“Time. Keep hidden—not here.”
Hope blossomed and her heart seemed to swell inside her chest. “He’s not going to die?”
The pup shook his head from side to side. “Must leave now.”
She exhaled. “How am I supposed to do that? It’s not like I can lug around his huge body. Have you seen how big he is? I can’t throw him over my shoulder and take off running.”
“Yes.” The wolf’s golden eyes sparkled in amusement, but like a switch, the humor disappeared. “They’re coming.”
Dread squashed all her previous lightness. “Who’s coming? Demons?” The wolf nodded, the fur over his shoulder blades rising. His gaze stared at something on the wall behind her and growled. Taking a deep breath, she let her icy demeanor take over, knowing it was the best way for her to cope with whatever was about to happen.
She turned to face whatever was approaching. Her heart painfully pounded in her chest, but she refused to budge. For the first time she could remember, Émilien wasn’t able to take care of himself or anyone else. He needed her to be strong, and in his current state, lying on the floor behind her, he needed protection.
The dark stone began to shimmer, and an orange-red line moved to form a large circle on the wall. The circle was large enough for someone, or several someones, to walk through. “This doesn’t bode well,” she whispered.
“No,” the wolf answered.
“Shame on me for not asking before now, but what is your name? I can’t keep calling you wolf.” Narrowing her gaze, she thought she saw a large shadow in the center of the glowing circle. Glancing down, she met the pup’s gaze. “Are you strong enough to keep this form or will your demon emerge on their command?”
“Demon.” The pup’s eyes widened, fear rising in their depths.
“Then, until you learn to control it, how about I send you back to sleep?” The young wolf nodded. Once more whispering the ancient words of the stasis spell, he curled up in her palm and fell asleep.
Deep growls filled the room, and she smelled the nasty odor of sulfur wafting from the growing portal. Hurrying toward the rock where she had first found him, she laid the pup against the wall and ran her palm over his soft fur, which lessened his lingering agitation, and he succumbed to the spell completely.
Turning, she all but ran back to Émilien’s side and summoned her sword and shield, the only two gifts she had ever received from her mother. “Well, Freyr, hope you were a good teacher...” Raising her shield, she bent her knees and tried to remember what she had been taught so long ago. She braced herself for whatever was about to exit the portal and focused on the swirling mass, but she still wasn’t prepared when three large demons jumped through.
The first massive creature landed in front of her and lunged, the thrust forcing her to slide backward across the stone floor. Panic flared, until she remembered to let the ice flow through her veins and mind, finally able to focus only on the fight and protecting both Émilien and the wolf.
The demon turned toward Émilien, a blade appearing in one clawed hand. She let out a high-pitched screech and jumped between them, swinging her sword. The blade connected, striking the demon in the neck, and his head rolled across the cave floor.
A scream filled the space, piercing Hel’s head and all but driving her to the ground. The pain was excruciating, but she locked her knees to stay upright and pointed the blade tip at the two demons taking the dead one’s place.
Side by side, they were like a massive wall of putrid, green-colored steel. The shade reminded her of pea soup, her absolute least favorite. Being taller than most women and a lot of men, having to look up at them was beyond intimidating. Her gaze dropped to their arms. The muscles wore muscles.
Lifting her gaze, she stared into the blood-red beady eyes of two horrendously ugly faces. They glared, hatred beating at her. She was in so much trouble.
Swords bathed in fire appeared in their hands, giving her the impression of a mirror image. The left one smiled, his black lips stretching over vampiric-looking teeth. His sword raised, but before she felt the burn from the flaming steel, Émilien shoved her away. His raised his head and let out a cry of rage before striking the toothy demon with his dagger-like claws.
“Didn’t expect me to do that, did you?” Émilien growled at them.
The demon clutched his chest, the lacerated skin hanging in four strips, thick rivulets of black blood running down his abdomen. He stepped back and the second demon moved into his place, a second fiery sword appearing in his other hand.
Hel gripped her weapons to her, not believing what she was seeing as Émilien and the demon came together in a loud crash. Growls and curses filled the cave as the two fought. The demon’s arm jerked back, the sword magically shortening until it became a dagger as it lunged down toward Émilien’s chest.
Biting her tongue to keep from screaming, she watched as Émilien reached up, grabbing the dagger before it nicked his skin, and broke the demon’s forearm with a hard twist. It didn’t faze the demon as it used the same broken arm to slam against the side of Émilien’s head and knock him sideways.
“That hurt, you asshole.” Before the demon could make his move, Émilien, already doubled over, rammed his shoulder into the demon’s abdomen and pushed him back, not stopping until he was spreadeagled over the portal, his red eyes wide with fear.
“You send me back to my death,” the demon hissed.
“And you tried to kill me,” Émilien taunted. “Win-win, in my opinion.” He raised his paw to push him backward.
“Wait! I can tell you who brought you here and who is stealing the dead from the Death Realms. I know his plans.”
Émilien hesitated. “And why should I trust you? You’re a demon—demons lie, trick, and steal. Oh, and they maim, torture, and murder too. Why would I believe anything you have to say?”
“My brother and I were forced to do this. They have my son and will kill him if I don’t take you to them.”