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“What’s going on?”

“Chaos,” Ezekiel says, swallowing thickly. “I’ve never created it on this scale before, and not without physical contact.”

That’s not chaos at all. This is two sides at war with the intent to kill each other.

“And Jude just killed beings who can’t be killed without a certain damning weapon, and he never touched them. The decay hit harder and more fiercely than ever,” Kai states as though to himself.

He touches me, beginning to lift his hand like he’s about to use me as a conduit as well, just as the rain ceases to fall.

“Don’t. We don’t know what it does to take from her just to amplify our powers,” Gage says, causing Kai to blink and release me as we remain forgotten to the fierce battle just outside.

“We can study all that later. With their attention fractured, we should be able to fight our way out now,” Jude says without looking at me as he grabs two spears from the ground.

The others spring into action, collecting more abandoned spears. We race out of the cave, rushing out right into the thick of the madness.

Ezekiel slams the spear into one man’s throat, as Kai breaks off a hunk of the wood from the spear, and just uses the onyx point as a blade. He slices through ten men without even slowing down.

I’m in phantom form again for obvious reasons. I have no idea how to work a spear, and I decide the learning curve is just too large to deal with right at this particularly fatal moment.

I’m racing behind Jude as he uses his two spears like dual bo staffs, spinning them before slamming them into the hordes of men fighting a battle they don’t even understand.

Most of them are still warring with each other, leaving only the stragglers we run into as an issue.

Just as a spear very nearly slams into Jude’s back, I launch myself in front of it, turning whole.

My hands slam together on each side of the angular blade, stopping it inches from my stomach.

“I’m totally a badass,” I say on a shaky breath, questioning the bladder issue in whole form at this very terrifying second.

Looking up, I see the tribesmen up close as one bumps into me, acting like he doesn’t see me at all. Ha! I’ll tell them my new pun when we’re not in peril—should that day ever come.

I quickly spin and jab the spear into his back in one fluid motion like I’m a battle overlord or some shit.

“I really am a badass!” I shout louder.

He drops like a pile of rubble, and I smirk while dusting my hands off. Then end up squealing like a lunatic girl when I’m knocked to the ground.

Another one of the eyeless men trips over me.

I know I just made the tacky blind tribesmen pun about them not being able to see me, but it’s like they don’t realize I’m here at all, yet have no problem targeting the guys.

“It’s wearing off, I think,” Jude gripes, slamming his hand into one’s chest.

It decays rapidly, proving they certainly can die by means other than the spear.

I grab a spear and stab the one that is wallowing around beside me, still tangled up on my legs.

“How do you beat an army who need cool signatures to single you out amongst the heat of hell?” I shout.

No answer comes until I’m about to unleash the biggest spark of that mysterious acid I’ve ever felt.

“You set the forest on fire to block out your cold signatures,” Kai says on a breath, then turns and adds. “Run!”

Just as the tribesmen all seem to snap out of their disorientation and turn to face the retreating backs of the guys, I smirk.

My fingers snap together, and a spark of that burning acid slams to the very base of the tree beside me.

That’s all it takes.

A whoosh of fire ignites, spreading like a wall of flame, and the blind tribesmen scream when they try to leap through it. I’ve already seen them heal before, so I know it doesn’t kill them. But it becomes obvious they can’t see beyond the quickly growing wall of heat the guys are racing in front of.

“Burn!” I shout, fist-pumping the air.

I’m not sure why my guys insist on groaning at my jokes so much. It’s sad they have no appreciation for obvious humor.

I snap back to phantom and zap myself to the guys, gauging the distance between them and my fire.

They’re a lot faster than I remember, and I actually have to strain a little to keep up, even in my weightless form.

The fire starts getting swallowed up by the forest, and the tribesmen are nowhere to be seen. We don’t slow down enough to be certain.

After a few hours of solid running, they start losing a little steam, and I decide to voice a question that’s been bothering me, now that the immediate threat of death is over—at the moment.

“Why do these trials have so many physical elements? Climbing is unnecessary when you can siphon,” I tell them.

“Physical and mental endurance is one of the overall studies in the trials,” Jude answers, panting for air as he bends over and rests for a second.

“They need to know how strong you are—body and mind—before they decide what to do with you,” Gage goes on, straightening from his doubled over position as he seems to catch his breath.

“And you can’t siphon all the time. You have to be discreet when you’re topside. You can’t disrupt the balance by giving too many humans a visual to their unsolved mysteries of the universe,” Kai goes on.

“Plus, it’s not as much fun to watch people siphon around a course, and these trials are also for entertainment value,” Ezekiel adds as we start walking briskly, no longer running as they conserve precious energy.

“Our senses are stronger down here the longer we stay,” Gage says. “Hers too.”

“My senses only work with you guys,” I point out. “The blind dudes almost got one over on me.”

“You sense when the Devil can see you. You’re also quick to learn and figure out the next step, even though you have no prior knowledge of the trials or the location,” Jude states like a mild accusation.

I open my mouth to start our usual banter, but Gage sucks in a breath.

“There! We’re at the end!” Ezekiel shouts, and everyone starts running again.

We burst out of the forest, illuminated by the bright red sky that actually has them shielding their eyes. It makes me grateful to be phantom, since my eyes aren’t so sensitive in this form. It seemed like such a dull sky before the blacked-out forest.

My heart sinks when I hear the ground vibrating.

Then I’m back to dealing with cardiac arrest when I see why.

That gulley we started in is now on either side of us. No longer is the forest nor the mountain we faced earlier, in view. All we can see for miles and miles is one huge canyon full of monsters who are all charging toward us like a stampede.

There are so many—no three-headed hellhounds, though. At least none in my immediate viewpoint.

Some make my stomach roil, skin peeling off them as they shed one form for a much more grotesque one. Apparently they need a different form to devour four very tasty looking men.

“Death trap,” Jude growls. “We weren’t meant to survive all this time just to face this. There’s no fucking way to survive it. Even if we all touched her and used her as a conduit, we’d barely make a dent before we were forced to disconnect like I had to earlier…before it consumed me.”

I step closer, staring in disbelief. It’s like one giant mass of encroaching death creatures, and I whirl around, seeing the same fate coming at us from the other end of the gulley as well.

“Everyone gather around me,” I shout, then glance down at my ruby red slippers as they appear.

Everyone does as I say, putting their hands on/through me as just only my feet turn whole and start clicking together.

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like—”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jude barks in interruption, causing my eyes to peel open as I grimace.

“Worth a shot,” I tell them, furious with all the false hope movies have given me over these past few years.

Beasts still rapidly approaching, and the tops of the canyon being layered with hellfire lava that is starting to drip down, I take a long, resolved breath.

“How do you defeat a never-ending army of hell’s most vicious predators, cast to the belly straight from the throat, when there’s not enough power to kill them all?” Ezekiel asks quietly from beside me.

Anger simmers inside me as everything dark and tainted swirls within my soul. The Devil doesn’t play fair. Every time we turn around, there’s one more impossible task.

A storm crackles overhead as dark clouds form ominously just barely above us.

“Now what?” Gage groans, looking up.

“Not like it matters. There’s no answer to this fucking riddle,” Jude says through a snarl.

“Yeah. There is,” I say as the skies dim, now completely covered by the dark storm clouds as lightning flickers inside them. “You make the never-ending army of predators believe you’re a much worse predator. Think of the mouse chasing the cat.”

“That makes zero sense, and it’s not really an answer,” Jude argues.

“I know,” I say as that very seductive power rolls around through me with such vigor like I’ve never felt before. “It was a hint.”

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