A/N: Fairly old story idea, but every time I go back to it, it amuses me, so I figured I'd post and see what kind of a reception it receives. If inspired enough, maybe I can get back on the bandwagon for it and crank out a full-fledged story (probably/hopefully a short story, not a novel, since I'd rather not get caught up in another novel-length work at the moment). Anyway, hope you enjoy. :]

Chapter One:

Twelve Pure Souls and a Virgin Sacrifice

Several dozen feet under a rusty metal sign sporting "The Lame Unicorn" in large, barely legible red letters, a living creature perished at the hands of a demon—or, more specifically, under his fly-swatter. Vesset Saxlael Ruzamhrin, a fifth generation lesser demon of the Archon realm, took all of half a second to observe the pulpy remains of his victim. Then, grimacing distastefully, he tossed the swatter aside and returned to a semi-fetal-position on his bed, burrowed thickly beneath a heaping mound composed of some unidentifiable combination of dingy sheets, musty comforters, and unwashed clothes—perhaps with the occasional concealed blade, firearm, or electronic gadget folded in. The fly had disturbed his peace for the last time.

Unfortunately, it seemed peace was not in the cards.

Mere moments after the fly met its untimely death, a gentle rat-a-tat sounded at his door, accompanied by a sing-song call of, "Charlie…" in a whimsy voice all too familiar to the holed-up demon, and Vesset groaned.

'No, I'm not here, you crazy old bat,' he thought with grit teeth, stubbornly yanking the pillowcase as tightly over his head as he could manage. 'Even if I were, I still wouldn't have your rent money…and for the three hundred and sixty forth time, my name is not Charlie!'

"I know you're in there, Charlie," his landlady cooed, reminding Vesset of an off-key songbird. "You can't hide from me forever, you know. Won't you come out? I just want a little favor…"

Scowling into the darkness, Vesset allowed himself three more seconds, then heaved a sigh and shoved back pillow and covers simultaneously, focusing his glare on the door instead.

"What do you want?" he growled.

"Oh, see, I knew you'd come around," came the tinkling giggle from outside. "But then, what sort of gentleman would you be if you left an old lady standing, hm?" she persisted. "You must at least answer the door…"

"Oh, for-"

"Language, Charlie…"

She knew him too well.

Spitting half-hearted curses beneath his breath, Vesset spent the next few moments scrambling blindly through his barely-lit room, most of it either comparable to or in an even more heightened state of disrepair than his bed. Then, after begrudgingly dragging on the first pair of pants his hands located, he stumbled to the door, temporarily giving up on any additional attire for the time being. It creaked loudly as it opened.

"Alright," he grunted, "I'm here, awake, and answering the door…how may I be of service?"

His landlady, an aging woman well into her sixties, barely reached his waist in height—short, even for a human. She kept her bone-white hair severely tamed, always pulled tightly back from her face in a way that exaggerated the effects of a long, pointed nose, and sharp, keen eyes, and never sported more than an ounce of spare body fat. Today, several layers of multi-colored shawls lent her the air of a twiggy peacock. He never called her Bird Woman to her face.

"You haven't paid your rent this month, Charlie," she informed him solemnly, beginning their morning ritual, and Vesset snorted, shifting his weight to one shoulder against the doorframe and shrugging casually.

"Yeah, well, I've told you I don't have it," he said, "and that hasn't changed since yesterday. Can we talk about something else?"

"You didn't pay last month either…or the month before," she added. "You're racking up quite a sum, you know. If you keep this up, you just might run me into the ground, and then how ever will I feed myself?"

Vesset wondered how much birdseed could possibly cost, but kept the thought to himself. "I'll get it to you," he promised instead. "Just…not today…or tomorrow…or…" He frowned. "Look, I'm just not in the mood to go back through this right now, so if there's nothing else-"

"Can you give me an estimate? It's just so awful to be kept guessing," she said, and Vesset sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as if to banish a headache.

"When I bring twelve pure souls and a virgin sacrifice before the altar of Satan, alright, Margret? The devil pays great, I just always have trouble getting past my conscience to get the job done, so it takes a while."

The woman blinked, expression curious, puzzled, and—concerned? She opened her mouth, took a moment, then apparently changed her mind and shut it again. Eventually, Vesset shook his head.

"I was kidding, Margret, really," he said. Unfortunately, she didn't look entirely convinced. "Look-"

"Here," she pulled strictly folded scrap of paper from somewhere and held it out, "I trust you'll find everything in that small corner store. It's not far, even if you walk, and you can think of it as a partial repayment."

More than mildly puzzled, Vesset accepted the folded sheet. After working it open, however, his confusion only heightened. "Is this…a shopping list?" he asked, squinting to make out the tiny, crinkled handwriting.

"I'd suggest a shirt first, and perhaps a shower…with soap," said Margret, adding the cleaning agent almost as an afterthought, but not without emphasis. "Wouldn't want to make a poor first impression, now would you?"

Vesset scratched his side dully, then glanced down, frowning at his shirtless state, as if noticing it for the first time. "A first impression on who?" he asked, picking off a candy wrapper stuck to his pant leg.

"He's a very nice boy, though I would have expected…well…no matter, I suppose," she said, obviously mumbling more to herself now than anyone else. "Far too late for me, in any case…though you do look ever so fetching with your shirt off…"

"Uh…I'm not sure-"

"Oh, don't mind me, dear," she said, cutting him off and waving her hand dismissively. "Just the ramblings of an old lady…I would get on with that shower, though. If you don't hurry, you might miss him, and that would be a shame."

Vesset frowned. "Miss who?" he insisted, torn between the confusing list and his even more senile landlady, "…and why do you need whipped cream and cherry-"

"Those are for you, of course," she interrupted impatiently, as if it were obvious. "Now no more questions!" she urged, shooing him back. "Change, clean, and dress…and don't forget an umbrella!"

"An um—? But why would I…?" Vesset shook his head. "You know what…never mind," he relented, retreated a step into his room. "It's alright. I'll just…yeah. I'll be back, okay?" Then, sighing, he muttered more quietly, "Sometimes…I wonder why you don't just make things simple and kick me out…"

Apparently, she heard him anyway, and raised an eyebrow. "And why on earth would I do a crazy thing like that? You're going to save my life one day, Charlie."

"Vincent, Margret, my name is-" But she had already left. Rolling his eyes, Vesset shut his door.

He'd given up long ago on trying to make sense of the old woman. Aside from being a childless widow—a spinster, even, as far as he knew—and raising over twenty-some-odd animals—only two of which were cats—Margret was also a self-proclaimed prophet. He had yet to witness anything to support this claim, but never second-guessed her on it. If she could make up the rent he failed to pay by selling people their fortunes, what did it matter? She certainly looked the part, and if her honestly believing he would one day save her life earned him free room and board, he wasn't about to complain.

So, thirty minutes later, Vesset Saxlael Ruzamhrin, a fifth generation lesser demon of the Archon realm, stood just in front of a large, rusty metal sign sporting the words "The Lame Unicorn" in barely legible red letters, shaking shower water out of his ear and frowning at the sunniest summer sky he'd seen in his life.

"An umbrella, she says," he muttered to no one in particular, "of course." At least the walk wasn't that far.

Maxine's Marvelous Mini Mart sold everything from whipped cream and cherries to bread, toilet paper, and fuzzy handcuffs. One look at its customers reflected that variety.

That said, Vesset, almost seven feet tall, with barely concealed weapons dangling from almost every one of the numerous belts strapped to his tattered charcoal jeans and blood red fire stripes—"tattoos"—climbing like wild vines up his forearms and biceps and down either side of his spine, didn't so much as raise a whisper when he entered. The rainbow umbrella at his side, however, did look slightly ridiculous. He did his best to conceal it.

With only a wife-beater, jeans, and a small armory at his waist, the attempt was largely futile, so eventually, he tucked it under the cat food, bird seed, dog chow, chameleon snacks, gerbil bedding, turtle food, and raspberry preserves in his grocery basket, though the grocery basket itself did, in a way, belittle the effects of trying not to look ridiculous. Needless to say, he was grateful to make it to the counter.

Unfortunately, it seemed a quick get-away, much like peace earlier that morning, was not in the cards.

"No, Bobby! Alright? For the last time no! Can't you see I have customers? I'm on duty, and if you keep this up, you'll get me fired, understand? I'm not interested. So…go bug someone else for a change…jump off a cliff or something."

"But Maxine…"

"Not now!"

Apparently, Maxine herself was running the cash register, but having some difficulties with a persistent customer. Personally, Vesset had no idea what the boy saw in her—existent, but nearly flat breasts, boyishly short muddy brown hair dyed hot pink at the tips, and punctured with more studs and hoops than he could count from a distance. Not to mention, her pursuer looked wealthy, his hair slicked and neat and attire professional. But, a match made in heaven or not, the hold up quickly tested his patience, and, about half a minute in, Vesset gave up, every bit intent on intervening.

Except things didn't go according plan.

He stepped up, pushing "Bobby" aside with no trouble, and opened his mouth to voice his complaints—but never got that far. Almost the instant he took Bobby's place at the counter, something struck him, and for several seconds, he just stood there, more stunned than anything else. It took him several moments to diagnose he'd been shot, and, from the looks of things, by an arrow no less.

Utterly perplexed, he stared at the puncture wound as he staggered back, still more puzzled than hurt as his eyes traveled the length of the long, silvery smooth rod, from its oddly heart-shaped tip to the delicate crimson feathers at the tail. Then, a warm, numbing sensation began to spread, but his hands felt too clumsy to pull it from his chest. Vesset's last thoughts on collapsing to the floor of Maxine's Marvelous Mini Mart were some muddled combination of, 'Margret better be damn grateful if I ever get this cat food to her,' and 'Is it just me, or does Maxine look a hell of a lot more fuckable than she did ten seconds ago?'

A/N: This will be slash, I promise. We'll meet our inauspicious little archer (eventual subject of Vesset's romantic interest) next chapter.