“Cal. Don’t move.”
Cal glanced up and into the barrel of his older brother’s shotgun. Jaw set tight, Jake stood near the other end of the empty parking lot they were searching. Cal’s flashlight beam cast his lean face into angular shadows.
Knowing Jake would never shoot him, Cal turned his head to see what was behind him, but his brother’s call stopped him.
“Don’t look. Don’t even breathe.” Jake edged closer, trying for a better angle where Cal wouldn’t be at risk, specialized shotgun—the splitter—steady, feeling each placement of his sneaker on the uneven ground. “It will be on you before you can take a step.”
Cal swallowed, listening. A rough exhalation grated behind his back. The heat of it blew across his elbow. “Hellhound?”
“Yep. Be quiet.”
At sixteen, this wasn’t the first hellhound Cal had tracked, but it was the nearest any of the beasts had gotten to him. They were big, fast, and mean and were pretty much the only inhabitants of Hell that could dig themselves out of the vast fiery down-under at will. It was Cal and Jake’s job to stop that from happening, plug up any holes in the Hades dyke with little more than their thumbs. Which was why they were here, all the signs of an erupting hole alerting them to this very spot. Guess they were a little late to the party though.
Easing his hand toward his hip, Cal snapped open the sheath hanging on his belt. His fingers slid onto the cool opal of his kremloc dagger.
Jake’s gaze ticked to Cal’s hand. “Don’t be a hero. Just drop when I say drop.”
Cal nodded imperceptibly. Hot stinky breath washed across the back of his neck, ruffling the ends of his hair. Low otherworldly growls vibrated across his senses. The urge to run beat like a warning cadence through his chest, but Cal remained still, trusting his brother.
Cal obeyed, falling out of the way of the first concussion of light that streaked over his head and hit the glossy black beast in the chest. Yelping, the hellhound scrabbled to the side. Heavy paws clipped Cal, tossing him across the pavement. Jake’s next round flashed, exploding into white lightning that shot straight into the mutt’s ear. The hound’s front legs folded and it thudded to its knees, giant head dropping in a cloud of dirt. A solid ice bullet straight into the brain never failed to bring the thermal based beasts of Hell down.
“Cal? Cal? You okay?”
Instantly, Jake was by his side, pulling Cal over onto his back.
Cal winced at being jerked around. “I’m fine. Stop. I’m fine.”
“Yeah?” Jake’s features scrunched with concern. “I kinda lost you under the big guy’s feet for a moment there.”
“I’m fine, really. I got out from underneath.” Okay he’d been rolled and tossed and he’d have a few bruises come tomorrow, but Jake didn’t need to know that.
Offering his hand, Jake pulled Cal to his feet, gaze flitting over the younger tracker. Cal rolled his eyes at the scrutiny before letting his own gaze settle onto the steaming hellhound.
They were actually beautiful creatures, sleek and powerful. Destructive. It was almost laughable that such a small thing as ice could take them down. Its fur-covered hide was splitting open, little curls of heated vapor escaping from gashes that glowed red-hot. Soon the hellhound would ooze apart and melt back into the depths of Hell where…Cal frowned. They didn’t really know what happened then. As immortal creatures the hounds might very well just regenerate, like the demons did, to claw and dig their way out of Hell another day.
“All right then.” Jake nudged the overlarge dog with the toe of his shoe, sending sparks in the air. “While the bug guy here is percolating, let’s find and plug up the hole it dug. Quick, before anyone comes.” Grinning, Jake pushed dark bangs out of his eyes, nearly bouncing on his toes from the keyed up energy of taking the hellhound out.
Scooping his backpack off the ground, Cal followed after his exuberant brother in the direction the Hades mutt had come from. It didn’t take long to find the hole near the edge of the parking lot at the rear of a graffiti covered apartment building. The hole was at least six-feet across with dirt and sheared off chunks of cement scattered outward like a giant fist had punched through the pavement.
“Damn.” Jake peered over the edge. “I knew that hound was larger than most, but look at the size of this thing. It’s gonna take all the omthrodite we got left to seal it.”
Cal’s head jerked up at that. There was only one place to restock on the precious crystal. “Not like we have a choice.” Crouching near the edge of the gaping hole, Cal pulled out the large blue crystals from his pack. He only had three left, which normally would seal off at least two or three more Hell-holes.
Jake kicked a rock into the depths, which clattered as it hit the walls on the way down until they couldn’t hear it anymore. They both knew it would never hit bottom. Resigned, Jake shrugged out of his own pack and pulled out another two omthrodite crystals “This bites.”
Cal grinned and began placing the blue stones around the edges of the Hell-hole. He had the last one in place when a sudden niggling sensation blossomed in his gut. “Wait. Do you feel that?”
Jake cocked his head to the side. Pebbles started vibrating across the ground. A low tremor passed through the air.
“Crap!” Jake stumbled back. “We gotta close this thing up now!”
Cal rocked to his feet, threw his hand out to unleash the flow of his energy into the crystals. They had to ignite them fast because where a hellhound breaks loose, demons follow.
He felt his energy building, swirling, expanding inside him, filling his chest even as he felt his brother’s energy settle upon the air, a cool steady force, burrowing out toward the crystals. With this much omthrodite it would take both of them to ignite the power in the blue stones.
Beads of sweat broke out across Cal’s forehead. He stared at his brother across the small chasm. Jake shook with effort. Cal’s outstretched arm throbbed where the energy pulsed through him. The crystals began glowing. They hummed. Tangled webs of light clawed outward over the empty space, pulling, reforming the edges of earth and stone over the dark hole. The ground groaned beneath them.
Cal swayed, but quickly righted himself, digging in.
The newly forming stone pushed close together nearly complete, cast in shiny blue light from the crystals’ glow. The center of the newly formed stone almost touched, almost sealed together, when shards of rock blew upward.
“Look out!” Cal shouted, throwing his arms over his head, rolling away from the blast. Demon after demon leapt out of the center, latching onto electrical poles and the back wall of the apartment building like spiders.
To the mortal eye, they looked like regular people—well, okay, maybe not while they were skittering upside down across power cables and apartment balconies—but Cal and Jake could see straight through into a demon’s aura, could see the oily slick residue of Hell whirl around them like water droplets shooting out of a sprinkler in slow motion.