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He just smirks.

“Then you tell me why you hate me over and over,” I say, shrugging. “But it’s all a lie. Not even Gage truly knows you, and he’s the closest to you.”

“I can assure you that I hate you just as much as I like you. You weren’t wrong about that.”

“Well, I guess it isn’t all a lie. But you’re not worried about me choosing favorites and riding off into the sunset with one, while destroying the other three.”

The confident smirk slips from his lips.

“You know I value your bond. You’ve seen me preserve it to the best of my ability. Albeit, I have understandable moments of weakness. I don’t even want you one-on-one. I’m selfish for wanting all four of you, while expecting to be the only one you want, but I’m not greedy. I don’t want more than that. Just the four of you. You know that. I can see it in your eyes,” I go on. “It’s why you like me.”

I can see him guarding himself, careful not to react.

“Maybe one day you’ll tell me the true reason you’re afraid of even taking this risk, when you’re the most reckless of the four. Your menace is half your charm, so it doesn’t scare me anymore that you hate me. I just want to know why.”

He leans back, swallowing.

“You couldn’t bring yourself to go against my wishes when I told you that you couldn’t touch me. Not after the trials. You bartered with Ezekiel, knowing I wouldn’t even hold it against him.”

I arch a challenging eyebrow at him.

“You know I don’t hurt the bond,” I say, as though hearing it aloud again makes him all the more intriguing. “So what scares Death himself?”

“The answer would be simple if you stopped to think about it,” he says so quietly I almost miss it. “You inspire a fear none of us have known before.”

He looks away, and silence descends around us for more uncomfortable hours. I stare at the ceiling, idly wondering what the other guys are up to.

“Does she ever plan to show up?” I ask him as he moves to the window to look out.

“Patience,” is all he says.

“You really trust her?” I ask on a sigh, needing him to keep me from being on edge right now with the heaps of dread flowing through me.

So soon after the trials, when everything was life-or-death, is not the best time for someone new to come into the picture and wreak havoc on my nerves.

“With my life,” he assures me.

He says it to ease my worries, which is the nicest thing he’s ever done. But it weirdly feels like a knife to the heart for no reason at all.

I try not to be envious. I really do.

But I sort of want to kill her already, if I’m being completely honest. I think it’s best not to inform him I actually am as insane as he accuses me of being.

Chapter 11

Jude drops down to the bed beside me, like he’s sick of finding uncomfortable furniture to sit down on and crane his neck to watch the TV that only has a good angle from the bed.

The furniture, by the way, is nailed to the floor. Rather peculiar establishment, if you ask me. And Jude says we’re not allowed to pry it free because it’s an important meeting place for a lot of surface guardians—which is still just a fancy term for reapers.

He’s careful not to touch me, unsurprisingly. Especially since I gave up being phantom and went whole hours ago to gain control of the remote.

It’s almost dawn—the next day—and there’s still been no sign of Lake.

“She must know I’m here or something,” I say as the light starts glowing through the curtains.

We missed one hell of a party last night. The streets were loud, and I really wanted to join in, but Lake is a very annoying girl who thinks her time is the only time that bears importance. Selfish brat if you ask me.

No, I do not sound petty.

“No. Only Lamar and Lucifer have sensed you. Lamar has a link to spirits, which is part of his power. It’s probably why he sensed you when the hell spawns didn’t. And Lucifer is Lucifer. I’d be alarmed if he hadn’t been able to sense you, especially in hell.”

“But only when I was close enough to touch,” I decide to point out.

He purses his lips.

More silence and impatient waiting follows that comment.

We watch Friends like we’re not both waiting to be dropped into hell by an escort he knows but won’t really give me many details about, because he’s apparently more loyal to her than to me.

Then again, at least I know she exists. She doesn’t have a clue about me. Even Jude has become protective of that secret. So that means I’m winning. You know, if I was in a contest with her or whatever.

My mind reverts back to the theories I’ve been working on silently in my head for the past several hours when we both grew tired of veiled insults.

“I think Kai is Conquest/Pestilence. The thing he did to those two guards seemed like he was infecting them with poison. But it could be disease,” I state randomly, causing him to groan again.

“For the last time, the Four Horsemen were killed centuries ago during a collision of the two kingdoms.”

“Who told you that?”

He gives me a dry look. “Plenty of people, including Lake. Like I said, it was the first obvious answer.”

“I don’t trust Lake.”

“You don’t know her. Anyway, it hurt the balance significantly, though the details are murky as to why they were killed. But if by some chance all of that was inaccurate, and by some narrow miracle we were the special quad who were that powerful, we’d be accepted into hell. In fact, they’d even drag us there if they suspected it, because our presence topside this long would shatter the balance. In fact, we would have already shattered it by now if we were them.”

“Balance, balance, balance,” I say on a frustrated breath. “I’m starting to hate that word.”

“Get used to it. That’s all we’re constantly trying to do: Keep the balance. Both sides, no matter how differently opinionated they are, agree on one thing, and that is the importance of balance. Good must level out with evil, or the world becomes too corrupt too quickly, and hell spills over.”

“Wouldn’t the Devil want that?” I point out.

“Fuck no.” He looks at me like I’m a total moron. “It would be the end of hell if the world had no good left in it.”

“Why?” I ask, moving closer like I’m desperate to know.

“Because without balance, there is no such thing as good or bad. Free will becomes null and void, and so do both kingdoms.”

“That makes no sense,” I grumble.

He stands quickly and goes to grab an old-timey scale with two small plates on either end.

He puts it down on the table in the center of the room, and I move to the end of the bed, no longer giving the TV my attention as he places a few lead balls on each of the pans on the scale.

“There is a perfect balance to everyone who can be topside. You have an exact amount of purities and impurities,” he says, putting a lead ball on each plate.

The scale stays perfectly balanced as he moves his hand back.

“Like you told Lucifer you guys were,” I say, frowning. “He seemed surprised by that.”

“Because he senses our impure imbalance, yet we have our souls intact and it defies the laws of balance,” he tells me, though it doesn’t make a lick of sense. “Plenty of our kind is balanced, otherwise, we couldn’t be topside. The most powerful of the balanced ones usually become royal escorts.”

He puts an extra ball on one side, tipping the scale.

“And the ones with an imbalance of impurities or purities go up or down to maintain surface balance,” he goes on.

“Define purities and impurities,” I tell him.

“Impure thoughts, emotions, urges…those are impurities. Compassion, loyalty…things like that are purities,” he says absently before continuing. “Humans have some far more pure than others, and far more impure than others. It’s their actions and reactions that define the topside balance, but an impure balance of one of our kind topside would have too much dark influence, inadvertently affecting free will.”

“Would the same be true if a good angel were walking topside?” I muse.

“They follow the rules better than our kind do, so I don’t know,” he answers.

I snort, and his lips twitch. It’s sort of nice how he’s just talking and explaining things without looking at me like I’m searching for a way to use it against him.

“People like Lake have that pure-to-impure balance and can be topside. Many do. But we’re an enigma,” he continues.

“Because you’re the Four Horsemen, but you have souls to keep you from being imbalanced. I thought all the creatures had souls.”

He blows out a frustrated breath. “The souls choose a new form. We’re in our original. Our soul is still mortal with immortal properties and shrouded by an unnatural immortal body. It balances itself against our impurities.” He quickly adds, “But we’re not the fucking Four Horsemen.”

“Famine is Gage. I saw what he did that beetle. It was like he drained it until it was shriveling from starvation,” I go on, undeterred.

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