Location: An outer residential slum district of Hell
Chest heaving, Verin clutched his prize close and tried to quiet his panting. Any noise would give him away and the shallow cave offered little protection. He could make a stand here. Maybe. At least there was rock at his back.
Sure. He could’ve given his find over and slunk away like a good lesser demon kid, but fuck it. Fuck them. He’d found the flame grub nest and he was hungry. So hungry. His stomach growled and he cursed it. Hell’s sake, go on by. You didn’t hear a thing.
“Oi! The little shit’s over here!”
No such luck. That was Grak’s voice, the toad-fucker. Verin cast around desperately for a weapon, but the walls of his refuge were smooth, heat-blasted rock. Not so much as a sharp shard. Even his own horns had started to curl as they grew—too curled to stab with and not big enough to use as battering rams yet. Fucking awkward age.
“Come on out, you little piece of imp jizz, and maybe we’ll go easy on you.”
Grak’s cronies laughed and hooted at his joke. Yeah. Funny.
“Not gonna make it easy on you, you…you human lover!” Verin cringed at the squeak in his voice.
“Oh that’s it. Don’t have to take that from clanless shit spawn. Boys! Haul him out!”
Verin pulled in as far as he could, kicking and biting the clawed hands reaching for him. He got in some good hits and tore off some nice chunks. Something to eat, anyway. His defense lasted a pitiful few second before they dragged him out into a hailstorm of kicks and blows from fists, horns and tails. This was it. He wasn’t going to make it out this time and he’d be eaten by bigger demons, all ’cause he’d been hungry and thought he could get away with something good.
Still, he curled around the flame grub nest. They’d have to work for it and pry it from his dead hands.
A couple of minutes into the beating, the ground trembled under him, rhythmic thudding like…hoof beats? Great. Now some bigshot demon was coming to join in the fun. Hooves suddenly took up most of Verin’s vision, huge, plate-sized things. This wasn’t just any bigshot. This was fucking royalty. Oh, joy.
“What ho! What transpires here?” a young voice called out from the back of a huge nightmare.
“Prince Shax!” Grak dropped to one knee. “This gutter trash stole our flame grub nest. We thought we’d have some fun before we took it back and ate him, too.”
“Were you now?” The voice was smooth as obsidian, arrogant and cool. A kid maybe, but this princeling knew where he stood. Didn’t hurt that he had a cadre of the biggest troll guards Verin had ever seen. “Gak, isn’t it?”
“Grak, your highness.”
“Well, Gak, seems to me that such delicacies should be offerings for nobility. You were going to offer the nest to Herself, I take it?”
Grak groveled and bleated, “Of course it was for Princess Ashtaroth, long may she reign.”
In the moment’s silence, Verin dared a glance up at the shining figure on the prancing black nightmare. The little prince looked maybe his own age, though he was clean and well fed, the snooty brat. Almost too pretty to be a demon.
“You are dismissed, Gak. I’ll deliver the nest to my mother with your compliments.”
“Thank you, Prince Shax. Your graciousness.” Grak kissed ass some more, even though the cocky little prince refused to get his name right, and tripped over his cronies and his own big feet trying to get away.
Verin had no illusions about what would happen next. He was still so dead. At least I’ll go out in style now.
“You there, with the grub nest. What do they call you?”
Verin blinked up at the shining vision on the horse. Did he really have to wear golden armor to go out riding? “Verin.”
He was sure he’d get stomped for not being all proper and formal, but Prince Shax just smiled. “You may rise and thank me for saving you, Verin.”
“Not gonna happen.”
Now the little prince frowned. “I command you to rise.”
“Sorry, highness. I really fucking can’t. Not sure I can even lift my head.”
“Oh. Well.” Prince Shax gestured to one of his giant guards. “Aktczot, pick him up. Carefully. We’ll take him with us.”
The big beast did his best, he supposed, though Verin still gasped and cursed in pain as broken bones shifted. “Why’re you doing this, your high muckity-muck? Am I dinner?”
The prince threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, sulfur pits, no! You’d be far too tough for the dinner table. I’ve decided I want a minion, and I like you.”
“I like you. You’re stubborn and brave.”
Despite his body being a ball of pain, Verin’s stomach growled. “And starving.”
“Never fear. You’ll be fed well and have a place at my side. Much nicer than living out here in the low rent districts.” An evil grin spread across Shax’s face. “Besides, I think you’ll very much annoy my mother.”