Two shadows drifted out from underneath my shirt, forming two irregular shaped circles. They trembled, and then dropped to the stone roadway, spilling into a million tiny balls that shot together. The inky black balls rose into the air, but they didn’t drop to the ground like they normally would.
The dots spun and spun until a thick shadow formed. Before me, as my mouth hung open, legs formed, along with torsos and arms and heads. For a second, they were two people-shaped pools of black oil, and then, within a heartbeat, the murkiness gave way to detail.
A boy and a girl stood in front of me.
My jaw was starting to ache from how long I was gaping, but I couldn’t snap my mouth shut. They weren’t little boys and girls. Actually, they looked slightly older than me, but they were definitely of the male and female humanoid variety.
The guy was tall and slender, with auburn hair that fell into crimson-colored eyes. Shirtless, he was all wiry grace. A fine dusting of reddish hair covered his bare skin. Standing next to him was a woman with hair a deep red, nearly matching her eyes. Dressed in a black tank top and jeans, she almost looked normal. Almost. Patches of her skin weren’t exactly...skin. More like tiny scales breaking through, all so very...snake-like.
Oh my God.
The woman grinned brightly. “Hey, girl, hey.”
“Hey,” I said slowly, glancing between the two. “Um...”
Raising his chin in a greeting, the guy’s nose twitched and then...then his ears did the same. “Hi.”
Oh my God.
“I so knew you were up to shenanigans, and I was right!” Turning to the guy, the girl raised her hand, flipping him off. “Told you so. Told you that she was going to come here. So you should be glad I’m here, so you don’t get eaten by dragons. And yes, there are dragons here. And not as nice as Thumper, either.”
“You’re just so smart,” he replied drily.
“Damn tootin’.” She spun toward me. “He’s not very helpful right now, since he’s like new to all of this. I needed to come along.”
“You... You are...” I almost couldn’t bring myself to say it. “You’re Bambi.”
Hopping, she clapped her hands together. “And you’re Layla. And he’s Dumbass.”
Dumbass sighed. “I’m Robin. You know, your real familiar. Not the parasite who needs to go back to Daddy.”
Bambi snorted. “How about you go back to yourself. Huh? How about that?”
That didn’t even make sense, but the fact that I was staring at Bambi and Robin and they looked like humans didn’t make sense, either. “So you two... This is what you really look like?”
She nodded. “Yep. When we can, which tragically isn’t very often. But we can talk to one another even in our animal forms. Sort of telepathically.” She pouted. “Robin here is a bore. He’s really just slept this whole time.”
He scowled in her direction. “Because I needed to get charged up.”
“Whatever,” she quipped. “I miss my boys. Nitro and Fury and Thor. They’re fun. Thumper is like you. Another bore who just sleeps all the time, and when he doesn’t, he’s a grumpy tool.”
I blinked slowly as Bambi raised her arms above her head, stretching. Her top rose, flashing a taut stomach, and it suddenly hit me that Roth had a chick on him. Roth seriously had a chick all over him, all the time! On lots of parts of his body. And I had a dude on my stomach!
Roth and Cayman had failed to mention this little detail to me.
An ugly, insidious feeling crept into me and I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “You are on Roth.”
“Um, yeah. And sometimes I’m on you. Duh.” She frowned. “Did you hurt your head or something?”
Okay. I squeezed my eyes shut briefly. The jealousy was ridiculous. I couldn’t be jealous over Bambi, who might be a hot girl but also was a snake most of the time—a legit, giant snake that ate gross things.
Besides, I had a dude on me— “Oh my God,” I groaned, looking at Robin. “You were on me last night. You were on me—”
“The moment you all started losing clothes, I totally checked out.” He raised his hands, wrinkling his nose. “Did not want to see any of that. Didn’t feel any of that.”
“I...” There were no words.
“Look,” Bambi said, “for most of the time we’re on you, we aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing. Well, not true. When you were with Zayne, I was so paying attention.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “So the kittens? They...”
“They are hot. Oh my golly God, they’re triplets,” Bambi said, smacking my arm with enough force to stagger me. “Triplets, Layla. There are actually three of them.”
“I got that.” I rubbed my stinging arm. “Thanks.”
Robin folded his arms as he cast his gaze to the orangey sky. “I have a feeling we should not be here.”
“This is unspeakably weird,” I muttered, trying to grasp the fact that I was talking to the familiars.
Bambi flipped that crimson hair over her shoulder. “I think it’s fantastically delightful.” Prancing forward, she stuck out her tongue in Robin’s direction. Even in her human form, the tongue was still forked. “But you know what’s not delightful? Your taste in men. I was really hoping you’d hook up with Zayne. He looked yummy.”
“You’ve already eaten one Warden—”
“Honey, that’s not the kind of eating I’m thinking of when I clap eyes on that big, blond ball of sweet, sweet loving.”
My eyes widened as Robin rolled his. “I’m...uh, sorry to disappoint you?”
Bambi continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “I liked it when he would pet me and I think you liked it, too,” she said, and my face went up in flames, because I knew exactly the moment she was referring to. “But I wonder how he’d feel if he knew what part of me he was actually feeling up. It wasn’t my neck.”
“That’s disgusting,” Robin said.
She snickered. “It was amazing.”
Okay. I knew I needed to focus on the important stuff, but I was still stuck on the fact they were here. “How is this possible?” I asked.
Bambi opened her mouth, but it was a male’s voice from behind me that answered. “Ah, spoken like a true newcomer. Allow me to enlighten you, young innocent. Whenever familiars are in Hell, they automatically take this form. Obviously, no one thought to tell you, because they believed it would be a nonissue.”
Spinning around, I fought the urge to back up. Instinct demanded that I move far, far away from the tall man who stood in front of the doors leading to the hallway. Tall really didn’t do him justice. He had to be near seven feet in height. A ruggedly handsome man, if dark beards and hard, glacial eyes were your kind of thing.
“They can also take this form topside,” he continued.
Bambi giggled from behind me. “Astaroth lets me do that. Not often. But when he does, it’s always fun. I wish he would do it more often.”
The man arched a brow. “Probably not the wisest of decisions. You see,” he added, directing his attention to me again, “the familiars have very little impulse control and they do not operate by any human moral compass.”