Two Kingdoms (Page 32)

“Tell me what?” I chirp, hoping they know where it is. I barely even got to look at the damn thing.

“I think we should,” Gage says, finally facing me again, grinning like Kai.

“I think we should wait,” Jude says with his own smirk.

“Only because she made you look like an idiot,” Ezekiel says while patting Jude’s back. “I vote we tell her.”

“Tell me what?” I ask again.

Gage comes over, and I start to think he’s going to kiss me again, when he grips my hips and lifts me right off the ground like it’s no big deal. Jude could have sent me to my a*s if he’d wanted to rip that shirt out from under me earlier.

I file that information away.

He drops me in front of a mirror, and I smooth down a stray red hair. I’m getting used to the red. Though I do miss my darker skin tone that’s slowly fading as well, as though the hair color and skin tone are linked.

Then he pulls up the back of my shirt and turns me around.

I’m confused, until I look back and see what he’s showing me.

All the bastards are grinning. I can see their reflections. Even Lamar is grinning.

The other three dudes are still bowing on the floor.

It takes me three-point-five seconds to understand what’s so amusing.

“That b***h!” I shout when my head ramble finally stops. “She turned my crown into a lower back tattoo?!” I ask in horror.

There’s no mistaking the fact there’s definitely a crown tattoo where a crown tattoo has never been before. And it’s my crown. My pretty crown that I didn’t get to fully examine before it became a lower back tattoo.

“She gifted you Hera’s favorite color of hair, simply because she knows you love driving Hera crazy. And she had to curse it somehow.”

“With my crown?” I ask incredulously.

“You love your crown as much as Hera loves having red hair. The question is, which is more important? Driving Hera crazy or getting back your crown?” Lamar says like he’s so insightful.

“F*****g balance,” Jude says with that f**k-you grin I should have trademarked.

I’m confused when I actually struggle to pick between the two. It should be obvious: Pick the crown! But the idea of torturing Hera just gives me an unnatural sense of pleasure.

“That diabolical b***h,” I say on a more appreciative breath, seeing the evil genius conundrum before me and hating Lilith for coming up with it.

“I say to stay ginger and forfeit the crown,” Ezekiel supplies.

My eyes flick to him. “Of course that’s what you’d say.”

He smiles unapologetically before waggling his eyebrows. I’m trying to be annoyed, but it’s like his stupid grin makes my grin stupid.

Lamar sighs before touching just my elbow and I feel the tug of a siphon. We land in a familiar hallway. This hall seems to move from place to place, depending on your destination.

Lucifer really is proud of his evil spawn if he’s constantly making you walk through the Hall of Sick Fame no matter where you’re going.

Instead of moving through the hallway, Lamar pushes on the wall, and just like in my bedroom, the wall begins to move.

Dramatic music starts playing as the wall slowly slides away, disappearing to the side, and my eyes go wide in my head as I step inside, lost to this amazing room.

There’s a big bom bom bom sound in the music just as an ethereal light seems to slowly illuminate the room.

“What is this?” I ask as I spin in a slow circle, taking in all the beautiful sights.

There’s a Rob Thomas poster on the wall. There’s also a huge TV that probably weighs a few tons. Definitely not a flat screen, but not classified as a tube TV either.

Nintendo’s Mario and Luigi are proudly slapping five on an entire wall mural. Suede leather furniture is on top of some sort of burgundy carpet. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have their own poster on the wall as well. The carpet so far is my only complaint.

I would have gone with something more user friendly.

Lamar walks by a VCR player to a bookshelf that is filled with VHS tapes stacked nicely and labeled.

“This is your nineties room, though not everything is period accurate. Some things we saw was a bleed-over from the seventies or eighties—such as the lava lamp you coveted so much. It was a birthday present from Lucifer,” Lamar tells me just as I turn on the lava lamp in question.

“We can often recreate the futuristic material things we see, depending on their varying degrees of complexity. Some things may be slightly modified or custom designed to suit your own personal tastes,” he adds.

I take a seat on the hunter-green suede couch and glance over at the mauve hot tub in the corner that is built into the ground. Seems counterproductive to have a hot tub in hell.

There’s a Game Boy on the coffee table. A Sega Genesis is in one of the compartments on one of the twin entertainment-stand columns. A Super Nintendo is on the other.

Lamar starts unravelling a cord from around a controller that is hooked to the Super Nintendo.

“I’ll turn it on so you can play,” he says, causing me to groan.

“Okay, but only for a second, because I think I need to start training or something.”

He looks confused as he hands me the controller.

“You’re going to fight him?”

I shrug a shoulder as the TV fires up, and I smile when I see he’s already loaded the game. It’s just waiting for me to start.

“Of course,” I say distractedly, figuring out how to move this little plumber.

It’s hard to picture a day when people showed this much respect for plumbers—or any working-class men/women. Then I curse when a moving mushroom with eyes kills me.

I have no respect for freaking mushrooms with eyes.

“That was anticlimactic,” I mumble, starting over when it gives me the option.

“Paca, you’re not a champion,” Lamar quickly points out.

“If I’m feeling the need to argue with you, then you’ve chosen the wrong choice of words,” I state on autopilot, squashing that eyed-mushroom thingy like a boss this time.

“You’re not a hero,” he amends. “You can’t devote the kind of focus needed to defeat something like this.”

“They seemed so fascinated by my balance and power. I’m assuming I shine in those areas, compared to their champion,” I drone on, learning the mushroom with white polka dots on the red top are good mushrooms.

“Excellent balance,” I mutter in distraction as that mushroom makes me grow.

After a few minutes, this starts feeling so familiar, and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, moving my arms all around as I press the buttons. I stand and work my arms harder when things get more intense, as though a little swing of my arm is going to get me across that gap in my path.

I just know that gaping hole will kill me if I let Mario fall down it.

“Because you’re a being who is capable of complete, earnest, impossible neutrality—despite your wrathful intuition—you are impossibly powerful. But there is a balance to even that.”

“Which is what? Being awesome? You’re lacking your usual padded insults to give me any sort of reference point,” I go on, jumping onto the little flag pole like I knew that was the destination all the time.

I slide down like a proper stripper and hop off as I head into the small castle.

The screen blanks and comes up with the first screen I saw. Little Mario shuffles to the—

“They feared if you were ever truly imbalanced, you’d implode in hell. In hell you could destroy hell, heaven, and earth if you flipped the switch. Very thoroughly.”

I pause the game and look over at him, but forget what I’m going to say. I resume my task of helping poor Mario along when it doesn’t feel important enough to try to remember.

“But in Purgatory,” he continues, “that is null and void. You’re only so powerful. Still far more powerful than a pure, blessed champion outside of their home. But not hell-Royal powerful.”

“Well, I have to fight him in some containment bubble that’s served as his cage for the past however many millennia, because he’d absorb the sins of hell and be virtually unstoppable if I fought him down here.”

I pause the game and we both look at each other for a moment.

“Did I conclude that from the meeting, or did I just know that?” I ask him.

He shrugs. “Keep playing. You always thought better when you were playing.”

I don’t need to be told twice to play my video games, it seems, because I’m already sliding down the next stripper pole.

“What’s the goal of this?”

“Save Princess Peach,” he immediately replies.

“Excellent. I’m a rock star at saving ungrateful princesses,” I muse.

He chokes back a sound of amusement, and I grin.

“Tell them I said that, and I’ll have to kill you,” I tell him as I continue my search for this elusive princess, eyes more perceptive now that I have a larger goal.

This game would be better if the plumber would flip off the fuckers he’s cleverly outwitted and show a little attitude when the assholes gang up on him.

“You’re really going to fight Jahl and take them with you?” he asks more seriously.

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