And I realized I’d briefly seen him before. The day I’d waited for Morris to pick me up—he’d been the demon watching me.
“My name is Paimon. I’m the great and powerful King, ruler of two hundred legions,” he said in a distinctively Southern accent. I found myself wondering the weirdest things right then. Did Hell have a north and south? Because this dude was Southern. He bowed at the waist, a parody of elegance. “And you are Layla, child of the Warden Elijah and the demon Lilith. Finally, after all this time, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Paimon—I recognized him from the Lesser Key, the one on the camel/horse. It took no stretch of the imagination to conclude that I was now face-to-face with the demon who sought to raise the Lilin.
“Shit.” I jerked up, desperately trying to untangle my legs.
He raised a hand and I was pinned back, staring up at the cloudless night sky. “Let’s not make this difficult, darlin’.”
I gulped in air, moving my hands over the ground. I grabbed a rock, squeezing until the rough edges bit into my palm.
“I’m feeling a bit gracious, so I’m going to give you an opportunity I’ve never given anyone. You come along with me without being too much of an inconvenience—” he flashed a perfect set of white teeth “—and I won’t make a crown out of the bones of everyone you love. I can promise you riches beyond your imagination, the freedom to be whatever you want to be and a life envied by all.”
The rock felt heavy in my hand and I almost laughed again. “You want to raise the Lilin?”
“Ah, I’m glad I don’t have to explain my desire. Though I did have this whole speech planned.” He winked one crimson eye. “There’s always time later, darlin’.”
Fear knotted my stomach, but I forced as much bravado into my voice as possible. “And after you use me to raise the Lilin, you’re seriously going to let me live?”
“Maybe,” he replied. “Depends on how happy you make me.”
“Yeah, you can go to Hell.”
Paimon turned his head away and then faced me again. His skin melted away, revealing a red skull and eye sockets full of flames. His mouth gaped open, long and distorted. The howling sound that came from him turned my soul cold. I screamed until my voice left me, unable to move more than an inch backward.
Then he was the handsome man again, smiling. “Darlin’, you’re a means to an end—an end that works wonderfully in my favor.” Paimon crouched beside me, tipping his head to the side. “Now, you can make this easy or very, very hard.”
I took a deep breath, but couldn’t seem to get enough air in my lungs. I was worried about Zayne and knew that if I let Paimon capture me, I’d never have a chance to get him help. “Okay. Can—can you get these creepy roots off my legs?”
Another brief smile and Paimon waved his hand. The roots trembled, withered up and became nothing more than ashes within seconds. “I’m so glad you’re going to ma—”
I swung my arm around with all my strength, slamming the rock into his temple. His head snapped in the other direction, but a second later he was looking at me and laughing. Laughing. Flames licked from the wound where blood should have flowed.
Paimon grabbed my arm in a viselike grip. “Now, that wasn’t very nice, darlin’.”
I stared at his burning head. “Jesus.”
“Not quite.” He hauled me to my feet. “Say good-night.”
I opened my mouth, but before I could make a sound, my world went dark.
Things pieced themselves back together slowly. Sensation led the way, which was the first indication that something was very wrong. I couldn’t move my arms or legs. They were bound to the cold floor, the rope tight and cutting into my wrists as I strained forward.
Smell came next. The moldy scent was familiar, poking around in my head, but I couldn’t wiggle an exact memory free. When I was able to pry my eyes open, I was staring up at exposed metal rafters.
Candles didn’t cast much light, but in the flickering dance of shadows I could make out a basketball hoop without a backboard. My gaze dropped and tracked the visible scuff marks until they disappeared in a white line drawn in chalk—a circle. Straight lines streaked out, meeting the circle. I turned my head, wincing at the dull ache in my temples. More lines on the other side of me.
A pentagram slightly crooked. Oh, this was bad.
I was in the old gymnasium on the lowest level of my school, tied down in the middle of a pentagram and was that chanting? God. Craning my neck, I tried to see beyond the hundreds of white candles following the circumference of the circle.
In the shadows, there were things moving. Their soft chattering and piglike squeals turned my insides cold. Rack demons.
“You’re awake. Good.” A deep Southern drawl came out from the shadows. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
My chin snapped down, to my toes. Paimon had removed the jacket and untucked the red shirt. He came to the edge of the circle, stopped and glanced down. He took a step back, and my suspicion soared. “You’re not going to come in here?” I asked.
Paimon tipped his head back and chuckled. “That pretty little lopsided pentagram can easily be converted into a devil’s trap, and my Hermès loafers are not going one inch beyond that chalk.”
My hands curled into fists and I could feel the ring biting into skin. “That’s going to make doing this incantation hard, isn’t it?”
“Not at all, darlin’,” he said, kneeling down. That Mohawk of his had to be at least two feet high. “That’s what lackeys are for. Oh, lackey!”
To my left, another form pulled free from the shadows. I hadn’t seen him before, but his smile was beyond creepy. I swallowed as my eyes darted between the two demons. No one was going to show up and save the day. I didn’t know if Zayne had survived the Hellion. Roth probably didn’t even know I’d been taken. And unless I could Houdini my way out of these ropes, I wasn’t going to be able to do much to defend myself. At that moment I knew three things. I was screwed. Mankind was screwed. The entire universe was screwed.
“I confess I’ve been disappointed with Naberius. He should’ve been able to retrieve you without me stepping in. Show her how displeased I was.”
The lackey waved his left hand. Four of his fingers were missing. Only the middle one remained. “They’ll grow back. Slowly.”
“Painfully,” Paimon added with a gleeful smile. He rose fluidly. “Anyway, Naberius, spill the blood of Lilith. I don’t have all night.”
Like a dutiful little tool, Naberius stepped carefully over the circle and knelt. My heart dropped. “Wait.” Naberius grabbed my hand with that one finger. Metal glinted in his other hand. “Wait, I said!”
Paimon sighed. “Are you going to beg now? Come over to the dark side? You already had your chance, darlin’. When I get done, I’m going to kill you. Well, I’ll probably have a little fun with you first, but I will kill you.”
Panic clawed its way up my throat, but I knew if I caved to it, that would be the end. Heart pounding, I tried to tug the arm closest to Naberius, but the rope gave no slack. “Why?”