Dodd needed a change. She may have been a fire imp, but that didn’t mean she had to stay in reeking, flaming Hellfloes forever. And while she’d had a pretty cushy job for the past century pushing the eternal wooden torture wheel of Blazer Cerberus, alongside the other fire imps and the damned mortal souls, it was high time she took on something more...adventurous.
Which brought her from the underworld to Gaia, with nothing to her name—not even a return ticket.
Now, to some, the village of Red Ochre was the least likely place for a demon to find legitimate adventure. By all appearances they’d be right. Dodd hid in the shadow of a village hut, watching the people move. They were shiftless...bent over...ragged. No matter the age. No chance of any one of them knowing more than two spells to rub together.
Even Dodd, as tiny and weak as she was, could certainly have beaten a crowd of them in a fight. As a fire imp—the lowest order of fire demons—she specialized in one kind of magic and didn’t even do it particularly well. That was more than what fifty percent of mortals could say. She barely came up past a man’s shins, but she could burn him to ash at a touch.
The sight of so many weak and sorry people didn’t depress Dodd. It excited her. If this shiftlessness wasn’t the result of a great demon’s spell, it had to at least be their reaction to the pressure, day in and day out, of life underneath a demon’s boot heel.
There had to be a demon lord hard at work.
She scurried from shadow to shadow, hut to hut, until she spotted the place she’d heard about. The door had a slight diagonal nick on one corner. It was a sign only Dodd, and the other hired help, knew to look for. The mark of this village’s demon lord.
When the dirt-and-mud road was clear, Dodd darted across it, eased the unlocked door open, and went in.
On the outside, the hut was a shabby one-room place made of mud, hay, smoke, and kerosene. On the inside, though, it was a three-story thirty-room aristocratic dream. Twin staircases, covered in crimson carpets, curved up from the entrance. A black chandelier, lit, blazed white-orange. All around, rich tapestries told stories of grand achievements—the fall of mortal castles beneath demon might.
This was Nightfall Castle, home of red fire, black shadow, and a touch of lightning and light. Dodd looked around wide-eyed. Like most demon castles, it was crafted to evoke the soul of its master...and Dodd wasn’t sure what to think. Like she’d been hit by a wave. This was nothing like the endless magma-skied expanse of her former employer. In short, it was nothing like Hellfloes, the only world she’d ever known.
A snap-bang explosion of grey dust and white sparks burst in front of Dodd. She flinched, hiding her face (after all, she wasn’t the bravest of imps). And then the lord of the castle themself stepped out, smoke trailing from their shoulders.
Actually, Dodd didn’t know a thing about them. She had come to this job on a tip from a friend of a friend. As she’d learned from the charming and handsome co-worker who turned the torturewheel spoke in front of hers, the master of Nightfall Castle was a shapeshifter and a master of shadow magic. If the little explosion show was anything to go by, they also weren’t shabby with pyrotechnics.
The lord of Nightfall had dressed in a fine suit, black with accents of gold and red. The swirls curling down the arms suggested smoke, illusion, and the slither of a snake. Their hair was night-black, wavy, and had a hint of just-got-out-of-a-steamy-shower luster. Their eyes were small, black, and fierce. Though there were touches of femininity in their style—long eyelashes, hair loose and down to the waist—Dodd pegged them as a man when they began to speak:
“Welcome to Nightfall Castle, my pet.”
Pudgy little Dodd kneeled. “My lord,” she said, her head bent down with perfectly respectful poise.
Dodd remained kneeling for several seconds.
“...............Okay, you can get up now.”
She got up.
“Look...” said the demon lord.
Just like that—with one too-curt, too-casual word—the entire dignified appearance that the lord of Nightfall had maintained until then...was gone. Dodd stared at him, stunned.
“Look, I’m not gonna take you on a grand tour or anything,” he continued. “It’s only the first fucking day. Not like you’re gonna run or anything, you’re on contract.”
“My lord?” said Dodd.
Dodd’s eye twitched.
What kind of conversation was this? What kind of impudence—no, mutual impudence? What lord would allow their imp to talk back this way, with nothing more than a “yeah what?”
Dodd steeled herself. “I-I am starting to fear,” she said, her voice quivering, “that this job might not be legitimate.”
Lord Nightfall’s eyes bored into her. She felt them searching her body and soul. She wondered if this demon lord had powers beyond what others had told her—if he might have been a mind-reader too. And she feared her termination. Or, worse, her death.
But instead, he boomed with laughter, showing every one of his dagger-sharp teeth.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. You’ll have fun here.”
“F-f...fun?” Dodd stammered.
Dodd didn’t know what her master was getting at. Now she expected—really she was hoping for—a new and creative form of torture.
“Well, there is one thing I have to get out of the way. Come on, I’ll show you the snacks,” said Lord Nightfall. “I just perfected my pizza popper recipe, it’s glorious.”
Dodd watched as her master walked, without a care in the world, into the kitchen. She stayed frozen for a very long moment. She almost couldn’t follow.
Was she hired not as a servant, not as a soldier...but as a friend?
Then maybe “creative torture” wasn’t far off.