He doesn’t even look at me before speaking directly to Ezekiel. “If the blind tribe is waiting on us to leave this cave, we’re going to have to fight our way out of this.”
I start to move to the doorway, but Ezekiel tugs me back.
“Save your strength. You have to be able to hold your invisible form. I think shielding yourself from Lucifer in the open is draining you faster. There’s no telling how much power that requires.”
I look at him like he’s crazy.
“I’m not shielding myself. I don’t even know how to do that.”
“Most of your power runs on survival instincts. You’re only starting to gain some control,” Gage says, moving closer as he props up and peers out as well.
“In other words, if Lucifer seeing you makes you feel threatened,” Jude says, moving just to the rim where the black rain misses his foot by mere centimeters. “The light surrounds you every time you feel his eyes on you when you turn whole. The light never shines under coverage from his watch.”
Good to know. I guess.
“So if you’re naked, the rain won’t hurt you, right?” I ask, suddenly very intrigued by how distracting this fight will be with a lot of swinging equipment.
A small grins curves at my lips, and Kai arches an unimpressed eyebrow at me as he moves around to be diagonal from me.
Clearing my throat and wiping away the juvenile grin, I pretend to have some class.
“That’s the theory,” Ezekiel says absently.
“The theory? You spouted facts about it.”
“We knew it would freeze us to the core if it penetrated the skin,” he goes on conversationally. “It’s liquid when it connects, and if the surface is not hot enough to keep it liquid, it immediately freezes everything, spreading outward. It evaporates immediately into the ground, and turns into glowing blue residue on the plant life. Your temperature has to continuously rise to battle it, but it cools you if it’s able to attach. Double-edged sword.”
“The clothing provided a cooler layer that it attached to and grew strength, chilling the surface of our skin enough for the ice to find a weak spot to attach to,” Gage adds.
“We assumed our skin would run too hot for the temperatures, and Kai was shirtless. His pants got wet, but didn’t touch skin before he stripped out of them. However, the black ice ran off his body, never freezing on contact. Unlike it did when Jude was drenched and it attached to his middle in numerous spots. Or when my arm was infected under my drenched sleeve,” Ezekiel goes on.
“My boxers fucked me,” Gage says. “The theory is that none of our skin can get infected if there’s no barrier to help chill it before it penetrates the skin.”
“Not an agony I’m in any sort of hurry to revisit,” Jude inserts dryly, taking a wary step back. “Someone else can play guinea pig.”
They keep talking about how hot hell’s belly is, but the heat isn’t quite so intrusive to me. I suppose that would just sound like obnoxious bragging right now, so I keep it to myself.
“I’m going to go out there and see if I can determine how many we’re dealing with,” I tell them, stepping behind Jude.
He covers as much of me as possible, understanding what I’m doing without me having to explain.
“What am I looking for?” I ask as I change forms, hoping the phantom version of me is hidden from their cooler-temp seeking eyes.
“I have no idea. I only saw humanoid shadows just as the forest started illuminating. Since then, I haven’t been able to spot them. The books we read had no description of them other than what I’ve already told you,” Ezekiel tells me.
“We might have learned more about hell’s belly if we had ever foreseen a visit here,” Kai drawls.
“Save your energy. We can fight this time,” Jude says quietly to me.
“Well, don’t any of you go trying to die, and I’ll let you be men. But the second I see you not pulling your own, I’ll totally emasculate you. Again,” I state as I pass through him and start stalking into the woods.
“Her fearlessly wicked tongue is what surprises me the most,” I hear Jude huff under his breath.
“You have no idea how wicked my tongue can be,” I assure him, putting my sassy Devil costume back on as I strut a little in my red heels.
A few snorts follow that.
“Guess her hearing is better than we realized,” Ezekiel muses.
“Finding out new things about me is what gives me all those bonus mystery points,” I call out as I move farther and farther into the neon woods, even as the rain continues to pour through me.
I’m not worried about being too loud, considering these blind guys can’t actually hear me so long as I’m in this form.
I’m expecting to find ten or so tribesmen as I continue to move on.
Yet I’m starting to wonder if Ezekiel is just being paranoid, because I can’t even see the cave anymore, despite the heavily illuminated forest.
Sighing, I turn around, and halt.
I finally spot one guy slinking through, and an eerie sensation slithers over me.
He’s blending in with the streaks of neon blue and the black background of the tree. As he moves, the shades and colors on his skin adjust, changing as well, making him the perfect chameleon.
The dread that’s gathering over me scatters into a thousand fragments and creates a sickly insect-crawling sensation across my nerves when I see what I couldn’t see before.
Back before my mind knew to look harder, because these guys can blend in with their surroundings. And they’re much better at it than those assassins who camouflaged themselves in the last trial, because these very naked guys have skin that actually changes with the landscape.
With the newly educated eye, I can see them almost too clearly.
I can see too many.
They’re on every tree. They’re crawling over the ground, moving slowly but deliberately, the shades effortlessly shifting over them to confuse the eye with yet another illusion.
Every surface of the forest that I can see has men stuck to it, and I’ve been walking right through them.
“They look like the forest!” I shout as I zap myself back in front of the cave entrance, wishing those books had warned us about this. “They blend!”
My eyes widen, seeing all the camouflaged bodies stuck all over the side of the cave’s entrance that I remain just outside of, looking in.
“Watch out!” I shout as Jude’s eyes finally spot the first one who has crept just inside of the cave.
The man lunges, his skin flaring several bright colors before Jude narrowly dodges him. Ezekiel’s hand slams on his shoulder as those bright colors suddenly light up the entire forest, and a wild, throaty set of animal calls ring loudly through the air.
“I really hope that’s not a war cry!” I shout, just as the one Ezekiel releases takes off charging toward his own people, a spear appearing in his hand as he launches it through several men.
Well then. That was unexpected.
Another spear slices through me, thrown by a different tribesman from my side, and I watch as it catches the traitor in the gut, sending him to the ground.
“Now would be a good time to prove you can handle this. Momma’s not holding back much longer,” I caution as Ezekiel grabs two more guys and slings them.
Those two guys charge their men, but the sheer volume of them is not going to be deterred by a couple of new traitors.
The forest is thundering with all of them racing this way.
The guys are fighting, doing whatever they can to hold their place and not retreat.
Power launches out of me, taking down at least twenty of them, but they heal quickly and bounce back to their feet.
Shit! That’s not supposed to happen!
“The spears are all that will kill them!” Gage shouts.
I zap between Jude and Ezekiel, grabbing their shoulders as I turn whole. There’s no way we can kill them all with some spears.
“If you’re all going, then so am I, I guess. I knew you’d all be the death of me,” I say, a grim smile on my face.
I turn just as another brightly lit man flies through the cave entrance, his spear raised and poised in our general direction. I shove Ezekiel back, moving in front of the spear and closing my eyes. I’d rather go first than last, because I’m not capable of simply watching them die.
“No!” Jude shouts as he collides with my hand that I’m holding out to keep him away.
I feel a spray of dust against me, and my eyes flicker open as Jude’s eyes glow gold. His hand is out in front of him, and I realize that spray of dust is actually ashes as they funnel through the entryway, infecting anyone daring to pass.
My hand clutches his arm that is already touching me, and I hear a few sharp intakes of air as the others startle.
Ezekiel’s hand is suddenly gripping my side, and he throws his own hand out.
I feel something dark and daunting slip over me, almost matching the decay and menace I feel pouring through me from Jude.
I hear the sounds of fighting going on at large just outside of the cave, and Jude staggers away from me like he’s a little exhausted or on a high—not sure which.
Ezekiel staggers just as quickly, and we look out over the battlefield that is insane. Those racing colors of war rush over their skin as they kill each other, fighting to the death, as though a civil war has just erupted for no apparent reason.
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