Chapter One: The Bargain
"Make your decision, Clara. This offer expires in ten seconds. Tick tock."
The man -if he was a man- in front of Clara neither smiled nor frowned. He seemed almost nonchalant, as if her answer didn't matter much. As if her life, her soul, didn't depend on her answer. She trembled, trying to trace back to the beginning, to see where it had all gone wrong. Even though she knew it was pointless, she couldn't help herself from desperately seeking that moment where her life had veered so far off course.
She knew exactly when it had happened, of course. It was the moment her life had ended.
Clara couldn't remember how she'd died. She assumed it was an accident. Her last memory was leaving work, knowing she needed to hurry home and get ready for her date that night. When she woke up, she'd been in a black room. Not just dark, but black, pitch black. It was hot - stifling - and a mild smell of sulfur lingered in the air. She hadn't felt fear at first. Not until he walked in. He hadn't come through a door but simply appeared, as if he'd materialized out of the darkness. Then, the fear came. It turned her blood to ice. Before she could run, demand he tell her who he was and what was going on, the knowledge flooded her.
It was as if she'd known all along, but it had been repressed. And then the dam broke and she knew she was dead. And she knew, unequivocally, that the man in front of her was the devil. Hell and damnation, fire and sulfur, the true devil.
He was nothing like she might have imagined. Not red skinned with a pitchfork and horns. He looked close to six and a half feet tall, broad shouldered and narrow hipped. He wore a black suit with a blood red tie. His dark hair was neatly combed and the nails on his hands were carefully manicured. His irises were so dark a black that they seemed to hypnotize her. Under any other circumstances, Clara would have thought him handsome. He had looked powerful, both physically and mentally. And he'd appeared perfectly calm.
"May I assume you are now aware of why you are here, Clara?" His voice had been deep but velvety smooth. Formal and lightly accented. A voice that could melt chocolate or cut bone depending on the tone.
"Is this hell?" It was the only question she really wanted to have answered. She'd never believed in heaven or hell during her life, but the existence of the man before her now had her wondering what she'd done to deserve damnation.
"Not exactly. This is...a waiting room, of sorts."
"What am I waiting for?"
"Me, of course." He smirked a little, confident and amused.
"What do you want with me?" Fear made her voice tremble. Uncertainty clenched her stomach and drew sweat to her brow.
"I want to make you an offer, Clara. One I've never made to another mortal soul." He walked towards her slowly, methodically. Clara stood frozen as he approached her. He circled slowly, looking at her from all angles. Somehow, it seemed as if he was seeing all the way inside of her. She still wore the black dress she'd worn to work. Her shoes were perhaps a bit too high heeled for work, her makeup perhaps a bit too heavy, but that morning it hadn't seemed important. Now, with the devil looking her over as if she was a delicacy he might enjoy with a glass of wine, those things made her feel dirty. "You see, you have something I've been looking for. Something I've searched a long time to find. Centuries." He was right behind her, his breath caressing her cheek. "Millennia," he whispered. "All waiting for that special thing inside of you."
"What?" she finally forced herself to ask. What could she possibly have that he wanted?
"A harlot's soul."
"What?" This time, confusion and denial pushed the word from her lips.
"You have a harlot's soul, Clara. I can see it within you as clearly as you see my face. I know your desires. The secret longings you've never dared share with anyone. I know the dirty things that make your cunt wet." The coarse words spoke in his rumbling voice made her shiver. A new fear sparked within her. Because he was right. She'd always had dark desires.
"What do you want with me?" She searched his eyes as he walked around to face her again. He spread his hands in an encompassing gesture.
"M-my soul?" Clara stumbled back in fear, but there was nowhere to run. The blackness stretched endlessly on. There was no escape.
"Relax, little one. Technically your soul is already mine. You belong here with me; you always have. But hell might not be quite as much fun as what I have to offer you."
"What do you mean?"
"I want your compliance. You see, if you simply enter hell, you face eternity of damnation. My power is almost absolute, Clara, but there is one thing I cannot do. I cannot take you for my own. Not unless you come to me willingly."
"Why should I do that?" Her tone was defiant and filled with more courage than she felt.
His black eyes snapped fire, but his voice was smooth when he spoke. "Does an eternity of torment appeal to you, Clara?" When she slowly shook her head, he continued. "Do you want to spend the infinity of years until the end of time at the hands of my demons?"
"No," she finally whispered.
"Then I propose a deal." He let the words sink in. As if to emphasize his point, a chorus of screams echoed through the darkness. Clara shivered, waiting for him to continue. "I want you to come to me of your own free will. I want to indulge in that harlot's soul of yours. Together we will experience every sinful pleasure known to man. I want you to be totally at my mercy, a willing slave to my lusts. You will do anything and everything I wish."
Despite everything, Clara felt herself getting wet. His voice alone was enough to drive pleasure through her, but his words were sinfully sensual. What he was proposing was in itself one of her secret desires. To be owned by another, totally dominated. To have no control over what was done to her body. But fear coiled in her belly, cooling the desire. Her fantasies were dark and twisted, but she had no desire to be truly tortured. This man was the devil. Surely the pleasures he would extract from her body would be more gruesome than anything she'd ever contemplated.
As if he could hear her thoughts, he spoke again.
"There will be pain, Clara, but only in such ways that will increase pleasure. I want to hurt you," his hand wrapped around her throat, his gaze sharp, "but I also want to please you." His thumb stroked up and down the column of her throat. "And at the end of it, I will set you free, if you wish. I cannot grant you entrance to heaven, but I can return you to earth. I can give you your life back if you so choose."
Clara's mind raced. No matter what he did to her, no matter how terrible, wasn't it better than an eternity in hell? Wasn't a finite amount of pain better than infinite torment? But surely the devil could extract much more pain from her than one of his servants could...
"How long?" she finally asked.
He considered, clasping his hands behind his back and pacing a few steps. "One night for each of the cardinal taboos. Twelve nights in all."
"What do you consider the cardinal taboos?"
"Does it matter?" he countered. She took a deep breath, and realized it didn't. Twelve nights with the devil or eternity in hell. Her pulse raced, her heart beating hard and fast.
"Make your decision, Clara. This offer expires in ten seconds. Tick tock."
It all came crashing down on her, the enormity of this, the peril she was in. She couldn't be sure any answer was the right one, but she knew she had to take the risk. "Yes!" She felt as if her heart might explode from her chest. Fear and anticipation, doubt and uncertainty nearly stole her breath.
"Yes," she repeated, this time accepting the word. Accepting what she'd just agreed to. Twelve nights with the devil. He smiled at her widely, showing straight white teeth. It was somehow animalistic. Devilish, she realized with no small sense of irony.
"Good," he purred. He stepped near her, so close she could feel the heat of his body against her. He was hotter than any mortal should be, as if there was fire burning beneath his skin.
"What do I call you?" The question left her lips before she could think better of it.
He considered her slowly. "Before we are done, you'll call me many things, Clara. But a name....." He tapped his lips, then smiled. "Damien. You may call me Damien."
"When do we get started, Damien?"
"Now." He smiled and grabbed her hand.