Friday, February 28, 2014

The Last Straw

"Kivra's approach didn't work out for her in the end," I reminded Diseppia.  "She's been removed from a position of power and she's currently incarcerated in the Department of Enforcement."

"Oh, right, and nobody ever breaks out of there, right?" she scoffed.

"I am quite sure you would not," Gavsot bristled. 

"It's true that Azraal escaped from the Department of Enforcement," I admitted.  "But that didn't work out for him either.  His body is still imprisoned and his head is in my office.  He's completely impotent."

"He's not the only one," Diseppia quipped. 

"Would you shut the fuck up already?" I bellowed dementedly.  Suddenly I had the complete attention of the entire room.  "I really don't give a shit if you think I deserve to rule Hell or not.  I don't give a shit if you think you're so much better than me because you're so much older.  And I definitely don't give a flying brimstone-reeking fuck if you don't want to be here right now.  You'll shut up and you'll deal with it and if you don't I'll just decapitate you too and see how you enjoy being completely impotent."

She glowered at me for a long time.  Then she sat back and said, "Okay."

"Okay?!" I returned, still furious and not quite sure how to react to her unexpected acquiescence.

"Okay," she repeated.

"Okay," I asserted.  "Okay then. Good."

A few moments passed in confused stillness.

She raised her eyebrows.  "So are you gonna get started here or what?" she prompted.  "I told you, I have shit to do.  I don't want to be here all day."

"Yes," I said, completely baffled.  "Right.  Well.  Yes, let's get started then."

"Okay," Diseppia said.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Being Difficult

"Without my Department," Diseppia argued, "The Department of Torture would become so disorganized and so backed up that Hell would basically fail to meet its simplest objectives."

"How dramatic," I mocked.  "Maybe we should both dispense with the theatrics."

"Wow, you sure showed me," she said lazily.  "A teenage human who assumed command of Hell by birthright and after a little experience and a string of dumb luck thinks he knows something about something really put a six-hundred-year-old demon in her place."

"I don't like you," I told her.

"I'm comfortable with that," she replied.  "It was difficult, but I've, you know…made my peace with it.  Counseling helped.  Support of friends and family.  Prayer really got me through it."

"Can you not have the last word?" I requested through gritted teeth.

"Oh, I'm sorry, am I being difficult?" she asked, pressing a hand to her chest in feigned innocence.  "I know how annoying it can be when someone wastes your time.  You know, by interrupting some arrogant blowhard's speech or by calling an immediate mandatory meeting of people who have much more important things to be doing."

"As difficult as you're trying to be," I replied with a smirk, "we both know you wouldn't have come here at all if you weren't at least a little bit afraid of me."

She shrugged.  "What's there to be afraid of?  According to Kivra, all I gotta do is touch my boobs and bat my eyes and you get all weak in the knees and agree to whatever I want."  As a visual aid, she rubbed one of her nipples between two fingers.  I looked down and away quickly, hoping to avoid the full impact.  I heard scattered chuckling from my audience.

I was beginning to regret calling this council.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Unwelcome Input

"Directors of Hell," I began grandly, spreading my arms wide.  "Leaders, captains and commanders…rulers of your domains, experts of your crafts, idols of your underlings…."

"You know, I can't speak for everyone else here, but I've got actual work to do," a green female demon in the back piped up irreverantly.  "Can we skip the theatrics and get this over with?"

I glared at her.  She was an intimidating demon—taller than most, broader than most, and more pissed-off-looking than most.  Which was saying something.  "Who are you?" I snapped, hoping to treat her roughly.  I had no intention of letting someone disrespect me and get away with it in a room filled with so many powerful players.  My heckler only crossed her arms and stared at me.

"What is your name?" I asked.  She raised her eyebrows defiantly.  It was a silent challenge.

"Somebody tell me who this bitch is," I said in exasperation.

"This is Diseppia," General Gavsot said.

"And what Department is she making a strong case to have herself fired from?" I asked.

Gavsot paused.  "Waste Management."

"Waste Management?" I echoed.  Surely I'd misheard.

"Waste Management," the general confirmed.

"Waste Management!" I crowed.  The challenger to my authority was a glorified garbage woman?  "What an exciting field!  You must take great pride in your work, Diseppia."

She narrowed her eyes at me.  "Do you have any concept of the sheer volume of excretions and bodily fluids produced by the damned souls?"

"Oh, so instead of gathering the trash, you scoop up the poop and mop up the vomit!" I summarized.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The First Arrivals

Gavsot began transporting the Directors to the lecture hall as they arrived in my office.  The first one he teleported in with was a familiar face—Jorge.  The General left him at the doorway and disappeared again, no doubt to ferry over another guest.

"Jorge," I said, enjoying the way my voice boomed from the front of the room.  "Thanks for coming."

"Of course, sir," he said with a nod.  "Congratulations on your victory.  I hear it was both bloody and decisive."

"That it was," I agreed solemnly.  I motioned to the center of the room.  "Please, take a seat."

As he took a spot in the second row, Gavsot appeared to drop off a demon I didn't know.  The newcomer's long lean swimmer's body was almost entirely a pale oceanic blue.  He had a disarming smile and the many horns adorning his head were on the small side, making him seem just a little more human than most other demons I'd met.

"Hi," he said, positively gliding down the stairs to greet me.  "I'm the Director of Housing.  The name's Fikhos."  He extended a hand and I shook it.

"Good to meet you," I said.  "I'm the Devil."

He laughed charmingly.  "I know who you are, sir," he said.  "That's why I wanted to introduce myself.  It's a pity we haven't met before."

"I'm sure it reflects well on the way you run your department that I haven't had the need to visit you yet," I said diplomatically.

He chuckled again.  "I'm sure," he said.

In the brief moment we'd been speaking, the room had started to fill up with arrivals.  There were roughly a dozen Directors standing near the back of the room.  I saw Wakka, Winston, Malkino and several faces I didn't recognize.

I told Fikhos to have a seat.  It was time for me to meet my governors and get the union in working order.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Lecture Hall

Gavsot, an austere and Hemingway-esque conversationalist at best, said almost less than nothing during our ten minute walk to the lecture hall.  When we reached our destination, however, he was kind enough to open the door for me and utter:  "Here we are, sir."

I stepped inside what I'd always assumed a university classroom must have looked like.  I hadn't lived long enough to experience college firsthand, but I'd seen enough TV for this room to feel absolutely perfect.  It was spread out in front of me in a dry, earthy color scheme, with beige walls and hard tan carpeting.  It had stadium seating, featuring rows of drab brown chairs that hinged back into place when unoccupied.  At the bottom of the room was a broad area in which I could pace and pontificate importantly.  With such an outstanding setting for my stage, I could deliver any speech—a professor's oration, a coach's pep talk, a politician's philippic or a preacher's sermon—with the appropriate amount of gravitas.  This place was perfect.

"This place is perfect," I spoke aloud. 

The General did not share my awe.  He cleared his throat.  "Would you like me to return to the office and guide your arriving guests to this location?" he asked.

"Uh, yes," I said quickly.  He'd killed the magic.  "Yeah, that'd be good.  Thanks."

He nodded briskly and disappeared.  I took my place at the bottom of the room, running my hand along the smooth faux wood of the large table gracing the center of my space.  I felt like I was truly and finally ready to take control.  I'd wanted to take control for a long time and things always seemed to keep getting away from me.  But now I was being proactive.  I was going to establish my own law and my own structure in Hell, and I was going to use it to prepare myself against threats and solidify my authority. 

I was going to rule Hell from this lecture hall.  This was my bully pulpit.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Avoiding Anachronism

Jaelin and Torvin teleported away and I busied myself using the semi-magical scanner thingy to post the Satanic Order to the bulletin system.  I turned to Gus.  "How long is this going to take?"

"Probably not long," he replied.  "The bulletins are posted in public places, so they should be seen pretty soon."

"Cool," I said.  "Now please tell me we have a conference room somewhere back there."

Gus shrugged, but General Gavsot spoke up.  "There is a lecture hall," he said. 

"Awesome," I replied.  "It's like the back door of the office leads to my own personal Room of Requirement."  I shot Gus a disappointed look.  "The Room of Requirement?  Nothing?  Not even a smile?"

He shook his head.  "If that's a reference to something, I don't get it."

"Harry Potter?  Come on.  I know you died in the eighties, but you made that reference to Whose Line that one time.  Don't tell me you know Whose Line but you don't know Harry Potter."  I wasn't sure why it was so important that he understood my joke.

"There was a certain damned soul who hated that show," Gus said.  "Part of his torture was watching daily marathons.  I sat in on a couple when the last devil was having secret meetings with Kivra."

"Where do you guys get stuff like that down here?" I asked.  "I thought it was difficult to get back to the real world from here, so it's not like you can send a demon up there to steal a bunch of DVDs."

"No, we get it from the Department of Reprocessing, of course," he replied.

I rolled my eyes.  "Yeah, like I know what that is.  You can tell me about that later.  Right now, I need to get to that lecture hall."  I motioned to Gavsot and he led me out the back door.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Distribution and Human Resources

"What's the best way to get this Satanic Order distributed to all the departments as quickly as possible?" I asked.

"The bulletin system, of course," General Gavsot said.

"Which is…?" I replied impatiently, struggling to type a complete thought and hold a conversation simultaneously.

Gus walked over to my desk and pulled open a shallow drawer on the right side.  It contained what looked like a souped up scanner.  "Print out the Order, sign it in blood, and put it in here.  This will post it publicly in every department.  I saw the last devil do it a thousand times."

"Okay, sounds easy enough," I said.  

Jaelin teleported in as I resumed typing.  She had Torvin shyly in tow.  "Jaelin!" I said happily.  "Feels like it's been a while!"

She nodded.  "How was your nap, sir?"

"Refreshing," I replied.  "So I'm calling a council of all the Department Directors.  I'm hoping to unify Hell under my rule.  I need you to be there in a kind of advisory position."

She cleared her throat awkwardly.  "Actually, sir," she said, "I came here to ask you for a kind of…vacation."

"A vacation?" I asked.  Did demons take vacations?  Was she going to don a bikini and stretch out in a beach chair on the edge of the lake of fire, sipping mojitos?

"Yeah," she said.  "After everything that's happened, I hoped you'd be okay with letting me and Torvin have a little…alone time."

I glanced at Torvin.  He smiled weakly.  "You mean like…sexy alone time?" I asked.

"I was thinking more romantic than sexy," she said with a sly wink in Torvin's direction.  "But anything could happen." 

"Uh, yeah, sure, I guess," I said.  What the hell did Jaelin see in Torvin?  Even ignoring the fact that he was a completely useless coward, he wasn't exactly a fine specimen of masculinity.  I guess there's no accounting for poor taste.  But I figured that Jaelin had supported me admirably in some pretty tight spots, so maybe she'd earned a little latitude.  "Just don't stay gone too long.  I've come to rely on you a lot around here."

She nodded, grinning.  "Absolutely.  Thank you, sir!"

"No problem," I said.  I quickly reviewed my completed Satanic Order and clicked the print button. 
Torvin stepped forward timidly.  "I also really appreciate this," he said.

"Shut up," I snapped.  "You don't deserve her.  If you step even the slightest bit out of line, I will fucking end you."  I was this close to telling him that Jaelin was a lady and should be treated as such.

I was seventeen years old.  I was too young to be an angry father threatening a prom date with a shotgun.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Concerning Heaven

I started thinking out loud.

"Heaven wants me to trust my instincts," I muttered.  "So I guess that means I should just keep doing what I want and that's somehow supposed to be the right thing."

"Did you say 'Heaven'?" General Gavsot asked sharply.

"Whoa, whoa, back it up, when did you talk to somebody from Heaven?" Gus asked.

"I didn't even know it was a real thing," Sylnie murmured.

"When I died," I explained distractedly.  "Both times.  I woke up in Heaven and got sent back."

"That is not possible," Gavsot whispered angrily.  He appeared to be talking to himself.

"You went to Heaven?  And they sent you back to Hell?" Gus asked incredulously.  "Why the hell would they do that?"

"They said I was an asset to them and they needed me to do something," I said.  "But I don't know what."

"How can you be sure it was Heaven?" Sylnie said pointedly.

I stared at her.  I hadn't realized until that moment that I'd unconditionally believed everything Conrad had told me.  Sure, he was my great grandfather, but this was the same guy that had taken so much sick pleasure out of duping me into taking over his job.  How could I assume that he was trustworthy now?  Was anything he told me the truth?  Had I actually been to Heaven?

"Okay, so fuck this," I announced.  "I don't know what the deal is with Niven or with Heaven, but I think it's time to be a little more proactive.  I'm calling a meeting for all the Department Directors and we're going to figure out a way to protect ourselves so that no matter what's going on here…we'll handle it."

Gus smiled broadly.  "That's the Boss-Man I serve with pride!" he said, perhaps a little too sycophantically.  "Sounds like you need to whip up a Satanic Order and call yourself a Council of Hell."

Perhaps as a symbol of my renewed drive, I took off my bloodied shirt, baring a manly chest I'd never come close to possessing in life.  Then I sat down at my computer and started typing up Satanic Order #53464554.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Catching a Glimpse

“Your king would have killed me and every demon in Hell if he could have,” I told Niven.  “He forced us to defend ourselves, and we did what we had to.”

Niven’s mouth curled into a contemptuous sneer, but before he got the chance to speak, General Gavsot interrupted by appearing next to me, brandishing a Firstborn-killing sword.  Niven immediately turned and sprinted for the door. 

“General!” I barked urgently.  As Niven bolted through the doorway, Gavsot hurled the sword.  His aim was perfect, but just before the blade would have pierced Niven’s flesh, the Firstborn assassin disappeared.  The sword buried itself harmlessly into the wall behind his last location.

I shot a look at Gavsot.  “What happened?”

“A demon must have grabbed his arm and teleported,” he said. 

I appealed to Gus and Sylnie.  “Did either of you see who it was?”

“I was too busy cowering in the corner doing my damnedest not to piss my pants, Boss-Man,” Gus said weakly.

Sylnie shook her head.  “I can’t even see through the doorway at this angle.”

I slammed a fist down on my desk.  “Dammit,” I grumbled.  “So Niven is still around and he’s still trying to fuck shit up, and there’s a demon helping him but we don’t know who it is.”

“Well, we could draw up a list of suspects,” Gus offered hopefully.

“Such a list would be so lengthy that its creation would only waste valuable time,” Gavsot replied. 

"Great," I said.  "Just great.  I guess I'll just have to keep letting him kill me until he makes a mistake and I can shove one of those swords up his ass."

"Not to nitpick, sir," Sylnie spoke up, "But you'll need to make sure you shove it really far up his ass because it has to pierce his heart."

I wasn't sure if she was joking.  "Let's stop talking about shoving things up asses," I said, "and start talking about how we're going to take control of the situation."

"You're in charge," Gus pointed out.  "What do you want to do?"

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Not-So-Triumphant Return

I awoke to cacophony.

There were shouts and screams and snarls and all kinds of chaotic commotion in the room around me.  I slowly got to my feet, testing my body as I rose to make sure all of it was in working order.  Once it appeared that I was as good as new, I took in my surroundings with more detail.

Niven, his arm blade soaked with my blood, was still at large in my office.  Sylnie was in one corner of the room, her shirt torn and her shoulder bleeding.  She alternated between begging Niven for mercy and begging Gus to get help.  Gus was in the opposite corner, his nose mashed into a bloody mess, telling Sylnie not to panic in an extremely panicky voice as he tried to use my cell phone.  Niven clearly wanted them both to shut up, and he seemed less interested in killing them than he was in waiting for something to happen.  When he turned and saw me stand up, I got the distinct impression that he’d been waiting for me to resurrect. 

“Gavsot!” Gus bellowed into my Hell phone.  “The Devil’s dead!  There’s a Firstborn loose in his office, he’s trying to kill us, you gotta help us!” 

“Gus!” I barked.  He turned to look at me and his pale, fear-stricken face got a little paler. 

“Boss-Man…?” he breathed in awe.

“Sir!” Sylnie said with ragged elation.

“How can you be here?” Niven snarled furiously.  “A second time!  How do you beat death a second time?”

“Give me the phone!” I said urgently.  Gus tossed it to me and I put it to my ear.  “Gavsot?  It’s the Devil.  I’m not dead.  But if you have one of those Firstborn-killing weapons laying around, I could really use one right now.”

“I will be there shortly,” the General said.  He hung up and I slipped the phone back into my pocket, realizing that Gus must have taken my phone off of my bloody corpse only moments before I returned.  I glared at Niven, who was slowly backing toward the still-open door and the supposed safety of the hallway.

“This is the second time you’ve killed me,” I shouted at him.  “I’m starting to become offended.”

“You murdered my king and slaughtered my brothers,” Niven shot back.  “I think we’re way past being offended.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Questioning Answers

“Heaven?” I echoed feebly.  “How did I get here?”

“When I made you my successor,” my great grandfather explained, “I didn’t necessarily break the rules, but I defied certain…precedents.  You weren’t the usual devil stock, I guess you could say.  You weren’t wholly good, of course, but your actions, though often selfish or mean, weren’t necessarily evil.  The spell that I used to make you my replacement wasn’t the usual simple blood-swap spell.  And this is one of its special abilities, in a way.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“I used an obscure, arcane variation on the usual spell that gives you a kind of invulnerability,” he said.  “You’ve retained more of your humanity than the run-of-the-mill devil and when you die, your human body gets sent here—to Heaven.  The second spell, which I am about to inject you with, returns you to your reanimated devil body back in Hell.”

I blinked.  “So…I’m basically an undead devil now?” I summarized.

He shrugged.  “If you want to phrase it that way, sure.”

“But why did you do all that?” I asked.  “Why pick me as your successor?  Why not use the usual spell?  Why keep sending me back to Hell?”

He held up the syringe in response.  “This needs to be administered within a certain time frame for it to work,” he said.  “So I’ll just say that, as the devil, you are an asset.  You’re doing good things down there whether you realize it or not.”

“I’m an asset?  To what?”

“To Heaven,” he said. 

Had I not been so frail, I probably would have been much angrier.  I was working up a hefty frustration, though.  “How am I an asset to Heaven as the devil?” I pressed.

“Look, there’s no time now,” he answered, speaking with urgency.  He grabbed my arm tightly and jabbed me with the syringe.  “Everything will be explained to you eventually, but right now, you need to go back.”

“But what am I supposed to do?” I protested.

He used his thumb to expertly inject the liquid into my bloodstream.  “Do what you’ve been doing,” he advised.  “I know you’re flying blind right now, but that will change down the road.  I used the spell that left you more of your humanity on purpose.  I think you can safely rely on your instincts to know what to do in the meantime.”

I groaned.  “But…but….”  I could feel myself slipping away. 

As my vision swam and faded, my great grandfather hovered over me with a smile.  “Make me proud, boy,” he said.  And then everything went dark again.  This shit was getting old.

What felt like a second later, I woke up on the floor of my office, still partway in my chair, smeared in my own blood.

It was time to get back to work.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Round Three

I died again.

I didn’t mean to—especially since, on the third iteration, it was starting to become pretty annoying.  But I kind of couldn’t help it.  Damn Niven’s speed and my sluggish reaction time.

I came to in what appeared to be the same bare, austere room as the last time.  I felt weak again.  To be honest, I felt human again.  Like a teenager instead of a devil.  Plus I had cottonmouth and an urgent pang in my gut like I hadn’t eaten for months.

I suddenly realized that I hadn’t eaten for months.  Or for whatever amount of time it had been since my first death.  I was ravenous.  But I also felt too listless to summon the strength required to open a typical refrigerator. 

The red light above the single entrance to the room buzzed to life and presently the door opened.  The same man in the lab coat, who I’d recognized as the previous devil, entered briskly.  The same devil who'd tricked me into taking his job.  My great grandfather, Conrad Reilly.

“Back so soon, are we?” he said chidingly with a shake of his head.  “Well, I guess I can’t blame you this time.  From what I’ve heard you’ve had some troubles.  I guess we should be grateful you weren’t yanked back here sooner.”

“Where am I?” I asked him hoarsely.  I was afraid he’d just stick me with a needle again without answering my questions.  But he seemed a little more talkative this time.

“You’re not in Hell,” he answered vaguely. 

“How did you get here?” I asked him.  Then I coughed dryly.  Speaking was mildly painful.

He took pity on my curiosity and flashed me that disarming smile of his.  “So you recognize me, do you?”

“You looked better with the beard,” I groaned, holding my stomach.

“Okay,” he said with a sigh.  “You’ve done some good work, and even though I’m not supposed to tell you much at this point, I guess you deserve some answers.  So pick your questions carefully and fire away before I have to send you back to Hell.”  He knelt beside me, syringe full of pale green liquid at the ready.

“Where am I?” I repeated.  It seemed like the most logical thing to ask.  I could base any follow-up questions on the answer I got to this one.

My predecessor smiled warmly.  “You’re in Heaven,” he said.