“So how was she?”

“Will you be quiet? She’s still asleep.”

“You’re avoiding the question. What happened?”

“None of your damn business, Silthos.”

Their voices stirred her awake, the volume of their conversation far too loud to let her sleep any longer. She groaned into her pillow, covering her head with the blankets to drown out the noise. All the hushing in the world wouldn’t quiet those three. She sighed and tossed the pillow aside. Now that she was awake, she might as well get up. No use staying in bed hoping they’d learn to whisper.

“Enough, Darrow. We have a right to know. What happened between you two last night?”

She heard Darrow’s growl in frustration. “She let me devour her and then sucked me off. Nothing more.”

“You didn’t break her, did you?”

“No, she’s fine. I stopped her just as I was about to explode. She’s clean as the day she was born.”

“Good. Next time, you could at least ask us if it’s okay to explore her.”

Quietly, Claire shoved the sheets to the side and pushed herself up, gently scooting over to the edge of the bed. She turned her head to watch the argument unfold. Thaltos, Silthos and Darrow each had a seat at the table, steaming plates of food set before them. All three were still deep in discussion about her, none of them ever looking over to notice her presence. Every so often, one of her lovers would dip his head into his plate of food, letting the other two continue the argument alone for a moment.

Silthos scoffed loudly. “You’re one to talk, Thaltos. Wasn’t it you who ate her without permission the last time?”

The old demon’s face hardened. “I was simply following Darrow’s suggestion to taste her.”

Darrow’s head shot up from his plate, his black eyes blazing. “Don’t try to pin that on me! You were the one who wanted to taste her. I never forced your head between her thighs!”

Claire sighed and slipped off the bed, landing silently on the warm stone floor. She made her way over to the table, running her fingers through her wild hair in an attempt to tame the strands.

Three days of having you pussy devoured by demons can give you some serious bed-head.

She walked over to the table without saying a word, pulled out a chair and sat down. She reached out and pulled the steaming plate of rice and beef strips toward her, her mouth watering at the smell of her new favorite food. Famished, she snatched a piece of meat from the plate and began to devour it with her bare hands.

All three of her lovers, meanwhile, stared at her in shocked silence. Her body’s hunger kept her from pausing to look at them, but Claire understood their confusion. When they first brought her here, she was a quiet, scared human girl with manners and endless questions. The sight of her stuffing her face without inquiry was probably the shock of their lives.

Finally, Thaltos cleared his throat. “Good to see that you’re awake.”

She nodded. “Well, the three of you couldn’t whisper if you tried and I was hungry.” She talked through a mouthful of meat.

He smiled slightly. “I apologize. We tried to keep our voices low to let you sleep.”

She swallowed and wiped her mouth with her arm. “You didn’t do a very good job.” Her eyes flicked to Darrow, giving him a withering stare that let him know he was the main culprit.

He smiled wickedly and retuned to his plate.

She tore of another chunk of mean, chewing it slowly and quietly. “We are in Hell, correct?”

Thaltos nodded. “We are.”

“So, does that mean there’s a place beyond this room?” She stared at him, curious. “You’ve kept me locked in here for three days. Will I get to see Hell at some point?”

He laughed softly. “Of course. We were simply waiting until you became accustomed to us.”

“I think I’m pretty used to you three.” She reached out and picked up a ruby-encrusted chalice, bringing it to her lips to drink the sweet liquid inside. The sweet, powerful taste of dragberries and wine jolter her completely awake.

“I second that opinion,” Silthos chimed, giving her a quick wink. “I think she’s more than comfortable to our presence.”

“If it’s something you honestly want to see…” Thaltos shrugged. “Hell’s not the most luxurious place in the world.”

She nodded vigorously. “I do. No offense, but I’m starting to get cabin fever in here. I need to get out of this room.”

“That’s nothing new,” Darrow added. “None of us can stay lock in here for too long. That’s why we’ve had to leave once you fell asleep.” He took another bit of roasted pork. “The fact that you’ve stayed sane for this long is a fucking miracle.”

Claire giggled at him, an action that surprised all of them, even herself. She and Darrow had never been the best of friends, but since last night their relationship had gone from tsunami waves to class five rapids. A small improvement, but one she’d take nonetheless.

Thaltos shrugged again. “Fine, then. I don’t see an issue with it. Once you’re finished eating, we’ll get you dressed and show you around.”

She cocked her head, confused. “Why do I have to be dressed? We’re in Hell. What difference does it make if I’m naked or not?”

“It’s an insurance policy,” Silthos explained. “In Hell, any human soul that hasn’t been claimed or traded wanders around completely naked; souls that have an owner are dressed. Each demon or group of demons that has claimed a soul has pieces of clothing their prizes wear. Those pieces have a specific marking stitched into the fabric. That mark tells other demons that particular soul belongs to another demon and can’t be touched.”

“If you were to walk around naked, even if you were with us, another demon could conclude that you’re an open soul and try to claim you.” Darrow swallowed his food and stared at her. “If you wear the clothing we have for you, no other demon could claim you. It’s a bit like farmers branding their cattle; it helps identify which soul belongs to whom.”

“What would happen if-” She clamped her mouth shut, not wanting to reopen old wounds.

Thaltos raised an eyebrow. “If one demon took another’s prize anyway? Well, Darrow’s friend Tarrin is an excellent example. Exile and the threat of execution if they return.”

Claire nodded, avoiding eye contact with Darrow. She could hear his low growl, though, a signal that the discussion of Tarrin had come to an end.

“When you’re done, we’ll get you dressed and give you a tour,” Thaltos proclaimed.

They ate in silence for the remainder of breakfast, with Darrow being especially quiet. The mention of Tarrin had put him in a less than happy mood, something that was sure to brighten the day for all of them. Claire was also quiet, mulling over the prospect of seeing the world outside her room. Would there be flames like her grandmother had told her? Or would it be cold and icy like Thaltos said it was? The thoughts made her nervous about the tour, despite her ravenous hunger. She swallowed her food quickly, anxious to see her new home.

Full of rice, meat and strong wine, Claire pushed her plate back and leaned back in her chair, her belly now sated with food. She closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath, the scent of fresh smoke and warm wine mixed in the air, making her head spin slightly and bringing a smile to her lips.

“Ready, then?” Thaltos looked at her expectantly.

She opened her eyes and looked at him, nodding. She sat up and pushed herself away from the table, standing up to watch as the other three did the same. Thaltos curled a clawed finger at her, beckoning her to follow. He led her to the far wall, pausing so she and the others could catch up. A thick redwood beam had been nailed into the rock, the surface of the wood carved with swirling filigree. On it hung dozens of translucent shreds of fabric they laughingly called clothing.

I though I was going to be dressed in actual clothes, not the craft store reject pile.

“Now let’s see. It’s her first outing. What should we-”

“I’ll do it. The girl needs to be dressed, Thaltos, that’s all. She’s in Hell, not a beauty pageant.”

Darrow stepped forward, pushing his companions aside. He rummaged through the racks, grunting at every piece that didn’t meet his expectations. Finally, he pulled two separate pieces and began to slide them off the holders. He turned to her, his eyes curiously blank.

“Arms up.”

She nodded and lifted her hands, closing her eyes as he slipped one piece of fabric over her head. He adjusted it for a moment, making sure that it sat right on her skin. He held out the second piece, a simple white skirt with a hip-high slit on one side and embroidered with blood-red scrollwork. She stepped into the skirt carefully; the fabric looked so thin, she was surprised it hadn’t ripped in his hands. She pulled the skirt up to her hips, pulling the waist strings tight to fit.

“Would you like to see?” Thaltos offered.

She nodded, curious to view her appearance. Looking down at her body, the clothing was indescribable and made no sense. A mirror would help to show exactly how she was supposed to look.

Thaltos stepped away for a moment, retuning with an enormous rectangular mirror surrounded by gold and expertly carved with flames. He set it down in front of her, tilting the glass so she could see.

“Take a look.”

What she saw was startling. The skirt reached to her knees, the red embroidery made to look like flames dancing up her legs. The slit on the side showed her entire leg, leaving very little to the imagination.

Her top was far more intricate. Two strips of white fabric crossed over her chest and wrapped around her back. Each of her breasts was covered with a band of soft cotton, the material just heavy enough for her skin to not show through. The rest of her torso – her ribcage to her hips – was bare, revealing miles of smooth, creamy skin. Where the bands of fabric crossed on her chest, a red insignia had been emblazoned into the cloth. To her, it reminded her of the ancient Venus symbol turned upside-down, but with two bars sticking out instead of one. Inside the circle, a tiny flame made of gold thread shined in the light.

After staring at it for a moment, Claire realized it looked familiar. It was the same symbol her parents had placed in the family room above the photo of her eighteenth birthday party. Back then, it was reminder to her family of debt they owed. Now, it symbolized their ownership of her.

She traced the emblem with her fingers. “It’s beautiful. Does it represent something?”

“The rebirth of fire.” Thaltos rested one arm against the mirror to support himself as he leaned against it.

Claire continued to finger the crest, fascinated with its shape and texture. It felt so good under her fingers, so natural to have next to her body. As if it actually belonged there…

“We ready to go?” Silthos questioned.

“Claire?” Thaltos turned to her.

She snapped her head up, torn out of her trance. “Yeah, I’m ready.” She glanced back to the mirror. “I feel very exposed.”

“You’re in a world of pain, suffering and boundless pleasures, my dear,” Thaltos smiled at her. “No one is expecting you to wear Prada.”

She nodded, tearing her gaze away from the mirror to follow them. All three had paused at the edges of the shadows that pooled along the walls, waiting patiently for her to come. She stopped an inch from the dark masses at her feet, watching as Darrow and Silthos were consumed by the darkness, pulled in by the tiny threads that welcomed them. Thaltos offered his hand, a suggestion she gladly took. Gently, he led her into the blackness, never letting his grip on her hand falter.

Strands of shadow stretched out to greet her, wrapping around her arms and legs as they slowly pulled her in. The threads were warm, almost silky to the touch, light as breath on her skin. They pulled her deeper into their home, with Thaltos leading the way. He never let go of her hand, even when the fearful mass of dark finally consumed her.

A heartbeat later, she was standing in an enormous hallway crowded with demons of all shapes and sizes. Accompanying each hellion was another human dressed in clothing similar to her but with a different design. Periodically, she would see a group of humans following one demon, each soul wearing identical designs. A number of demons looked at her as they passed, noticing the newcomer end eyeing her with interest, though none made a move toward her. Some of the human captives did the same, but offered her warm smiles instead of hushed whispers and frightened gazes.

The hallway itself was beautiful. A curved ceiling nearly fifty feet high was supported by innumerable carved stone columns, each etched with carnal depictions of humans and demons. The hall was illuminated by those same floating rings of fire she saw in her room. The floor was one giant slab of black marble filled with veins of blue and gold. The walls were made of the same stone, with arched cutouts made in the rock. Through the openings, she saw the cold, bleak, misty world of dead souls. The sights overwhelmed her senses and stopped her in her tracks as she stared in wonder.

Hell was certainly a place to behold, far more beautiful and wondrous than her grandmother had claimed.

“This way,” Thaltos whispered in her ear as he steered her through the crowd.

“You two took a long time to get here.” Silthos was leaning against one of the columns, waiting for them. Darrow stood next to him, his focus elsewhere.

“It was her first time shadow-walking.” Thaltos urged her forward. “I didn’t want her to be scared.”

“She’s fine,” Darrow snapped. “If she can handle us, she can handle the shadows. They’re not going to hurt her.”

“Come on. We promised we’d show her around. Let’s go.” Silthos started to step away, beckoning the others to follow.

Thaltos gripped her wrist and began to pull her along, making sure to keep her close. They passed by spires of twisting rock, flitted through the hoards of demon masses and pushed their way to an enormous balcony overlooking the desolate world of muck and death that all human souls traveled through. A twinge of pain flashed through her heart as she watched those helpless beings trek through the slime. The poor things. They were neither kings nor sinners, so they were stuck in the world in between the glorious and the hellfire.

“Follow us, Claire. Stay close.” Thaltos whispered the words in her ear as the moved.

The farther they walked, the thinner the crowd became. She had more room to maneuver now, so she walked beside Thaltos instead of behind him. Darrow trailed behind all of them, staying back in case she wandered off or someone took an unhealthy interest in her. Claire looked over her shoulder at him, offering a tiny smile of comfort and joy. He returned the gesture, though his arms remained folded and his eyes steely.

“Over there,” Silthos pointed to a twisting mass of rock in the muck, “is the Shadow Spire. It’s the central governing body here. The demons in there regulate incoming souls and deal out judgment to any rule breakers.”

They passed several more landmarks: the Fire Towers, used for judging the damned souls; the Capitoris, Lucifer’s throne room; the Salonthi, an appeals board for souls wrongly sent into the inferno. Each made her stare in wonder and amazement. Such majesty and powering those buildings. She could only imagine what else they had to show her.

The hall had become silent as they had taken their tour. Only the four of them walked the massive corridor, though every so often a demon and their servant would enter into the hall for an instant before disappearing again.

“Why is it so quiet now?” She looked around the hall, searching for any sign life.

Silthos shrugged. “The crowds come in waves. The Capitoris has a clock that regulates the time here. When the bell chimes, the demons come out with their humans and move around. Time moves faster there that it does on Earth, so it may feel like there’s always a constant flow.”

“Where do they go?” Her eyes widened in curiosity.

“Nowhere, really. Some have errands to do, people to talk to, deals to make. That’s the majority of the movement. Seven billion souls and so much time.” Darrow gave her a vicious smile and a playful wink.

He smiled at him, glad to know that all three of them had calmed from their earlier argument.

“So where shall we go from here? The fire pits? The Capitoris itself?” Silthos looked expectantly at Claire.

She paused for a moment. “Are there places that we can see the souls?”

Thaltos looked down at her. “Which ones? The damned? The unremarkable?”

She chewed her lip. “The damned, I suppose.”

“The fire pits it is, then!” Silthos spun on his heels and began to make his way down the hall.

A bell chimed, a deep, resonating sound that echoed around the hall and rattled her bones.

“Heads up!” Silthos shouted.

Darrow whipped his head around, his eyes wild. “Thaltos! Keep her close!”

Thaltos’ muscular arm jerked her backwards, crushing her face against his chest. His free arm wrapped around her waist, locking her to his form. She wrapped her arms around his waist, holding on for the rush.

A swarm of demons and their captives burst into the hallway, knocking them backwards into the marble wall. Thaltos grunted in pain but held onto her, never letting go. Most of the demons crowding them noticed her but never said anything or made a move. They continued on their way, focused on their own lives.

One massive horned demon marched down the hallway dragging the screaming soul of a middle-aged man. Thin, pale and covered in blood, the man had murdered his wife and two daughters before killing himself. Now, after his death, he was being heaved into the fiery pits where the worst souls were cast. His long, broken fingers dug at the marble flooring, trying desperately to halt his fate.

Thaltos pressed himself against the wall, pulling her closer to him. Other demons moved out of the way, watching as the man was dragged to his fate. Once the demon had passed, they moved back into the hall, intent of going where they were needed.

The demon neared them, his breath blowing out of his nostrils in black puffs. The man screamed for mercy, begging the demon for another chance to save himself. The demon carried on silently, uncaring about the tainted soul in his grasp.

One filthy, blood-covered hand, searching for anything to grab onto, lashed out and gripped her ankle, jerking her backwards and out of Thaltos’ grasp. Claire screamed as she was dragged into the hoard of demons and down the hall with the damned man.


She heard Thaltos’ roar but was too far down the hallway to see him. By now, she had been swept up in the crowd of demons and servants, pulled along by the hand of the damned man who had grabbed her. Behind her, she could see Thaltos’ massive form shoving his way through the crowd, catching glimpses of his frightened eyes in the spaces between the swarming bodies. Silthos and Darrow followed close behind, as anxious and fearful as their friend.

Sharp nails dug into her ankle, making her wince in pain and whip her head around. The man stared at her with wild green eyes, his broken teeth forming a pained grimace.

“Help me,” he whispered.

Claire glared at him, furious he’d separated her from her companions. “Let me go!”

She kicked her free foot out, her heel catching his nose. The man cried out and pulled his hand away to cup his face, setting her free and tossing her into the waves of bodies still piling down the hall.