King of Thieves (Demons of Elysium, #2)
There are worse things to lose than a good name.
Belphagor is used to being on top—at the gaming table and in the bedroom. But as a boyfriend? He’s pretty much out of his element. Temperamental firespirit Vasily has stuck by his side so far, giving Belphagor some of the most intense sexual experiences of his life. But their relationship is far from perfect. Vasily’s rebellious nature exposes trust issues that can’t be ignored—and playing games with his safeword adds fuel to the fire.
When Belphagor uncovers a nefarious smuggling ring that spans both Heaven and Earth, Vasily jumps at the chance to help shut it down. But Belphagor hasn’t told him everything, and Vasily soon finds himself in mortal peril. The Prince of Tricks may have finally pushed Vasily too far, putting one more crack in an already fragile foundation.
With love, honor, and his life on the line, Belphagor will need every trick up his sleeve to dismantle the smuggling ring for good. But winning Vasily back will take more than tricks. It’s time to lay all the cards on the table—or risk losing everything.
Note: This is a revised second edition, originally published elsewhere.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Heat Wave: 5 - Very explicit love scenes
Erotic Frequency: 4 - Fairly frequent
Genre: BDSM, erotica, fantasy, high fantasy, romance, urban fantasy / paranormal
Orientation: bisexual / pansexual, gay, poly, queer
Pairing: male/male, multiple partners
Tone: dark, exciting, humorous, intense
Themes: abandonment, abduction/kidnapping/hostage (actual), abuse, age gap, angst, antihero / bad boy, cheating, child abuse / neglect, commitment, family, financial gap / class disparity, found family, history, homelessness, homophobia / transphobia, lovable rogue, military, misogyny, politics / power struggle, prostitution, protection, racism, religion, self-confidence, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues
Kinks: barebacking, bondage, clothed sex, collaring, dirty talk, double penetration, exhibitionism, face-fucking, humiliation, leather, masturbation, orgasm denial, piercings, power exchange, rimming / anilingus, rough sex, sadomasochism, spanking
Era: 1900s, 1910s, 1990s, 19th century, 20th Century, Victorian era
Settings: alternate dimension, Apartment, bar / club, city, Gambling Den, Heaven, mansion, market, palace, Palace, Russia, Russia, sex club / strip club / brothel, St. Petersburg, train
Careers: Army, criminal / outlaw, gambler / poker player, military, Pro Dom, rentboy, Thief
To call Vasily a submissive would be an abuse of the term. Belphagor’s “boy” was about as submissive as a cat in a bathtub. You could hold him down long enough to accomplish the needful, but you’d damned near scald yourself when the contained outrage burst without warning from every limb, and you could count yourself lucky if all he did was draw blood. And yet Vasily insisted this relationship was what he wanted, to belong so thoroughly to Belphagor that his will was no longer his own.
Belphagor sucked on the end of his burnt thumb, shaking his head at the demon glaring fire at him from where he knelt on the floor of their rented room. Their quarters in the back of The Brimstone—the den of iniquity where Belphagor had earned his reputation as the Prince of Tricks—were beginning to feel like the flames of Hell with the furious heat the firespirit was giving off.
In a nod to his element, Vasily had recently had his matted red hair magically enhanced to a molten-lava shade. It gave his locks the appearance of being an extension of his radiance—if demonic radiance were visible in Heaven. Something about the aetheric content of the air here dampened it, at least for the lesser orders of angels and their mixed-blood Fallen cousins. It wasn’t until one fell to the world of Man that the elemental radiance of the lesser Host could be seen, most notably in the pair of wings composed of one’s dominant element.
The memory of Vasily stretching his magnificent wings of fire for the first time, bathed in ruby light and soaring ecstatically against the northern Russian sunrise, was enough to send Belphagor’s airspirit blood rushing to his cock with urgent need. Not that it wasn’t already. Vasily’s defiance this morning had him so riled he could barely see straight. And Vasily knew it. It was a matter of perspective who was dominating whom.
All he’d asked Vasily to do was drop to his knees and service him, something Vasily normally seemed quite happy to do—sometimes more often than Belphagor could accommodate. But the boy had some kind of bug up his ass and had taken the request poorly.
A chuckle rose in Belphagor’s throat at the phrase he’d conjured. He had better uses for Vasily’s ass than inserting bugs into it. At the little sound of mirth, Vasily’s skin flushed red with fury. The smallest offense had seemed to spark it this morning.
He’d knelt at Belphagor’s command but refused to open his mouth, and when Belphagor had tried to open it for him, he’d gotten burned by unrestrained firespirit spittle for his efforts. He didn’t relish the idea of subjecting the sensitive skin of his cock to that. Vasily had excellent control of the level of heat he produced in his bodily fluids, and for the most part, he kept them at a tolerable level.
“Would you like to tell me what your problem is this morning, mal’chik?” The endearment, Russian for boy usually softened Vasily’s demeanor. Today, it seemed to do the opposite. He let fly a string of obscenities in the language of Men so colorful that even Belphagor had seldom uttered them.
Where in Heaven did he learn these things? There seemed to be no coherent message to the barrage of profanity other than a general recommendation that Belphagor perform any number of violent acts upon himself, followed by heartily consuming his own waste. At least it was in Russian. That one tenet of Belphagor’s rules Vasily had chosen to obey.
Belphagor waited for a lull in the verbal onslaught, noting with a rush of satisfaction that Vasily’s cock was almost bursting from his pants. “Are you quite through?”
“Poshël na khui!”
Lovely and erect as Vasily’s khui was, Belphagor was tempted, but Heaven knew what temperature that would be right now. Instead, he picked up a large thornfruit from the breakfast tray and shoved it into Vasily’s mouth when it opened on another imprecation. Wine-red juice burst from the ends and dribbled from the corners of his mouth into his long muttonchops.
“I’m going to eat this breakfast now.” Belphagor sat at the vanity. “Which I purchased this morning in the market for you while you were snoring away in my bed. When you’ve finished having your tantrum and are prepared to do as I’ve bidden you—without damaging me—you may take that out of your mouth and beseech me to let you. And then we’ll see about your punishment.”
He ate the curls of bacon as he spoke, pretending not to look at Vasily, though he watched him out of the corner of his eye. There was no sign of capitulation, but Vasily was clearly uncomfortable, shifting position with one hand at his crotch to try to relieve the pressure of his jeans.
“Go ahead and unbutton.” Belphagor licked his fingers. “Give it some air.”
Vasily’s head shot up, his cheeks now pink. As if anyone could have failed to notice that. Belphagor chuckled to himself, starting on the buttered porridge, and was rewarded with a strangled sound behind the thornfruit that was no doubt a curse trapped on Vasily’s tongue. But despite his state—or perhaps to spite Belphagor—Vasily moved his hand aside and stared straight ahead.
Belphagor finished the entire tray of food—well more than he’d have preferred, particularly with an untended hard-on, and still Vasily hadn’t given in. He had to resist the urge to relent and take the fruit from his boy’s mouth. Vasily knew it was within his power to end his suffering, and sucking cock wasn’t exactly something he hated. Whatever his problem was, Belphagor was sure it had nothing to do with the actual request and everything to do with the delicate firespirit feelings he was forever wounding without meaning to.
But Vasily would have to tell Belphagor what he’d done if he expected to get an apology. And in the meantime, the hard, bare chest heaving with anger, the orange glow of fire in Vasily’s hazel eyes, and the furious hard-on Vasily was now refusing to acknowledge were driving Belphagor delightfully mad. He could wait all day if he had to. And it seemed he would.
With a long sigh of disappointment, Belphagor got to his feet. “I have better things to do than wait for you to behave civilly.”
He drew aside the curtain in front of the makeshift wardrobe, took Vasily’s prized velvet frock coat from its hanger, and put it on, knowing it would infuriate him. It hung ridiculously long on Belphagor, and the shoulders were far too wide, but fashion wasn’t the point.
“Stand up.” He delivered the abrupt command in the hard tone that always prompted instant obedience.
Vasily rose, glaring a good approximation of actual hatred down at Belphagor from his superior height. Though it might have been more impressive without his gob stuffed with thornfruit.
Belphagor busied himself with yanking Vasily’s belt from its buckle and zipping it out of the loops, pleased with the deep intake of breath this inspired.
There was a slight hesitation before Vasily extended both fists, held together at the wrists to make Belphagor’s job easier. So obeying Belphagor wasn’t the problem. He’d knelt, he’d risen, and he’d given his hands to be trussed without resistance. It was only sucking cock he was taking issue with.
Belphagor bound Vasily’s wrists and tied a knot in the leather, yanking it tight and spinning Vasily about to face the wall, where he hung the buckle on a hook above Vasily’s head. Having to climb onto the chair to accomplish it took some of the edge off the action, but he was gratified by a little tremor shunting along Vasily’s spine. He kissed the center of Vasily’s back, causing him to jump and then shiver as Belphagor’s lips lingered there. It was good to keep the boy on his toes.
“I’m not going to punish you yet.” He kept his lips against the warm skin. “You’ll get that when you’ve decided to behave.” Belphagor placed another kiss below the first as he reached around Vasily’s waist and began to unbutton his pants. With another kiss to the small of Vasily’s back, he tugged on the jeans so the top of Vasily’s ass was exposed and his cock was free. A groan escaped Vasily as Belphagor closed his hand around the inflamed erection. He placed one last kiss just above the cleft of the firm ass.
“I could make you come.” His lips brushed lightly against Vasily’s skin. “And leave you here, spent and angry, to think about whether you want to do as I say.” He gave Vasily’s cock a firm stroke. Hot blood throbbed in the flesh against his palm. Vasily’s stance widened, as if to brace himself to be tossed off.
Belphagor dropped his hand and straightened, adjusting the collar of the frock coat. “But I think I prefer to imagine you squirming against the wall trying to relieve the tension yourself while I’m out. If I’m to have no relief, neither will you.”
Vasily moaned, trying to speak behind his gag.
“Too late for appeals, mal’chik. I expect I’ll be gone awhile.” Belphagor kicked the chamber pot between Vasily’s legs. “I imagine this will come in handy at some point today. I don’t need you pissing on my floor.”
Vasily made a strangled roar and banged his head against the wall. He was in a serious state. But it would hardly take any effort on his part to pull the peg out of the wall and work his hands out of the belt, and he’d made no attempt so far. As enraged as he was about whatever Belphagor had done, he wanted this.
Without another word, Belphagor went out. The difficulty would be staying away long enough to convince Vasily he’d been forgotten. It was the state of despair he could reduce Vasily to, the feelings of abandonment he wrung from him, that ultimately led to his boy’s surrender. And the sex afterward was mind-blowingly intense. Belphagor himself had such a deep-seated fear of abandonment he couldn’t imagine how Vasily could stand being pushed to this edge again and again. But it seemed to be worth the joy and release of being reclaimed by Belphagor for him to experience it.
There was always someone about for a game of wingcasting at The Brimstone, no matter the hour. Taking some poor fellow for his last facet seemed like a pleasant enough distraction from the ache in his groin.
“Nice duds.” The player at the first table appraised him as Belphagor approached.
“Armen.” Belphagor grinned. “Haven’t seen you in ages.” They locked arms for a friendly but masculine greeting. Armen was always conscious of how he was seen, making sure no one mistook him for one of Belphagor’s kind.
“So, Belphagor.” Armen shuffled idly as Belphagor sat across from him. “Do you still cheat at cards?”
“Do you still use that cheap accusation in an attempt to throw your opponent off his game?” Belphagor took the cards from him and gave them an expert shuffle of his own. “And does anyone still fall for it?”
Armen laughed. “Only amateurs.”
“You wound me. Lumping me in with amateurs.” Belphagor began to deal. “As if you’d be able to tell if I cheated.”
Belphagor left Vasily until well after noon, when he couldn’t stand another minute of thinking about the way the tugged-down pants had exposed the cleavage of his finely sculpted ass. Vasily stood where he’d left him, his head hanging and his cock echoing it. Poor boy was getting nothing out of this but misery. When Vasily didn’t lift his head at the opening of the door, Belphagor lost his own budding erection.
Vasily’s shoulders rose with a deep breath, but he didn’t turn. Belphagor slipped the belt from the hook and gave the hunched shoulders a firm but gentle push to prompt him onto his knees.
“Turn and face me.”
Vasily walked himself about on his knees, gazing up at Belphagor with resignation. The thornfruit had bathed his chin in sticky juice, and the thorns had drawn little pinpricks of blood around his lips. Belphagor shook his head and held his hand out for Vasily to spit the fruit into it. Once he had, Vasily kept his mouth open, waiting for Belphagor to fill it, his eyes defeated.
“I don’t want your mouth. I want you to tell me what made you so angry.”
Vasily looked up at him warily, his chapped lips still parted. Belphagor poured a cup of water from the pitcher on the vanity and held it to Vasily’s mouth, and Vasily drank it with obvious relief.
Belphagor put the cup aside. “Well?”
“What difference does it make?” The gravelly voice was rougher than usual. “You win.”
“I don’t want to win, you silly boy. I want to use you because you want me to. And you clearly didn’t want me to this morning, so I’d like to know why.”
The defiance kindled once more in the hazel eyes. “Because,” he growled, “my mouth is only good for one thing as far as you’re concerned. You didn’t even kiss me good morning.”
Belphagor nearly laughed at the simplicity of it, but he restrained himself, knowing how laughter would go over. “That’s what made you so angry. That I didn’t kiss you.”
“If I’d known all you cared about was my ‘talented tongue,’ I’d have stayed on the streets, where at least I got facets for it.”
Ah, there it was. Belphagor had touched a nerve. Vasily’s self-worth before he’d come to Belphagor had been measured in the unique oral skills that had him in high demand among demonic and angelic patrons alike. Last night, Belphagor had inadvertently triggered Vasily’s defenses by remarking after a particularly lovely fellating that he almost felt selfish for keeping that “talented tongue” to himself. Almost.
Belphagor crouched in front of him and released the belt from around Vasily’s wrists. “You’re right.” The shocked look on Vasily’s face was nearly comical. Belphagor cleared his throat. “I’ve been greatly remiss in failing to show my appreciation for what else your mouth is good for. And you gave an excellent demonstration of that with the invectives you hurled at me this morning. Perhaps I should keep you permanently gagged.”
As furious heat rose in Vasily’s skin, Belphagor hooked a fist in the red locks bound at the crown and held him still, silencing him with a rough kiss. He savored the smoldering heat and the smoky flavor of Vasily’s tongue, slick and willing despite his anger. A slight whimper reminded Belphagor of the thornfruit, and he eased off, nipping gently before sucking the plump lower lip into his mouth just to hear Vasily whimper again.
When he let go, Belphagor pressed his forehead to Vasily’s and held his gaze. “You have the right to take exception to perceived mistreatment—whether I perceive it as such or not and whether I choose to give you more of it, which is my privilege—and to tell me when I’ve hurt you in ways I don’t intend. And even to refuse to comply with a request that upsets you. But you do not have the right to fail to use the word we agreed upon for such matters, allowing me to continue to wound you without knowing it, and then to blame me for it.”
The angry red in Vasily’s cheeks faded to an embarrassed pink.
“Do you remember your word?”
Vasily nodded, and when Belphagor yanked on the hair in his fist, Vasily burst out, “Seraphim!”
“Khoroshiymal’chik.” Belphagor kissed him again on the whispered words. “My very good, very lovely boy.” He traced his thumb along one cheekbone above the rough patch of a coppery sideburn, eliciting a moan. “Now, which shall I punish you for first? Your failure to use the safeword or my failure to recognize your distress?”
From the periphery of his vision, he noted with satisfaction that the invocation of their perverse arrangement—that Vasily should take the punishments for both their failings—had provoked the customary response. The magnificent erection had resumed its former vigor. Belphagor’s had done so the moment he’d sparked Vasily’s defiance and gotten the truth out of him.
He tapped his chin, as though contemplating. “I think the punishment for not using your safeword will be to deny you the privilege of cocksucking until such time as I deem you to have earned it back.”
“Nyet, pozhaluista.” As the little gasp escaped Vasily, his eyes widened with dread. He’d spoken out of turn, but the use of the Russian please and the genuine dismay at being denied Belphagor’s cock was so gratifying that Belphagor decided to let this one slide.
“And for my transgression . . .” Belphagor paused for a moment to think while he unlaced his pants and stroked himself to give Vasily a reminder of what he’d be missing. “You’ll watch someone else provide that service for me when I require it.”
Outrage and dismay warred on Vasily’s face, but he managed to keep quiet. He’d assured Belphagor that he was all for playing with others—so long as both he and Belphagor were always included in the play. But the idea of having to watch another demon enjoy Vasily’s favorite activity while he was denied the pleasure had to be galling.
Belphagor lifted Vasily’s chin with a finger. “Need I remind you that you have the right—and the responsibility—to tell me if this punishment is too much for you to bear?”
Vasily’s eyes were stony. “Nyet, ser.”
“And do you wish to do so?”
Fire kindled behind the stone. “Nyet, ser.”
“Good.” Belphagor rose and went to the door. “Because I require it now.” He opened it, noting with pleasure that Vasily remained where he was, exposed cock and all, despite the entrance of a stranger. “This fine fellow claims to be quite good at it.”
He cupped the cheek of the pretty rentboy—a half-angel bastard about Vasily’s age who called himself Mikhail after the founder of the supernal House of Arkhangel’sk. Though he had the fair hair of the Fourth Choir Host, the jade green of his eyes and the tawny hue of his skin, unusual for a waterspirit, made him quite striking and gave him character most angels lacked.
Mikhail smirked. “Hello, Vasily.”
If Vasily were a cat, his ears would have flattened. As it was, a steamy hiss escaped between his teeth.
Belphagor’s pierced eyebrow lifted with curiosity. “You’ve met my boy?”
“We’ve competed for business.”
Belphagor turned to Vasily. “Is he as good as he claims?”
“How would I know?” Vasily growled and then added a grudging “Ser.”
“Well, then, let’s give him a test run, shall we?” He nodded to Mikhail. “Start with him. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Mikhail affected a sort of exaggerated aristocratic walk and approached Vasily, dropping smoothly to his knees.
Vasily gaped at Belphagor. “You want him to suck me?”
“How else am I supposed to evaluate his technique? Come on, now, straighten up.”
“No touching.” Mikhail was firm as Vasily reluctantly obeyed Belphagor’s command. “I’ll do the work.”
Vasily let out a rough groan as Mikhail got on all fours and swallowed him.
“Impressive.” Belphagor nodded his approval. “He doesn’t seem at all uncomfortable with such a mouthful.”
Vasily, glaring down at Mikhail’s enthusiastic, bobbing head, was just the way Belphagor liked him—furious and helplessly aroused. His breath was tight and shallow as he struggled to keep silent, his hips pumping involuntarily.
Belphagor stepped behind him and crouched, wrapping his arms around Vasily’s chest and resting his chin on the top of Vasily’s head. “He looks quite lovely with his mouth full of your cock.”
Mikhail glanced up at Belphagor with an approximation of a smile and hummed with appreciation at the compliment.
“How would you rate his technique, mal’chik? Adequate? Above average? Superior?”
Vasily made a noise that was more of a grunt than an answer.
“On a scale of one through five, one being subpar and five superior, what would you—”
“Four,” Vasily burst out, his face flushed. Mikhail doubled his efforts, as if above average were a challenge to exceed.
Belphagor had palmed his vial of almond oil before coming up behind Vasily, and he slicked some over his cock and let it press against Vasily’s bare back above his ass. Vasily gasped and clenched his fists at his sides, having been forbidden to touch the rentboy vigorously sucking him.
“Put your hands behind your head for balance.” Belphagor slid Vasily’s jeans down to his knees. “Then lean into me.” He pressed his cock between Vasily’s cheeks, and Vasily shuddered, hands clasped behind his head, as the slick head spread him open. “I’ve got you, mal’chik.” With one arm around Vasily’s waist and the other hand at a taut nipple, he bit lightly at Vasily’s shoulder and drove himself in.
Vasily groaned, rocking between the two opposing pleasures, balanced on his knees with his elbows wide at the sides of his head like wings.
“That’s it, sweet boy.” Belphagor ran his tongue up the side of his neck to circle the spiked steel post he’d pierced him with when they were in the world of Man. Mikhail, stroking his own cock with his hand down his pants, was going at him with gusto. “Is he going to make you come?”
Vasily let out a reluctant moan. “Da, ser.”
“Mind your heat,” Belphagor admonished and fucked him without mercy, sending him over the edge.
Vasily shuddered in his arms and arched back against him with a shout that had to have been heard in the gaming room. Mikhail sucked Vasily dry, neither of them letting up until Vasily went limp in Belphagor’s arms.
Looking quite pleased with his own performance, Mikhail sat back and wiped his mouth with a flourish, unabashedly fondling himself.
Belphagor nibbled Vasily’s ear. “Satisfactory, then, Vasya?”
Vasily made a sound that might have been an attempt at speech.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Belphagor nodded to Mikhail. “All right, then, my fine friend. I’ll have my turn.”
He pulled out and stood to rinse himself off, and Vasily dropped forward onto all fours as if he couldn’t hold himself up.
After finishing at the basin, Belphagor stroked himself and stood over the two demons, pondering his options. He addressed Mikhail, with a nod toward Vasily. “Can you suck me off while fucking him?”
Vasily tensed, and Belphagor put a hand on his back. “Use your word if you need to.” But Vasily remained silent. “Well, Mikhail?”
Mikhail grinned. “With pleasure. Though it’ll cost you another five facets.”
“Make it six, and make it last.” Belphagor turned Vasily toward the mirror on the vanity so he could watch himself being fucked. Behind him, Mikhail perched on his knees, freeing his cock and rubbing himself with the oil Belphagor provided.
“Use his hair for a handhold,” Belphagor suggested.
Mikhail grasped the tied bunch of Vasily’s locks and mounted him. While Vasily clutched at the carpet, groaning, Belphagor stepped over him and straddled his waist, facing Mikhail. He held the rentboy’s head in both hands, pushing himself into his mouth, making sure Mikhail made plenty of noise. He wanted Vasily to envision what was happening behind him while he was being fucked.
The jealousy and anger in Vasily’s ragged moans brought Belphagor swiftly to the verge of climax, but he held back until Mikhail let out a groan of pleasure around his mouthful and bucked into Vasily with his own. With a somewhat exaggerated shout, Belphagor let loose, and Mikhail swallowed him. The half-angel was certainly good at what he did, but it was nothing to the desperate, thrilling experience of being sucked by his boy.
When Mikhail had extricated himself and gotten himself together, Belphagor gave him his pouch of facets and dropped an extra into it. “For your discretion.”
Mikhail looked mildly offended. “I am always discreet, sir.”
Belphagor twisted his hand in Vasily’s hair as Mikhail went to the door. “Thank him for the service, boy.” Fury radiated from the set of Vasily’s jaw as he clenched out his thank-you.
“Don’t mention it.” With a bow to Belphagor, Mikhail went out.
Vasily was still on his hands and knees. Belphagor relaxed his grip and smoothed his hands over the tight shoulders. “Are you angry, mal’chik?”
“But you chose not to use your word.”
“Stand and pull up your pants.” As Vasily obeyed, eyes downcast in a manner that was more of a sulk than humility, Belphagor moved his hands aside and buttoned the jeans for him. “Do you love me, mal’chik?”
Vasily sucked in a sharp breath. “Da, ser.”
“No Russian.” Belphagor tugged on the waistband. “No obedience. Just you and me. Just the truth.”
“The truth?” Vasily searched his face with a look of confusion. “Of course I love you, Beli. Why are you asking? Did I do something wrong?”
Belphagor bent to pick up the discarded belt and slipped it through the loops of Vasily’s jeans. “It scares me a bit how much I enjoy what I do to you. You have to promise to tell me if you don’t want something I want.”
“I do want it. I will. I promise.”
Belphagor kept his eyes on the tattoos that ringed his fingers, marks earned in the world of Man. “If I were to spend the rest of my days in a Russian prison, the vision of you with your arms stretched out, hands behind your head, while you came in that demon’s mouth with my cock up your ass—it would sustain me until I died.”
Vasily grasped Belphagor’s hands over the buckle. “Why are you talking about dying?”
“Because, mal’chik.” Belphagor looked up. “I love you so much, sometimes I think it will kill me.”
Vasily seemed content to spend the rest of the day in their room with a book. Belphagor had taught him to read Cyrillic script, and Vasily had started on a copy of Dostoevsky’s Demons, thinking it might have something to do with their kind.
Belphagor supposed it might, though Dostoevsky would never have known the Fallen lived among them in the world of Man. But who was he to say the revolutionaries and malcontents upon whom the author had based his memorable characters weren’t of Fallen stock?
Belphagor returned to the tables, amused to see Armen still at it. He lifted an eyebrow once they were paired together by Belphagor’s quick advancement through the ranks of players on his way to the master table. “Don’t you have mouths to feed at home?”
Armen laughed as Belphagor dealt the cards. “And how else do you think I feed them?” He continued to chat as the round commenced, a tactical error Belphagor took advantage of to relieve Armen of half his cards in the first three casts as he failed to call the die correctly, while Belphagor called all but one of his.
“A pristine Ebony Wing.” Belphagor laid down a consecutive set of First Choir cards along with the first order of the remaining three choirs in the suit of spindles. “It’s going to be a short game if you keep playing like this.”
Armen shook his head and gathered the cards as Belphagor collected the pot of facets. “As it happens, I was hoping to run into you again. There was something I wanted to discuss with you.” His tone was casual as he shuffled and dealt, but this was obviously anything but if he was willing to forfeit so much crystal to make it seem so.
Belphagor perused his cards. “Oh?”
“I suppose you’ve heard of the Fletchery?”
Belphagor scowled. The Fletchery was the nickname for a house of ill repute that specialized in providing “unspoiled” entertainment to an exclusive clientele. The term was also a play on words, implying that the client would be teaching a fledgling how to fly. Fletching was a euphemism for being the first to have a celestial virgin, most often applied to young males.
Belphagor had never found the idea of inexperience appealing. He much preferred a partner who had experimented enough to know exactly what he wanted. But the Fletchery’s appeal was all the more dubious because of the way it was said to acquire its talent.
The Demon District had no lack of venues for those inclined to sell their pleasures. But as a general rule, the inexperienced didn’t choose to enter the profession voluntarily with the intent of selling their own “virtue.” They were much more likely to be sold into it by a family down on its luck.
“I’ve heard of it.” He moved around a card or two. “I am not a fan.”
“There’s definitely something to be said for experience.” Armen flashed him a fleeting smile before his expression grew serious. “But as it happens, a nephew of mine has gone missing, and his mother suspects he may have been snatched from the Demon Market by fletch-peddlers.”
“Pavel is just a boy. Barely thirteen. And rumor has it the Fletchery has a private enterprise that engages in the particularly unsavory practice of supplying entertainment for clients who prefer . . . rather tender flesh.” Armen cast the die after uttering the phrase as if flinging the idea away with it.
Belphagor frowned as the die clattered across the table, letting it strike the edge without calling it. He wasn’t surprised to hear it, though it was something he’d made a point of not knowing about. The less knowledge he had of practices he despised and those who practiced them, the fewer people he felt inclined to harm.
He swept his cards into a stack in his palm. “I’m very sorry to hear that. Though I’m not sure how you believe I can help.”
“Well, it’s not as if I could make inquiries at such a place.”
Belphagor had tired of the game. He tossed the cards face-down on the table.
Word Count: 95,000
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Series: Demons of Elysium
Release Date: 04/11/2022