My hands shook as I glanced down at a still Roth. I couldn’t breathe, and as I stood, my skin started to harden, the skin on either side of my spine tingled.
“Whoa.” Cayman threw up his hands. “Simmer down, crouching demon, hidden Warden. He’s fine. Look, if he was seriously in danger, Bambi would be off you in two seconds. He’s going to wake up in a couple of minutes, beat the crap out of me, realize you’re gone, and when I snap his neck again to stop him from going after you, we’re going to rinse and repeat, so please—please don’t take forever.”
My heart hadn’t slowed down. “If he’s hurt—”
“He’s not,” a demon from the couch said, his face ashen as he stared at Roth. “You can’t kill the Prince that way and when he wakes up—”
“Yeah, he’s going to be pissed.” Cayman sighed.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him, Cayman.” I sucked in a shallow breath. “What if I—?”
“Don’t finish that sentence. You will be back. Layla, you need to get a move on it. Don’t let the butt-whupping I’m going to receive be all in vain. You need to go.” He pointed behind me, and I looked back toward the gold-painted elevators.
I needed to go.
Heart pounding, I knelt and brushed my lips along Roth’s cheek as I smoothed my hand over his head, brushing his hair back from his face. I didn’t want to leave him. I wanted to sit there until his eyes opened, but I couldn’t.
“I love you,” I whispered, voice choked as I curled my right hand into a fist.
Standing, I turned to Cayman and cocked back my arm, punching him right in the stomach as hard as I could. Several demons gasped.
“Omph,” he grunted, doubling over and clasping his stomach. “Sweet Moses in molasses.”
Feeling a wee bit better about the situation, I forced myself to pivot around and walk toward the elevator. I didn’t look back, because if I did, I wasn’t sure I would keep walking. I liked to think that I would’ve, that I would’ve recognized that this situation was bigger than me and Roth, but I wasn’t sure if I was that good a person, that selfless.
The gold elevators waited for me and I smacked the one round button on the panel a little harder than necessary. With a soft, almost-human-sounding groan, the doors slid open. I stepped inside, turning around to face the hall.
Cayman appeared in front of the elevators, rubbing his stomach. “Be careful, Layla. Remember, nothing in Hell is what it seems.”
Before I could respond, the doors sealed shut and the elevator jerked into movement. I stepped back, swallowing hard as it started a slow descent down. There was no music, no inside panels on the elevator, and the door seemed to be made of some kind of weird material. I brushed my fingers along the inside of the door and then jerked my hand back with a startled gasp.
It felt like...like skin.
My stomach cramped, and I thought I might hurl as it rippled.
A strange orangey glow reflected off the walls of the elevator. Lifting my gaze to the ceiling, I smacked my hand over my mouth.
There wasn’t really a ceiling above me.
A roof of flames rolled, burning bright, licking along the edges of the walls. My eyes widened as I expected it to engulf the entire elevator, but the flames didn’t spread. The elevator jolted and that slow descent sped up.
I was knocked back against the wall. Throwing my hands out, I gripped the rail as the elevator suddenly dropped at a rapid clip. Heart thumping, my knuckles ached from how tightly I was gripping the piece of metal. The elevator felt like it was going to split apart.
Without warning, it jerked to a stop, throwing me off balance. My knees cracked off the floor, the pain dull compared to the sudden dizziness seizing me. It took several moments for the wooziness to subside, and I realized then, the elevator had stopped moving.
Pushing myself up, I’d just straightened when the elevator doors parted softly. My mouth dropped open as I got my first glimpse of...Hell?
Not at all.
What lay beyond the open elevator doors was white walls—a white floor, a white ceiling. Shiny white. Pristine. My feet carried me out of the elevator, into a wide and vast circular lobby with hundreds if not thousands of hallways. There was music playing. Horrible, jaunty lobby music; the kind that would drive you crazy if you had to listen to it for longer than five minutes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Hell had a lobby.
Nothing was guarding the lobby. No demons waited to pounce on me, and that surprised me. Then again, Cayman had warned me that nothing in Hell was what it seemed. Maybe I just couldn’t see the demons. As I wheeled around, searching for hidden dangers, I realized there were gold placards on the walls near each hallway, displaying the names of...
“Holy crap,” I whispered.
Names of all the demons were clearly etched into the gold placards. Some I didn’t recognize. Others made my stomach twist and then drop. ABADDON. VINE. MOLOCH. BAEL. The names went on and on. Straight across from the elevator was the hallway labeled THE BOSS and beside it was one that caught my breath.
I almost started toward it, because something inside of me wanted to see how Roth really lived when he was down here, but I stopped myself. I didn’t have time for this.
Across from those names was THE PITS. And there, three down from that, was the name I’d been looking for: GRIM.
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, I walked briskly toward the hall bearing Grim’s name and then down the long, brightly lit, relatively cool tunnel. There were no windows. No scents to speak of. The air was stagnant but clean, and still, the hairs all over my body began to rise.
I reached a double set of windowless doors and before I could do anything, they opened silently, revealing a world I’d never seen before as a blast of oppressive heat smacked into me.
Stopping an inch from the exit, I bit down on my lip. This...this was what I’d expected. In a way. The sky beyond the hall was a burnt red. There were no clouds. No sun or moon. Just a deep, orangey red that seemed to have no source. The scent of sulfur and something I couldn’t quite make out turned my stomach.
A road made of some kind of stone separated tall, ash-colored buildings. They rose like skyscrapers, reaching into that strange sky, their windows dark with no sign of life inside them. My gaze tracked over the formidable, intimidating buildings to the massive structure at the end of the road, several city blocks away. It was the largest of all the buildings, but designed like something straight out of the Middle Ages. Twin steeples rose from either side of the pitch roof, and it gave the impression that it was more of a fortress than a home. Sort of like the compound I’d grown up in.
I swallowed hard, knowing that was where I was going to have to go, because of course, it wasn’t like Grim could live in a cute house with a picket fence or something. Oh no, it had to be the Lord of the Rings-type castle all the way down there.
Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time and that time in general worked vastly different down here, I pulled up my big-girl undies and stepped out of the hallway.
It happened immediately.
Without any warning, a shiver rippled across my skin and I felt Bambi and Robin leave my body. Panicked, I tried to stop them, because I wasn’t sure if Robin was ready for that, but there was no calling them back.