The wind whirs in my ears much louder than before, and we appear in the back of an alleyway.
“We’re seeing your pawn shop friend, aren’t we?” I ask him.
He doesn’t even bother asking me how I know that.
“Yes,” is his only reply as the other three join us.
Kai stalks forward. “Until we figure out what’s going on, we can’t risk our very important friends by exposing them to a possible threat.”
Jude ignores him, leading the way, and Ezekiel trails me as we walk out of the alley.
I move through the wall of the pawn shop, causing Ezekiel to curse. “She’s going to draw attention. It’s not late enough for this,” he hisses.
Only a few people are on the street. I forgot I could be seen.
They, fortunately, seem too inebriated to notice an apparition passing through walls.
Jude doesn’t say a word, just walks to the back counter where the familiar older man with a broad grin greets him.
“Need another pint of the good stuff?” Harold asks, lifting a bottle of the clear liquid they buy a lot of from here.
Apparently it’s the only way they can get drunk.
“I’ll take two of those and some quick answers about what she might be. We’ll pay good,” Jude tells him.
Harold immediately looks around like he’s searching for something. His eyes pass right by me without so much as a second glance.
“Who?” he asks.
My heart stutters. Have I gone invisible again?
My four boys look at me, then at each other, then back at me.
“You can’t see her?” Jude asks, causing me to relax a little.
Wait, why can’t Harold see me if they can?
That man I crashed into certainly saw me. I swear he looked a little horrified. I must have had a seriously pissed-off expression on my face if he felt that threatened.
“See who?” Harold asks like he’s crazy.
Harold can see souls…
But he can’t see me?
“No one,” Jude says tightly. “Just had too much to drink, I suppose. But I’ll take two more,” he goes on.
The other three guys go along with it, even though I can see the way Kai is frowning at Jude and me.
Harold rolls his eyes, but sells him two bottles. We leave without a word, and Jude steps into me again. I feel the tingle of our electricity, and I breathe him in like I can touch him if I try hard enough.
Next thing I know, we’re back in their monstrous home, and he’s stepping away from me. The other three appear behind him, and all four study me.
“The assassin who broke in saw her,” Gage, One, says. “He was so distracted by her that I was able to kill him before he even realized I was awake.”
“The assassin was a high-level royal mercenary. The crest was on his skin before the body vanished,” Kai says quietly, his eyes raking over me like he’s seeking answers in my appearance.
“She also hit him. Maybe that had something to do with it,” Ezekiel suggests.
“Maybe,” Jude answers, no one sounding too attached to any particular theory.
“I need more sleep tonight. I’m not sure how well I’ll sleep knowing we’re being haunted by a possible threat,” Kai says as he turns and walks out. “We have orientation for the trials tomorrow, and her as a distraction is going to get us killed,” he adds on his way out.
“I’ll stand watch while you all get some sleep,” I tell them, burying my own selfish desire to talk to them until I can’t possibly say anymore.
If the trials are that dangerous, I sure as hell don’t want them distracted. I’ll even wait until after they’re rested to ask what the hell these trials are and why they need to do them. But not tonight.
Ezekiel yawns, but he turns and walks out next.
Jude and Gage just stand there studying me.
“You’re able to follow us into purgatory?” Gage finally asks.
Frowning, I tilt my head. “Purgatory is where you go? It’s way nicer than I expected it to be. It has some seriously bad PR. But the people there seem horrible, so that much now makes sense.”
Jude’s lips twitch, and even Gage appears amused.
“Purgatory is a little bigger than the section we’ve visited. That’s for special events. The inhabitants of purgatory who are forced there against their will wouldn’t agree that it’s just bad PR.”
I swallow down the lump in my throat. It didn’t seem as real before as it suddenly does now.
I have no idea what they even are.
“Tomorrow, you can explain what that means. It’s always very hard to focus there for me. But tonight, you need to sleep. I don’t want anyone getting hurt because I kept them awake to talk.”
Jude steps forward as Gage slowly starts walking backwards, moving toward the door, but holding my gaze for a moment longer. As soon as he’s finally out, Jude reaches for me.
His fingers pass right through me, but that strong tingle has me close my eyes as the pleasure washes over me. He moves in closer, lowering his head until his face is near mine, and I sway a little.
“There’s something about you that feels far too comfortable. But if you hurt my brothers, I’ll end you, somehow or another. And it’ll be painful.”
Now he’s not my favorite anymore. I thought we had something special going on.
He steps back, and I ignore the painful tug at my heart. He’s the one I just knew would be in my corner, though I have no idea why I thought such a thing.
They’re not quite as awesome as I’d hoped they’d be if I ever got the chance to finally be seen and heard. I also thought touch would come with that, but now I’m glad it didn’t.
I think they’d kill me.
Feeling like the air has just been sucked out of me, I don’t say a word. Instead, I pass through the wall to go stand guard.
As long as I’m close, I can peek in and get my fix every ten minutes to keep from fading.
Jude really hurt me. I’m not sure why, but they all hurt me, if I’m being honest. I was amusing and then disposable.
I’ve waited five years to be able to speak to them, stupidly thought there’d be an instant friendship between us.
And no one even said good night.
Nothing happens during the night. I mostly peeked in on Gage, since he sleeps the hardest and I knew he wouldn’t notice me. I was afraid one of the others would wake up and be annoyed with my presence.
My confidence from yesterday to today is nilch, thanks to Jude bursting my little bubble and no one even being nice enough to say good night.
I can hear them all in the kitchen, but I’m sitting on the steps. I’ve spent so long wishing they could hear me and see me, and now that they can, I just want to be invisible again so I can go back to feeling like I’m part of the group. Instead of the weird interloper who needs them to even exist.
Ezekiel rounds the corner to find me, and he stumbles to a halt, eyeing me. “Where’s all that spunk from yesterday?” he asks.
Like a petulant child, I don’t answer. I pretend they’re invisible to me now.
“Ah, this game? I’m good at this game,” he says as he takes a seat by me. “Used to play it when I was three or something.”
I pointedly ignore that dig and him, and I continue staring at the wall like it’s fascinating.
He rolls his eyes and stands.
“Whatever. I tried.”
I’m being irrationally emotional over this. It really makes no sense.
Maybe it’s because my emotions have heightened since leveling up. Everything seems twice as crucial as it did before.
I’ll deal with sorting it out later. For now, my fantasy of these four guys being mine is done. I just want to be whole so I can exist without needing them.
He blows out an annoyed breath before finally walking away, rejoining his brothers in the kitchen. I can barely see them if I poke my head out.
Which I’m doing. Every nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds.
“What the hell did you say to her last night after I left?” I hear Ezekiel asking.
“I went to bed too,” Gage says to him in confusion.
I should probably tell them my hearing is exceptional. I hear whispers I don’t think I’m supposed to be able to hear all the time. No one else seems to be able to hear quite so well.
But I keep that secret to myself.
“What did you say?” Gage asks someone, who I assume must be Jude.
“Just gave her a friendly warning,” is Jude’s response. “I was fine with everything until I realized it’s just us who can see her. There’s something going on here, and now I think Kai is right. It feels like a trick, and it’s certainly something Manella would do to put us off our game.”
Kai is next to jump in and start talking. Of course. “I vote we ignore her like she’s not around until we get through the first round of the trials. Then we’ll deal with her during the month long break.”
“Her timing is suspicious,” Gage says on a sigh.
Tears prick my eyes, though it’s just transparent mist. Unlike the real tears I felt last night before fainting. Those stupid tears were happy tears, because this was not how this was supposed to go.
They’re so nice to all the women who come and go. I assumed they’d be nice to me too.
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