“I like this cover.”
A table full of hopeful writers sat forward like someone goosed them with a pitchfork. Aksel shook his head and reclined in his seat tucked against the back corner of the pavilion. An hour into the event and they’d seen maybe half a dozen people that even bothered to glance their way. How degrading.
He looked at the poor saps hoping that the man on the other side of the table spoke about their cover. Yeah, he thought to himself. They’re a pretty pathetic bunch already. Don’t need much help.
“That’s the statue of Venus,” one of the writers answered. She sounded really damn proud of her book. The other writers deflated a little.
The man leaned in. A lecherous grin spread over his tanned, pockmarked face. “Yeah, it’s nice. I’ll be in the port-a-potty for a few minutes.”
With a wink, he walked off, leaving a table of utterly disgusted authors behind. Aksel barked a laugh and leaned forward to whisper in RC’s ear. “I like him. Can we invite him back for more entertainment later?”
Hazel eyes whipped around to glare at the demon. He laughed again and kicked his feet up on her portion of the table.
“You’re disgusting if you think we really need to hear more about Hair Palms over there.”
“Cool your jets, author lady. At least he’s not jerking it to your pictures.” Aksel snagged her mocha off the table and drank the last half. “Can we leave yet?”
RC shot him a look that would’ve wounded a lesser demon. “We just got here. Why are you even awake, Aksel? Go back to sleep. You aren’t needed at this event. I’m not selling one of your stories.”
“First off, we’ve been in this damn city since last night. Secondly, why the fuck are you selling that idiot Lucifer’s story, but not mine?” He kept a calm face, but it really annoyed him that when she picked through what to bring, his stories didn’t make the cut. Why not? Her readers loved him.
“Your story isn’t finished and you know it.” RC reached for her coffee and found an empty cup. A frustrated growl drowned out the sound of a nearby fairy giggling.
“That’s because you won’t listen to me.”
The author lady let out another frustrated sound. He wisely let the argument die.
A family walked past the pavilion. The little boy’s eyes lit up when he caught a glimpse of Aksel. No one—except RC—saw him unless he wanted them to. He tilted his head and prodded the kid with a thread of power. A whole lot of nothing came back at him. Rarely did he encounter a true sociopath outside of the hell realms, let alone one so young. The urge to follow the kid got him halfway out of his chair.
“If your ass leaves that seat, I will bolt you to it.” RC gave him a warning look. Others might fall for her innocent act, but Aksel knew the truth. The bitch was demented.
“Ruin all my fun,” he muttered, watching the family as they disappeared into the crowd.
“You had your fun last night.” He gave her a surprised look. “I’m not a moron, Aksel. A man running down the street screaming ‘Why are you following me? Do you want to ruin my life?’ only does so if chased by something truly horrifying.”
Aksel shrugged. “Could’ve been drugs.”
“Or a demon that’s spent far too much time caged up. I don’t care that you went out last night. I care that your entertainment woke me up at three in the god damned morning.”
He cringed and started to seriously reconsider drinking RC’s coffee. Aksel reached into the box beside her. Out came a nice, cold soda—full of the caffeine he’d deprived her of. Stupidly so, he added as he handed it to her. Years with the same woman taught you things, even if you weren’t in a relationship…or even friends.
“Can we go now?” he asked again.
RC gave a long-suffering sigh and they settled in for a long day of more of the same.
Never again would Aksel allow a female to pick their vacation destination. He glared across the cramped tent from his sleeping bag—which felt more like a sarcophagus than something to sleep in—at the woman in question as she combed her long, dark brown hair and braided it.
“We’re going home,” he declared. Maybe if he put his foot down, she’d actually listen.
“I can’t leave yet, Aksel. Other people may want to buy one of my books.”
He snorted. “So I’m being punished in your quest to be a better writer.”
RC looked up from the pile of blankets she straightened on her air mattress. “You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t strive to be a better writer, Aksel. You’re my dysfunctional masterpiece.”
Disbelief filtered through his dark eyes, but he knew better than to tangle with the bloody, frustrating woman when she got in that mood. The one where she could do no wrong and her words were those of God. Worst of all, they were doomed to remain at the balls-cold fantasy festival for another day.
“This is hell,” he muttered.
“And you would be the expert on that,” she shot back.
RC snuggled down under the blankets and waved a hand at the door of the tent. “Honestly, Aksel. If you’re just going to glare, go entertain yourself. Just try to do it on the other side of the park so you don’t wake me up again, okay?”
Relieved to not be glued to her side for another moment, Aksel unzipped the flap of nylon and stepped out. Brisk night air greeted him like a slap to the cock. He ducked back inside to grab his duster, hardly giving a second look to the woman within before zipping her in. Kicking himself, he set a low-level protection spell. It’d be moronic to allow the person that gave him life to bite the big one while he got his rocks off.
Invisible to the few humans milling around, Aksel strolled out of the tent city provided by the event for its actors. At the street he randomly took a left and passed over a small bridge. The frigid water below recoiled at his approach. Not even the purest parts of nature could accept his role in the universe—balancing out all that goody-goody bullshit walking the earth every day. He was just as much of nature as they, yet he became the abomination.
“Fuck them,” Aksel reminded himself.
Blood on the pavement caught his attention. A smile stretched his thin lips remembering the night before. He didn’t kill the moron that woke RC up, but he did stitch the man’s mouth shut to keep him from hollering about demons and waking the entire world up. How was Aksel to know he’d cross a nutjob that could actually see him on his stroll? He knew better now and kept an eye out for any of the vagrants lurking in the shadows.
The street turned out on another that wasn’t much wider than an alley. Aksel took another left, thrilled to see the seedier portion of the city there to embrace him. A ripple of power ran down his body, uncloaking him to human eyes. RC said to entertain himself and he’d gone well out of earshot.
“Come out and play, little darlings,” he called into the darkness.
A scurrying sound along a chain link fence caught Aksel’s attention. Jet black eyes cut through the night, searching for the source of the sound. A flex of power helped him leap over the fence. He landed two feet in front of a withered man clutching a dirty bedroll to his chest.
“You ain’t human,” the man blurted.
“So nice of you to get that part out of the way.” Aksel stepped closer and instantly regretted it. Either the man never bathed or he’d shit himself. “I want to play a game.”
“I don’t play with perverts. Fuck off.” The man stumbled back.
Aksel gave him a look. “You’re not exactly my type, jackass. Here’s the game. You tell me what number I’m thinking of, and I won’t kill you. You get three guesses. Each wrong guess will cost you in blood.”
The man went sheet-white. His knees buckled and he landed on a small bush. The nasty-ass bedroll unfolded, spilling everything the man owned on the dirt. Aksel shoved his cold hands in his pockets and waited. They’d play. He knew it. This was a man with nothing else left to lose.
“What do I get if I guess right?”
A dark brow rose at the question. “Living isn’t enough?”
“This here ain’t a life, buddy. Give me a warm meal and a bed to sleep in if I win.” Strength flared in the withered man’s eyes. He respected that.
“It’s a deal. Pick between zero and five-hundred, Patrick.”
Hearing his own name prodded the man into action. He scrambled to his feet and began to pace back and forth. Half-gloved fingers raked at the stubble on his jaw. Aksel leaned against the chain link fence, ready to wait for however long necessary to get to the fun part of their game.
Patrick looked up to the stars, as if they’d feed him divine knowledge of what number rattled around Aksel’s head. Good fucking luck with that, he thought. Nothing divine dared screw with his grey matter.
“One-hundred and fifty-three,” Patrick said at last.
“About time.” Aksel slipped his favorite knife from its sheath. “And you’re wrong.”
In a blink, he closed in on the man. Too startled to yell, Patrick gasped. His jaw worked like a fish drowning on oxygen. Amused, Aksel decided to take his time. He peeled off the soiled open-finger glove on the man’s hand and hummed a children’s rhyme, tapping the tip of his knife on Patrick’s fingertips with each syllable.
A glint caught his eye. Grinning, he propped the knife against the dingy metal band wrapped around Patrick’s wedding finger. Frantic gasping and flailing signaled that he’d made the right choice.
Hot blood splattered over the back of Aksel’s hand. His skin drank it in, using it to warm himself from the bone-deep chill in the air. The finger and its decoration fell into the demon’s waiting palm. He held it up to admire in the dim moonlight.
“She must have been one hell of a lay if you’ve worn this thing for so long.”
Aksel pocketed the finger and gave it a pat. Blood pit-patted onto the dirt at their feet. Patrick snapped out of his silent spell and sputtered a round of curses that made the demon kind of proud. The human pulled an old sock off of his open bedroll and used it to bind his hand.
“Two more guesses, right?”
Aksel nodded, taking his spot against the fence. Idly, he fingered the blood on his knife.
Patrick resumed his pacing. He clutched his hand to his chest and muttered a flurry of prime obscenities. Concentration pinched bushy eyebrows together. Steam damn near came out of his ears by the time he stopped to look at the demon again.
“Three-hundred and twelve”
Clucking his tongue, Aksel pushed off the chain link. Stumbling back, Patrick held on to his injured hand. As if, Aksel thought, like I’d go after spoiled game now.
“No use running, Patrick. You agreed to our game. I’m simply following through on the rules.”
Shaking legs came to a halt. The man stood as straight as his hunched shoulders would allow. “Get it over with, then.”
Admiration sparked in the demon. Quickly, he grabbed Patrick’s ear and with a clean slice, cut it free. The human’s bandaged hand slapped against the raw flesh to stop up the blood. He bit down on his lip to keep from screaming. Aksel really started to like the man.
“One more guess.” The ear went in his pocket with the finger.
Blood oozed down through Patrick’s raggedy beard and into his mouth. He spat it out on the dirt. Cold, grey eyes locked on Aksel’s. He waited for the human to flinch, but he didn’t. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear the man tried to read his mind.
“Sixty-six.” His voice sounded so sure that Aksel damn near believed he’d picked that number.
In a blur, Aksel stepped behind the dejected man. An arm wrapped around his thin throat, putting on just enough pressure to keep him in place. The tip of his knife balanced against the base of Patrick’s neck, right on the spine.
“Wh—what was it?”
“Three, my favorite number.”
“See you in hell, asshole,” Patrick spat out.
“Yes you will.”
Aksel punched the knife down. It cut through the man’s spine, severing the spinal column with a clean cut. Patrick went limp and fell from the demon’s grasp. Lifeless eyes studied the heavens.
“What a waste.”
The fun of the game over, Aksel knelt next to the body and laid his hand over it. Power flared under his palm. Flames shot up from the soiled coat covering the body. In a matter of minutes nothing remained of Patrick, not even a scorch mark on the dirt.
Dusting his pants off, Aksel took the long way around the fence back to the street. He headed down, took a right, and walked until the subdued sobbing of the river called to him. Pausing, he tossed the ear and finger into the drink. Keeping trophies held no appeal after dispatching a worthy mental adversary.
The demon masked his presence and continued on to the tent camp. He slid into the tent. RC appeared to be asleep.
“If you get blood on my stuff, I’ll kill you.”
Never underestimate humans, Aksel reminded himself and settled in to begin another day stuck amongst fairies and pirates.