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“You supposedly need us,” Ezekiel reminds me.

“Yes, but what’s the point in existing if it’s just to feel like an unwanted burden? I need a reason to want to keep from fading into nothing, because honestly? Nothingness is sounding better than this hell you four are putting me through.”

They exchange a look, and Jude’s jaw tightens as he looks back at me and speaks. “We’ll have a new spell up by nightfall. I’m not sure that it won’t evict you as well.”

“You can try. I’m sure you’re dying to get rid of me even as I save your ungrateful lives over and over,” I tell him as I pass through the wall.

They appear in the room just as I finish, and I barely stop myself from making some embarrassing noise of surprise.

Jude’s eyes darken as his smirk forms. He likes scaring the shit out of me, it seems. He’s the one who has cut me the deepest, so I look over to Ezekiel, breaking up the eye contact.

Ezekiel steps closer, his eyes wandering over me. “What in hell are you wearing?” he asks incredulously.

I look down at my warrior princess outfit. It’s leather, a little sexy, and downright awesome. It also has the illusion of a bunch of weapons strapped to me, even though they’re not real.

“Something a badass wears when she’s saving lives all night and about to go to a gauntlet of unforetold dangers,” I deadpan.

“Is so much cleavage necessary?” Kai asks, his eyes a little distracted as they continue to trail down.

“And does the leather have to be so tight?” Jude asks from behind me, sending chills throughout me when his hand passes over my ass.

“I prefer to feel pretty when killing. Not sure why, but it seemed to be ideal last night,” I state as I look around. “By the way, my terms also include the four of you not ignoring me and not being cruel to me anymore. Either fake being nice and treat me better, or I’ll take a spectator’s seat the next time men with enchanted swords try to drain you, cut off your heads, stab you, or cut off your junk.” They all give me an incredulous look, so I add, “Yes, a lot happened last night.”

Jude adjusts his cock in his pants as he arches an eyebrow at me.

“You’re asking us to trust you, acting as though we owe it to you. Surely you understand our reservations,” Gage tells me, regarding me warily.

Something cold and detached washes over me as I drop my hands to my sides.

“I told you all my story. I explained I’ve spent five years able to do nothing but watch you. Without you, I faded. Without you, I didn’t exist. Only in your presence did I seem to have a purpose. I exposed a vein when I cut open so many vulnerable details of my very lonely existence, laid it all out there for you like my most precious secret. Naively, I expected you all to welcome me with open arms, telling me I was no longer alone. Yet none of you could spare a second to put yourself in my shoes. None of you had an ounce of concern for the fact that I’ve held on by a thin thread all these years, not knowing anything about anyone else but the four of you—I didn’t even know myself, but I knew you. You’ve been all I’ve had.”

My gaze flicks from one set of eyes to another as they all stay quiet.

“Not one of you bothered to tell me good night, or even good morning,” I go on, admittedly getting just a little choked up, much to my chagrin.

A few surprised and very bewildered expressions don their faces, but I clear my throat and go on.

“The only thing you’re concerned about is how my presence affects you, while I’ve spent my entire existence thinking of nothing but the four of you. Not one of you could spare me a single thought.”

Again, I’m forced to clear my throat of any emotion, refusing to let these assholes see me do my ghostly cry.

“Not everything is about the four of you. I exist too. Now you can see me. In fact, you’re the only ones who seem to be able to, mostly. And you treat me like shit. So, no, I can’t be bothered to understand your reservations if you can’t spare a single minute to view me as an actual person instead of a thing you don’t trust.”

They say nothing, and I grow tired of the intense silence.

“Who’s taking me to the gauntlet?” I ask, looking at the four of them. “With any luck, I’ll be able to stop someone from killing you when your backs are turned today. And then you can all bypass any gratitude and start wondering how I benefit from that as well.”

Ezekiel blows out a breath before he grabs a weapon from the closet, since we’re back in the weapons room. Then he steps into me, and I feel the tug of the siphon.

When we reappear, we’re in the middle of a huge, gorgeous room full of elegantly dressed people. Meanwhile, I’m next to a shirtless barbarian by comparison.

The other three boys appear around us, and they all start walking.

When I’m certain eyes aren’t landing on me or noticing my presence, I follow close behind them.

Today, I learn what the hell a gauntlet is.

Chapter 8

A gauntlet, as it turns out, is an inhumane, monstrous death trap designed to cull the weak from the herd.

Yay me.

This sucks big donkey balls.

It’s like a protective spirit’s nightmare, since my four ungrateful charges are about to run this thing.

I’ve decided that’s what I must be—a protective spirit who has been cursed to watch over the most self-centered brats in history, who are willingly about to run through this deadly thing.

It’s a long, seemingly endless crater. And in it are monsters I don’t even have a name for, and they’re crawling around everywhere below. It’s also filled with blades that swing, fire that shoots out of unseen crevices, and something I assume must be acid, since when the mist sprays, it destroys anything in its path.

We’re in a half arena type thing, standing on a platform far above it, as the crowd fills into the stadium seats behind us like they’re readying for a show.

“What’s the point of this?” I ask, not expecting an answer.

“To see who ascends and gains access to the underworld,” Gage answers automatically.

A little surprised, I turn to face him. “Why would you want to go to the underworld?”

“To gain a boost in power and find out what we really are,” Jude says from beside me.

“You don’t know who you are?” I ask, confused.

They continue to talk quietly so as to escape the ears of others, surprisingly answering some of my questions.

“A while back, we found each other by accident, all of us ending up in the same place at the same time on the same day like we were compelled to go there. When we did, our souls bonded, and we gained access to our powers just before someone tried to kill us,” Kai tells me as he moves in from behind.

Ezekiel picks up where he left off. “Whatever we are, no one ever wanted us to find each other, because they’ve been trying to keep us out of the underworld ever since. And we’re different from all of them.”

“How so?” I ask, confused.

“To become one of them, you have to die first and endure the underworld from the less privileged side,” Kai explains.

“Demons? They’re demons?” I whisper-yell, acting like someone other than them can hear me.

Jude’s lips twitch. “Demons have no mind or capacity for reason, emotion, or even individual thought,” he goes on. “These are upper level dark angels. There are hundreds of varieties, but they fall into two categories: Righteous and Damned. We’re of the damned, yet we never died,” Gage whispers softly, his eyes shifting as though he’s seeing if anyone can hear us.

His lighter brown hair is so smooth and sexy with the way it spikes up. The piercing in his tongue is always a fascinating focal point for me. Maybe Ezekiel should get one of those, since he’s the nipple lover.

“Purgatory is where ascension is decided. We’ve had access to purgatory for almost a decade, but we haven’t been able to get chosen for the trials until this year. They’ve tried to keep us away from here, because they’re terrified we’ll win. If we get below and get our power boost, we’ll also have access to people who might can tell us what’s going on,” Ezekiel states quietly.

“We’ll discuss this more later,” Jude says quickly. “Manella just arrived.”

My eyes swing up to find a set of fully black eyes glaring down at my boys. Thank goodness he’s unable to see me. I’m thankful for my spirit-body right now.

“Stop staring at him,” Kai tells me.

“It’s not like he can see me staring. His eyes have passed over me a number of times so he can glare at you assholes. I’m wondering if I can channel some of that protective mojo to kill him.”

Before they can say a word, I’m suddenly behind Manella, dizzy with how fast that just happened.

I’m up in the stands, my legs passing through the body of a man who has no idea I’m standing through him.

Manella turns like he feels me, his eyes searching briefly behind him, trailing past me without an ounce of recognition.

I can see the guys below staring at me with wide eyes before they school their features and look away. When Manella turns back around, I hold my hand out, straining, feeling…nothing.

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