Well, he’d already faced the temptation of sloth once, hadn’t he? With nothing else to do, he strolled through the keep, wandering through its paper rooms. There were dozens of bedrooms, with huge beds piled with blankets and pillows made of cloth and stuffed with feathers, not paper. There were special rooms with latrines inside the building, and wherever the holes led, they did not drain inside the walls but somewhere else entirely. There were grand ballrooms with polished paper floors, a library filled with books (more scripture), and an armory stocked with a variety of fierce-looking weapons, from which Tuco appropriated an axe that was made not of paper but of some kind of hard, silvery metal. He couldn’t really tell whether the metal was heavy, as nothing felt heavy to him these days, but it had a nice heft in his grip, and it might, he thought, be useful in trying to effect an escape, if necessary.
He found a massive paper dining hall, and beyond that, an enormous kitchen stocked with cooking implements, real food, and a real fire burning under a black cauldron suspended in a paper hearth. Further exploration yielded parlors, sitting rooms, a solarium, a music conservatory, and uncountable closets, all stocked with paper. He also discovered a wide stairway and followed it down to a basement with an actual dungeon. There were cells, their bars black wrought iron, spearing up and down into the paper ceiling and floor.
Curious, Tuco crouched down and grabbed a bit of torn paper sticking up from the hole and peeled it back. It tore away with a satisfying rip. Perhaps he could simply tear his way out, if he needed to? With the tip of a claw, he worked up another edge of paper and tore that one back as well. The edge of the third leaf dragged painfully along his finger, and he instinctively put it to his mouth; the paper had sliced it open, and he tasted the copper-sulfur flavor of his blood as he delicately probed the cut with his tongue tips.
The power of the castle healed the cut almost instantly, however, and then he felt that strange surge of energy as before—this time not in his bones, but as a flush of pleasure that burned briefly in his skin, as though an enjoyable, full-body blush. He withdrew his fingertip from his mouth and examined it. His fingertip looked strange: slightly thicker somehow, the flesh pebbled with odd, tiny bumps. They were miniscule on his fingertip, but swathed his whole hand, growing larger up his arm. On further inspection, all of his skin had changed subtly. He slid his hand across his chest, feeling broad, flat, overlapping shapes there, almost unnoticeable, but different, as though his flesh had been covered with some sort of protective layer. More of the pebbling went down his thighs, swathed his ankles, and even altered the grip of his toes on the paper floor beneath him.
“Does the castle change me somehow to stop me from being hurt again?” he wondered aloud. Thoughtfully, he picked up the axe he had retrieved from the armory. Its edges gleamed silver-sharp. It was probably a mistake to try that… but after a minute or two, boredom and curiosity got the better of him, so he held it in his right hand, gripping it tightly, his forearm bulging into solid globes of tension. He set his left thumb against the blade and pushed. There was almost no pain, but the blade sank in, far deeper than Tuco had intended, and blood welled up around it. He dropped the axe and resisted the urge to suck on the wound, instead watching with curiosity.
It had just begun to throb with a deep, sharp pain when the wound closed, a thin clean line amid the smear of red blood. For a moment, Tuco thought that was all that would happen, but then an intense, overwhelming flush radiated out from his thumb and suffused his entire body, as though he were burning with a fever. He fell backward, catching himself on the heels of his hands, his back arching as his skin prickled and crawled. The experiment had been a mistake, he knew now, but it was too late to do anything but deal with the consequences.
His skin flushed redder and redder, as though filling with blood, tightening as it did, into thick, banded slabs across his enormous, panting, chest, moving down over his abdominals, around his arched cock, and down over his sac and the length of his tail. Not slabs, he realized through the intensity of the sensations. Scales. The wide, flat scales of a serpent forming across his chest and down his belly. He lifted his arms, watching in astonishment as the light pebbling of his skin solidified into round, snakelike scales, a brilliant crimson on the insides of his arms, a duskier red, darkening to near black on the opposite. The backs of his fingers hardened into thicker scales that merged with the claws at his fingertips, giving his hands a taloned, gargoyle-like look. He writhed as the prickling moved across his back, up his neck, and down his legs, his toes curling as they thickened.
And then it was over. He lay panting, the enormous chest heaving in his vision now a segmented red, though if anything, the tight, form-clinging lines of his scales seemed to accentuate, rather than conceal, his swollen brawn, almost as though the muscle threatened to burst its way out of its armoring. Shaking a little, he rolled to his feet again. His huge arms and thick legs were coated in scales like glittering rubies. He brushed his fingertips across the muscle of one forearm; the scales there seemed as flexible as his own skin, and though he could feel the layer of protection, neither his forearm nor his fingertips had lost any sensitivity.
He looked down and, with his toes, nudged the axe lying on the floor. “I’ll wager you couldn’t cut me now,” he murmured aloud. “I expect I couldn’t break a bone again, either. This place merits its reputation. It makes you safe from anything that might hurt you. But you cannot leave.” And, he thought, somewhat ruefully, looking down at his scale-armored form, it makes you less human with every change. “I shall have to be cautious if I don’t plan to remain here forever.”
And then he thought of the burning-gimlet eyes of Flavros, and wondered if he would ever leave, if anyone had ever escaped E-Temen-Anki.
Well, if any prison could be escaped, surely one made of paper would be easiest. His tail swaying, he crouched, picked up the axe again, and hacked away at the hole he had made in the floor near the cell. The axe chewed through the paper like… well, paper, and presently, Tuco had managed to tear away a hole that looked down into some kind of room below. The room was darkened, but with his devil sight, he could easily see rocky floors—not worked stone, but craggy, as though a passage in a sea-cave. He tried to remember the keep that had been just below his but could not recall what it had looked like nor how it had been constructed—he had been too excited to reach the top of the steps.
With his talons, he scraped away more of the paper, widening the hole. Peeling it back revealed thin, ribbed iron bars underlying his paper floor, arranged in a mesh, with square holes wide enough to get his hand into, but too narrow to permit much past them—the swell of his forearm allowed little past his wrist. “Well,” he said to himself, “all this strength has to be for something.” He planted his feet against the ground, gripped the iron bars with both hands, and pulled upright, bracing with his legs. At first it was surprisingly easy—the bars plied to his strength like young tree branches, pulling apart. But soon he was pulling against the spots where the bars joined together, melted into each other. He tugged harder, clenching his teeth. All around him the paper floor rose, with the sounds of tearing and crinkling barely muffling the groans and shrieks of metal as it bent in response to his power. He lifted a minor hill before him, and even the nearby wall bent slightly, tugged inward by the upward pull of the floor. But soon it was as though he was trying to lift the entire floor, the whole castle. Stretched out in his grip, the iron bars dug into his fingers. His shoulders ached and burned, his arms complained, his legs and back throbbed with the effort of trying to tear apart an entire iron floor.
And then suddenly the ache was gone, and the pleasure flooded through his muscles again. He stumbled backward, letting go of the iron bars and holding his fingers up before him as they visibly thickened where the bars had dug into them, causing discomfort. His arms pulsed as though flexing, and throbbed larger, the muscle healing itself where the work had torn it, and growing back stronger, just as it had in the stone yard when Belphegor had transformed him. Forearm pressed into biceps, each of them swelling thicker. He felt his shoulders growing massively, mounding up, his back bulging with new sinew and strength. His legs swelled beneath him, nudging each other farther apart. And then he stood, his chest nearly pressing into his chin as it heaved with his breath, his musculature that much closer to the immobility that Belphegor had swollen him into the previous month.
He grimaced down at the stretched floor. It seemed that the keep would protect him even from the minor injuries of overworked muscles. Beneath the torn paper, the floor was a little geometrical hill of stretched iron bars. His arm could fit through the widened hole between them, but after his sudden growth, only just. He didn’t dare try to widen it further.
Crouching by the edge, he braced both hands against the sides of the hole and pushed his head through. The expansive spread of a castle stretched out below him. The hole he had peeled away was not too far from a tower that thrust up from the walls below. The castle itself did not appear to be made of worked stone, but natural, as though a rock had one day just decided to grow, forming mottled walls around asperous rooms, thrusting towers like gnarled, rough-hewn fingers toward the sky. Three of those towers rose to support Tuco’s own castle, his paper fundament crinkled and folded around the rising spires. He could see no one about in the castle below.
“Hello!” he called, his great voice booming across the stones, echoing from empty walls. “Is anyone down there?” When there was no reply, he called again, and again, until finally the surface of the courtyard below rippled and shifted, the shadows rearranging, and where once there had been a random pattern of twisted stone, now a deep, pitted face appeared. It must have been twenty feet wide, and was almost skeletal, its rocky cheeks drawn and gaunt. Huge tusks jutted from its closed mouth, and below its enormous, wide devil horns, two deep-set eyes glittered with hellfire.
“Whose voice calls to me after all this time?” Its voice was that of boulders grinding together. Its fiery eyes wheeled about as it searched for Tuco.
“Here!” Tuco called down to it. “Up here! I’m in the castle above!”
The flames of its gaze turned to him. “So. After all this time, the Baronet has sent me a neighbor. And what are you called, little devil, and what lured you here?”
“My name is Tuco. I came here to keep safe and keep my friends safe.”
“Friends.” The face in the floor rolled the word around in its mouth as though tasting a forgotten flavor. “The Abyss has changed indeed. All here came for safety, Tuco. Mortal souls, devils, even an angel or two sequestered away in E-Temen-Anki. Few outside know that it is protector and prison alike. Now that you are trapped here, you know as well.” The whole castle beneath Tuco swelled and deflated several times, like a bladder, with a great, grinding, wheezing sound. It was laughing. “Or you will soon enough.”
“Forgive me,” Tuco said, and then mentally chided himself—devils would not ask for forgiveness. “But are you… the castle itself? I’ve never seen a talking castle before.”
Those fiery eyes stared into him for a moment as though scouring his soul. “I am prison and prisoner alike, as are all in E-Temen-Anki. We are its body, its strength, its walls, its clothing. And you, Tuco,” it added with another stone-grinding, wheezing laugh, “are its little paper hat.”
“I don’t understand. How can you be prison and prisoner at the same time?”
“Are not we all? Every soul constructs its own prison, and it builds it of itself. The walls that hold you within them came from you. This is why you cannot break free; by damaging your keep you damage yourself, and the power of this place will allow that only once. Now you walk about freely in your paper passages, but as the years, the centuries, the eons drift by, you will change.”
“Only if I harm myself, surely,” Tuco protested.
“So I believed, too. So I believed. I was a fine and strapping devil, smaller than you, as near as I can remember, before I came here. When first I realized I was imprisoned, I tried to escape, just as you do now, and in the effort harmed myself greatly. My bones grew stronger than iron, my skin harder than diamond. I grew, formed crags, and spikes, became a thing of stone. And I told myself I would attempt no more; if I could not secure my freedom, I could at least preserve my mobility, my form. But with idleness and unchanging safety came a growing intolerance; where once a broken finger would have pained me, now a stubbed one did, and my fingers grew together so that I could not stub them. Where once a deep cut would have aggravated, now, a minor scratch felt intolerable, and my skin grew thicker until it lost all feeling. I stood or lay in one position or another, and my bones ached, or my muscles wearied, or I simply felt discontent, restless, uncomfortable. After millennia, every minor sensation became an irritant, every movement of my body an aggravation. And so I changed more and more, losing what could feel, for no feeling is truly safe. And eventually I became my castle, and my castle me, and so, I presume, it has happened to everyone else taken here. Baronet Flavros comes by to taunt me now and then. He promises that when I can no longer move or speak, my soul will be his entirely, and my power will be turned toward the magics that imprison others. It is how he became so powerful and rose to the rank of Baronet—claiming the souls of those he has captured.”
Tuco shuddered. “That’s awful. I don’t think I should like to become a castle. Is there truly no escape?”
“None for you, little devil,” the creature below him rumbled. Its great fiery eyes grew brighter and smaller, as though peering into him. “But perhaps there is for me. Have you a rank in the Abyss as well as name? And tell me: what do you think of your new home, hmm?”
“I am Sir Tuco. And I suppose I would like having a castle all to myself very much, were it not a prison. I can’t see how paper walls make a very sturdy one, though.”
The castle beneath gave him another searching look, and he abruptly felt so horribly transparent that he almost drew away from the hole in the floor to hide from the devil’s gaze. “Hmm, well. My name was Lord Abalam—no, I never rose so high as Knight. But surely you understand, oh great Sir Tuco, that it is not paper that entraps you, but words.”
Tuco frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Words are thoughts, ideas, beliefs, everything you and I traffic in. Everything that we use to corrupt—to free the humans, and everything the Adversary has used to enslave them. Words can call us and bind us and doom us. There is nothing more dangerous to a devil than words. Of course,” Castle Abalam added in a soothing if gravelly tone, “you know all this. No doubt the suddenness of your imprisonment has made you forgetful.”
Condescending though the devil might be, Tuco thought he understood. Of course scripture could bind any ordinary devil. Scripture was holy, untouchable by the devils. Tuco was surprised all the castles in E-Temen-Anki weren’t made of it. But why should it keep him imprisoned too? He was not a devil like these others. He’d never willfully used his power to harm anyone, poor Walstein notwithstanding. He believed in the Almighty, although admittedly in a distant sort of way. The prayers of Mass did not scorch his mouth, nor communion wine his tongue. And yet this was his special prison, constructed by his own soul out of the laws and stories of faith, meant to keep him here, meant to keep him… safe.
The winds of the Abyss blew through his castle, and a million pages rustled in them. Was that truly what his religion meant most to him? Safety? And that was one of the temptations, surely written on at least one of the pages surrounding him. Let not a desire for safety close your heart to others. He could not leave this castle because he could not leave the words of scripture behind. Who would do so when all could see that devils were real, and thus the Almighty and all his angelic hosts must be real as well?
“Sir Tuco, I do not wish to interrupt your reverie,” rumbled the voice from below, “but if I may ask: you are an incubus, are you not?”
“I—” He still was not used to that idea. He wondered if he ever would be. “Yes, I am.”
“And with four horns as well, I see. Interesting. Well then, Sir Tuco, if I may be presumptuous, I believe you yourself could free me from this prison, if you were so inclined.”
“Free you? How could I do that?” Tuco asked warily.
“Why, consume my soul, of course. Push me over the brink of ecstasy, and then claim me as your own.”
“I don’t understand. Then you’d be—” He’d been about to say, “dead,” but of course death didn’t apply to demons and devils, who wore mortality only as a costume. “Just imprisoned somewhere else,” he added lamely, still not entirely sure how all that worked.
“True, true,” Lord Abalam said in considering tones, “but your prison would not change me further, would it? Unless, of course, to do so to me pleased you, but you do not strike me as an unkind devil. And as vices go, lust is a more enticing one than safety, wouldn’t you say? I mean, of course you would. You’re an incubus. But think of it from my perspective: I can lie here, as a castle, waiting until all my stones are fixed and my voice falls silent, and even my eyes no longer blink, forever unmoving, bearing the weight of castle after castle stacked atop me as E-Temen-Anki grows into eternity and Baronet Flavros feeds on my power to fuel his wretched machinations. Or,” he added, “I could be given a moment of pleasure I’ve all but forgotten and dwell within the realm of a Knight of lust. Perhaps within your palace you will see fit to grant my form again, perhaps not. Perhaps you will device torments of pleasure, or perhaps those of pain. Either way, it will surely be more interesting than being a large box in a stack of boxes for all eternity.”
“I see your reasoning,” Tuco said. He’d nearly said yes. But he was supposed to be a devil after all, and a devil ought to be wary. “But why should I help you with this?”
Lord Abalam nearly spluttered lava. “Why? I am astonished at the question. Why should you, a devil trapped in a prison with no real way to gain another soul ever again, agree to consume the soul of a Lord of the Abyss? You must have a great wealth of souls indeed to turn down such an offer. But if you need other reasons, within a human year or a thousand, my voice will fall silent, what remains of my body will be gone, and you will have lost your chance. Perhaps you will be fortunate, and the castle beneath mine will contain an incubus who would consume your soul, thus freeing you. Or perhaps it will be another poor devil eager for you to free him. Either way, you’ll have more power in your stores, and be one step closer to the bottom. What have you to lose, Sir Tuco? Have you not already lost your humanity?”
“What?” Prickles moved across Tuco’s shoulders and arms.
“It is all too plain, dear incubus. I know not how it came about, but you have not been a devil for long. There is too much you do not understand, too many mistakes. And your soul is raw and pink, like the flesh of a fingertip just below the bed of a nail. No, you were mortal recently, and an innocent one, too. How I should have loved to taste that soul of yours. So fresh, so delicate, a live thing plucked and eaten directly from the soil.”
And beneath Tuco, the whole castle shuddered, as though it were made of blocks and someone had shaken the table on which it sat.
“It’s true,” Tuco admitted. “I don’t know why it is happening or how, but it seems each day, I grow more devilish. At first I thought it was only demons changing me, but there is more to it, and I don’t know how to reverse it, or stop it.
“Then I will make an agreement with you,” Lord Abalam thrummed. “I confessed I know not what has altered you, but I know of something that may explain it. I will tell you, but only if you agree to consume me, and thus free me from E-Temen-Anki.”
Tuco thought it over, but not for long. There seemed to be no drawbacks, except that once he’d finished, he’d have no one to talk to. And if he learned something about what was happening to him, that could be invaluable, provided he ever found a way to escape this prison.
“All right,” he said. “You tell me what you know about what has happened to me, and I will… er, consume you so that you will be free. And I promise not to be cruel to you once your soul is mine,” he added, feeling magnanimous.
Far below him. Lord Abalam’s eyes flared bright and eager. “This is a joyous day for me Sir Tuco. Soon I will be free. Then listen well. The first souls created by the Adversary were the angels, many of whom he rebuked, and they became devils. The second souls were the Nephilim, the giants, whom the Adversary hated and destroyed. The third souls were humans, whom he claimed to love best of all. To the humans and Nephilim, he gave material bodies so that they might walk the physical world. To angels, he gave a logos, or essence, a spiritual form with a power of creation like his own. Just as a body must obey the laws of nature—it must eat, slumber, fall when lifted from the earth, so does the logos of angels and devils follow laws. Angels cannot help but guard creation and all that might threaten it; devils cannot help but answer desire and alter that creation. Both must come when summoned.”
Tuco frowned. “Wait, does that mean that people could be summoning angels instead of demons?”
The face below showed a lot of very jagged teeth. “Few humans summon an angel and live to tell of it. I would not suggest you try. But all of us who are summoned are drawn by our mantles to the summoner, usually into a circle of binding, sometimes without. The tale is known in the Abyss of Nabonidus, King of Persia, who above all else hungered for power over the mortal world, more than any human could hold. And yet, though his court magicians summoned demons and devils to grant him conquest after conquest, those demons and devils granted only their desires, and not those of the King. And thus were the great monsters of the world formed: the chimera, the basilisk, the minotaur. And King Nabonidus’s lust for power went unanswered, for he would not risk his soul in a summoning of his own. Finally, driven to desperation, he asked of his magicians why the logos of a devil or angel could not be summoned into a mortal body. He ordered them to study and discover a ritual that could accomplish this, granting a human the essence and power of the First Created, but with the soul of a human.”
The eyes in the face of the castle courtyard had gone distant, but now they turned back toward Tuco with a keen focus. “If King Nabonidus’s magicians succeeded in creating a successful ritual, none know. But King Nabonidus failed at completing it. One day he went mad, tore off his clothes, and fled his royal palace to live in the fields and consume grass, believing himself to be a jackass. And certainly his soul is here in the Abyss, property of Lucifer himself, who guards it jealously. But there are rumors that the ritual survived, copied and translated secretly by a sect of mad scribes. Whatever may have happened to it since are beyond my telling, for I have been imprisoned for millennia, with little news of the mundane world, save what morsels Lord Flavros chooses to taunt me with. If the ritual did survive, it would likely be found in a place of great learning, a place that did not fear demonology. Have you visited such a place, Sir Tuco?” Lord Abalam’s fiery eyes flashed. “Ah, I thought so. And a ritual was performed, and now you find yourself with human soul and devil logos, imprisoned in the inescapable fortress of the Abyss.”
He laughed an earthquake laugh. “Poor creature. Your god will not save you here. And if I have discerned your secret, so will others. You will never be safe. You require my power more than ever. Well. Devour me, then, and free me.”
Tuco stared down at him, his mind whirling. He looked down at his bulging, red-scaled forearms and talon-like fingers tipped with thick black claws. The logos of a devil. And not just any devil. Sathanus, Prince of the Abyss. Everything that was happening felt too big for him, too overwhelming. Not to mention what was happening with Lord Abalam, beneath him. How was he supposed to free a literal castle from the vault of the Abyss? He leaned up, kneeling by the hole he’d torn in the floor of his own castle and tried to still his thoughts and his breathing, tried to remember his arousal.
It didn’t take much, he found. Despite everything that had happened, his fist-sized balls were ready. A Knight of Lust always had arousal at hand. His thick, serpentine shaft, lying across his thigh, stiffened, lifting into the air, the fleshy barbs standing out, glistening. But how was he to arouse a castle, one he could not even touch?
“Well?” came the voice from below. “I have given you what you wanted. If you’ve the essence of a devil, then you cannot dismiss a bargain. You are bound to free me.”
Tuco leaned back down to the hole, and as he did, his tip slid across the pages of his floor, smearing his drooling precome across the sacred words. “I will,” he called back down. “But how am I to arouse you if I cannot touch you? And where is your… er…” He scanned the bastion below.
Eyes glared between cobblestone lids. “Are you an incubus or are you not?”
Tuco felt the heat of a flush. “I am. I…” And he remembered lying in bed, twisted in arousal, unable to keep it from radiating out to his companions, to a refectory full of apprentices, to an entire monastery, enticing all of them into lust and making their souls ripe for devouring. He leaned over the hole he’d torn in his dungeon, past the iron bars he’d wrenched apart, and gazed down at the being below, a devil lord as large as an actual castle, who had demanded to be devoured. No, ordered it. Bound him. Aren’t you tired of being bound? Yes, he thought. I am tired of it. And he is only a mere Lord of the Abyss. Are you a Knight, or aren’t you?
“Ask me to do it,” he said.
The face below him shifted with uncertainty. “But you already agreed to—”
He should do more than ask. “Beg me,” Tuco suggested. “Beg me to consume you.”
The fiery eyes below him flashed. “I don’t have to. You are bound by bargain.”
“I said I would take you,” Tuco said, showing his fangs. “I didn’t say when.” The lust was surging in him now; he enjoyed toying with this creature that had surely preyed on many other humans.
Lord Abalam’s eyes widened, and then a spark of excitement flashed in them. “Perhaps you are more devil than I took you for. Please, Sir Tuco, Knight of Lust. Please grant me ecstasy and sweet release. I beg of you.”
“I am your master now,” Tuco growled. “You belong to me.”
The castle beneath him seemed to lower its towers slightly, its stones shrinking. But below the face in the craggy courtyard, one jutting mound of stones rose, grinding and loosing dirt as it ascended. “You are my master,” Lord Abalam admitted. “I belong to you. My soul is yours entirely, to tease or torment for all eternity.”
“Good,” Tuco said, and shifted so that Lord Abalam could see his erection, thicker than his wrist, its head rising up to his chest. At the same time, he sent a pulse of lust toward the transformed devil, as powerful as he could muster.
He must have become stronger since consuming Asmodeus, for Lord Abalam’s stone body shook with desire, the entire structure lifting in the air as some unseen architectural spine arched. Stones shook and fell as the devil cried out in unexpected arousal, and the hillock rising beneath its face became a spire, its tip oozing molten rock that spattered onto the stones below with a hissing sound. “Oh Sir Tuco,” Lord Abalam moaned. “I will be yours forever.” Towers on either side crumbled and flexed craggy fingers, dropping worked stone as they broke free of their solidified forms, arms sixty feet high reaching toward the magma spire and tugging at it. Made of stone or no, there was no mistaking that shape. Its tip bubbled with inner fire, and as Abalam’s tower-arms groped at his volcanic erection, flaming globs of lava flew upward, spattering the bottom of Tuco’s dungeon, smelling of sulfur and desire.
Lord Abalam’s eyes fixed on him, rolling with infernal lust, and as they did, he felt his shaft changing as his incubus nature altered him to the imprisoned devil’s desires. It grew heavier, pulling at his loins, at first listing forward with its own weight, and then rising again. Already straining, it grew impossibly harder, lifting higher and higher, and ever more heavy. He set his fingers to it and found its flesh as unyielding as stone, though still he could strain and make it swell under his touch. Soon, despite the brawn in his body, the weight of it threatened to pull him forward, and his tail snaked itself around a dungeon cell bar to steady him. He gripped his changing shaft with both hands as it continued to lengthen, developing sharp angles. Then it seemed to lighten, growing paler and more translucent, until a spire of diamond rose from his loins, extending far above his head. His balls churned, burning with some inner inferno, and a line of yellow light rose up his diamond cock, spilling liquid fire out of the dungeon to spatter onto the courtyard beneath him, the fiery droplets bouncing where they landed, skittering across the courtyard below as cooling pebbles.
He felt Lord Abalam’s desire, a creature who had once had a humanoid form, but had become an elemental of stone and structure, locked into place for millennia, now briefly freed. He felt the devil’s ache as fingers of worked stone slid, eased by flowing magma, down a shaft achingly full of fire, and he wanted to drive his hardened cock into Abalam’s foundations, force him out of his rigid immutability and into life and joy and survival and intimacy once more, to make him live again. His own shaft gushed lava. Not a climax, not yet, but it rained shards of hot desire down on Abalam, who moaned subterranean cries and thrust his jutting mountain up toward Tuco, spraying his own eruptions of infernal ecstasy.
Tuco closed his mind and power around Abalam as he might catch a fly and squeezed, at the same time sending the devil a surge of all his lust and desire.
The castle beneath him changed. The working of stone blocks melded back into something like stony flesh; the constructed towers became arms again, the face in cobblestones lifted on a rising, horned head atop a powerful neck. A chest thrust itself above the stones in an explosion; hips rose from flat bulwarks. His change made Tuco’s prison, perched atop him, rock and sway like a sapling in a gale, pitching him to hands and knees. He gripped the bars of his prison with fingers, toes, and tail, barely able to keep from being tossed about the room as the castle beneath him arched and bucked. Then all went nearly still, but for a tense tremble. Tuco peered past his diamond rod, out of the hole in his prison, in time to see the edifice on the precipice. Its jutting spire, full of molten stone, rounded, became a cock again, albeit a stone cock the size of a castle tower, just in time for its volcanic eruption. Molten lava, musky and hungry, gouted out in gushing arcs as Lord Abalam clutched at it with both craggy hands and roared so loudly that Tuco’s ears were filled with ringing.
The bottom of his dungeon burned away, leaving only a latticework of glowing iron bars as an eruption of magmatic come engulfed and flooded it. The lava washed over him, smelling of hell and male, and he was only distantly surprised it didn’t burn. He was still too lost in the waves of arousal that crashed through him, sending him bucking against his dungeon floor as it smoked and ignited, his diamond shaft scraping against the iron bars as he did so. But he was an incubus now, and could manage his own lust; below him, Lord Abalam’s eyes and mouth went wide, and then a fountain of light poured from them.
His soul boiled out of his stone body, and Tuco leaned forward and drank it down. Ancient power poured into him, full of brittle memories and forgotten sins. Abalam had been a devil of greed, and he had hoarded souls like a paranoid dragon, filling his desmenes and jealously guarding them. But the Baronet Flavros, though in the shape of a leopard, had been more like a leech, bleeding Abalam over the centuries, sucking him dry, taking the power of his souls for himself, leaving Abalam to watch helplessly as his great fortune of souls was siphoned away. It was that, more than any irritation or torment, that had turned his flesh to stone. His soul was eager to be free; far from resisting Tuco’s hunger, it surged toward him, filling his eyes and mouth with light.
Tuco swallowed him in gulps, and as he did, the castle-man beneath him shrank, moaning a thundering ecstasy as he climaxed his soul right out of his body. The fire from Abalam’s eruption had spread, and red and yellow flames rose all around Tuco, but their heat was pleasant and embracing, the thick smoke of burning paper like air after a spring rain in his lungs. His dungeon sank lower and lower as Lord Abalam shrank beneath him, the paper castle wobbling atop the diminishing stone one. Now he could see the prison below Abalam’s—a copper sphere, red and orange light warping across its polished surface as it reflected the blaze of Tuco’s burning prison. And still the soul-light poured into him. Abalam shrank until he was the size of a house, and Tuco’s prison listed to one side, landing with a crinkle and clatter against the burnished sphere below, forcing him to hang on tightly to avoid pitching across the floor. And then Abalam was the size of a hut, and then only a man, and then an odd, toy-sized, man-shaped castle, squealing in shrill pleasure. And then he was gone. The light of his soul vanished between Tuco’s jaws.
His prison rocked gently back and forth on the copper sphere that supported it. The flames were going out, and where they had burned papers away, there was a rustling like leaves in autumn, and new pages unfolded to reform the walls that had incinerated.
And then Tuco was alone again. It all seemed very quiet and still. He got to his feet, his tail swaying. He considered using his diamond cock to try to bend apart the bars of his prison, but discarded the idea—that would hardly work. And what if it broke? he asked himself, wincing internally. With a mental suggestion, he reformed it back to the hefty, demonic thing Asmodeus had given him, and walked through flickering flames back up the stairs of his dungeon. Perhaps he should have waited. It would have been nice to have someone to talk to for a while longer, at least. And though his prison was a little closer to the ground, he seemed no closer to escape. Somewhere inside him, the Lord Abalam was awaiting torment or teasing.
Tuco climbed up to his battlements and crouched atop one stone, looking out over the world of the Abyss and feeling a bit like a gargoyle. He didn’t know what to do now. There was so much about being a devil that he didn’t know, hadn’t thought to ask. He waited. If there was a sun in the sky, he never saw it, but the day faded into night. The sphere of the Abyss lit with starry lights twinkling across it. From here it almost looked like the view from atop Abyssus Abbey. And yet if time passed, he couldn’t feel it. No tiredness settled into his mind, no hunger or thirst nagged at him. His muscles never wearied of their position. He simply continued.
For a while, thoughts raced across his mind: thoughts of home, of his changes, of the terrible future that awaited him. He thought of Etreon, Pike, and Braxus, and wondered how they were faring under the overbearing rule of Brother Gabriel. He thought of poor Lord Krastor, trapped in the Throat of the Abbey along with Almighty knew who else. And then, after a while, his thoughts began to repeat, so he let them go, and there was nothing inside him but stillness.
But some of that stillness was different than before. There was a space within that stillness, a dark and quiet place where a castle shaped like a man stood, fiery eyes unseeing. Waiting. What would he look like if he were not so architectural, Tuco wondered, and even as he considered it, the stony shape of the devil became more animal, the rock crumbling to reveal gleaming white scale covering a muscular build, a large stomach, and a face like a bull’s. Tuco recognized the shape of those yellow eyes as they widened. Abalam, no longer a Lord, turned his gaze upward. “Master Tuco?” he asked, and his voice, once subterranean and rumbling, now sounded small and timid. “Have you come to torment or tease me?”
At the word torment, Tuco could not help considering what that would be like, just for an instant, but in that instant, Lord Abalam screamed as a fiery handprint burned itself across his chest, leaving a blackened brand across the white scales. And before Tuco could stop himself, he considered “tease,” and the bull-man fell to his knees as his cock swelled upward. He shuddered in agony and ecstasy, and Tuco could feel the two mingling within him. Without even meaning to, he had altered this devil’s soul, giving him an erotic taste for fire.
I must be cautious, he told himself. My power over these souls is absolute.
They are yours to toy with as you choose, another voice inside him suggested. Have they not earned damnation? Any fate other than torment is undeserved benevolence. Use them in the way that delights you most.
And that voice was not like his, but here in the stillness of his mind, he thought he could hear it more clearly than ever—indeed, had been hearing it for some time now. Was it his own devilish nature growing stronger? He wished he could talk to Abalam, and then abruptly he was there, looking down on the devil, who was so small Tuco could have plucked him up between thumb and forefinger.
The white bull-man stumbled backward in surprise. “Master?”
“Abalam,” Tuco said, and at the booming sound of his voice, the little devil quailed.
“Do you wish to devise fates for me?”
Tuco considered that, but feared to think too much on it lest every whim that passed through his mind be something that happened to the soul within him. “Not just yet,” he said. Not, at least, until he learned how better to manage souls under his power. And until he learned what was just. He didn’t like the idea of tormenting anyone, but Abalam had been cruel and merciless in his life. Would it be wrong to let that go unpunished? “What happens to you when I am not here?” he asked.
“Whatever you decide should happen, Master,” the devil answered. “Until you arrived, my soul waited in repose.”
“How do I find other souls of mine?”
Abalam looked frightened at the question. “Please do not… think of ideas for me in anger, but I do not understand how you cannot find them. Do you not simply think of them and find them? How did you find me?”
At the question, Tuco considered Asmodeus, and abruptly, Abalam was gone, and there was Asmodeus, standing in the darkness, his gaze vacant, waiting. A flash of anger surged through Tuco at seeing the devil that had altered and hunted him. Surely he deserved a terrible fate. He didn’t deserve to be an incubus at all; he ought to lose everything that made him so proud. No sooner had he thought this then Asmodeus cried out in the darkness, looking around. He clutched at his enormous horns with both hands and they broke away, crumbling to dust between his clawed fingers. Then, as he stared in horror, his enormous, swinging dick began to retract, slowly drawing back into him, thinning and shortening even as he groaned and tried to hold onto it with both hands, then only one.
Good, thought Tuco savagely, but drew his attention away from this soul before he could do any more harm.
How many souls were within him? There were three, six, twelve—little lights of souls glimmering in the stillness within him. His inner gaze drew farther and farther back, and there were more and more of them, points of light spreading in all directions, until his vision was filled with them, more little glints of souls than there were stars in the sky. How could he ever keep track of them all, much less design eternal fates for all of them?
He wondered if there were any he knew, and when he considered the question, his gaze narrowed in focus, and suddenly there was Uncle Roddy, a miller’s assistant who had beaten his daughter with sticks, and then there was old Casty Longfellow from his village, who had never gone to church and was rumored to be a witch. And there, Will Jennaway, the baker, who as far as he knew had never done anything wrong. He hadn’t even known Will had died.
And then his gaze took him to souls that flickered in and out, as though not really there. He focused on one of them that felt achingly familiar, and found it was Etreon, lying in the darkness, and fading in and out. Of course, he had part of Etreon’s soul now, didn’t he? Part of everyone’s souls in Abyssus Abbey, though in most cases a very tiny part. Was Etreon dead, too? But no, he could feel that the young man was not dead, but only sleeping, and the confusing, shifting images of his dreams played inside him. He searched through a wide and ever-shifting desert, filled with shadow monsters and crumbling buildings of sand, calling a name that he couldn’t pronounce.
“Etreon,” Tuco said, and then he was there in his friend’s dream, filling the sky above the desert.
“Alkeides?” Etreon looked around, and then up and up, his eyes bulging. “You’re—uh—enormous!” And somewhat awkwardly he clutched at his robes. “Where are you? We can’t find you anywhere. Hob says another devil took you.”
“It’s true. I’m trapped in the Abyss, in some kind of prison called E-Temen-Anki. Can you tell Hob and the others? Can they find a way to help?”
“I wish I could,” Etreon said sadly. “But this is only a dream. You’re not real.”
“But this is real, Etreon!” Tuco burst out. “I mean, yes, it’s a dream, but I can talk to you. Your soul is inside me. Can you remember that when you wake? Find Hob, tell him the name E-Temen-Anki! If he recognizes it, he’ll prove it to you. Only make certain it’s the real Hob, and not a fake. Find him, Etreon! Do it now!”
And with that, Tuco focused on Etreon’s flickering soul, asking him, no, willing him to wake.
The light of Etreon’s soul winked out like a candle.
No sun lit the morning sky, but the appearance of creeping shadows announced the presence of daylight nonetheless. Tuco prowled the paper passageways of his keep with crinkling steps, exploring every room, and then exploring them again. By midday, he had them all memorized. He flopped down in his courtyard and tried to sleep, but couldn’t nod off. He spent some time pleasuring himself, sending his fluids sailing over the side of his battlements—they could escape, even if he could not. But even that activity grew stale after a while, and the more he engaged in it, the more he began thinking about the souls that he held within him and the things he might do to them. He quickly wrested his mind away from those thoughts as soon as he noticed them, lest he accidentally devise some torment for an actual soul and enact it without intention.
Still, when his thoughts turned inward, he found himself gazing over them again, a hundred million jewels twinkling in the darkness beyond all stars. Could all these people really be undeserving of paradise? And now all their eternal fates were in his claws. It was up to him to bring justice or mercy to their afterlife. Glancing over them gave him little flickers of their lives. There were many whom he felt pity for: those who had been driven to sin in desperation or passion; those who had suffered cruelties and privation when they were young and had been twisted because of them; those who had simply never been shown a life that found compassion and kindness could be its own reward. There were souls within him who had forever searched for joy in places they would never find it, who had been miserable or lonely or confused, and had hurt other people for it.
But that was not all. There were souls within him who had been cruel simply because they could be, who had taken from others because it was easier, who had used their power to hurt others simply because they enjoyed it. There were souls that had committed acts of unspeakable evil, who were contemptuous of the lives of others, who had visited violence and depravities upon the innocent, who had stolen the lives of others because it was easy. Did they not deserve some punishment? Could an afterlife that treated the heartless and the wounded the same be a just one?
Most souls within him, though, were simply people who had acted on desire. Taken more cake than their share because cake was delicious, slept with others’ spouses because passion or lust took them, and sex felt wonderful, became indolent because labor was painful and wearying, and their bodies clamored for rest. They were condemned because desire was part of every person; it was baked into them like yeast into bread dough, making them grow and change, making them rise.
But the Almighty had written that desires were to be denied, and those who could not do so now found their souls the property of devils for all eternity. Tuco wondered how angry the Almighty might be with him if he didn’t torment the damned souls. Still, what is he going to do if he is? A voice within him chuckled. Send you to the Abyss?
Tuco didn’t want the responsibility of all those souls, even if he could understand the power and wealth they gave him in the Abyss. But wasn’t it better that he have them than another devil? Surely he would be a better and kinder caretaker than Belzebub, Belphegor, or Asmodeus. Or Flavros, with humans and devils alike locked up in a tower of castles for eternity.
The voice made him open his eyes. A little black-scaled imp fluttered in the air in front of him. One dangling foot clutched a satchel that was if anything larger than he was. Tuco blinked at the imp in surprise. “Hob? Hob! I can scarcely believe you’re here!”
“Master! Hob is so happy to have found you! But you have changed so much! What has happened to you in this place?”
“It’s this prison, Hob. It changes you when you’re inside. But how are you here? Baronet Flavros said that no one intending to harm or free the inhabitants could enter E-Temen-Anki.”
“But Hob is not intending that just now—only to find his master and learn what has happened. And besides, Hob has no soul. He is only a demon, and can slip through the cracks of much devil magic.”
Tuco laughed in delight, and stood up from his crouch on the castle wall, ready to tell Hob everything that had happened, but then he frowned, his eyes narrowing. “Baronet Flavros looked like you before. How do I know it’s truly you, Hob?”
Looking dismayed, Hob fluttered back and forth, casting about for an answer. “But if master cannot believe Hob is Hob, then he cannot trust Hob to help him or save him. But all devil lords must trust their imps and demons! Pitiful Hob! He has failed his master in trustworthiness, even though he swore his allegiance—” Hob stopped flitting from side to side and grinned. “Yes, of course! Master does not know about the brand!”
“Brand?” Tuco asked. “What brand?”
“Master’s mark. All those who serve him have his mark somewhere. See? Here is Hob’s!” And the little demon tilted his head back, lifting his chin to bare his throat where, just behind his jaw and down the right side of his neck was an odd symbol, lighter on his black scales as though burned into them: three small circles nestled together within the confines of a larger one, like three eggs in a nest.
“That’s a very interesting mark, but why would you say it’s mine?”
“Hob got the mark after swearing allegiance to Sir Tuco. And if master does not believe, he should look at his hands.”
Tuco frowned. “My hands? What do you—” He faltered. The mark was there, on the backs of each of his hands, the circle with three smaller circles inset. It wasn’t drawn or branded on them in any way, but there all the same. The way shadows fell across their scaled surfaces, the way the pebbling of his scales arranged itself across his knuckles, the ripple of tendons under the skin. The shape of it was there, unseen unless you knew to look for it, and the longer he stared, the more the edges of the marks seemed to glimmer, as though concealing imperceptible cracks behind which burned a lake of fire.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.” A thought occurred to him. “Does that mean I have Flavros’s mark on me somewhere? Or Asmodeus’s?”
“Did master agree to serve them? Did they claim his soul?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then no mark. Sir Tuco is master of himself.”
“For now, anyway. If I can’t escape E-Temen-Anki, the prison will change me more and more, until Baronet Flavros does finally have my soul. What am I to do, Hob?”
Hob nodded. “Is a very tricky problem, master! For no one has ever escaped in all the history of the Abyss.”
“But that cannot be true. I helped a Lord Abalam escape. In a way.”
The little imp squinted at him. “In a way? What way, master?”
“I ate him.”
There was a long silence punctuated only by the imp blinking. “Hob supposes that does rate as an escape. His soul has gone to your demesne and is no longer in the claws of the Baronet.”
“But not likely to work for me.”
“No, master,” Hob said sadly. He brightened a little. “Unless perhaps he can consume his own soul? That would be interesting to see!”
Tuco struggled for a moment to consider what would happen if he tried that and quickly gave up. “I think that might break… everything. Do you have any other ideas?”
“Yes, master. Hob spoke long with the little man and the rabbit and doggie. We thought of many ideas, and all of them were bad. Except one.” He flapped his wings a little more enthusiastically. “It was Hob’s idea, too! Well, nearly.”
“Well, go on, what’s this idea?”
“Master is a devil, yes?”
“I suppose,” Tuco allowed, thinking now was not the time to get into all that Lord Abalam had said about logos and souls.
“Then it is simple! Sir Tuco can be summoned like any other devil!”
Tuco blinked. “You can summon me? But how? Is there a ritual? Do I… have special components needed like other devils?”
“Probably, master. But it takes much time and trial to learn how to summon a devil that way. There is an easier way. We will use your blood! A devil’s blood can always be used to summon him. You see, Hob came prepared!” And with a somewhat complicated series of movements, never ceasing to fly, Hob maneuvered the satchel he was carrying in one foot around until he could open it and withdraw first, a large wooden drinking cup, and second, a wineskin like those carried by some of the Brothers in the abbey. Panting a little, he said, “Hob certainly wishes he could sit down. It has been a long flight. But he cannot enter master’s paper castle. The air is all stretchy!”
Thinking a moment, Tuco motioned Hob to wait, then dashed off and retrieved a halberd from the armory, which was easily wedged into the battlements so that Hob could rest on the haft and hook his precious satchel around the end. “So wait a moment, Hob. You said no one has ever escaped this prison before. Are you saying that no one in all of time has ever summoned a demon who was imprisoned here?”
“No demons imprisoned here, master. This is a prison for souls. Only devils and humans, and devils are not summoned so often. They’re too dangerous! But even foolish humans know when you summon a devil, you use a binding circle. That keeps him from escaping. Banish the devil and poof! Back he goes where he came from! So maybe another devil has escaped this way and never told, but it would need a human smart enough to know how to summon a devil who was trapped here, but foolish enough to let him free. Probably never once happened. Until today.”
“So what happens now? I just give you some of my blood and you fly it back to the mortal world somehow?”
“Your minions will be so happy to hear you are all right, master! They will use your blood to call you back to the abbey. Then you can decide how to punish the Baronet for his treachery!” The imp clenched one tiny fist in anger as he growled the last word.
Tuco rubbed at his chin in thought. “I really shouldn’t risk getting hurt in here unless it’s absolutely necessary. But if this is my best chance at escape, I suppose it’s worth it.” He looked down at the silver-edged halberd wedged into the paper wall. “But there’s one problem. I don’t think that’s going to cut through my scales. I doubt anything here could now. How am I going to draw blood?” He sighed, now regretting that he’d been so eager to experiment before.
“Master could cut his tongue,” Hob suggested cheerfully.
Tuco considered it, and then imagined his tongue covering itself with scales as well, or swelling up into a rhinoceros horn, or growing teeth all over it. He shuddered. “It might not be the best idea.”
Hob tilted his head. “Why not use your fangs, master? Surely they could bite through even your magnificent scales.”
He could hardly believe the thought hadn’t occurred to him. His encounter with Belzebub had left him with a mouth full of teeth that could bite through, as far as he’d been able to tell, anything. He might have been able to eat his way out of the prison, chewing away paper and bars alike. Though how that might have left him changed afterward, he didn’t dare guess. He looked down at his forearms, swollen with muscle, armored with rubies. His heartbeat pulsed beneath the scales in his wrist.
“All right, that’s worth a try, Hob, but you’d better get ready. I fear the prison will give us only one go at this.”
With both hands, Hob lifted the wooden cup and flew as close to the castle walls as he could. When he drew within a few feet of Tuco, he began to struggle, his wings fluttering faster and faster as he fought against the repelling enchantments of the prison. “This is… as close as… Hob can manage, master,” he grunted through the effort. “Hob is sorry to be so… weak and pitiable… a servant.”
Tuco reached out and tried to take it with both hands, but felt as though he were trying to push through a taut sheet of invisible canvas—there was some give, but the further he pushed toward Hob, the harder it became, until with his fingers outstretched he could reach no further than six inches away from Hob, his chest straining hard with the effort. Suddenly fearful even this exertion might cause him to grow again, he drew back. His shoulders were too brawny to slump, so he rolled them instead in dismay. “It’s no use, Hob. The magic is too strong for us. Can you throw it?”
“Not while flying, master. Cup weighs more than poor wee Hob.”
Tuco cast about and then smacked his forehead with his palm. “Of course, why didn’t I think of this before? Here.” He lifted the halberd and extended it out toward Hob, keeping the axeblade flat. “Can you set it there?”
Hob brightened and, praising Tuco the whole time, set both the cup and wineskin on the blade. Tuco withdrew it, marveling as he did that it was so easy for him to hold such a formidable weapon steady at arm’s length with only one hand. He’d squandered his days in the Abbey without testing his new strength. If he ever managed to escape, he would have to find out what he could do. He set the cup carefully on the castle wall, with the wineskin next to it.
“All right, Hob, I’ll get as much of my blood into the cup as I can, but I don’t know how much I’ll be able to draw before the castle heals me. And, er, I don’t know what else it will do to me. The last time I broke the skin, I grew these scales.”
“They’re very handsome, master!” Hob offered.
“Well. They’ll certainly take some getting used to. I hope our friends back home feel as kindly disposed to them as you do.” And I hope I get to see them again, he added to himself. “Here goes,” he said aloud, lifting his wrist to his face and opening his jaws. His fangs seemed almost to extend from his mouth, as though too big for him. He drew his long tongue back so as not to bite it as well, pressed the tender scales of his wrist against his teeth, and bit down.
His fangs cut through his scales as easily as soft bread, and his mouth filled with a splash of hot blood that ran down his chin. The flavor of it ignited something fierce and hungry within him, something that dreamed of stalking unaware prey through the night, pouncing on it, tasting its life pouring down his throat.
He shook himself out of an imagining so vivid it had felt almost like a memory, and held his wrist to the cup. He’d more than pierced it; he’d torn out a chunk, and the blood that flowed from it was so dark red it was nearly black. Devil blood, he thought to himself, or becoming so. It pumped from his wrist in spurts so alarming he started to worry. He’d half-filled the cup in only a couple of seconds, before he’d even had a chance to feel pain from the wound. But then the torn flesh wove itself back together like fingers interlacing; the blood flow slowed to a trickle, a drip, and stopped, and scales reformed over the wound.
Next would be the change from the prison. He stepped back, trying to brace himself for the prickle and flush across his skin, but this was deeper and more thorough. It burned in his muscles, it seared across his scales. And then, for a second time, they thickened. But before, his scales had only gone from a rough texture to a smooth pebbling; this time, they transformed into armor. Thick, scaly plates engulfed his claws and fingers, moving up his forearms, turning his wrists into armored cylinders, his hands into full talons. Each scale jutted backward into a little crag, almost a point, and when the growth of them reached his elbows, they sprouted an array of dark black spikes jutting up out of the bone. His upper arms became encased in pebbled bands that seemed to creak when he moved them, and then more spikes sprouted from his shoulders. His toes changed then, growing larger and longer, spreading apart as they became gargoyle-like talons that scored the stone when he curled them. Thick plating stretched up to his knee and extended into jutting spikes that set flush against the bulging muscle of his thigh, baring their weaponry only when his knees bent. The plating down his chest and belly didn’t seem to thicken much, but it hardened, increasing its weight on him until it felt almost like flexible iron, with a reflective sheen in the light.
He felt the change move across his face, making his brows ridged, broadening his nose with wide scales. His scaling grew across his head to meet and merge with the horns that grew there, and then spread down his spine and across his back in thick, overlapping plates that extended all the way down to the tip of his tail, which burst with new spines. And then it was over, and he crouched panting in the wake of the transformation. The limbs extended in front of him resembled nothing human, black-scaled on the back lightening to an abyssal crimson on the insides. He was devil now, through and through. He didn’t know how his face might have changed, but he suspected his own family wouldn’t recognize him.
He stood, stretching out his shoulders, feeling the ripple of his scales, the tightness as they struggled to contain his muscle, the odd pull of the spikes at his joints. His tail lashed like an angry serpent’s. He glanced up and saw Hob masturbating furiously.
“Hob!” he snapped, half in amusement.
“What is it, master?” Hob asked, not slowing down in the slightest.
“Is it really the best time for that?”
Hob looked Tuco up and down several times and then said, “Uh huh.” Then he bucked and howled, arcs spitting out of his little imp cock as he climaxed. Still dripping, he fluttered closer. “You make Asmodeus look like an ugly wimp, master.”
Tuco tried to fight off a blush, then realized no one could possibly see it beneath his scales. “That’s… kind, but beside the point. We need to focus and get me out of here.”
“Then you must give Hob the blood, master,” Hob said, still stroking himself while staring at Tuco.
“Right, right, the blood.” Tuco tore a strip of vellum from the wall of his castle, fashioned it into a makeshift funnel, and inserted it into the mouth of the wineskin. Carefully, he poured his blood from the cup into the funnel—it was black, reflective and oddly viscous, and he had to shake the cup a little to coax the remainder into the wineskin. He pulled the drawstring tight on the wineskin and tied it off. Then, without realizing what he was doing at first, he slipped his tongue into the cup and licked it clean of his blood, again getting a flash of wildness, of hunting at night, of devouring prey. Primal instincts, perhaps, from some ancient soul in his trove? Or an effect of the devil logos that had merged with him?
“Good thinking, master,” said Hob. “Any blood left over could be used to summon you back here if you got free.”
Tuco grimaced and tapped at his wrist with one talon. It was like tapping stone—though he noticed that even with the thickened scales, he had lost little sensitivity, and could still feel every touch. “Well, we won’t get any more after this. That may be the last time I ever bleed.” He placed the wineskin and the cup back on the halberd, passing them back to Hob. “You really think you’ll be able to use it to summon me?”
Hob clutched the wineskin to his little chest as though afraid it might leap away from him. “Hob will not fail his master. Hob is loyal.”
“All right, Hob. Fly true. And… try to tell the others what to expect if I return? I don’t want them to be startled when they see me.”
“Yes, master. Goodbye, master.” With that, the little imp turned and flapped off into the sky, flying up and up until he was just a tiny black speck in the sunless horizon, and then he was gone.
Tuco hoped he had done the right thing by trusting him, but there was nothing he could do now except wait. Again.
It was sometime in the middle of a moonless night when Flavros reappeared, his feline shape stretching out from a dark ball of void that unfolded above Tuco’s drawbridge. Tuco turned from his perch on the wall above the drawbridge to gaze at the devil stalking toward him. Green eyes flashed up at him.
“So much change so soon,” the leopard man said with a sneer. “You’ll be mine in no time.”
“I don’t intend to change any further,” Tuco answered calmly. “I’ve just been sitting here. There are so many souls in my demesne to talk to, to toy with. I shan’t weary of that soon.”
“Soon. What care I for soon? I am a patient fiend. Do you know what eternity means, my prisoner? It means that anything that can happen will happen. You will not crouch there forever. You will try to escape. You will go mad and rail against your confines. You will attempt to end your own life. And every time you do, my prison’s magic will change you further, until you and your castle are one and the same.”
Tuco shifted atop his perch, staring down at Flavros, feeling the way his thick scales slid against each other. “Or I will escape. If, as you say, anything that can happen will.”
Triumph danced in the devil’s eyes. “So all say when first I ensnare them here. But E-Temen-Anki is inescapable. None has ever succeeded.”
“Is that so?” Tuco stepped forward and dropped to the drawbridge, catching himself easily on his powerful legs, his weight sending a ripple down the paper surface as it absorbed his impact. He stood three feet from the leopard who, despite himself, stepped back in alarm. So old Baronet Flavros is a bit of a coward himself, he thought. “Tell me, have you looked in on old Abalam lately?”
“Abalam? What are you talking about? Why should I have gone to see…” Flavros trailed off. He stalked to the edge of the drawbridge and leaned over the edge to peer beneath Tuco’s paper prison. A moment later, the fur bushed out all down his back and tail. When he straightened up, his whiskers were bristling, his sharp claws unsheathed. “How did you—where could you have—what have you—?” he spluttered.
“Well, those are a lot of almost-questions,” Tuco said, enjoying himself.
“Where is he?” Flavros roared, his green eyes slits.
“Do you know, I honestly don’t know? There’s so much about devils and the Abyss I never learned. Well, don’t worry, like you said, he can’t have escaped. Where is the last place you saw him? Retrace your steps.”
At that, the leopard crouched, gave a bellowing roar of fury, and leapt at him with claws outstretched. Tuco had been expecting that, and even if he wasn’t certain his new scales could protect him from whatever Flavros could do, the enchantment around his castle certainly would. Flavros’s leap was powerful, bringing his outstretched paws within a foot of Tuco’s face. He hung there for an instant, muzzle twisted in hatred, scything claws bared, and then the enchantment caught him, snapped him backward and sent him bouncing across the drawbridge head over tail for a good thirty feet.
“What do you know,” Tuco said, patting the wall of his castle appreciatively. “These things are safe!”
Bristling with rage, the leopard pushed himself slowly to his feet and stalked back down the drawbridge, his tail lashing behind him, a low growl bridled in his throat. “Listen to me, imp. I don’t know what you’ve done with my property, but I will find out, and when I do, I will find new and creative ways to make you suffer. Your soul will be mine for eternity, and I will devise torments your feeble mind cannot even comprehend. No one escapes Flavros, do you understand me? Nobody! You will be mine forever and—”
A pale blue light, the color of early dawn, burst out of the ground around Tuco’s clawed feet, surrounding him in its glow, and in less than a second, everything around Tuco disappeared. He was standing on the roof of Abyssus Abbey. The stone under his feet was coarse and wet with black-red blood, the wind was deathly chilly, and above the mountains to the east, the pale light of sunrise glimmered. And standing around him were Pike, Etreon, Braxus, and Hob.
Tuco took in a deep breath of cold, mortal air. “It’s me,” he said in answer to his friends’ worried stares. “You saved me. You got me out. Thank you so much, my friends.”
There was a long moment’s pause, giving him just enough time to worry: Am I too changed? Is something wrong? And then they all fell on him with cheers, wrapping him up in their embraces. And he knew he was home.
They huddled together in the stairwell, Tuco’s new scales doing nothing to shield him from the chill of the wind. He nestled into the thick fur of Braxus’s shaggy body and between the two of them, they took up the space of one entire landing. Pike perched on the steps above, and Etreon demanded to be held, squeezing himself in between Tuco’s chest and left arm and wriggling occasionally. They didn’t dare to descend into the Abbey proper, for the Brothers were on the alert and would certainly be interested in Tuco’s new and scaled appearance.
Brother Gabriel had been as good as his word, and any new changes were now met with interrogation and punishment. Two brothers and one apprentice had already been sent to the Throat, and at least four other inhabitants of the Abbey had escaped rather than face the threat of imprisonment. All ritual and research had been suspended. Brother Gabriel had all apprentices going through strict lessons in letters and theology. Outside of lessons, most of the other time was scheduled for church services. The apprentices and brothers would rise at 3:30 a.m., dress, and arrive in the chapel at 4 a.m. for matins. Then the Liturgies of The Hours at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Then Vespers at sunset, and Compline at 7 pm, which was just before bedtime.
“It sounds awful,” Tuco said. Church services were one thing, but Church all day, every day?
“It is certainly not to everyone’s tastes,” said Pike. “The constant standing wears you down. A few Brothers or apprentices pass out every day, usually during Vespers or Compline. Sebastian confessed to me before he fled that he’d just been wishing that his feet wouldn’t hurt so much. That’s what made his legs split into all those tentacles, we figure. Since it happened right in front of everyone, in the middle of Church, Brother Gabriel swore it must be signs of a deep alignment with the Abyss. Sebastian bolted, just wriggling through the crowd. A couple of Brothers snatched at him, but he was able to pull their arms apart with those tentacles and yank himself free. Left big sucker marks all up and down their arms. He escaped out the latrines.”
“He didn’t fall to his death?” Tuco asked, thinking about the holes in their bathroom that opened directly out onto the sloping cliffs of the mountainside.
“We were afraid he would, but he was just gone. We thought we could hear noises like he was moving around on the underside of the abbey. Hopefully he made it down to the woods, though who knows if that’s any better, or if he’ll be able to find any food or help now.” Pike sighed. “Things are bad, Tuco. We’re all exhausted. The Brothers don’t even let us fuck anymore. If we’re caught, we get locked up in a cell, or worse. And you know me, I have to go eight times a day. Running off to the bathroom to just… ease the pressure is a poor substitute. I can’t think why none of our group has changed again, except maybe the demons can’t change us if we—” He lowered his eyes. “If we already belong to another devil.”
“It sounds terrible. What are we going to do about it?”
Braxus rumbled behind him. “I doubt you can do anything, Tuco. Look at you—your scales and all those spikes now. And you look even stronger than before. If any of the Brothers or even some of the more obsequious apprentices spot you, you’re done for. They’ll throw you in the Throat faster than you can say Jack Robinson. You can’t stay here. Surely you know that. We wouldn’t even have brought you back, except that Hob there said you were in trouble.”
Tuco nodded soberly. “The prison changed me this much in just three days. Any longer, and I can’t imagine…” He trailed off, looking at his friends, who were all staring at him. “What?”
Pike cleared his throat. “Tuco, it’s been nearly three weeks, not three days. Brother Gabriel looked like he wanted to call the Imperial Guard when he couldn’t find you anywhere. Everyone thinks you escaped to the forest.”
“He looked for me?”
“Turned the Abbey over, top to bottom. When he finally realized he wasn’t going to find you, his face was so red and throbbing, I thought he was either going to swear or burn the whole Abbey down. Since then, he’s been locked up in the library. He’s searching for something in there, but no one knows what. He keeps demanding that the less Changed brothers go out on journeys for new books and scrolls. Rigby’s out now, gone to Arabia searching for some magical guardian ritual or other.”
Etreon nodded. “Everything’s gone all awful and terrifying. Even the food is bad. Brother Gabriel says we’re corrupting our souls eating demon-prepared food so mostly what we get is dried fish and bread boiled in beer water. Everyone’s starving.”
“The point is that you can’t stay here,” Braxus said. “Escape to the forest while you can. You’re strong and you look deadly now. I’m sure you’ll be able to survive.”
“And I shall be going with you,” announced Etreon, putting his arms around as much of one of Tuco’s biceps as he could. “I’m never leaving my Alkeides again.”
Tuco smiled fondly down at him and rubbed at his little back with one thumb. “I’m sorry you all have to go through this. But maybe I don’t have to flee to the forest. I still have a demesne in the Abyss. Perhaps this time the real Hob could show me the way.”
Hob tilted his head. “Master does not know how to reach his own demesne? Of course Hob could show him. But so far only a few devils know of master’s existence. If he goes to his demesne, all will know. They may try to get him there. Whatever master has been facing up to now may become much worse.”
Tuco shook his head. “But Brother Gabriel and his monks will certainly get me here. Better the devil you fear than the devil you know.”
Holding his head low, Hob timidly fluttered up to him. “Master is wise and powerful, but he surely knows if he attempts to return to the Abyss, Baronet Flavros will have set many traps for him. If he is trapped a second time, Hob will have no way to free him. No more blood.”
“Baronet Flavros?” Pike frowned. “I don’t like the sound of that. Is he the one who trapped you, Tuco?”
And so Tuco related the tale of how Flavros had tricked him by disguising himself as Hob, led him into the prison of the Abyss, and everything that happened afterward. “I’m afraid I was a bit smug to him last time I saw him. No doubt he is very angry.”
After his story, Pike puffed out his cheeks and let out a big sigh. Tuco noticed no one had quite met his eyes when he’d discussed how he had, essentially, fucked and eaten an entire castle. “So we’ll need to deal with this Flavros fellow before we can do anything else,” Pike said. “If he tricked you once, he can do it again, and next time he’ll be more devious. Any one of us could be Flavros, and you’d never know.”
Tuco nodded. “He makes you feel unsafe. So then you yearn for safety. But I can’t think how we could defeat him. Each devil has been more challenging to overcome than the one before. How do you defeat a devil of safety?”
Hob cleared his throat. “Master, Hob has a plan. But it will take some days to prepare. Can you wait that long?”
“What is this plan, Hob?”
“Better if Hob doesn’t say. Demons, you know.” Hob’s red eyes flicked meaningfully toward the walls.
“All right, Hob. I trust you. But I’ll still need some place to stay for the next few days while I’m waiting. Is there no place here that would be safe for me?”
Everyone looked at each other.
“Well,” Pike said slowly, “there’s one place no one would look for you. But I don’t think you’ll like it.”
Tuco waited for a moment, and when no one said anything, asked, “Well? Where is it?”
His friend grimaced. “The Throat.”
The stairway from the rooftop proceeded down, past the first level, and past two floors of cellars, filled with stores of supplies and casks of wine. Pike assured Tuco both cellars were checked regularly, so staying there would not be an option. At the bottom of the cellar level the stairway widened, each step at least twenty feet across, and the ceiling stretching at least that high above them. This descent had been made for giants or monsters; for the first time in months, Tuco felt uncomfortably small. Their breaths seemed to echo in the void, and the torch Pike carried in one paw rustled in a dank, restless wind. The walls here looked chipped, as though hewn out of the earth by a giant axe. From below came sounds: odd scrapings and chitterings and low, inhuman moans. The denizens of the Throat.
Pike’s torch and the light it cast looked pitifully tiny in the yawning mouth of the stairwell, but of course Tuco could see as clearly as in daylight. He could only imagine how terrifying this descent must be for his friend, holding up such a meager spark against the engulfing darkness. “Would you like me to lead the way?” he offered. “I don’t need the torch, you see.”
Pike stared back at him. “Really? This isn’t dark to you? Lucky fiend. But no, no, I’d rather have you at my back than… anything else. Promise to hurt anything that comes to get me?”
“There’s nothing here,” Tuco assured him. “Only stairs.”
And stairs there were. They stopped switching back and forth and now proceeded steadily down in a single direction, so far that Tuco couldn’t see the bottom. It would be terrible to lose your footing here, he thought. You’d start falling and never ever stop. The stairway grew wider and wider, and the ceiling extended farther and farther above them, until they were descending in an enormous cavern that stretched out on every side of them.
“Have you ever been down here before?” Tuco asked.
Pike shuddered. “Never. What can you see?”
“I never knew there could be such an enormous space underground. Why, the entire inside of the mountain must be nearly hollow. I wonder that the entire thing doesn’t cave in and drop the Abbey right down on our heads.”
“Don’t say such things!”
“Sorry, Pike. But it’s a room so wide I can scarce make out the other side. It looks like lots of tunnels. And there are these long spikes coming down from the ceiling all over, like fangs.”
“The prison of the Throat should be just a little way ahead, if the map Etreon found is correct.”
“He has a map?”
“A drawing of the Abbey, from when it was being built, long ago. It had been added to since then. He found it in the library during one of his trips when we were trying to figure out how to find you. Nearly got caught by Brother Gabriel doing it, too.” Pike waved his torch to the left. “There should be a passage that way sometime soon. All the people who get Changed so much they become dangerous get put down there.”
“And that’s where we’re going?”
Pike shook his head. “By the Almighty, no! It would be far too dangerous, even for you, Tuco. There are some nasty creatures down there if even half the tales I’ve heard are true. But at the beginning of the passageway—ah, there it is, I think.”
The edge of the stairway branched off into a side tunnel just as large and yawning as the one that had led into the throat, a canal bored into the wall of the mountain. As they left the main stairway, Tuco cast a long, searching look down. He still could not make out anything like the bottom. How deep did it descend? And how could it possibly touch the Abyss when the Abyss was a sphere of light and landscape floating in a void filled with false stars?
The sounds of the moans and screams and roars were louder here. Those voices were terrible: full of pain, and longing, hunger, rage… madness. In the side of the tunnel was a little door, and this Pike opened and went through. Tuco actually had to stoop and twist to the side a little to fit through the small entryway, and standing on the other side, his horns kept giving him a jolt when they butted against the ceiling. His tail curled behind him and slid the door closed, and as it thumped shut, the mad clamor from the hallway went silent.
“Ah, good, it’s still here,” Pike said, relief etched across his face. He tentatively lifted both his ears, which had been flattened ever since they’d begun their descent. The room in which they found themselves was well-appointed, but in disrepair. A bed that once might have looked comfortable had a pallet gone sodden and lumpy. A cabinet holding a series of bottles and sacks had partly collapsed and leaned to one side. The thick, plush carpet on the floor was rotten, each step on it lifting dark puffs of mold.
“It was an old watch station for monks,” Pike said, “back when they used to guard the Throat.”
“I wonder why they stopped.”
“Well, I never heard of anyone here actually capturing a demon or devil. Perhaps after a few hundred years of nothing, they decided there was no point.” Pike frowned and put his paws on his hips. “I’d have brought some fresh bedding down if I’d known. And if there were a way to sneak it down here without being noticed.”
“It’s all right,” Tuco assured him. “I’ll ask Hob if he can help. Demons bring all the fresh linen and bedding for the dorms anyway, so he must know how they get it, and he’s cleaned my room multiple times.”
“Do you think you’ll be all right down here? All alone, and with the—” Pike jerked his head toward the door. “You know, a prison full of monsters and a stairway to hell. Not where I’d choose to spend the night.”
Tuco couldn’t help smiling at that. “I just escaped from a prison full of devils in the middle of the Abyss, Pike. This may be musty, but it’s still an improvement.” He rubbed at his belly as his stomach groaned at him. “I could use a meal, though. It seems I haven’t eaten in three weeks.”
Pike blanched. “Oh, you poor fellow. I’ll manage something. Though as I said, Brother Gabriel isn’t feeding us much. There are big locks on the refectory now. Not even Etreon can get in.”
“Well, maybe Hob can get that, too.”
“Of course.” Pike gave him a long, searching look. “It’s good to have you back, Tuco. Even if it puts us all in danger. I’ve… missed you terribly.”
“I’ve missed you too, Pike.” He came forward and drew his friend toward him. Pike slid slender arms around as much of Tuco’s waist as he could reach, hugging him. With one hand, Tuco lifted him as easily as he might a kitten, pulling him to his chest, bending his thick neck to press his mouth to Pike’s. Pike groaned, his warm, wet tongue licking between Tuco’s fangs as he put his arms around Tuco’s neck, paws gripping the thick, plated scales that grew there. Abruptly something warm and a little sticky prodded at Tuco’s belly, and he leaned his head back, breaking the kiss with a wry smile.
“Sorry,” Pike said, flushing so hotly Tuco could see it beneath his cream-colored fur, but his hips rocked a little, sliding the jut of his erection against Tuco’s belly. “I told you Brother Gabriel doesn’t let us—”
Tuco cut him off. “We don’t have to say his name here,” he said, and slid one hand under Pike’s thigh, hefting him a little higher. Pike gasped in excitement and pressed his mouth to Tuco’s again, hooking his legs around Tuco’s hips.
Tuco needed no encouragement of his own to grow aroused; ever since he’d become an incubus, sexual desire continually simmered beneath his skin, ready at a moment’s notice, and now his shaft rose, stiffening eagerly, already spilling out his precome into the room, filling it with the scent of him. Pike kissed him and kissed him again, dipping down to bite at his neck and then leaned back. When he inhaled the scent of Tuco’s fluids, he paused, gasped, and the pupils in those lilac eyes went wide and dark. “Put it in me,” he begged. “Fuck me until I forget my name.”
“Careful what you wish for around devils,” Tuco said teasingly, but his tip was already sliding back and forth, feeling its way between Pike’s soft-furred thighs and sliding up the crevice of his well-muscled ass. Tuco made himself pause for a moment, savoring the anticipation as his tip twitched and flexed against Pike’s ring. The rabbit-man moaned aloud and tried to push himself back down on it, but Tuco easily held him firm. A half-second later, his cock jerked, soaking the rabbit’s backside with a hot spurt of precome that matted the fur and began to slide down his inner thighs, soaking them.
With wide eyes, Pike stammered, “Did you—did you already—?”
“Of course not,” Tuco assured him, and then pushed himself upward into Pike’s tight, quivering depths. He clenched his teeth as he felt himself slide deeper, the wide-slitted head of his devil cock drooling into Pike as it spread him open. As each of the fleshy barbs lining his shaft pushed past Pike’s entrance, it felt as though he were penetrating anew, and out of habit, he bit back his moan. But then he remembered they were in a cave deep beneath the Abbey, behind closed doors, far away from other ears, and so he pushed again, feeling the flood of his hot precome jet into Pike, spilling around his cock and easing its way, and this time he let himself roar in pleasure. The bestial sound shook the room.
Pike stared up at him in shock. “Okay, that time did you—”
“Not even close.” Tuco gave him a wicked grin and pushed deeper. His prehensile shaft enabled him to twist it from side to side, burrowing into Pike’s gut deeper than ever before, and the rabbit howled in pleasure, fingers digging into Tuco’s shoulders. He kicked his legs, and then abruptly came, painting the bottom of Tuco’s chest with a surprising amount of seed.
Tuco wasn’t about to let him off so easily, though. As though he’d always known how to do it, he saw how he could send a little thread of incubus magic into Pike, sending him so full of arousal it was like he hadn’t even come. Both above and below, Pike stiffened, drawing in a sharp, astonished breath as even before he was finished climaxing his sexual fervor was renewed.
“My balls,” he gasped. “Oh god. Oh god, they feel so full. What did you do?”
Tuco’s cock furrowed into Pike, plowing the field he intended to seed, burying it deep, deeper. Pike slid the fingers of one paw down his belly, groaning, “Oh god, I can feel it in me. I can feel it behind my own cock.”
“Stop?” Tuco suggested playfully.
“Deeper,” Pike croaked, and Tuco rewarded him with another thrust, his cock digging its way into Pike until the rabbit-man’s rump was planted down against his hips. Deep inside Pike, Tuco felt his cock flex again, filling his friend with more precome. And Pike’s breath grew faster and faster. He clutched at Tuco’s thick arm with one paw; with the other he squeezed at his own cock, trying to keep from climaxing, but he failed, and cried out again, helpless, overwhelmed cries as like a geyser the ropes of his seed flung themselves upward with such force they arced over his head.
“Not yet,” Tuco chided him, and again sent incubus energy into Pike, filling him again. He thought he could actually feel Pike’s balls pulse and swell against his lower abs as the rabbit moaned, still not not over his previous two climaxes. He hefted Pike easily in both hands, one under a thigh, the other gripping his waist, and held him in place as he began to fuck in earnest, hips rocking as he drew out and then drove into Pike again, meeting his gasping mouth for a kiss whenever he lifted the rabbit high enough. Pike cried out once or twice, but mostly bucked into the movements, seized by a ferocious lust that wracked his body. He beat against Tuco’s chest with come-soaked paws; he clenched his thighs around Tuco’s waist; he drove himself down, hilting so hard that it seemed to knock the wind out of him from inside, his eyes rolling back in his head as he shook with pleasure.
Finally, Tuco came as well, his cock swelling inside Pike, every nub lining it hard and gripping as his balls drew up, clenching, and he unloaded a torrent of devil seed into the row he’d hoed. Come shot out around the base of his shaft, soaking his hefty sac and running in hot rivulets down his thighs. Pike shuddered, voice too ragged for any articulate cries, and his cock jerked, untouched, erupting against Tuco, painting Tuco’s scaled chest and neck with a whitewash of come, sending arcs of it across Tuco’s mouth and nose, spattering his horns. He came again, just as hard, and again, and then his cock drooled more seed over its tip and down his shaft, into the fur of his belly, and then it was bucking dry as the devil-fueled climax ripped everything out of him and demanded more.
His eyes shot wide open, filling with light as his soul clamored to be free of him, but Tuco shook his head and rumbled a gentle, “No.” And Pike relaxed, then, the intensity of his climax ebbing, until he leaned back in Tuco’s grip, panting, still skewered on Tuco’s arm-thick cock.
“I—I never—” he stammered. A strange expression crossed his face. “I think I can taste your come in my mouth. That shouldn’t be possible.”
“Probably just some of your own,” Tuco suggested, smiling. He felt almost deliriously happy.
“No, yours tastes different. I’d know it anywhere. Like you just can’t get enough of it.” Pike licked at his lips again several times and groaned. “I feel so full. So that’s what an incubus can do when he’s trying.”
“Before, I’d always had to hold back. Because of… you know.”
Tuco relaxed enough so that he could begin to pull out of Pike, but the rabbit shook his head. “Just leave it in for a while? Please? If you can. It feels so nice.”
“All right,” Tuco agreed. Carefully, he got to the floor, curved his tail out of the way, and settled back against a wall, closing his eyes. He put his heavy arms around Pike, holding the impaled apprentice against him.
Pike crossed his arms across Tuco’s chest and slumped against him, planting weary kisses on Tuco’s chin and mouth. “Is it wrong to love the devil?” he murmured after several minutes.
Tuco blinked his eyes open and looked down, but Pike seemed to have fallen asleep, his long ears folded back, his breathing steady. Curiously, Tuco noticed a mark on Pike’s shoulder, a place where the fur seemed to lay flat, forming a large circle, holding three connected circles within it. He kept quiet and held Pike there, and after a while, he drifted into sleep too.