Friday, June 28, 2013

Circumventing Loyalty

"So what, we go over there and just start beating it out of him?" I asked.  "What's to stop him from just killing us?"

"He is not aware that you and Halkkor have terminated your partnership," Gavsot said.  "He will be bound to talk to you by his allegiance to his king."

"If I punch him in the face and ask him if Halkkor can survive falling into a lake of lava, I think he'll figure it out," I said.

"Then be less direct," Gavsot suggested.

"Fine," I said.  I stepped toward the gaggle of pit guards and motioned for them to lower their assortment of spears, lassos, hooks and pikes.  Niven, in the center of the group, glared at me as I approached.  He wasn't as big as Halkkor, but he also didn't appear to be as much the master of his rage as Halkkor.

"Do you know who I am?" I asked him.

"I remember," Niven replied curtly.

"Do you know what I want?" I asked.

"No," he said.

"I want to know what hurts you," I informed him.  I turned to Torvin, the demon attempting to keep charge of the frightened pit guards.  "Do we have a group of weapons or something for interrogations?"

"Yeah," Torvin replied, his eyes wide.  "I mean, yes, sir, we do."

"Bring them here for me," I said, trying to be as theatrically menacing as I could.  "Niven and I need to have a chat."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Niven's Cell

We appeared in one of the many jail cells in the Department of Enforcement.  In front of us, about a dozen pit guards under the direction of a frazzled-looking demon were struggling to contain Halkkor's second in command.  

"Niven will be able to tell us what physical dangers his species can withstand," Gavsot said confidently.  He strode over to his demon, who was barking orders at the pit guards.  "Torvin, report," Gavsot said.

"Sir, the usual cocktail doesn't seem to be doing any good," Torvin replied.  "We've had to keep constant guard instead.  He's been resisting us.  He's very stubborn, sir!"

"Usually we periodically stab our inmates with a cocktail designed to sap strength and supernatural ability," Gavsot reminded me.  "This approach seems to have failed us in Niven's case."

"Okay," I said.  "So if we don't know how to weaken him, how to we get information out of him?"

"Violently," he replied.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Back to Enforcement

I arrived in the slightly repopulated Department of Enforcement.  It didn't feel like it was back up to full capacity yet, but it wasn't the ghost town it had been last time I visited.  And thankfully somebody had cleaned up the mess from the beheaded pit guard I'd stumbled upon.  A different pit guard, whose head seemed pretty firmly attached to his shoulders, was seated behind the desk.

"Sir?" he asked expectantly.

"Can you tell General Gavsot I'm here to see him?" I asked.

"Right away, sir."  He pressed what must have been some kind of intercom and spoke into it.  His voice echoed over a PA system that reminded me eerily of a supermarket's.  "General Gavsot, the Devil is here to see you in the foyer.  General Gavsot to the foyer."  I also found it weird that he bothered to pronounced foyer as foi-ey--he was a hideous creature bred in Hell and serving in Hell, but at least he had his class.  

Gavsot teleported in to the foi-ey a minute or two later.  "Hello, sir," he said briskly.  "What can I do for you?"

As quickly as I could, I told him about Vilnius's betrayal and death, my fight with Halkkor and Halkkor's current whereabouts.  He listened attentively, and, when I was finished, he simply asked, "What now?"

"I don't know," I admitted.  "I want to find a way to either determine whether or not he's dead, but I don't even know how to find him."

Gavsot nodded.  "I think I may know how," he said.  And he reached out, gripped me firmly by the shoulder, and psychically relocated us.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Losing Cool

"You want to survey the lake of fire?" Jorge asked me.  His usual slow, fluid wording now made it sound like my idea was ridiculous.  Maybe it was.

"Halkkor and I had a violent disagreement," I summarized, breathing heavily, "which ended with him falling into the pit of lava.  I want to see if he survived because if he didn't survive then we are approximately twelve-point-six times more fucked than we were before!"  I slammed my fist on his desk like he wasn't paying enough attention to me.

Okay, so I might be panicking.  The adrenaline from my bizarre little battle with Halkkor was wearing off and now I was worried that he'd come back from the dead like a bad slasher movie villain and skin me alive or something.

Jorge did not seem to appreciate my leaning forward over his desk and bellowing in his face.  He moved backward, palms up defensively.  Thinly, he said, "Sir, this is the Department of Transportation in Hell.  Do you think we have a fleet of helicopters and a pile of sonar equipment just laying around?"

I exhaled sharply through flared nostrils.  "So that's a no, is it?"

"I can help you find another solution, but I can't work miracles.  You hired me for my leadership skills and business sense, not for my reconnaissance expertise, no?" he reminded me.

"You're right," I muttered.  "I should have taken this to Gavsot."  I paced briefly, trying to think and feeling nothing but murkiness in my brain.  "Your men are still watching Halkkor's army, right?" I asked.

"They are," he replied.

"And they're staying put?" I asked.

He nodded.  "One of my men gives me a personal report every thirty minutes.  He has a standing order to report to me immediately in the case of a sudden or urgent development.  There has been no movement."

I nodded, still pacing.  "Okay," I said.  "Good work."  And I teleported away.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Enjoying Freedom

The joy of that realization almost allowed me to ignore my wounded leg.  I'd freed myself!  Vilnius had revealed my plan to assassinate Halkkor, and I'd managed to escape before Halkkor could wreak his vengeance upon me.

I wondered if Halkkor could survive the lava.  I wondered if there was even a way to get out of the lake.  Judging by the pain I'd just experienced from dipping my foot in the lava, the anguish Halkkor must be in was incalculable.  Unfathomable.  The kind of thing that you don't even wish on the King of Lucifer's Firstborn, let alone your worst enemy.  Halkkor was kind of a baddass, though, so his threshold for pain was certainly much higher than mine.

I needed to focus.  I needed to figure out what to do in case he survived.  Actually, I needed to figure out a way to determine whether he was still alive or not.

I teleported to Jorge's office in the Department of Transportation, facing his desk.  "Jorge," I blurted, "I need you to do something!"

Jorge sat forward abruptly.  Apparently my developing habit of making urgent and unexpected entrances had a way of getting his attention.  Wyver, who was standing next to me, looked me up and down in horror.  "Shit, what happened to you?"

Right.  My legs were ripped to bloody shreds and one of them was burnt to a crisp.  The rest of me probably didn't look too hot either.  "Long story," I said dismissively.  "Jorge, do we have a way of, um, surveying that lake of fire in the Department of Torture?"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Timing is Everything

We were still falling.  Halkkor was refusing to let go no matter how violently I struck his face with my fists.  And we were hurtling toward the lava with a sense of inevitability.  It just seemed that, no matter what happened, we were about to go for a swim in Hellfire Lake.

As we closed the final distance of our descent, I decided that my only option was to play this like a game of chicken.  I'd have to wait for the last possible second, when Halkkor had hit the surface but I hadn't, to teleport.  The shock of being dunked in a sea of liquid fire would make him let go of me.  It had to.  And at that moment, I'd be free to make my midair escape.

The lava rushed up at us.  Halkkor made eye contact with me and seemed to grit his teeth in preparation for impact.  I admired his ability not to stare down in horror at his future source of excruciating pain.  I conjured up my destination in my mind, preparing myself for the perfect timing this would require. The instant that I heard Halkkor's voice scream in unbridled agony, I willed my body to travel there.

I didn't time it right.

I landed on the top of the cliff at the spot where we had slipped off.  For on brief, beautiful moment I thought I'd made it, but then my brain received some status reports from my nerves and I was suddenly enveloped in the most blinding, all-encompassing pain I'd ever experienced.

My right leg, apparently, had entered the lava just as I was vanishing.  It felt like my foot to about halfway up my shin had melted off.  The pain was unbelievable--but it wasn't limited to my leg.  The lava seemed to have worked its way into my bloodstream and my entire body boiled from the inside for a few interminable seconds.  Eventually, as I writhed in agony on the stony ground, the sensation subsided and withdrew like a haunting monster to my foot, where it lurked, waiting.

Once I'd recovered enough to open my eyes, I examined my leg.  It was black and charred and peeling alarmingly thick scales of seared flesh.  It was, as I'd mentioned, in extreme pain.  But as I tested my weight on it a little bit, I decided that it was still mostly usable.  I wasn't sure how or if my demonesque body would heal from this, but I was cautiously optimistic that I wouldn't need an amputation and a peg leg.

Suddenly I realized that I was alone.  Halkkor had not made the jump with me.

I'd escaped.

Friday, June 14, 2013

In the Air

Letting go certainly took Halkkor by surprise.  His shouting stopped.  For a moment, as we first slipped out into the open air, he went entirely silent.

Then, below me, I heard an incredulous whisper:  "Are you fucking crazy?"

I guess I expected to go down like Gandalf and the Balrog, battling heroically as we fell hundreds of stories toward our doom.  But it didn't work out like that.  Halkkor was either too stubborn or too smart and he'd decided not to let go of my feet.

So we just fell.  In an almost reverent silence.

As the lava loomed closer, I realized that I should probably try and do something before we splashed into the yellow-orange liquid that looked like it could melt anything on contact.  So, awkwardly, I tried to pretzel myself into a position in the air that would allow me to beat Halkkor's hands with my fists until he let go of me.

I slammed my balled fists against his fingers, but all it did was send white-hot pangs up my legs.  Halkkor looked up at me and smiled.  His grin looked particularly sinister against the backdrop of a rapidly approaching ocean of lava.

"You have to teleport sooner or later," he shouted over the rush of air.  "I'm not letting go."

So I reached down and punched him in his smug face.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hanging On

I had to give Halkkor credit.  He was one tough son of a bitch.

I was hanging on to the edge of a cliff for dear life, everything below my chest dangling out above a sea of roiling lava.  And Halkkor was hanging on, if possible, even tighter to my ankles.  He was refusing to let go no matter how hard I kicked.  

He was also screaming at me.  At a point that seemed to indicate imminent demise for us both, he was screaming threats, oaths and epithets at me with his usual eloquent manner.  And that fucker refused to let go of me.  If I managed to hold on to the cliff for much longer, I expected his grip to eventually sever my feet at the ankles.  I grimly imagined him falling to a fiery death still clutching my bleeding feet in his hands.

"--and strip every inch of flesh from your bones one layer at a time," Halkkor continued dementedly.  I wasn't really listening to him.  I was too busy digging my fingernails into the rock and trying to find a solution to my I'm-about-to-die problem.

I couldn't teleport again--the King of Lucifer's Firstborn would still be clinging to my heels when I arrived in a safe location.  But I couldn't not teleport, because as far as I could tell, that was my only way out of this situation.  Despite the amplified strength in my devil's body, I wouldn't be able to crawl back on the ledge with Satan's Little Rhinoceros still attached.

"--meddling with one of the oldest, darkest sons of evil itself and you won't get away with it no matter how many times you try to kill me, you pompous little backstabbing bastard," Halkkor continued.  I felt a sharp pain in my left calf and realized that he was using his claws to climb up.

I had to find a way to get him to let go of me.  The only way I could think of was to go with the element of surprise.

So I let go.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Taking a Tumble

I took a moment longer to focus on my next destination, as the exact location would be of highest importance.  But I still had to move quickly before Halkkor could regain his bearings and claw my leg off.  As soon as I could, I teleported again.

I appeared at the edge of the grand fiery chasm between the Barracks of the Damned and the Department of Torture.  To my delight, I discovered that my desired effect had been achieved--I was standing on the edge of the cliff and Halkkor was suddenly thrust out into the air above the enormous pit of bubbling lava.  What I hadn't considered, of course, was that when he appeared above the lava and immediately fell, he might keep his grip on my ankle.

Halkkor fell with a low yelp.  His claws dug deeply and painfully into my leg.  He held on and swung with a thud against the rock face.  All of his weight pulled at my ankle.  I lost my footing.  I hit the ground hard on my side, sliding quickly toward the precipice over which I'd hoped to dispose of my foe.  Instead, it looked like we'd both be taking a swim in the lake of fire.

Swearing unavailingly under my breath, I grappled with the dry shale as I slid, searching frantically for a handhold.  I found one--then two.  But they were both tiny imperfections in the flat expanse of stone and I was literally hanging on by my fingertips.  For the moment, however, I was safe from the lava.

And, of course, now tenaciously digging his fingers into my flesh with both hands, Halkkor held on.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Shaking a Tail

Before  Halkkor could get up or even start slashing at my legs, I made another quick decision--I had to shake him loose.

As far as I could tell, Halkkor was incapable of teleporting and hadn't had any experience being teleported until he'd met me.  I was hoping that, by jumping around to as many different locations as quickly as possible, I'd be able to maintain some kind of advantage.  If I kept him in constant disorientation his grip would slip and I'd eventually be able to make a jump without dragging him along.

So I teleported to the entrance to the Department of Enforcement.  Then I jumped to the cable car hub in the Department.  Then to the waiting room in the Department of Assignment.  Then the reception area in the Department of Transportation.  Then back to the emptiness near the Barracks of the Damned.  Then back to my office.  Then about two dozen other places.  Each time I arrived with that same fiendish pressure on my ankle to remind me that the horrible monster who was trying to kill me was still hanging on like a champ.  He  was also screaming something unintelligible at me--although apparently sound cuts out for that split second when you're between two places, so I could only catch every other syllable.

Somewhere around the tenth jump, it occurred to me that my plan might not be working.  Over the next few teleportations, I decided that I needed to use my destination to force my adversary's grip to weaken.  So finally, after repeated teleporting that had done little more to my enemy than deal him a hellish version of jet lag, I arrived at what I'd hoped would be my last stop.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Flight or Flight

Shit.

Shit shit shit.

Vilnius was dead.  Halkkor was pissed, out for more blood, and had me in his crosshairs.  Considering I was the reason he was so pissed, I guess I couldn't blame him.  But in about zero point zero-two-six seconds his blade was going to be ventilating at least one of my vital organs.  I had to do something and I had almost no time to think.

I looked around the office, frantically considering my options:  First, I could run--

That one sounded like it would work.  I immediately stopped brainstorming and focused all my energies on fleeing the scene.  Perhaps sensing that I was about to teleport, Halkkor lunged at me, effectively closing the distance between us.  I dodged to the left, focused on the barren expanse of wilderness near the Barracks, and teleported.

But with speed that was truly frightening, Hallkor's hand shot out and gripped my ankle just as I departed.  When I appeared in the rocky plain a moment later, Halkkor appeared with me, looking every bit as pissed as before.

Shit.

Shit shit shit.

Monday, June 3, 2013

One Down

Vilnius, transfixed by the blade from Halkkor's wrist, erupted with noise.  He let out the most agonized, bloodcurdling shriek I'd ever had the misfortune to hear.  Amid his physical anguish, however, he maintained an expression of awe and confusion, staring down at his wound as though its presence were a source of both beauty and mystery.

He was dying.  Apparently this was a sensation to which he was unaccustomed.

Halkkor withdrew his blade from Vilnius' chest and callously watched his victim collapse in a bleeding heap.  With a slow, theatrical turn, he shot me a menacing glare from the corner of his eye.  "That was a masterfully executed plan," he mocked.  "But somehow your brilliance and cunning failed to vanquish me."

"Wait," I begged uselessly as he approached, his frame seeming to grow larger with each step.  "Let's talk about this."

"Talk?" he scoffed.  "Talk is what led me into your pitiful little trap in the first place.  I've had my fill of talk."  He smiled, apparently taking sincere pleasure in my imminent doom.  "Now is the time for action."

The blades on each of his arms looked really, really sharp.