"Gods, I hope that’s not for us," Fang mumbled.
Dev snorted. "Oh, you know it is. That’s our luck, mon frere." He glared at the horizon. "C’mon sunset. Don’t fail us."
Fang scoffed at his words. "Fail us, hell. The police show up and I’m flashing home. I say we leave the Dogs here to get their own butts out of the sling."
"Screw you, Wolf," Ethon snapped.
Dev held his hand up to silence them. "Look."
Sam didn’t see anything until the last ray vanished. Then there was a slight shimmering just a few feet in front of them. The kind that most would dismiss as a summer haze. Heat coming off the pavement.
But it wasn’t that.
"Dev…" Fang’s voice was stern as the sound of speeding cars drew closer.
Sam saw the police lights.
"Hunters, rise!" Dev ordered.
Ethon and Scorpio rolled out from under the blanket at the same time the police shouted at them to freeze. Ignoring them, they ran forward.
Sam heard the sound of guns firing. One second she was shouting at Dev to dodge the bullet headed at his back, the next everything was different.
The terrain remained the same. But the street and buildings were gone. A bright, piercing light bathed everything in an overexposed glow. What ever the source, it obviously wasn’t sunlight since neither Scorpio nor Ethon were blistering from it.
Sam lifted her hand to shield her eyes as she looked over the men to make sure they were all right.
They stood like fighters in front of her. Dev with his hip cocked and the others ready to battle. Only there was nothing to fight.
Dev walked a slow circle, taking in their new landscape. "Anyone want to hazard a guess as to which way we should try?"
Ethon wiped his hand over his chin. "I’d say we try GPS tracking, but I’m going to bet we don’t get any satellite reception here. What do you think?"
Scorpio answered by releasing the spikes in his vambraces so that they stood out like a porcupine’s quills. Without a word to any of them, he headed for the black water that lapped against a light gray beach.
"Guess we’re going north," Dev said slowly. "Everyone, follow Lassie. Timmy’s in the well."
Scorpio raised his left arm. Interesting that with the blade extended, it looked like a vicious "FU" to Dev.
Ethon clapped Dev on the back. "Careful, Bear. I think you made Lassie mad. Remember in his case the bite is definitely more fatal than the bark."
Just as they neared the water, the ground under their feet started shifting. Fang cursed as it split apart and he started to fall into a ravine. Shifting forms from human to wolf, he leapt clear while Dev and the others ran to stable ground.
With her current form, Sam was in no danger. She floated over the shifting ground to hover near the men who were watching their feet suspiciously.
"That was close."
The men ignored her.
Frowning, Sam waved her hand to get their attention. They all four acted like she was invisible.
What in the world?
Irritated at them and scared that she was becoming even more of a ghost than she’d been before, she opened her mouth to chastise them. But the moment she did, she heard a deep, vicious growl coming toward her.
Turning her head, she gasped. It was a herd of leucrotae. Ferocious wolf-dogs who could feign the voice of people in order to lure their prey into closer range. The Greek historian Photius had once described them as "brave as a lion, swift as a horse, and strong as a bull. They cannot be overcome by any weapon of steel…."
And they were headed straight for them.
Ethon passed a friendly grin to Scorpio. "Hey, cabron, they’re not really dogs. You can kill these without guilt, I promise."
Scorpio pulled two swords out from the top of his boots and extended their blades. "Lo que son?"
Ethon unsheathed a sword of his own. "They’re what happens when the gods get frisky with the wolves. Their offspring make all kinds of sickening things. Right, Fang?"
"Blow me, Greek."
"You’re not my type."
Dev rolled his eyes. "The leucrotae were created as guardians to the gods. Their hide is supposed to be so thick it’s impenetrable to just about everything."
Fang made a sound of utter annoyance. "I guess it’s too much to ask if anyone happens to know a way to kill them?"
Ethon laughed evilly. "Yeah, I think so. Ever play the old arcade game Joust?"
"Remember the invincible dragons?"
Dev grimaced. "The ones you had to stab in the mouth when it was open to kill them?"
"Exactly." Ethon saluted them with his sword. "May your stab be straight, my friends. If not, I’ll see you in Tartarus…remember to avoid the grapes."
The first hound to reach them went for Scorpio’s throat. Hairless and bloodred, the hounds had small heads and a bony ridge that ran all the way down their spine to the tip of the burred tails that looked like a pointed mace–a mace they brandished with evil intent. With the teeth of a saber-toothed cat, the leucrotae were a force to be reckoned with.
Sam felt completely helpless as Fang and Dev turned into animals to fight. Scorpio and Ethon hacked at the leucrotae and tried to drive them back into the dark abyss. One of the dogs came at her. Instinctively she tensed in expectation of the fight. But the hound went right up to her, sat on his haunches, then barked twice and returned to the fight.
Two more hounds repeated the gesture, before they went on to ignore her while they attacked the others.
"Lucky you." Ethon growled as he tried to pound the one off his forearm where its teeth were shredding his flesh.
"Are they made of armor?" Scorpio asked in Spanish.
Ethon cursed. "Not supposed to be. I think their flesh is just that strong. Remember, their weakness is their eyes and the soft tissue of their mouths."
Sam felt completely helpless as she watched them fighting the hounds. What could she do? She kept trying to hit them, but her arms were worthless.
An idea struck her. She summoned her telekinesis. Throwing her hand out, she mentally grabbed a nearby rock and held her breath, hoping this would work. She concentrated and tried to lift it.
Her heart pounding, she threw it at the hound that was on Dev’s leg. The rock hit it hard enough to knock the hound sideways. It yelped and growled, then returned to the fight as if nothing had happened.
Now that she had a way to fight against the hounds, she joined the fray. She was even able to pry the jaws open on the one that had Ethon.
"Bless you," he breathed, wringing his arm out of its bloodied razor-sharp jaws. But as soon as he threw that one off, three more latched on. "Gah, whoever heard of piranha Cujo? I am never going to own a dog again or anything that even remotely resembles one."
Scorpio laughed. "They’re not dogs, amigo. Is that not what you said to me?"
"I lied and now the gods are punishing me for it." Ethon would be funny if they weren’t all in the process of getting maimed.
Sam used her powers to pull one off Dev. "You should have brought Chi for this."
Ethon scoffed. "Oh, now why would I want to bring a demon expert into a demon realm to fight demons? Where would the challenge be in that?"
Sam glared at him. "Bite him, Cujo. Right there in the fleshy part of his thigh where it’ll really hurt."
"Aigh!" Ethon cried as the dog did just what she told him to. He curled his lip at her. "That was wrong. Another inch and I’d be falsetto."
She ignored his anger as she realized something…had that been a coincidence?
Or did the dogs actually understand her?
It did nothing to stop them. They kept gnawing, biting, and attacking her friends.
Maybe they don’t understand the command.
So she tried something that should make sense to them. "Leucrotae, stamata!"
The hounds let go of their victims and stopped just like she’d ordered.
Holy Zeus…it actually worked. "Ela!" She snapped her fingers to emphasize the "come here" command.
Like clockwork the hounds withdrew to her side. Several of them jumped up as if trying to reach her. "Kato!" True to the word, they settled down.
Ethan’s jaw hung wide open. "I can’t believe it. Sam’s queen of the Damned."
Neither could she. It was a miracle.
Dev shifted back into human form. Her stomach clenched at the sight of the bleeding wounds on his body. Still, he was gorgeous with his cheeks flushed from the fight and his muscles rigid from the blood pumping through them. "What else can you tell them to do?"
Before she could answer, the ground under their feet began shaking again. The hounds howled, then bolted.
Fang gave a low whistle as he manifested back into a human. "Anyone else think it might be a good idea to follow them?"
Fang returned to his wolf body to chase after the hounds.
In human form, Dev started after him, then slipped as the dirt under his feet parted and sent him sliding sideways. A sharp, pointed boulder shot up from the ground, gouging his side while the black soil under him literally evaporated. There was nothing to hold on to. No way to catch his fall. He was going down.
He knew it.
Suddenly something wrapped around his wrist. Something that stung like a scorpion strike and jerked his arm so hard, he was amazed it was still attached. He dangled precariously over a deep cavern where flames danced, licking at his boots.
Looking up, he saw Scorpio’s determined grimace as he held tight to the whip he’d used to catch Dev before he’d fallen too deep to be saved. "Hold tight, Bear."
Even though his wrist and forearm were bleeding and burning, Dev wrapped one hand around the coarse, braided leather and grabbed tight with the other. He wasn’t about to let go.
Sam came running. He saw the panic in her eyes that warmed him. Until the ground started shifting under Scorpio’s feet. Gasping, Sam jumped back out of habit.
He heard the sound of the hounds screaming after they fell into the pits and were consumed.
Sam wanted to cry as fear ripped through her. She had to do something. Closing her eyes, she reached deep into her powers to pull Dev up. Because he had his own powers and he was a living organism, it wasn’t as easy to lift him as it had been with the rock. It took a lot more power and she wasn’t used to it.
"Ay Dios," Scorpio breathed as his feet started slipping. "I can’t hold him."
The ground under Scorpio crumbled, sending dirt all over Dev. Sam wanted to scream as she saw images of Dev dying in the flames.
There was nothing she could do.
Out of nowhere, Fang shot forward. He knocked Scorpio sideways so hard that it cleared the shattering ground. But the jolt caused Scorpio to let loose the whip.
"Dev!" she screamed.
Ethon dove at the pit.
Sam couldn’t breathe as she closed her eyes. But she couldn’t be blind to Dev’s suffering. He was in this because of her.
I’ve killed him.
Her premonition came back tenfold as bile rose in her throat. Tears scalded her eyes.
"Damn, Bear…what did you eat? How much do you weigh? Ever heard of Weight Watchers? Dude, diet is not a four-letter word for someone who weighs in at a solid freakin’ ton."
She forced herself to look while Ethon continued berating Dev. To her complete shock, he had the whip and was trying to pull him up.
Fang and Scorpion grabbed Ethon by the waist and added their power to his.
She bit into her knuckle so hard, it bled. Please, please, please…
For the first time in centuries, she felt like the gods were on her side as they hauled him up.
Dev slung his leg over the edge. Ethon grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him clear of the ravine. Then all of the men sprawled out on the ground.
Ethon let out a sinister laugh. "I think I need a vacation."
Fang groaned. "I need a new backbone that doesn’t feel like someone did a two-step down it with steel-plated razor cleats."
Scorpion sucked his breath in sharply between his teeth. "I need a belleza well tutored in massage."
Dev rubbed his bleeding wrist. "I’m going with Scorpion. Except my bonita is unfortunately intangible at the moment, which doesn’t do me any good."
Everyone went silent as they became aware of the fact that Dev had just proclaimed her his. Publicly. Sam was stunned by his words.
"Oh, c’mon, people," Ethon said in a mocking tone. "We’re all adults. Not like we didn’t know what was going on between them. You know Dev isn’t risking his jewels ’cause she plays a mean game of pool, for Zeus’s sake."
Fang turned his head to pin Ethon with a gimlet stare. "That explains Dev. I’m here to keep his sister from beating on me if I let him get hurt. Neither of those explain why you two are signed up for this."
Ethon scoffed. "Mine’s simple. Brain damage."
Scorpion shook his head. "I just like to kill things."
Ethon rolled over and pushed himself to his feet. "But not dogs."
"Si. No dogs."
"Why?" Sam asked.
Scorpio didn’t answer as he flipped straight up into a fighting stance.