Page 6

“There’s something about the way it feels when she tries to touch us. It’s just…I don’t know. I don’t feel like ignoring her is going to do anything but hurt her feelings, and what happens if she’s somehow linked to the answers we’re trying to find, and we piss her off enough that she—”

A phone rings, cutting Ezekiel off, thankfully.

Jude answers, and I hear the shuffling like they’re about to leave. Shit.

Just as I stand and go to chase them down, I see Kai turn and smirk at me. They all disappear before I can reach one to hitch a ride with, and a sick feeling creeps in my stomach.

They just left me here.

I told them I’d fade if I went longer than ten minutes without them in my sight, and they left me here.

I let them know I hated the fade. That it was nothingness.

And, still, they left me here.

The lights flicker, and the house vibrates as tears cloud my vision and anger simmers close to the surface. Things rattle off the counter, and it distracts me enough that everything stops at once.

The lights start shining solidly, and the vibrations cease.

My breath catches in my throat as I look around at everything. From Casper to Poltergeist, it seems. Just didn’t have the proper motivation until now.

But as time dwindles on, the stabbing pain catches me off guard. It’s never hurt before. Why does it hurt so much now?

It feels like knives are being dragged from my toes to my thighs before a lancing pain shoots across my back like a whip has been cracked.

A scream is torn from my throat as my vision dims, but before I can fade into nothing, I suddenly feel myself moving. My breath comes back in a harsh rush as I suddenly find myself in a huge tree. At the top of it, actually.

Right above the four assholes who left me in pain.

Glaring down at them, I watch as Kai takes out his sword. “You two get the Falker twins into the gulley, and we’ll herd the juggernauts in behind them. It’s the only way we’re going to get out of this with the highest times.”

I thought they were coming for orientation.

I’m only half listening as I gather back all my strength that they ripped from me. Apparently this new level I’m on comes with a perk.

It takes me a long second to realize that there’s more than one perk.

Looking around, I can see…everything.

And my stomach sinks when I take in the prehistoric looking land that surrounds me, along with various hideous creatures that are lurking about.

Gage slashes his sword through a stringy corpse as it tries to grab him. The stringy corpse falls away, its head rolling off, as they go on like it never happened.

Why did I think these sociopaths were so great before?

We’re in the middle of this forest or whatever you want to call it. I half expect a dinosaur or dragon to come barreling through the massive, elaborate trees that stretch on for as far as I can see.

The quad splits up, and I watch as Jude and Ezekiel dart to the right, running instead of siphoning. Kai and Gage are moving slower, so I follow them, sticking to my trees. They’re so big and tightly interlocked together, that I can move effortlessly from one tree to another.

And I can jump really far when I need to. One perk of being weightless. Another is the fact I don’t have any pressure under my feet when I walk, so they never hear me up here.

They crouch low just as two identical men move in from another angle. Taking a seat, I watch as the two men near them.

Just as they reach the canyon, Gage and Kai spring from their positions, and tackle them with so much force the twins barely have time to yelp before they’re flying over the edge.

“That was easy enough,” Kai mutters.

“We knew this would be easy to us. Everyone knew it. I told you that you’ve been stressing too much.”

A scream reaches the tip of my tongue, and I swallow it down just before it escapes.

A four-headed beast is running down that gulley, as the twins tumble down the side, finally landing in a heap on top of each other. One barely gets the sword drawn in time before the thing strikes at them. Right behind it, two more of those beasts with four heads are running down, almost as though someone rang the breakfast bell.

Kai and Gage start sprinting, and I have to turn away before I know if those guys survive, because I have to keep up with the two dicks instead.

One of my leaps tests me, because I’m airborne for a little longer than I ever have been and stretch my usual limits before landing on another limb and racing after them still.

The four of them are suddenly all together, and I have no idea where Jude and Ezekiel just came from. All the while, I race behind them. Staying close but not close enough to be seen.

Nothing eventful happens after that.

They’ve got blood all over them, so I’m assuming more eventful things happened before I got here. I’m not sure how. It was just over ten minutes when I ended up here behind them.

Before I can ask too many questions, a blast of light hits them, and they’re suddenly gone.

Cursing, I drop out of the tree, looking around aimlessly. Shit. Not again. What if I get stuck here? It’s not like I know how I even zapped myself here to begin with.

Just as I turn around, I meet a set of huge eyes. Eyes as tall as my body. And scales. And fur. There are scales and fur. It’s a hideous combination right on the nose that is between the eyes that are in front of me.

A scream tears from my throat before I can remind myself that I can simply pass through the scaly fur best. It reels back like I’ve slapped it, and it leaps into the air before diving down.

All several hundred feet of it.

The entire earth moves and shakes as it burrows below, taking forever to get that entire, worm-like body down the hole. And I say worm-like instead of snake-like because worms don’t scare me as much.

My legs are shaking even after the ground goes still again, and I stagger around, looking for a way out of here.

Just as the pain starts to form in my chest, I feel it happening again. Like a rubberband has been snapped, an unseen force violently yanks me away from monster land and tosses me back inside the quad’s home.

“Think she faded?” I hear Gage asking.

He doesn’t sound too torn up about that.

“No clue, but Neopold just called. He said since we easily crushed everyone else’s times, they’ll make the next trial harder.”

Gibberish. It’s all gibberish.

I poke my head through the wall just a little so I can see them. Fortunately, I pick a spot where no one is looking.

“Which means we can deal with the girl now,” Jude says as I lean back before they spot me.

“Deal with her how? We can’t touch her. We don’t know what she is. And it’s very likely we’re the only ones who can see her if she’s meant to be a hindrance to us,” Gage states flatly.

They better be glad I can’t hit them. I’d totally do it right now.

Without a word, I sit down on the stairs and listen to them dissect a hundred nefarious theories about my existence, while I peek in on occasion to get my fix.

Never once in all those fantasies did I see them trying to figure out a way to get rid of me.

It makes me hate them a little.

Chapter 6

A week of trying to sneak around the house has left my stomach in knots. Every time I accidentally run into one of them, I quickly pass through a wall.

It’s tense and awkward.

They’re reading books on what I might be so they can evict me from their lives.

I’m mostly hiding because I’m worried they’re going to succeed.

If I can go next level, I’ll be whole. Surely my soul or whatever won’t be attached to anything then, and I can run like a motherfucking freed animal who just escaped the cage of impending doom.

I’ve worked too hard to survive to die now by the hands of the ones who once gave me purpose and a reason to want to survive.

Fortunately, they’ve all gone to bed now. Like a bad habit, I go from room to room, muttering a ‘good night.’

Tomorrow is apparently the gauntlet or whatever, so they turned in early. Even Kai is snoring for a change.

In fact, they’re all sleeping heavily tonight. Ezekiel is also snoring.

He never snores.

I move to the bed, my hand scrolling over the side of his cheek as I study him in confusion. Never once in five years has he snored. He never gets that deep into sleep.

And Kai went to sleep really fast. Which is very unusual.

I move to Jude’s room, finding him to be just as dead to the world as the others. He always sleeps on his back. Tonight he’s on his stomach, and he’s still in his clothes.

I know for a fact he can’t stand sleeping in clothes. He always gets naked.

Backing out of his room, I look around.

Maybe they want to kill me, and maybe I hate them a little, but I can’t stand the thought of someone hurting them.

Which is clearly about to happen.

I jog down the stairs, checking the doors and such. I spot the bottle on the counter they picked up from Harold today, and I freeze.

They only had one shot apiece. Not that I was watching. I just heard Kai telling them only one to douse the nerves and take the edge off.

My eyes hone in on the little swirls of green that I can barely see. It’s almost like my ghostly reflection used to be—so transparent that only the best vision could catch a true glimpse.

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