“Seems a bit dead tonight.”

The Demon’s Hole bartender, a cyclopean demon who went by Ayers, looked across the polished bloodwood at Nuby. “That’ll be the zombies,” he said, gesturing to a party of four decidedly rotten patrons taking up a booth on the far side. “I know the stench can be a bit much, but you know my policy. Everyone’s welcome.”

“So long as they have money,” said Nuby with a light smile. “And as long as they don’t do more damage in a brawl than their tab allows.”

“Hey, it’s a business, not a charity,” said Ayers.

“So tell me about this succubus you’ve seen coming in here lately,” Nuby said. “The one you said needed someone of my talents and proclivities.”

Ayers nodded at the door. “Here she is now.”

The succubus turned and saw a boisterous demon sweep in, his huge gut jiggling behind his well-tailored suit. A pair of tiny bat-wings twitched in tailored holes on his back, while his hooves clapped loudly on the Demon Hole’s abysstone floor. Behind him, at a pace’s distance, followed a succubus. She was dressed in comparative rags, walked hunched-over, and wore a silver cord around her neck that was linked to the shining brass buttons on the demon’s waistcoat.

“Oh, Ayers,” Nuby said. “You were right. That poor thing is not equal to the dignity of her station or our proud sisterhood. I will have to take this on as an emergency fixer-upper at once.”

“That’s Siseneg and Hori,” said Ayers. “Have a look.”

Nuby sipped her Abyssal Snoworm Tequila Slammer demurely as she watched from her barstool. Siseneg took over a booth, filling an entire side of the thing, and immediately ordered one of everything on the drinks menu. By the time he’d finished it, the demon had engaged in three fights, killed one of the zombies–inasmuch as they were able to die–and loudly argued politics until knives were drawn.

It was boorish, but frankly, Nuby didn’t particularly care. What interested her, though, was his treatment of Hori.

Siseneg seemed to enjoy parading her around, when he wasn’t fighting or arguing, simultaneously pointing out Hori’s great beauty while nevertheless lingering–and laughing–about every flaw he could see or imagine. When she attempted to squeak out anything, he would silence her with a bellow and a jerk of the silver cord. And two out of the three fights were caused by Siseng deeming Hori to be looking too closely at distant patrons.

“Ayers,” Nuby said softly. “Slip a little Acheron bladderweed into the next round, would you?” She slid a coin across the bar.

Biting the money approvingly, Ayers shrugged. “You want to make him angry? There are better ways to do that.”

“No, just piss him off.”

After the next drinks were imbibed, Siseneg indeed tottered off, making an off-color comment about needing to “flood the Styx.” He left Hori tied to his booth like a dog waiting for her master to return, and as soon as the privy door had slammed–with enough force to bring down some plaster–Nuby was up and walking over.

“I haven’t seen you here before,” she said, locking eyes with Hori. The latter immediately looked away, shyly–missing the sight of her fellow succubus quickly and effortlessly sawing through the silver cord with one sharp nail.

“Siseng doesn’t usually bring me,” Hori said quietly. “I only get to come when he’s seen folks around our place that he ‘doesn’t trust around me.'”

“Come, I’ll introduce you around.” Nuby gestured to the other side of the bar, where three hulking demons sat, alert, and constantly nursing a never-ending supply of canned beverages supplied by the bartender. “Those are Redbullius, Monstera, and Rockstarian; they competed for the souls of sleep-deprived mortals are but three of the demons in servitude to a greater power, a being that trades souls for sleep, hushed trades made in the carbonated darkness.”

“Are you making that up?” said Hori. She either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t care, that Nuby had led her away from her table and her silver cord.

“I’ll never tell,” hissed Nuby with a wink. “What I will tell you about, my dear, is how marvelous we sisters are. How long has it been since you tasted a little seduction, slipped a wee knife between welcoming ribs, or manipulated a spider’s own web to strangle him?

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“I don’t remember taking this one.” Megan turned the phone to Adam. “Did you take it?”

Adam craned his neck. The picture was of Megan, asleep on the couch; she looked rather washed out, and her head was partially snipped off by the cropping. “Very artsy,” he said. “Good filter use and creative bloom. But you forgot the rule of thirds, and you cut the top of your head off.”

“I didn’t take it,” said Megan. “How could I have? I’m asleep on the couch, and the camera’s not in the shot.”

“I guess you could have propped it up with the timer?” said Adam. “How should I know?”

“Because you took it?” said Megan. “Come on. It’s not creepy if your boyfriend does it.”

“I’m a professional, Meg,” Adam said, serious now. “If I’d taken it I’d have framed it better. I didn’t take it.”

Megan didn’t say anything, still looking at the image in all its ghostly pallor.

“Meg?” Adam said. “Come on now, one of us probably just forgot about taking it.” Seeing the look on her face, he was ready to take the blame for snapping the photo–hell, he’d forgotten more important things. When she still said nothing after another minute, he added in a low voice: “Is…everything okay, Meg?”

“My head,” she whispered. “I can’t feel my head.”

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“They are coming, and the planes will howl with their passage. They will drink your blood as wine and find it wanting.” Rosie the abyssal swallowtail’s voice was muffled but quite audible from within the box.

“Hush, or you’ll spoil the surprise!” Randy the incubus said. He’d done his best to wrap her up as a gift, throwing a handful of edelwood leaves into a fancy white box that had once contained Maximillian XX, his very favorite dongle. A beautifully intricate bow of lacy soulcord finished it off–recycled from a garter that Randy had worn, in his female aspect, to try and seduce his way into a noblewoman’s delightfully decadent all-service sauna.

They were both riding up a brass-framed elevator, run by brimstone and steam from below, to see Nuby, Randy’s succubus number one in the whole wide Abyss. He was dressed in what he imagined to be his best finery: black leather pants and boots, with nothing on above the waist but a luxuriant midnight bow tie and a scoop of Curl Up And Dye pomade. It was, Randy would tall anyone who asked (and many who did not) the perfect combination of dressy and casual, showing off his physique while remaining coy.

“No one agrees with your assessment of that outfit,” Rosie spoke again from within her box. “The man who can pull it off has not yet been born, and none now living will witness when that day arrives.”

“Hush and shush,” Randy whispered, bringing the box up to his face. “Save your mean little prophecies for someone who will love them, ‘kay?”

The elevator shuddered to a halt, and Randy traipsed through the sparks that showered on all sides as it opened. Nuby’s latest abode was just down the hall. He didn’t have a key, but that had never stopped him before; he withdrew a pair of forged steel pins from deep within his pants and deftly picked the lock. As the door silently opened on well-greased hinges, Randy bounded inside.

“Nubes! You’ll never guess what I found for you!” His voice echoed harshly off the magnificence that Nuby preferred to swim in. High-piled Persian rugs, fine-wrought ironwood furnishings, and of course bold red and teal and gold.

Nuby the succubus was perched on a setee, with papers fanned out in front of her. Land registration deeds written in dead languages…detailed building plans…even some scrying crystals impregnated with the last conscious thoughts of sacrificed beings. It was always plans within plans, wheels with bladed gears a-twisting in her mind. The only thing transparent about her, Randy was fond of saying, was her negligee.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What is it now, Randy?” The succubus didn’t look up, instead intently studying a testimonial that appeared to have been written in infernal blood upon a parchment of stretched and sentient skin. “You can’t do anything for me right now. Your skills, such as they are, would be wasted on this.”

“Ah, but there’s where you’re wrong, Nubes,” Randy said with a massive, toothy grin. “This’ll give you an edge.”

Nuby turned to him, her eyes calculating. “My edge,” she said, “is that no one thinks a mere succubus focused enough to really scheme. It’s like a rabbit setting snares to catch a hunter, they think.”

“What about…a moth to a flame?” Randy said. With a flourish, he produced the wrapped satin box from behind his back.

“That idiom doesn’t really work for this particular scheme,” Nuby said, blinking. “Credit for trying, I suppose. What’s that?”

“Open it, open it, open it!” Randy squealed, thrusting the box out. It was such a wonderfully Nubian gift for his best gal, he was sure that, once the wrappings fell away, that Nubes would just die

Setting aside her papers with a grimace, Nuby delicately examined the package before suddenly sand savagely perforating the ribbon with her teeth and tearing it off. The lid flapped to the ground, and Rosie fluttered out.

“Nuuuuuuuby,” the moth squeaked, “when your girl leaves your side she starts hitting on the first available low-hanging fruit that comes her way. She’s a little home wrecker! She has learnt from the best.”

Randy squinted. “Girlfriend? You mean like some gal pal?”

“Remember, Randy, they tell scandalous-sounding lies.” Nuby said with a short, sharp laugh.

The succubus held out her arm, and the insect alighted on it. “The wheels of the planes are turning, and you will be as gristle between them for daring to set yourself above your station,” she continued. “And that negligee is absolutely fake, do you think the tailors of the Demonweb Pits would actually use a suture to stitch something so sheer?”

“I know it’s fake,” Nuby said. “Do you think I’d wear real demonwebbery for doing my homework?”

“In fooling others, you fool only yourself.” Rosie fluttered her wings a bit, and stuck out her tongue to begin feeding on a few flecks of blood on Nuby’s arm, presumably from whatever earlier, sharp action had filled the scryers.

“It’s an abyssal swallowtail, isn’t it?” Nuby said with a wan little grin. “They tell uncomfortable truths, amusing lies, and everything in between.”

“Do you love her?” Randy said eagerly. “Do you want to name her your new child and use her in your plans, or just for fun?”

“Rosie,” Nuby said delicately. “Tell me a secret about Randy here. I don’t care if it’s real or made up.”

“He loves you with a child’s love, and will die for you, and that will eventually push you across a Rubicon from which he can love and die no more,” the moth squeaked. “He also has no functional pockets in pants that tight, so you do not want to know where he is keeping his lockpicks and Stabitha the dagger.”

Nuby chuckled. “Well done, Randy,” she said. “Rosie is a fine gift.” The bug was, after all, good for a laugh, and through thorough cross-referencing, the occasional prophecy too.

Randy clapped his hands, delighted beyond all measure. “You mean it?”

Nuby reached up and gave him a brief pat on the head. “You did good.” Then, all business again, she turned back to her scheme. “If you’re going to be hanging around, there’s a chore list on the kitchen wall. Folks that need interrogating, spying on, or stealing from. If you feel up to it.”

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Art by Alana

“They are coming.“

Randy looked up, wings twitching. Even an incubus wasn’t quite used to hearing voices, much less voices issuing eerily from his underwear drawer.

“H-hello?” he said. “Whoever you are, I want you to know that it’s usually a lot cleaner in there. But laundry money has been a little short, and-“

“You never spend money to wash. You throw in with your downstairs neighbors in exchange for favors.” The voice was faint but clear, a bit reedy yet clearly feminine.

Randy tapped the top of his dresser—abyssal ironwood, worth more than the rest of his furnishings combined. Perhaps the whisperings were why he’d found it on a rainy street corner in the Iron City of Dís. It had taken all his charm and not a few sexual favors to move it back to his abyssal hovel of an apartment.

“Ironwood only speaks when it is cut,” the voice said. “It curses the lumberjacks in dead tongues, and only their lack of understanding protects them.”

The voice was clearly coming from the topmost drawer, just below Chompy, the voracious largemouth begonia that had been Randy’s prized pet since Nuby had given it to him after a wild Valentine’s night. Chompy, gorged on one of the many infernal rats that sometime passed through, merely sighed at the noise.

Randy slid the topmost drawer open, and immediately saw that most of his favorite thong had been devoured from inside. “It wasn’t supposed to be crotchless…” he sighed. It was good stuff, too, demonweb-spun and naturally chafeless.

“I was the biggest worm that had ever been in them.” A colorful moth, as big as Randy’s hand, fluttered upward out of the mangled remains of his unmentionables. It alighted on the side of the dresser, drawing only a disinterested grunt from Chompy.

“An Abyssal Swallowmoth,” Randy said. “I’ve heard of you. You tell uncomfortable truths and uncomfortable lies, right? Do me, do me! I love a good roast.”

The moth twitched its feathery antennae. “The ripples of your selfishness are echoing across the planes in ways that will not fully be understood by any but the gods, and even then not until long after your demise.”

“Ah!” Randy squealed. “I love it. You’re so precious. Tell me, am I really the greatest lover in the abyss?”

“Only according to YOU,” the moth said.

Randy scooped her up. “I know who you sound just like. Her underclothes could use some strategically placed holes too. Let’s go get you in a box with a nice ribbon and pay her a visit.”

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“So tell me, Ms. Almeta, what do you bring to the Honey Bee Inn? Why should we hire you instead of one of the hundreds of other up and coming strippers anxious for access to our high-rolling clientele?” The owner, Madam X, regarded her newest applicant with a jaded gaze.

Donna, excited, began her prepared speech. “Well, I have a year’s experience at the EXP Bar-“

Madam X cut her off curtly. “I’ve seen your resume. A year at the EXP Bar, another at Chamber of Secrets, and six months at The Other Castle and Star Whores. But we don’t look into the Pensieve here, Ms. Almeta. I want to know how you can handle yourself.”

“Well, I’ve got a lot of experience-“

“What did I just say? This is an audition, Ms. Almeta, not an interview.” Madam X motioned for Donna to follow her.

The Honey Bee Inn was closed for the morning, and staff was busy cleaning and making repairs. The remote-controlled droids that served drinks were being polished, the individual booths shaped like British police boxes were being wiped down, and large wall hangings were being changed out, as they were every week. Thursday’s Rurouni Kenshin was coming down and Friday’s Firefly was replacing it.

“It’s not enough to have a little experience at a nerdy club,” Madam X said over her shoulder. “We’re not just looking for cosplayers.”

“Coming through!” A staffer rolled a rack of clothing past, bagged for dry cleaning; Donna counted nineteen Sailor Moon suits and a single pleather-stitched Catwoman jumper.

They entered the backstage area next. A few of the girls were lounging around, either watching subbed reruns of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya on a 50-inch plasma screen or playing console games. Donna recognized a Famicom, a Sega Saturn, and even a PC-FX among other consoles, and one of the dancers was furiously button mashing through a game of Darius Gaiden.

“We’re looking for hardcore nerds who are able to understand and improvise,” Madam X continued. “When someone calls you sempai—and they will call you sempai—we need you to roll with it.”

Donna smiled. “Senpai, watashi ni kidzuite kudasai!” she chirped. “Senpai, kakkoiidesu!”

“Hmph,” Madam X said, though Donna thought she saw a smile flitter across her face. “Your accent is boorish, provincial, and you speak it through your nose. Save it for the audition, shojo.”

Coming out from backstage, Madam X led Donna to one of the poles. “Oh,” Donna said. “A lightsaber pole! I’ve got a lot of experience with these.”

“You’ll find these are not so clumsy or random as the ones you’ve used before,” Madam X replied. “The color varies depending on your performance, from purple to green to blue to red. You won’t be Sith-ing pretty if we get to red, though. Now, we’ll start you out with a basic set. Diva Dance followed by Lapti Nek, then some Hatsune Miku. If you make it that far, we’ll wrap up with the image song from One Piece, a disco remix of Eyes on Me, and The Power of Love by Huey Lewis. Any questions?”

“Which Hatsune Miku piece?” said Donna.

“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” Madam X jabbed a finger at the booth, high above the stage and floor. “Hit it!”

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Some believe them to be larval souls of soothsayers that have somehow managed to pupate. Others hold that they are native to the Abyss itself, reflecting its chaotic and dark nature. Whichever is the case, the abyssal swallowmoth is prized both as an oracle and as a pet, for these small lepidopterans possess the power of prophecy. However, they tend to mix outright lies in with their truths, tend to prefer uncomfortable truths, and are also known to be deeply sarcastic. So using them for anything other than entertainment tends to be highly problematic–if someone is wise enough to tell the truths from the falsehoods, chances are that they are wise enough to get by without one.

A sample of remarks made by Rosie, a typical abyssal swallowmoth, in a 24-hour period:

“I was the biggest worm that had ever been in your underwear.”

“The death of planes draws near, and the universe will shatter in its footsteps.”


“When your girl leaves your side she starts hitting on the first low hanging available fruit that comes her way. She’s a little home wrecker! She learns from the best.”

“The ripples of your selfishness are echoing across the planes in ways that will not fully be understood by any but the gods, and even then not until long after your demise.”

“Did you SEE that bling? FAKESVILLE.”

“She doesn’t know and will never know.”

“This ‘new’ choker has been worn by 557 people before you.”

“That haircut makes you look fat.”

“They are coming.”

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“Hmph, a succubus?” The demon spat on the ground, where wisps of smoke soon began to rise from the abyssal iron. “Weaklings. Trash from the gutter.”

“Oh?” Nuby crossed her legs daintily, the metal sequins lightly jangling. “Tell me then, Daot, how my kind are ‘weaklings’ and ‘trash.'”

“An orgy is all well and good. I’ve had plenty in my time. But you’re obsessed with it. So hungry for constant carnality that you can’t think of anything else. Can’t plan worth a damn, always flighty. And of course, strength.” The demon took up a metal chair and bent it nearly in half, with the metal squealing and heating cherry-red as he did. “Here, the weak do what the strong tell them to do. You succubi are weak, and you’ll never be able to hold a thought in your head for long before sex crowds it out.”

“I see,” Nuby said evenly. “And what would a real demon, like yourself, one who is neither weak nor trash, comport himself?”

Daot puffed out his chest. “I take what I want from those that are too weak to stop me,” he said. “When I want an orgy, I do it, but I don’t allow that to get in my way. I’m not constantly mewling for sex, not when there’s things to plan, things to think of, and skulls that need a bashing-in.”

“I wonder,” Nuby said. “Do you remember a little get-together in the Brass District some months back?”

“Huh?” said Daot. “Sure. Fun party. Thirty people in five beds. That was a night.”

“You said something to the same effect that night,” said Nuby. “That succubi were easily distracted, weak, unable to plan, all that nonsense.”

“Hmph,” the demon snorted. “Was it nonsense?” He dipped a great paw into his vest and procured a watch, checking the time. “Now, if there’s nothing else, hand over the money and let me be on my way.”

“Of course.” Nuby handed over the satchel with Daot’s protection money, letting it jangle to the floor. “A word of warning, though. I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.”

Daot seized the bag and began greedily rifling through it. “What would you know,” he snorted. “There are no orgies in the bag, so you are FAR outside your realm of experience.”

“Oh, I’m sure.” Nuby examined her nails nonchalantly. “You know what would be a pity, Mr. Daot? It would be a pity, a real pity, of some go-getter of a succubus overheard your blustering that night and thought to learn you a thing or two about strength and focus.”

Looking up, eyes narrowed, the demon showed his full set of teeth. “It would be a pity if I had to rip her to shreds for it.”

“And do you know what else would be a real live tragedy? If that succubus murdered one of your bagmen, one of your little errand boys, and you didn’t even notice because you’re so disconnected from your own extortion business. The idea that such a rough, tough, FOCUSED demon like Mr. Daot could let something so slight slip through his fingers…embarrassing, to say the least.”

Daot looked up. “Perhaps, but an embarrassment that is easy to deal with thanks to a snapped neck.”

Nuby smiled. “Ah yes, but what if your new bagman took it upon herself to concoct a poison? Why, think of what a waste it would be to have every one of those loot bags dusted with a fractional dose of something that, at the right potency, means a screaming death even for a denizen of the abyss?”

Again, Daot looked at the succubus. “What’s that?”

“Imagine the last dose, the last fraction, working its way up through the miserable ranks of Mr. Daot’s pathetic and ramshackle excuse for an organization. Bagman after bagman dropping dead with Mr. Daot’s coin in their hand and on their lips.”

When she glanced up, it was just in time to see Daot topple to the floor, hard enough to dent even the iron. Angry-looking fluid was already beginning to leak from his mouth, his eyes. Nuby rose and sauntered over to him, kneeling down to look him in the face. “Perhaps you’re right about succubi being too distracted by sex to see the larger picture, Mr. Daot,” she said with an icy chill. “After all, I’ve spent months rather single-mindedly obsessing over how best to screw you.”

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Forsooth lie not in a slugabed’s place
Rouse thyself beyond a seal’s gangl’d pace
For youth and confidence are currency still
But cannot be redeem’d in a bedroom’s till
Rise up, what ho, on trembling knees
Venture forth with thy wearied limbs to see
What adventures wait in spring’s flow’ry grasp
And escape thee from fatique’s oily clasp

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“Hear me, if you would.”

“We walk under the same sky, breathe the same air, and should we perish, we return to the same earth. That alone binds us as tightly as any family. And like any family, we are may be cross with one another. We may act out. But yet, we may also forgive.”

“You did what you thought to be right. It may have been so, it may not, but the important thing is that you acted from the heart. In placing you here, I was acting not from the heart, but from the head. In my deepest being, I wish I could have let you do what you would, to follow your own star.”

“But the crown on my brow compelled me to action. Not to vengeance, but to mercy. Placing you here was necessary, but it is no longer. You need not repent of what you have done; all I ask is that you hear me out and consider that we might go together as one. The heart and the head often diverge, but we can set them alight together on the proper path.”

“Your stay here was only to allow passions to cool, to convince the people below that there was no threat. They are brilliant folk, hardworking and true, but you have seen how panicky they can be, how often they react with fear instead of love. But now that the heat of the moment has passed, I come before you clear-eyed and with open arms.”

“I ask that we work to right the wrongs that have been inflicted upon our people, to bring justice to those whose transgressions were far beyond whatever petty squabbles you and I may have had. Join me in agreeing on this, if we can agree on nothing else: the people of this place deserve protection, they deserve to fulfill the purpose life has in store for them. Join me in seeing that this comes to pass.”

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The 88th layer of the Abyss, the Brine Flats, are not devoid of civilization. Outside the winding and corrosive labyrinth of salt and rock that surrounds the citadel of Lord Demogorgon, many inhabited tidal islets can be found. One of the most “safe” for traveler’s is Demon’s Hole, a small settlement that has grown up around a bar frequented by the foul beings that ply the waterways.

Most demons and planeswalkers that wash up here are transplants transplants, drifting in because they are somewhat less likely to be killed. The drinks are strong, relatively safe rooms are available, and it is possible—though not at all easy—to open portals to Sigil or the Lower Planes therefrom.

The owner of the Demon’s Hole bar is a Type IV demon known as Sybil. Sybil allows no fights, serves strong drinks, and is generally willing to do business with travelers for the right price, which usually involves some sort of pain, torture, or devoured memory. Sybil keeps the best of these and distills the others into painwine, agony ale, and of course the legendary Styx Shooter.

It’s also the premier place to go to dig up scuttlebutt on another feature of Demon’s Hole, and the reason that it’s such a favorite of planar hobos: the Tanaaric Gate. This sentient portal will create a link to any plane, any dimension, as many times as you like–but only in exchange for something you hold dear.

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