The world was pulled downward and into the afterlife. Rohan knew instantly where he was. He would never forget the dry air, the morbid feeling that had overcome him—as it did once again.
A fleet of tormented souls moved through the house like a river of flames, screaming and wailing. The walls of the house, under pressure from the descent, began to crack.
Rohan’s first instinct was to run, to save himself, but then he saw that Nora was standing in the middle of the flames, face in her hands as if she couldn’t believe what was happening. Leaving her behind was not an option, so he stumbled toward her, doing his best to fight the strange, dizzying sensation in his body. His arms were hard to move, numb and tingling, as if they had become atrophied.
“Come with me, now!” he shouted, and ran for her.
But when he grabbed her wrist, she pushed him back, screaming.
“Stay back, monster!” she shouted. “What have you done?”
“That wasn’t me, just….” He glanced around at the flames that were turning purple, faces of the tormented appearing in them, hands reaching. “We can’t stay here.”
Suddenly, the sorrow in her face was gone, replaced by rage. He flew backwards at her push, recovering just in time to see her storming up to him.
“You betrayed me,” she said, and then punched him hard in the gut. “It won’t happen again.”
She left him there and stood tall as she gracefully walked out the basement door, making her way up the stairs and into the house.
Rohan wanted to run after her, but she disappeared behind the river of souls and he knew she was gone.
And then he noticed the odd sensation in his arms again.
For the first time in hours, he didn’t hear the drone of Altemus’s voice in his head.
Altemus was no longer in his body. Rohan looked at his hands and noticed that they were glowing and transparent. The old man had exited, and Rohan’s body was his own. How?
He tried to touch his body, but his hands passed straight through him.
“Is this my soul?”
Several ghastly voices distracted him from his thoughts.
“We’re coming for you,” one of the faces from the river said. “For too long you’ve claimed domain over my subjects, but those days are over.”
Rohan scooted away from a flame that was materializing before him. The purple and blue flare shaped itself into a tall, nude man, who strode forward as flame became flesh. All but his eyes burned like the deepest pits of Hell.
“Wh—what are you?” Rohan asked.
“Just one of many who would see you burn,” the man said. “Call me Azrael. And my brothers and sisters…” More flames formed into six men and women around him, some with horns, others with fiery swords in their hands, but all with the same hellfire eyes. “You will learn their names as each one torments you for your transgressions.”
Not sure it would even work here, Rohan attempted to pull on the spirits around him. The flames only intensified, and the men and woman approaching him seemed to grow in size and strength.
“Your powers mean nothing here, necromancer,” the man said, grinning viciously and revealing two pointed teeth.
“It is not his time,” a booming voice said, one that echoed with authority and sounded familiar to Rohan. He turned to see the Lich King—his robed, wraith-like figure taking up most of the doorway, his hood pulled back to reveal a skull etched with ancient, glowing runes.
“This is not your domain,” the man hissed, backing up.
“And yet, I’m here.”
“You’d forfeit the pact, a deal set down through—”
“Enough!” the Lich King said, and with a flash he was holding a wooden scepter with a skull on top. Rohan recognized it all too well as the Scepter of O’lin. Spirits were surging on the scepter, and he braced himself.
“Flee!” the Lich King shouted, backing up toward the door. “I can’t hold them for long!”
Rohan scrambled up and threw himself through the doorway with the Lich King close behind.
Outside was dark, but the darkness flowed as if it were alive. Nora’s mansion was on fire, and the massive river of spirits was surging through it. It looked like a scene from an oil painting of a nightmare, and Rohan resisted the urge to scream.
“You ask too great a price coming here!” the Lich King said.
“It wasn’t my choice. Altemus wanted the tablet—”
“What?” the Lich King’s eyes blazed green. “How… it can’t be. And the Eye of Gilgamesh, he has that too?”
“The what…?” Rohan shook his head, confused. “There was a woman. Did you see—”
“It makes sense now. The only way the six demons of the sixth level could be held back is if the link isn’t complete.” The Lich King rose into the sky, and with a wave of his staff, suddenly Nora was there too, beside them. She looked as stunned as Rohan felt, but before he could speak, they were all floating upward, and Rohan was happy enough to leave the nightmare scene behind.
Below, an explosion of flames sent the house into pieces and stopped the onslaught of spirits. The six demons darted into the sky after them, but the darkness was suddenly replaced by a landscape of hills and lakes, with small islands scattered on the sheets of blue water. The demon’s faces dissipated against the sky, and Rohan sensed that they would no longer be a threat.
Rohan collapsed on solid ground and was surprised to see himself surrounded by ancient, marble columns. They stood on a small rock that overlooked the new world.
“Where are we?” he asked in wonder. “And what were those demons?”
“Another level of the afterlife. One that resembles certain aspects of your world, I suppose as a way of helping new arrivals cope with their new surroundings. Those demons you saw were from a level of the afterlife that you didn’t see during your first visit, Rohan. It is a level deeper than even I wish to go. For the land of demons is not a land that even the dead want anything to do with.”
FROM JUSTIN >>> The second book in my series with Michael La Ronn is coming out in just a few days, and this sample shows how crazy it gets. We’ve had a lot of fun writing it, and hope you have just as much fun reading it!
By the way, we’re about half way done writing book 3, DEATH CROWNED. Exciting!
OLD DARK (THE LAST DRAGON LORD SERIES)
In these snippets, I want to highlight other authors. Since I wrote the above book with Michael La Ronn, I thought I’d mention his series The Last Dragon Lord, that starts with OLD DARK.
There’s a deadly conspiracy brewing. And if he doesn’t contain it, it will destroy him and everything he’s built.
But Dark was born to fight. There’s a reason the ancients called him Dark the Wicked…