Rise of The Demon Lords (Ebook)
Rise of The Demon Lords (Ebook)
Book 10 of Th Aegis of Merlin
Conryu Koda wants nothing more than to be left alone to live a quiet life.
But the universe seems to have other plans for him.
While back at the Arcane Academy to watch his friend’s graduation, Conryu is summoned to hell by The Reaper himself.
What new threat has appeared that warrants the attention of the lord of hell?
Whatever it is, it can’t be good for Conryu and those he cares about.
The first thing Conryu noticed when he appeared on the Arcane Academy’s front lawn was the scent of fresh-mown grass. He smiled and took a deep breath. Living on the floating island, he never bothered with any sort of landscaping. The main building loomed over him, silhouetted by the setting sun. He’d arrived a little early, but not that much. The last thing he wanted was to sit around waiting for the graduation ceremony to begin.
“You’re surprised to be here again, Master,” said Prime, the floating demon book that was also his familiar. Prime’s leather cover had split, revealing a mouth filled with fangs. It looked big enough to bite someone’s face off and Conryu had threatened to have him do exactly that on several occasions. It was always amusing to see people’s faces when he did.
“Of course. My days of formal classes are long past. Besides, I usually bring trouble along with me and I don’t want to cause problems for Dean Blane.”
He released the Staff of All Elements and willed it into a pocket dimension that would keep it handy, but out of sight. Not that he expected any trouble. After saving the Alliance from the survivors of Atlantis, he’d struck a deal with the president. No one would hunt him or try and control him and, in exchange, he agreed to lend a hand should any major magical threat appear. It was basically the same deal Conryu had wanted in the first place, but he didn’t point that out. No sense rubbing the man’s nose in it.
He turned toward the slightly smaller five-story dorm and set out. The buildings still seemed far too modern for a magic school. He remembered when he first arrived expecting castles and towers only to find modern steel-and-glass buildings. Pretty disappointing, not that he cared anymore. All that mattered now was that he’d get to see Maria, Kelsie, and his mother.
He’d worn his usual uniform of jeans and gray t-shirt. Since he basically hadn’t attended any classes during his senior year and few enough his junior year, he hardly thought he’d earned enough credits to graduate. He was here for Maria. She’d worked so hard it would have been an insult to her if he didn’t show up.
He jogged up the steps and pushed the front door open. The entry hall was empty though he smelled something delicious cooking in the nearby kitchen. He’d skipped lunch and his mouth watered.
“Conryu!” He turned just in time to catch the petite form of Dean Blane as she leapt into his arms and hugged him. He hadn’t even sensed her presence which was a testament to her skill as a wizard. As was her habit, the dean looked like a thirteen-year-old girl in a pale-blue robe with blond pigtails.
He let her hang on for a moment before lowering her to the floor. “Dean Blane. Pretty quiet. I figured there’d be people rushing around not to mention the students’ families here to enjoy the festivities.”
She shook her head. “The ceremony is for the students and staff. Whatever the families want to do, they can do when everyone gets home tomorrow. You need to get ready. I left a formal robe in your old room. You’re welcome to use it until you leave tomorrow.”
“Thanks.” He hadn’t actually planned to stay overnight, but didn’t want to be rude. Besides, it might be nice to sleep in his old room one last time.
She waved and hurried off toward the dining hall, probably to oversee the final preparations.
“That is the oddest human I have ever met,” Prime said.
“What about Professor McDoogle?” Conryu headed toward the basement stairs.
“I stand corrected: the second oddest.”
Conryu grinned and at the bottom of the stairs ducked into his old room. Everything was exactly as he remembered it. Same narrow bed, same chest of drawers, same modest bathroom.
Out of curiosity, he stepped into the bathroom and asked, “Are you here?”
A watery female figure emerged from the shower and smiled at him. He smiled back, delighted to see the naiad again. A wave of nostalgia that surprised him washed over Conryu as he went back to his bedroom and collected the black robe folded neatly on his chest of drawers. When he first arrived, he’d imagined this place as a wizard prison, but now he had only fond thoughts, despite some of the catastrophes that happened during his time here.
Now for the robe. He held it up and frowned. The formal robe had a collar so high it would reach the top of his ears. Silver runes covered the hem and cuffs. He looked them over but sensed no magic and they didn’t mean anything to him.
Prime sniffed. “Simple decorations. They serve no practical purpose.”
That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Conryu had so much magic at his disposal, he hardly needed more. He shrugged and threw the impractical-looking thing over his head. It fit well and the collar didn’t even rub anywhere. He conjured a magic mirror and frowned. He looked like an extra in a fantasy movie.
But all things considered, it could have been worse. He’d barely settled on the edge of his bed when Dean Blane’s magical voice rang out. “Everyone please join us in the dining hall. It’s time for graduation.”
He stood back up, relieved not to have to hang around longer than necessary. In the hall, all the senior girls were making their way towards the steps. He spotted Kelsie at once. Her pale face seemed to be floating as it was framed by the dark cloth of her collar and even darker hair. The only color came from her red lipstick that seemed almost unnaturally bright. Unlike the first time they met, her robe fit properly reminding him once again what a beautiful woman she was.
Kelsie smiled at once when she spotted him. They met at the end of the line and hugged.
“It’s been too long,” she said. “What have you been doing? Wait, let me guess, building bikes and trying to avoid magic?”
He laughed and they started walking behind the others. “Yes to the bikes, but I’ve made peace with my magic.”
“Yes,” Prime said, his displeasure plain. “The most powerful wizard in the world and he uses his magic to straighten metal, twist metal, and turn bolts.”
“We are not having this debate again,” Conryu said.
“Fine.” Prime closed his mouth, making his cover look like a normal book for the moment.
“I take it your scholomantic still doesn’t approve of your hobby?” Kelsie asked.
“It’s not a hobby, it’s how I make a living. But no, he doesn’t. Prime thinks I should take over a small country and proclaim myself wizard king. Why I would want to be a king of any sort is beyond my comprehension.”
“Lucky for the world.”
They reached the entry hall just as a line of women in white robes reached the bottom floor. He scanned the group until his gaze landed on the stunning figure of Maria Kane. Her long, dark hair spread out over the shoulders of her pure-white robe. Gold markings identical to the ones on his black robe seemed to gleam with an inner light. When Maria’s eyes met his she beamed and hurried toward him.
“Don’t keep her waiting,” Kelsie said. Though their relationship had started out rocky, Maria and Kelsie had become fast friends.
Conryu met Maria in the center of the hall, picked her up, and swung her around. “I missed you.”
When Conryu had set her down she said, “I missed you too. The only good things I can say about the past few months is that nothing tried to kill us and I finished the year at the top of my class.”
“Was there ever any doubt?”
“Actually, there was. A couple of the others really came on this year. I only nudged Marisa by a hair.”
Conryu glanced around and found they were just about the only ones still in the entry. “We better catch up.”
“Yeah. I’m glad you’re here. I just wish Mom and Dad could have come too.”
He nodded and they walked hand in hand into the dining hall. Conryu’s mom was supposed to be around here somewhere, but he hadn’t found her yet. She was probably busy working on some project in her workshop and had lost all track of time. His father had died in the chaos of Morgana’s invasion of Sentinel City. Just thinking about it still gave him a lump in his throat and probably always would.
Kelsie waved to them from a table on the right-hand side of the room. It looked like everyone was just sitting wherever rather than by element. That suited Conryu as he preferred to stay with Maria. The other girls were comfortable around him now, but he had few really close friends among the group.
At the front of the dining hall, a stage had been set up with a lectern for Dean Blane. He glanced around and quickly spotted Ms. Umbra and the other teachers standing along the back wall behind the stage. He thought about waving, but decided against it. He saw no sign of his mother amongst the group.
Oh well, it wouldn’t have been fair to have his mother there when no one else could.
The door to the kitchen opened and Dean Blane came trotting out, a big smile on her face. She went right to the lectern, mumbled a spell, and flew up so her head appeared over the top of it.
“All right, everyone.” Her voice carried easily throughout the room, no doubt the result of yet more magic. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
She called names one after another, starting with the dark magic group. Kelsie went up second, collected a diploma wrapped with a black ribbon, and hurried back to their table.
“Congratulations,” Conryu said. “You earned it.”
“Second to last in my class.” She shook her head. “Not very impressive. Still, Mom doubted I’d pass at all, so it’s something.”
Dean Blane finished darkness and moved on to fire without calling him up. That came as no surprise to Conryu. He hadn’t expected any kind of formal acknowledgement. He was no scholar and everyone knew it.
The light magic group went last and Maria was the final member of the group to get her diploma, this one wrapped in a white ribbon.
He figured that would be it, but Dean Blane went on. “And finally, a very special diploma in the field of saving the world goes to our very own Conryu Koda. Come on up here.”
Everyone was looking at him and Maria flashed a huge grin. She knew how much he hated this kind of thing and no doubt found his discomfort amusing. He swallowed a sigh and went up to the stage.
Dean Blane handed him a diploma wrapped with ribbons of every color. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks. A degree in saving the world, huh?”
“Seemed appropriate since you’ve done it twice already.” She flew up, hugged him, and kissed his cheek. “Now that the formalities are taken care of, let’s eat.”
Laden platters came flying out of the kitchen born by invisible spirits. Soft music with no detectable source filled the air. It was pleasant enough and Conryu enjoyed his meal while chatting with the girls about nothing in particular.
When they finished eating, he asked Maria, “So what are your plans after graduation? Still planning to study elf artifacts?”
“I’m not really sure anymore. While researching artifacts is fine, if I find something really dangerous and it ends up in the hands of someone like that general that tried to have you killed, I’m not sure I could live with myself. I definitely want to do some kind of research, but I’m not sure what kind yet.”
Conryu hoped she chose something safe. Or at least as safe as anything magical could be.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught Kelsie glancing at him and she quickly looked away. She’d done it a couple times now. He assumed if he had food on his face Maria would have said something.
Speaking of Maria, she leaned in and whispered, “I think she wants to dance.”
Conryu wasn’t much for dancing, but he could fake it using martial arts footwork if he had to. Not to mention he probably wouldn’t see Kelsie for a while after this. So, what the hell. He turned to her and asked, “Would you like to dance?”
Her face lit up. “I’d love to!”
Hand in hand they walked out to an open space and started slow dancing, careful not to get too close and give anyone the wrong idea. Since Maria pointed out what Kelsie was thinking, he figured he wouldn’t get in any trouble.
After a minute of silence he asked, “So Maria seems uncertain what she wants to do after graduation. What about you? Even if you’re not on good terms with your family, the name should help you find work somewhere.”
Her smile twisted. “Grandmother contacted me. She invited me back home and wants me to come help her with a project. Me and my pitiful magic. Maybe since I actually graduated, she’s going to ask me to rejoin the family. Anyway, you don’t say no to my grandmother, so I have to at least see what she wants.”
Kelsie’s grandmother was Malice Kincade, the evilest old woman he’d ever met. In fact, Conryu himself had said no to her on more than one occasion, but then he wasn’t family and thank heaven for that. If she was doing something with Malice, Kelsie might be in danger.
“Are you sure you don’t want a rune coin so you can contact me if you get in trouble?”
“I’m sure. I doubt Mother has given up on adding your bloodline to our family. If you give me one, someone is sure to try and use it to hurt you. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”
She wasn’t wrong and after what happened with Jonny during the Atlantis business, getting lured into a trap was at the top of his list of worries. If it kept her safe, he was willing to take the risk. But he wouldn’t force her.
The song stopped and he said, “Alright, but be careful. I wouldn’t put anything past that hag.”
Kelsie’s smile returned. “Me either, but she’s still family.”
“You’re a better person than they deserve.”
Maria came up and put her hand on his shoulder. “My turn.”
Kelsie returned to their table and he and Maria danced to the next tune. She laid her head on his chest and they sort of rocked back and forth more than danced.
“You looked upset,” Maria said at last, looking up at him with her dark-brown eyes. “What kind of mess is she in now?”
Conryu told her. “Anything to do with Malice puts me immediately on guard. But like she said, they are family, so all I can do is hope for the best.”
He could also arrange for a couple Daughters of the Reaper to keep an eye on Kelsie, just in case. And he intended to, just as soon as he finished up here.
“If she ends up in trouble, you’ll be the first one to rush in.” Conryu couldn’t deny that. Before he could reply, Maria went on. “I don’t have to focus on my studies anymore. What do you say I stop by your room once this get-together breaks up?”
His heart raced and when he could finally speak, he said, “Sounds like a great idea.”
* * *
Conryu paced in his room. When he arrived, he’d immediately tossed the fancy robe in the corner out of the way. While it wasn’t as uncomfortable as he’d feared when he first saw it, that didn’t mean he wanted to wear it a moment longer than necessary. He and Maria parted ways in the entry hall when she said she needed to go upstairs and change. His mind raced around in circles as he imagined what she might change into.
Whatever she chose, he hoped it wouldn’t take her long. He’d been waiting years for this moment and the last minutes felt like weeks.
The slender but still feminine figure of his personal bodyguard, ninja, and all-around good friend appeared a few feet away. Kai was about six inches shorter than him, dressed in all black from the mask and hood that covered her head to her matching split-toed sandals.
She took a knee and lowered her gaze to the floor. “You called, Chosen.”
No matter how many times he told her to relax, she always had a formality bias when he called her. “Please stop kneeling. I assume you know Maria is stopping by soon.”
She nodded. Since Kai was always keeping watch over him from the borderlands of Hell, the only way she could fail to know was if she’d abandoned her post. And short of an order from him or an attack by demons, nothing would make her do that.
“Until I tell you otherwise, I’m going to need you to keep watch in the hall, out of sight of course.”
“Understood, Chosen. No one will disturb you two while I live.” She vanished into the borderland before he could tell her not to actually kill anyone. Not that he thought she would. Kai had more sense than that.
Conryu just didn’t want an audience for what he hoped was going to happen tonight. Oddly, knowing Cerberus was probably watching didn’t bother him. Maybe because he thought of the huge three-headed demon dog as more of a pet than a person despite the fact that he was likely smarter than most people.
Speaking of an audience. “Prime, into the top drawer.”
He opened the top drawer of his dresser and Prime flew in without complaint. “Thank you for the reprieve, Master. I have no desire to observe your mating habits.”
Conryu slammed the drawer shut a bit harder than necessary. Okay, that was everything. The room was as ready as he could make it.
There was a knock and he hurried to the door. His palms were sweaty and he took a moment to dry them off. When he opened it, Maria stood outside. Conryu’s jaw nearly hit the floor. She wore an almost-sheer white silk nightgown that clung to her figure in ways he liked very much indeed.
He stepped aside and she came in without a word. The door closed and Conryu took a breath to steady his racing heart. Heaven above she was beautiful.
“I’m sorry I made you wait so long,” she said.
Conryu grinned. “The best things in life require patience. You’re worth any wait.”
When Maria smiled back the tension drained out of him. This night would be perfect, he knew it.
She reached out and when her hand touched his chest she flinched and snatched it back.
“What…” He felt it a moment later. Pain lanced through his arm and spread through his chest and back.
The source was the Reaper’s mark on his forearm. Sparks of black lightning arced out of it. Maria backed as far away from him as she could but her expression grew no less pained.
With all his will he tried to suppress the magic, but nothing worked. The Reaper was determined and for all his power, Conryu might as well have been a mouse trying to stop a river.
Maria finally collapsed, overcome by the overwhelming waves of dark magic.
“Kai!” The ninja appeared and he said, “Get her out of here.”
Kai hurried over to Maria, scooped her up off the floor with more strength than her slender body should possess, and fled out into the hall.
Seconds later darkness surrounded Conryu.
When it faded he found himself not in the borderlands of Hell, but rather in the center of the Reaper’s throne room. A towering figure dressed in a black robe that hid everything save his glowing red eyes and the skeletal hand that clutched a scythe stood on a raised platform directly ahead of him. Behind the Reaper was a throne of bone beside which sat a glass cylinder as tall as Conryu, filled with floating lights like fireflies.
Scores of beautiful women dressed in black stood facing the throne. Black-feathered wings wrapped each of them like a cloak and they kept their gazes lowered.
Furious as he was, Conryu knew nothing he said would matter to his current host. And since he wanted very much to get back to Maria in one piece, he forced himself to keep his cool.
“Your timing sucks.”
“My timing, as you so crudely put it, is driven by forces far beyond your meager mortal understanding.” The Reaper’s cold, emotionless tone made Conryu shiver. Only someone that had never stood in the presence of a being this powerful could consider Conryu really strong.
He forced himself to remain steady. “So, what did you need?”
“I need you to take my place.”
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