Page 21

“You think you’ll be in the culling?” he asks, sounding concerned.

There’s that damned envy again.

“All of the participants of the trials survived, sans the two you and your brothers killed,” she tells him.

“Everyone survived those trials?” he asks incredulously.

She nods, a huff of a breath escaping her. “Lucifer retrieved the others before their deaths. They never made it past even one obstacle. But he needed them to start a change. To replenish what he’s recycling, because there can be no vacant jobs, obviously. Everyone has a task to be fulfilled to preserve the balance.”

“I don’t understand. No one gets out of the trials without completing them,” he goes on, confused.

Her watery smile doesn’t sit right with me.

“I’m afraid you have no idea what you stirred up by surviving that third trial. It was impossible to complete every task in the three days allotted. Even in a month, no one could have done that. I never believed them. They tried to tell me, but I refused to believe it could be true, because I really like the four of you.”

I step closer, tilting my head. What does she think is wrong with them?

“She thinks something really bad, but she doesn’t know I helped. Tell her so she’ll stop believing whatever it is,” I tell him, not liking the way I’m now worried about her damn opinion of him.

After all, I want her gone.

“What’s going on, Lake? Do you know what Lucifer was trying to achieve?” he asks, not telling her about me even though I’m giving him permission.

She nods once, then meets his eyes. I step in front of him, trying to inspect her look closer.

“I’m afraid I do. And I’m sorry I have to be the one to do this,” she says.

I see it too late. She’s incomprehensibly fast.

The glint of the blade is barely recognized before it’s halfway through my body. It’s so fast that I barely even register the fact she’s slicing through me.

I don’t even hesitate to turn whole, pain lancing through me as the blade gets jammed in my upper stomach, slicing through my spine as I shove power out of me.

She’s launched backwards, cracking the wall and hitting the ceiling, pinned there but not dying. Because it hurts too much to strain for the acid.

Two arms catch me before I collapse, and I choke on the blood I feel gurgling in my mouth, tasting like acid on its own as the black streams of it trickle down.

It’s like a heavy drumming happens in my ears. I can’t hear what Jude is saying, but I feel his power flowing through me as ashes flit around the room.

His eyes are feral and wide as he hovers over me, and I cry out when he jerks the dagger out of me. Pain. All consuming, burning, excruciating, agonizing pain has me almost blacking out.

The trickles of a cold sweat break out across my skin as I start struggling to breathe, coughing. I still can’t hear much, but I do hear him shouting on the phone.

In the next instant, I’m in our house. He siphoned us…

I try to go phantom, hoping it can heal me, but a scream is ripped from my throat as it only makes the pain worse, leaving me unable to leave this dying form.

All four of them are hovering over me, panicking, working tirelessly to save me. My head lulls to the side just as Ezekiel gets my dress ripped open, exposing the proof there’s no coming back from this.

The black veins are climbing up me from the poison on the blade as black blood pumps out through the cracks of Gage’s fingers. He presses down harder, and I scream in pain as he tries to keep me from bleeding out.

“Devil’s poison!” I hear someone shout loud enough to just barely cut through the continuous drumming in my ears that is increasing in tempo.

This weak, pathetic form I coveted and craved so much is poisoned.

But this form is what saved them when the phantom couldn’t.

“Run,” I tell them on a gurgle. “She…wanted…to…know…where you…were,” I manage to choke out.

Kai is suddenly cradling my head in his lap. I can’t hear what he’s trying to tell me, but I can see the grief already shading his eyes.

I’m not going to survive this.

Something is getting shoved into my mouth and slathered over me in the next instant, but I choke on it and spit it out when it makes it feel like my mouth is about to explode and pain shoots through my head.

Four gazes swing to me as the veins only slither up farther, stealing my breaths and causing me to convulse.

I never even got to tell them why I’d give everything to keep them safe.

Maybe they know.

Chapter 12

Agony.

No, not agony.

Torture. That’s what the burning sensation feels like when I open my eyes.

Next feeling?

Panic that overrides the pain, because I’m inside a motherfucking box! A wooden one lined with silky fabrics as though that’s supposed to excuse the fact someone has locked me in a box.

I don’t care how soft that gray silk looks, this is not okay. In fact, it’s weird and very unsettling. Even by my standards.

Still whole, I bang on the lid, but no one comes to open it.

“Let me out! This isn’t funny!”

And just why the hell am I naked?

A black shard of singed fabric is all I find while searching around for the handle that will let me out of this damned thing. There is no handle. At least not on this side of the box. Why does it still smell like something is burning?

My vision is in gray, so obviously it is very dark in here if I’m using my fancy new night vision…that only worked so well in hell…

Flicking the confusing yet useless piece of singed fabric away, I close my eyes and concentrate, reminding myself I’m a badass and I can fight through the pain. That is not as intense as the last time I was awake.

Frustrated, I start looking around the box again.

Why the hell is the back of this box charred?

Am I actually in hell?

It hurts when I strain for phantom, but at least this time I can do it.

Immediately, I sit up, and see…dirt under me where there should be a box like everywhere else around me. But it’s just lots of dirt and charred pieces of wood around the edges.

Am I in the ground?! Is the ground smoking?!

I drop my head back down and observe my surroundings with a newly informed eye, as I’m forced to turn whole again and endure the endless pain. This box is not just a luxurious box. It’s a freaking casket. And I’ve been buried.

Naked, for some reason.

Possibly in hell.

I’m really not happy with this current situation.

I thought turning phantom would instantly heal me like it made me sober. Though the wound is not quite as grave as it seemed earlier—I must have been a little dramatic, now that I’m really looking at it—it still hurts.

The veins are gone. The flesh is pulled back together. Only a very large bruise remains as proof I didn’t make the whole thing up in my head.

Yet, the pain is still unbearable. It’s as though I’m still burning alive from the inside, and it’s weakening my ability to turn ghost girl.

With all the concentration I can muster, I focus really hard on going phantom, but I can barely sense them when I feel myself fighting to stay in intangible form. It feels like I’m being pulled in four different directions at once.

I zap myself seven feet into the air—calculating an extra foot for human error in depth since I can’t see—and fall the extra two feet back to the ground, landing in a crumple as a real girl who can feel that shit.

They buried me a foot short. Dicks.

I can’t even go phantom again when I try.

Oh damn. If I can’t go phantom and zap myself all the way back to them, then how the hell am I going to find them? It’s not as though they’ve ever walked home.

Looking around, I note that it is a very familiar cemetery.

Then, of course, my eyes dart to the headstone to see how they’ve endeared their fearless, selfless, wonderful, doting guardian, though they never helped determine her virginal status.

No name.

The stone simply reads, “Comoara Trădătoare.”

There’s also a bed of quickly wilting roses I’m sitting in. I don’t feel a single thorn.

It reminds of the roses they showered onto those women as a gift to bring them into the folds. They always took care to remove the thorns. I found it so thoughtful. It was one of those things that just reeled me in that much more.

Now that I’ve apparently died—again—one of those assholes finally got me my damn roses. Whichever one it was, they’re my new favorite. I don’t even care if it’s Jude; this one is a win.

“Lovely,” I say to myself, grinning at the heaps of roses surrounding me, even though the ones under me smell like they’re burning.

Lush, luxurious, red…and faded red/pink. And dried and dead beneath.

For an entire moment, I’m distracted from my pain as I bask in my roses, then bewildered by their varying degrees of decay.

Just how long have I been dead?

It surely took a while to get such an ornate gravestone, though they certainly could have put a little more thought into the inscription I was supposed to be left with for all time.

Where are my awesome quotes? Not even any dates to show my very short time as this version of me. Just that damn treacherous treasure crap that is certainly not a sweet term of endearment.

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