Book 12 in The Aegis of Merlin Series
Some people are just too evil to stay dead.
An old enemy Conryu Koda believed he’d dealt with once and for all has returned.
And what’s worse, he doesn’t even know it.
Conryu’s focus is on his missing friend, Jonny, who disappeared while on an undercover mission for the Department of Infernal Investigations. No one knows what happened and the clock is ticking.
With hellpriests, demons, and plain old criminals popping up everywhere, will Conryu be able to find his friend in time?
And what is Malice up to? Nothing good for our hero you can be sure of that.
Malice Kincade didn’t know exactly what to make of her situation. She was surrounded by endless dark‐ ness. Her feet weren’t resting on anything solid. In fact, as far as she could tell, she didn’t even have feet. When she tried to turn her head to look around, it didn’t feel like she even had a head, much less a neck or anything connected to it. In her many years, she had never experienced anything like this. Even when she freed her spirit from her body, she could feel the old, worn-out husk waiting to welcome her back to its painful embrace.
In the absolute darkness, time meant nothing. For all she knew, she might have been hanging around this place for days or decades. The last memory she had before arriving here was a wall of white flame roaring toward her, an instant of pain as it consumed her flesh, then nothing.
If she’d had a face, she would’ve snarled. Conryu Koda had controlled the white fire. That boy had caused her nothing but trouble since she first had the ill luck to set her gaze upon him. Despite all the potential that his genes carried, she would’ve been better off killing him out of hand. But no, she’d been so damn confident, so proud, so certain that the Kincades’ power would eventually allow her to bend him to her will that she’d schemed and plotted instead of acting.
And now look what had become of her. She was dead. The power of those white flames allowed no other explanation. But everything Malice knew about the afterlife indicated that she should have become one with Hell’s essence as soon as her soul arrived. She’d made no prior arrangement with the Reaper after all.
Becoming one with Hell’s essence while retaining her aware‐ ness was about the worst fate she could imagine.
“Then you need to expand your imagination, mortal.” A deep voice, heavy with power, spoke from all around her. “I had expected more from the great Malice Kincade.”
The way the voice said “great” held so much derision it was almost a physical thing. Malice’s pride bristled at the insult.
“Who are you?”
Endless jungle replaced endless darkness in the blink of her eye.
Eye? She had eyes? Her hands went to her face before she had time to be surprised to have either. Everything felt as it should, neither improved nor degraded.
Malice lurched as her body rose into the air. She was standing on a hand bigger than her favorite limo that appeared to be made of vines and rotted wood. The hand connected to an arm longer than Kincade Manor. At the end of it was a body the size of a skyscraper, made of the same jungle detritus.
When she reached a place a few feet from the giant’s face, it glared at her with glowing red eyes twice as big around as she was tall. Malice swallowed and tried not to let her nerves show. She’d dealt with many demons over the years, but nothing on the scale of this creature.
“Who am I?” Breath that stank of rot washed over her. “I am Baphomet, Lord of the Corrupt Earth. And you are in my hell.”
“Not the Reaper’s?” she asked before thinking better of it.
“You were slain in my temple; snatching your soul and bringing it here was a simple matter. Perhaps you would prefer to be in Null’s hell? Given your relationship to his Chosen, I’d think you’d be pleased with your final destination.”
A demon lord. One of the most powerful beings in existence. For all her years of experience, nothing could’ve prepared Malice for this. Still, if Baphomet had snatched her soul out of the Reaper’s grasp and deigned to speak to her face-to-face, it had to mean he wanted something. And if he wanted something, Malice had room to negotiate.
Baphomet’s laughter knocked Malice on her backside. “You think you can negotiate with me? Pathetic wretch of a mortal, your soul is mine, to shape, torment, or destroy as I see fit. The only reason you retain your will is because I allow it. The task I require will be easier if you have your full range of faculties. Easier, mind you, but don’t think for a moment that I won’t punish you should you make my life difficult.”
Malice worked her way back to her feet. “I’m already dead. What sort of punishment could you give me?”
“Perhaps you’d like a demonstration.”
Pain unlike anything she’d experienced raced through Malice. Spasms wracked her body as her essence was shredded an inch at a time. It made the white flames’ embrace feel like a sunburn.
And then the pain vanished and she was once more standing on Baphomet’s outstretched hand. “I can make the pain eternal. I can make it worse. Defy me, wretch, and I will show you torments beyond imagining. Pain so vast it would drive you mad. Only I won’t grant you that mercy. You will be awake and aware for all time, with no respite from your agony.”
“I understand. Your point was well made.” Malice took a small measure of pride at how calm she sounded. “How may I be of service?”
“Much better. That’s the sort of attitude I like to see in my slaves.”
Malice didn’t even take offense at the description. Doing so would’ve been like an ant taking offense at the human that flicked it off the picnic table.
“Very soon, my Chosen on your world will complete a summoning ritual. You will pass through it and serve as his guide. A new temple must be built and consecrated. An army of thralls raised. And at last the world conquered. My Chosen is strong, but not wise or worldly. That’s where you come in. Guide him well and you shall help him rule your world. Guide him poorly and you know what awaits you here.”
Malice nodded. “Will I still have my magic when I return?”
“In a manner of speaking. All your magic will come from my hell. Only darkness and corrupt earth will answer you now. The other elements will be closed to you and should you attempt to use them, they will punish you for it.” The demon lord chuckled again. “You are a clever woman, for a human. I have great confidence that you will master your new abilities quickly and make the most of them. Highly motivated slaves tend to be fast learners. In fact, you can practice here until the ritual is ready.”
Baphomet turned his hand slowly over and soon Malice found herself falling far too quickly toward the distant ground. While she doubted the impact would destroy her, she felt certain that it would hurt like hell.