“After you, young demons,” Damijan said politely, stepping aside.
I saw a black cloud going into the tree, which was more than likely the portal into Kenaf.
I glanced at Keoni, a little unsure.
It was not that I didn’t trust Damijan because I did.
After all, he had saved us from the dullahan Mica’s curse.
However, looking at it, I was scared—a little though. A demon’s got to keep his pride, after all.
I’ll admit though—I was unsure because I was afraid of what would be on the other side.
“Ready, Xan?” Keoni asked, snapping me out of my thoughts. I could see the fear in his eyes.
Fear of the unknown was the worst type of fear.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I replied.
I shut my eyes tight and walked forward, somewhat expecting to walk into the tree like this was some sort of joke.
When I continued walking, I walked straight through the portal, which was black on the inside.
I could see the light shining brightly through the abyss of darkness. I could only imagine that that was the other side of the portal leading us into the realm of the witches.
I walked through the portal and made it to the other side, and when I walked through, what I saw was absolutely amazing.
It was way different than earth. There were plants of red and blue and green. They were taller than the average size of a mansion on earth.
There were houses made of brick, wood, and stone, mainly wood though. It reminded me of treehouses, the way that they were situated.
The houses were up in trees. They were surrounded by trees and plants and grass.
The town was in a forest—or, should I say, the neighborhood was. As far as I could see, the shops and markets weren’t around.
Since it was a magical realm, I could only imagine that the townspeople flew to the village. That, or they used magic to get there.
“Uhm . . .” I honestly didn’t know what to say. I was speechless.
“Beautiful, right?” Damijan asked as he walked through. As soon as he stepped foot inside the witch realm, the portal had closed almost immediately.
“Yeah, it is. Uh, why are the plants so big and tall?” Keoni asked. This was obviously different from Zennin, the demon realm.
“Yeah, and why are the houses up in the trees?” I added. I had a lot of questions, but I was going to start off with the simplest ones, like where everything was and how to get there—
oh, and if there was any danger here so I could avoid it.
“It’s so people can avoid getting eaten by the hellhounds,” Damijan said, answering my thoughts.
That was when another thought came to mind.
“Hellhounds?” Keoni asked, confused.
If I remembered correctly, those were demon hounds.
I’d never had one thanks to the peasant, but I was sure Keoni had a few back at the palace where the demon king, our father, resided.
“Yes, hellhounds. I’m sure you’re familiar with them,” Damijan said calmly as he started walking forward into the trees.
“Uh, yeah, but why are they here?” Keoni asked, still very much confused.
“Let’s just say we have a few enemies here and they had brought a few of them with them as they entered,” Damijan said slowly as he came to a stop in front of what looked to be a tall redwood tree, but in this realm, anything was possible.
“Enemies? What kind?” I asked, curious as I watched him pull on a branch.
A platform made of leaves and bark came down slowly.
“All right, boys, on you go—and hurry,” Damijan said in a hurry.
“Why though? And what kind of enemies do you guys have?” Keoni asked again, seeing as Damijan either hadn’t heard me or didn’t want to.
“The hellhounds come out around now. That’s why. And as for enemies go, we have all kinds,” he explained as he flew up the tree at about fifty miles an hour, and let me tell you, the tree was very tall,
around 50 meters in height, which was around 164 feet in height.
“Hellhounds are actually very loving creatures, sir,” Keoni said. I assumed he was trying to console him.
“Not these ones. Back in your realm, what do your hellhounds look like? How many do you have, and what are their names?” Damijan asked curiously as the platform came to a halt in front of a tall wide wooden house.
“I have two gray hellhounds. One boy and one girl. Livid is the girl, and Vrag is the boy. They were given to me as pups, so they still have their fur,” Keoni said in a daze. “Why?”
“Well, the hellhounds we get here are vicious and will do anything to get to you. We’ve lost a lot of our population because of them,” Damijan said, looking into the sunset. “They come now around sunset and don’t leave till morning.”
“What do they look like?” I asked curiously.
“They have red eyes, long jagged teeth with canines longer than a vampire’s. The fur they still have is black and matted,” he explained gruesomely. It was as if he was waiting for them.
“Fur they still have?” I questioned. Somehow that gave me the chills.
“Yeah. On some—or, well, most—they hardly have fur on their back and ribs. I’ve seen some with no fur on their necks. Some without any fur on their faces and snouts. Some have no fur on their tails. Actually, most don’t. Some with no fur on their paws or legs or spines,” Damijan said, looking around.
“That doesn’t sound too appealing to look at,” I said, cringing.
“That’s not the half of it. Those hellhounds that have no fur show their bones. You can see the blood and muscles moving with every growl and breath. Their legs show blue flames everywhere they go. It’s like the flames are permanent,” Damijan explained with a frown.
I assumed he had gotten tired of waiting or whatever he was doing because he suddenly unlocked the door and walked inside.
I looked at Keoni, confused, because I had never seen one before, and the descriptions they both gave were very different from each other.
“Are all hellhounds this way?” I asked him, confused.
We stayed outside. For one, I could feel the heat coming from inside, and I was already getting hot, and two, I wanted to see the hellhounds.
“Some are used for fighting, or they guard prisoners,” Keoni explained as he continued to look around.
“Do they all have flames?” I asked, confused.
“No. Hellhounds never have flames on their legs or paws. Especially blue flames,” he explained with a frown. That made me more confused.
“So why are these different?” I asked, looking at him.
Keoni looked at me with a serious yet confused look at the same time. “They must be enchanted.”
“Enchanted?” I asked, confused.
“Yeah. Someone is using them for evil purposes,” he said before looking away.
“You think that was why he wanted us to come? To take care of the hellhounds?” I asked.
“I think so. I mean, they are hellhounds. Which meant they came from Zennin,” Keoni said calmly.
“The demon realm,” I finished.
“Yeah,” Keoni said quietly.
“And we’re supposed to get rid of these enchanted hellhounds?” I asked, not wanting the answer.
“Yep. That’s about the gist of it,” Keoni said, leaning against the tree.
The sun had just set about a couple of minutes ago, so the hellhounds were due to come out anytime now.
“How big are hellhounds?” I asked, looking out into the moonlight.
“They can vary in size. Mine back at the palace are twelve meters tall.”
When Keoni said that, my eyes went wide.
Twelve meters? That’s around thirty-nine feet high.
Yeah, shut it, peasant.
Still think we can take ’em?
Huh? Take who?
The hellhounds. Isn’t that why we’re here?
How should I know? I was only guessing, dumbshit.
Oh. Well, you don’t have to be so mean all the time.
How many times do I have to tell you, dumb peasant? I am a demon. “Nice” isn’t in my vocabulary.
Not a word.
You didn’t let me finish.
You don’t need to. Unless you want to deal with the hellhounds.
No, thank you. I’ll be quiet now.
That’s what I thought.
“How big are the pups usually?” I asked. I was not really looking forward to the answer because I was kind of afraid of it.
I figured luck wasn’t on my side because Keoni was going to answer anyway, but for the sake of the mission, I guessed it was essential.
“The pups are usually five meters tall,” Keoni answered.
Yeah, I was afraid of that. These hellhounds were bigger than houses themselves, but then again, I’d never been to Zennin, so I didn’t know how big the houses were over there.
I wouldn’t know how to raise a hellhound or if they kept them indoors or outdoors.
“That’s around sixteen feet in height. Damn,” I thought out loud, making Keoni chuckle.
“That’s puny compared to what we’ve got,” a voice said behind us.
I whipped around, claws and fangs out, ready to claw the person who had snuck up behind me—only for me to realize that it was Damijan.
He chuckled, knowing he had scared the living daylights out of me.
“Oh, it’s just you,” I said calming down. I allowed my fangs and claws to retract so I could go back to looking normal.
I looked up to see him clearly for the first time.
He had reddish-orange curly, wavy hair that hung loosely down to his chin. His eyes were baby blue. He had pale skin.
I could bet if any girl were here, they would be all over this guy. He looked better than a damn demon did.
He let out a light laugh as he glanced my way.
Were you checking him out?
No, you dumb peasant. I was not. Absolutely not. I will kill anyone who thinks that. Even you. Got that?
“I doubt it,” Damijan said with a grin as he stared down at me.
His gaze was becoming too much for me to handle, so I turned around and looked toward the ground. I was pretending to search for hellhounds, even though it would be pretty obvious when they were set loose.
“What?” Keoni asked, confused.
I could feel him glancing between the two of us. I answered him with silence, making Damijan chuckle more.
The deep laugh he had could woo any girl.
What the hell?
Ha ha ha!
You are going out now.
What? No, no, no, no. I’m not ready.
Don’t get us killed, peasant.
Would you step in if I do?
You’ll see, and you better not say a damn word, or else I’ll take over and send us off to the hellhounds as a snack and then put you out to feel the pain.
“No need to worry, young demon. It’s nothing of any importance,” I heard Damijan say to Keoni.
It’d been a while since Xander let me out. I was afraid yet glad at the same time.
“Are you okay, young vampire?” I heard him speak up again.
That was when I noticed. He did have a soothing voice, but I had no idea what Xander was thinking when he had said those things about him.
I had no idea why he had said those things because for one, he was a demon. He had said he didn’t have a heart, so why and how would he know?
“I can answer those questions later, young vampire. Whether your companion wants them answered or not,” Damijan said.
I turned around to see him chuckling.
I looked at Keoni, and that was when he had noticed I wasn’t Xander anymore.
“Since when did you and Xan change?” Keoni asked, shocked. “I would’ve recognized your change.”
“They switched just now, young demon, and don’t question things further,” Damijan said with a stern voice, looking over to him. He got very serious very quickly.
No wonder Xander was afraid.
I was not afraid!
“Uh, okay then,” Keoni said, unsure.
I could tell he was unsure of what to do now. For one, the tribrid wasn’t giving off a very friendly vibe toward him, and two, he didn’t really like me because I was a peasant.
“So w-what n-now, sir?” I stuttered, frightened.
Yeah, I may have been in a place where no one would pick on me, but I couldn’t help it. I’d been this way for a couple of centuries now.
“No worries, young vampire. I promise no harm will come to you or your friend,” Damijan said warmly with a grin. “Now if you quiet down and listen, you should be able to hear them coming. They’re very quiet. They use stealth, as unlikely as it seems, but they do.”
“You s-s-sure?” I asked quietly, turning around, away from their gazes, especially Keoni’s. I could just feel the hatred in his eyes, hatred for me. Why? I had no idea.
I was assuming it was because of Damijan favoring me. I had no clue why he did, and it wasn’t anything I could help. So I had no idea why Keoni was so mad.
Maybe it was jealousy.
“I’m sure, young vampire,” I heard Damijan say quietly.
I did as he had said and stayed as quiet as I could.
The only sound was of our breathing and the rustling of leaves from afar.
“There they are,” Damijan whispered from behind me, making me cower and hide my head from fright.
It was an automatic reflex of mine. It came out every time I got suddenly scared like that. I wasn’t expecting him to be so close.
His voice sounded right behind my head, maybe a couple of inches or feet from my ears.
“Sorry, young vampire. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” I heard Damijan whisper. He sounded hurt himself. It was as if he was the one who had been hurt.
Maybe he got his feelings hurt when he thought I was afraid of him. Who knows? All I knew was I thought he liked Xander more than me,
although he tolerated me.
“It’s o-okay, and who’s there?” I asked, stuttering a little, trying to listen harder.
I couldn’t help it. Xander had better senses than me, and he knew it. Why was I stuck out here listening for the scary hellhounds that could rip my face apart?
Oh, that’s because Xander has feelings for the tribrid.
I do not. Say that one more time, and I’ll take over and jump right into the hellhound’s mouth.
Sorry . . .
“The hellhounds, you idiot,” Keoni sounded next to me.
He was obviously angry with me, and he made it known.
I lowered my head when he called me that. The names still hurt. They always did. No matter how many times I’d heard them, it never got any easier.
It just seemed to hurt more each time another one was spat in my direction.
That was when I felt Damijan step in between me and Keoni. He was tall. I knew Xander had said he was over six feet, but he honestly looked taller than that, considering I was kind of tall and he looked to be about ten inches taller than me.
We’re five feet and nine inches. He’s six feet and three inches. That’s seven inches apart, genius.
Yeah, “oh.” Damn, you’re a dumbshit. Better get a hold of yourself. Don’t let anything slip past you, retard.
I’ll try not to.
You better try harder.
By the way, how do you know exactly how many inches apart we are?
It’s obvious. Open your eyes, pathetic peasant.
I am, and to me, it isn’t that obvious.
“That’s because it’s not. Only he would know
that it’s the perfect height, right?” Damijan whispered lowly in my ear, making me jump slightly.
“Oh, uhhh . . . I wouldn’t k-know,” I stuttered. He was confusing me all over again. He honestly made me want to have Xander take over.
I am not taking over right now. It’s your turn.
Suddenly, a low-sounding growl made me jump back and stumble into something hard behind me. I had assumed it was the house walls because this ledge wasn’t very big.
That was until a strong arm wrapped itself around me, crossing my chest. I didn’t mind it because for one, it was keeping me steady and on my feet. Two, it made me feel safe for some unknown reason.
Inside my head, I heard Xander let out a low growl. I knew he wasn’t mad or angry at me or him. So I had no idea why he would be growling.
“It’s all right. I won’t let you fall, young vampire,” Damijan said calmly. I could feel the vibrations of his voice rumble through his chest and vibrate onto my back.
He was warm, and to me, I was cold. I had honestly wanted to go inside, but considering that this might be the reason he wanted Xander and Keoni to come here, I was forced to stick it out.
I welcomed the little warmth he was giving off from holding me up.
Not only was I freezing cold, but also, I was so scared, I was shaking. He was literally holding me up. If it wasn’t for him holding me up, I probably would’ve fallen off the ledge.
“S-so is t-this t-the reason t-that you had us come?” I stuttered out.
I could feel my teeth start to chatter. I held my arms close to my side to keep as much body heat as I could. I could feel my legs start to shake because of the cold.
It seemed to get forty degrees colder all of a sudden, and I had no idea why. It was no wonder I had to have help supporting myself.
I glanced over at Keoni to see that he looked completely fine. He didn’t look the least bit cold, and I could feel Damijan’s warm body behind mine. So I knew that he was definitely not cold.
So why was I the only one cold?
“Peasant, you’re cold because the hellhounds are near. They’re enchanted, if you hadn’t heard Xan’s conversation with me. They grow colder because of the blue flames on their feet.”
“Oh.” I honestly had nothing to say. The only thing on my mind was the cold.
“We will go inside as soon as you get a glance of the hellhounds. I want you to see what we have been dealing with,” Damijan whispered against my back.
“O-o-okay,” I stuttered.
I didn’t like this guy the way I assumed Xander did. I only thought of him as a friend.
Even so, I felt myself scoot further back into him.
I was freezing. It felt as if it was negative twenty degrees Fahrenheit, and I was already cold even before they had come.
They just made it worse.
“H-how l-long d-do t-they t-take t-to get h-here?” I stuttered once again. I felt my hands grow numb,
which only meant one thing. They were starting to turn purple.
“I’d go inside and give you something warm to wear, but you’ll miss the hellhounds. I’m dearly sorry, young vampire,” Damijan said, his voice sounding with regret. “Give me your hands.”
I brought my hands up to my chest, palms up. I didn’t know what he planned on doing with them, but I didn’t care as long as he warmed them up.
Xander did say he had werewolf blood, which meant he was used to the cold. His werewolf blood kept him warm 24-7.
I would have said that that was just a rumor I had heard, but his arm across my chest proved that the rumors were true. It probably had something to do with them transforming.
Can’t he just transform and have his pelt warm us or something?
You mean warm you? That weather would be nothing to me.
Then why don’t you come out and take over?
No. You brought that upon yourself. Deal with it.
“That’s a great idea, young vampire. I’ve got to warn you though. My wolf form is huge. I stand around seven feet,” Damijan whispered into my ear.
I just nodded in reply. I didn’t care. I was freezing and desperate to get some warmth. I mean, I couldn’t feel my arms anymore.
“Okay then. Sit down. I don’t want you to fall,” he said softly, walking me over to the left, a few feet away from him.
Keoni was ignoring me and watching out into the night. I assumed he was looking for any signs of the hellhounds.
I suddenly heard the sound of clothes tearing. I looked off to my right to see a beautiful midnight-black wolf sitting next to me. He glanced my way and muffled a low growl.
I had no idea what he had meant since I couldn’t speak wolf, but it wasn’t anything bad. That much, I knew. It was all of a sudden when I felt Xander let out a low growl inside my mind, confusing me more.
I had no idea why everyone was growling, but I didn’t care. I was too cold.
I saw Damijan’s light blue eyes gesture me over to him. Sadly, I declined. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t trust myself to walk without falling.
He must’ve either read my mind or gotten the hint because he leaned over to his left and laid his paws and head down on my lap, immediately warming me up.
His head was enough to warm me up without getting uncomfortable.
The tricky part was walking back inside without help. The reason was when he transformed back, he would be nude, and I knew damn well that his wolf form wouldn’t fit through the door, so he’d have to transform back in front of us or me before running inside to get changed.
Are you warming up, young vampire?
Yes, t-thank you.
It’s my pleasure. Now hush and look ahead. The hellhounds are enchanted, so they are able to turn invisible for a short amount of time.
For how long?
They can only turn invisible for three and a half minutes, but they know exactly when to transform. So you’ve got to be careful. Use your ears and listen.
“Keoni,” I was able to say without stuttering, only thanks to Damijan’s wolf form.
“What do you want, peasant?” Keoni snapped, making my self-esteem lower for a second.
Now wasn’t the time to get all depressed. I had to tell him what Damijan had told me.
“Uhm . . . Damijan told me that these hellhounds are able to turn themselves invisible for three and a half minutes since they are enchanted,” I said quietly. I knew I said I wouldn’t get depressed, but sometimes I couldn’t help it.
“I know that, idiot. I studied hellhounds back in my palace in Zennin. I know what enchanted hellhounds are capable of, and I certainly won’t need your sorry ass.
Xan is the only one who is able to help me. So hurry up and go back already,” Keoni spat out hatefully.
Nobody wants me out. It really would be better off for everyone if you and I separate. That way, I can disappear forever.
I won’t mind. The only thing is we’re more powerful together.
So you don’t want to separate?
I may not like you, but I like to be powerful, and the only way to do that is to stick with your stupid ass.
Not wanting to leave me.
I can give you guys protection if you want.
Is t-that you, Damijan?
Yes, young vampire, it is.
You really would protect us?
Peasant, I don’t need protection. I can handle myself.
Whatever you want, young demon. I respect your wishes. It was just that my young vampire friend is getting hurt by that other young demon.
Hmmm . . . He won’t dare lay a hand against me.
You sure about that?
I’m pretty positive.
Okay, good. So I won’t have to worry then.
W-worry? Why would you w-worry?
It’s because I care about my friends, young vampire.
Friends? Whoever said we were friends?
You did, the minute you looked away from me, young demon.