The Pit was empty. The darkest souls ever to walk the Earth were free. And under control of my fucking brother. How had I gotten here? All the visions, prophecies, all of that. Nothing warned me this would happen.
I lashed out with my power, blasting it throughout the levels of Hell. Anyone present would know I'd discovered the souls missing, but I didn't care. At this point, I wished they'd all attack me. I was angry enough to take on Sammael and all the damn Demon Lords.
How the fuck could they escape? Better yet, how the fuck did my brother break the magical barrier that seals off the Pit. It was unbreakable.
Lilith sighed and looked from me to Ezel. The dragon whimpered when she felt my power blast outward, but I didn't have the spare emotions to worry about the beast. Lilith stepped forward and put a hand on Ezel's side. "It's okay," she whispered. "It's not your fault."
My stomach lurched. "Of course it's not," I said. "You're immensely powerful, but Sammael is still a Fallen Angel. You couldn't have stopped this." I guessed I had just a moment for her feelings. She was a loyal servant, after all.
Ezel let out a rough sound, somewhere between a lament and a growl of anger. Her pain sent waves of rage through me again. I turned toward the opposite side of the pit and walked across the bridge, all too aware of the yawning blackness underneath me that should've been filled with the worst of the worst. The blackest, evilest souls in existence.
When I reached the opposite side, Lilith was there, hot on my trail. My only loyal Demon Lords, Maximus, Nathan, and Karen, had already crossed. “My lord,” Karen said. “We wish permission to go to our domains and make sure all is well there.”
They were all very jealous and protective of their levels of Hell. They would view a breach as the deepest betrayal. If Sammael wanted to cement any one Lord to my cause, he only needed to meddle in their realms.
Lilith reached out and grabbed my hand. "What are we going to do about Ezel?" she asked. "She loves being in the pit. It's her lair."
"I know," I growled. She'd taken her charge of protecting the pit very seriously. She was the last of her kind and preferred solitude to contemplate her plight.
Fury raced in my veins, fueling my energy as I stormed out, sending out my power to search for the souls. They had to be there, somewhere. They couldn’t leave Hell. Only two beings could: Lilith and me. It also should've been impossible for them to hide from me within Hell, but Sammael had already proven he could do that for himself. Why not all the souls?
I was supposed to be the most powerful creature anywhere. Losing the power of the scrolls had weakened me considerably. Without using my triplets, I felt damn near weak.
Well, not at the moment. At the moment I could've taken down anyone who crossed my path without a second thought.
“They have to be here,” Lilith said as she moved with me through the levels. The desperation in her voice made my gut churn. She knew the consequences of anyone escaping Hell. They were catastrophic.
I didn't reply because she was trying to convince herself that the human world that she loved so much was safe from the wrath of thousands of evil souls. I was trying to convince myself at the same time. Lilith's attachment to the human realm was far stronger than my own. She'd been born human and spent many years there. She also had far more descendants than I did. I just had Kane and his children. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Lilith had hundreds of years of descendants she kept up with.
We'd made our way up from the Pit, which was the ninth level of Hell, to the seventh level. Envy's level and she was nowhere to be found. In fact, it was eerily quiet there and on the one before. Usually, I could hear the mutters of the souls on each level because I was tied to them.
The eighth level, Pride, felt totally normal. Business as usual. Odd, considering Kiana should've been in Envy's pocket. As sisters, they would've been allies without a doubt. They'd always been close. But though I didn't sense Kiana herself, her level appeared to be working without her. She had her people well trained.
But in Everly's domain, I heard nothing. I couldn’t even sense them. No souls. No demons. No Demon Lords.
“What is it?” Lilith asked, casting me glances as we hurried through the halls. I didn't make a beeline for the exit. I stepped down corridors, peeked into rooms. Everything was empty. Silent as a tomb, as the expression went.
My skin crawled with uncertainty. I usually had some idea of what was happening. Some inkling of the proper course of action. Not this time.
I spared Lilith a worried glance. “It’s too quiet.” Another thing that had been quiet was my visions. The last one I had was of Sammael taking the scrolls. Then nothing since. At least nothing that would help me in my current situation.
We stepped through the portal to the sixth level, Karen, Demon Lord of Wrath, was waiting for us. She'd run ahead to her own domain while we looked around Envy and Pride's areas.
With a scowl, Karen pointed up. “Horace’s level is closed off.” Sloth ran the fifth level of Hell. And he'd attacked Lilith, cementing his place as my enemy. He had to die, but the missing souls were more pressing.
She had to have been mistaken. No part of Hell could be inaccessible to me, not ever. “What do you mean, closed off?” I teleported to the portal to Sloth’s level and sure enough, it was closed. Locked.
Fury turned to embarrassment as Karen and Lilith realized even I couldn't get through the portal. I felt like a fool.
I placed a hand on the center of it and pushed. Nothing. I probed at the dark portal, gently searching for a place I could slip magic into it and create a bigger hole. A way in. Then I sent a bolt of power at it. The energy bounced off, headed back at me. I barely ducked out of the way. “Fucking Hell.” I turned to Lil. Maybe her power would work differently. “Can you open it?”
With a shrug, she stepped forward and placed her hands on either side of the portal. Her fingers glowed and I swore I saw the center of the portal appear. But it was too fast for me to be for sure. It disappeared so quickly I could've been imagining it.
I wasn’t giving up. “Try again.” She'd done better than I had. She was so powerful. When she learned how to use the full might of her powers after we completed our mating bond, she'd be a formidable and incredibly sexy warrior.
Lilith took a deep breath and pushed her power into the portal. As the Key to Hell, she should've been able to open any portal anywhere in the realm. “I think it’s working," she whispered in a tight voice.
The center of the portal started to glow with a small dot that blossomed outward. But then it snapped closed, sending out a blast of dark power right into Lilith. She flew backward and hit the stone wall behind us.
My heart lurched. Karen and I rushed to her side, with me a split second ahead of her. Lil was so still, and I sensed her pain through the blood bond we shared. Karen placed a hand on Lil’s shoulder. Energy coursed through them. I knew she was healing Lilith. Except for that first time, when I made Lilith the first vampire in existence, I'd never been good at healing. And I'd sworn to her, all those years ago, that I'd never make another.
It hadn't hurt that I'd had a vision that had told me in a very roundabout way that Lilith could be the only person I ever fed my blood to. Sharing my blood with others could have catastrophic results.
After a few moments, Lilith blinked open her eyes and scowled at me. “What the fuck was that?”
I shrugged. Why was she angry at me? Maybe I shouldn't have asked her to try. But she'd made some progress where I'd had none. “What did it feel like?”
Lilith stood, waving Karen off when she offered to help. Karen gave her a bemused look. “Like I was hit by a big ass truck going two-hundred miles per hour.”
She swayed on her feet, and I wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close. Karen put a hand on her arm as well. “What did the power feel like?” I peered deep into her eyes.
She glared up at me and worked her jaw before answering. “If you’re asking if Sammael is locked in there, then yes, he is. So are the souls from the pit.”
“Are you sure?” How could she have known that?
Annoyance rolled off her and she slammed her palms to my chest and pushed. I stumbled back a few steps. Growling low, she said, “I may not be as powerful as I should be because someone keeps putting off the mating, but I know what the energy from the pit feels like.” She pointed to the locked portal. “That is ten times more powerful than what it felt like when they were in the Pit.” Her delicate features crumpled, and she shuddered. "It feels like evil in there. The incarnation of it."
Of course it did, because the souls were no longer contained by a magical barrier that also lessened the level of dark magic or evilness of each soul. I wouldn't say that out loud to Lilith. One, she already knew it. Two, she wasn't in the mood for me to state the obvious. She might've hit me again.
Studying the portal, I tried to think about how we could either seal it for good or if Horace's level could be destroyed? Would it disrupt all of Hell if we destroyed it? I was sure if I used the power of the souls it could be done, but should it?
Lilith's voice softened as she looked at my face. She probably saw my frustration written all over it. I was angry enough to level the entire section, but my hands were tied at the moment. “He has his army. What do we have? How are we going to stop him from breaking out of Hell?” Lilith moved closer, staring at me like she expected me to have the answers.
I didn’t. Not really. I did have several ideas, but all of them seemed foolhardy.
Cupping her nape, I drew her in, so our foreheads touched. “I’m calling a meeting. Then you and I will complete the mating bond. Be prepared to hunt demons.”
When I had her at her full strength, we'd deal with this. Until then, she was vulnerable. I couldn't have that.