I nodded as a door to the building we stood in front of opened. A blast of music and laughter followed the young man out. His aura was a sea-moss green, swirling smoothly as he hunkered down in his jacket, heading in the opposite direction. “Yeah,” I answered. “They’ve always had the windows covered from the inside so you couldn’t see anything. It just adds to the shadiness, doesn’t it?”
He snorted. “Remember the guy who threw holy water on you?”
I rolled my eyes. “Not something I’d forget.”
“I really hope he’s in there.”
“Oh dear,” I murmured.
“You know what I just thought of?”
I looked at him. “What?”
Some of the mischievous sparkle was back in his amber gaze. “I didn’t get to deflower you in my Porsche.”
“Oh my God.” I gaped at him. “What in the world made you think of that right now?”
“It’s called multitasking.” He winked. “And I still plan on breaking that baby in, just so you know.”
“You’re ridiculous.” Slipping my hand free, I started toward the building and the grin I was rocking faded like an old memory as soon as we neared the door. “Do you feel that?”
“Feels like home.”
I ignored that, because I’d been to Hell, and Hell didn’t even feel like this—like a gallon of oil had been dumped over our heads. Walking was like pushing through slime. It was thick in the air, a heavy evil that had to be what the witches had been talking about, and never in my life had I felt anything like this.
Roth edged around me, reaching the handle of the door. “Locked.” He twisted sharply, like he’d done in the basement of the school when we’d been hunting down the source of a very rotten, demonic smell, snapping the lock while hitting it with a dose of not so heavenly heat. “And unlocked.”
The moment he opened the door, the smell about knocked us back a good three feet.
“Oh my God.” I smacked my hand over my mouth, clamping down on my gag reflex as I glanced around the dimly lit lobby.
“Jesus,” muttered Roth, his lips peeling back in a grimace.
The scent was that of meat left out too long mixed with something I couldn’t quite place. Worse than sulfur or a dirty back alley in the city. Carefully, I lowered my hand, trying to not breathe through my nose. If the smell was any indication, things were really, really bad here.
Behind the vacant receptionist desk, there was a huge banner hanging. Crudely drawn Wardens, who looked more like overgrown bats than gargoyles, were on either side of the words THE END IS NIGH.
“So cliché.” Roth started around the desk, toward double, windowless doors. “You’d think they’d come up with something new.”
I followed, disappointed that the smell was getting worse. “But the end is nigh.”
“You—” he glanced over his shoulder at me as he reached the double doors “—are adorable.”
I would’ve smiled at that, but the doors had opened, and all I could do was press my lips together to keep from hurling all over Roth’s back.
Candles were everywhere, casting a flickering, soft light throughout a large atrium-style room that had been converted into a place where sermons would be held, complete with pews and the chancel, a raised platform.
The pews weren’t empty.
They were also the source of the wretched smell.
They were full of bodies.
I DREW IN a deep breath, and while I immediately regretted it, the stench was overshadowed by the horror of what we were staring upon.
Dozens and dozens of bodies were scattered throughout the pews, some slumped over while others were still sitting up, their heads fallen back, jaws slacked open. They were in various states of decomposition. For as much as I’d experienced in recent months, never in my life had I seen anything like this.
“Good God,” I said, horrified.
Roth stiffened as movement near the chancel drew our attention. It had been vacant moments before, but now a figure stood in front of the altar. I winced. It was the Lilin—and he’d taken the form of Sam once more.
“I think this is appropriate,” the Lilin said, spreading its arms up at his sides. “I have a congregation of the dead.”
“Most people would aim higher,” Roth said, eyeing the carnage with distaste.
“I am not most beings, now, am I?” It grinned slightly from its elevated perch. “I’ve been waiting for you to come, sister.”
“I am not your sister,” I gritted out.
“Acceptance is the first step of recovery, or so they say.” The Lilin walked to the edge of the chancel and crouched. “You’re here to help me.”
That wasn’t so much a question, but I answered anyway. “No. I’m here to stop you.”
The thing chuckled smoothly. “You cannot stop me. Neither can the Prince.”
“I wouldn’t put money on that,” Roth retorted.
Milky white eyes drifted to Roth as the Lilin smiled mysteriously. “I guess we will see about that, won’t we?” The Lilin’s gaze found mine. “We need to free our mother. It is a travesty that a force such as she should remain chained. We are in this together and—”
“You can stop the sales pitch right there,” I interrupted. “There is nothing that you can say that will sway me. You won’t be able to free Lilith. Don’t you understand that? Nothing will free her. After Paimon attempted to do so, extraordinary measures were put in place to prevent her from getting out.”
“True,” remarked Roth, rather smugly. “The Boss has her on lockdown. It’s not going to happen.”
“That is where you are wrong,” the Lilin responded from its perch. “If I succeed in raising Hell to Earth, no one down there will be paying attention to Lilith. She will be the least of their worries.”
Muscles locked up all along my back. “If you bring Hell to Earth, the Alphas will step in. They will wipe us all out, including you.”
“It’s not like they can throw a magic switch and then we’re gone.”
Roth sighed. “It has a point there.”
“That’s not helping,” I said under my breath.
“The Alphas will fight us and we will fight back, even those who do not want to see Lilith free or for Hell to open its gates. They will fight,” the Lilin continued. “As I will, and while we all are fighting to survive, the world will fall apart. If I cannot free our mother, then I truly have nothing to lose.”
What Grim had warned me about was coming true, but it really wasn’t a surprise. The Lilin really had no thoughts of its own. All it was concerned with was freeing Lilith, and if it couldn’t have that, then it would settle for chaos and absolute destruction.
The Lilin rose fluidly. “You will see. In the end, you will have no choice but to help me.”
The darkness along the wall, which had been still and unnoticeable at this point, suddenly moved. Thick shadows shifted and grew, slipping up and over the ceiling like a muddy oil slick. The stench of the room rose, but the evil in it became suffocating. There was the source of the darkness and we’d been standing in the middle of it the entire time.