Friday, August 30, 2013

Forming a Party

I blinked stupidly.  “Hell has a ceiling?”  I looked around at my cohorts.  “Hell has a ceiling?” I repeated.

Gus shrugged.  “Don’t feel too bad, bro, I’ve been here a few decades now and this is news to me too.”
Gavsot coughed.  “I have heard of Hell’s Attic,” he croaked hoarsely.  “Is this the same thing?”

“Probably,” Azraal said.

“Okay, how do we get there?” I asked.

“There’s a small crevice in the rock behind the Department of Development,” Azraal explained.  “It leads to a cave.  The top of the cave has a tunnel that leads to the ceiling.”

“So we just crawl through a cave, get into Hell’s Attic, and meet this daughter of Lucifer, who will verify your method of killing Lucifer’s Firstborn?” I summarized.

“Yes,” he replied thinly.  He clearly was not pleased about supplying this information.  I wondered if he still had any tricks up his sleeve and when he’d decide to use them.

“Then let’s get started,” I said.  “Sylnie, do you mind staying here and looking after Gavsot until he’s recovered?”

“I don’t mind staying out of this,” Sylnie said.  I suddenly imagined her in a sexy nurse outfit as she tended to Gavsot’s weakened body.  Then I did my best to force such an irrelevant and distracting thought from my head.

“I could do that,” Torvin volunteered pitiably.  I think he knew I’d make him come with, but I guess he felt the need to try anyway.

I said, “No, you’re coming with us.  Jorge, I trust you have someone running your Department in your absence?  I think I could use your help on this.” 

Jorge nodded.  “Yes, Wyver and my other aides have everything running smoothly and they can reach me by phone if something comes up.  But with all due respect, sir, I don’t know that I would be much help.  I’m not a demon.  My abilities are limited.”

“Yeah,” I acknowledged. “But you seem pretty levelheaded and I get the impression you’ve got a pretty good bullshit detector.  I can definitely use that.”

“Then of course I’ll come with you,” he agreed graciously.

“Wonderful,” I said briskly.  “Gus, grab our favorite head.  Torvin, Jorge, let’s go find Hell’s Attic.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


“Well?” I barked. “Where can we find Lucifer’s daughter?”

“Reunite my head with my body,” Azraal ordered.  “Then I’ll tell you.”

“Nope,” I said flatly.  “Tell me, and if your story pans out and we can successfully kill Lucifer’s Firstborn, then and only then will I reunite you with your body.”

He smiled smugly.  “I think you need me more than I need you,” he said.  “You may act like you’re not desperate, but I know you’ll eventually acquiesce to my demand.”

I shook my head.  “Or I could go grab your body right now and toss it into the middle of Halkkor’s army.  We can find out how long it takes your head to die after they kill your body.”

Azraal no longer seemed amused.  “That would be suicide,” he said.

I shrugged.  “Nah.  If you figured out how to kill those fuckers or how to find this daughter of Lucifer who told you how to do it, I’m sure the rest of us could figure that stuff out too, eventually.  I’m just trying to save some time.  You’re still expendable.”

The beheaded demon considered this briefly.  “All right,” he sighed.  “I can take you to her.”

“Super,” I said.  “Where are we going?”

“Hell’s ceiling,” Azraal replied.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lucifer's First Born

He was lying.  He had to be lying.

“Lucifer’s Firstborn?” I repeated incredulously.  “You mean you just walked up to Halkkor and asked him how you could kill him?”

“If he’d done that, he’d have been dead long before the Boss-Man here could have torn his head off,” Gus murmured to Jorge.

“No, not Lucifer’s Firstborn,” Azraal corrected smugly.  “Lucifer’s First Born.  He created Halkkor’s species, but I’m talking about Lucifer’s actual, physical offspring.”

“What?” I snapped.  I was getting tired of Azraal’s obnoxious slow-reveal tactics.  “So you’re saying there’s a little Lucifer mini-me running around somewhere?”

“He has a daughter,” Azraal explained.  “She’s the one who told me.”

He stopped talking, clearly relishing the way we were all staring at him expectantly, hanging on his words. 

“And?” I prodded impatiently.  “Where can we find her?”

Azraal’s grin grew even wider.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Azraal Speaks

Azraal held out.  Periodically demanding that he tell us what he knew about killing Lucifer’s Firstborn, we used his head to play croquet, football and volleyball.  I also attempted to use his head as a quaffle, but Jorge and I struggled to explain the rules of Quidditch to the demons.  We’d arranged a small game of soccer (which Sylnie in particular seemed to have a knack for) when Azraal had finally had enough.

“All right!” he shouted from the floor.  Jorge kicked him a moment later and Gavsot, who’d been assigned as a goalkeeper due to his lack of mobility and the fact that we’d decided to use the doors as the goals, weakly blocked him.  Azraal rolled away into a corner.  “Fuck, this is humiliating!” he raged.  “Just stop!  I’ll help!”

I walked over and picked him up.  “Feeling cooperative?” I taunted.

“If you don’t take me back to my body after this,” he growled, “I’ll—”

“You’ll remained stationary,” I interrupted.  “I’ll hold up my end of the deal.  Now tell me what you know.”

He scowled at me for a moment.  Either he was coming up with a convincing lie or contemplating whether or not he should cooperate after all.  Finally, he said, “The only way I found to kill one of Lucifer’s Firstborn is to pierce it through the heart with a blade that’s been soaked in the blood of a murderer and the blood of a healer, then burned in the fires of Hell and washed in the waters of Earth.”

Everyone went silent.  It was an oddly specific, swiftly recited answer that took each of us a moment to digest.  Then everyone started talking.

“What?”  Gus said.  “Seriously?”

“Did you just make that up?” Sylnie asked.

Torvin whined, “That sounds pretty complicated, guys.”

Gavsot said wearily, “This will need to be verified before we proceed.”

“That’s either a very specific truth,” Jorge reasoned, “or a lie that he spent a lot of time working on.”

“Where did you find this out?” I demanded from Azraal.

His battered little head grinned mischievously.  “From Lucifer’s Firstborn,” he said.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Coming to a Head

I ripped the duct tape off Azraal’s mouth. 

“I have no interest whatsoever in helping you and your band of merry men,” he announced immediately.

“Really?” I replied.  “So you also didn’t have any interest in being reunited with your body?”

He narrowed his eyes and glared at me.  It was one of the few threatening gestures he had left in his arsenal.  “Don’t fuck with me, boy, I’ve had my head removed and I am in no mood to be dicked around.”

“I’m not dicking you around,” I said.  “It’s completely practical—we don’t like each other, but I need something from you.  The only way I’m going to get it is if I give you something that you want even more.”

“You’re promising to return me to my body if I tell you how to kill Lucifer’s Firstborn?” he clarified suspiciously. 

“Yes,” I said.  “If you tell us that and provide any other relevant knowledge we may need.”

“No,” Azraal said flatly.

“Boss,” Gus said quietly, “Did you ever play tee-ball?”

This did not seem like the appropriate time for such a question.  “What?” I said petulantly.

Jorge, it seemed, had caught Gus’ drift.  He picked up a wooden chair, broke it roughly over his knee, and withdrew a length of wood from its remnants.  Brandishing it like a baseball bat, he approached the desk and said, “May I?”

I nodded.  He took a massive swing and knocked Azraal’s protesting head off the desk, propelling it into a bookshelf.  The head landed on the floor, nose down.  Azraal cursed violently, but it was hard to take him seriously when his words were muffled by the thick carpet and his voice was comically nasal from his squashed nose.

“Boss,” Gus said quietly, “Did you ever play golf?”

Jorge grinned at me.  “May I?”

Monday, August 19, 2013

The War Room

A few minutes later, I had gathered what remained of my allies in my office for a serious brainstorming session.  Sylnie, Torvin, Wyver and Jorge were standing.  General Gavsot was conscious but slumped over in a wooden chair.  I was seated behind my desk with the always-loyal Gus standing beside me.  Azraal’s head, with a thick swatch of duct tape covering its mouth, sat next to my computer.

I leaned forward.  “So,” I announced, “We need to come up with a plan of action and we need to do it fast.  We have an invading army with soldiers that we don’t know how to kill.”  I spread my arms out.  “Any suggestions?”

“I would assume that our first step would be to figure out how to kill Lucifer’s Firstborn,” Jorge said.

“Always the pragmatist, Jorge,” I said appreciatively.  “So how do we figure it out?  What are our resources?”

General Gavsot stirred and mumbled something unintelligible.  Then he coughed and tried again:  “Why not ask the one who already figured it out?”

Slowly, we all turned to look at Azraal’s disembodied head in its position on the desk.  It looked like he was actually attempting to shake his head as he shouted something that was muffled by the duct tape.  It sounded like, “Aw, hell no!”  

Friday, August 16, 2013

On the Field of Battle

From my new vantage point, I could hear the sounds of desperate fighting and agonizing death much more clearly than before.  More importantly, however, I could see Torvin.

In the distance, a mass of invaders was annihilating a small remaining force of demons.  A few feet behind them, trapped against a massive wall of impenetrable rock, was the most useless demon I had at my command.   He had his back pressed up against the wall, cowering as far as he could from the violence stretched out before him.  Next to him, crumpled on the ground, was a semi-conscious General Gavsot.  Torvin held Gavsot’s limp hand like a little girl holds a favorite doll.  Considering that Torvin was a demon of Hell with superhuman powers, it was kind of a pathetic image.

I closed my eyes and telekinetically transported my body so that I was standing next to him.  I was immediately struck by how much louder and more visceral the sounds of battle grew now that I was only a few feet away from the source.

“Hey,” I grunted.

He looked up at me like I was his heavenly savior.  “Sir,” he whimpered gratefully.

“I’m not here for you,” I snapped.  I reached past him and took Gavsot’s hand from his grasp.  “I’m here for the General.”

He didn’t seem offended.

“I trust you’ll be able to teleport to safety on your own,” I said sternly.  “If you aren’t carrying a passenger, I don’t expect you to ‘miss.’”  Torvin nodded.  “Great,” I said.  “See you.” 

And I returned to my office with a very under the weather demon in tow.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To the Rescue

Torvin, lugging an almost-unconscious General Gavsot, seemed to have placed the two of them directly into mortal peril.  “Torvin, hang on,” I told him.  “I’m coming to get you.”

Gus hung up his phone.  “I usually try to avoid snap judgments,” he said dryly, “But I’m beginning to notice that this pipsqueak can’t do a single damn thing right.  Makes me feel loads better about my own shortcomings.”

I rolled my eyes and nodded.  “Pretty much,” I said.  “I’ll be right back, I’m rescuing the pipsqueak.”

I focused and teleported myself to the cable car station from which I’d first seen the horde of Lucifer’s Firstborn.  To my dismay, I arrived with my foot in a dead demon’s chest cavity—a cavity which had been enlarged drastically by a blade of the Firstborn.  I stepped out of the corpse and futilely tried to wipe my foot clean on the dry earth.

I seemed to have arrived on an abandoned battlefield—evidently Halkkor’s army had wreaked havoc on the guards at this location and moved on.  I scanned the expanse of barren rock.  It appeared that the fighting had continued far off to my right. 

I teleported to the furthest safe spot that I could see.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Missed it by That Much

“I can’t teleport!” Azraal shouted angrily.  “My body is in two places at once and I can’t get them to go anywhere!  I’m stuck!  I’m fucking stuck, you piece of—”  I silenced him with a quick fist to the mouth.

“Torvin was supposed to take Gavsot and teleport back here with him,” I told Gus.  “Where else would he have gone?”

“No clue, man,” Gus said sadly.  “They could be anywhere.  Hell’s one damn big place.”

“Wait,” I said suddenly.  “Call me.”

“What?” Gus said.

“Pull out your phone and call me,” I said urgently.  He seemed confused and slow to respond, so I bellowed, “Torvin has my phone!  Call me!”

Gus dialed quickly, put the phone on speaker, and set it between us on the desk.  It rang loudly.  Once…twice…three times…was he ever going to pick up the damn phone?

Finally, after six rings, Torvin’s voice answered weakly, “Yes?”

“Torvin!” I said.  “Where did you go?”

“I’m sorry,” he replied.  “I’m not used to teleporting with a passenger.  I think I missed.”

“You ‘missed?’” I echoed disdainfully.

“Where are you now?” Gus asked, choosing to focus on solving the problem since I was too busy cursing its source.

“Somewhere in the Department of Torture,” Torvin said.  “There’s a whole bunch of Niven’s guys here and they’re heading straight for us.”

Friday, August 9, 2013

More Goes Awry

I materialized a moment later in my office, gripping Azraal’s head by what was left of its throat.

Gus abruptly stood up from behind my desk, his eyes wide.  “Whoa, boss-man,” he said slowly, “Is that a head?”

“No, it’s a collectible lunchbox, you imbecile,” Azraal snapped.  I think getting decapitated may have put him in a sour mood.

“Bro,” Gus breathed reverently, “Did you chop off Azraal’s head?”

I was about to tell him that I did, when Azraal muttered, “More like brutally ripped off my head.”

“Things seem to have taken several different turns for the worse,” I told Gus grimly, as Azraal murmured something about me having all the precision of a blind one-armed spinal surgeon.

“Yeah, it’s one shitstorm after another,” Gus said.

I nodded.  “Where are Torvin and Gavsot?”

Gus furrowed his brow.  “What do you mean?  I don’t know.”

“They didn’t just teleport in a minute ago?” I asked, my blood pressure rising rapidly.  What did Torvin do?  How could he have messed up such a simple order? 

Gus shook his head.  “I haven’t seen Torvin since you took him back to rescue the General.  I have no idea where they are.”

I was pissed and I needed to hurt something, so I hurled Azraal’s head against the wall.  He probably exclaimed in pain, but it was drowned out by my own growl of frustration.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Under Siege

Niven slammed his body thunderously against the door.

“Come on,” he taunted, the door shuddering against another impact.  “Open the door so I can kill you again!”

You tore off my fucking head!” Azraal’s head shrilled.

“What are we gonna do?” Torvin squealed.

“Really?” I snapped.  “You’re fucking demon, master of the masses of the damned, with strength and abilities far beyond what the billions of your tortured souls have ever known, and you can’t figure a fucking way out of here?”

“What?” he asked weakly, cowering before my rage.

I slapped him in the face.  “Think, you moron!” I ordered him.  The door trembled with another terrifying impact.  Parts of the wood appeared to be splintering.  Azraal’s impotent face was sitting on the ground, loudly threatening to kill me in the most disgusting and creative ways I’d ever heard.

“Think?” Torvin whimpered, rubbing the raw spot on his cheek where I’d just struck him.  “What do you mean?” 

“You can fucking teleport!” I reminded him.

He appeared to have some kind of minor epiphany, or maybe some kind of minor stroke.  “Oh,” he breathed.  “Yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”

I shook my head.  “Yeah, it seems so obvious now, right?” I said dryly.  “Listen, take Gavsot and teleport back to my office.  I’ll meet you there with Azraal’s head.”

He nodded fearfully as the door crunched behind us. 

I gripped him tightly by the shoulder and looked him directly in the eyes.  “Torvin,” I asked, “I can count on you to do this, right?”

He nodded again.

“Great,” I said.  “Now go.” 

He wrapped his arms around Gavsot’s limp body and they both disappeared.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Getting Ahead

I was standing inside the cell with my back to the open door.  This was the kind of opportunity Azraal would not be passing up.  I spun, gripping his dagger tightly, and faced his attack.  As he charged, teeth bared, eyes ablaze, I swiftly reached out and plunged the dagger into his neck with all the force I could muster.  The blade was so sharp and I’d stabbed so hard that my hand actually went through his neck.

For an awkward, gruesome moment, we stood there in shock.  I was staring at the bizarre way in which my wrist disappeared into his throat.  He was gurgling, glaring at me and struggling to stand, as immobilized as a cat grabbed by the scruff of its neck.  I saw movement behind him.  Niven was rushing at full speed from down the hallway. 

I gripped Azraal by the spiny exuse for hair on the top of his sweaty crimson head, and, with an effort I’d have never managed in my old body, I ripped his head clean off.  Well—actually, there was nothing clean about it.

His now-disembodied head screamed shrilly.  I pushed his body back so that it collapsed outside the door and slammed the door shut before the charging Niven could get in. 

That left me in a fortunately inmate-free jail cell in Hell with a demon who was about to pass out, a demon who was about to piss himself, and the still-living head of the demon who hated me the most.

Life was so much simpler when I was actually alive.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Quick Thinking

As the two menacing embodiments of evil approached me from opposite directions, I warily considered my objectives:
  1. Survive
  2. Keep Gavsot from getting killed
  3. Get the fuck out of here
  4. If at all convenient, keep Torvin from getting killed too

I also considered the tools at my disposal:
  1. One powerful but incapacitated demon
  2. One weak and cowardly demon
  3. Azraal's knife, which I'd pulled from Gavsot's shoulder in the hopes that it still had a usable amount of cocktail on it
  4. Endless halls lined with cells filled with demonic prisoners
  5. My wits

This was going to be way less than awesome.  Azraal and Niven were closing the distance cautiously but with accelerating boldness.  I acted quickly, doing the only thing I could think of.

I kicked open the thick wooden door to the nearest cell.  "Torvin!" I barked, nodding to the door to indicate he should go in.  Grateful to be ushered away from the action, he hurried into the cell.  I lifted Gavsot’s heavy, muscular body and tried to drag him inside with me, but I ran out of time—Azraal had closed the distance.

I slashed at him wildly with his own knife and he backed out of range, prowling around me like a predator searching for a vulnerability.  Niven appeared out of nowhere, his shoulders lowered, bowling Azraal out of the way with startling ease.  The bony, razor-sharp protrusions at his wrists flashed in the air in front of me, narrowly missing my face. 

I had no intention of getting killed by this asshole a second time.  I dropped Gavsot and lunged forward.  As I tackled Niven, I gripped him tightly, teleported us both a hundred yards down the hall, released him, and teleported myself back to Gavsot.  I bodily heaved him inside the cell as he weakly apologized for his uselessness.