Velvet Noir sat sprawled out in his chair, blowing his dark bangs out of his eyes. If there was something more boring than performance reviews it would take an imagination duller than his to picture it. Performance reviews. Ha! More like just another chance for management to yell at him about quotas.
"It says here that out of the last 53 assignments, you managed to secure 2 souls."
Dragging his gaze away from his perfect manicure, Velvet focused a lazy amber-eyed gaze on the speaker. He was a demon of middling looks. Eons behind a desk had taken most of his hair and gifted him with a paunch. Velvet noted the demon's horns had recently been shined and his fangs sharpened. Probably over his lunch break when he realized he'd be interviewing an incubus. Even in Hell the lust demons had that certain something that made you want to wear your best underwear, just in case. Velvet switched his focus to the interviewer's desk. The surface seemed to mostly be comprised of folders, the only other elements of decor being a nameplate engraved "Ezrael M. Cattershins" and pens in a mug that said "You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!!!" in large, friendly letters. Velvet gave an involuntary shudder and went back to examining his nails. There was nothing about this situation he wanted to take part in.
"Is that to say out of 53 attempts at seduction you only managed to succeed twice?" Ezrael M. Cattershins raised a single accusatory eyebrow.
"63 times." Velvet picked at an imaginary piece of dirt.
Velvet sighed and sat up in his chair, squaring his shoulders towards Mr. Cutesy-Management-Slogan-Mug. Obviously he was going to have to participate in this conversation whether he wanted to or not.
"Out of 53 assignments, I had sex 63 times."
"And you only secured two souls?"
"Only two of them were evil bastards."
"That's not the point, you're supposed to corrupt them."
"Sex. You're an incubus for ******** sake."
"There's nothing evil about sex. If there were all humanity would either already be damned or die out."
"Well...yes. But you're supposed to make them feel guilty about it."
"Lemme see if I've got this straight. My job, as an incubus, is to give a person the most mind blowing sex they'll ever have in their life. Make them feel good in every cell of their being. Then somehow use that to make them feel so bad about themselves they're damned to Hell."
"And this makes sense to you."
"Listen, we've worked long and hard with religion got get people to feel bad about themselves for liking sex. All you have to do is tempt them into bed and then tell them how horrible they are for doing it. The guilt from societal programming with kick in and presto-bango another damned soul."
"Look at it this way, you don't want to be stuck at entry level for eternity, do you? Bright young incubus like yourself could go far. 63 out of 53? Those numbers could be amazing if you just did some follow up."
Velvet just nodded. "Presto-bango" had been the last straw. He was now agreeing just to get it over with.
"Right! Just get those numbers up and I'm sure we'll be talking promotion the next time you're in here."
"Yes sir." Velvet stood to leave, glad the review was over. He let out a sigh of relief as he shut the door to Ezrael M. Cattershins' office.
Two souls. He thought as he left the building.
Velvet bet he knew exactly which two. Humans came up with all kinds of rules for themselves which Hell was always willing to take advantage off. Most people would probably be surprised how many souls picked damnation because they had steak on Friday or bacon on Saturday. When you really got down to it, the souls that were evil were the ones that treated other people as things.
Not the ones that enjoyed knocking boots an evening or two with a devilishly good looking incubus such as himself. Velvet knew exactly what his problem was and why after 2200 years he was still on the bottom rung. Unlike most demons, Velvet actually liked people.
Coming out of his self-reflective reverie, Velvet realized he had walked most of the way home and now his road was blocked by a gaggle of demons. Agonized screams were coming from the center of the crowd. Velvet sidled over to an imp hovering near him at the back.
"Another fallen angel?"
"Third one this week." The imp said looking at a watch, "Not that I blame the poor bastards for wanting to switch sides, but couldn't they fall in the middle of a field somewhere instead of a busy street?"
"Yeah." Velvet said absently, scratching his chin. An idea was beginning to take root in his mind. The fallen angel continued screaming as bird wings turned to bat wings, halos to horns and angelic aura to demonic demeanor.
"You'd think the containment squad would get here quicker the third time. He'll be ripping up the damned if someone doesn't do something soon. I mean, I'm not exactly fond of 'em myself, but some of the stuff the fallen guys do? Ugh! My cousin works the pit where they throw 'em right after they fall. You know where the really evil souls are? Couldn't eat a full meal for weeks after I visited him at work."
"Yeah." Velvet's gaze had migrated up to the hole the angel had ripped in the ceiling of Hell. The idea had germinated, flowered and borne fruit at this point. The incubus realized he was in danger of doing something about it.
"Those holes are a real b***h to patch up too." The imp's conversational demeanor wasn't put off by Velvet's one word answers, "Let me tell you. I started on the patch team when my wings first budded. Ain't nothing more challenging to plug up than rocks and reality."
"Yeah." Velvet made up his mind, "Say, you ever hear of an ascended demon?"
"You have now." Velvet spread his wings and kicked off the ground. He could hear the crowd's stunned silence growing as they realized his plan. What he was about to do was so illegal it hadn't even been outlawed yet. What demon in their right mind would want to rise out of Hell? Maybe he wasn't in his right mind, but Velvet knew one thing: He was getting the hell out of Hell. He laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all as he flew straight for the breach and left Hell for good.
Of course it wasn't that easy; nothing worthwhile ever was. Velvet spent his first few weeks on Earth running from demons sent to kill him. Hell was not taking his defection well, and now a hunting pack had him cornered up in the mountains. He was cold, wet, alone, hungry and it was starting to snow. Having just come from a place where molten lava was a viable option for decor, Velvet was not dressed for the climate. He was starting to think that if he let them drag him back to the pits at least he would be warm while he was tortured for the rest of eternity. Stumbling through the woods, Velvet had his first lucky break. He found a small campsite. The fire was already low for the night and the camper was in their tent. Probably reading if the glow emitting from the canvas was any indication.
Velvet crept nearer to the fire, hoping to at least get some warmth in his hands before the demons got too close. The flames might have died down, but the embers still radiated heat. Being near the coals felt good, Velvet's muscles relaxed as the warmth eased it's way into his joints. A groan of pleasure escaped his lips.
"Who's there?" A man's voice came from the tent.
"s**t." A lantern emerged from the tent flap, followed by the light Velvet had originally assumed had been from the lamp. The man emerging from the tent shown so bright he lit up the entire clearing as realization dawned on Velvet.
"Holy. s**t. That's your soul?!" Velvet squinted at the man, "What the ******** do you do?! Provide a home for injured orphaned puppies?"
"Pardon?" The man said. Velvet's eyes adjusted to the near blinding light and he saw a green eyed man with messy brown hair somehow managing to look both angry and confused while clad in flannel pajamas and sandals. Velvet got over his surprised and realized his error. Most humans couldn't see souls.
"Never mind. What are you doing here?"
"I would think that's obvious since you're the one trespassing on my campsite." The man said, retrieving a hunk of wood and stoking up the fire before sitting down next to Velvet. Somewhere between the beginning of his sentence and the end the man seemed to have decided he wasn't angry anymore, "And to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"Oh. Right." Velvet thought of a million ways this could be going better, "I guess I'm lost."
"Well the stars must be looking out for me tonight to lead you here." The man gave Velvet a grin an incubus would have been proud of and extended his hand, "Name's Charlie Comyn, most of my friends call me Charming."
"Crowley." Velvet said returning the grin and shaking Charlie's hand.
"A demon then?"
"You know that one?" Velvet's smile cracked as Charlie called his bluff.
"Not the first time someone's tried the Mr. Crowley trick on me...and the giant bat wings were a bit of a give away too."
"Damn." Velvet kicked himself mentally. How could he forget about his wings? Battered and as useless as they were right now from aerial fights he should have remembered to retract them.
"Don't worry, I won't tell." Charlie said winking, "What's a nice demon like you doing in a place like this?"
There was a growling in the woods. Velvet could just make out the shapes of the hunting pack prowling in the shadows just beyond the light cast by Charlie's soul. Velvet realized they didn't want to get too close the the 100 watt human. Even though leaving Hell had put his powers on the wane, Velvet realized he could be near Charlie because of it. Likely if he had still been a full incubus he'd be more than blinded right now. Later, during the quiet evenings that made a body reflect on their life, this would cause him to wonder exactly how Charlie was familiar with the Crowley trick. There wasn't a demon in Hell who would have been able to get close enough to try and pull it.
"Actually, I need a favor." Velvet decided the direct and honest approach might be his best bet, "I need a part of your soul."
Charlie leaned back and examined Velvet in silence for a moment. The incubus's ears filled with the sounds of the prowling pack, the crackling fire and his own beating heart. He started to doubt his approach. With his survival hanging on the answer to the question he could have tried a little manipulation, sexual temptation, all these things that he had trained and honed over the centuries. He must be crazy if he thought straightforward honesty was the best approach for a demon.
"Well," Charlie finally started, "I've never said no to a pretty face and I'm not about to start now."
"Wait, that's it? You're not going to try for a deal? Or even ask what it's for? Are you stupid?" Velvet snapped his mouth shut. He was the stupid one. Here he was getting what he wanted and he was trying to talk the other man out of it.
"I've always been a fool for love." Charlie said with a wink.
This man could teach a lust demon a thing or two about seduction. Velvet thought.
"Besides, I'm guessing the reason you want it has to do with those beasties in the woods. You're not exactly in top fighting shape. If a house divided cannot stand, then you can't be as devilish as you look. That being the case, I wouldn't be much of a man if I didn't help you."
"How do you know they're not the good ones?"
"No offense, my dashing and mysterious friend, but I've met evil. Danced around the floor with evil. Even matched wits with evil once or twice. Evil usually has a clever plot that does not begin with 'Holy. s**t. That's your soul?!'." He smiled at Velvet again, "In my experience it takes a good man to be that bluntly honest."
"I suppose you have a point." Velvet couldn't decide if Charlie was a genius bordering on idiocy or an idiot bordering on genius. It was probably both.
"I don't normally mind conversing with someone as handsome as you all night, but I did hike a good 10 miles today. If there's anything we can do to get moving to toward the sleeping part of the night faster, I'm all for it."
"Ah. Yes. This might hurt." Velvet began the chant that would let him touch souls. Carefully he reached into Charlie's chest and gently grabbed onto his soul. With one quick motion it tore neatly in two. Cradling half of the soul in his hands, Velvet pulled it from Charlie's chest. Charlie gasped and went limp. His half of the soul remained in his body so Charlie was probably okay, probably.
Velvet consumed the half he had taken. The fire had been warm, Hell was hot, but this was swallowing a star. Soul fire burned through his veins. Velvet could feel himself screaming but the only sound he could hear was the Universe spinning on its axis. For a brief moment there was everything before it was erased by the blessed nothing of unconsciousness.
The smell of coffee stirred Velvet awake. Opening his eyes, Velvet's vision was filled with green. Panicking he sat up only to realize he was in a tent. Feeling foolish, he untied the door to find Charlie by the fire. His brown hair almost gone in a shock of white, only two strips of the chestnut color remained near the crown of Charlie's head. The flannel pajamas and sandals were replaced with a pullover, green kilt and boots.
"Mornin' sunshine. Like the new 'do?" Charlie pointed at his head, "Apparently giving away half your soul isn't good for your hair."
"I think it makes you look distinguished." Velvet ruffled Charlie's hair and stole his coffee cup, sipping his way into bliss.
"So long as it doesn't make me look old." Charlie poured a second cup, this too would haunt Velvet's thoughts one day. If Charlie was camping alone, why had he brought two coffee cups?
"So what's a demon fresh outta Hell with half a slightly used soul going to do now?"
Velvet drank the coffee in quiet thought for a moment: "Books. Books seem nice."
Fifty years later and a hundred miles away a little bell about the door of a used bookstore rang. Velvet didn't even bother to get up from behind the counter.
"Forget it Vishna. I have a soul now. It's little, it's muddy grey, it used to belong to a suspiciously well-aging Scot, but it's mine. You can’t kill me now, it’s against the rules." Velvet turned the page of the book he was reading, "So unless there's a paperback I can help you find; you can skip your merry way back to Hell and tell them to stick it where the sun don't shine."
The demoness gave a prissy huff before disappearing in a cloud of sulfur. Velvet peered over his glasses at the place where she had been and smiled.
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