Excerpt


“Ughhh, my head,” moaned Randy. “What was in that stuff we were drinking? I feel like my eyes are swollen shut.”

“Mmmf,” groaned Nuby, jostling against Randy. “I don’t know what we did, or how many times we did it, but it looks like our wager is a tie. Now quit hogging the covers, I’m freezing.”

Randy stirred, feeling rough, cold objects give way and tumble beneath him. “I don’t think there are any covers,” he said. “I think we may have fallen asleep on a bed of coins.”

“If this is what you get up to all the time, I’ll stick to more evil and less chaos in the form of partying from now on. And there’s no way these are coins. They’d have warmed up by now.”

Randy finally managed to pry his bleary eyes open. He saw that he and Nuby were both submerged waist-deep in a large hot tub full of ice. Nuby, curled up opposite him with her wings drawn tight around her like a blanket, had an ugly scar sutured on her back. In a panic, Randy felt the same on himself.

He looked up at the rest of the expansive bathroom, which had a fine crystal mirror on one wall. On the mirror, written ether in lipstick blood, or some unholy combination of the two, was the following message:

“Foolish demons. Never trust an Erinyes, much less go to bed with one. Your kidneys will fetch a nice price in the markets of Baator. Don’t worry—they’ll grow back. Eventually. Hearts and stars, Wynter.”

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“Look at you two,” the woman said, her short dark hair bouncing about as she shook her head and clucked her tongue. “You call yourselves seducers, temptresses, paramours, sluts? Frankly, I’m embarrassed for you.”

Nuby looked up, her eyes a bit bleary from the half-shotgunned glass of ‘Ole Demogorgon’s Insanity Pepper Ale. “I most certainly am not imagining pulling out and roasting your meaty bits for this insult,” she said.

“Leave us alone,” said Randy, slouched next to Nuby in the corner booth. He was on his third stein of Gowron’s #178 Triple Fermented Bloodwine, 45020-vintage. “You’ve done enough terrible things to people who just wanted to paint the town bright, bright red. I think.”

The woman kicked a chair out from the table, spun it around, and sat on it wrong way round, resting her chin on the back. “Well, maybe next time you’ll read a girl’s body language and see that she just want to enjoy her drink in peace. Demon or not, that’s just common courtesy.”

“You knew?” said Nuby. “Just playing dumb? Oh, you sultry little minx!”

“You can call me Wynter,” the woman said, “and as the name suggests, I’m usually a cold customer. But I’ve seen enough demons in my time to know them for what they are, even when their wings aren’t showing.”

“So you just baited us for fun, then?” said Randy. “That’s almost admirable in a way. Almost. Until it harshed my good vibe.”

“Well, now I feel sorry for you, if that makes you feel any better,” said Wynter. “And I have a proposition for you.”

“I’m listening,” said Nuby, “albeit with very angry ears.”

“What say you we continue this little wager of yours upstairs?” Wynter held up a hand before either could speak. “Yes, I know all about that. Use your inside voices next time, kiddos. I Also know a little place at the inn up there where no one will bother us, and whichever of you is more…successful…we can declare the winner.”

“All right then!” said Randy, excited. “I’ll go first!”

“First?” said Wynter. “You misunderstand me, Mr. Incubus. This isn’t a tag team, it’s a race. And racers all run at the same time…on the same track.”

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“I apologize for my friend,” said Nuby. “Not the sharpest fellow, though he does like a good time.”

“Yeah, they aren’t very cleaver,” the woman said. “A bit on the dull side.”

“Yes, he’s best at polishing his own knife, using a dry rag and grease,” Nuby said.

“Hm,” said the woman. “Even the best, hardest knives lose their edge with misuse anyway.”

“Listen,” Nuby said. She leaned backwards onto the bar, elbows hooked onto it. “I think it’s pretty clear that this place is too little for what you and I can bring.”

“Oh?” said the woman. “It looks plenty big to me.”

“Think of the hell we could raise with a real night on the town,” said Nuby. “Sirens. Running from the cops. Graffiti. Glorious, glorious freedom, fueled by whatever poisons we want to put in the tank. I can tell you’re up for it.”

“Oh, I don’t know about all that,” said the woman with a faint, sarcastic smile. “In these heels, I don’t think I could beat the cops around here. They do squats, don’t skip leg day, and take a dim, dim view of the havoc you’re proposing.”

“Hmph,” Nuby said, cocking an eyebrow. “I know you’re yanking my tail, but trust me, I can get us out of any consequences we encounter.”

“No consequences?” The woman cocked both of her own brows. “For a rich man you sure clean up nice.”

“I have a wide buffet of magical powers,” said Nuby. “One kiss from me, and you can share in one of them for a day.”

“Hmm, powers you say? Like what? Perhaps a taste of real magical power will let me do what I have to do in order to get things done…unless you’re not talking out of that sculpted ass of yours.”

“I have a wide variety of magicks at my disposal, mortal,” purred Nuby. “Charm, detect thoughts, ethereal jaunt, suggestion, greater teleport, vampiric touch, dominate person, even summon a big nasty demon…all perfect ways to get out of trouble.”

“Dominate person, you say?” The woman looked up, locking eyes with Nuby. “Show me.”

“But of course.” Nuby leaned in, wrapped her arms around her quarry, and let loose with her most passionate soul kiss. The woman seemed to reciprocate, so rather than letting her otherwise lethal smooch take its course, Nuby let the magicks leave her and enter their new host.

“Wow,” the woman said. “You weren’t kidding.” She wiped her lip, licking a spot of blood left there.

“Let’s go cause some trouble,” Nuby replied, eagerly.

“No,” the woman said. “We’re not raising any hell.”

“N-no,” Nuby said, the words spilling out, compulsively, despite her best efforts to the contrary. “We’re not raising any hell.”

“You’re going over to the other end of the bar to leave me in peace.”

“I’m going over to the other end of the bar to leave you in peace.”

“Attagirl,” the woman said, mock-punching Nuby on the shoulder. “Now get lost.”

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“Oh goodness!” Randy said, as his ankle rolled melodramatically. His drink—normal alcohol this time, rather than the Abyssal Snoworm Tequila Slammer he’d been drinking earlier—sloshed messily out of its cup and onto the dark-haired bar patron.

What looked like an accident was in fact as accurate as a laser-guided missile. Randy had practiced that trick for five hundred years with everything from bloodline to snail juice, and on everything from orcs to celestials.

“I am so sorry, darling!” cried Randy. “Oh, let me find something to sop that up, right away.”

To his surprise, the woman didn’t move, even as the liquid was cascading down her top and rapidly soaking into the expensive fabric. “If you want,” she said coolly.

Randy grabbed a rag from the bar and began dabbing vigorously. He was a dab hand at this maneuver—a little strategic sensual massage under cover of rag was usually the first chink in the target’s armor. “I swear,” he laughed, “I’d lose my own head if it weren’t screwed on.”

“Well, I can see that there’s no seam on your neck since you were kind enough to remove your shirt,” the woman said, still regarding her own beverage. She delicately tucked a short strand of hair behind one ear. “However, I refuse to believe that you haven’t been screwed on.”

Randy laughed musically. “Oh dear,” he added, still dabbing, “this isn’t coming off.”

“Why do you think I’m not dabbing at it myself? I knew from the smell that your drink would stain and that it’d set. This is a job for a tailor, or a washer, not a barfly.” The woman glanced down at her torso, where Randy was sensuously dabbing an area that was not wine-soaked. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you can stop.”

“Please let me buy you a drink, to make up for my clumsiness and your bill-to-be,” Randy cooed, delicately withdrawing his hands.

“If you must,” said the woman again. “But if you spill it on me again, I might just have to see if your head unscrews after all.”

Randy, reading his target’s body language, called for the bartender. “A Reman ale for me, and a Regellian brandy for my friend here.”

The woman laughed. “Are we recovering from surgery or something?” she said. “Two Styx slushees with fermented Erinyes tears!” She barked.

“I’m not familiar with that one,” said Randy. “But I like a woman who can hod her liquor. What do you say we drain these glasses, order some seconds, and see where the evening takes us?”

The drinks arrived, misting and frosty. “Of course,” said the woman. “After you.”

Randy, grinning, took a meaty swing of his beverage. He looked up a moment later, confused. “What were we talking about?” He said. “I seem to have forgotten.”

“You were just leaving,” said the woman. “Thanks for the drinks.” When Randy had tottered off, she dumped her own mug into a nearby plant, which promptly forgot the last ten minutes or so.

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“Randy the Betrayer. Oh, it is most certainly NOT a rude surprise to see you here, on the prowl,” the woman cooed, sidling over to the attractive and strangely topless man at the bar.

“Nuby the Temptress,” said Randy. “Oh, goody. Here I was hoping for some fun, and now you’re going to try to put me to work wreaking havoc and chaos with mortals.”

“Tut-tut, Randy,” said Nuby. She growled an order in High Abyssal to the bartender, who returned, pale and trembling, with a snifter of something orange and fuming. “Even succubi have standards. What are we if not seeding evil and chaos amongst mortals? It’s for that very reason we were forged in the Abyss from the runoff of a million frustrated souls.”

“Succubi have standards. Incubi have incredulity. Incredulity at this straitlaced world of mortals in which we find ourselves. These masses live in a monogamous cult culture, they need to be liberated, and I am their savior, with a little fun as the grease to make it all work.” Randy snapped at the bartender, who brought him a frosted mug filled with dark blue liquid in which tiny shapes swum vigorously, fearfully. “What could be more chaotic, or more evil–from their point of view, anyway–than that?”

“Oh please,” snorted Nuby. “The most evil thing you’ve ever is try and convince a couple to become swingers so you can propose a foursome with the first thing that comes along on two legs.”

“TWO legs? My, picky, aren’t we,” said Randy. He took a swig from his mug and crunched thoughtfully on the denizens thereof. “You and I may not be wearing out wings tonight, Nuby, but I think we are serving the same goal in different ways. Burning the candle from either end, as it were. My end is forbidden frolicking and fun, while yours is film noir adulty leading to a quadruple homicide.”

“Why, thank you,” Nuby said. She downed her entire fulminade in a single gulp, belching a white-hot jet of fire before setting the smoking lump of glass that remained in her hand onto the bar, with which it immediately fused. “What do you say to a little contest, then, of our two approaches to tempting mortals?”

“What do you have in mind?” said Randy.

Nuby nodded at the end of the bar, where a statuesque woman with ear-length raven-black hair, sat quietly reading. “That hunk of ice hasn’t cracked all night, despite all the picks that have tried. First to get her to do something unbecoming wins?”

“Wins what, Nubes?” said Randy. “I’m not sure I have anything you want.”

“It’s a gentlewoman’s bet,” said Nuby, grinning. “Whoever wins gets the gentlewoman.”

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The ship’s captain was
A sailor of means
A privateer’s wages he sought
The queen’s men were
Quite easy to please
When letters of marque he bought
But when the war it was ended
His career was upended
And with his own navy he fought
The captain lies now
With a sign on his brow
In a gibbet with pirates they caught

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“I feed on the guilt, the regret, that emanates most strongly from those who have committed what they know to be evils, told what they know to be falsehoods, and willingly undertaken what they know to be betrayals.” The thing spoke in a gurgling but understandable manner with the nightmare of mandibles where its mouthparts ought to have been,

“How lucky for you, then, to be here on Wall Street,” I said. “You must be very satisfied.”

“I am engorged, friend,” the thing said. “I had worried, based on the tales of this place, that it was amoral. I once nearly starved to death when a serial killer I was relying upon in lean times turned out to know neither guilt nor remorse. But these things? They know full well the evil they wreak, and whether the guilt festers at them or not, I devour it all the same.”

“What about me?” I asked.

With a wet snuffling, the guilt-thing spread its mandibles wide a moment. “Peh,” it said, dismissively. “Edible, but thin gruel indeed. I would starve if that were all I had to rely on.”

“Thank you, I suppose…?” I said.

“You’re welcome.” The guilt-thing drew what looked like a knife made of brilliant inky obsidian and held it to my throat. “Now that you’ve seen me, state your business and be done with it,” it burbled. “I try not to slaughter the cattle, but I’ll gladly cull you if you stand between me and my feast.”

“You’ve nothing to fear from me,” I said. “I just have one question: can you tell what a person is guilty for? Because if you can, I may have a job for you.”

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