Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Office Complex


Gus led me down the hall, back through the waiting room in which I'd arrived, an into a confusing labyrinth of narrow, featureless corridors.  I caught myself thinking that this was the office building from hell...before I realized that it was an office building in Hell.

We wandered through hallways, down staircases, and all over the complicated structure.  Gus seemed to know the way, though, and he kept us moving at a brisk pace.

"So once I start working with Gavsot," I asked him, my breath short, "I'll be able to start taking control of things around here?"

"With a little luck," he said.  "With Vilnius under your control and Gavsot watching your back, you've got a snowball's chance of accomplishing something."

"That's a relief," I puffed.  "Because it seems like all I've been doing since I got here is defending my right to rule instead of doing any actual ruling."

"Fighting to maintain your authority is kind of half the job," Gus admitted.  "It's a pretty tenuous system we have down here, prone to mutinies, rebellions and usurpations of all kinds and from all sources."

"I guess I assumed that the devil was the supreme ruler and by virtue of being the devil he has power over everyone down here," I said.  If I hadn't already felt overwhelmed, I definitely felt it now.

Gus turned back to flash me a brief smile.  "Welcome to Hell," he said.  "Where everything's made up and the points don't matter."

I chuckled.  "It's interesting how, when you're alive, you focus on the basics of the afterlife--where's good, where's bad, and where you want to end up when you die.  But there's a lot more detail and complexity to this than I'd ever considered."

"That's how most things are," Gus replied.  "The theory is clean and polished, but the execution is usually an ugly, complicated mess.  I've heard Heaven isn't a whole lot better organized." 

He led me down one last flight of stairs.  At the bottom was a massive, almost entirely rusted metal door that looked like it could be about as thick as I was tall.

"We're here," he announced.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Enforcement


I sent Vilnius away, back to his duties as Director of the Department of Development.  He was clearly not happy to go, but he didn't have a choice.

I looked over at Gus as soon as the door closed.  "That," I said proudly, "Is the first time I went up against a demon and won."  He smiled back and slowly lifted his fist for a bump.  I obliged.

"So what next?" I asked.

"I think it's time to visit the Department of Enforcement," Gus said.  "With your permission, of course, as always," he added.

"Enforcement?  What do they do?" I asked.

"Part National Guard, part Secret Police," he explained.  "Usually they deal with humans trying to escape--which you can imagine happens a lot.  Despite all the warm weather down here, everybody's itching to leave."

"What about when they're not stopping escapees?" I asked.

"In the past, they've been used against demons as the Devil's private army, but they aren't always effective against demons."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because they're demons, and they're only a small percentage of all the demons down here.  Using them to attack hellspawn is like using the 101st Airborne to declare war on the US Army.  Sure, they're badasses, but they'd be going up against a huge number of their brothers who are almost as badass as they are."

I laughed.  "It still sounds like they could be useful.  Is their director sympathetic to a new devil?"

He smiled.  "Just keep giving him heads to bust, and General Gavsot will be as sympathetic to you as you need him to be."

I motioned toward the door.  "Then let's go," I said.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Vilnius Returns


My battered office door slammed open.  Vilnius stood in the doorway.  "Lucy," he called in a surprisingly accurate Desi Arnaz voice, "I'm home!"

Gus, seated behind my desk, stood up abruptly.  "He's not here," he informed the demon.

Vilnius' eyes smoldered.  "What?"

"He's visiting another demon," Gus said.  "He wanted me to let you know that he's decided to decline your offer."

"That stupid fuck," Vilnius growled.  In a flash, he'd crossed the room, bodily hauled Gus from his feet and pinned him against the wall.  "Where the fuck did that little prick run off to?  Who is he seeing?  Is it Kivra?  Who?"

I'd been hiding under the desk with a knife and a small bowl containing all of the components of the spell except one--the blood of my target.  I crept out, drew the knife, and slashed deep into the flesh of Vilnius' neck.  Blood spurted, and I managed to catch some of it in the bowl. 

Vilnius shouted in pain and rage.  He dropped Gus and clapped his hand to his bleeding neck.  He whirled, his other hand shooting out to catch his attacker.  I ducked, dodged around the desk, and quickly drank the revolting contents of the bowl.

Vilnius charged me.  I tossed the bowl aside and said, "Stop."

He stopped immediately.

His chest heaving with exertion and an unhealthy amount of anger, he looked down at his immobile feet and glared up at me.  "You devious little bastard," he muttered.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Trick


"So what's the trick?" I asked.

"Well," Gus explained.  "Vilnius craves control.  He's a micromanaging, macro-managing, everything-managing pscyho nazi nutjob.  We can send him and everyone else a message if we take control over the one that's most obsessed with control."

I narrowed my eyes.  "Yeah, that'd be cool, but how's that possible?"

"I know a spell," Gus said, a smirk of pride sneaking across his face.  "I got a look at something your predecessor used once to keep one of his underlings in line.  It's a spell that forces the demon under it to obey your orders."

"Whoa," I replied.  I was impressed.  "That could be pretty useful.  So he just...cast this spell and the demon did his bitchwork for the rest of forever?"

Gus's eyes shifted hesitantly.  "Well, for a little while.  Until, of course, the demon found a way to break the spell.  And then he got a few friends together and ambushed your predecessor.  And ultimately, your predecessor wound up killing the demon and throwing his friends in a hole somewhere down on what we colloquially refer to as the Ninth Circle.  But it worked for about fifteen years, so this could definitely buy you some time."

That was not a story that inspired confidence.  But what other option did I have?  Try to take on Vilnius in a one-on-one superpower fight?  That seemed to promise a much lower likelihood of success. 

"Well, no plan is ever perfect," I sighed.  "What do we do?"

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Consequences


Vilnius left.

I turned to Gus, who was still tugging at my sleeve.  "What?!" I snapped.

"You gotta fight him off, boss-man," he said.  "You can't take that deal, no matter how good it sounds."  He was practically begging.

"Okay...why?"

"First of all," he explained, "he's probably lying.  I've never heard of a door to Heaven straight from Hell.  You'd have to go through the real world first, I'm almost sure of it.  Second, you can't just sneak into Heaven.  There's a lot of security and there's a proper process for getting into it.  If you were supposed to go here, they'll know about it. They're not stupid enough to just assume that since you made it to the pearly gates you must belong there."

I sensed he had another reason.  "And third?"

"Third...Vilnius and I have had...words...in the past.  If he becomes Devil, the first thing he's going to do is free me of my subservience, and the second thing he's going to do is throw me into the deepest pit and give me the worst torture Kivra can think of.  And he'll leave me there literally forever.  There are plenty of demons I would not like to work for, but Vilnius has a grudge against me and he easily makes the top of that list." He heaved a huge sigh.  I guess it took a lot of breath to get all that out.

"Okay," I said, shrugging.  "So when he comes back, I tell him to shove it, I pin him against the wall with a desk or something, and we run for it.  That sounds like fun," I added sourly.  I was getting kind of sick of being helpless all the time.

Gus cleared his throat.  "I have another idea," he said.  "And this involves a trick you might get a kick out of."

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Deal


"So," I grunted, struggling to breathe despite the pressure on my windpipe.  "You want to take over too?  Big surprise."

He released me suddenly, pulled me to my feet, smoothed the fabric of my shirt briefly, and looked me solemnly in the eye.  "I am prepared to offer you a deal," he said.

"A deal?" I echoed, rubbing my throat.  "A second ago you were choking me to death."

"Yes, well, that's all rather ugly," he said dismissively.  "There are other ways I prefer to do business."

"So what's this deal?" I asked carefully.

"Don't--make--a deal!" Gus hissed quietly.

"I know a way out of here," Vilnius said.  "And I don't mean a door to the world of the living, I mean a door...upstairs."  He pointed upward with one finger as though a visual aid were necessary for me to properly understand. 

"Upstairs?" I repeated. 

"A door to Heaven," he clarified.  "If you willingly submit to the blood spell and allow me to assume control of Hell, I will provide you with one of my aides to personally escort you to and through that door."  He spread his arms wide.  "Consider it--you'd be free of the headaches and constant fighting of being in charge of the roughest prison in the universe, free of the tortures and agonies of being a prisoner, and reunited with your grandparents or whatever in eternal happiness in Heaven."

"That does sound pretty good," I admitted.  Gus was urgently tugging on my arm.  "Uh, can I have a moment to...uh, confer...with...my aide?"

"You have one hour," Vilnius said sternly.  "After that, you either accept my offer, or I fucking destroy you on a molecular level, you uppity piece of human shit."  He smiled wanly.  "Choose carefully.  I'll see you in an hour."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A New Guest


The fist pulled back through the door, leaving a jagged opening.  A mustard-brown demon's face peeked through it.

"Is it too predictable if I say 'Here's Johnny?'" he asked languidly.  Then he reached in through the opening, unlocked the door from the inside, and swung it open.

Gus and I stood next to each other, cautiously watching his casual approach.  "Um...we're not friends with this guy, right?" I stage whispered from the corner of my mouth.

"With Vilnius?" Gus whispered back.  "Definitely not."

"Should I set him on fire or something?" I asked.

"You can try," Gus said.  "But if you're gonna try anything, you sure as hell better try it fast."

So I used the newfound powers of my mind and the air around the demon erupted with flames.  He stopped.  After a moment, the fireball dissipated, leaving him glaring at me with his head hung, as though he were simply disappointed in me.

"A fireball for a greeting?" he said.  "How childish.  What if I were only here for friendly introductions?"

I shrugged guiltily.  "I figure it's probably a safe bet around here to assume you're not interested in being friendly," I said.

"Well," he replied, pretending to brush himself off, "the good news is that there's no harm done.  I'm from Hell, sweetheart, you'll need to do a little more than light a fire to piss me off."  He smiled.  "But the bad news is that I was already pissed off."

With supernatural speed, he rushed me, pushed me back, and forced me down across the top of the desk, his hand at my throat.  "Because I heard we had some new clown running the show down here when someone a little more deserving should be at the helm."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Preparation


I had to prepare.

Okay. 

I'll just learn to use the Force real quick.  Like that wouldn't be difficult.

"So what," I asked sarcastically.  "I'm just supposed to think about what I want and make it a reality with my mind--holy shit."  I'd just set the wooden chair on fire.  I hadn't even touched it.  I turned to Gus.  "Is it supposed to be that easy?"

He shrugged.  "As far as I know, making that stuff happen isn't the hard part.  It's the control that's more difficult.  Try moving something instead of just setting it on fire," he suggested.

I focused my mind on lifting the burning chair off the ground, and with ease, the flaming mess rose from the floor.  It wobbled sloppily and seemed to be rotating slowly.

"Case in point," Gus commented.  "You can set that chair on fire easily, and you can even move it around in the air.  But if you run into Azraal again, he can set every surface of this room on fire, break that chair down into a thousand razor-sharp splinters and send each of those pieces to pierce a different part of your body with a snap of his fingers."  He paused.  "Actually, he doesn't even need to snap his fingers to do that."

That sounded bad.  "How am I supposed to defend against that?!"  I asked.  I sounded panicky, but I couldn't help it.

He shrugged again.  "The good news is that it's really, really difficult to kill you," he said.  "As far as I know, there are only some rumors on how to kill a devil.  Nobody actually knows how to do it.  But they do know how to work the spell to usurp your throne, which will leave you powerless and...kill-able."

I tried to move the flaming chair in a figure-eight pattern as I held it hovering a few inches above the carpet.  "So I don't have to fear death, I have to fear being stripped of my throne?  I don't even want my throne!"

"Would you rather be some normal person getting his entrails ripped out eighteen times an hour every day?" Gus said.  "Unless you're into that sort of thing, in which case I'd sure they'd make arrangements for something else you'd hate."

I was going to answer him, but just then a fist burst through the door.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Position of Vulnerability


I hadn't known Gus long, but his tone of voice was serious enough to seem out of character.  "Why is this not a good thing?" I asked.  "She saved my neck!"

"That part is a good thing, sure," he said.  "But owing Kivra a favor is definitely a bad thing."

"Why is that--" I began.

"With your permission, boss-man," he interrupted urgently, gripping me tightly by the forearm, "you need to learn some mojo fast.  We should go back to your office."

"Uh...okay," I said.  No sooner had I timidly voiced my assent than he yanked me off down the hallway toward the office. 

The door that Kivra had broken had apparently been repaired and replaced.  After entering the office, I realized the chair that I'd broken had also been repaired and replaced.  The office looked completely normal and free of any supernatural dramatics. 

Gus closed the door behind us.  "Do you remember that little blood spell thing your predecessor worked on you?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, still disoriented from Gus' sudden take-charge demeanor.

With an earnest expression, he explained.  "That spell gave you access to all the abilities he had.  Telekinesis, pyrokinesis, some level of telepathy, strength, regeneration...basically you have the resources to be the biggest badass in Hell.  Hell is already full of badasses, so that's saying something."

"So I can set this chair on fire with my mind?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.  "And you can take on any number of powerful demons with similar abilities.  Because you're the Devil, you're number one.  But until you learn to use all that crap that your predecessor dumped on you, you're extremely vulnerable.  And your position as King of Hell is a very desirable one.  Do you follow what I'm telling you?"

"I'm in charge, but I'm weak," I summarized, "So anybody who wants power has a window of opportunity to take over by getting rid of me before I become too strong for them to take on?"

"Exactly," Gus whispered fearfully.  "I can think of about two hundred demons who'd love to take your job, maybe a hundred with the balls to try a coup, and a couple dozen with the skills to pull it off like it was nothing."  He gripped me tightly by the shoulders.  "Demonkind is gunning for you right now.  You gotta prepare."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Phone Privileges


Gus’s eyes widened when I reappeared in the hallway in front of him.  “Whoa, that was fast,” he said.  “You were only gone a minute.  How’d you get away?”

“No thanks to you,” I said sharply.  “What were you doing, standing here until I came back?”

He shrugged.  “Pretty much, yeah.  There wasn’t a hell of a lot else I could do.”

“You could have called me, tried to figure out where I was,” I suggested.  I don’t know why I was so angry at him when it didn’t appear that he had anything to do with my brief kidnapping.

“I don’t have a phone,” he said sheepishly.  “Your predecessor didn’t give me one.”

“He didn’t give his chief of staff a phone?”

“To be more accurate, he revoked my phone privileges because I kept sexting this cute little blue demon who worked in the Development Department,” Gus admitted.

“Sexting,” I said incredulously.  “In…Hell?”

He shrugged.  “I’ve been dead a long time,” he said simply.  “I don’t get laid much.”

I blinked.  “Okay.  Your phone privileges are reinstated.  I need to be able to call my sidekick if I get into more trouble.”

Gus grinned.  “You didn’t tell me how you got away,” he said.

“Kivra showed up,” I said.  “She made some kind of a threat against this Azraal guy and they had a little staring contest before he gave up and left.”

“Kivra saved you?”

“Yeah, I was pretty surprised,” I admitted.  “Didn’t see that coming.”

Gus shook his head.  “This,” he stated gravely, “Is not a good thing.”

Squaring Off


“Kivra,” Azraal said breathlessly.  “What are you doing here?”

“I’m telling you to let him go,” she snarled.

Azraal released me and stepped toward her, towering over her by a good twelve inches.  “Why?” he hissed.

She glared up at him, nostrils flaring, eyes blazing.  “Doesn’t matter why.  Just fucking let him go,” she repeated.

“Or what?” Azraal growled.

She narrowed her eyes but said nothing.  The two of them stood there for a good thirty seconds, staring each other down in intense silence. 

“You don’t have the strength,” Azraal finally said.  “You can’t take me and expect to win.”

“You don’t have the balls,” she returned.  “You can probably take me, but you’re not confident enough to pick a fight.”

“Maybe I don’t have to,” he replied coolly.  “You can’t protect him forever.”  And then he was gone.

I stared at Kivra uncertainly, trying desperately to resist the urge to look at her chest.

“You need to learn some tricks,” she said sharply, stepping toward me.  She appeared frustrated.  “Better study up.  I don’t want this saving-your-ass bullshit to become a regular thing.”  She reached her hand out.  I flinched, but she clamped her fingers firmly on my shoulder. 

She rolled her eyes.  “You’re welcome, you pussy,” she said disdainfully.  And then I was standing in the hallway outside Winston’s office.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Usurper


I dug into my pocket for my phone.  I flipped it open, hoping to find Gus’ number.  The demon quickly swatted my hand, but he did it with an air of laziness, like knocking the phone from my grasp was an action less exerting than breathing.  The phone landed noisily on the other side of the small cave. 

The demon laughed, his threatening baritone echoing oddly off the stone walls.  “Relax,” he said.  “I haven’t figured out how to kill you.  I will, though,” he added fervently.  “But before I get to any of that, there’s still the matter of stealing your throne.  In the mood for drinking a little blood?”  He leaned in and flashed me a gruesome, sharp-toothed grin.

I swallowed.  I didn’t want to be the Devil, but I was getting the impression that I was in way over my head, and that if I was going to get out of this I had to be careful about how I did it.  Giving the title over to someone who promised to kill me even though I was already dead seemed akin to handing the fate of the world over to a psychopath.

“Not really,” I answered.  It was obvious that I didn’t really feel up to the task of holding my ground.

He laughed again.  “No matter.  I wasn’t asking permission anyway.”  He raised a finger menacingly.  As I watched, his fingernail extended into a long, curved claw.

He approached.  I backed away.  I didn’t have much space.  He grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me firmly against the stone wall.

“Azraal,” a stern female voice barked.  “Back the fuck off.”

The demon’s pressure on my shoulder decreased, but he did not release me.  He turned to face the source of the voice.

Standing behind him, looking really really hot and really really bitchy, was Kivra.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Relocation


“You’re the boss, Boss,” Gus said.  I wondered briefly whether he had died before or after Back to the Future came out.  “There are plenty of options.  Hell’s a big place.  Lots to see.”

I shrugged.  “Well,” I suggested, “Maybe you could run through a shortlist of where you think we should head next and I’ll pick one.”

“Okay,” Gus agreed.  Then there was a brief shuffling noise behind me, a hand on my shoulder, and I was gone.

I instantly found myself standing in an entirely different location.  I had no idea where I was.  It appeared to be some kind of cramped cave made of rough stone the rusty color of dried blood.  The stone appeared to be illuminated dimly from the inside, giving the cave a dull, eerie glow.  

The hand was still on my shoulder.  It gave a slow, firm squeeze.  I winced as I felt the jagged fingernails dig into my collarbone. 

“So,” said a rich, deep, and dangerous voice.  “You’re the new Devil, are you?”

A tall, muscular (and, of course, naked) male demon released his grip on my shoulder and walked around to stand in front of me.  He gazed at me appraisingly.  “Let’s have a look at you.”

He pretended to think.  He made a show of it.  It was clear he’d known exactly what he was going to do to me as soon as he’d zapped me over here to…wherever I was now.  “Hmm,” he mused. 

Then he pretended to have been struck with an ingenious idea.  “Ah!  I know!  I think I’ll kill you.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Leaving Politely


Ignoring his aide’s comment, Winston blandly explained his department’s process to me.  He commanded a staff of demons who were given strict instructions on how to determine the appropriate punishment for each soul.  Their rulings were reviewed by an immediate superior, who passed along reports on these decisions to Winston, who perused them at random to check procedure and occasionally sat in on a ruling, blah blah blah. 

It started out pretty interesting, but Winston kept getting more and more detailed and his already boring voice took on an even more monotonous tone until I told him that I’d heard enough.

“You don’t want me to continue?” Winston said, feigning lazy disappointment.  “Oh, okay then, if you insist.”  And he stopped, staring at me expectantly.  Dramien did the same, only with a little more poison in his gaze.

“Well, that all sounds good,” I said awkwardly.  “Thanks for your time.”  And I turned around abruptly and walked out.  Gus followed, closing the door behind us.  He gave me a frank stare of amused disapproval. 

“What?” I said defensively.

“You’re the Devil,” he reminded me.  “The Devil doesn’t say ‘thanks for your time.’  You’re a fearsome figure, a powerful player in the eternal world, a force to be reckoned with.  You don’t do common courtesy because it’s not important enough to matter to you.”  He shrugged.  “But I can’t tell you what to do.  It’s just a suggestion.  I’m just your aide.”

“Right,” I said, moving on to put my embarrassing actions in the past.  “I’ll keep that in mind.  Where do we head next?”