wall

Dereza began to hum to herself as she filled out the paperwork that Harvey and Greg had presented to her. Tom sat at the kitchen table at the end closest to the window, while Greg and Harvey sat to his right on one side and Dereza opposite of them on the other. The half-succubus didn’t look at all embarrassed that she was completely naked in front of two total strangers, or that she had been in the middle of having sex with him when they walked in.



Tom had lost those feelings of embarrassment a while back, but it was still a little awkward when your coworkers walked right in on you having sex without a care in the world and listing off things that needed to be signed and done like you hadn’t been doing anything even remotely private.



Greg spoke with Dereza about some of the things she needed to understand on the form for third-party service to the Second Special Division of the Department of Internal Affairs. She nodded and continued to sign and give information as she needed to.



Harvey, however, gave Tom a sideward glance, amused.



“You have good technique, Tom,” he said.



“Really? Dereza’s screaming never told me that,” he shot back. Harvey raised his hands a little on the table to signal he meant no offense.



“It’s just idle conversation. I wanted to kick the door in and start shooting up the place like cowboys in a bar, but Greg said you’d be more flustered if we walked in and let you find us in there already,” the older agent joked with a grin on his face.



“God, you’re too hard to get mad at Harvey. You’re too damn likeable,” the younger of the two said, shaking his head slowly.



“There are some people who have seen the Harvey Fogelman that isn’t as nice. Greg knows,” Harvey said, glancing over at Greg, who held up his middle finger.



“This isn’t story time Harvey. Sorry Miss Unrama, say that again…” Greg continued with Dereza. Harvey let a genuine smile settle on his face and sighed.



“He gets like this when he thinks he’s doing all the work. Sometimes he’s such a little baby,” Harvey remarked, causing Tom to stifle his laughter and Greg to shoot both of them a glare.



Tom shook his head in amusement. “So did you guys come all the way out here just to do this, because I doubt that they’d send both of you to hand out employment opportunity papers.”



Harvey nodded slightly and said, “You’re smarter than they give you credit for. We’re here to bring you back to the Holding Center after she’s filled out the paperwork. There’s a division-wide meeting that the Secretary of State called. All of us, from One to Sixteen. It’s like a call to arms.”



Tom’s brow furrowed. “What, did we go to war with somebody else? Why all the divisions?”



Harvey shook his head. “We didn’t go to war with anyone.” He pointed toward the floor. “Somebody down there went to war with someone else. And that has the Special Divisions Head very worried.”



“Hence the meeting?” Tom guessed.



“Hence the meeting,” affirmed Harvey.



“Do I get to get dressed before I leave, or am I attending naked?” Tom asked jokingly.



Harvey nodded toward Greg. “That’s his decision.”



————



Tom sat in the largest auditorium the Holding Center had. Sixteen hundred agents of the Special Divisions sat quietly and waited for the speaker to arrive. To Tom’s left sat Veronica, looking through a stapled set of papers and signing them every now and again. To his right were Harvey and Greg, talking quietly to each other and playing some kind of word game between the two of them.



Behind him was Allen, who for once was normal and quiet and withdrawn like he had been before the excursion to Scotland. Tom had asked about him and received just about the same answer from the Director, Veronica, and Jehrme, who Tom didn’t ever see much of because he was harder to find than a giant squid.



Division Thirteen’s members were all sort of offbeat, especially the occultists. So, after being told that it was just Allen being weird, Tom had dropped the subject and just dealt with it. He sat there, bored, and watched the solid granite podium as if their speaker was going to rise out of it when he finally showed up.



The Director sat stone-faced with the other Division directors, who looked less than happy to be here. Divisions Thirteen and Fourteen’s directors looked like they were playing cards, Tenth and Ninth’s looked like two matchmakers trying to pair up people in the auditorium’s uncomfortable chairs. The rest were doing a variety of things, and only the Director looked anything close to serious.



From the right of the stage two men approached one of the Secret Service agents posted at the edge of the stage and spoke to him briefly before walking briskly back the way they came and making a number of shorthand radio calls. Then, they brought up another Secret Service agent who hurried onto the stage and stood behind the podium.



The auditorium began to grow quieter, but not by much. At this, the Director raised his hand and made a cutting motion with it in the air. As if by a spell, all of Division Two’s agents went silent and the others followed in suit shortly thereafter. Soon, it was quiet enough to hear the scratchy background static the old mic naturally had.



The agent cleared his throat and looked around the room before speaking. “I’ve just been informed that the Secretary of State will be unable to attend this meeting as she has other pressing matters at hand both domestic and abroad. However, this will not stop us from completing our goal here today. Instead of the Secretary of State, the Political Underworld Advisor Jona Wilkins is going to explain the situation at hand. I urge you to listen carefully.”



An elderly man took the stage and slowly made his way to the podium with a cane in hand. He surveyed the crowd from behind a pair of thick glasses and then collected his thoughts to speak.



“Good afternoon,” he said slowly. “I am Jona Wilkins, the Political Underworld Advisor to the United States of America. I am both an appointed official here and an envoy for the lower worlds some of you are about to enter. I am, in years on earth, just shy of three thousand. In Hell, let’s just say that I’ve been around long enough to know what I’m talking about. But before I begin, how many of you have ever had any contact at all with a demon before? All manifests and forms included. A show of hands is all that will be necessary.”



A sea of hands arose from the crowd.



“Good, now all those with your hands down, please move to the wall toward the back of the room.” He stopped there and waited for the mass of agents to allow their fellows to remove themselves from their seats and line up against the back wall.



“Now, raise your hand if you have ever injured, kissed, or spoken to a demon.”



Again, hands went up, but this time marginally less.



Jona paused to blink a few times, rubbing the scraggly beard at his chin. He narrowed his eyes at the crowd once again and ran over its members with his keen, ancient gaze. “Those who have their hands down, move into the furthest rows toward the back, and those who have their hands up, move forward.”



The makeup of the crowd changed drastically, and nearly a third of the present members made their way backwards while the rest move up.



“Alright. Let me see… Raise your hand if you have ever physically struck or had sex with a demon. Again, all manifests and forms apply. Hands up, move forward, hands down move back.”



The crowd thinned considerably, and Tom’s best guess at a glance was that only three hundred or so remained up front. The others began to look around as well, and they gave each other shrugs and surprised looks.



“This one applies to Division Directors as well. Raise your hands if your soul has ever been attempted on by a demon of any manifest or form.” He waited for the information to sink in as the agents and directors thought. “If your hand is down or you are still unsure, move back.”



Several of the directors stood and entered the crowd begrudgingly, but without protesting. Only three men and one woman remained on the stage behind Jona: Division Thirteen’s, Four’s, and Ten’s heads, and the Director.



“If you are a demon, please rise and take the stage to my left, all those remaining forward, please move as far forward as you can. Directors, please move to the seats in the auditorium, in the front row if possible.”



Forty or so demons presented themselves on the stage as the directors took their seats and the remaining few in the front of the auditorium organized themselves. Tom realized that there were less than a hundred remaining up front. He sat on the second row quietly near Greg, Harvey, and Allen and waited for Jona to begin speaking again.



His long, pale arm stretched out toward the demons to his left. “These are your bastion of hope in Hell, the very children of the womb you may soon enter. They are neither wholly good nor nefarious in action or emotion. But they are your allies. Understand that if even one of them is killed, then the odds of you returning from Hell are drastically reduced. They are not only invaluable to you, but to the United States of America as well, for without these forty-three demons, two succubi, slime, and seer, the nation you serve and protect would have collapsed an age ago.”



He gestured into the front of the auditorium. “These men and women are the pride of your race, the finest and fittest warriors on a battlefield chosen indiscriminately by both sides in a pitched battle of wits, wills, and diplomacy. They are your most stalwart defenders here in your realm, and the tip of the spear that will be sent to Hell as a gesture of good faith and goodwill. Pray they survive, for every one that may fall lowers your chances of returning from Hell by half. A domino effect occurs when a human is killed in Hell. Once one goes, they all generally tend to follow in suit, either by loss of sanity or by a third party incurring their end.”



Further out, he simply waved his hand left and right dismissively. “Toward the front of this divide are others whose value ranges from nearly as stalwart a defense to nearly useless. Though many of you will eventually return to a similar place as this in front of your peers, many of you will stay where you are in this hierarchy of experience and skill. And you lot against the wall, pray that you are never in one of these seats again, for it will mean a downfall from grace that you cannot imagine.”



He turned to leave, but perked up and resumed his place at the podium for a moment. “And if your score was between two and three hundred on the survey you took recently and you are in the front of these rows or here to my left with the same condition, or received a Not Applicable and are within the previous boundaries, please follow me. Everyone else will be briefed and made aware of the situation growing in both size and concern to you humans.”



He left the podium and made his way off stage right through a door that led further into the building. Tom looked around to make sure he was about to go with the right group. Veronica and Jerhme started off toward the door Jona had disappeared through, so Tom followed them. He and a dozen or so other agents hopped onto the stage and went through the doorway behind Veronica, Jerhme, and four other demons.



Behind them came two Secret Service agents, who closed the door behind them and said nothing to the group as they moved down a long, narrow corridor that no longer had a hollow, wooden sound beneath each step. It was solid now, but the walls and ceiling were still plaster and wood. Tom figured they must be going into the other side of the building, where the secluded meeting rooms and warehousing sections were.



Their pace slowed as they caught up with Jona, whose constant shuffle and cane smacking against the floor were the only noises in the entire corridor. Tom looked at Harvey and Greg for an answer to anything, but they shrugged at him and gave him just as confused looks as he had. Allen didn’t look at all surprised or concerned in any way though. He looked rather bored actually. Tom forced himself to drop all his issues with the occultist for the moment and pushed the thoughts from his mind.



Eventually, the corridor ended and Jona opened a solid, arched door with a complicated latch mechanism that ground gears and slipped bolts out of place on the other side of the door. The old man stepped to the side in the room ahead and allowed the agents following him to enter. The two Secret Service agents closed the door behind the last of the agents and stood outside.



Tom watched the door-length locking mechanism begin to fall back into its closed position, dozens of time-activated bolts sliding across an intricate surface of gears and pulleys and needle tips that pushed and ground against each other until the door was secured shut again.



Tom turned back to face the center of the room, looking over the heads of the other agents. It was a walled circle of stone with a staircase that wound around the circumference all the way to the ceiling that was so dark and far above Tom couldn’t see it. A chandelier hung ten or so feet off the ground, held up by a rusted chain with a twisted pair of copper wires running up its length.



Dim lightbulbs replaced the traditional candles on the chandelier’s banded iron rim. Tom couldn’t tell how old the place was, or even how it had gotten here in the first place. They were in the middle of a warehouse, and in the middle of it was a tower castle? Really?



“I need you all to sit now,” said Jona in a stronger and louder voice than he had used on the stage. The agents moved toward the center of the room and Tom saw a round table surrounded by large wooden thrones that looked like they were hewn from a single piece of wood each. Tom sat down in one between two agents he didn’t know.



One of them leaned forward and turned to him, grinning. “I assume you’re Ceria’s new toy,” he said, revealing a fanged set of teeth as his grin widened.



“I’m not a toy,” he replied.



“Enough,” Jona barked, tossing his cane against one of the thrones. He moved around the table, surveying the gathered men and women closely. He didn’t look like a keen-eyed old man anymore. His stature and stance had almost completely changed. His glasses were held in one hand behind his back, his other hand stroking his beard slowly. Broad shoulders filled fully the jacket he wore and his back popped audibly as he stood straight up.



“I have gathered you here to tell you that you are all going to Hell, and your personal files are being reviewed as we speak,” he said in a commanding tone. “So I expect you to listen closely, because after this meeting is over, you are on your own before you are sent to Hell. Is that understood?”



Everyone nodded silently.



“Good. Let me start by telling you exactly where you are going. Well, what is happening first. The other agents are getting the long part of it, the socio-political nonsense that you humans use to formalize everything you say.” He collected his thoughts for a few moments, looking off to the left as he tugged at his beard.



“There is a demon named Ceria, I believe you agents in Division Two know her as three oh one thirty, is that correct?”



“Yes sir,” Veronica answered.



“Well, your friend has spurned her greatest and most persistent admirer one too many times, and has now incurred the wrath of his marshaled armies. Fentin, as he is called, is a hopeless suitor to Ceria’s wealth, fame, reputation, and her body. He is also a nitwit and an idiot, but a rich and powerful one. Fentin has decided it prudent to declare war on Ceria’s estates and force her to marry him and procreate.”



He took a moment for the information to sink in. Tom was barely surprised somebody was getting Ceria back for being a bitch.



“This would normally be no problem, as personal feuds are very common in Hell and almost never have any effect on your realm or any of your nations. However, the United States of America has already accepted an invitation to a Festival of Triumph from Ceria, an unusual event due to the fact that her last one was declared to be the last she would have on her estate grounds. However, the fact of the matter is, that the United States of America has already agreed to send its agents to Hell for the festival, which will most likely end up coming under siege from Fentin’s troops.”



“Is this her personal estate or her family estate?” one of the demons from Division Four asked.



“Her personal estate. The fact that you all will be there while it is attacked, puts both Hell and your entire realm at risk of a diplomatic disaster. You are the third party in this conflict, a neutral third party. I say neutral with the utmost emphasis and importance. You will not fight anyone, even if you are attacked. You will not be designated an enemy by Fentin’s or Ceria’s forces until you take a hostile action. I cannot stress enough that you will not take part in any sort of combat while in Hell. The repercussions are tremendous, beyond you and everything you could imagine. One slip-up could cost both realms billions of lives. And I do not throw a number out like that to sound scary. Literally billions may die if you make a mistake.”



The room went silent as Jona took his seat at a throne and looked at all the gathered agents again. He narrowed his eyes at Tom and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the wooden table and knitting his brow.



“I can smell her on you. Has she coupled with you?” the ancient demon asked.



“Who?” Tom asked, suddenly feeling like an idiot for doing so.



Jona sighed. “And men of your caliber are being sent to Hell now,” he mused wistfully. “Ceria, dear boy, the only one of two demons I have mentioned that is a woman! Has she received any sort of sexual anything from you recently?”



“Yes sir,” Tom replied as his stomach sank.



“Have you been sent to her more than once? Has she demanded you specifically?”



Tom nodded. “Yes and yes, sir.”



Jona opened his mouth to say something, but caught himself, his entire body seeming to deflate as he exhaled disappointedly. “This is…very bad actually,” the demon said. “I can smell her on you so strongly that you must have struck a sweet spot with her. She…”



He trailed off, his eyes fading quickly to a faraway place. Everything went silent. So silent that Tom thought he could hear the beating hearts of the agents all around the table. He knew it was just his own, but the sound was still deafening in the silence.



“She is going to use you to provoke Fentin. You’re her new piece to play against him.” His gaze fell directly on Tom. His vulture eyes stared right through the agent and into the fiber of his being. “It is too late to save you now. It would take a demon more vengeful than Ceria to be your guardian to protect you from her intentions. You would do well to make friends in Hell while you are there. And quickly.”



Tom closed his eyes and let his head fall against the table. It was over. It was all over now. She had him right where she wanted him and there was nothing he could do about it short of getting himself killed before going to Hell.



“What’s the matter, boy?” Jona growled. “Is the knowledge that you having to act according to your assignment scaring you? Are you going to crack? Do you fear death in Hell?” The ancient demon scoffed and put his hands under his chin, rolling his eyes.



“She’s going to fuck me to death,” the young agent moaned mournfully, wrapping his arms around his head.



“Like the one who tried four years ago? Is that right?” Jona said, pinching a nerve in Tom’s emotions. The agent sat up and clenched his fists until his knuckles were white. If looks could kill, then even Jona would have slumped out of his chair in Death’s hands.



“Pride is an ugly color on you,” Tom said, watching Jona’s expression falter, to his great surprise. No more was the smugness in his features prevalent. It was replaced with a solid frown.

“Go through the door behind you. I’ll be with you in a moment,” he said, calm and collective. Tom stood up and walked to the door they had all come through. There was a short series of clicks and then the door unlocked in its intricate and delicate way, and opened. Tom stepped through it and closed it behind him.



Immediately, the Secret Service agent to his right grabbed his arm and the agent to his left threw a fist into his ribs. Tom found himself thrown to the floor and his right arm twisted behind his back. He glared up at the agent holding his arm down and his knee on Tom’s back.



“What the fuck?!” Tom gasped as the two agents fought to keep him subdued.



“Shut up,” one of them said, kicking Tom in the stomach. The Special Divisions agent couldn’t figure out how to get out of this by logical means, so he spat out the first thing that came to mind to provoke his assailants into doing something stupid.



“I bet your mother’s as much a cunt as Jona,” he sneered. The agent reared his fist back and struck at Tom’s face. Tom opened his mouth and barely managed to keep the agent’s fist from knocking his teeth out. He bit down on the man’s fingers, hard. The Secret Service agent yelled and let go of Tom’s arm, striking him in the back of the head as his counterpart kicked Tom in the side.



Tom bit down harder, as hard as he possibly could. He heard his ears ringing at the force, but continued to bit down as his head and ribs were struck again and again. He grabbed hold of the agent’s arm with his free hand and felt bone between his teeth. He didn’t stop.



This was going to hurt Jona, not personally, but it would wound his pride. Deeply. Tom let up as stars danced in front of his eyes, allowing the agent to tear his hand free of Tom’s teeth, ripping his fingers down to the nails.



Tom spit out the blood that had pooled in his mouth and rolled onto his side, catching the foot that hit him in the groin. He twisted the agent’s leg hard enough to snap something, and the man fell to the ground, holding in a scream. Tom twisted his leg further, and heard something snap again. The Secret Service agent’s leg was bent at a very unnatural angle, and he dragged himself away from Tom, snarling through gritted teeth to keep from screaming.



This time, a heel hit him in the head and knocked him flat on the floor, barely able to stay conscious.



“Jona!” Tom yelled. “Get out here you son of a bitch!” He barely managed to get to his feet, with the help of both walls on either side of him. A long time passed, and nobody unlocked the door. Tom struck the door with his fist and yelled for Jona again.



Again, nothing.



So, he did what anyone would do in a situation like this. He started walking down the hall back towards the auditorium, avoiding the two Secret Service agents trying to calm their nerves and keep from going into shock. He used the wall to hold him up as his side began to hurt, badly. He lifted his shirttail and found his entire left side bruised and bloodied. There were knots of the back of his head that felt as big as plums too.



He made it about half way down the hallway before he couldn’t even walk, and just gave up trying to go any further. He slumped to the floor and put his arms on his knees, locking his fingers together and setting his head on his hands. He controlled his breathing and held back something between a groan and a sob.



Tom waited for almost an hour before he saw the procession to his left coming his way. Jona strode toward him, cane gripped in a bone-white fist and its partner clenched in much the same manner. Behind him came the hustling group Tom had been sent away from, and the two agents, both still in serious pain.



“You are coming with me,” Jona declared, snatching Tom up by arm. The demon forced his way through the agents behind him, whipping his cane back and forth to clear a path. They reached the room at the end of the hallway and Jona threw him into it, slamming the door shut behind his own entrance.



“What?” Tom asked, dragging himself upright against one of the thrones. “You gonna beat me to death? Is that it? Go ahead and start then.”



Jona shook his head slowly. “No, not here. Before I send you away though, tell me how you knew I was of the Seventh Circle.”



Tom shook his head in the same manner as Jona had, mocking him. The demon clenched his jaw, but said nothing. He pulled Tom to his feet and slapped the cane across his face. The agent just smiled, his cheek bleeding and stinging horribly.



“Ask yourself how much more about you I know before you hit me again,” Tom said, bluffing his ass off. Jona raised the cane again to hit Tom, but waivered in his conviction and just let the agent fall back to the floor. Jona turned and left wordlessly, fixing his clothes as he walked.



Tom sat upright against the solid back of one of the thrones and waited for someone to show up. The door in front of his stood wide open, and eventually, someone was standing in the empty space between the open door and the wall, arms folded across his chest and a very unhappy look on his face. Tom would have paled at the Director’s mere presence outside of an office had he not felt like one of Big John’s practice dummies.



“I’ve mitigated your punishment, for now. Before I haul you somewhere to be taken care of, I want to know why you did what you did.”



Tom met the Director’s gaze with a hard, pained look. Tears started to bloom in the corners of his eyes, and soon traveled across his eyes toward his nose.



“He made it a point to hurt me personally, sir. I have no excuse.”



The Director extended his hand to Tom and the younger agent took hold of it. He lifted Tom to his feet seemingly without effort and helped the younger agent through the doorway and down the long length of the hall. Tom couldn’t tell what the old man was thinking, but he knew he’d just have to wait for it to come out before he’d hear it.



They entered the auditorium, empty now and silent save for the pair of footsteps that he and the Director created. The Director set Tom down in one of the chairs lining the back wall of the auditorium and pulled another one up for himself to sit in.



“Joniae Vasilikou from the House of Phyrakiai is one of the most revered and honored demons in all the Seventh Circle of Hell. He has managed to keep his origins and identity unknown to everyone but the most privileged and power-hungry demagogues and agents in the United States Special Divisions. Not even Mrs. Clinton knows his real identity beyond Jona Wilkins.”



“Yes sir,” Tom replied, more answering that he had heard than he had understood.



The Director gave his next words careful thought. “Now Tom, I need to know how you found that information out. Otherwise, there are two Secret Service agents outside that door behind you that are going to blow your brains out and inter your remains in an incinerator. Are we clear on this?”



Tom paled. The Director looked entirely serious. “Yes sir.”



“Tell me where you heard that from.”



Tom shook his head and shrugged. “I just told him pride was an ugly color on him and bluffed so he wouldn’t hit me. I swear. Ask Jona wha-”



“Jona claims rather passionately that you ‘know who he is and are a spy’. Is he wrong?” The Director’s tone was off. He didn’t sound determined or steady or even commanding. He was truly asking questions. It scared Tom deeply, and he tried to answer with some degree of coherency.



“I didn’t know any of that before you told me. I didn’t even know he was from the Seventh Circle until he told me himself. I bluffed about knowing something about him because he slapped the shit out of me with a cane. I swear to God I didn’t know anything. I swear. I don’t know what I have to do to prove it, but I’m telling you the truth,” Tom said, starting to tear up. His throat was getting tight.



Fuck, this was going to be it? The Director was going to walk him through a doorway, and bang, dead. Nothing meaningful, nothing nice, just dirty business to protect some asshole’s identity. Tom grit his teeth at the thought of that arrogant prick’s existence past his own. He looked at the Director and gave him a long, hard stare before tears rolled down his face.



The Director looked toward the floor and nodded slightly a few times, rolling over the verdict in his mind.



“As far as you are concerned, Jona Wilkins is an old badger who talks slow, has a cane, and is a veteran of the foreign relations with Hell. Am I understood?”



They shared a knowing look.



“Yes sir,” Tom replied, and was hoisted to his feet.



“Jona is an asshole by the way, so don’t feel like you’ve done something wrong. We’ve never seen his feathers ruffled like this before.” The corner of his mouth turned up in a very slight grin. “Takes a good long time to forget something like that…”



“Thank you sir,” Tom replied, vertigo hitting him as he walked. He could literally feel his heartbeat in his head. The Director held him upright and they made their way, accompanied by two Secret Service agents, to the medical wing.



Tom was sat down across the room from Jona Wilkins, who looked red in the face and had veins rising all over his arms, legs, neck, and forehead. As Tom sat down to have his general condition checked, Jona glared at him with embers in his eyes.



“Boy, if you ever-”



He was interrupted as a nurse stuck a thermometer into his mouth and slapped his jaw shut with her hand.



“None of that now,” she admonished with a smile. “I’m not through with you. We still need your blood pressure.”



Jona’s face darkened again and the embers in his eyes flared some. He turned his gaze to the nurse and spat the thermometer out of his mouth angrily.



“You don’t talk to me like that!” he snarled.



The nurse pushed Jona against the wall behind him with a long arm and three more sprouted from her uniform, the white scrubs fading to a teal color. She leaned forward and her eyes darkened to indigo orbs.



“Calm down now or you’ll have an aneurism,” she admonished, her color fading quickly to blue all over.



“Um…that’s a slime,” Tom said to the Director. “Why is she a slime?”



“Who better to be a physician than someone who can slip inside you and snip tumors out from their hiding places? Hm?” the slime replied as she put the thermometer back into Jona’s mouth and wrapped a tentacle around his head to keep him from spitting it out again. Jona looked even closer to exploding now than he had before.



“I guess that makes sense,” Tom replied, testing the long, bleeding red mark across his cheek. Jona smirked as he flinched at touching it. Tom ignored the demon and turned his head as the Director used his knee to help himself stand.



“Alright boy, don’t let me hear about you until nine a.m. on Tuesday. There’s a meeting I’ve got to prepare for.” The Director left and closed the door behind him.



“Okay then mister…Lanzig. Now it’s time for your check-up,” the slime nurse said, twisting her body around to face Tom. “Hmmm, let’s start with cleaning these up.” She lifted a tentacle to his face and wiped away the blood on his cheek and around his mouth.



Suddenly, her brow furrowed and her eyes darkened to almost black. She rolled her jaw back and forth for a few moments in thought.



“What?” asked the agent.



The slime touched his cheek again and then looked off to the side before answering. “Have you had a slime as a case subject recently?”



Tom nodded. “Why?”



The slime grinned from ear to ear. “Oh, I knew her before she came to this realm. She still leaves a flavor.” She lifted Tom’s arms with her hands and pulled his shirt off, examining his bruised and bleeding sides. She felt the back of his head and frowned.



“What? Ow,” Tom said as the slime pressed on his ribs.



She frowned. “You’ve got some internal bleeding and a lot of everything really. This may take a few hours.” At that, Jona smirked behind her and Tom rolled his eyes.



“Oh, well awesome. I guess the other two guys came in here before me, didn’t they?” Tom asked.



The slime nodded. “Yes, but their injuries were hardly bad. Two torn ligaments in a knee, a few fingers bitten down to the bone. I assume that was your doing?”



“Yes,” Tom admitted, rather proudly. At that, Jona’s face began to darken again.



The nurse paused for a moment and then latched a tentacle onto his side. Tom felt a warmth spreading through his chest soon afterward and the nurse turned back to Jona, her tentacle still latched to him. The agent just waited until she was done, swinging his legs idly back and forth as he sat, bored.



————



Ceria picked idly at her fingernails as she leaned against the blue truck that Jerhme drove, waiting for the demon to leave work. She was rewarded for her bit of patience when the demon walked up to his car and tilted his head to the side at seeing her. He smiled and stuck his hand out to her.



“I don’t believe we’ve met before,” he said. Ceria gave him a sideward glance and frowned.



“You know exactly who I am though,” she replied. Jerhme’s hand fell back to his side and he sighed.



“Yes, I do. I was only trying to be nice, considering all the trouble you cause every time you show up here.”



“I’ve got a serious question for you,” Ceria asked, folding her arms across her chest. Jerhme furrowed his brow and loosened his tie a little. He put his briefcase into the back seat of his truck and then closed the door.



“Alright, shoot,” he said, pantomiming a gun with his fingers.



“What happened to Veronica’s husband?” As soon as the words left her lips, Jerhme’s entire face turned a shade paler, his mouth and eyes going slack and dead. It took the demon a moment to regain his facilities and come back to his senses. His gaze hardened toward Ceria.



“Who told you about that?” He sounded genuinely worried, not that it mattered to her in any case.



“Veronica herself told me. Now I am not a patient person, so answer me.”



Jerhme took a moment to sniff the air and look around the nigh-empty parking lot. Once he was sure they were out of earshot of anyone that could be around, Jerhme spoke. “Veronica told you who she is?” His tone was shallow and soft.



“I am losing my patience, Jerhme, so out with it,” Ceria growled.



Jerhme shook his head. “I…I can’t, not without proof that it was she that told you to ask me. I’m sorry, I can’t-”



Ceria grabbed his collar with a clawed hand. “Tell me or I will end your bastard half-breed offspring,” she snarled, her face inches from his. Jerhme’s face paled a shade whiter and he finally relented.



“Fine. Do you know who Doran the Proud was?” he asked, Ceria’s hand loosening enough for him to take a step back.



“I know of him,” the demon answered.



“And the children’s rhyme Death Stalks His House?” asked the demon-agent.



Ceria pursed her lips in frustration. “Get to the point.”



“Death Stalks His House is a children’s rhyme about Doran the Proud and his demise. Veronica was Doran’s wife, but she was not Veronica then, she was Veronaa.”



“I still have not been answered,” Ceria said. “What. Happened. To. Him.”



“You have never heard Death Stalks His House? You still don’t understand?” asked Jerhme, almost in disbelief. Ceria controlled her urge to raise her hand to his throat again. The difference between the Sanctuaries was growing ever faster, apparently.



“I have little time for stories. Now tell me.”



“Veronaa loved Doran her husband with all her heart, and wed him knowing that he enjoyed bedding any woman he wished without restriction. She loved him so deeply that she allowed him to bed women as he saw fit even after they were husband and wife, but declared that she would be the only woman to bear his children. But Doran chose another, a mistress, to bear his son. This upset the Lady to such a degree that I could not look upon her as she wept and destroyed all her earthly possessions in a fit of rage and despair. I have never seen the lady so hurt and betrayed in all the years of service I provided to their house. I was Veronaa’s personal servant, you see. In many cases, her will made manifest.”



“Continue,” Ceria snapped.



Jerhme drew his thoughts together again. “As her sole personal servant, she ordered me to serve Doran as if I was serving her, and to love and protect him and his mistress as if they were my very own family. I was made to be their champion, their guardian and confidant in all things. I spent years in Doran’s direct service, and we grew to be companions and I his favored servant. All the while, Veronaa planned Doran’s downfall carefully.



At first, small things began to happen, things dropping, unexplained missing items, especially from the mistress’ personal belongings. Doran the Proud’s temper was short, incredibly so, and Veronaa used this to have his house collapse around him. At first, he beat the suspects of petty crimes within his house, and then relieved them of the services they provided, exiling them from his house. But the crimes grew worse. Things began to happen, larger things. His mistress was almost struck by a falling stone, and seven servants were put to death for negligence. Food was improperly cooked, or even poisoned, and more were put to death and exiled. Doran did most of the killing himself, but several of the murders he had me carry out, confessing his greatest apologies for having sent me instead of himself.



Eventually, through these things, his house was greatly diminished. But Veronaa was not to be blamed. No, Doran saw her as a fierce and loyal wife, constantly trying to find the culprits and professing her greatest admiration for his continued success in clearing his house of assassins and negligent servants. She played the part without flaw.



The house saw itself whittled down to the four of us, Veronaa, myself, Doran, and his mistress. I cooked and cleaned and served them as best I could, and Doran praised me even when my services were lacking. As one man can only do so much, he pitied me, but never brought in more servants, for fear that his enemies were waiting to put their machinations within his walls.



Ceria stopped him. “What of his death. I don’t care about these details.”



Jerhme nodded slowly, his eyes seeing things that had not been brought up in hundreds of years. “When Doran’s mistress was near the day when her child would be born, Veronaa stole her from Doran’s bed. Even I was unable to notice her until she opened the door in front of my face as she left, nodding to me as she carried the mistress away. I have never seen more malice in a smile in all my life before that day or after. Veronaa put Doran the Proud’s mistress to a torture rack and began to torture her in every way one can be made to feel pain.



Doran was awoken by her screams, and I was alerted to the terrible noise myself at that point. Doran leapt from his bed and we searched the estate. I wept and apologized to Doran for hours, and at every apology he forgave me for letting his mistress be stolen from his bed, blaming himself as much as he blamed her kidnapper. He never once thought to ask me how the intruder entered, and never thought that I was the one to blame for the happenings over the years as much as the culprits.



A/N: For those of you who don’t enjoy graphic violence, I suggest you scroll past this next part until you see the next Author’s Note. Just a friendly heads-up.



We searched for days, unable to find her as she screamed and wept and wailed for Doran and I and the gods to rescue her or end her life and torment. We found her though, days later, in the depths of the estate. She had been strung up with heavy cords, her wrists bound to cords reaching the ceiling, shoulders dislocated and pulled from their sockets. Her legs were strung as wide apart as could be, most of her body flayed and burned and corroded by sorcery. Her belly though had been left unharmed, save for a blade protruding from it.

Before I could advise otherwise, Doran, fearful, heartbroken, and exhausted, removed the blade from her body with one pull. But the blade was not as it had been stuck through her belly. Veronaa had peeled the end backwards into a shape resembling a hook with four heads. As Doran pulled the blade free from her body, he tore out half her entrails and his unborn son, beheading the child in the womb. His mistress died there, staring at the beheaded body of her child, lying in a bedding of her own blood and entrails.



At that point, I had been instructed to reveal who I served and allow Doran to sink into madness, but the years I spent with him and his mistress bore heavily on my heart. I knelt beside my friend, who I considered my brother, and wept openly with him, unable to restrain myself. But Veronaa brushed her hand across my shoulder to remind me that I was her servant, not his, and that I was not done.



A/N: Aaand…safe from all the evils that graphic violence can bring. Please continue to enjoy the story.



So I removed Doran’s blade from its scabbard and handed it to him, declaring that I had been serving Veronaa since his mistress had been with child, and that he had destroyed himself, his child, his lover, and his entire house. At this, Doran’s heart broke completely, and he loved nothing, felt nothing, saw nothing. He died. Only his body lived, and he could carry on with it no longer. He plunged his sword through his body and died before his mistress and son, weeping more bitterly and betrayed than I could have imagined a living creature being able.”



Jerhme looked Ceria in the eyes now, tears streaking down his face. “I have never regretted anything in my life more than watching Doran the Proud slay himself in utter misery. I am haunted by it to this day.”



Ceria sighed and shook her head. “And why should I be afraid of a woman who used her husband’s tempter to trick him? Do you not realize that human scheming is more complex than that?”



Jerhme smiled at that, wiping his eyes slowly as he calmed himself. “No, you don’t understand. It’s…Doran was called ‘old crow’ after he died. Doran the Old Crow. If that still means anything to you ancients in the Sanctuary of Salvation.”



Ceria’s heart skipped a beat.



“Snuck It Past the Old Crow,” she murmured.



Jerhme nodded, tears of shame and regret still falling down his face. “Yes,” he said after a long pause. “I am the noble soul, Doran was the old crow, and Veronaa is still the vindictive one.” Ceria let him leave after that, not wanting to hear him sob anymore. She sat on the hood of her car, mood growing sour.



She had already made one unwelcome enemy out of Fentin. Now she had Veronaa the Vindictive scheming against her. Enemies from within and without, and one simple thing uniting their animosity. She suddenly pushed terrible thoughts of doubt and regret from her mind.



Yes it was worth it, without question.



————



Tom’s eyes were heavy, more so than usual. Even on a Tuesday, waking up at fucking six in the morning so he could get to school on time was almost impossible. He groaned as his body collapsed into an office chair in the Debriefing Room. Everyone from the week before was here, including Jona Wilkins, who looked much healthier than he had in the medical wing. He was back to his usual frail-seeming and pale self, rather than a red-faced brute.



Tom paid the old asshole little attention as he scanned the room tiredly. Across from him sat the Director and a few other division heads. Around them huddled some of the demons that would be sent to Hell too, looking over some papers and information. Most of the agents were sitting in their seats, waiting on whatever was going to happen at this meeting.



After a few minutes, the clock on the wall hit nine and Jona rapped his knuckles on the table. The noise lessened, but didn’t stop until the Director cleared his throat. Tom was still amazed, even after four years, at how the Director could silence a room without saying anything. Jona pulled a manila folder out of his briefcase and opened it, rifling through the papers it contained before putting on a pair of large, thick glasses.



At that point, everyone had seated themselves and waited on what he had to say. He blinked several times at the papers before reading off some things under his breath. Then, he cleared his throat and sighed.



“Alright, I’ve received all of your personal information and I’ve compiled a list of the agents approved and denied access to the Oculus Infernus. So without any further delay, please listen carefully. If you are approved, please remain here for the next part of the meeting. If you are denied, then please leave the room and follow the two agents outside to complete your debriefing.”



The Director sipped at his scotch quietly as Jona began to read off names one by one. Out of the first eight or so names, two were denied and they left the room, looking almost disappointed.



“Veronica Harkendale, approved. Andre Hashar, approved, Mattiesko Helsinki, approved, John Lackridge, denied, Thomas Lanzig, approved…”



At the mention of Tom’s name, the Director’s eyes froze. Tom’s heart gave a solid, thudding beat in his chest and his pupils dilated. He gave the Director a fearful and hesitant glance. In return, the Director’s brow furrowed and he set down his scotch.



“Hold on, did you say approved under Thomas Lanzig?” he asked, cutting Jona off.



“Yes, Thomas Lanzig, approved,” Jona repeated, adjusting his glasses.



The Director shook his head. “Let me see that.” He took the papers from Jona and stared at the page on top, examining it closely. “There is no way this is right. I made sure that he wasn’t approved from the beginning.”



“The database confirms it,” Jona said, looking at another stack of papers. He showed the Director and Tom saw something in the old man break.



“Something isn’t right here,” he growled, tightening his grip on the papers in his hands. “I made damn well sure that when he joined up with the Second Division that he wasn’t going to Hell. I remember. There’s a mistake somewhere.” He pulled out his own glasses and took another close look at the paper.



“Director?”



“Shut it,” he snapped. “I remember the damned pen I used to mark no on his personal files! Something here is wrong.” Anger entered his voice. He looked up and scanned the room’s occupants as if he could determine who had allegedly tampered with the papers. His eyes then went straight to Tom and he narrowed them. “He is not going.”



“According to the Secretary of State, he is,” Jona quipped, taking back his papers.



“No, he is not. It’s my call Jona. He’s my agent, not hers, or yours for that matter. He is not going to Hell. And that’s final.”



Jona rolled his eyes. “Well, whatever your opinion is now, you said yes to sending him when he was recruited. And the database confirms it. So, despite what you want-”



“Jona, the boy isn’t going to Hell, no if ands or buts about it!” The Director’s fist hit the table so hard it spilled his scotch. Jona removed his glasses and turned his gaze to the Director.



“Please remove yourself from this room. I’ll fill you in on what you miss.” At that, the Director bristled, and glared daggers at the demon. But, he thought better of saying anything else and left, his features hardened to stone by the altercation. Nobody dared to even look at him as he left, not even the other division heads.



When the door closed behind him, Jona continued.



————



Later that day, Tom was having a late night farewell to Earth with Harvey and Greg at a bar, the three of them sitting on the outdoor patio and enjoying a bit of live jazz. They talked about everything they found interesting, from food to politics to the moon to biology. They digressed and regressed and found the evening a lot more interesting than most.



“…And the funny thing is, it’s like they expected to win fighting over a river with lighter armed troops and crap for morale. Seriously Persia, what the fuck?” Tom finished, downing the rest of the ice from his coke. The waitress refilled his drink as Harvey picked up from there.



“Speaking of Persia, Gaugamela anyone?”



Greg shrugged. “Same thing as Issus, just without the river and with more Agranian peltasts. Frickin’ Greek ninjas.”



Tom smiled at that. “Seriously, what kind of tribe breeds people that climb sheer cliffs and run as fast as Companion Cavalry?”



“Yeti’s or something man, that or Hermes had a hand stuck deep in that gene pool,” Greg finished, smiling to himself. Harvey finished his Heineken and looked into the empty bottle as the last drop fell from the lip.



“Well, since Gaugamela is too boring, let’s try something interesting. Carrhae,” Harvey offered. He raised his eyebrows and the others two looked at him strangely.



“Two words,” Greg offered. “Horse archers.”



“And cataphracts,” Tom added.



Harvey shook his head. “No, how would you win it? As Crassus.”



Tom’s brow knitted. “Win it? Well, for starters, not walk as straight and deep into a hostile country as I can and fight my only real battle with the natives in a fucking desert. Y’know, maybe use some logic every now and again.”



Harvey nodded. “Well, aside from not having the battle at all, how would you have won it? Given Crassus’ troops and equipment.”



Greg offered a strategy. “I’d have fought it out with the legions. Parthians only had ten thousand cavalry, Crassus had twenty thousand infantry, about eight thousand cavalry, and a genius son there. I would have just waited for the arrows to run out in testudo and then let the fight start from there.”



“Tom?” Harvey asked.



“Can I still say not fight? No matter what I come up with, frickin’ cataphracts come in and beat my army black and blue while it rains arrows. I can’t engage their cavalry because they’ll just pincushion my celts and patricians. My legions are gonna get smashed by the heaviest cavalry in the ancient world.”



They both expected Harvey to give his own answer, but the older agent was too busy staring at the opposite side of the patio with a genuine look of disbelief on his face. He blinked in confusion and then sat straight up in his chair.



“Director,” he said. The old badger quickly made his way to the table and nodded to greg and Harvey dismissively.



“Boy, up. We’re going.” He waved his hand once for Tom to get up and the agent followed without question. The Director didn’t look like he wanted to play games, not that he ever did, but this time was different.



“Later then guys,” Tom managed, his head already beginning to fill with wondering thoughts and renewed fear at having to meet Ceria on her own terms. Tom followed the Director to a black Dodge Challenger in a nearby parking lot and when the Director opened the driver side door, Tom realized that it was his car.



“Get in,” the Director said, closing his own door and bringing the vehicle to life. Tom got in and the Director backed out of the lot and began driving. He didn’t say anything the entire way to their destination. His face looked more grim than usual and his features seemed to be stuck in a consistent frown and furrowed brow. When the Director stopped the car, Tom took a quick look at where they were.



Apparently, wherever they were wasn’t in Tennessee anymore, nor was it anywhere in the South for that matter. It was snowing, and the only places that had snow forecasted for tonight were at least in northern Kentuckey. Tom had noticed that they were booking it on the interstate, but it had only been like two hours. Fuck the Director drove fast!



Tom got out of the car after the Director and shivered as the immensely cold atmosphere hugged him closely. The Director grabbed a coat out of the back of the Challenger and tossed it to Tom, who quickly put it on and followed his superior into what looked like an old Chinese restaurant across a small parking lot. Inside, it was decorated like an Oriental restaurant, with tons of ornate wallpaper put up and vases and pictures and whatnot strung, hung, and flung up everywhere. Lots of red and gold and green and silver colors. At the hostess’ podium, a short girl looked up at the Director and smiled at him warmly.



“Table for two?” she asked.



“I’m here to see Carl.” He said gruffly. The hostess’ eyes shot to Tom and then to the door behind them.



“Carl is downst-”



The Director’s eyes hardened toward her. “I know where he is. I don’t have a key.” At that, the girl called another hostess over and then guided Tom and the Director back into the restaurant, through the kitchen, and down a flight of stairs. At the door below, the girl took out a key and unlocked it, leading them down a short hallway to an elevator. She pressed the button and then gave the Director a traditional bow and left quickly, not even giving Tom a second glance.



The elevator door opened and inside there stood a woman lighting what looked like a device that held six cigarettes together so she could smoke them all at once. Her nose was pierced with studs on both sides almost all the way up to between her eyes and a side of her head was shaven clean, the other being spiked like a lopsided Mohawk.



The Director pressed the basement button and the elevator doors closed. Once they were shut, the demon turned her attention to Tom, raising a brow at him curiously.



“You don’t look the type to be here with a friend,” she said, winking. “Wanna change that?” She made to step toward him, but the Director removed a revolver from his pocket and locked the hammer back.



“Don’t. Touch. Him.”



The demon raised her hands and blew smoke in the Director’s face. “No harm, no harm. Just curious about a new invite.” The Director lowered the gun and unlocked the hammer, but kept it in his hand. The elevator descended much further than just one floor however, and when it opened back up, Tom’s eyes and ears were assailed with flashing strobes and booming music. As confused as he was, he followed the Director without asking anything or saying a word.



He was too curious and truly intrigued to ask anything. He could only watch and let his thoughts wander hither thither as the old man in front of him nearly blew someone’s brains across a wall for looking at Tom and nudging a neighbor. Tom looked himself over and wondered what it was that made him so obviously a newcomer.



At the back of the apparent nightclub, a wrought iron staircase rose above the noise and clamor and met a catwalk that disappeared into the ceiling. Tom followed the Director up this and they were joined by a large man in front of them and behind. The Director didn’t try to threaten them, overtly or discreetly, so Tom figured they were supposed to be doing this.



The catwalk ended in a large room that was secured to the ceiling, like a huge skybox that overlooked the entire club from above. The Director entered a code on a keypad at the door and it slid into the ceiling. Tom was about to follow the Director inside when a bouncer grabbed his shoulder and held him back. The door slammed shut with a boom, but in the general loudness of the club it was only a small noise.



Tom let his eyes wander down below the catwalk to the clamoring, screaming, moving mass below. The DJ worked tirelessly as he ran music together and cycled rhythms in and out at will, fading some and switching them once they were soft enough to be left out without notice. Two assistants helped him, shuffling things around on the platform, flipping switches and checking digital readings. Somehow, the DJ kept from being overwhelmed and calmly had his whole body in motion doing things to make the music transition and change.



The club came to life and flared with excitement when he spoke, and he seldom did. It was only a few words, but the entire mass broke into cheers and roars until he was done speaking. Tom was so caught up in it all that he didn’t notice when the Director came back out until the agent grabbed him by the shoulder.



“Get in here,” he said. Tom snapped out of his daze and followed his superior into the room, the door slamming shut inches behind his entrance. He flinched at the noise.



“This is it? Are you kidding me, a kid? And you want him protected by a Warden? A full-blown Warden?” asked a man incredulously. Tom looked at him for one second and could tell that he wasn’t mortal. He sat back on a couch with his arms laid across the back, a woman resting against each. He raised a hand and pointed a clawed finger at Tom. “This is seriously him?”



“Yes,” the Director said. “I don’t fuck around, Klaus.”



The demon stood up, a bright flame bursting between his two curved horns. He glared at the Director, who folded his arms across his chest impassively, gun still in his hand. But as soon as he had decided what to do, he decided against it and just sat back down again, stroking his goatee.



“No, I’m not wasting a Warden on him,” came the verdict.



“Do you want to go back to the Basilica of Torment? One bullet and you’re there,” the Director said, causing Klaus to stiffen visibly.



“Motherfucker I said no! Now get the fuck out of my club,” the demon said dismissively, waving a hand at the Director to shoo him away.



But the old man wasn’t having it. “Give me a Warden,” the Director snarled.



“No-”



Thunder cracked in the cramped room as the Director put a bullet in Klaus’s shoulder. The demon’s girls bolted away from him, almost throwing themselves against the floor. Klaus looked peeved, but not all the injured. He plucked the bullet out of his shoulder with some effort and tossed it on the floor.



“I said give me a Warden.” The hammer of his revolver clicked back again.



“Shit man, you really still mean business, don’t you?” Klaus asked, chuckling to himself as he put pressure on his gunshot wound. “Get the fuck out and let me talk to him alone. Find Andrea and tell her to get her stupid ass up her too. Fuck, ouch.”



The Director lifted the door by a handle and stepped out of the room.



“Coulda aimed for a leg y’know!” Klaus called over the blaring music, but the Director either hadn’t heard or didn’t care. The door slammed shut in his wake and that left Tom alone with Klaus and his girls.



“Uh…” Tom said without thinking, trying to figure out why in the Hell the Director had left him in a room with three demons and no weapon or diplomatic leverage. Klaus rummaged around a nearby table for a cloth and stuff it under his shirt, holding it down with one hand as he wiped the other off on his jeans.



“So you’re his bitch, huh?” the demon asked idly as he cleaned his hand.



“Sure, whatever,” Tom replied. No use arguing now with a demon in his element.



Klaus smirked. “And you’ve managed to piss off the Stringcutter too, huh?”



Tom arched a brow. “Stringcutter?”



“Ceria, the bitch who’s famous for cutting men’s heartstrings? Is it not her? He told me it was.” Klaus checked his wound briefly before having one of the girls go get him something better to put over it.



“No, I didn’t piss her off, I have to go to Hell to be a festival she’s holding and the Director told me he’d keep me from being sent. Turns out he wasn’t able to, so here I am.” Tom shrugged and tried to make his outward appearance calm as his brain began to slowly spiral downward into fear and despair over his situation.



“So what’s the problem? Is she pining to gobble up that- Oh that’s it exactly, isn’t it? She’s totally into that. Damn dude, that blows dicks,” Klaus said, almost musing to himself as he made himself more comfortable on the couch.



“Wait what? Do what?” Tom asked, unable to contain himself.



The demon grinned. “I could tell by the way you smelled when you walked in that you’re fucked up somehow. Your inner parts, soul, spirit, whatever the fuck you wanna call it, is tainted with something. You smell like someone under possession. But there’s no demon in you, weirdly.”

“What?” asked the agent, confused beyond comprehension. Possessed? He had been told he was exercised as a baby.



“Yeah, you’ve got that smell. Most of us don’t really take notice of it, but I’m not your average demon. I’ve got a good nose for it. How you think I’ve got these up here?” Klaus asked, pointing to his horns, now with just a little faintly glowing spot between them. “Fuck summoning stones, man, that’s way too old school for me.”



Tom was utterly lost, and was starting to get a little fed up with Klaus. Suddenly, he voiced something that he hadn’t meant to say. “What the fuck are you even talking about? Am I getting a Warden or not?” As soon as the words left his mouth, his heart thumped hard like it had in the debriefing room and he froze. What the fuck was that?! Where in the hell had that come from? Goddamnit, now everything was fucking done for. Tom mentally kicked himself for it.



Klaus made an exaggerated look of surprise and then started laughing, but was cut off by sharp pain in his shoulder and began cursing until it faded. The turned his eyes to Tom and shook his head, controlling his laughter.



“Well damn, I never would have expected that from a kid looking like you. Must be something in you really, or you’re just alpha as fuck. Either way, I like that, so here’s the deal. Summoning stones allow us demons to get here with our greater powers intact, but most of us come through human-made portals that drain our powers until we get back to Hell. I broke my wards and got all my powers back up here. Fuckin’ pro as a motherfucker right here!” Klaus raised his arm and flexed it. The glow between his horns began to flare brightly.



“And about me?” Tom asked, this time much less demanding.



Klaus rolled his eyes. “You just smell like you’re possessed. It’s weird, but that’s it. That probably why Ceria wants you, show you off at her place or something. Ceria isn’t a girl to fuck around with though; she’s the real hardcore. I’m cake compared to that bitch.”



The door opened behind Tom and in stepped the Director and the demon from the elevator, smirking as she saw Tom’s expression.



“Surprised to see me?” she asked, winking.



“Yoohoo, your employer has been shot!” Klaus called across the relatively small room. “Come over here and help him!” The demon rolled her eyes and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, stuffing six of them into the device she had used earlier and putting the nearly-empty pack back in her pocket. She stood in front of Klaus and removed the cloth pressed against his shoulder.



“Damn, he’s a great shot. He missed pretty much everything important,” she commented, digging a finger into the wound without warning. Klaus’s voice cracked as her finger drove down to the second knuckle inside of him. She waited for a few seconds, lighting her cigarettes as Klaus ground his teeth and his eyes produced tears.



When she had her cigarettes lit, she took a long drag and then removed her finger from Klaus’s shoulder. Incredibly, the wound was healed in its entirety. It seemed as if there had been nothing there in the first place! Tom blinked in disbelief as Klaus raised his arm and threw it in all directions to check its functionality.



“Excellent!” he declared, turning to the Director after adjusting his shirt some. “Now as for the Warden request, fuck no I’m not giving you one for Ceria’s boy toy, but I’ll throw you a bone since you’re still the same no bullshit boss you used to be. Andrea can help you out, but she’s got her own price. I can’t tell her what to do.”



“Atta boy, lay it on nice and thick now,” Andrea teased, blowing a cloud of smoke at Klaus’s face. The demon groaned, but said nothing back. He sat back down and flicked his hand back and forth to shoo them away.



“Alright, enough. Get the fuck out of here. You’re interrupting the show.” Klaus turned off the lights in the room with a wall switch and the floor suddenly came to life with motion and flashing light. Tom realized that it was see-through, and that the room viewed the club below, all the fanatical moving bodies down below a show for Klaus and his guests. At least when the lights were off anyway.



Out of the room, Andrea grabbed Tom’s ass and squeezed, causing him to jump in surprise and come two inches from throwing his elbow into her face. She just grinned wide, revealing pearly white teeth and two fangs, despite her apparent and heavy smoking addiction. The Director put away his revolver and leaned against the catwalk railing.



“Well, now it’s my ballgame, isn’t it?” Andrea said, her grin running from ear to ear now. Her face took on a devilish expression and her eyes gleamed with mischief. “And if it’s okay with you trigger, I’m gonna take this one downstairs for a little fun.”



The Director frowned, but simply folded his arms across his chest and let Andrea take Tom across the catwalk and down the stairs at the end. Tom didn’t want to know what her expression meant for him, but his gut told him he was going to find out soon.



Andrea took him by the wrist and waded into the moving bodies packed tightly together. Once she had them in about the middle of the crowd, she climbed onto his shoulders and waved her arms back and forth to get the DJ’s attention. The man’s head tilted up slightly and then he shut down the music. In an instant, the room went from deafeningly loud and bleeding with excitement, to almost dead.



“Play something we can dance to!” she yelled at him. The DJ tilted his head to the side, but then ducked under his large array of machines and came up a few seconds later, powering his array back on with a flash of light and whirring cooling fans.



“Something special,” he said, and the entire room boomed with a cheer in unison. The DJ started to play again and Andrea hopped down off Tom’s shoulders. She started to move to the growing rhythm.



“What’s your style?” she asked. “Hardstyle? Glowsticking? Freestyle? You gotta have one, you’re used to this.”



“How would you guess?” Tom said, raising his voice enough to be heard over the growing volume.



“Well, you haven’t complained. You’re comfortable in this kind of crowd, you’re not afraid of the club,” she answered. “I can see your fingers twitching too,” she remarked offhandedly. Tom suddenly noticed his fingers tapping the tip of his thumb to the beat. Well, if that wasn’t a clear giveaway…



“I don’t dance,” he replied. “I just go to clubs to hook up with girls.” At that, Andrea started to laugh and grabbed his hands. She swung her hips to get some of the more static people out of her general area and then started to pull Tom around in an effort to get him to dance.



“Do it or I don’t help you,” the demon warned cheerfully, adding, “And take off your shirt while you’re at it.” Tom gave it a few seconds of thought, and decided it was better to suffer this now than to find himself with no protection against Ceria in Hell. He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it off, stuffing it mostly into his pocket.



“Alright, now what?” he asked.



The demon shrugged. “Dance.” So, Tom started to follow her as she started moving, not really knowing what she wanted to see. Sure, he could jump around like every other person in a club, wave glowsticks, do some other stuff, but what was she looking for? So, Tom snagged a few glowsticks from some patrons not so aware of their surroundings and started to dance.



Andrea seemed to approve, and pretty soon she was essentially just mimicking him with an amused look on her face. As the music changed, so did the rhythm of the crowd, becoming more excited as harder and faster bass and rhythms were introduced. When the music slowed, the excitement waned some and the volume didn’t seem so deafening.



It was like being in an ocean that rose and fell at the sound of itself crashing against the shore. Foaming and then washing into shore before rising again and washing into the leftover foam. Tom started to get used to it again; it had been about two months since he’d been to a club.



His inhibitions and earlier fears seemed distant, and they were already out of his mind for the most part. Andrea look satisfied with her work and wrapped her arms around his waist.



“How does a private room sound?” she asked.



“And for all you kids who know geography…”



“Hold on one second,” Tom said, turning his ear toward the DJ. “Is this…oh holy fuck it is. This is my favorite song and it never gets played. Can we stay for this one?” he asked, suddenly realizing what he was here to do. He wasn’t with a girl he wanted to hook up with, he was with a demon paying a price for help. He shook his head and slapped his palm against his forehead. “Nevermind, right, let’s go.”



Andrea shook her head. “No, one more is alright.”



————



Tom sat down on the couch and panted tiredly as his body came down off the adrenaline rush that had carried him through the extended mix of Poum Poum Pi Dou. Andrea put both hand on his shoulders and shook him back and forth jokingly.



“Wheeeere!” she asked, smiling. “Where did you learn how to do Tecktonik?” The demon continued shaking him until she got bored of it and sat down on the couch with her legs draped across his lap.



“I knew this French girl who complained that all the clubs here sucked, so I took her to my house and she made me watch some videos and taught me how to dance. She used to make jokes about how bad I was, like ‘Tom cannot into Tecktonik’ and ‘typical American’ and ‘booo!’. That song that just played was in the first video I watched, and it’s been stuck with me since.”



“Well that was pretty good regardless. I’m sad you don’t come here more often.” She kicked off her boots and put her foot in Tom’s hand on the arm of the couch. Tom squeezed her toes and heard several of them pop.



“Wow.”



“Oh man, that felt so good.” She curled her other foot and popped her toes, letting out a pleased sigh as she relaxed again. It was a tense silence that started to build after that, Tom not really sure of what was going to come next, but starting to have ideas. He glanced at Andrea once, and she raised her eyebrows suggestively.



“So…” Tom began, getting his own shoes and socks off with his feet.



“It’s a pretty steep price,” Andrea replied, sitting up enough to remove her leather jacket. Tom rolled his eyes and started with his belt as she pulled her tanktop over her purple Mohawk with some trouble.



Andrea briefly ran her fingers across the studs in her nose, pondering taking them out or not. She shrugged and decided to just leave them, reaching back to unclasp her bra. Andrea tossed her bra across the floor and pushed her arms together, squeezing her impressive breasts to make them look even bigger.



“You like them?” she asked. Tom realized that she was talking about the nipple piercings she had, and nodded after a few seconds.



“Not bad at all,” he said, unzipping his pants.



“Hold on sparky,” she said, putting one hand on the back of the couch and brushing his away from his pants with the other. “Whoever said this was gonna be just a quick screw? I said it was a steep price.” She trailed two fingers up the center of his body up to his throat, tracing his jawline back to his ear. She leaned down to his ear and let out a long, warm breath.



“So what do you need me to do to you?” the agent asked. He nipped her earlobe and ran his tongue around the rim of her ear. She kissed his ear and wrapped her free arm around his back, pressing her ample chest against his.



“What do I need?” she pondered out loud. She suddenly grinned against his ear. “I need you to give me some of that energy you showed me out there. You think you have more in you?”



Without skipping a beat, Tom replied, “It’s my job to have sex. I’ve got as much as you can give me back.” He kissed her cheek and then the side of her mouth. She turned her head and pressed her lips against his softly, testing the water in a sense.



Their tongue met and tangled each other in a slow dance in the joint space they occupied, caressing teeth, lips, each other. Tom let his hands find their place at Andrea’s hips and the demon pressed her lips against his harder with approval. Outside, the beat of the music filtered into the room as dull, lifeless thumps of bass and shrill tones every now and again. Andrea didn’t seem to notice at all as she ran her free hand down Tom’s side and then across the small of his back.



“Not too old now, are you?” she mused, gripping his back and pushing her stomach against his as he bit her bottom lip and let her take control of it again very slowly.



“Nineteen too far gone?” he returned, latching onto Andrea’s neck. He sucked hard at her skin and she moaned with surprise and approval. The demon didn’t think twice about reciprocating once he released her neck with a nice purple hickey on it. She bit down hard on him and he closed his eyes, enjoying the prickling feeling.



When she broke away from his skin, she answered, “Of course not. Young and feisty is the only way I like my partners. And one like you who knows how to give and take isn’t ordinary.” Andrea turned around and sat snugly in his lap, leaning back against him as she settled in.



Tom figured that this was what she meant about a steep price. She wasn’t going to dive right into sex; she wanted some foreplay with it, beyond a little kissing. So, he obliged her request and snaked one hand down her firm midsection and the other up to her breasts. He gave her breast a tender squeeze and she let her head fall back against his shoulder.



He unbuttoned her jeans and slowly managed to get them down her legs enough for her to push them off with her feet. His fingers explored her legs for a short while, teasing her by rubbing up and down her inner thighs, each time coming closer and closer to her core. She loved every second of it, tensing hard as his left hand squeezed her breast while his right reached close to her core.



He kissed her ear gently and came away from it slowly, allowing the demon to feel it for much longer than a brief moment. Shivers ran down her spine to her toes. Goosebumbs rose all over her body and Tom pinched her nipple while it was standing at attention for him. Andrea moaned again, grabbing Tom’s thighs hard with her hands.



“Do you want to continue like this or find another position to explore?” Tom asked, brushing his fingers against her lacy undergarment. Andrea grabbed his wrist and pushed his hand under the fabric of her thong.



“Keep going,” she breathed, turning her head to give Tom a fierce kiss. He winked and pushed two fingers into her wet, waiting core. Andrea bit his bottom lip so hard that when she let go Tom could taste blood. Her hands held his thighs so tightly that he thought she would rip his jeans.



He wiggled his fingers back and forth, massaging her breast in unison with the motions. Without knowing it, their bodies began to move together, just slightly. Andrea’s curvy form arched and rolled just enough for Tom to notice. Their shirtless bodies started to feel the heat of the moment and Tom felt his arousal begin to peak quickly.



He drove his fingers in and out of her without any real care, though it worked to a great effect to arouse her further and make her breathing more labored and deeper as the minutes ticked by. Tom began to massage her other breast, cupping it in his hand and moving it in slow, methodical orbits again and again and again. Andrea’s thighs clamped together as he twisted her nipple and Tom withdrew his hand from her sex.



“Turn around,” he said. Andrea turned around and straddled Tom’s hips, unzipping his pants and tugging them and his boxers down his hips. His throbbing cock sprang out and she grasped it firmly with one hand, stroking him with solid motions as she helped remove his jeans.



“Care to give a little more?” the demon asked. She ran her fingers across the studs in her nose and bit her lip mischievously. Tom leaned forward and gave her nipple piercing a little tug with his teeth.



“I’m here to give you exactly what you want, Andrea. Every wish is a command to me.”



“Oh are they? If I told you to fuck me out there…would you?”



Tom winked. “If you were that kinky,” he replied, and then licked the tip of her erect nipple, causing her breath to hitch. Andrea just shook her head with an amused smile on her face and roped her arms around his neck, leaving his cock alone for the moment. Tom latched onto her breast and raised his hand to its twin, sucking hard as he closed his teeth on her piercing and pinched the other. Andrea’s mouth in turn closed on his neck, biting down hard.



Tom grinned a little and pulled back, still sucking on her breast. Andrea’s arms held him tighter as he played with her breasts, pulling and pinching and sucking as he pleased. He ground his hard cock against her core, the thin fabric of her thong separating them. Andrea rubbed herself against him in turn, moaning against his neck as she continued to bite down on him.



The agent let up on her breasts for a few moments, pushing Andrea’s thong to one side so he could rub her core directly. He breathed against the nape of her neck, watching her skin rise at the feeling. He switched which breast his mouth and hand pleasured and then continued to massage and tease them, the demon on top of him taking full notice that he had done so.



Andrea’s thighs clamped down on his hips suddenly and her body shuddered. She sucked so hard on his neck that it crossed the threshold of pleasure into pain. Tom winced and bit down on her nipple hard enough to get her attention. She let up and removed her mouth from his neck, instead aiming up to his ear to bite down on his earlobe and whisper in a language he couldn’t understand.



When she relaxed her thighs, she sat up, having to fight him to pull her chest away from his mouth. Tom blinked hard as his neck stung and looked up at the demon resting in his lap. She breathed heavily over him, letting her hands fall away from him.



“Time for round two,” she said, snapping the thong with a tug and pulling it off. She tossed it across the room and then ground her sex against Tom’s until she was positioned for him to penetrate her. She put her hands on his shoulders and sank down slowly, her breath catching as he entered her body.



Tom closed his eyes and let his hands wander down to her hips to give her a little help getting down all the way. She squeaked in surprise, and tightened her thighs around his hips. Tom pushed up a little and lifted her a few inches, causing her body to tremble.



“Ding ding, begin round two,” Tom said, coming down again. Andrea followed his hips down, pushing against him slowly. He came back up and the followed again, enjoying it with an almost sinful amount of pleasure.



“This is not what I was expecting from Mr. Tecktonik. You’re more gentle than I expected,” said Andrea, curling her toes as Tom gave her a little buck up.



“I’m just following your lead. If you want an earth-shattering orgasm, then by all means start it however you want to.”



At that, Andrea picked up the tempo and Tom followed, easily keeping pace with the Demon’s desires. She gave her approval with several moans and began to rock her body against his. They quickly fell into rhythm and his hands slid up to the small of her back.



Andrea controlled everything about it. Her rolling hips pushed down as far as she wanted him to penetrate her, which wasn’t any different than if he had gone as deep as he could. Her smooth, warm body slid against his in a timeless embrace, following a tradition that endless pair before them had set before them.



She was like a wave against him, her entire body moving in a wavelength as he matched her speed with each thrust. She grinned down at him, biting one side of her lip teasingly. Tom reached up and put a hand behind her neck. She leaned down without needing any further excuse to lock herself against him completely.

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