers over me as I look back over to Lucifer, seeing him moving this way.

“Then what am I?” I ask so quietly that I’m not sure they hear me.

Regardless of whether or not they heard it, they can’t answer since the devil is now standing near us.

“I’m glad to see you boys in one piece. I trust there have been no further incidents?” he asks conversationally.

“No.”

The four of them bow at the waist, and I try to think of ways to calm down before I kick their asses for not addressing him as king or Your Royal Evilness or something, damn it. He’s so not the guy you want to offend.

He doesn’t seem to even acknowledge the misstep though.

“You can stand,” he says absently. His eyes land on Jude’s for a brief moment before flicking between all four.

“He’s really good at guessing about liars, and it’s not good if he suspects you of a lie,” I decide to remind them.

Jude’s lips twitch, but it happens so fast that I almost wonder if I’ve imagined it.

“Oddly enough, I couldn’t find any proof of power when I finally managed to find your very thin files. The only information I seem to have on you is your address and your soul count. I’m not even certain how you obtained your weapons.”

Gage doesn’t even bat an eye as he answers. “We were tested when we were summoned on the day our powers manifested. Damnedest thing happened, though. I think it must have been performance anxiety.”

“Why would you be a smartass to the fucking devil?” I groan, wishing I could slap the hell out of him.

Gage’s lips tug at one corner, but like Jude, he wipes it away before I can be certain.

“I see,” Lucifer, eerily amused. “During forty-seven summons all four of you had performance anxiety?” he adds, returning the smartassery with a touch of fuck-you-little-turds.

“It’s a problem. We’re working on it,” Kai says in an assuring tone.

“Just so you know, I’m almost positive I can’t protect you from the damn devil,” I point out.

I’m going to kill all of them.

Still, Lucifer manages to maintain his humored expression.

“I only got a glimpse of two of you, and I’m not certain what you did. Care to try and explain it to me? Because I quite feel like you’re being underutilized and pointlessly tested in these trials.”

“There’s not any real way to explain it, since we’re not entirely certain what we’re doing,” Jude says with a shrug. “We just know how to kill. We like it topside, but we’d like to earn access to this plane as well.”

“I’m sure you would,” Lucifer says, stroking his jaw thoughtfully. “It’s the best of both worlds to remain topside with all the perks of hell. Clearly if you had too much power, we’d have to bring you down below, since it’d be against our law to leave that much of the world unbalanced with dark influence.”

“We never really died, so we have no dark influence, since our souls are still whole,” Jude immediately points out.

Lucifer actually looks both surprised and intrigued by that confession. “Well, that certainly is another kind of imbalance, but not one that breaks any laws. And a very interesting turn of events,” he goes on, his grin spreading.

The guys weirdly seem to be tenser now that the devil seems pleased.

“But I’m afraid I do need to learn what your powers are so we can categorize you. If for any reason you’re stronger than you should be on the surface, I’ll take into account you have no dark influence. I’m sure we can come to some sort of agreement.”

They all look wary now.

Lucifer gets closer to Jude, the amusement falling from his face so smoothly, as though it was an illusion all along despite how genuine it appeared. The ease of the transition chills me to the bone.

“The thing is, you somehow penetrated the notoriously impenetrable chest of a guard. Not that you’d know that. Surface guardians aren’t privy to such knowledge, which is why you never once thought about exposing yourself.”

Jude’s jaw tics, but he remains a stone, keeping his eyes on Lucifer.

“Then you turned him to dust. They didn’t regenerate,” Lucifer goes on.

A prickling blanket of dread slips over me.

“That sort of power is very high level. It rivals Lamar’s, and he’s a very old immortal who has spent a large amount of time letting his power grow under the influence of this world.”

Lucifer gestures around, as though reminding us we’re surrounded by very powerful people who’ve been drinking the hell juice and getting stronger for a long time.

“And you don’t even have access to here yet. Makes a person wonder just how strong you’ll be if you succeed,” he says, then steps back.

His smile returns like it never left, and his face is deceptively light and amused once again.

“I’ll eventually learn just how you managed to do that.” His eyes flick to Kai’s. “And I’ll learn what you did as well, since that’s quite the mystery that intrigues me even more.”

Kai’s fists tighten beside him, and I press my hand against his back as though I’m trying to calm him down.

“You can’t punch the devil in hell. Get him topside. I heard he can die there,” I tell him, patting his back now.

The tingles make me want to turn whole, so I withdraw my hand. My job is done anyway, because Kai’s unclenched his fist, and a smirk toys with the edges of his lips.

“Good luck in the trials, in case I don’t see you before then. And enjoy the party,” he says, gesturing around, his smile growing as he starts backing up. “Hell is known for its parties.”

Two girls immediately join him, one for each arm, and he grins as he turns and walks away. Several really stunning women walk by in their lingerie or just completely naked.

I’m not really sure why I’m just now noticing this.

“So help me, after how you jerks treated me over Neal last night, if any of you try to have sex with some really hot hell girl, I will let you die,” I decide to point out. “I might even push you into a giant centipede’s mouth to see if you turn into one after transition.”

Kai shakes with silent laughter, but he ends up voicing a groan.

“Why did we use our powers?” he asks.

“It felt like I had to. I was just going to punch them,” Jude bites out.

“I was going to slam them into each other and knock them out. Instead, I killed them,” Kai tells him, clapping his shoulder.

“So we can thank you two uncontrollable hotheads for the unwanted exposure,” Ezekiel growls.

“How were we supposed to know the guards are that resilient? There was very little information on them available to us,” Kai points out.

“I’m assuming you don’t want them knowing about your power because it’s too strong to be topside? Like the devil hinted at?” I ask.

They give me a wary look.

“The devil already knows. I highly doubt I’m more of a threat to you than him even if I am out to get you,” I say on an exasperated breath.

“It’s not that,” Ezekiel says, looking around us, reminding me we’re not exactly draped in privacy.

They start smoothly moving through the party, and they make their way into a bathroom. Ezekiel checks it, and I hop up on the counter as he proceeds to investigate every stall.

He closes his eyes like he’s concentrating, and then his eyes open as Kai locks the door.

“Nothing in here to listen in,” Ezekiel says.

Gage turns his attention to me. “Partially. We sure as shit don’t want to live here full time. It’d get old. And though the parties are lavish and much more fun than the clubs, things are twice as lethal down here than up there. The ones strong enough to kill us are given limited amounts of time when they can be topside unless in mortal form.”

“Mortal form?” I ask.

“They can be born into the world as a mortal if they’re important enough or blessed by a royal, and they live until they die, then they bypass transition and return to their form that has been preserved in hell,” Kai explains.

“Awesome,” I state dryly.

“They’re not as powerful in mortal form, but it doesn’t really matter. They can’t legitimately die, so they live a fast-paced, rock star sort of existence until they get sent back to hell,” Ezekiel tells me.

“I think we’re telling her a little much now. Half of this stuff is among the things we learned from Harold just last year,” Jude growls.

They ignore him, much to my surprise.

“If we’re topside, we’re among the most powerful there on a full-time basis. Better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond when it’s a game of life and death,” Gage continues.

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