Place: Hell, Palace of Princess Ashtaroth
"So what do you do?"
The annoying little shit leaped up on the bed and sprawled on his back, kicking one sandaled foot against the frame. Verin didn't stop his poking and prodding around the room as he snarled, "Do? What the fuck does that mean?"
"Yes. Do." Prince Shax rolled far enough to ring a skull-shaped bell on the bedside table. An imp popped up from somewhere and the prince waved an imperious hand at it and ordered, "Food."
The imp scurried off. Fine. The prince was an arrogant little prick, but Verin wasn't going to say no to a free meal.
"Mostly, I survive, your high muckity-ness."
"Oh, don't be dense. Every demon does something. I have a cousin who shoots venom out his ass."
Now that would be a good trick. Verin shrugged. "I snort out smoke and shit. Sometimes flames. What do you do?"
Prince Shax turned his head to shoot him a bright smile. "I'm charming and handsome and great at parties."
Verin pulled a footstool out from under the prince's desk and plunked his butt down. "That's not really a…thing."
"Fair enough." The prince rolled onto his stomach facing Verin, his smile somehow sliding into a shit-eating grin. "I steal things."
Wisps of steam curled from Verin's nostrils. He was trying to keep a tight lid on things, since he was getting a meal out of it. Would help if the prince wasn't so fucking irritating. "I steal shit, too. That's not exactly a thing either."
"Considering where I found you, you don't steal successfully." Prince Shax's voice dropped to a murmur, as if he shared secrets. "That's the difference."
"Fuck you, your highness."
Any other prince of Hell might have called for guards to have Verin hauled out and boiled alive. Prince Shax only laughed. Giggled, really, but he'd probably grow into a more impressive demon laugh when he got older. He was an odd little blue blood, no fucking way around it.
A whole troop of imps came back with trays groaning with more food than Verin thought could exist in one place. Smoked grubs, eggs done a dozen different ways, flame fish in sauces that made his stomach rumble, along with a crowd of delicacies he couldn't name.
For a few precious moments when he could've been eating, all he could do was stare. He knew royalty lived better than gutter scum, but he'd never known how much better. Anger and envy warred in his gut, along with the realization that a prince had chosen him, at least for the day. Lucky me.
Prince Shax pulled up a chair and started to pick at things like the fussy spoiled brat he was, but he broke off to wave to Verin. "Come over here. I know you're hungry. Eat whatever you want."
No one had to tell him twice. Verin stood over the trays and dug in with both hands, devouring indiscriminately until the horrible, gnawing edge of his hunger receded. Only when he felt stuffed did he slow down to pull up the footstool and start tasting his food. It was damn good stuff.
"You don't believe me about my talents." Prince Shax sucked green sauce from his claws and drank something fancy from his dragon-shaped goblet. "Mother is having guests for dinner. I'm not invited since I'm too young. But I still have to go down and greet them. So not fair. Anyway, I'll show you then."
Verin kept his mouth shut. Probably best not to annoy his little lordship too much if he wanted more than a single meal out of this. When they finished eating, the prince actually let Verin nap on the huge canopied bed with him. The thing was big enough for twenty demon kids.
Later that night, Prince Shax woke him and made him dress in some fancy velvet shit. He kept babbling instructions, so the prince was obviously nervous as fuck. Verin had the bad feeling that some bigger demon was about to have him on toast after all.
"And don't be scared. I'll protect you."
"I'm not scared," Verin growled. I'm terrified.
They took a narrow winding staircase down to the receiving hall so they could peek out and see what was happening first. Princess Ashtaroth was there in all her hugely scary glory, white-blonde hair cascading round her, white dragon wings folded neatly on her back. Every movement screamed power and grace. Every lift of perfect eyebrow, every gesture was heavy with meaning, though Verin was fucked if he knew what anything meant.
He stayed in the shadowed alcove of the staircase while Prince Shax trotted forward to greet his mother. She deigned to bend down and brush a kiss over his cheek before she greeted her next guest. All court demons, big and small. Verin couldn't name all of them, but he recognized at least two other rulers of Hell provinces. This wasn't a dinner party. This was a cabal, a place for a certain court faction to meet and scheme. Verin wasn't going anywhere near it.
But if he thought he was escaping HER notice, he was so fucking wrong. She couldn't have seen him. Still, the princess turned and pointed to the alcove.
"Who is this, my darling boy?"
Give the little shit credit. Prince Shax squared his shoulders and looked right in her icy violet eyes. "That's my new minion, Mother. His name is Verin."
"Your new minion? We discussed this. Any minions you are to have, I will choose for you."
Prince Shax's chin went up just a hair. "I know, but please, Mum? Just this one?"
The house minions were fussing over another high-ranking demon in the foyer, dividing Princess Ashtaroth's attention. She waved an elegant clawed hand. "Very well. You may keep that one. Be certain he understands how to behave in this household or he goes to the meat locker."
Prince Shax shot a conspiratorial grin back at Verin, then turned to the next guest. "Uncle Asmo!"
The greeting sounded sincerely glad instead of polite, but Verin shivered. Asmodeus, Prince of Lust, stood before her highness now, his beautiful, sensual movements hypnotic, his gorgeous body covered only in strategic strips of leather and gold. So much gold. Rings of ruby and gold, piercings, bangles at wrists and ankles, he chimed when he walked. Waves of carnal desire rolled off him, impossible to ignore. A couple of the foyer minions had succumbed and were fucking madly by the front door.
Asmodeus opened his arms and Prince Shax leapt into them, squirming and laughing as his "Uncle Asmo" stroked him and kissed him. Royal families were weird. When the princess cleared her throat, frowning, he let the princeling go so he could come and kiss his hostess. Shax, for his part, scurried back to Verin, seized his hand, and hauled him back up the stairs.
Halfway up, he held out two rings for Verin to see. Two of the rings from Prince Asmodeus's fingers.
"Mother of demons," Verin breathed out. "You took the fucking things right off him."
"I did." Prince Shax looped an arm through Verin's as they made their way back to his room. "You and I, Verin. We're going to have so much fun."