Friday, May 31, 2013

Diplomacy Fails

"Halkkor, wait!" I began babbling.  "Just hold on a second and think about this!"

"What is there to think about?" Halkkor asked, apparently rhetorically.  He'd closed the distance between us and backed me into a corner, but so far he was refraining from ripping my internal organs from my chest cavity.  "You agreed to work with me and then made arrangements for my assassination behind my back."

"What if Vilnius is lying?" I asked hopelessly.

"Is he?" Halkkor asked me.

"He is," I assured him.

Halkkor turned back to look at Vilnius.  "Are you?"

Vilnius shook his head.  "I'm not."

Halkkor turned back to me and appeared to momentarily consider the conflicting information he'd just received.  "He's not," he declared.  "Which means you die."

"Vilnius!" I called out.  "Attack Halkkor now!  That's an order!"

The smirk on Vilnius' face quickly changed to anger as, enslaved to the spell, he raced across the room to attack the King of Lucifer's Firstborn.  He grabbed the wooden chair from the floor and swiftly swung it against the desk to break off one of the legs.  Then, brandishing the splintered wooden spar, he leapt toward Halkkor's exposed back.

But, of course, since my attack order had been given aloud, Halkkor knew he was coming.  He spun, caught Vilnius by the throat in mid-leap, knocked the chair leg from his grasp, and plunged the bony blade protruding from his wrist deep into Vilnius' chest.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Betrayal Revealed

"You were ordered to assassinate me?" Halkkor repeated incredulously.

"That's right," Vilnius answered much too happily.

"And who, pray tell, orchestrated this egregious breach of trust?"  he asked, his voice changing from a low, dangerous growl to a thunderous, unrestrained bellow. The way he turned toward me as his question swelled to a scream seemed to indicate that I was his first suspect.  I have to give Halkkor credit for one thing--he's definitely not stupid.

I opened my mouth to attempt to convince him that Vilnius was lying, but before I could think of a way to begin, Vilnius jumped in and said, "It was your best buddy right here, of course."  Just in case anyone was unclear of who he meant, he clapped a hand of false friendship on my shoulder.

Halkkor glared at me.  He was big, scary monster guy, and it didn't take much for him to appear intimidating, but this was a whole new level for him.  I expected him to tear my limbs into pieces at any second without discussion or further provocation.  Of all the times I'd been terrified since my death and descent into Hell, this was easily the most terrifying.

"You've made your final fucking mistake, Devil," he shouted.  He began plodding toward me, muscles bulging.  He moved slowly at first, but he was picking up speed.  I backed away helplessly.

And I was helpless.  Because as the most fearsome creature I'd yet encountered in Hell began charging me, I realized that he was going to kill me and I still hadn't discovered how his kind could be killed at all.  I had no way to defend myself.

Behind Halkkor, Vilnius stood watching, arms crossed.  He was smirking proudly.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Planning the Transition

"Sorry," Winston droned blandly, although with a hint of what could have been annoyance.  "Did you say the two of us would run your new Department of Assignment?"

"That is correct," Halkkor cut in.  "As a matter of fact, since it will be only the two of you maintaining the entirety of the enterprise, it's a little pretentious to continue to grace it with a departmental title.  There will be no Department of Assignment, only you and your aide running a smooth, linear operation."

Winston stared at him, his mouth agape.  Dramien seethed silently, periodically switching between Halkkor and me as the target of his acrimonious glare.

Ignoring the fact that we'd all just endured an uncomfortable silence, Halkkor turned to me and said, "Why don't we get someone from the Department of Development down here?  I can work with these two on the dissolution of their staff while you work with Development on the particulars of the physical remodeling."

"That's an excellent idea," I said brightly, overplaying the cordiality of my relationship with Halkkor because I liked how it made Dramien squirm angrily.  I quickly dialed Vilnius' number on my phone.

"Yes?" he answered irritably.

"I'm in Winston's office," I told him brusquely.  "Teleport to me."  Obediently, my demon-on-a-leash appeared beside me a moment later.

Halkkor looked slightly started by the suddenness of teleportation, but he hid his reaction swiftly.  "This is your Director of Development?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.  "Vilnius, this is Halkkor, King of Lucifer's Firstborn.  Halkkor, Vilnius."  It should have seemed weird to introduce two evil badasses to each other in an office in Hell, but somehow it felt like how I imagine your average business meeting would start.  Any second now, we'd sit down in the conference room to discuss our profit and loss reports and maybe see about getting a new coffee machine for the break room.

The two of them, however, did not exchange a handshake and a polite smile.  Instead, Vilnius acknowledged Halkkor with a curt nod.  "I've heard quite a bit about you," he told my new co-ruler.  "In fact, I've even been ordered to assassinate you."

Halkkor's creepy, shark-like eyes narrowed suspiciously.

Fuck.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Re-assigning Assignment

I led Halkkor down the long hallway toward the soon-to-be-remodeled waiting room.

We stepped into the wide expanse of chairs and tables and magazine racks and confused, scared souls.  "So all this," I said, "we're turning into a hallway?"

"Yes," Halkkor answered, looking around grimly.  "This is a disorganized mess.  A simple first-in, first-out line would make things much, much simpler."

"Okay," I said.  "Should we get the Department of Development started on the renovations?"

"Yes, but first we'll need to inform the Department of Assignment of the changes.  That way they can adapt quickly to our new policies."  He turned to me expectantly.  "Where is the Director?"

I wordlessly led him back into the hallway and toward the door marked Exam Office.  "Here we are," I announced before barging in.

Winston Phelps, my melancholy human Director of Assignment, and his demon aide Dramien were both closely examining some file on the desk in front of them.  They looked up sharply when they heard me enter. "Hello, boys," I said.

"Sir," Winston acknowledged blandly.  His eyes widened as he saw Halkkor's hulking form enter the room.

In answer to his unspoken question, I said, "This is Halkkor.  He and I are jointly in charge."

Dramien narrowed his eyes at Halkkor as though he were both sizing him up and trying to give himself a brain aneurysm.  "So much for the Devil being the supreme overlord of Hell," he muttered with a sarcastic glance in my direction.

Ignoring him, I announced, "We've decided to change the way our assignment system works."

"Change?" Winston said, almost sounding excited--or maybe scared.  "How?"

"We'll be abandoning the current waiting room in favor of a single-file line," Halkkor summarized.  "The needlessly complex system of assignment will be replaced with a more elegant, less nuanced arrangement."

"So, what, we're being downsized?" Dramien said.

"Pretty much," I replied.  "We're thinking that the whole operation could be run by just the two of you."

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Broken Promise

I turned toward the door to my office, intending to walk Halkkor over to our waiting room so that we could discuss the specifics of its conversion into a hallway.  But before I got to the door, an irate Kivra appeared in front of me.

"I want my three thousand demons," she announced, apparently not bothering with small talk.

"Who is this?" Halkkor asked me, sounding bemused.

"Who the fuck are you?" Kivra spat angrily.  When she actually looked at him, she realized what he was and the realization hit her suddenly, resulting in an uncharacteristically comedic facial expression.

"Is he one of...?" she asked me hoarsely.  She looked sick.

"Halkkor, this is Kivra, from the Department of Torture," I said.  "Kivra, this is Halkkor, King of Lucifer's Firstborn."  With false penitence, I added, "I'm sorry, Kivra, but your department is being downsized.  I won't be able to give you those three thousand demons after all."  I completed the performance with an obnoxiously apologetic smile.

Her cheeks, despite their red skin, appeared to flush angrily.  "You promised," she growled uselessly.  "We had a fucking deal."  She was heaving in huge breaths of air, apparently trying to subdue her rage.  It made her alluring chest puff out repeatedly.  I was glad she was staying a few feet away from me because simply allowing me to see her breasts poke forward with every inhalation was less distracting than her usual practice of pressing them against me.

More removed than usual from her feminine whiles and her physical intimidation, I resolutely replied, "I changed my mind."

Kivra's eyes blazed, but she didn't move a step closer.  It was clear that she was terrified of what Halkkor might do to her if she resorted to her normal methods of manipulating me.  She glared at me for what seemed like several minutes before snarling, "Fine," and abruptly teleporting away.

I looked over at Halkkor with a new appreciation.  Intent on killing everyone or not, he could be a useful guy to have in my corner.  I gestured broadly toward the door.  "Shall we?"

Friday, May 17, 2013

The New Plan

It took a while of ginger negotiation, but Halkkor and I devised a plan to restructure the admissions process for new arrivals in Hell.

The waiting room in which I'd arrived would be converted into a hallway.  The hallway would house a line of freshly-damned souls shambling slowly toward a door at the end where they'd be introduced to the demon whose job it would be to torture them.  Demons would be assigned unceremoniously based on who was next up.  It was simple, methodical, and, by Halkkor's design, much less bureaucratic.

The barracks would be expanded to allow one small room for each soul to live and suffer in--which would mean constant construction, allowing the Department of Construction to stay in place, at least until Halkkor devised a way to eliminate it.  I couldn't convince him to stagger the severity of the punishments based on the seriousness of their crimes, but I did manage to convince him to allow a system of recommendation for demons to submit the hard cases for transfer to the old Department of Torture, where Kivra, working with an extremely smaller staff, would supervise the tormenting of souls who were more resistant to traditional methods of torture.  Halkkor insisted on reviewing these recommendations personally to ensure they weren't overused.

"This isn't good enough," Halkkor announced in frustration after we'd finished.  "Too many departments will remain in operation and too little of the power will be centralized.  We need a better arrangement."

"So, what, you just want to scrap the last few hours of planning and start from scratch?" I asked.  I immediately regretted making that suggestion, even though I meant for it to sound like a bad idea.

He paused, apparently considering my suggestion.

"Listen," I blurted, hoping to interrupt his thought process and give him a less horrible one.  "Listen, this kind of extreme change is going to be difficult to enact all at once.  Why don't we work on restructuring the entrances and build from there?  This is a good start, right?  It's progress?  Let's put it into action and improve it more once we get it established."

He stared at me wordlessly for a long time.  Actually, it might have been only a few seconds, but the appraising quality of his gaze and its perturbing intensity made it seem like that stare went on for much, much longer than it needed to.

Finally he gave me a curt nod and said, "Yes.  I suppose that will do for now."

I smiled uncomfortably.  "Super.  Let's get to work."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back to Business

Azraal was off to do gather information on Lucifer's Firstborn.  Jorge was in charge of keeping an eye on our unexpected and lethal guests.  Vilnius was prepared to begrudgingly perpetrate an attempt on Halkkor's life. I thought I'd made a pretty good move considering how outmatched I was.  It was time for me to go back to Halkkor and continue pretending to be his ally.

I teleported back to my office to find Halkkor glaring impatiently at Gus, who was speaking to him with a speed heightened by the fear of his audience.

"So then I told her, 'My last wife let me use the back door, but if you're not going to, then what was the point of leaving her in the first place?'  But she...."  Gus suddenly noticed my presence and finished more slowly.  "...uh...she didn't think that was funny.  Um, our fearless leader has returned."

Halkkor looked over at me.  "Leave me alone with this man one more time and I will tear out his tongue and forcibly insert it up his rectum."  Before I responded, I heard a faint whimpering noise from Gus's vicinity that sounded like he might be wetting himself.

"Understood," I told Halkkor.  "I apologize for stepping out for a moment.  Want to continue planning our overhaul of the system?"

"Better than listening to your man here discuss the more revolting points of his ex-wives sexual appetites," Halkkor said with a contemptuous smirk in Gus's direction.

"Fair enough," I said, trying to get down to business as quickly as possible before Gus fainted.  "I believe when I left, we were discussing the possibility of dissolving the Department of Assignment?"

"That is correct," Halkkor said.  And we began to try and iron out the details of how Hell would operate without its waiting room and its exhaustive placement programs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Setting Things in Motion, Part III

I arrived in the middle of the vast, stony plain outside the Barracks.  I pulled out my cell phone (or Hell phone, as Gus preferred to call it) and dialed Vilnius' number.

He picked up after six rings.  He did not sound happy to be communicating with me.  I think he might have some kind of heightened animosity toward him ever since Gus and I worked that spell on him that forced him to obey my orders.  Not that I blame him.

"Yes, your eminence?" he answered.

"Vilnius, my man," I said, matching his sarcasm.  "I need to talk to you.  I'm standing in the middle of nowhere outside the Barracks of the Damned.  Teleport to me.  Now."

"One moment please," he growled before promptly hanging up.  A moment later, he appeared almost a mile away from me, off to my right.  He looked around, saw me, and disappeared.  Then he was standing in front of me.

"The fuck do you want from me?" he grumbled.

"Unless you're utterly terrible at your job," I began, "You must know that your boys in the Department of Development found a bunch of demon-killing monsters and got themselves killed."

"I'd heard," he replied angrily, looking down.

"So here's how you're going to help fix it," I told him.  "You're going to assassinate Halkkor, their leader."

"Why me?" he whined.  "Pull some pussy spellwork on somebody else and make that guy do it."

I smiled.  "Because I pulled the pussy spellwork on you.  You don't have a choice.  And if you fail and Halkkor kills you, I've lost nothing."

He returned my smile with extra sarcasm.  "Superb.  Fine.  How do I kill this asshat?"

I shrugged.  "I'm working on that," I said.  "But when I find out, I'm going to call you, you're going to answer, and you're going to do it.  Okay?"

"It doesn't really matter if it's okay," he reminded me, nostrils flaring.  "Because I'll have to do it regardless."

"Good talk," I concluded.  I patted him gently on his horned head simply because I felt like pissing him off a little more.  "I'll be in touch."

And I teleported away, leaving him fantasizing of at least two dozen different methods of dismembering me.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Setting Things in Motion, Part II

Azraal was off to collect some intel on Lucifer's Firstborn.  I decided that maybe, considering how precarious my agreement was with Halkkor, I needed to be proactive.  I needed to make the first move and cross him before he crossed me.

I teleported to Jorge's office.  I appeared in front of his desk, standing beside Wyver, who gave me a guilty look as though he'd just been talking shit about me.  Jorge, in contrast, seemed mildly bemused by my sudden presence.

I didn't have time to address the awkwardness. Ingoring the abashed Wyver, I spoke directly to Jorge.  "I need you to do something," I told him.

"Of course," Jorge said.  "How may I assist you?"  He spoke with the fluid cadence of an experienced salesman.

"I need you to organize a reconnaissance mission as quickly as possible," I said.  "We have an army of demon-killing monsters downstairs and I need to be kept aware of whether or not they're keeping their word and staying put.  I need your demons to observe them and to alert me immediately if they seem to be up to something."

Jorge nodded.  "Consider it done," he replied.  He barked out the name of an aide, who immediately entered the office from his post outside the door.

Satisfied that Jorge was on top of his assignment, I teleported away.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Setting Things in Motion, Part I

"So what do you need me to do?" Azraal asked with uncharacteristic humility.  It was weird and kind of exhilarating to see him willing to take orders from me.

"How old are you?" I asked.

"How old am I?" he replied in annoyance.  His true arrogance was showing through a little bit despite his claim of temporary subservience.  "How is that relevant?"

"I just get the impression that you've been around a while," I said.  "Maybe you're older and more knowledgeable than some of the other demons."

"I haven't been around since the beginning," he admitted impatiently.  "But I'm older than most.  What's this about?"

"I need you to pull in all your favors and collect all your resources," I said.  I felt so powerful ordering my most dangerous nemesis around. I felt larger in the room, closer to the ceiling and that much more intimidating to the confused souls sitting around us.  "I need as much information as you can get about these things.  They call themselves Lucifer's Firstborn."

Azraal kept his expression mild, but his eyes blazed angrily.  "You want me to do research?" he asked.

"Call it networking," I said with a half smile.  "Use those people skills of yours to get some information.  I don't necessarily need you in the library of Congress slaving over stacks of books--I just need you to be managing the ones who are."

"Fine," Azraal said sarcastically.  "Your wish is my command."

"And Azraal?" I said quickly, sensing he was about to teleport out of the room.  "Make it a priority to find out how we can make these fuckers die."

He looked me in the eyes and gave me what was perhaps a completely genuine smile.  "Oh, I can definitely work on that," he promised me.  And then he disappeared.

I stood in silence, ruminating on his possible role in my gradually forming plan to the soft tones of "Solsbury Hill."  For the most part, I believed him.  I could probably trust him to side with me until Lucifer's Firstborn had been taken care of--although I had the sense that he'd probably try to attack me sooner than he wanted me to believe.  But there was also the possibility that he could form his own alliance with Halkkor and use that to force me out.

This was getting too complicated.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Azraal's Proposition

I appeared in the midst of the huge waiting room.  Souls of various ages sat in silence, looking confused, terrified and occasionally bored.  The Doobie Brothers' "Black Water" played lightly from the ceiling-mounted speakers.

Azraal stood in the approximate center of the room.  He looked, surprisingly, scared and humbled.  It was a new look for him and as best I could tell it was a look he wasn't faking.

"Azraal," I said flatly.  It was one of those manly, suspicious greetings.  Like in movies right before the bad guy and the good guy circle each other and begin an epic fight scene.

"Thanks for meeting me," he said.

"Why are you here?" I asked irascibly.  "Shouldn't you be busy trying to usurp my throne?"

He shook his head.  "I want to propose a temporary truce," he said.

"A truce?" I echoed incredulously.  It was impossible to tell if I was being excessively paranoid, but this seemed like the beginnings of a trap.  "Why?"

"I've heard rumors," Azraal explained.  "Some kind of pre-demonic species has been unleashed somewhere down in the Department of Torture.  Their leader is bent on destroying all of us."

He stared at me as though he expected an answer despite having not asked a question.  "Okay," I said.

"They're not rumors," Azraal summarized.

He was looking to me for confirmation.  "No," I said.  "Their leader, Halkkor, is in my office right now.  We've reached an agreement--which is likely temporary--to work together to improve Hell's efficiency.  For now, that's what I could do to stop the slaughter."

Azraal nodded.  "Then how do I help?"

I shrugged.  "You don't," I said.  "I don't trust you.  I can't trust you.  How many times have you tried to take over?"

Azraal snorted.  "Look," he snapped.  "As soon as we take care of this problem, I'll be plotting my rise to power again.  But even though I may be a power-hungry conniving, backstabbing, egocentric asshole, I understand what's at stake here.  I'm not selfish enough to see that if we don't work together here, we're all dead."

"How do I know this isn't a trap?" I asked.

"You can trust me," he assured me.  "I may be selfish, but the only way that I can serve my own interest of survival is by combining forces.  Once we kick these things' asses, then you won't be able to trust me anymore.  But for now, I'm the most powerful ally you can have."

I wasn't convinced, but he was starting to convince me that I couldn't afford not to be convinced.  This might be a risk I had to take.

"Okay," I finally said.  "I think I know how you can help."

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Visitor

The door to my office opened and Sylnie entered.

She was still wearing her French maid outfit that gave her bottomless cleavage.  It had been a while since I'd seen her.  I stared openly.  I couldn't help myself.

"Sir," she said demurely, "You have a visitor in the waiting room.  He requests to meet with you there immediately."

At least I think that's what she said.  I struggled to listen because I suddenly realized that I really didn't want Halkkor to see me pop a boner after one look at my secretary.  It seemed like a sign of weakness and I'd already shown him too many of those.

I quickly ushered Sylnie out the door.  As I followed her, I said, "Excuse me one moment, Halkkor, I'll be back as soon as I can."  Halkkor gave me an even gaze which seemed to say that he wasn't deeply offended by the discourtesy but he didn't much like being demoted to second priority.

As I closed the door, making sure to keep my crotch turned away from the lethal-hulk-beast-thing, I said, "Gus, why don't you run our guest here through a quick outline of how the Department of Transportation works?"

Gus shot me a helpless look of betrayal and nodded sadly.  I closed the door.  In the privacy of the hallway, I asked Sylnie to repeat what she'd just told me.

"Who is it?" I asked.

"It's Azraal," she replied.  "He wanted me to stress that he comes in peace."

"Do you believe him?" I asked.

She shrugged, making her boobs wobble slightly.  "He came alone.  I think he's in the waiting room because he knows it's being watched by your demons.  It's kind of like a public place in your territory where he's likely to get caught if he tries to attack you."

I nodded.  "Okay, thanks."  Almost unwittingly, I peered down her dress one more time.  "I like your outfit," I mumbled apologetically.

She smiled.  "I know."

Blushing, I wordlessly teleported to the waiting room to meet Azraal.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Streamlining

"So this is your office?" Halkkor asked rhetorically, strutting around the room as though he were getting a sense of its threat level.

Gus,still shaking, sidled over to me.  "Bro," he whispered.  "A little warning next time before you materialize three inches from me with the scariest fucking thing I've ever seen in tow."

"Sorry," I replied.  "I didn't know you'd be here."

"What the hell is that guy doing here?" he asked quietly.

"We agreed to work together to restructure Hell," I said.  "Make it more efficient."  He gave me a look.  "It was the only way I could think of to get him to not annihilate everybody," I whispered defensively.

"Shall we begin?" came Halkkor's gruff voice from the other side of the room.  I got the sense that he didn't appreciate a furtive whispered conversation going on.

"Absolutely," I said immediately.  I turned to face him, beaming with false affability.  "I was thinking we could start by reviewing our system of assigning each soul a kind of torture."

Halkkor shook his head.  "We don't need that.  Everyone in Hell deserves torture but we don't need to concern ourselves with personalization.  If anything, the torturers can learn on the fly--as they get to know their subjects, they will learn what kinds of things will torment them the most."

"Oh," I said, shocked by the brutal simplicity of his suggestion.  "But we can't just dissolve the entire department of Assignment," I argued.  "That would mean--"

"More demons free to contribute to actual torture," he interrupted me impatiently.  "I thought you wanted to streamline your organization and maximize the pain you can inflict on your souls."  Man, this guy was paranoid.  First he thought I was attacking him when I tried to teleport him.  Now he seemed to think that I'd only made a deal with him out of convenience and that we didn't actually share the same goals and ideals.

Okay, he was right about his second concern.  But it was important for him to not have his suspicions confirmed.  I needed to come up with a convincing answer to reassure him that our intentions were aligned.  If I didn't, he'd probably put me through one of the walls.

"Right, of course," I babbled.  "I do want to do that, but I was just--"

There was a knock at my door.  That would work as a diversion--or at least buy me more time to come up with an acceptable response.  "Come in!" I shouted nervously.