They’d better stay dead.
“Does that mean you’re going to do your five-finger-death-punch to ensure they don’t chase us down and try to kill you again?” I muse.
He gives me an annoyed look.
“Did you really just do that?” he asks incredulously.
“What? Use your favorite band to name your Hulk Smash and Decay power? Yes, yes I did,” I say very seriously, holding his gaze like there’s a challenge to see who holds it the longest.
He breaks our stare-down first, and Kai smirks, even though he seems distracted.
“Well. That’s certainly problematic,” I announce in a huff when I see what has their attention.
The closer we get, the louder the telltale sign is, making us view the optical illusion differently. It’s not one stretch of lake we’re seeing anymore. There’s a massive drop below before it levels out, and we’re actually seeing two levels of fire now.
The newest issue is a massive, fiery waterfall that we’re fast approaching, and there’s roughly a hundred foot gap from the start of the firefall to the land across from us.
Hell really sucks.
“How far can you guys jump? Because that’s a little difficult for me even in this form,” I say warily, my heart starting to hammer now.
Gage looks around like he’s searching for something, as Ezekiel answers me.
“We can’t make that jump.”
No land is on either side of us, not giving us any other option, since we’re surrounded by hellfire lava. And this firefall? It’s five times the size of Niagara Falls in width.
The fall isn’t that steep—maybe fifty feet—but there’s no way the beetle won’t submerge with all that weight, even if they manage to all stay on it during the fall. They’ll never survive the hellfire burns.
And the Devil wins.
“Now would be a good time to figure out the riddle early,” I tell them, frantically waving my arms as though that will spur them into brilliance.
“How do you cross an uncrossable passage layered with flames of fucking death without falling or jumping into the fire, when there’s no obvious escape around you?” Jude asks on an annoyed breath.
“I hate that riddle,” I point out, not coming up with my own genius idea this time.
“Jude and I can throw the farthest,” Gage says, cracking his neck to the side. “And we can jump farther as well.”
“Obviously that’s Plan Z. What’s Plan A through Y?” I reasonably ask, knowing he can’t possibly be suggesting that as anything other than a last resort.
They ignore me, and I ignore the firefall’s edge that we’re getting closer and closer to. Okay, so maybe I don’t really ignore it at all. It actually has most of my attention.
This is so not the time for this bug to be speeding up. In fact, this is the worst possible time for it to finally feel like it’s motoring along.
When they continue to stare at each other like they’re calculating the probability for survival and considering this ridiculous plan as their true course of action, I throw my hands up.
“That can’t possibly be the right answer to the riddle,” I shout at them.
Remember what I said about the drop being fifty feet? I was very much off on that calculation.
The closer we draw, the more I realize my depth perception has been masterfully deceived.
That drop now seems endless before it levels back out again.
Damn that Devil and his illusions.
I don’t find myself any fonder of plummeting from a firefall than plummeting from a mountainside. And I close my eyes, because if I can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist.
I can also ignore the roar of the falls that only seems to add to the drama of the dire situation.
“I don’t see any other option,” Kai says like he’s frustrated and furious. “You’d better damn throw me harder than anything you’ve ever thrown in your life,” he tells someone. “Because I’m up first.”
My eyes fly open as I gape at them, but I don’t yell anything because I sure as shit don’t want to distract them when Gage is already winding Kai up, spinning him out like a father would a daredevil child for giggles.
I’m not seeing why those masochist children find this amusing right now, because my stomach is in my throat, terrified a hand is going to slip and Kai will be skipped across the deadly surface.
Just the image and fear of this has me convinced children are sociopaths. It’s always the ones you least suspect.
About ten feet from the edge, he launches Kai, and Kai sails over the massive divide.
I watch with my mouth hanging open, even as Jude starts winding up Ezekiel, preparing him for the same thing. My heart is divided in halves, watching as Kai sails and Ezekiel is being wound up to do the same.
Kai lands with a crash on the other side, bouncing so hard and rolling out of sight.
Before I can shout for him, my words are stolen as I stand frozen and watch Ezekiel sailing faster across the same distance.
My eyes are bouncing everywhere when Jude and Gage dart to the back of the beetle and get into a launch position as they stare straight ahead.
I glance over as Ezekiel lands just as harshly, rolling into the shadowed land hidden from us amongst the fiery lake that is coming to an abrupt end.
Just as the tip of the beetle starts over the edge of the firefall, I turn in time to see Gage and Jude rushing by me, grit and determination shading their eyes as they pass through me in a blur.
I whirl around with them as they pass, watching as it all seems to happen in slow motion. They run to the last tip of the beetle they can reach before they leap as hard as they possibly can.
For an agonizing tenish seconds, I have repetitive heart attacks.
Jude barely makes it across, and he immediately rolls back up to his feet so he can turn in time to see Gage’s fingertips just barely graze the ledge a fraction of a second too late and centimeters too short.
Gage’s eyes widen as he falls to his back, reaching for the hands that make it another fraction of a second too late to grab onto him. Resignation is painfully immediate in his eyes, and his hard gaze turns cold as he falls helplessly toward the lake. My heart lurches as I leap over the edge, diving for him, zapping myself closer to make up ground.
Our fingertips just barely touch, and I turn whole, grabbing onto him as that light bursts from me again.
No magnificent strength saves us as I scream as loud as I can, begging for a miracle of some sort to stop this from happening. I stay whole, knowing those flames won’t simply pass right through me like this.
But I don’t care. I refuse to let him die alone, even as I scream and feel the tears rushing up the sides of my eyes.
A vine slaps against us, and I try to snatch it, having no idea where it came from. Seconds later, a body barrels by me, and Ezekiel turns upside down, reaching out with one hand and grabbing Gage by the wrist.
Our hands are violently yanked apart when I keep falling and he comes to an abrupt halt.
Gage dangles above me, holding on to Ezekiel, and Ezekiel holds onto the vine with his other hand as they swing over the lake.
“Fucking go phantom!” Gage shouts at me as that light continues to beam from overhead.
I immediately lose my flesh, and I zap myself back to the very top of the cliff’s ledge where the other two are peering over.
Then I collapse as that weird light vanishes from the sky.
Even though I can’t feel my legs in this form, they still give out. I can’t possibly stand. I feel like every emotion I have was just put through the wringer then boiled in a sadistic witch’s brew. I’d wager said sadistic witch made a deal with the Devil for her power, because I’m blaming him for everything right now.
I look down the length of my body as Kai turns around and relaxes at the sight of me. Jude has a flicker of relief in his eyes before he turns away and stares over the edge again.
“Nobody gets to die. I’ve decided I can’t possibly survive it,” I say almost breathlessly, though I have no actual breaths in this form.
Ezekiel hauls himself over the edge, smiling at me like he’s amused.
“You solved the riddle,” he tells me. “And just in time.”
“What? How?” I ask, sitting up slowly as Gage heaves himself over and collapses to his back, breathing heavily as he scrubs his face with both hands.
“Screaming vines,” Jude states flatly, gesturing around us.
For the first time, I take notice of the fact there are a lot of black, wide vines all around us, dangling from those ashy trees we saw at the beginning. Most of the vines vary in thickness from one to ten inches. The overachieving thick vines are definitely the creepiest.
“What’s a screaming vine?” I ask, wondering how the hell I didn’t see a forest full of vines that drape over that edge and hang down the length of the firefall.
You think I’d have noticed an entire freaking black-treed forest.
“The vines grow the largest the closest to a fire source,” Kai says as he lifts one of the medium-girthed vines and gives it a shake. “And if you scream loud enough, it forces them to react. You answered the riddle when you screamed like a banshee, and the forest appeared.”
“The answer is to scream for the only vines long enough to span the depth of the Devil’s bowels,” Ezekiel finishes.
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