"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.
He couldn't see his brother through the crackling light of the crystals and the demons leaping out. How many had gotten through?
"Well, well, well, what have we got here?" The exodus was slowing to a trickle, most of the demons scurrying away, but this one jumped down from the building, cracked its bent joints into place while it straightened and was now striding toward Cal. "And I just happen to be starving."
Except for the swirling sprinkler effect and being completely nude, the demon looked like any clean-cut regular Joe. The blue glow from the crystals instantly snuffed out.
Cal let him approach, close enough to see the pinkish tint to his irises. Crap, he really was hungry. Don't they feed these guys in Hell?
Determined not to become a demon snack, in one fluid movement, Cal slid out the kremloc dagger and stabbed.
"Watch it! Hey!" the demon clapped a hand over his chest, slapping out with the other that sent Cal tumbling through the air, landing with a jolt against a parked car, then bouncing to the pavement.
Disoriented, Cal shook his head, seeing two of the demon running at him. Cal rolled, not certain which way to go since he was seeing everything doubled, just hoping to get out of the demon's path enough to grab up a rock or something for defense when his brother shouted, a dark blur that jumped in front of Cal and took the brunt of the demon's supercharged momentum. Bodies slammed against the car behind Cal, legs tangled around him, feet stomping around him.
His breath gushed out in a whoosh when a bare foot clomped down on his belly.
Jake hit the ground hard beside him, the demon easily holding him down with one arm while Jake struggled, trying to pry the hand away from his neck.
Blinking hard against his wavering vision, Cal pulled himself up to do...something. The demon stretched out his other arm and a wall of air slammed into Cal, pinning him to the ground.
"You're up next, cupcake." The demon smiled at him, and then leaned closer to Jake, sniffing. "Mmmmm-mmmm, delicious." Cal's pulse kicked into high gear. Not good, not good. Not all demons had a penchant for human flesh, but some…some really hungered for it.
Cal's vision finally focused. The demon edged back and looked from Jake to Cal.
"Wait a minute. I've heard of you." Hot fingers feathered along Cal's cheek. Grunting, he tried to turn away, but the pressure of air held him fast. The demon's hand slipped into Cal's hair. "One light as gold…" He looked at Jake. "And the other dark as a raven. You're the little half-breed brothers who have been making our get-out-of-Hell free cards not so easy to cash in. Word gets around down there you know. You're Celalundria's little bastard whelps."
"Not bastards," Jake ground out, his feet gouging across cement.
"Your mortal husk of a dad must have been a good ride for the rebellious princess to go back for seconds." The demon flicked at glance over to Cal. "Ah, well, you know how the Anointed are, all high and mighty, yet horny as Hell."
"You don't talk about our mother," Jake growled.
"Your mother." The demon snorted. "Noble of you to defend her when she tossed you two halflings out on your ears."
"She didn't have a choice."
Cal flinched at the venom in Jake's voice. Several of the lights in the apartment building windows went on.
"Didn't have a choice," the demon sing-songed. "Here you are, the two sons of the great Celalundria, taking on gigs that are beneath the true Anointed. Plugging up the little holes made by the hellhounds—terrific job on that by the way—or taking out a few evil spirits here and there. Maybe a zombie or two on a good day? Clean up work at best. It's kind of like you guys are the Anointeds' janitorial service." He laughed. "You're nothing more than garbage men."
"Yeah?" Jake's dark brow rose. "Guess that makes you…" And there it came, that full out smirking smile that was pure unadulterated defiant Jake "…garbage."
It scared the crap out of Cal because he knew what his sibling was doing. Jake was keeping the demon's focus on himself. And it was working.
The demon's nostrils flared like a snorting bull's. The pink of his irises dilated. "Say that again."
The green of Jake's eyes darkened. "Gar...bage."
The demon lost it. Enraged, his neck craned back. A grinding, crackling noise reverberated across the demon's skull as wicked sharp teeth extended, breaking through his gums.
No! No! Cal pushed against the bonds of air. The demon was going to eat Jake! Cal fought with everything he had, surging upward, the veins in his neck throbbing with effort.
The demon dived onto Jake, bloody strings of saliva flinging off his bleeding gums. Jake screamed, thrashing.
And the bands of air around Cal loosened.
He flung himself at the demon, knocking him off Jake. They pitched across the rock-strewn ground. Adrenaline roared through Cal's veins. He kicked, gouged, and punched the much stronger creature. "You…do not…get to eat…my brother!"
His head snapped back, vision blurring at the lucky punch from the demon. Hands shot out to push him away, but Cal hung on like a dog to a bone, fighting wild and sloppy, nothing like he was trained for, yet the unpredictable jabs actually seemed to be throwing the demon off.
Suddenly Jake was there, shoving at the demon like a football player at a blocking sled. "Into the hole!"
Cal changed tactics, twisting over the demon to get to the other side and pushed with his brother before the evil thing could get up off its back. Together, they slid it to the edge. The demon howled, clawing, swiping at them, but the brothers were determined and working together.
The demon teetered, eyes flared wide. Cal kicked. Jake shoved. The demon fell past the jagged up-heaved cement. He latched onto Jake's arm, determined to climb back up.
Jake's free hand slammed onto the demon's head, holding him down. The crystals flared bright as Jake's energy poured from him, into the omthrodite, over the demon's stringy hair.
Cal let his energy stream out, anger and fear unleashing it in a wild uncontrolled rush. The ground groaned, splintered and moved beneath them.
Cal yelled, his voice blending with Jake's as the force leaked around them, stronger than he'd ever felt it, built on rampant emotion. The demon scrabbled at the earth folding over him. Jake snapped his hand back just as the stone sealed over the demon's head, severing the demon's hand still clamped onto Jake's other wrist.
With a resounding crack, the crystals went dark and Jake and Cal sank to the ground. Where the hole had been, there was a smooth layer of unbreakable stone surrounded by broken upturned pavement and dirt. Whoever owned the parking lot was going to have a hard time figuring this one out.
Their ragged breathing huffed across the silence.
Grimacing, Jake shook the demon's hand still dangling from his wrist. When it didn't give, he pried the fingers off and flung it away. "Gross."
Cal looked blearily over at him. His head throbbed and his sight was gray around the edges.
Jake scooted closer. "You're bleeding."
"So are you." Cal pointed to the red stain at Jake's shoulder.
Jake moved Cal's head to the side to get a better look. "Blood's pouring down that light as gold hair of yours."
"Shut up." He batted Jake's hand away. "Raven."
Something in Cal's tone must have alerted Jake. His brows lowered. "Hey."
"I'm fine. Let's just clean up and go." Cal stared at the demon's hand.
"In a minute. I don't want you bleeding all over the Jeep. Ut." Jake pressed Cal down when he started to get up. "Stay put. I mean it, don't move."
Cal frowned, but remained still. His head pounded with every movement anyway.
Jake was back with his backpack in moments, sitting once again in front of Cal, and pulled the little first aid kit they always carried out of the bottom. He handed Cal a folded square of gauze. "Hold this against your cut for a second. Headache?"
Cal nodded, wincing at the movement and accepted the two little pills and water bottle Jake handed him next. He watched his brother as he pulled the collar of his own torn T-shirt across his shoulder and pressed another square of gauze to it. "How bad?"
"Not too deep." Jake pulled the gauze away. "Not even bleeding anymore."
Cal leaned forward to get a better look anyway. It really wasn't that deep, just purpling around each little puncture, a perfect little half-moon pattern. Stupid demons and their stupid pointy teeth. A wave of nausea bubbled inside Cal's belly. It could have been so much worse. The demon could have ripped through Jake in seconds. The ground tilted. Cal's hand fell away from his head, the bloody gauze dropped.
"Whoa, you okay?" Jake held Cal's arms, steadying him.
Cal nodded, miserable.
"Ah, Cal." Jake stared at him, forehead crinkled. "You didn't pay attention to anything that hell spawn said, right?"
Jake wasn't going to let it go. "You know they spin things to get under your skin. They're demons. Talking crap is kind of in their job description. Just…don't listen to them, alright. What we do is important. You know what would have happened if that Hellhound had gotten past the parking lot."
"Yeah, I know. It would have killed people. Anyone unfortunate to be in its path."
"People are worth saving."
Cal's gaze snapped up at that. "The Anointed don't seem to think so."
"The Anointed are self-righteous dickwads who can't see beyond their own holy crusade." Jake frowned. "War's been going on for so long everyone's lost count of which side is actually winning. Mortals, Cal. Like Dad. They're the ones that need our help and we're the only ones who can do it."
"The Anointed could. The histories say they were once guardians, saviors of mankind."
"That was a long time ago, Cal."
"I know, but isn't that what the Anointed were, well, anointed to do?"
Jake shrugged. "I don't know. If they were, they've clearly forgotten."
"Or don't care."
"Or don't care," Jake agreed.
Sirens echoed at a distance, getting closer. Someone in the apartment building must have called the police.
Jake started shoving things back in the backpack. "Let's just take care of this mess and get out of here."
Cal pulled to his feet. "How many demons do you think got past us?"
"Too many." Jake blew dark bangs out of his eyes. "Gonna have to track every last one of them down."
"Yeah, okay, but you know where we have to go first, right?"Jake looked at the spent and gray omthrodite crystals. "Yep, gotta restock. Looks like we're going to go see Mom."
Hunt monsters w/ the teens. 1st ch of "The Anointed" at http://bit.ly/k2Yt4P #SampleSunday #ss #ya #paranormal— please RT!