Kai snorts, reminding me that’s not really the way this relationship works.
Lamar groans, probably because he has no idea what their seemingly random facial tics and amused or disgruntled sounds are in response to.
“The point is, I know her. She’s actually my best friend,” Lamar adds.
I perk right up at that confession. I’ve never been someone’s best friend before. The novelty of it is quite intriguing in itself.
The others aren’t quite as impressed as I am.
“Fine, let’s start with the basics. You four don’t even know who you are, do you?” Lamar asks.
“The Four Horsemen,” I state automatically, acting as though I’ll win a prize if I say it first, even though I can’t be heard by him.
“No,” Ezekiel says, rolling his eyes at me.
Kai presses himself against my back, giving me those tingles I can feel again now that all the pain is gone.
“I figured it’d be obvious by now, but you’re the Four Horsemen,” Lamar tells them.
I fist pump the air, and my outfit turns into the sexy Devil Halloween costume just to bring some rather insensitive humor to the moment, as I start pointing at them one by one.
“See? I knew it! And I was right. It’s actually a little anticlimactic because of how glaringly obvious it’s been all this time,” I say, feeling a little deflated by the end.
The quick burst of adrenaline burns out from the lack of suspense that led into it.
“But they died during a collision of the two kingdoms or something,” Gage states as though he’s reminding him of that.
“Of course they died,” Lamar agrees. “But I’m not cleared for the true details as to how you were killed.”
“They couldn’t be recycled because they were too imbalanced or something,” Gage goes on, dealing with the partial bits of information they’ve collected about hell over the years.
“Recycling doesn’t work this way. We would have been spit out into hell’s throat again for a new form. Not reborn topside,” Ezekiel is quick to add.
“They were imbalanced, and it made sense to believe that death was permanent. Recycling certainly does not end up with a new birth. Yet here you are,” Lamar goes on, gesturing at them. “New bodies. New faces. No doubt hand-selected by her. I’m almost positive that’s why you’re built with bodies and faces that perfect.”
I grin, liking Lamar a little more now, as I wink at the guys.
“He’s saying you’re pretty because I’m shallow.” I rock backwards on my heels, clasping my hands in front of me. “You’re welcome,” I add.
I even sit down in a chair like a dainty little girl in my devilish attire.
“You’re saying we died, but she brought us back as mortals, handpicked how we’d come back, and somehow managed to offer us immortality without us having to turn our souls over to hell and risk a harsher internal balance,” Kai states like Lamar has just crossed a line of nonsense.
I understand none of this, but I keep listening in, weaving together what I can, and quietly threading my own conclusion one piece at a time.
“She kept history from repeating itself. Made you mentally stronger this way. But I don’t know how she did it. It’s as though your souls were stolen, swiped clean, restrung with the first breath of life, and now you’re all back together again. I’m not even sure how you found each other if you didn’t know all this,” Lamar goes on.
“The bond drew us together,” Jude tells him, frowning. “Like all quads.”
“Certainly not like all quads. You’re the first. The rest are all poor-man’s copies—a cosmic echo of sorts. There’s never been a bond as strong as yours. Trust me. They’ve been hoping to find your replacements for centuries. Manella hid you, because we both saw the enigmas you were—no deaths, yet pure immortals? Impossible. And only Paca aimed for the impossible.”
He clears his throat, his eyes seeming a little misty. “However, we didn’t wholly believe you were them, if I’m being honest. It’s painful to get one’s hopes up. But we liked the hope it offered, so we hid you, pretending as though we were playing Paca’s or your game. Lucifer isn’t aware of that, of course. But we knew if you wanted in, you’d eventually let us know…but we thought you had your memories.”
No one seems to know what to believe. This time, standing on their side of things as someone you aren’t sure if you can trust, even though they’re begging you to follow them out onto a treacherous ledge as they twist everything you thought you knew into something impossibly possible…I suddenly get it.
I just finally proved myself to them. It took dying to get all four, but at least I didn’t stay dead. Again. I doubt Lamar would be willing to go to the same extremes I have.
“Lucifer knows it’s you now, though. Surely you realize that,” Lamar tells them. “He’s waiting on you to come explain yourselves. He all but called you out before the trials. He designed that course to be identical to the course Paca gave Nicholai on the last birthday she got to celebrate with him,” he goes on.
I look around at the four of them. “Which one of you is Nicholai?”
“Nicholai?” Jude asks him, sounding as annoyed with him as he sometimes gets with me.
“I…uh…Famine,” Lamar says uneasily.
“Gage,” I whisper softly, remembering the way his eyes lit up when I accused him of actually enjoying the danger and unpredictability that course played with life and death.
Everyone in the room stills.
“I’ve said something that has finally jarred a memory?” Lamar asks hopefully.
“Not one from the life you’re saying we had,” Kai tells him vaguely.
“Look, there’s no way you could have survived that course without remembering those riddles and having a great deal of prior knowledge of hell. Paca was there telling you the riddles and offering hints to the answers when you struggled the first time,” he tells them.
My stomach coils with dread.
I started giving hints by the end…
Ezekiel’s eyes meet mine as though the same thing pops into his mind.
“And the very last riddle alone is enough to squash any remaining doubts,” Lamar continues, not realizing he’s finally gotten us all to take him a little seriously.
I’m not even making jokes right now.
“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 says, echoing the question he once asked me.
He actually asked two of the riddles while we were down there like he’d figured the right questions out on his own. His nightmares also happen to be the worst.
“No,” Lamar says, shaking his head. “How would Paca face a never-ending army of hell’s most vicious predators, to the belly straight from the throat, when there’s not enough power to kill them all?” he corrects. “She’s rather vain that way.”
To this, a few snorts sneak out, and I flip them off as they regain their composure quickly.
Lamar grins knowingly. “But the answer is true regardless. She’d set her mind on a solution and faced it as she did absolutely everything in life. Fearlessly.”
A little chill slithers up my spine, and I lose my ability to be inappropriately humorous, and allow for a moment of dread to settle in.
As he warned, I’ve been cataloguing every bit of information, adding it to all of this I’ve just learned. I don’t like the riddle before me, because I hate the answer I’ve concluded.
It simply sounds crazy, and I can’t even bring myself to actually think it.
“Tell him I’m terrified of mountainsides, firefalls, and now most definitely swords,” I say on a rasp whisper, causing Jude to noticeably flinch with that newest addition. “Which means he’s wrong. Tell him that. Now. Or I’ll turn whole and tell him myself.”
Ezekiel gives me a puzzled look, but it’s because he can’t hear the thoughts hovering in my mind. The ones I’m forcing to stay back.
“She’s terrified of hanging from mountainsides and firefalls,” Gage says, moving closer to my side.
Lamar gives him a watery grin.
“She actually has some of the most random, irrational fears. It’s the things that actually require bravery that make her serious and fearless. And it’s good she’s not always that way. The intensity of those moments…the pure, determined, fearless, selfless way she makes the impossible happen…those are the times she made all of you fall in love with her over and over and over again. If she was that way all the time, Hera would lose her title as the world’s best seductress, because Paca would be the only one considered irresistible.”
“Sounds like I need to be more serious on occasion then,” I say too quickly, trying too hard to lighten this moment, and finding it to fall flat because I can’t even pretend that I’m not terrified of where he’s going with this.
“How could she do all this?” Gage asks obliviously. “What do you mean over and over?”
“In all your mortal lives,” he says, smiling grimly. “I’m just realizing she would have taken that gift from you. It was a game to see if you could fall in love in every life, and you always did. All of you fell in love with her, and she fell in love with all of you. It should have been impossible.”
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