Conquest appraised his foes from behind his massive, horned helm. The polished skulls of his fallen enemies strung over his armor seemed to mock the Sins, who all stepped away.
All, except for Pride. “Fall back if you will. When I defeat this dusty relic without you, all the glory will be mine.”
Conquest looked upon the face of his son. It had a fierce, twisted beauty behind the purple mist of Pride. The Horsemen united with him whispered, He is not your son. He is your enemy.
“I was wrong to summon you Sins,” Conquest said. “You represent weakness. Failure.”
“We are what compels man,” Greed said. “We are power.”
“We rule his desires,” Lust whispered. “We drive him to victory, to take what is his.”
“And more,” Wrath said.
Gluttony nodded his chins. “ALL.”
“Or none,” Sloth added.
Envy clutched the Grimoire to his chest, another layer of armor. He hoped. “We were born along with man. We will thrive as long as man lives.”
“One thing at a time,” Conquest said.
His damned sword burst into white fire as he swung and released it. The enchanted flames, reinforced by the ruin of the Horsemen within, spun through the Sins in a whirling arc. As each Sin was struck an eruption of colored mist exploded from the wound and left in its wake a stunned, collapsed mortal being.
The sword returned to Conquest.
The Soulstealer who was Greed looked at his missing legs and wailed.
The Devourer who feasted as Gluttony clutched his belly and sagged to his knees.
The Parasite who corrupted all of them as Envy dropped the Grimoire and searched for a crevice or muckpile in which to hide.
The Legion heroes stared at their surroundings and tried to make sense of them. The Armadon who was Sloth was too weak to launch any quills or fortify himself.
Hammerstorm, moments ago a seething Wrath, blinked at the stunned chiprel on his shoulder and tried to lift his hammer. He could not.
The Empath tried to cover what Lust had so readily exposed. The suffering within Hell’s Keep and the Ancient Cathedral crushed her to the floor.
Jeraziah, who had been Pride in the flesh, stepped between his weakened comrades and the Hellbourne. He ground his teeth and felt his muscles strain nearly to the point of tearing as he raised his sword and shield.
“You will not touch them.”
“They will leave unharmed,” Conquest said, “if you agree to remain. If not—you all die here.”
Jeraziah lowered his helm. Behind him Empath struggled to her feet. Hammerstorm raised his hammer. The Armadon bristled with quills.
A blue glow appeared between them and Conquest. For Jeraziah, it invoked dim memories of Envy and the Grimoire, tempting him, ruining him. He slashed at the glow, which grew into Nymphora, teleporting into Hell’s Keep.
Jeraziah shifted his sword at the last moment. The steel brushed Nymph’s wingtip and sparked against the stone floor. Nymph gasped and darted aside. Her eyes grew wider when she saw where they were, who stood nearby.
“I couldn’t feel any of you until moments ago,” she said. “Stand close!”
The Legion heroes huddled together and disappeared in a blue flash.
Conquest’s white sword cleaved the blue light in half, hitting nothing. He threw his head back and roared with fury. A black cloud poured from his mouth and split into four streams, which pooled and grew into The Four Horsemen.
They glanced at each other from atop their uneasy horses, facing an enraged Maliken.
“Be gone,” Maliken growled. “I care not where you go. Should I see you again, consider where you stand a battleground.”
The Four Horsemen fled, chased by fading echoes of hooves on stone.
Maliken didn’t bother looking at the Soulstealer, Devourer, or Parasite. He pointed at the stairs that led beneath the Cathedral, to one of the countless dungeons within Hell’s Keep. Whether they were going to be put to work, or worked upon, they did not know.
They just went.
Maliken lifted the Grimoire by its cover. The ancient pages flapped and curled as he carried it along dark corridors that grew smaller and tighter the deeper he went within the Cathedral.
He came to an iron-bound door with a lock the size of his fist. He had the key somewhere. He tore the lock off the wall and dropped it, pulled the door open and flung the Grimoire into the dark storage room stocked with artifacts and spoils of war.
“Worthless latrine paper,” Maliken said. He slammed the door, hoping he’d forget which of the dozens of storage rooms he’d used.
His heavy footfalls faded down the corridor.
Inside the black storage room, the Grimoire lay with a broken spine, pages turning from the door’s force. It was on top of a huge bone mask carved with runes and lined with spikes on the inner side. Next to the mask, a towering sarcophagus leaned against the dank wall.
A turning page from the Grimoire wavered in the dying breeze. It finally tipped and fell, its corner touching the smooth stone of the sarcophagus.
The Grimoire began to glow.
Inside the sarcophagus, the Pharaoh jolted to life and said two words: