You wake up surrounded by demons.
You try to keep your body relaxed, and slowly open your eyes, carefully keeping them narrowed into slits. Hopefully, they won't notice you're awake. Your head ached horribly, but you ignored it.
After years of dealing with such creatures, you can easily sense their presence. It isn't hard. The smell of those monsters made it simple, if you knew what to look for.
Indeed, the metallic scent of copper mixed with the cloying sweetness of lilac perfume, would make anyone else nauseous. Unfortunately, the flowery aroma only reminds you of your ex.
You try to concentrate, though your eyes feel heavy. Still, you glimpse a pair of legs, and see the form of a woman standing with her back to you, not noticing your conscious state. To your horror, two ginger cats were looking into your eyes hungrily.
You manage to identify more demon-people standing by. They were talking to each other, and ignoring you. Thankfully, they didn't seem to notice the cats staring at your limp form.
For an instant, panic overtakes you. Even if I escape now, they will hunt me again, you think wildly. Your mind flashes back to the letter you received a few days ago.
The front of it had been trimmed with gold lettering, marking your name and temporary address. You remember opening it, and feeling your stomach drop instantly. Only four words had been written down, but you'd understood perfectly: "The hunt is over."
You had wanted to run back inside, pack all your things, and leave for the next flight to anywhere else, but then out of nowhere, a big man in a dark coat had appeared. You recall a loud thud, a flash of pain above your brow, and then... then you were here.
You had tried to avoid the hunters, and now the hunters had found you.
Slowly, with the practice of one who's been through a lot of weird situations, you take a deep breath, and try to focus on getting out of here before they notice.
Your eyes were adjusting now, and you slowly take in your surroundings. You were sitting upright on the hard ground, with your back pressed against cold glass. You try to crane your neck around, briefly ignoring the woman and her felines, and see a glimpse of chocolate-chip ice cream.
You glance around again, and see aisles filled with coloured boxes and food. A convenience store? A couple of dim lights flashed above your head. The rest of the room is dark and abandoned. It reminds you of being on stage, with a spotlight shining down.
You squint, gazing across the shop, trying to ignore the terrifying sight of wild feral eyes glaring at you, and spot a glimpse of stars behind the glass windows.
Suddenly, one of the orange monsters starts growling in your face. Its' breath stank of fish and other vile things. You swallow heavily, praying for it to shut up. You couldn't even run—ropes were painfully tied tight around your arms and wrists, even your legs weren't free.
Worst of all, the others had taken notice of your awakened state—likely alerted by the growling sounds—and a woman without eyes was looking down at you.
Well, to be more precise, she did have eyes. Kind of. Instead of eyeballs, twin flames leered down suspiciously. Ironically, the look she gave you was cold and clinical, making you shiver.
Your mind flashes to all the other insane incidents you've survived, and it dawns on you that this might be the last.
Well, at least someone finds my misery amusing, you think, considering one of the cats. It seemed more gleeful now, and was looking you up and down like you were catnip.
The two demons in the back were watching you as well. You jolt, peering at the larger one. That's the man in the coat. The sight of all three of them, with their orange flickering gaze, unsettled you.
Unwilling to show anymore weakness, you try your best not to look them in the eye. Or in the flames?
"Wha—" your throat was dry, but you attempt to sound indignant and commanding. "What is the meaning of this? W—why are we in a store?" To your embarrassment, the fear creeps through your raspy voice. The two men glance at each other, and then back at you. They raise a brow, clearly amused. You clench your teeth, and turn towards the woman, trying to distract yourself from doing anything stupid.
"We're so sorry to inconvenience you," said the demoness. Her voice sounded strangely reptilian, and she seemed to hiss out each syllable. "But this store was our closest hideout. Our association owns many buildings, as I'm sure you know. We normally wouldn't resort to such... barbaric methods, but most of our customers are also wise enough not to run from our Boss." She smiled coldly. You hear the other two snicker in the back.
Anger and panic surge again. "I—I didn't know!" It was true. Having such a powerful loanshark chase you halfway across the country, just for your measly soul, was unthinkable.
Surprisingly, the woman nodded. "Most of our customers aren't mortal, of course. I warned the Boss against dealing with such foolish creatures. Your kind cannot grasp the power of such an incredible being," you couldn't help but feel offended. She went on, "But still, even most humans aren't this idiotic. We haven't met a mortal who dared to challenge our Boss in a very long time. Do you remember what happened to the last one, Gilbert?"
The demon called Gilbert said, "Boiled alive, I think." His larger friend nodded in agreement.
Fear bubbled in your throat. You try to shovel it down. In the underworld of monsters, everyone knew of that immortal being: The Boss. He would offer someone a few extra years of life, even decades, if they were willing to pay the proper price.
Suddenly, a thought comes to you.
"Then... w—why am I still alive?" The cats look at their owner, seemingly agreeing with your statement. You ignore them, and stumble on, "Back then, a—all those years ago, your boss gave me a decade of his life. But I never paid him back, I—I never gave him m—my soul." They look at you with heated orbs, obviously disgruntled at the idea of someone cheating their beloved Boss. You couldn't really blame them.
When the time to repay your debts had eventually arrived, you couldn't do it. When you agreed to the terms, you hadn't realized that when the Boss took somebody's soul, it didn't mean they would instantaneously die or anything. Instead, they would become a slave, cursed to work for that man eternally, never free to think for themselves again.
Although, at the time, it hadn't mattered. At the time, I just wanted to see the next day. The thought was painful and bitter.
Now, things can be different. You look at the demoness and her thugs carefully, and murmur, "Y—you didn't have to bring me here, unless..." you swallow nervously. "Is your Boss willing to negotiate?"
Gilbert starts to laugh. Your body tenses up. "You've got to admit, Lena," said the smiling man, "this one's stupidity is slightly impressive." Lena rolled her fiery eyes in response.
Then, she crouched down to gaze at you evenly. "You are correct. For whatever reason, the Boss is willing to negotiate." You let out a breath in relief, not even caring that she insulted you.
Warily, you say, "I... can offer you property in Vegas." Internally, you wince. It was good land, and it would hurt to let it go, yet death would hurt much more.
Lena and the two men glare at you. "Our Boss doesn't want your pathetic pile of dirt," she snapped. "He wants something more... useful."
Suddenly, dread starts to pool in your stomach, as understanding slowly dawns.
"Is there nothing else?" you whisper, desperate. Lena looks at you with her molten red eyes, and shakes her head coldly. For a long moment, no one says anything, leaving you to stew over the offer.
You think of your kids, the ones you left behind a long time ago. After the divorce, your partner had received full custody. Meanwhile, you had been far more occupied with the newly-discovered underworld, and more worried about finding a way to extend your rapidly diminishing life, than devoting yourself to tiring legal battles.
Later, you regretted this. However, by then it was too late. Every Christmas visit was awkward and uninviting. Soon, both you and your kids realized the only thing you had in common—was blood.
Your mouth felt dry. "H—how long will it be?"
"Ten years for each of them."
It's not that bad. "...You promise to let me go free?"
"Naturally, we guarantee your freedom from future torment." She backed away, letting you consider.
You know what you should do. Parents were supposed to protect their children. They were supposed to die before letting anyone hurt them. It was in every movie, in every damn tv show. Your own parents had spent a fortune trying to pay for your hospital bills, until the Boss granted you more life time.
Your head ached with all the possibilities. A decade was very long. Still, you know you would give up a few years to let them live on. So why wouldn't they do the same? Surely, they'd never want you dead?
Besides, it's not a death sentence, you consider slowly. Actually, they can be immortal for a whole decade.
The kids would never age, or feel sick, and they would live in lavish mansions with the Boss. Indeed, they would be servants, but they could survive the occasional harsh word.
Yes, that sort of lifestyle is more of a gift than anything else, you ponder, feeling progressively more confident. If I were them, I would be grateful. It's like a temporary internship, and they get to see a whole new side of the world!
You think of your younger son, who loved adventures, and fighting imaginary creatures. He would adore the underworld, you're sure of it. And the elder boy, well—he needed to learn the value of hard work, either way.
Hope starts to flicker in your chest. "I agree to your terms," you say, after a while.
The two demons in the back stare at you, apparently surprised. Nonetheless, there was no expression on Lena's face as she nodded.
The rest was standard procedure.
You knew better than to ask too many questions. Despite this, you couldn't help but watch curiously, as Gilbert and his friend pulled out a comically huge stack of documents from an impossibly thin suitcase.
There were some details to hassle over, things to sign, and several papers to read. By the time you were almost finished, sunlight started streaming through the windows.
Finally, you arrived to the most important part: the deal binding. Nervously, your tongue repeated each of the strange and musical words Lena had detailed to you. For a moment, you could feel something tighten in your chest. Then it was gone, and you and the others sighed in relief.
"Don't worry about your kids," said Gilbert. "Me and Mark'll take care of them. " He nodded at Lena, and then walked out the store. You watch cautiously, as the man who knocked you out swiftly followed his partner.
You look at the demoness, and nudge at the knots stilled tied around your legs. "Are we done here?"
She smiled. "Not quite."
You frown, feeling irritated. "Listen, I have things to—"
You gape at her, completely stunned.
The two ginger cats, which had once been very small, suddenly inflated to the size of tigers.
They surrounded you, blocking any potential escape routes. Lena gently caressed the one on her right.
Before you can utter a sound, she hissed, "Now, I fulfill my promise to you, on behalf of my Boss." She snapped her fingers, and one of the monsters leaped.
You do your best to scramble away, but then the other one was behind you. Too late—it ripped into your flesh. White hot pain surged up your arm, stabbing into your skin like a knife. It felt as though your entire shoulder was on fire, and god, it was going to melt off! Someone was screaming like the devil. Suddenly, you're lying on the ground, with your cheek pressed against the cold floor. You peer into the face of the demon, cursing, and see her give you a savage grin.
"W—why?" you gasp out. Legs advanced towards you. Black spots appeared at the edge of your gaze, and the world was tilting.
"Weren't you listening? I'm simply fulfilling our deal." The footsteps were getting closer now. Your entire side was numb. "I believe I promised to free you from future torment." You gasp in pain and anger. "I know you think this is unfair. But trust me, I am saving you—from my Boss's wrath. Whatever suffering you feel now, whatever you believe is pain, it is nothing compared to what he can do. He hates it when anyone tries to cheat him, not to mention humans. Oh, and don't fret about your children, we intend to let them go after they've served their time."
Lena crouched down to face you. "Your fate was sealed when you ran away, foolish prey."
You wanted to scream, but you couldn't move. As you looked deep into those terrible, swirling eyes, you started to see shifting forms—cries of excruciating agony, entire civilizations burning down, and black charred skin melting off of stark white bones.
Someone was laughing madly in the distance. Then you realize it was you, so you laugh some more. You hear another snap in the air.
The last thing you see is a flash of yellow fangs, a gaping dark mouth, and then nothing.