Monday, April 29, 2013

Back to the Home Base

My demons were teleporting away from what had recently been the site of a terrible battle.  A few who couldn't teleport were getting into cable cars.  Halkkor was giving what he'd assured me were "strict instructions" to his army to stay put until further notice.  After a few minutes, he returned to where I was waiting.

"Okay," I said apprehensively.  "Are you ready?"

Halkkor nodded.  "Yes," he replied.  "Let's go."

Breathing a heavy sigh, bracing myself for the inevitability of this idea blowing up in my face, I reached out to touch Halkkor.  I'd almost gotten my hand to his shoulder when he spun and dealt me a hefty blow to my chest.  I tumbled backward a few feet with extreme gracelessness.  At least he didn't hit me as hard as the first time.

"Do not touch me," he barked angrily.  He stood, bristling, as though I were about to fight back.

Like I had a death wish.  "I need to touch you," I explained, coughing, "So I can teleport us back to my office."

His muscles relaxed slightly, but he still seemed to expect me to jump him at any second.  "Very well," he grunted.  "Make it quick."

I slowly extended my arm and placed a hand on his shoulder.  A moment later, we were both inside my office.  Gus cried out in shock as we appeared.  He stared at us, pallid and trembling, looking as though he'd just pissed his pants.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Show of Good Faith

I was the Devil, but I got the feeling that I'd just made a deal with an even more devilish Devil.

"So," I said awkwardly to my new partner as I dusted myself off.  "Uh, where do we go from here, Halkkor?"

"Do you have some kind of headquarters we could convene in so that we could begin outlining our reforms in a less medieval setting?" Halkkor asked.  His tone, combined with his fluid wording, made him seem like an English gentleman asking if I would like to retire to the veranda for a spot of tea.  

"Yeah, I guess we can go to my office," I said, entirely uncomfortable welcoming this massive, intimidating, bloodthirsty creature into the closest thing I had to a home.

"Excellent," Halkkor replied a little too pleasantly.  I felt like he was very subtly patronizing me.  We'd reached an agreement only moments earlier, but he clearly knew he still had the upper hand.  Despite the appearance of a cooperative arrangement, we both knew I was at his mercy.  He could become bored of me in an instant and tear my limbs off with relative ease.

I needed some kind of insurance policy.  Or some kind of backup plan.  And in the meantime, I didn't have the luxury of trusting him.  "How do I know that your troops won't continue killing my demons as soon as we leave?" I asked.

"None," he said flatly.  And, as though it were in any way reassuring, he clarified, "None whatsoever."

I sensed that this was the first in a series of important moments in our new relationship.  I worried about setting a bad precedent.  If I let him walk all over me now, he'd continue doing it and I'd grow more and more powerless in his presence.  But if I put my foot down too hard, he'd dispose of me without a second thought.

"Well, I need something," I said as defiantly and as gently as I could--which was obviously a difficult nuance of meaning to squeeze into just a few words.  "Some kind of show of good faith."

Halkkor looked down at me appraisingly.  I wasn't sure if that was a look of newfound respect or a look of developing annoyance.  "What sign of good faith do you expect?" he asked.

I shrugged.  "Maybe you could offer your second-in-command as collateral?  We'll hold him until our planning session is over and you've proven that I can trust you."

He snorted, blasting me in the face with his putrid breath, but it seemed like he was considering it.  "Done.  Niven," he barked, somehow projecting the sound over his shoulder without shifting his gaze from me.

One of the Firstborn saluted and stepped forward.  "Master?" he said.

"Submit yourself to the demons for captivity," Halkkor ordered.

"Yes," Niven said humbly.  He immediately walked over to General Gavsot and knelt in front of him, surrendering himself.  Gavsot gave me an uncharacteristically humorous glance that was halfway between astonishment and relief.  I gave him a shrug and a nod.  Seeming to discard his concerns, he placed a hand on Niven's forehead and teleported them both away.

Maybe I could make this work.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reaching an Accord

For the first time since meeting him, I think I observed a sense of humor in Halkkor, King of Lucifer's Firstborn.  There was this little pinching around the corner of his eyes that made it seem like he might actually laugh.

He didn't laugh.  He did, however, release my throat from his viselike grip.  "Work together?" he repeated.  He even sounded amused.  "Why would I want to work with you?  You're a human, yes?  A human commanding armies of demons.  All of you are stupid, lazy, and petty.  What benefit to me is this absurd offer of yours?"

"It saves time," I said.  "You could waste decades trying to wipe us all out while the backlog of tortured souls grows larger and larger.  Or you could accept my offer and immediately help overhaul Hell's structures and procedures using personnel that are already in place."

To my relief, Halkkor actually seemed to be considering what I was saying.

"I'm telling you," I pressed, "I agree with you about all the problems you've pointed out.  Between the two of us, I think we could fix them.  Quickly.  Restore Hell to its former glory, I guess."

After a long, expectant silence, Halkkor finally nodded.  "That seems reasonable.  I accept your offer.  We will stop killing your demons."  He stood, allowing me to get to my feet as well.

I breathed a long sigh of relief.  "But know this," Halkkor added gravely, glaring at me with his empty, soulless eyes.  "If you try to cross me, I will kill you without hesitation.  Then I will march my army through Hell and slaughter every last one of your demons.  Even if it takes decades to do it."

I nodded. "Understood," I said.

I was in deep shit.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Finding Common Ground

It was time to convince an uncompromising, bloodthirsty monster with near-absolute power to compromise.  I teleported over to stand directly in front of the beast who called himself Halkkor.  He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at me as I appeared.

"Hi," I said with half-sarcastic pleasantness.  "Me again.  Listen, we should talk."  Halkkor was clearly not much of a conversationalist.  I think my attempts at amiability simply pissed him off.  He drew his arm back to prepare another powerful backhanded blow, but I dodged deftly backward.  

"I'm a pretty new Devil," I continued, acting as though he hadn't just tried to smack me a second time.  "I only took over a little while ago and I'm still getting the hang of it.  During my short stint as the ruler of Hell, I've noticed some of the same problems you just mentioned."  Halkkor, sneering, wordlessly brought his other arm toward me, but I ducked and took another step back.

"The bureaucracy--it's a nightmare," I admitted.  "Every simple task is broken down and distributed across so many different departments, each with its own subdivisions.  We might get more paperwork done than torturing, to be honest.  And the infighting--it's epidemic.  Every demon has some kind of grudge against at least a dozen others.  It's confusing and distracting--and it only serves to make the bureaucracy less efficient, as inter-departmental cooperation is almost non-existent because the directors are all out to get each other."

I thought I'd learned to judge Halkkor's movement, but he took me by surprise by lunging forward.  He was so fast I almost hadn't realized that he'd even moved until I'd been tackled, straddled, and throttled.  The monster--who was quite heavy--wrapped his grotesque claw all the way around my neck, brought his face down toward mine, and hissed, "Will you desist?  I tire of your purposeless prattling."

Through the pressure on my neck, I gurgled, "I think we should work together."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Declaration of Intent

After I slid to a stop on the hard rock surface, I got up a little slower than I should have.  That hulking beast who seemed to hate me because of my job was probably not very intimidated by the way I groaned getting to my feet.  I teleported over to General Gavsot.

"It would appear that your plan was not as successful as you had hoped," he said dryly.  I got the sense that he didn't blame me for my failure but was instead beginning to accept the idea that we were doomed.

"Yeah," I said breathlessly, brushing rock dust off of my face.  "Well, help me come up with a Plan B."

Ignoring me as I desperately brainstormed a way to regain control of the situation and save a little face, the condescending behemoth turned to address the crowd of trembling demons.  "All of you!" he shouted, his deep, grating voice carrying effortlessly across the vast expanse of the shale plain.  "You are an absurd distortion of our founder's vision.  You have taken an idea so pure and so exquisite--the endless exacting of human suffering--and perverted and subverted it into your own political circle jerk.  You waste time creating your bureaucracies, holding grudges, seeking vengeance, quibbling, caviling and quarreling amongst yourselves.  You have forgotten and neglected the noble clarity of your calling--to punish the wicked, to break the spirit and to torture the flesh.  It's time to return to the principles on which Hell was founded."

He was like a demonic Abraham Lincoln.  He was an eloquent demagogue, a leader calling his people to action and inspiring them to succeed.  

After a brief pause spent somberly surveying his almost-literally-captive audience, he continued.  "I am Halkkor, King of Lucifer's Firstborn.  I will rule Hell the way it was meant to be ruled.  All of you must join me, relinquish your trivialities and commit yourselves to your intended purpose.  Or you will face extermination."

"Whoa," I whispered to Gavsot.  "Did he just threaten to kill all of us?"

"He did," Gavsot replied with a grim nod.  "I think he might be able to deliver on that threat."

"Time for Plan B," I said.  "If he can be Abraham Lincoln, I can be Henry Clay."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Meet the New Boss

The monstrous creatures' apparent leader who stepped forward was...intimidating.

He was bigger than the rest of them.  He was more muscular than the rest of them.  He moved more smoothly on his clawed feet than the rest of them.  In fact, every single characteristic that all of the rest of them had that made them in any way scary he had--in excess.  I was a big guy, much more physically formidable than I'd been in life, and a little taller, but this thing dwarfed me in every dimension.  If he'd had a potbelly, it probably would have been made of extra muscle that he was saving for later.

He towered over me, definitely standing at more than seven feet.  "Hi," I said with unmasked fright.  "You must be their leader, then?"  Any bravado I'd had before had vanished the instant he stepped forward and trained his intense, calculating gaze on me.

"I am," he said simply.  His voice was low, but it was the gravelly quality that made it threatening.  He spoke like sandpaper and he breathed like decomposition.  And he was standing way too close to me, so I got to experience each of those unpleasant qualities at their fullest strength.

"Hi," I said again, stepping backward a little.  "My name's Jason.  I'm the Devil."  I wanted to make an amicable first impression.  I didn't want him to see me as the enemy commander who opposed him because then he might rip my heart out too.  I hoped he'd see me as a leader who was willing to cooperate.  I almost stuck my hand out for a shake, but I thought he might just slice it off with one of those huge blades poking out of his forearms.

"You're the devil?" he asked gruffly, clearly unimpressed by my title.  "You run this circus, this mockery?" he continued with disdain.  "You're in charge of this rabble?" he added with a gesture to the thousands of demons behind me.

"Yes," I answered tentatively.  No sooner had the last consonant exited my lips than his right fist had knocked me sideways.  I was fifteen feet off the ground and flying with surprising speed.  Had I still been human, I think at least four of my ribs would have been fractured.

I landed hard, directly on my face.  The enormous creature laughed and a handful of his followers joined in.

This was not going well.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Plan in Action

My brilliant plan to defeat our invaders was to surrender immediately.  Napoleon, Robert E. Lee and Patton would all have been proud to watch me execute my ingenious military strategy.

Gavsot signaled to his captains to fall back.  Eventually the mass of demons disengaged from the fray and retreated to a tense, narrow distance from the group of attackers.  Still shaking from a noxious cocktail of nerves, fear and adrenaline, I stepped through the line of sweaty, bleeding demons and confronted the group of maybe one hundred monsters.

Now that I had the opportunity to look closely at them, I wished I hadn't.  They were grotesque and formidable.  The majority of them stood at about six and a half feet.  Every one of them was bulky and muscular, but their movements gave a sense of horrible grace--some innate agility that made their size all the more fearsome.  They were humanoid, just like the demons, but with Frankenstein-esque faces.  Their features were invariably ugly and poorly-proportioned.  Their eyes were exactly like shark eyes--slid toward the sides of the face, with a narrow elliptical pupil surrounded by a bleak, emotionless iris.  Protruding from each of their wrists was a bone-like blade that extended a good six inches past their fingertips and appeared to be retractable.  Their mottled ashy color combined with the fact that they were clearly some tough motherfuckers made it seem as though they were partially constructed out of rock.  Every one of them was naked, although they didn't appear to have genitals--which was fine by me because they would probably have been nauseatingly malformed.

I was standing between a line of those big ugly things and a swarm of pissed-off and demoralized demons.  Taking a deep breath and hoping that my voice didn't crack, I announced as loudly and as authoritatively as I could, "I'm here to negotiate our surrender.  Do you have a leader?"

A few of the creatures stepped aside to allow one of their own to step forward.  When I saw him, I probably wet myself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Behind the Demon Lines

Suddenly it was Wyver who was the wimp.  He surveyed the battleground with a stunned expression of horror.  It was difficult to tell for certain, but I think the blue color of his skin went slightly paler.

I, on the other hand, knew I had a job to do.  Leaving Wyver quivering on the shuttle platform, I descended to the bleak expanse of rock and attempted to get a handle on what was happening.  There were thousands upon thousands of demons and not nearly so many of their foes, but the enemies were swift.  I couldn't see one standing in the same place long enough to get a good look.  They were tall--on average it seemed they had a few inches on the demons--bulky, and nearly all of them were the same mottled ashy color.

I needed to find General Gavsot.  This did not seem like the kind of circumstances under which a quick visual scan would give me all the details I needed to understand the situation.   As dumb as it seemed to call someone knowing that he'd be in an intense battle for his very survival, I couldn't think of a better way to locate Gavsot in the midst of all this madness.  So I pulled out my phone and called him.

He picked up after about eight rings.  "Are you here?" he said.  He sounded out of breath.

"Yeah, just got in on the cable car," I said.

An instant later, Gavsot teleported in a few feet to my left.  He looked sweaty and stressed.  "What took you so long?" he barked.

"I couldn't teleport here because--" I began, but he cut me off impatiently.

"These things can kill demons," he said.  "They can actually kill us with their bare hands.  Under normal conditions, killing a demon is a very demanding task, but these bastards just reach into our chests, rip out our hearts, and we do not get back up again.  We have not yet figured out how to kill them, therefore all we have succeeded in doing is slowing their advances.  Unless we gain some understanding of them, how to hurt them and how to kill them, they will march right through Hell and exterminate every last one of us."

That was quite a speech for my usually curt General.  "Have we made any efforts at...uh...diplomacy?" I asked.

Gavsot shook his head.  "As I understand it, the Department of Construction was trying to clear a new area to expand the Department of Torture.  These creatures were sealed up in a hidden cavern.  When the Department of Construction breached that cavern, the creatures attacked immediately.  The entirety of the construction crew that breached is dead."

"Okay," I said.  "Do they have a leader that I could talk to?"

Gavsot laughed softly.  "I believe that if we put up a flag of truce and send out a messenger, they will continue slaughtering us."

Past Gavsot's shoulder, I saw a bright orange demon hit the ground roughly with a crude, bloody hole in his chest.  I shuddered.  And I didn't stop shuddering.  I was trembling.  "Well, what if we try surrendering?" I asked.  "That way I'll at least get to talk to their leader one-on-one to discuss the terms, right?"

"I do not expect that to stop them," Gavsot said gravely.  "But since I do not think any course of action will succeed, yours is not worse than any other."

I nodded.  "Right.  Awesome."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Arrival

We changed shuttles multiple times in the Department of Torture.  The lake of fire and the massive stalactite seemed to be hundreds of miles behind us.  I wasn't sure how long this was taking, but I was positive that it was taking a long time.  Too long.

After a very long silence, Wyver spoke.  "We'll get off at this station.  This is sector 248.  We'll have to walk the rest of the way."

I nodded.  I felt a little queasy from all the things I'd just seen.  I wondered if my beefed-up devil body had some kind of greater nausea resistance.  Because all the intestines and blood and knives and burning and screaming I'd just been witness to should have made me puke my guts out a long time ago.  Or maybe I just had the benefit of only seeing each torture briefly and from a distance.

The cable car hurtled into a narrow tunnel in the rock, plunging us into what I'm pretty sure is the most complete darkness I've ever experienced.  After a few seconds, just as my skin was starting to crawl, we emerged from the tunnel.  Our speed slowed as we neared another shuttle station, which was perched on the edge of a narrow canyon.  Stretching out into the distance on that side was another massive, barren expanse of rocky wilderness.

Not far away from us as we slid into the station was a group of tens of thousands of demons that were in furious, frenetic battle with what I could only assume was the horror that Gus had described.

I stared out across the scene with dread.  "Holy shit," Wyver whispered.

"Holy shit indeed," I agreed weakly.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Department of Torture

We rode the cable car through the Department of Torture toward sector 248.  Wyver rode in dispassionate silence.  I rode in awestruck, nauseated silence.

Torture was everywhere.

At first, we just passed some rows of what looked like doctors' exam rooms.  The doors were labeled similarly to those in the hallway outside my office, but from behind these doors came horrible, unbelievable screams and more than a little ragged begging.  But as we traveled further into the depths of the Department of Torture, the methods of inflicting pain became more elaborate and more public.

We passed a cavity in the rock (what I guess you'd call a clearing if we'd been in a forest) in which carefully guarded humans were being forced to watch some poor man getting his limbs hacked off with what looked like screwdrivers.  Two of the demons were performing disgusting sexual acts on various bleeding parts of the man's body.  Each of the spectators had some kind of spear inserted into one of their ears.  It also appeared that their feet were on fire.  One of them tried to bolt, but he was tackled by a demon who promptly held him down, produced a long dagger, and proceeded to peel a six-inch strip of flesh from the back of the man's neck.

One of the women watching vomited on herself.  The demons guarding her bristled warily in case she was about to run, but she dutifully continued watching the man being dismembered in a very non-surgical manner.

I didn't look away.  I knew that if I did, I'd only see something just as bad--or possibly worse--somewhere else.  And I didn't dare shut my eyes for fear that Wyver would throw up his hands in disgust, proclaim me an incurable wimp, and then wander off and leave me stranded as soon as the cable car stopped.

So I took it in.  I surveyed the torture.  I watched.  It was a long ride and there were a lot of unspeakable things to witness.

This was what I ruled over?  This was my purpose after death, to reign over a bureaucratic machine that systematically breaks billions upon billions of souls by relentlessly perpetrating terrible physical, mental and emotional cruelty?

I began to wonder if any of my predecessors had experienced any kind of change of heart after witnessing the fruits of their dominion.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Leaving in Shame

I wheezed, got to my feet, and scrambled down from the platform.  Wyver was waiting for me, failing to hide his disgust.

"Thanks for your help," I said sarcastically.

He shrugged.  "My job was to be your guide.  Not to get involved in every sadomasochistic lover's quarrel you get tangled up in on the way."

I rubbed my throat tenderly.  "Love the attitude," I snapped.  "You do realize that I'm your boss, right?"

"After what I just saw, you don't seem intimidating," he explained.  Changing the subject, he motioned toward another small platform with a cable car waiting.  "That's the one we need."

"Great," I said sourly.  "Let's get on it and get out of here."  I sensed that Kivra was watching me hobble away in defeat, but I didn't dare turn around to see if it was only my imagination.  I just wanted to be somewhere far away from her as quickly as possible.

Wyver and I climbed into the cable car and sped away.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Negotiations Continue

It was my turn to laugh.  "You want three thousand demons?" I said incredulously.  Her fierce expression and her pressure on my throat both immediately intensified.

"I think," she hissed, "All things considered, that's a pretty fair deal."  She smiled at me again, twisting those inviting lips into an evil, manipulative grin.  "Your other option," she said, letting the thought hang.  I guess her goal was to get me to mentally fill in the blank.  I knew she could make me suffer for not acquiescing to her demands.  And I still needed to get out of here and down to General Gavsot's battle front.  

"Fine," I said hoarsely.  "Three thousand demons.  All yours."  It was a calculated loss.  A tactical treat.  Or I was pussying out to fight another day.  A tactical retreat.  Whatever.  The point was I'd be able to get away from Kivra, her grip on my throat, and her lithe body rubbing against me.  

But, to my dismay, I discovered that simply giving in to her did not free me from her power as I'd hoped.  Her hot, surprisingly unsexy breath was on my face again as she whispered, "What assurance do I have that you won't fuck me over a second time?"

Considering the plan was to fuck her over a second time, I struggled to find an acceptable reply.  "My...word of honor?" I offered weakly.  

Kivra didn't like that, but she released me--violently.  She let go of my neck and brought her knee up into my ribs as I fell.  I collapsed on the platform in front of her and she stood over me, giving me a clear view of her bare genitals and still managing to look imposing.  As much as I wanted to look, I was kind of worried that she'd rip my arms off if she caught me staring.

She leaned forward as she towered over me, her breasts hanging pleasantly from her toned body.  "Fuck your word of honor," she barked.  "The reason you won't fuck me over a second time is because you need me as an ally and you do not want me as an enemy."

My neck was burning and my ribs ached.  "Right," I said.  "That's what I meant to say."

"Fuckin' right," Kivra sneered.  "Now get the fuck out of my sight."