Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Belated Revelation

In that half second when he reared up in preparation for the fatal blow, I realized my mistake.

Halkkor appeared to have no telekinetic powers.  His only resources were his mind and his formidable brawn.  I was engaging him on a physical level—a level on which I was vastly outmatched.  It seemed obvious now that, just as he fought with his strengths, I should fight with mine.  I couldn’t match his size or his muscle, but he couldn’t match my pyrotechnics and telekinesis.  I was so myopically locked into this expectation for a testosterone-charged, man-to-man throwdown that I hadn’t even considered using anything other but brute force and a pointy stick.

Duh.

Unfortunately, this epiphany took entirely too long.  I didn’t have time to react.  Someone else reacted for me.

A pink blur slammed into Halkkor’s body, knocking him off of me and sending his wrist blade harmlessly into the ground beside my head.  I scrambled to my feet.  So did Halkkor.  And so did Jaelin.  The King of Lucifer’s Firstborn eyed both of us warily, unsure of whose attack would come first.  We had a momentary standoff amid the clamor of battle around us.

I took a moment to give Jaelin a breathless, “Thanks.”  It was clear she’d just saved my ass.  It was pretty much the equivalent of an anorexic fifth grader tackling a full-grown gorilla, but she’d made it work.  I imagined she put a little telekinetic boost into her leap.

Jaelin responded by picking up my fallen sword.  As she tossed it to me, Halkkor chose that moment of distraction to rush her. I quickly did what I hoped was becoming my signature move—I set his eyeballs on fire.

It didn’t even slow him down.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Boss Fight

Now that the conflict was sustainable for us on both fronts, I sought out Halkkor.  He’d chosen to fight facing me, perhaps anticipating a personal confrontation.  Instead of fighting my way over to him, this time I teleported directly to his vicinity.  Jaelin, dutifully, was not far behind.

When he saw me, he pushed the demon he was fighting to the side, scattering a half dozen Pit Guards like bowling pins.  I leveled my sword at him.  “Last chance to surrender,” I shouted.

“To surrender to an inferior enemy would be a greater defeat than to suffer death at his hands,” he replied defiantly.  Not that his refusal to throw in the towel surprised me in any way.

“That’s okay,” I said with a shrug.  My voice wavered but I held my sword steady.  “I’d rather kill you anyway.”

The hulking, dead-eyed monster in front of me barked out a hearty laugh as he casually beheaded a Pit Guard.  “I’m confident you’ll discover that to be simple to proclaim but far more difficult to accomplish,” he taunted.

“Why can’t you just say ‘easier said than done’ like a normal person?” I muttered, charging him with my sword.

He batted my weapon away easily and sliced at me with the blade protruding from his right arm.  I tried to dodge but I only succeeded in catching his elbow in the face.  My nose flattened with a revolting crunch and I staggered backward, tasting warm blood on my lips.  Before I could even regain my balance, Halkkor pounced on me like some kind of freakish hybrid of a professional linebacker and a jungle cat.  The back of my skull cracked against the ground and my sword slipped from my grasp. 

“You mounted a much fiercer resistance than I expected,” he said solemnly, tightening one massive hand around my throat.  “I will do you the courtesy of admitting that I underestimated you so that you may die with some form of solace.” 

He prepared to bring the blade of his free hand down into my chest.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Waiting Game

With all my allies behind the Firstborn’s forces instantly whisked away, it was much easier to locate Halkkor.  He was about thirty yards to my right, holding a demon heart in his hand.  He was looking directly at me, smiling, with blood dripping from his lips.  When I met his gaze he made a point of swallowing a piece of the heart.

I teleported a few yards back, out of reach, and waited uneasily for the next stage of my plan to kick in.

Lucifer’s Firstborn immediately turned to focus its attention solely on the Pit Guards.  I’m not sure if it was quite enough of a coordinated effort to be called a counterattack, but it succeeded in driving the Pit Guards back.  The holes in Halkkor’s lines had been filled, and now my army had a different problem—since the Firstborn dominated the Pit Guards in one-on-one fighting, Sowillo couldn’t squeeze enough of his warriors into combat position.  No longer distracted by my demons, Lucifer’s Firstborn began slicing the Pit Guards to ribbons as everyone had assumed they would. 

Where were my demons?!  Hoping to assist in some way while I waited for reinforcements, I sent a few long-range fireballs toward the Firstborn, but it was difficult to avoid hitting my own troops.  What I really needed was demonic backup.

Just as I began to lose hope and entertain the futile idea of trying to save the Pit Guards on my own, the demons started returning.  They swooped in with a surprisingly angelic flair.  One by one, they teleported to the back of the Pit Guard army, gripped a soldier by the shoulders, and transported him to my side of the battle.  Within a few moments, I had a few hundred Pit Guards around me, ready to stage another assault from behind.

Jaelin appeared next to me.  We exchanged a look of determination and, with renewed vigor, we threw ourselves back into the fray.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Joining the Fight

Jaelin and I watched intently from our vantage point at the edge of sector 140.  My confidence was giving way to a nauseating fear.  There was guilt, too.  As much as I rationalized the expected losses of Pit Guards and demons, I wondered how many of them were about to die because of my military hubris. I wasn’t a general.  Who was I to lead the denizens of Hell into a slaughter?  Sure, they were demons and monsters, but the only friends I had these days were demons and monsters.

Apparently sensing my inner turmoil, Jaelin said quietly, “This is going to work.” 

I gave her a weak, appreciative smile and turned my gaze back to the battlefield.  “Yeah, that’s what we thought last time,” I muttered.

Just before the first of the Pit Guards collided with the defensive line, hundreds of demons teleported in behind the Firstborn army.  Halkkor’s forces were immediately torn between a larger army of weaker enemies in front of them and a smaller group of more lethal warriors behind them.  The confusion was visible even from our distant perspective.

“Okay, let’s go,” I said to Jaelin.  “I’ll be aiming for about dead center.”  She nodded and we both teleported away.

We appeared a few yards away from each other, immediately immersed in the chaos of combat behind the Firstborn lines.  I had less than a second to get my bearings before I was ducking beneath the swiping arm blades of our grotesque adversaries and swinging my own weapon in return.  The Firstborn lines were thin—in a few places the demon forces were already meeting up with the Pit Guards from the other side. 

But our advantage wasn’t absolute.  A few feet away from me, one of Halkkor’s soldiers dispatched two demons and six Pit Guards on his own in mere seconds.  And it was obvious, after only a minute or two, that the element of surprise was wearing off rapidly and Lucifer’s Firstborn were adapting to fighting both halves of my army simultaneously. 

And then, with a shockwave of pale white light and a gust of air, all my demons were gone.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mounting an Attack

I turned to a Pit Guard named Sowillo, who had been placed in charge of the non-demon part of the army.  I’d only met him a few minutes earlier, and while he struck me as a fierce little fiend, he seemed to have a genuine loyalty to me.  Apparently word that I’d installed a Pit Guard as the Director of Developstruction had traveled quickly in the Pit Guard community.  If Sowillo was any indication, I was becoming some kind of folk hero among them.

“Sowillo,” I told him gravely, “It’s time.  I need you to charge across that empty space and overrun Halkkor’s army.  You ready?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” he said in his munchkin-like voice.  He saluted me with his sword.  I hoped he had one that could kill Firstborn, but I didn’t know if that was the case.  “Don’t worry,” he assured me.  “We’ll make you proud.”

“Okay.  Close the distance as fast as possible, hit ‘em as hard as you can and don’t stop,” I told him.  “Your soldiers know they might be teleported around a bit?”

“Yes sir,” he said crisply.

I smiled broadly at him.  He seemed like a nice enough guy.  I hoped he’d survive.  “Okay.  Go!”

He turned back to his troops and, with a wave of his sword, led them at a full-out run around the corner and across the barren plain of sector 141.   Halkkor’s army came to a halt, spread out into a long thin line matching the breadth of the cavern, and prepared to meet the attack.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Game Time

It was game time.  Again.

The plan was all set.  Everyone knew their responsibilities.  All they needed was for me to give them the go-ahead and then, for lack of a better phrase, all hell would break loose.

The connecting cavern between sector 141 and sector 140 took a sharp turn, allowing me to effectively hide the army of Pit Guards just around the corner.  When Halkkor appeared across the empty expanse of the evacuated sector 141, he would be able to see me but not the mass of diminutive green soldiers I had at my back. 

General Gavsot stood at the head of the Pit Guards, not because he’d be leading them, but because I needed him to teleport back to his demons and get them on the move at a moment’s notice.  Jaelin was here as well, because, despite my attempts to coerce her into accepting a job that she inexplicably had no desire to perform, she still insisted on watching my back over the course of what we hoped would be our final battle.  I guess what she lacked in ambition she made up for in loyalty.  I had no problem with that.

I had butterflies in my stomach.  It’s not an admission I could make aloud, of course.  The Devil can’t admit he has butterflies in his stomach.  I wondered if there was a manlier, more Hell-appropriate idiom I could use.  I had brimstone in my stomach.  That didn’t sound quite right either.

I was immensely proud of what had been accomplished.  I was proud of the battle plan and the way my friends and allies had helped come up with it and bring it to fruition.  I was proud of what I’d had to overcome, too.  I felt less meek, less helpless, and less in over my head than I had in those early stages.  And instead of just keeping my head above water, I was actively fighting against the current.  I felt like the Devil.  I felt in charge.  I felt like a force to be reckoned with.  I felt like the only person who could bring the forces of Hell together to stop the onslaught of Lucifer’s Firstborn.

I was about to save the fucking underworld.  It wasn’t as cool as saving the actual world, maybe, but at least I was saving something bigger than myself.  Back in the real world, before I died, the only thing I’d ever saved was my own ass.

The time for introspection was over.  At the distant end of sector 141, a lone demon, covered in blood, came hurrying out into the cavern.  I wondered how many demons and Pit Guards had perished while we set up our ambush.  I rationalized that it was a lot fewer than if we hadn’t made a stand at all. 

Lucifer’s Firstborn burst out into the open in pursuit of what might be the only survivor of sector 141. I nodded to Gavsot.  “Get your demons ready,” I told him grimly.  “And good luck.”

He reached out to shake my hand.  Coming from him, it struck me as a surprisingly human gesture.  He looked me in the eye.  “Same to you, sir,” he said.  “Kick it in the ass.”  With that, he cracked the tiniest smile, released my hand, and teleported away.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Point of Convergence

When I teleported back to my office again, my phone rang.  It was General Gavsot.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“My scouts report that the army of Lucifer’s Firstborn has staged a surprise attack on sector 143 of the Department of Torture.  The damned souls have been evacuated, but the Firstborn are slaughtering the Pit Guards and demons who were in the area,” he informed me.

“Okay, let me know if anything changes,” I said.

“They are progressing more quickly,” he said urgently.

“Yeah, I know, but Malkino’s getting an army of Pit Guards together,” I told him.  “We’ll be ready to hit Halkkor soon.”

“Good,” he said.  “My demons will be ready.”

I hung up and looked around.  Gus, Jaelin and Torvin were all looking at me.  Gus spoke up first.  “So what’s next, Boss-Man?”

“Now I need Jaelin and Torvin to get a whole bunch of extra weapons from the armory so we can distribute them to the Pit Guards and get them mixed in with the Firstborn-killing blades,” I said. 

“We can do that,” Jaelin said.  “I’m assuming you want them delivered somewhere?”

“An excellent question,” I said.  Instead of answering, I pulled out my phone and dialed the number for my brand new Director of Torture.  “Malkino?”

“What is it?” he responded.  His voice even sounded silky smooth over the phone.

“Do you have a map of your Department somewhere?” I asked.

He paused for a moment.  “Yes, there’s one here in my office.”

“Look at sector 143,” I told him.  “If Halkkor’s army is working its way through that region, what’s the next sector they’d go through that has lots of space for an army?”

“Sector 142 is shaped kind of like a fishhook,” he said.  “But 141 has some wide open spaces.”
Making eye contact with Jaelin as I spoke, I said, “Great.  Send your Pit Guards to sector 141.  That’s where we’ll make our stand.”  Jaelin nodded.  She and Torvin teleported away to get more weapons.

This was all starting to come together.  I was almost trembling with excitement.  And maybe a little terror.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Unveiled Threats

Malkino studied me as I waited for his response.  After some agonizing rumination, he finally said, “I don’t like you.”

“Is that a no?” I asked.

“I don’t trust you, either.”

Is that a no?” I repeated, more angrily.

“I will do as you ask,” he said, “But as soon as I get the sense that you’re setting some kind of elaborate trap for me, I’m taking every single demon and Pit Guard in my Department, marching them to your office and taking you down.”

I scowled.  “This isn’t a trap, so I can live with that arrangement.”

“Excellent,” he said.

“But if this were a trap,” I added, a bit more irritably than usual, “It wouldn’t fucking matter if you tried to take me down, because three demons have already tried and one of them is dead, another one is beheaded and the other is indefinitely imprisoned in the Department of Enforcement.  So before you take your shot, consider your chances of success.”

He smoldered at me.  “Fine,” he said.  “I see this is the beginning of a tumultuous and enjoyable working relationship.”

I grinned wryly.  “Yeah, whatever.  Now get your ass over to the Department of Torture so we can get you all set up.  I need my army yesterday.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Selling Points

“Thanks for coming,” I said, walking toward him.  Malkino silently continued leaning against the rock wall, his arms crossed.  “Listen, I need to make this quick, so let me get right to the point.  Do you want to be the Director of Torture?”

His eyebrows shot up, abandoning his stolid countenance for a moment.  He regained his composure quickly.  “What happened to Kivra?” he asked in his smooth Barry White voice.

“Kivra declared open rebellion against me and I was forced to remove her from a position of power,” I said diplomatically.  I was intentionally vague, hoping that his imagination’s attempt at filling in the blanks would work as a veiled threat.  I wanted him to get the message that I was doing him a huge favor, but that if he made me regret it, I’d destroy him.  I didn’t want to say those exact words, however, because I really needed him to accept my job offer.

He pondered that for a moment, his wiry green arms still crossed.  I wondered if that body language was intentional.  “What’s the catch?” he asked.

“The first thing I’ll need you to do when you take over the Department of Torture is to organize a massive army of Pit Guards,” I told him.  “I need them to assist in the defeat of the army of Lucifer’s Firstborn.  After it’s all over, they can all go back under your command.”

“The ones who survive,” he amended.

“Yes, the ones who survive,” I agreed.

“So you’re going to save Hell using a few thousand imps with spears?” he asked.  He was mocking me, of course, but with that deep, rich voice everything he said sounded so agreeable.

“It’s part of a larger strategy,” I assured him. 

“So they’re bait,” he summarized.  “When the fighting is over, assuming you win, I’m not getting very many of those Pit Gaurds back, am I?”

I heaved a sharp breath through my nostrils impatiently.  “Why does everyone think that?  They’re not bait!  It’s war, so I’m sure plenty of them will die, but I’m not using them as meat shields!”

“Your indignation is very convincing,” he said dryly. 

“It’s genuine, so it better be convincing,” I said.  “Listen, I know you’re pissed at me because I chose Wakka over you, but what I’m offering you now is the chance of a lifetime.”

I paused.  Then I added, meekly, “And that phrase should mean a lot more to you than it does to me, considering you’re probably hundreds of years older than I am.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Arranging a Meeting

“That’s actually not a terrible idea,” I admitted after a stunned silence.  I pulled out my Hell phone and dialed Vilnius’s number, reminding myself that I needed to change the contact name from Vilnius to Wakka whenever I got a free moment.  Not that I was likely to have many of those.

After the first ring, Wakka picked up.  “Devil,” answered the Pit Guard, sounding only slightly less irritable than when we’d met.  “What can I do for you?”

“Hi, Wakka,” I said.  I still felt kind of silly speaking his name aloud.  “I need to get in touch with Malkino.  He’s still in your Department, right?”

Wakka let out a low growl.  “In response to certain political pressures, I have been forced to retain him as a close advisor,” he grated.

“I might be able to help you with some of that political pressure,” I told him.  “Can you tell Malkino I need to speak with him immediately?  I’ll be waiting outside the front entrance of your Department.”

“I’m not his receptionist,” Wakka said sourly.

“I know that, Wakka, but I didn’t have another way to contact him,” I said with as much sincerity as I could.  “Just deliver the message for me.  I might be able to get him out of your hair.”

“I’ll tell him,” he replied curtly.  He hung up before I could thank him.

With a hopeful nod toward Jaelin and Gus, I said, “Okay, here goes,” and teleported down to the Department of Developstruction.

As I appeared in front of the dark gray stone wall that marked the entrance to the Department, I saw Malkino leaning against it, waiting for me.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Upward Mobility

I frowned.  “You’re kidding me.  That’s got to be one of the most prestigious jobs in all of Hell.”

She winced, nodding.  “Yeah, but…I don’t think you really want me as your Director of Torture.”  She was doing that thing that I always used to do to my mom.  She really, really didn’t want to do it, but she was downplaying that and appealing to other reasons on which she thought I would place greater value.  It never worked on my mom, either.

“Why not?” I asked.

“You just…don’t,” she assured me.  “You need a certain kind of…aimless anger for that.  A predilection for violence.”

“Come on,” I urged.  “This is kind of a time-sensitive thing.”  She still looked uncomfortable.  “It could be a temporary position!” I blurted desperately.  “Call yourself the Interim Director if you want!”

“Please don’t make me do this,” she begged.  She seemed lugubrious, despondent and very unlike herself.  I didn’t enjoy twisting her arm, but it seemed like the fastest and easiest solution.

“After all she’s done for you, you’re going to force her into something she clearly doesn’t want to do?” Torvin spoke up.  I was surprised at the firm indignation in his voice.

“What, now you grow a fucking spine?” I barked.  Turning back to Jaelin, I explained, “Look, we need to put someone over there to get the Pit Guards organized.  You’re a powerful demon.  You can do this.  It’s a quick and effective way to get this done.  So unless you have a better idea….”  I left the sentence unfinished, giving her an expectant look.

“Boss-Man,” Gus announced quietly, “I have a suggestion for someone we could make Director.  It might not be as quick, but it shouldn’t take too long, and as a bonus you could make an ally out of an enemy.”

I glanced nervously at the closed desk drawer that contained one of my enemies’ disembodied heads.  “Gus, if you say Azraal, I swear to God, I will—”

“Malkino,” he interrupted.

“...Oh.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

Back to the Plan

I may have been absent longer than I intended.  Jaelin was gone.  Kivra’s bodyguards were gone.  The only things left were a small patch of fractured earth where I’d ripped the ground up and the innumerable gory chunks of the one demon I’d managed to kill.

I was struck with another wave of panic.  Was Jaelin dead?  Had the goons captured her and taken her back to the Department of Torture?  They’d had orders to kill her, but I’d hoped that they’d adapted their plans once their leader was taken.  With a little luck, they’d be holding Jaelin hostage so that we could trade prisoners.  With a little more luck, Jaelin had teleported to safety.  I jumped back to my office.

Just as I’d hoped, Jaelin was there, talking with Gus and Torvin.  She glanced over at me when I appeared.  “What happened with Kivra?” she asked.

“She’s currently imprisoned in the Department of Enforcement,” I told her.  “She’s your sister?”

“Technically, she’s my half-sister,” Jaelin admitted with a shrug.  “You can’t pick your family, right?”

“Good point.  What happened with Kivra’s bodyguards?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  I got the hell outta there as soon as you disappeared,” she said.  “I was supposed to back you up, but you were gone, and I wasn’t in the mood for a one-on-twelve fight.”

“One-on-eleven,” I corrected pointlessly.  “I killed the one, remember?”

“Sorry, I had more important things to worry about than counting,” she replied good-naturedly.

“Listen, I’m glad you guys are both okay,” Gus cut in, “But don’t you still need to get your army?”

“Right,” I said, slightly embarrassed.  “Okay, Jaelin, I need you to take over as Director of Torture and supervise the assembly of the Pit Guard army.”

Jaelin’s eyes bulged.  She put her hands up in front of her, palms outward.  “Whoa, whoa, whoa, all due respect, sir, but that is really not my thing.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gloating

The effect of the wound was immediate.  She stumbled backward with none of her usual fluid grace, bleeding freely from her right side.  “The prisoners’ limiting cocktail,” she wheezed with a nod of acceptance.  “Nicely done.” She crumpled into a seated position on the filthy floor of the cell.  “Bastard,” she added wearily.

“You forced me to this,” I told her, returning the spear to the wall by the door.  “If you’d only cooperated….”  I realized that she was dangerous, untrustworthy and not even that likeable but for some reason I felt guilty enough to try and justify my actions to her.

“Cooperated?” she echoed with a weak chuckle.  “With a clueless, wishy-washy, gutless shitstack of a devil?”  She let out a derisive snort.  “You beat me, okay?  You win.  Now get the fuck out of my sight.”

And suddenly I didn’t feel guilty anymore.  “Anybody ever tell you you’re a sore loser?” I asked her.

“Anybody ever tell you you’re a terrible gloater?” she retorted foully. 

“Okay,” I sighed.  “I have bigger problems right now than you anyway, so I’ll be going now, fuck you very much.”

“Whatever,” she scowled at me.

Just then I became aware of another presence in the cell.  A dark purple demon seated against the far wall waved to me cheerfully.  “Hi, how’s it going?  I’m Zlock!” he said.

Kivra rolled her eyes and lay down on the ground dejectedly.

“I don’t get a lot of visitors,” Zlock said.  “If anybody wanted to visit me they wouldn’t know where to find me anyway, since I’ve only been in this cell for a short time.  Somebody blew the door off my old cell.”  He grinned excitedly at Kivra.  “Do we get to be cellmates?” he asked.

She ignored him.

“Well,” I said, mostly to Kivra, “I’ll let you two get to know each other a little better.”  I jumped outside, flagged down a Pit Guard to explain the presence of a new prisoner and the importance that she be kept under constant watch, and teleported back to Jaelin.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Time Sensitive Solution

Kivra’s hand had mostly grown back in the past few minutes.  Judging by the way she gritted her teeth as she sent what appeared to be miniature bolts of lightning at Jaelin, it seemed that regenerating appendages was a painful affair.  As I watched Kivra move, I realized that trying to telefrag her would take way too long.  She was smaller and lighter on her feet than her musclebound companions.  Hitting a target moving that quickly and that abruptly would take dozens of tries—especially since I’d already tried to telefrag her once and she’d be likely to anticipate the possibility.  I needed to wrap this up now.
 
Jaelin seemed to be holding her own against the two goons, but she was visibly outmatched against her sister.  I had the sense that Jaelin would be just fine if I could manage to take Kivra out of the fight.  What I really needed was a way to incapacitate Kivra for an extended period of time.  If I could get her out of commission long enough to accomplish something—for example, the defeat of Lucifer’s Firstborn—then I could worry about dealing with her later. 

Incapacitation.  That was what I needed.  It had occurred to me sooner, but I hadn’t really considered it.

I jumped over to the recently ousted Director of Torture, gripped her by her unwounded wrist, and, before she could wrest her arm from my grasp, I teleported us both away.  We appeared in a holding cell in the Department of Enforcement an instant later.  I let go of Kivra and, taking advantage of the spare second she needed to identify her surroundings, I lunged for the bucket of nasty red liquid sitting by the door.  I hurriedly grabbed the wooden spear standing next to it, dunked the tip of it in the bucket, whirled around, and jabbed it toward Kivra as she charged me.  She dodged to one side, but not before I took a small chunk out of those smooth, sexy abs.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Onslaught

I was surrounded by ten demons, the smallest of whom made The Rock look like he was on the scrawny side.  They were punching and kicking like playground bullies, apparently intent on knocking me unconscious.  I struggled against them, but they were so strong and so numerous that my only way out was teleportation.  So, straining to focus amid the flying fists, I jumped a few yards away.

Both my lips were split, I had blood dripping into my left eye, and I felt like I had at least four broken ribs.  Given the dire nature of the situation, I let my wrath take over.  I unleashed the fury on them, calling upon every telekinetic technique I could think of to punish them.

With a simple thought, I set each of their genitals on fire.  I caused the ground to tremble beneath them and tore sharp chunks of dry rock from under their feet and sent them slicing upward at them.  I used some Jedi mojo to force-push them against each other as they danced to avoid my keen-edged projectiles.  At the height of their confusion, I teleported repeatedly into their midst, doing my best to telefrag them.  I succeeded in separating a few limbs from their owners.  I tore a chunk out of one of the demons’ stomachs by appearing in the middle of his dive for cover.  I beheaded another. 

I finally scored a clean hit on the largest demon, scattering his body into bloody fragments.  I even managed to split his head into dozens of pieces.  The noise of his skull splintering was sickening and the sight of his remains was gory, but at least it scared the shit out of his cohorts.  The two of them that could still walk kept their distance while the others groaned in pain and began the slow process of healing.  The one I’d obliterated, however, remained in a state of obliteration. 

I focused my attention back on Kivra, who was assisting the other two bodyguards in giving Jaelin a very hard time.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Game Plan

Kivra’s demons were wisely wary of attacking the ruler of Hell, so they approached us with caution.  That gave me a little bit of time to figure out a game plan.

I considered fleeing, but I really needed that army of Pit Guards.  I knew that as long as Kivra had the power to stand in my way she would.  Which meant that, if Kivra decided to run away, I’d have to chase her and take her down.  This would have to be a fight to the death.  Or maybe a fight to the incapacitation.  I wasn’t really sure if I could kill Kivra.

My best bet for killing her was probably to telefrag her.  If I could land a teleportation jump right in her center, maybe I could blow her into a million pieces and actually be rid of her.  But I also had to contend with the backup she’d brought.  If I went off on a one-on-one fight with Kivra, that left Jaelin on her own against twelve demons who were all at least twice her size.  But if I landed a direct telefrag on Kivra right away, maybe I could call them off. 

Some of the demons were peeling off from the group to circle around behind us.  I decided that the time for action was about thirty seconds ago, but that acting now was still better than waiting any longer.  I glanced over toward Kivra, focused, and jumped.

I appeared exactly where I’d wanted to, but Kivra had moved.  I felt my wrist materialize halfway up her forearm, but the rest of me was in its own space.  As her severed hand fell to the ground, she let out an agonized shriek that made every single one of her goons’ heads snap in our direction.

Kivra’s reflexes were good—less than a second after I’d appeared and removed her left hand, her right hand was swinging toward my face, claws forward.  I ducked and rolled out of the way, but by the time I got to my feet, ten of her demons had teleported over to protect their master.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Coming to a Head

“You can take my title if you want,” Kivra said thinly.  “But if you do, I will bury you.  I will destroy you.  I will take you apart on a molecular level and I won’t stop until I’m satisfied that every tiny little piece of you is dead.”  Each muscle in her body was clenched and for a moment I could have sworn the air around her flexed the way it did around Neo in The Matrix.

It seemed that things with Kivra had finally come to a head.  I needed to get rid of her.  So I took a deep breath, looked her straight in the eye (a feat achieved with great difficulty) and said, “Kivra, you are hereby stripped of your title as Director of Torture.  As soon as I’m done with Halkkor I’ll be drawing up a Satanic Order to that effect.”

She glared at me wordlessly as though she were willing me to change my mind.  I didn’t.

“If there’s some kind of unemployment program down here,” I said smugly, “You should probably think about getting in the line.”

“Guards,” she snarled to her goons, “Attack them.  I need the Devil unconscious.  Kill the pink bitch.”

 “You have no authority,” I reminded her.  To the hesitantly advancing demons, I shouted, “You don’t work for her anymore!”  Most of them didn’t seem to care.

“Would you rather work for whatever idiot he tries to replace me with?” Kivra said to them with a frightening grin of sheer delight.  “Or would you rather work for me when I take his job?”

I had to hand it to her—that was a pretty good argument.

“Jaelin,” I murmured, “I know it’s supposedly tough to kill a demon, but that’s what they’re aiming for.  I don’t think I’d be offended if you wanted to teleport away.”

She shook her head.  “And miss out on a chance to fuck my sister up?  I think I’m good right here.”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

His Satanic Majesty Requests

“You’ve dicked me over how many times with my reallocation request and you want something from me?” Kivra asked incredulously.  “I can’t figure out if your balls are brass or if your brain is yogurt.”

“I’m the Devil,” I said firmly.  “You can’t refuse me.”

“Watch me,” she said with a sickeningly sweet smile.  She moved toward me slowly, her hips gliding with a seductive rhythm.

I stepped back.  “I’m your king, dammit,” I growled. 

She took a deep breath as she approached me, and even though it was obvious that she was doing it to push her breasts forward, I couldn’t help but appreciate the completely unwelcome distraction.  As I began to succumb to my urge to stare, my view of her succulent bosom was blocked by one of Jaelin’s shoulder blades.

“Back the fuck off, Kivra,” Jaelin warned, standing between us.  Kivra’s hold over me was broken but now I had the lesser problem of trying not to stare at Jaelin’s cute little bright pink butt. 

“Out of my way, Bubblegum,” Kivra hissed through clenched teeth.

Regaining my resolve, I made my best argument.  “It’s either give me an army or we all die,” I called to her.  

“Because an army of Pit Guards is going to defeat an army of invincible Firstborn,” Kivra said, rolling her eyes in exasperation.  “I never had any respect for you in the first place, but even I find it appalling that you can be this fucking incompetent.”

“I could say the same to you,” I murmured.  “You’re resisting the only hope we have just because you don’t like me.”

She shrugged disinterestedly.  “I don’t think any course of action involving you has any hope.”

“I don’t think I’m going to let you stop me from taking my course of action,” I returned evenly.

“What are you gonna do about it?” she taunted.  Her confidence was still sexy, even if her stubbornness was infuriating.  I was suddenly struck with a surreal perspective—here I was, in Hell, with a hot naked demon chick tossing a schoolyard taunt at me as we stared each other down.  Saying that my existence had taken a complete one-eighty didn’t really seem to adequately express the contrast between my mortal and post-mortal experiences.

I summoned my courage, and, taking great care to look Kivra in the eye (and not at her more enthralling features), I said, “If you don’t comply, I will strip you of your title.  I will remove you as the Director of Torture.”


Her nostrils flared.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Kivra's Stance

“That’s one more reason why we should be working together,” I told Kivra.  “He wants both of us dead.”

“You could look at it that way,” she said with a shrug.  “I prefer to see what Halkkor and I have in common.  Both of us want you removed as the ruler of Hell.”

“Because you’d be a much better Devil,” Jaelin retorted sarcastically.  She was bristling with rage.  Every muscle in her body was poised as though she expected Kivra to attack at any moment.  I wondered just how likely that was.

“Right,” Kivra said dryly, dismissing Jaelin’s taunt.  Addressing me, she continued, “Listen, though my sister here may be perfectly happy to board a sinking ship, I prefer to keep my head above water.  So forgive me if I left my Team Jason t-shirt at home.”

That sent my mind spinning.  Clearly, she was not interested in an alliance.  Apparently she felt her chances of survival were better without me.  At least I had a plan.  Maybe she had one too.  What other option did she have other than killing Halkkor?  And what other way could she do it than with the method I was using?  Was there another way?  Had she referred to Jaelin as her sister?  And had she just made a reference to Twilight fandom?

After a silence that was probably inappropriately long, I cleared my throat.  “Do what you have to do,” I told her.  “But until Halkkor kills me, I’m still in charge.  So I’m going to need you to give me an army of Pit Guards.  Thousands.  As many as you can spare and more.”

She laughed.  I don’t know why I expected anything else.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shooting the Messenger

“Terms?” I echoed the messenger.  “What kind of terms did you suggest to Halkkor?”  Had Kivra attempted to ally with Halkkor? It wasn’t such an outlandish possibility, but it hadn’t occurred to me until just now.  Had she used the Halkkor crisis to her advantage, despite his apparently unwavering determination to eradicate demonkind? 

“Shut up,” she answered me languidly.  Then, with frightening speed, she turned around, claws flashing, and disemboweled her courier.  And slit her throat.  And gouged out her eyes.  And I’m pretty sure a talon or two was inserted into the demon’s rectum.  All of this happened over the course of about three seconds. 

Kivra, standing over her bleeding subordinate, chastised her thunderously—it was obviously intended to be a public censure, as even Kivra’s hardened guards failed to completely mask their terror at what they were witnessing. 

“Now I realize that I never specifically mentioned this to you,” Kivra sneered at her helpless aide with supreme disdain, “But I had assumed that, even to a worthless imbecile like you, it was unmistakably obvious that when I enlisted your help to make a deal behind the Devil’s back, it was of the highest fucking priority that the Devil not know what I was up to, you pathetic little fuckwit!”

The demon at her feet reached up toward her with a bloody arm and gurgled something.  Kivra put her foot on her servant’s neck and applied firm pressure.  It was not a move intended to stop the bleeding.  “Shush,” Kivra said chidingly, “Let’s not spoil this moment by having you speak to me.  I like it better when I can at least pretend that you’re dead.”

I decided to spoil Kivra’s moment by reminding her that I was alive too.  “What deal did you make with Halkkor?” I asked her, trying to imbue my voice with as much strength and authority as I could.

Turning away from her prey to face me, she flashed me a fake smile and said, “None, apparently.  Somebody had to go and double cross him and now he’s totally abandoned every option that doesn’t involve the extermination of the demons.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Standoff

Kivra appeared surprised for a moment but recovered her wits speedily.  “Jaelin!” she said with false joviality.  “It’s been a while!  Where’ve you been?”

A facial tic betraying a trace of shame, Jaelin said, “I’ve been working in Transportation.”

“Ah, yes,” Kivra replied patronizingly.  “Working under a human.  How humiliating for you.”

“Fuck you,” Jaelin sneered.  The two of them continued glaring at each other as Kivra’s goons watched warily in the background.

“Oh, come on,” Kivra said with a broad, sinister grin.  “You can’t possibly still be mad at me over what’s-his-name.”

“This isn’t about that,” Jaelin replied swiftly.  “The Devil has a plan to destroy Halkkor’s army.  You need to listen.”

“I don’t take orders from you, you whiny little cunt,” Kivra spat.  Her language claimed a sense of superiority, but her body language showed how seriously she took Jaelin as a threat.

Without taking her eyes from her adversary, Jaelin called out to me, “Sir, do you want me to save you some time and just kill this little slut?”

I was this close to witnessing the hottest catfight ever.  Though Kivra’s hold over me had diminished since Jaelin burst in to save my neck, I still floundered to come up with a course of action.

A dark brown female demon teleported in a few feet behind Kivra.  “Mistress,” she announced, “I regret to inform you that Halkkor has refused your terms once again.”

Kivra’s eyes blazed with an almost palpable rage.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Meeting

I appeared in the middle of nowhere.  The expanse of faded crimson rock stretched out in every direction, and the glow from the lake of fire was dimly visible in the distance off to my right.  I saw Jaelin materialize a few hundred yards away.  Moments later, Kivra popped into view in front of me, followed by a dozen of her aides.

On second thought, it seemed more appropriate to describe the demons she brought with her as guards rather than aides.  They looked big.  And Kivra looked undeniably sexy.  I could feel myself succumbing to the awkward teenager inside of my demonic gilding.  If she stepped any closer, I felt like I would lose my nerve, my ability to think strategically, and maybe even my telekinesis.

“What a surprise,” I said with dry bravado, hoping to obscure the chill of fear that threatened to immobilize me.  “You decided not to come alone.”

She let a long smile stretch itself slowly across that devilishly alluring face of hers.  “What a surprise,” she retorted.  “You’re in over your head again.”  She stepped toward me and I backed up flinchingly.  “So what was this you wanted to talk about, sweetie?” she cooed.  Her perfect balance of seduction and condescension was admirable—and effective.

She swung her hips as she approached me.  God, the way the subtle, toned muscles in her stomach moved as she walked was…what was the word?  Fuck, it looked good.  And above it, the pert, rounded breasts…the…dammit.  I could feel myself breaking down as I allowed myself to be distracted.  I thought I’d grown more powerful and more resilient since our last encounter, and here I was melting before the sight of her naked body again.

“You’re…you’re not getting your demons back,” I gulped.  Her thighs…so muscular…but still so feminine.

“I don’t want them back anymore,” she said.  She’d managed to close the distance between us and she leaned over to whisper in my ear.  “I just want you to pay for defying me.”  I shivered at the sensation of her warm breath on my neck.

“Oh God,” I whimpered.  I could literally tear her head off.  I could summon fire.  I could teleport into her and blow her to bits.  But I couldn’t do any of that.  I could only stand there, shaking, trying to fight the embarrassing bulge in the crotch of my pants.  I wondered if she had some kind of special demon power of seduction or if I was just really this pathetic.  Or maybe both.  I was so pathetic that I knew I was pathetic and still couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

“I’m going to deliver your head to Halkkor, gift wrapped in your skin with your intestines as ribbon,” she hissed, circling around me.  She hadn’t done a thing but she was already enjoying her victory.  “And you’re just going to stand there like an impotent little bitch while I rip you to shreds.”  She laughed softly. 

Suddenly Jaelin appeared between us, staring Kivra down with an intensity I’d never seen from her before.  “Back off,” she snarled at the Director of Torture.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Making the Call

I needed Kivra’s cooperation.  Or, better yet, Kivra’s obedience.

I took a deep breath, steeled myself for her wiles, abuse and intimidation, pulled out my Hell phone, and called her.

“The fuck do you want?” she answered.  Our dialogue, intended for setting aside our differences to achieve a common goal, was off to a less than promising start.

“We need to meet,” I told her.

“Do you have my three thousand demons?” she asked me.  “Plus the ten I donated to your pitiful little army?”

“No,” I said. 

“Then we have nothing to talk about,” she snapped.

“This is important,” I insisted.  “Halkkor will slaughter us all.  I can stop him, but I need your help to do it.”
She let a moment pass in silence.  “Fine,” she said curtly.  “Meet me in my office.”

“You think I’m that stupid?” I said contemptuously.  “We’ll meet alone, somewhere neutral.  The empty plains beside the Barracks of the Damned.”

She laughed.  “I don’t need to lure you into my office to kill you,” she told me.  “But if it makes you feel better, fine.”

“I’ll see you in ten seconds,” I told her.  She hung up without another word.

I clapped my phone shut and exchanged a concerned glance with Gus.  “Stay strong, bro,” he whispered confidentially.  “You’re in charge.  She can only take that from you if you let her.”

I nodded.  “Right.  Jaelin, did you hear where we’re meeting?”

She stepped forward.  “Yes, sir.”

“Meet me there, but stay back.  I just need you nearby as backup in case Kivra tries something.”  She nodded.

“You mean when Kivra tries something,” Jorge commented quietly.  “Dealing with her is not my favorite part of my job.”

“Me neither,” I grumbled.  I took another deep breath and teleported away.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Next Step

I returned to my office feeling optimistic again.  Everyone looked up expectantly to hear how my meeting with the psychic had gone.  “Based on what Tithenai says,” I announced, “I think this plan with the Pit Guards could work.”

“Great,” Gus sighed.  “It’s always good to consult with Lucifer’s daughter before you go and commit genocide.”

“It’s not genocide if they live through it,” I snapped.  “I’m not using the Pit Guards because they’re expendable, I’m using them because they’re useful.  Besides, they have a better chance of surviving if they fight Halkkor than if they’re conquered by him.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that, sir,” Gus said contritely, adding, “It sounded funnier in my head.”

“What do you need from us?” Jorge asked.

“Well,” I said, “I guess we need to round up an army of Pit Guards.  The more, the better.  Thousands.  I want them to overrun the army of the Firstborn.”  Gus chuckled.  I turned to look at him and discovered that his was not a happy kind of laughter.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“You want an army of thousands of Pit Guards,” he said, shaking his head.

“Yeah…?” I prompted. 

“You know where the best place to find enormous amounts of Pit Guards is?” he asked me.

I was still a little annoyed because of his earlier comment, but now I felt like he was treating me like an idiot.  “Well?” I said impatiently.  “Where?”

“The Department of Torture,” he said sadly.  “You need to get them from Kivra.”

Of course.  It had to be Kivra.  “Oh, fuck me,” I whined.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Corroboration

I spoke her name to get her attention, but she had already paused her game and started getting to her feet.  “Hi there,” she greeted me cheerfully.  I was again struck by her features’ disturbing approximation of beauty.

“Hi,” I replied tensely.  “I wonder if you can do me a favor.”

“After the way you stormed into my cave of solitude last time?” she countered.  “Are you going to play nice?  This tune should be hittin’ you so.”

“I’m sorry about that,” I said.  I realized that, considering my sense of urgency, my apology probably didn’t come across as sincere.  But she laughed good-naturedly.

“I was just messing around.  I’m not mad,” she assured me.  “You can relax.  Don’t do it.  When you wanna go to it.  So what’s on your mind?”

I hesitated.  “Don’t you already know?”

“Bits and pieces,” she said with a casual shrug.  “I know events, but not people’s thoughts.  And the more recently stuff happened, the fuzzier it is.  Something about Halkkor’s spell?”

“Yeah, can you explain exactly how that worked?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said accommodatingly.  “It was a simple banishing spell.  All he needed was the right incantation and a demon heart to ingest and he was all set.  It forces teleportation on all demons within a certain radius, probably around half a mile or so.  They get scattered in the same direction, kind of like grapeshot.  Odds are all your demons wound up approximately the same distance away from the battlefield, but spread out.”

“And this only works on demons?” I clarified.

“It didn’t work on you or the Firstborn, so I’d say yes,” she said judiciously.  “Whether you will’s anybody’s guess. God only knows I’m trying my best.  But I’m—”

“Is there a similar spell he could use on, say, Pit Guards?” I interrupted.

She shook her head.  “The Pit Guards were never really big players, so there hasn’t been much spellwork developed that’s devoted to their manipulation.”

I grinned.  “Then I guess that’s why they’re about to become big players.  Thanks for your help,” I added.

“No probs,” she responded, settling back onto her couch.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Consensus

“So we’re all agreed on arming the Pit Guards, then?” I asked.  “Gus?  Sylnie?”

Sylnie, who’d been silent the entire time, held her hands up, palms outward, to abstain from the discussion.  “We’re non-combatants, Boss-Man,” Gus said.  “Office staff.  This kind of stuff is pretty much just academic for us.”

“Well, don’t hesitate to speak up if you come up with any good ideas,” I reminded them. 

“What about Torvin?” Jaelin asked, nudging him with her elbow.  “Any insights?”

Torvin shot her a glare.  “Me?  You’re joking.”

Reluctantly, I admitted, “It’s the bottom of the ninth, Torvin.  No idea is too stupid.”

“Like you’d listen to me if I had anything to say,” he pouted.

“Do you have anything to say?” I asked.

“No,” he replied scathingly.  “But that’s not the point.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Great.  In that case, I’m going to talk to Tithenai and see if I can verify some of the information we used to plan our attack.  General Gavsot, please return to your army and inform them of our new strategy.”  Gavsot nodded crisply and disappeared.  “I’ll see you all in a minute,” I said, and teleported out.

I appeared a few feet behind Tithenai’s couch, interrupting her game of Resident Evil.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Recruitment Options

Jorge’s conclusion stunned the room into silence.  Surprisingly, it was General Gavsot who spoke first.

“An army without demons?” he asked incredulously.  He sounded slightly offended.  “Ridiculous.  You do not understand the strength of Lucifer’s Firstborn,” he told Jorge.

Jaelin also seemed a little miffed.  “What’s an army without demons?  Are we going to start handing out swords to the damned?  I have a hard time believing that anyone fresh off the rack is going to be worth much in battle.”

"I doubt they'd be very motivated to fight for us, considering we're in charge of torturing them," Jorge added.  "And the Firstborn want to destroy demons, not humans, so we can't rely on their sense of self-preservation."

“The Pit Guards,” I said, eliciting a second stony silence.

“You’re kidding,” Gus said flatly. 

“The tallest Pit Guard is only half the height of the shortest of the Firstborn,” Gavsot pointed out.  I got the sense that he vehemently disagreed with my idea but respected me too much to voice his opinion as strongly as he felt it.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the notion.  “This could work if we use a little finesse,” I said.  “Let’s say we have our demon army try to take Halkkor by surprise by teleporting in behind him.  He fights the army off, works the spell to banish them all, and then turns around to meet an oncoming flood of angry Pit Guards.”

“…and then he rips them to pieces, has a good laugh, and continues steamrolling through Hell unopposed,” Gus finished for me.

“What if we amass a huge army of Pit Guards, arm them all, and mix in a bunch of Firstborn-killing weapons?” I said.  “The Firstborn can’t ignore any Pit Guard waving a knife because it might be one of the knives that could kill them.  They can’t banish the army unless Halkkor has another spell, so they have to fight every last one of them.”

“The demons can periodically teleport back to help each time they’re banished,” Jaelin added.  Was she starting to agree with me?

“And having to work that spell over and over again will keep Halkkor busy,” Jorge pointed out.  “You might be able to take him down while he’s distracted.”

“What do you think, General?” I asked. 

His arms still crossed, he frowned and shook his head.  “Any plan of attack that can succeed against Halkkor needs to have creativity and the element of surprise.  I do not like this plan, but I admit that, despite the risks, it has some elements that could give us victory.”

Gus barked out a laugh.  “That’s Gavsot’s way of saying it’s crazy enough that it just might work,” he translated.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Troubleshooting

I sent orders to all departments that when any members of the army formerly opposing Halkkor returned home they were to be sent immediately to gather in the empty space beside the lake of fire near the Barracks of the Damned.  Then I gathered my closest associates and strongest allies in my office for a solemn conference to discuss the grave implications of Halkkor’s latest trick.

I sat behind my desk to lead the discussion from a position of authority.  General Gavsot, his shoulder still in the process of healing, stood next to me, his burly arms crossed in front of him.  Jaelin--who I really needed to promote--stood by the door, looking ready for anything.  Sylnie was next to her.  Gus leaned against a wall near the rear exit and Jorge, situated in the center of the room, listened with growing alarm as we brought him up to speed on recent events.  Torvin was around, too, skulking in a corner.  He wasn’t a friend, and he wasn’t a strong ally, but he wasn’t useful anywhere else and seemed to prefer sticking around.

“That’s a lot to take in,” Jorge said as we finished explaining why we were on the verge of panic.

“It was a lot to experience,” I said dryly.  “So…suggestions, anyone?  How do we fight someone who can expel our entire army?”

“Maybe we should list what we know,” Jaelin suggested.  “We know that he recited some kind of incantation and bit into a demon heart, right?  Was there more to it than that?”

“Maybe it would be more useful to list what we still need to understand,” Jorge pointed out.  “We need to know if this was a one-off spell or something Halkkor can do every time you throw an army at him.”

“I’d imagine as long as there’s a demon around with a heart in him, he’ll be able to do it every time,” Gus muttered.  Gavsot grunted in assent.

“I also think we need to know why it didn’t affect me,” I said.  “Every single living demon on that battlefield got spirited away, but the Firstborn didn’t go anywhere and neither did I.”

“So that means the spell probably only affects demons,” Jaelin reasoned.  “You’re only part demon because you were born human, right?”

“Assuming that’s all true, you might have your solution,” Jorge said.  “Demons suffer the effects of the spell and provide an ingredient for it, so you need an army with no demons in it.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Devastation

My army had simply vanished, weapons and all.  General Gavsot was gone.  Jaelin was gone.  Had Halkkor killed them all?  Had I somehow become even more fucked than I was at the beginning of all this?

I didn’t have a lot of time to contemplate the irreconcilable hopelessness of my predicament, however, because Halkkor was charging me, blades flashing, blood dripping from his mouth and grinning hungrily. I froze for a second before recovering my wits and teleporting away, moments ahead of an impact.

I arrived in my office.  My whole body was shaking.  My fingernails tapped arrhythmically against the hilt of my sword.  My knees wobbled.  My breath came in intermittent gulps of thin air.  I felt nauseous.  I fell to my knees to stave off vertigo.

Holy fuck.  I was so dead.   I had no army.  I had a whole slew of evil creatures intent on killing me roaming free and unchecked somewhere downstairs.  I was so convinced of how bleak my situation was that I couldn’t do anything except kneel there, wheezing, and think about how bleak my situation was.

I finally had a useful thought.  I fumbled in my pocket for my phone. With quivering fingers, I dialed Gavsot. It rang.

It rang again.

Someone picked up.  “Yes?” came the unmistakable voice of my Director of Enforcement.   

I let out a long sigh of relief.  “General,” I breathed.  “You’re alive.  Where are you?”

“I am somewhere…unfamiliar,” he said.

“Is the rest of the army there?” I asked hopefully. “Is Jaelin with you?”

“I am alone,” he replied.  “It seems my ability to teleport has been limited, but I can feel it returning.”

Perhaps Halkkor’s heart-eating spell only banished the demon army and temporarily sapped their powers?  That would actually be good news.  “Well, whatever,” I told him.  “As soon as you’re able, teleport to me in my office.  We need to figure out how to get past whatever the hell Halkkor just did.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

Facing Off

We began to drive Lucifer’s Firstborn back.  They weren’t scared enough to flee, but they were wisely wary of our newly acquired ability. Their combat became more cautious.  The unrestrained aggression of their earlier tactics had been abandoned in favor of a more defensive approach.

The one exception was Halkkor.  He fought with even more reckless savagery as if the presence of a credible threat to his life had whipped him into a greater frenzy.  Taking a risk that I could end the battle sooner by defeating him, I continued fighting my way toward him.  Jaelin, fulfilling her promise to watch my back, followed.

Each time I’d faced Halkkor, I’d been hopelessly outmatched.  Though I’d had an advantage over him with my telekinetic talents, he’d had strength, combat experience and invulnerability.  Thanks to Niven, I’d learned that Halkkor could probably kill me, but not permanently.  As dangerous as it was to rely on the previous Devil to send me back here alive if I were to die again, I figured I couldn’t lose.  Either I’d get sent back to fight Halkkor again or I’d be stuck somewhere that wasn’t Hell.  It seemed safe to assume that Hell was the worst place in the universe, so if I got stranded somewhere it couldn’t be any worse than here.  And there was also the possibility that, armed with my Firstborn-killing sword, I would be victorious over Halkkor.

As Jaelin and I moved to within shouting distance from Halkkor, I felt confident enough to toss a taunt his way.  “Hey, Halkkor!” I yelled.  “You suck!”  I punctuated my less-than-witty remark by shoving my sword through the heart of an enemy warrior and letting him collapse at my feet.

“Good one,” Jaelin muttered confidentially.  “I think you really got to him.”  She swung her dagger wildly at her nearest attacker and succeeded in severing the Firstborn’s blade from his right arm.  It looked painful for him, but I didn’t feel any pity.

“Sorry, I was a little more focused on fighting for my life than on delivering the perfect insult,” I told her.  The hope of victory had put me in an awesome mood.  I couldn’t say that I ever expected to be in this position, exchanging jovial banter with a demon while engaged in frenetic battle against the grotesque denizens of Hell.

Devil!” Halkkor bellowed, and his voice held such power that it carried clearly over the sounds of battle, drawing looks from demons so far away I couldn’t see their faces clearly.

Halkkor was standing over the broken corpse of a demon, holding its heart in his hands.  He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I applaud the effort you’ve made here, but if you expect to triumph over the likes of me, you’d do well to remember that I’m not so easily scared or so easily defeated.”

“Looks to me like you’re about to be defeated,” I shouted back.

He smiled.  It was a smile of unparalleled creepiness.  His stony, ash-colored face split into a wide grin and his nostrils flared wickedly beneath those black, blank eyes.  His lips began to move, but I could barely hear what he was saying.  What I could hear didn’t sound like English.  So much for my theory about there being no language barrier in Hell.

Halkkor finished muttering to himself, opened his jaw wide, bared his teeth, and bit brutishly into the demon heart.  Instantly, a visible shockwave of some kind of power originating from Halkkor washed over the scene.  To me, it was only a stiff breeze, but I sensed the noise of battle around me fading into a stunned silence.  I looked around to find myself alone on the barren plain with a haggard but lethal army of Lucifer’s Firstborn.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Turning the Tide

As Jaelin and I watched, Gavsot’s army abruptly disengaged and retreated directly toward us.  As Halkkor and the rest of Lucifer’s Firstborn gave chase, half of the demons disappeared, reappearing around us.  They quickly clamored for weapons and rushed to line up to face their retreating comrades.  Once the line took shape, Gavsot barked an order and his freshly armed forces charged.  The retreating forces masked the charge, teleporting away at the last second so that Halkkor’s warriors, thinking they were chasing a routed army, suddenly clashed with an unexpected advance.  Its execution made me briefly wonder if General Gavsot had ever seen The Patriot.

As those who had retreated arrived at the crate in the hopes of claiming one of the few remaining weapons, Jaelin and I teleported to Gavsot’s side.  I’d brought an extra sword, which I swiftly handed to him.  So far, our little trick had accomplished little more than catching Halkkor’s soldiers off guard, but it wasn’t long before that would change.  Moments after Gavsot’s attack, off to my left, a demon I didn’t know drove his weapon directly through the heart of one of Lucifer’s Firstborn.

The response was instantaneous.  As the Firstborn fell like a punctured balloon, the excitement among the demons was almost as palpable as the terror among the Firstborn.  I spotted Halkkor a few feet to my right, and although he wasn’t in a state of open panic like many of his comrades, his shark-like eyes seemed to be shrewdly assessing this new development.  I began fighting my way in his direction, mortally wounding a second Firstborn as I did so.  Then General Gavsot killed another.  And then, seemingly beyond our control, it continued like a row of dominoes.  Our advantage was undeniable.

This was working.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pre-Battle Butterflies

Ignoring the outburst of theist gratitude from a demon of his stature, I shouted over the din of battle, “I have about five hundred of these Firstborn-killing weapons.  Are you ready?”

He nodded briskly.  “Where are they?” he asked.

I motioned toward Jaelin and the big plastic container.  “They’re all in that bin there, ready to go.”

“Excellent,” the General replied.  Apparently he’d regained his composure.  He turned away for a moment to bark out the names of four of his captains.  He gave them what must have been some kind of prearranged signal and pointed toward Jaelin.  “If you want to join in the fight,” he advised me, “you had best get yourself a weapon now.”

I nodded solemnly.  “I’ll follow your lead, General,” I said.  “Let’s send these bastards packing.”  He gave me a brief, distracted smile and I jumped back to Jaelin’s crate. 

“So?” she asked.  “What’s the plan?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “But I’m sure Gavsot has it under control.  We could use your help, though,” I added, glancing meaningfully toward the pile of weapons. 

She smiled and reached into the bin for a curved dagger.  I opted for a longer sword.  “You ready?” I asked.

“Hell yeah,” she said.  She was genuinely excited.  “You’re scared.”  She wasn’t asking.

“Fuckin’ terrified,” I admitted.  “Which is weird, considering I’m already dead.   And considering that I’ve already died once since dying and it didn’t seem to matter.”

She smiled at me reassuringly.  “If it’s any consolation, sir,” she said, “I’ve got your back.”

I believed her.  I think we’d finally bonded.

“Holy shit,” I breathed, staring at the chaotic melee before us.  “This is actually going to happen.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Presenting Arms

As much as I wanted to explain to Jaelin that, where I grew up, it gets dark for about twelve hours out of every twenty-four, I decided it was best to get to work.  As I’d discovered firsthand after my first postmortem trip home, so much could go wrong while I was away on business.  So rather than discuss temperature fluctuations in my hometown, I instead enlisted her help dumping the entire crate of weapons into the lake.

We let them soak for about two seconds.

Then we pulled the crate back out of the water.  “Let’s go,” I said.  I gripped the crate, grabbed her hand, and sent us hurtling back down to Hell.

I was aiming to arrive at a safe distance far behind General Gavsot’s lines.  I’d succeeded in landing precisely where I’d wanted to, but we were much closer to the battle front than I’d anticipated.  Gavsot’s forces seemed to be losing ground with more and more speed.  I could see that a swath of the rocky plains behind Halkkor’s army were littered with demon corpses.  Halkkor’s following had originally been a small fraction of the demon army, but now it was easy to see that Gavsot was outnumbered.  The situation was dire at best.

“This had better fucking work or we don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell,” I grumbled apprehensively.  Jaelin simply nodded.  “Gus would’ve gotten a kick out of that,” I added pointlessly.  “Here goes.”

I took a deep breath and teleported over to Gavsot, who appeared to be missing a large chunk of his left shoulder, which sported a ragged, bloody hole.  Even despite his injuries, however, Gavsot refused to lead from behind and remained one of the most dangerous forces on the battlefield—except, of course, for every member of the opposing army.  I gripped his good shoulder and teleported us back a few feet so we could talk without the immediate threat of death.

He looked upon me as a savior and panted, “Thank God you are here!”

That was kind of weird.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cultural Gap

It was definitely a strain to pull it off, but I managed to grab hold of both Jaelin’s hand and the edge of the crate and teleport the three of us to the shores of that sylvan lake.

It was night and it was bitterly cold.  The cloudless sky was illuminated beautifully by a haunting crescent moon.  It was probably about mid-March, but it felt like the perfect night to go trick-or-treating.  Or maybe the perfect night to sneak around in the dark with a naked demon and about five hundred bloody knives. 

“Welcome to the Realm of the Living,” I said reverently.  I felt an odd sense of pride sharing my homeland with Jaelin--but not in a romantic way.  I felt like I was pulling back the curtain and revealing to her a little bit of the mystery behind the man in charge.  It was a snapshot in an A&E Biography that would be accompanied by a voice-over explaining how, during my childhood, notable aspects of my personality that would later serve me well as the sitting regent of Hell started to emerge.  This was where a little light-haired boy began his perilous path to demonic dominance. 

“This is weird,” Jaelin said flatly, looking around.  “What is this?”  It was clear she did not share the sense of significance that I ascribed to the scene before us.  She shivered.  “It’s freezing up here.  You lived here?”

“Hey, it’s warmer during the day,” I said defensively.

Her eyebrows arched.  “Oh,” she said with sudden realization.  “I’ve heard about this.  This is nighttime, isn’t it?”  She pointed at the silver sliver in the sky.  “So that must be that moon thing, then?”


Beyond the obvious, there were apparently some other pretty big differences between being raised on Earth and being raised in Hell.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Little Background

Between the two of us, Jaelin and I made quick work of the pile of weapons.  I prided myself on the fact that, even if I was too stupid to think of this more effective method of dipping them in the lake of fire, at least I was better at the telekinesis than she was.  Once she tried to do more than three or four at a time, she began to lose her pinpoint control over them.  I, on the other hand, managed to mentally control the movements of more than twenty of them at a time without sacrificing precision.

Considering most of the blades were still too hot to comfortably touch, we used our combined abilities to move the pile at the edge of the cliff back into the plastic container.

“Next?” Jaelin said expectantly as we finished.

“Next,” I responded, “we go upstairs and do the same thing with a lake of water.”

“You mean…in the Realm of the Living?” she clarified.  She sounded awed and hushed.  I glanced at her and her facial demeanor confirmed the assessment. 

“You’ve never been there, have you?” I said.

She shook her head.  She seemed almost reverent.  “It’s extremely unusual,” she told me.  “I knew one demon once, a long time ago, who was sent there as a punishment.”

“Couldn’t he just come right back?” I asked.

“No,” she said with a deep sigh.  She seemed genuinely affected by the story she was telling.  “The Devil at the time worked a spell on him that crippled him.  He couldn’t teleport or be teleported anymore.  He worked the spell on him while they were in the Realm of the Living and then he just left him there.”  She gave me a glossy-eyed look and concluded, “He’s been trapped there for two hundred years, all alone.”

Was this the bonding moment we hadn’t had?  It was weird to see her like this, all emotional and vulnerable, considering she was usually so unflappable and agreeable.  “A good friend of yours, I take it?” I asked.

“You have no idea,” she summarized tersely.

I also had no idea what I should do.  Should I hug her?  Should I just go back to business?  Should I sit down with her and let her tell me the whole story despite the fact that we were on an extremely time-sensitive mission?  Or was she the type who’d respond best to a quick slap on the shoulder and some gruff advice to buck up?

She solved my problem for me.  “Sorry,” she said, blinking the beginnings of tears away.  “We have work to do.  Let’s get down to it and kick some Firstborn butt.”

“Sure,” I said.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Take Three

It only took a few moments after my arrival at the edge of the scorching chasm for Jaelin to zero in on my location and appear next to me.

She appeared interested as she glanced over the edge.  “So what’s the plan here?” she asked me.

I shrugged.  “Let me show you what I did last time,” I said.  I grabbed a broadsword from the top of the pile, gripped it tightly with both hands, took a deep breath, and pitched myself forward.

I had to hand it to Jaelin—her feathers were not easily ruffled.  She didn’t cry out in surprise.  She simply watched with an expression of absorbed focus as I fell over the edge.  Was that because she trusted that I knew what I was doing or because she didn’t actually care whether or not I survived?

Partway through my descent, I teleported to just above the surface and dipped the sword into the lava before jumping back to the top of the cliff.  I showed her the newly-burnt blade, with cooling lava still running down toward the haft.  “Did you see what I did?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.  “But why don’t you just do this?”  As she spoke, she removed a small knife from the pile and tossed it over the edge. 

“Because I need it back,” I replied dryly.

“So use your telekinesis,” she returned matter-of-factly.  A few moments later, the knife floated back up from the depths of the burning abyss, its blade neatly coated in lava.

I stared at it.  Then I stared at her.  “It seems so obvious now,” I mumbled sheepishly.