Monday, March 31, 2014

Target Acquired

“My head!” Sebrev wailed hoarsely.  “You cut off my fucking head!”

“I couldn’t have you running away from me,” I explained.  “No hard feelings, right?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he shouted hysterically.  I was kidding, but I guess my attempt at humor had escaped his understanding.

Someone from the next aisle over shushed us sternly, like this library’s biggest problem was the noise, not its location in the deepest pit of pain and evil in the universe.  “I think we should relocate,” I whispered to Jaelin. 

“Yeah, that would be good,” she agreed.  “I’ll take the body if you get the head.  And Sylnie.”

“We’ll readjourn at my office in ten seconds,” I said.  I scooped up Sebrev, making sure my hand covered his mouth, linked my elbow around Sylnie’s, and returned to my home base.  Jaelin joined us a moment later, carrying the other ninety-five percent of the demon’s body mass.  She dropped it scornfully on the floor in front of my desk.

“Sylnie, find Gus for me, will you?” I asked, pulling out my phone.  “I want to see if Gavsot wants to get in on the interrogation.  We could probably use his expertise.”

Sylnie slipped out the front door while I waited for General Gavsot to pick up.  On the fourth ring, he answered with a terse, “Yes?”

“Gavsot, my friend,” I replied, surprised at how jovial I sounded.  “Listen, I’ve captured a demon who’s part of a group that kidnapped Torvin.  If you have a spare moment, I could sure use your help in beating Torvin’s location out of him.”

“As you wish,” Gavsot agreed.  “I am slightly surprised that you have gone through all this trouble for Torvin.”

“Well…it was at Jaelin’s urging,” I admitted.  “Apparently she’s quite smitten with him.”

“I will be there as soon as I can,” he answered.

I hung up just as Sylnie returned.  Gus walked in behind her, took a good look around and exclaimed with a grin, “Boss-Man!  You got Azraal a playmate!”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sebrev

Once Jaelin returned with a nice heavy broadsword, we sent Sylnie into the stacks to scope out a location for our ambush.  After a few moments, she hurried back to us by the check-out counter to report.

“He’s still in that same aisle he went into a minute ago,” she told us.  “Seventh one down.  He’s alone.”

“Good,” I said.  “That might make this a little simpler.  Give me a minute to disable him and then you two can join me for the interrogation, okay?”  Jaelin agreed reluctantly and I whisked myself away.

I appeared at the end of the seventh colossal bookshelf and peered stealthily down its length.  Sebrev was standing fifty yards down the row.  He had selected a thin volume which he was now examining very closely.  He was so engrossed in the book that he didn’t see me pull out the sword.

With my mind, I held the sword suspended in the air, parallel to the ground.  Then I sent it darting forward with all the speed I could pack behind it.  Its movement must have registered in Sebrev’s peripheral vision because he turned toward it at the last second, but he didn’t have enough time to fully react.  With a thick crunch I heard all the way at the end of the aisle, the sword ripped Sebrev’s head from his shoulders and severed his ability to translocate his body. 

I teleported over to him as he lay powerless in a quickly spreading pool of blood.  Jaelin appeared next to me with Sylnie in tow.  The three of us glared down at him as he stared back up at us with undisguised horror drawn across his features. 

“Hello, Sebrev,” Jaelin snarled menacingly, clearly relishing the opportunity to confront one of her attackers.  “We need to talk.”

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Department of Historicity

The Department of Historicity was cozy.  It felt far enough removed from the fire and the violence and the evil that I almost felt like we’d left Hell altogether.  It was a proper library, complete with warm atmosphere and reverent silence.

We were standing near what looked strikingly similar to a check-out counter compete with computers and barcode scanners.  A frail-looking demon the color of chalk was standing behind it, looking at us expectantly.  “Can I help you folks with something?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, trying not to gawk like a tourist at the sight of the numerous rows of monstrous bookshelves in the next room.  “Have you seen Sebrev?”

“Sebrev?” the librarian answered.  “I don’t—”

“There he is,” Jaelin said sharply, pointing toward the stacks where a muscled jet-black demon was emerging from the end of one aisle and disappearing into another.  “That’s Sebrev.”

“Really?  That was a lucky coincidence,” Sylnie commented.

“Now we go over there and tear his arms off until he tells me where Torvin is,” Jaelin announced through gritted teeth.

“What’s to stop him from teleporting away as soon as we approach him?” I asked.  “He’s a demon.  Getting him to talk will be harder than it was with Niven.”

“So we take him by surprise,” Jaelin said impatiently.

“Then what’s to stop him from teleporting away as soon as we take him by surprise?” Sylnie asked.  “He can escape at any time.”

“Not unless we strip him of his ability to teleport,” I said, thinking back to Azraal.  “Jaelin?  Can you get me another sword?  And please don’t just grab the one that’s still sticking out of Niven’s chest cavity, that one’s all messy.”

She grinned, nodded, and disappeared.

Then the pallid librarian spoke up.  “I’m afraid we don’t permit weapons in the Department of Historicity,” he said.

“It’s okay,” I told him.  “I own the place.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

Interrogation Terminated

I gaped in astonishment at Niven's gooey remains.  "What the fuck did you do that for?"

She shook her head dismissively.  “I was done with him,” she said reproachfully.  I seriously expected her to spit on him.

“I wasn’t!” I shrilled.  “What if he had more information to give us?”

“He didn’t,” she assured me.  “Besides, that fucker killed you.  Not once, but twice.  It was time to get rid of him.”

“That wasn’t your call to make,” I told her.

She shrugged indifferently.  “This is taking too long.  The more time we waste interrogating people who aren’t going to help and being nice to people who don’t deserve our forgiveness, the more likely it is that when we find Torvin…it’ll be too late.”  Suddenly she didn’t appear quite so indifferent. 

I wasn’t sure whether I felt sorry for her because of her missing lover or whether I was pissed at her for killing Niven.  Or, more accurately, for killing Niven without my permission.  At least he got what was coming to him, but considering that I was the one Niven had assassinated, I felt that it was my prerogative to dispatch him.  And there was also the fact that I was supposed to be in charge and it stood to reason that decisions as weighty as executions should fall to the highest authority. 

But this was Jaelin, my trusty sidekick, in a state of emotional distress.  How could I discipline her?

“Well just…don’t do that,” I spluttered.  “I don’t want you killing people all…willy-nilly or whatever.”

“Yeah, sorry,” she said curtly before sweeping out of the room.  It was continually surprising to me how seriously Jaelin was taking this situation and what a high value she placed on ensuring Torvin’s wellbeing. 

Sylnie cocked an eyebrow at me.  “Willy-nilly?”

“Shut up,” I replied irritably, following Jaelin out into the hall.  “I…assume you’ll take us to the Department of Historicity, then?” I asked her quietly.


She answered by reaching out to touch us and transporting us to yet another little alcove of Hell.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Defining Historicity

"Historicity?" I said.  "What the hell is that?"

Sylnie jumped in.  "The Department of Historicity is like a...what do you call it?"  Apparently her vocabulary was failing her, which made her explanation kind of unexplanatory.

"A library," Jaelin offered blandly.

"Yeah, that's it!" Sylnie enthused.

"Hell has a library?" I said incredulously.  I momentarily wondered why that seemed strange, considering what I’d just seen in the Department of Reprocessing.  I guess most demons just didn’t strike me as the studious type.

"For any and all who wish to learn the dark and arcane mysteries of the underworld," Niven supplied dramatically.

"Clearly you've never been there," Jaelin told him.  "You only learn the mysteries once you've spent a decade or so slogging through all the useless shit."  She gave me a sidelong look.  "It's not all it's cracked up to be.  I once spent some time in there looking for a way to get up to the Realm of the Living. It took forever and I never found anything useful."

"Okay, but Sebrev is there?" I clarified, glancing meaningfully at our captive.

"Far as I know," he confirmed.

"Thanks for your help, you've been great," Jaelin said.  Before I realized what she was doing, she'd snatched the sword from my grasp and unflinchingly shoved it through Niven's chest.

I stared in shock as his gasp of pain caught in his throat and his body melted into a disgusting puddle of mushy organs and papery flesh.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Different Tack

I didn’t know what to do. 

To a certain extent, it didn’t matter which demon Niven worked for—he wasn’t going to talk.  Whoever was giving him his orders was probably a soulless son of a bitch and even at my worst I wouldn’t be able to compete with that kind of evil.  I wouldn’t be able to scare Niven any more than his boss already had.

I turned to Jaelin and Sylnie for a mid-interrogation huddle.  “Any ideas, you two?” I whispered.

Synlie gave me a sympathetic glance.  “You won’t be able to scare Niven any more than his boss already has,” she told me.

“I was thinking the exact same thing,” Jaelin agreed quietly.

“But what are we going to do about it?” I asked.  “There’s no word from Fikhos about Rathros’s whereabouts.  If Rathros disappeared or got himself murdered by a different hit man, Niven could be our only lead.  We need to get something useful out of him.”

“So see what else he knows,” Jaelin said.  “He’s not willing to reveal who he’s working for, but that doesn’t mean he won’t tell us something useful.”

“True,” I murmured pensively. 

I withdrew myself from the huddle and approached my captive.  “Do you know anything about a demon named Sebrev?”

Niven nodded.  “Yeah.  Real sweetie pie.  You know he crochets?  He was going to make me a beanie but then some extracurricular activities got in the way and he just couldn’t find the time.”

I snorted derisively.  “Okay, look, I don’t have time to parse through every piece of that with my bullshit detector, so I need you to speak very plainly here.  Yes or no—do you know a demon named Sebrev?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“Yes.”

My mouth hung open.  This line of questioning was a long shot.  I hadn’t expected much, and I hadn’t expected it to come so quickly.  “Wait.  Seriously?  You know where Sebrev is?”

Niven flashed an unnerving grin.  “Last I heard he was in the Department of Historicity.  After his last engagement he’s been consigned to research duty.  Management seemed concerned that he got himself recognized.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interrogation Techniques

Niven was hesitant to provide me with information but I was doing my best to be persuasive.  Soon I’d stripped enough flesh from his body that his defiance started to go with it.  I kept him pressed firmly to the wall, hemmed in by the two rickety beds.  He was completely at my mercy, and for all his bravado he was starting to realize it.

“Where is Rathros?” I asked him again, passing the sword off to Sylnie.  For the past few minutes, she’d been honing her limited demonic skills by trying to burn the blood from the surface of the metal.  Some of her attempts had yielded mild success.

“Fine,” Niven said hoarsely.  “I’ll be honest with you.”

“Awesome,” I said thinly.

“I don’t know.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Thanks.  You’ve been such a big help.”

“I don’t know where Rathros is,” he repeated.  “Honestly.  I was sent here to kill him.  As far as I knew, he was supposed to be here.”

That caught me a little by surprise.  Apparently it did the same to Jaelin.  “You were sent to kill Rathros?” she blurted.

Niven nodded wearily. 

“Who sent you?” I asked.  It seemed like the next logical question.

The late Halkkor’s second in command smiled grotesquely, revealing rows of tiny, needle-like teeth.  “Your mother,” he sneered.

“Oh, funny,” I commented, plucking my sword from Sylnie’s hands, digging its tip into Niven’s shoulder and twisting.  “I think you should probably drop the macho wisecracks and actually answer the question.  I’m running out of skin to slice open.”

“I won’t tell you who,” Niven said flatly.  “No matter how much you cut and chop and threaten, I won’t tell you.”

“Don’t tell me you’re loyal to a demon,” I scoffed.  “I thought the Firstborn were supposed to be the purer species.”

“It’s not loyalty,” he snarled.  “It’s survival.  The demon I’m stuck working for is much more creative than you are when it comes to punishments.  I won’t reveal his identity.”

I believed him.  “Then I guess I’ll have to get more creative,” I said with as much menace as I could muster.

He gave an unimpressed shrug.  "Or you could kill me.  That'll be simpler."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Skirting the Questions

Jaelin disappeared obediently to search for a sword.  Sylnie stood warily in the doorway.  I approached Niven's prone form as he fruitlessly tried to pull himself free.

"So here's what's going to happen," I told him.  "I'm going to ask you a series of questions.  The more helpful you are, the more likely I'll shove my blade through something other than your heart."

"Here's what's going to happen," he corrected.  "You're going to ask me a series of questions and I'm going to keep telling you to fuck off."

"I don't know what your relationship with Rathros is, exactly," I admitted.  "But I'm sure that he's not worth dying for."

"That's true," Niven agreed.  "But I don't give a shit about Rathros.  I'd be telling you to fuck off mostly on principle."

Jaelin returned, sword in hand.  I took it from her and pointed it carefully between Niven's eyes.  "Where is Rathros?" I asked him.

"Fuck off," he replied.

"Why are you waiting for him?" I asked.

"Fuck off."

"Who helped you escape the last time you killed me?" I asked.

"It was a demon named Fuckoff McFuckofferton."

"Makes sense," I said dryly.  "Lots of demons have Irish names."

"No, wait!  It might have been Fuckovsky."

"You're not as hilarious as you think you are," I told him.

"And you're not as intimidating as you think you are," he returned evenly.

"I can fix that," I said, and I drove the sword deep into his right shoulder, relishing his agonized scream.  "That's a Firstborn-killing blade," I taunted.  "You can feel the difference, can't you?  It hurts more, doesn't it?"

"Stings a little," he winced, breathing heavily. 

"Ready to talk?" I asked.

He sighed.  "What was it you wanted to know again?"

"I want to know where Rathros is," I grated.

"Never heard of him," he proclaimed with a sly grin.

I stabbed him again.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Waiting for Godot

"Oh, fuck me," Niven groaned, getting to his feet.  "You're supposed to be Rathros."

Niven had killed me twice, so I was a little nervous that he would pull it off a third time.  But I also strongly disliked him for his tendency to puncture my vital body parts and I had no intention of letting him get away.  So I didn't charge right at him but I made sure that I was blocking his only exit and that Sylnie and Jaelin were watching my back.

"You're supposed to be Rathros," I said.  "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Waiting for Rathros," he returned with contempt.  "Obviously."

"So you and Rathros are what, friends?" I asked.

"Drinking buddies," Niven sneered.

"But you know each other?" I pressed.

"Sure.  We met a few weeks ago at the six thousandth annual Hell Mix and Mingle.  We started talking, we hit it off, one thing led to another, and before you know it…."

"I'm getting a little sick of your non-answers," I snapped.

"I don't give a fuck," he spat.  "You commit genocide against my people and then expect me to cooperate with you when you want something?  I didn't realize you were actually that arrogant.  Or that stupid.  Take your pick."

"I'm sorry you take my victory in a defensive war against your invasion so personally," I shouted.  "But you killed me.  Twice.  I don't think anybody doesn't take that shit personally."

"Did I kill you?" He retorted.  "Because it seems like you're still not dead."

"Jealous?" I shot back.

He shook his head.  "Go fuck yourself.  Seriously.  But use something big and sharp with lots of spikes on it."

"I don't think you're taking this conversation seriously enough," I growled.  I flexed my cerebral muscles and flung him across the room.  Both cots hurtled after him, pinning his body against the far wall.  He struggled against his restraints but my mind kept him pressed ruthlessly against the gray stone.

"Jaelin," I murmured.  "I need you to find me one of those Firstborn weapons we made and bring it to me."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rathros's Room

Fikhos led me to a long hallway that had been positively smothered in sunshine-colored paint.  I assumed that the doors lining the cheery corridor led to each of his staff member's quarters. 

The Director of Housing nodded to the door in front of us.  "That one there is Rathros's room."

"Excellent," I said.  "I'm just going to hop back to your office and retrieve my aides, if you don't mind."

"Would you like me to stay here, your Lordship?" Fikhos asked.  He angled his head downward just a little in an odd but not entirely unwelcome sign of respect.  Deference, maybe.  "I understand if you can proceed on your own, but I don't want to leave you hanging if there's anything else you need."

"No, that's okay," I told him.  "You don't need to worry yourself with all this kidnapping crap.  If I need anything, I'll give you a call.  Or teleport back to your office.  If Rathros isn't in here, just let me know when Jashon tracks him down."

He nodded curtly.  "Yes, sir.  Best of luck with rescuing your aide."

"Thank you," I said.  Feeling like that wasn't quite adequate, I added, "And thank you for all your help, Fikhos."

"It was my pleasure," he said, making direct eye contact and holding steady.  "Truly."  He seemed genuine.  He'd been helpful.  Maybe he was one of the demons worthy of my trust.  Assuming it turned out that he wasn't involved with Torvin's kidnapping, maybe I could rely on his loyalty the way I did with the other demons in my inner sanctum.

I reappeared in Fikhos's office only long enough to grab Jaelin and Sylnie and teleport them to the happiest hallway in Hell.

Jaelin looked around.  "Huh," she grunted mildly.

"This kind of hurts my eyes," Sylnie said.  "Where are we?"

"We're outside Rathros's quarters," I announced, pushing the door open and letting it swing inward to reveal the room.

It was a bleak gray space that contrasted sharply with the color scheme behind us.  It contained hardly anything at all except for two threadbare cots against opposite walls.  Someone was seated on one of them, but the lighting was so dim that I couldn't recognize him.

Then he looked up at us and I saw his face.  It was Niven.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Back to Housing

We returned to Fikhos's gloriously illuminated office in the Department of Housing.  His back was to us but one of his aides tersely alerted him to our presence.

He turned around beaming.  "That certainly didn't take long, sir," he said, striding forward for another handshake.  "I hope you learned something useful from Reprocessing?"

"Yep," I said warily.  It was hard not to like a guy with such an earnest demeanor and such a firm handshake.  "But it led me back here." 

Fikhos appeared taken aback by the news and I honestly couldn't tell if it was genuine or well-acted.  "To my department?" he asked.  "You mean the masks and things were requested by…one of mine?"

"Rathros," I said.

Fikhos stared at me in mute shock for a moment and then gave his head one stubborn shake.  "No," he told me.  "That can't be right.  Are you sure?"

"I'm not really sure of anything right now," I admitted.  "But it's all I have to go on at the moment."

Jaelin jumped in to hurry things along for what felt like the hundredth time.  "If you could just track down Rathros for us so we could talk to him?" she asked.  She spoke impatiently, phrasing it as a question but inflecting it as an order.

"I'll do you one better," Fikhos said.  He called a burly slate-colored aide over to us.  "Jashon, I need you to find Rathros and bring him to this office immediately.  Don't let him leave."  Jashon grunted to signify his understanding and disappeared.

Turning back to us, Fikhos said, "It might take him some time to find him.  In the meantime, I thought we could go down to Rathros's bunk.  If he's there, we'll talk to him.  If he's not, maybe you'll be able to learn something from his bunkmate."

That sounded reasonable.  Fikhos was being accommodating and trying to cover multiple bases.  Glancing at Sylnie and Jaelin to see if they had any concerns, I said, "Yeah, why not?"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trust Issues

"Oh, that's nice," Jaelin snarled.  "When I said I had your back all those times, I was lying."

"And when I said I'd have sex with you whenever you were ready," Sylnie added, glaring at me, "I lied."

Korrihor laughed.  "Hey, I'm not offended," he told me.  "Demons are a bunch of lying, cheating dicks.  But I'm okay with it."

"Okay, look, clearly I misspoke," I backpedaled.

"Mmm-hmm," Sylnie retorted skeptically, her arms crossed.  I was pretty sure she was just teasing me.  Maybe seventy-five percent sure.  Or maybe sixty percent.  Or it was possible that she was actually pissed at me. 

"But I still think it's not a good idea to place too much trust in Fikhos," I said.  "I don't know him that well."

"Agreed," Jaelin nodded.  "But we should still ask him about it.  We don't know whether he's lying or not if we never ask him the question."

"And if he's not involved, he might be able to lend some assistance," Korrihor reasoned.  "It can't hurt to have another strong ally."

"Can I count you as one of them?" I asked him.

He chuckled and leaned back in his chair, resting his hands behind his head.  "As an ally, why not?  But don't get your hopes up.  I'm not much for power grabs and interdepartmental wars.  I don't think the skill set that I've acquired over centuries of running this outfit will contribute much to your line of work."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning any one of the demons you've gone up against could mop the floor with me without breaking a sweat.  I'm happy to help where I can, but you don't exactly want me joining your posse."

"Fair enough," I said.  "Thanks for the intel."

"You just hope that I wasn't lying to you about it like all those nasty demonfolk do," he added with a wink.

On that worrisome and uncertain note, my assistants and I left.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Source and Destination

"Well?" Jaelin exclaimed.  "Out with it!"

"Just as you said, it was an order placed through one of my lower-level suppliers," Korrihor said.  "Several orders, actually.  But there's at least four transactions here involving cloaks or masks that were all initiated by someone named Rathros."

"Is there a Department listed?" Jaelin asked excitedly.

"Housing," Korrihor replied instantly.

"Those creepy kidnapper getups were ordered by the Department of Housing?" I said incredulously.  "So Fikhos is secretly leading an uprising?"

"Not necessarily," Korrihor said quickly.  "In fact, probably not.  This Rathros character is probably from Housing, and so that's listed as the order's source and likely its destination.  The orders are small, too.  Generally transactions that come straight from a department director are larger and more complicated."

Doubtful, I looked toward Jaelin.  "He's not wrong," she admitted. 

"But it doesn't prove Fikhos isn't involved," Sylnie said.

"All we know is that someone from Fikhos's department is involved," I said.  "We don't know who else is in on it and how powerful they might be."

"There was some variety," Jaelin replied.  "At least in the group that took Torvin, there were a few flunkies and a few that could give me a run for my money."

"Do you think Fikhos was one of them?" I asked.

"I don't know him well enough.  I don't know how strong he is."

Anticipating my next question, Sylnie said, "Me neither.  I didn’t get out of Transportation much until recently, remember."

I grunted in frustration.  "I don't want to assume he's in on it, but I don't want to assume he isn't.  We need more information."

Korrihor's voice cut through our gloomy silence.  "Did anyone ask him?"

The rhythm of our conference disrupted, we turned to stare at him.  "What?" I said.

"Did you ask Fikhos if he was involved?"

"Of course not," I said dismissively.  "He's a demon.  He'd just lie."  Only after speaking did I remember that everyone else in the room was a demon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Significant Apparel

“So, what, there’s a massive pile of death-adjacent crap in the bottom of that hole, and Korrihor and his buddies dig through it to find stuff whenever a demon says they need a new ink cartridge?” I asked.

“In a nutshell,” Korrihor said.  “There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the basic idea behind the department.”

I took a moment to let the information sink in.  “Hell is fuckin’ weird, man,” I concluded.

“Well, you know, it’s all about perspective,” Korrihor replied with a half-grin.  “I’ve lived here for almost a thousand years and it all seems positively normal to me.”

“Less philosophizing, more record combing,” Jaelin reminded him.

Sylnie had been quiet lately, but she took this moment to speak up.  “I think we need to talk about why the demons were wearing cloaks and masks,” she said.

I turned to give her a sideways look.  “That came out of nowhere.”

“The more I’ve been thinking about it,” she explained, “the more I think it’s a big problem.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Demons hardly ever bother with clothing.  It’s not in our nature,” she said.

I sighed.  “I know you’re not happy about the outfit, but—”

“That’s not what she meant,” Jaelin said sharply.

I lowered my eyebrows.  “Then what did she mean?”

I had a growing suspicion that everyone in the room except me had drawn a significant conclusion.  Korrihor confirmed it by clearing his throat and stating, “She means that there is an organized group of demons to whom it is extremely important that you do not know their identities.  It’s not a single demon challenging your rule or an invading army threatening to overrun you.  This time it’s a coordinated conspiracy from inside.”

I blew out a heavy breath.  “Okay.”

Korrihor grinned broadly.  “But anyway, I found the order for the hoods and masks.  It was pretty buried, but I found it.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

Concerning Death

Korrihor gazed intently at his monitor as he answered.  “The Department of Reprocessing is responsible for finding, acquiring and distributing artifacts from the Realm of the Living to the other departments of Hell,” he said.

“So you give everybody else their desks, their computers, their torture devices and their Whose Line DVDs?” I asked.

“And their French Maid outfits,” Sylnie added with a sigh.

“That’s right,” Korrihor affirmed over the soft grinding of his scroll button.

“But where does the stuff all come from?” I asked.

He paused to give me that over-the-invisible-glasses look again.  "From the Realm of the Living,” he said flatly, as though I hadn’t been listening.

Jaelin seemed to understand my line of questioning more fully.  “Let me try to explain,” she told Korrihor.  “You focus on finding out who ordered the cloaks.”  She turned back to me.   “Death is a powerful force.  When you died, you wound up in Hell, but you also remained up there as a corpse, right?”

“Because my body died but my spirit carries on or whatever,” I said.  It occurred to me that, despite experiencing death and becoming the ruler of a place where people go when they die, I really didn't understand the mechanics of how all that worked.

“Except you still have your body,” she said.  “Your case is a little different because you became the Devil but every other human down here still has a body.  And they have a corpse rotting in the ground upstairs.”

“So now we all have two bodies?”

“More or less,” she replied.

I rolled my eyes.  “Okay, ignoring the mathematical fuzziness concerned with having ‘more or less two bodies,’ what does any of this have to do with the fact that I watched a Toyota fall from the sky a few minutes ago?”

“Death is a powerful force,” she repeated.  “When you die, a copy of you is preserved into the afterlife.  Often, objects in close proximity to the event can be sucked in as well.”

“Wait…you’re telling me that when somebody dies in a car wreck his car gets thrust down to Hell with him?”

“More or less,” she replied.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Korrihor

The demon rose to greet us as we entered the room.  He was a dark shade of orange and sported what appeared to be a beer gut and the demonic equivalent of a comb-over—small horns sparsely adorned his head and I was pretty sure he waxed them to make them appear sharper as the light glinted off them.  I recognized him from the council of Hell but I struggled to remember his name.

He moved around the clutter of the strikingly human objects decorating his space and gave me a tired nod.  "Sir," he said.  "This is unexpected."

"Yes," I replied, still disoriented.  "Um…good to see you, Director."  I squinted at him, hoping his name would come to me.  It didn't.

"You don't remember my name, do you?" he asked.

I shook my head, wincing.  "Sorry."

"You're not the first to forget it and you won't be the last," he said with a shrug.  "It's Korrihor."

"Right, Korrihor," I said.  I tried to act like that had been on the tip of my tongue but it didn't even sound familiar to me. 

"So what can I do for you"—his eyes slid over to Jaelin and Sylnie—"and your lovely assistants?"
“We’re looking for cloaks,” I said.

He angled his head like he was staring at me over a pair of non-existent spectacles as he replied, “Cloaks?”
"Cloaks," I confirmed.

Jaelin jumped in to articulate our needs more effectively.  “We need to know who has been requesting black hooded cloaks and black masks.”

Korrihor frowned.  “That’s an unusual request.   I’m not aware of any, but I can look it up in my records if you’d like.”

“Whoever ordered them most likely wouldn’t have come to you directly,” she explained.  “The transaction would have been done with one of your low-level suppliers specifically to keep it from the knowledge of anyone higher on the food chain.”

The pudgy demon headed over to his desk and sat down in front of his computer.  “I realize, of course, that this is none of my business,” he murmured, clicking a few keys.  “But I have to admit it sounds like something juicy is afoot.”

I didn’t know this demon very well, so instead of answering his obliquely posed question, I decided to change the subject.  “So what the hell is this place anyway?  How does all this work?”

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Department of Reprocessing

We appeared at the edge of a chasm so expansive that it defied measurement in every dimension.  It spread out far enough in front of me to give the impression that it continued well past the limits of my vision.  The edges of the cliff similarly extended beyond visibility in both directions.  After its size, the other thing that I noticed about the abyss was that stuff kept falling into it.

I watched a Prius tumble past us and disappear into the depths.  Then a teddy bear.  And a hospital bed complete with sheets, pillows, IV tubes and bags of fluid.  Then what appeared to be a dresser spilling out the contents of an elderly woman's underwear drawer.  Everything descended slowly, floating gently down toward the bottom of Hell like that whole nine-point-eight-meters-per-second-squared thing was merely some kind of suggestion. 

"What am I looking at?" I asked, staring at a rubber ducky that leisurely cartwheeled past.

"The Department of Reprocessing," Jaelin said tersely.  She nudged me from behind to steer me away from the cliff and over toward a small rocky building that was little more than a hollowed-out protrusion from the wall behind it. 

"Maybe I'm not clear on what, exactly, 'The Department of Reprocessing' means," I said.

"It's the department that reprocesses objects from the world of the living," Sylnie supplied.  Though her response was marginally more helpful than Jaelin's, I still struggled to make sense of how it related to the bizarreness I'd just witnessed.

Jaelin pushed me into the building, which was made up of only one room.  Despite the fact that I almost collided with a foosball table in my attempt not to trip over a bean bag chair, it was easy enough to tell from the figure behind the desk that this was probably the office of the Director of Reprocessing.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Square One

Fikhos shook his head sadly.  “I’m really sorry, folks, but that’s not a lot of information to go on.  If you want me to, I could round up every green demon in my whole department.  Would you recognize him if you saw him?”

“None of us have actually...seen him,” I answered.  This was a little embarrassing, but Fikhos was being gracious about it.

“I’m not even convinced our witness would even recognize him again,” Jaelin muttered under her breath.  “I’m not even convinced the demon is green.  Or that he was from this department.  Or that he even exists.”
“Maybe we need to find another lead,” I agreed. 

“We could try and figure out where those demons were getting the cloaks,” Sylnie suggested.  “We could talk to the Department of Reprocessing.”

I rolled my eyes.  “That place where you guys mysteriously get your DVDs?”

“It’s more than that,” she said defensively.

“I’m sorry,” Fikhos cut in.  “What are we talking about here?  Cloaks?”

“The demons who attacked my aides were wearing cloaks and masks,” I told him.   

“Then the Department of Reprocessing is a good idea,” he replied.  “They should have a record of who those items were given to.”  Sylnie swelled with pride at his affirmation but he didn’t seem to respond.  I took more than a little pleasure from that.

“I agree,” Jaelin said softly.  “In fact, I’m a little ashamed that I didn’t think of that first.”

“Sorry I couldn’t be of more help to you, sir,” Fikhos apologized sincerely, giving me another of his now-trademark handshakes.  “Let me know if I can do anything else for you.”

“Will do,” I said.  “Thank you.”  Turning to Jaelin, I asked, “So I take it you’ve been to the Department of Reprocessing before?”

She gripped me and Sylnie by the shoulders and teleported the three of us away.  Apparently she knew what I was going to say next.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fikhos's Office

Fikhos's office was huge.  It was larger than mine and had the best imitation of natural lighting I'd yet encountered in the underworld.  Every inch of space was filled with a soothingly soft light like the kind you'd get coming in from a big bay window on the east side of a house just before sunrise.  It actually looked more like Heaven than the tiny little corner of Heaven I'd already seen.  It bothered me that I couldn't figure out where the source of this glorious light was.

"Sir, you have some visitors," an aide announced to Fikhos.

Fikhos, who had been leaning over his desk, poring thoughtfully over a document, stood and faced us.  "Your Lordship," he said decorously, taking large strides across the room toward us.  "This is quite an honor.  What brings you to the Department of Housing?"

He extended at hand and I shook it firmly.  "Good to see you, Fikhos," I said.  "We're looking for one of your associates."

"Who in particular?" Fikhos asked.  He stood poised in a position of bizarre dignity as he spoke, as though he were posing as a model for a Renaissance sculptor.  I saw Sylnie stare openly at his toned, richly colored body.  I felt a twinge of jealousy. 

I knew it was stupid.  Sylnie was my secretary, my aide.  She seemed to have taken a liking to me and she tried to have sex with me once, but she was an employee and a demon and it was silly to consider her a lover or a girlfriend.  I doubted that demons were much for romantic loyalty anyway.  Besides, Sylnie was pretty much the only feminine organism with whom I'd been able to flirt since I'd arrived in Hell.  That didn't mean I had actual feelings for her.  It just meant that I had nowhere else to place any feelings of that nature. 

That didn't stop me from hating the way she unabashedly admired his prominent abs and firm pecs and every other part his unfortunately naked body, though.  At least Jaelin seemed unaffected by his physique.  Although I might have preferred she fall for someone like Fikhos than someone as wimpy and bumbling as Torvin.

"One of my aides was ambushed and captured,” I told the Director of Housing.  “We think one of your demons can help us find out who is responsible.”

The object of my secretary’s lust appeared horrified.  "You think one of mine was involved?"

I shook my head.  "I'm not sure.  Indirectly, maybe."

“Who?” came the obvious follow-up.

I sighed.  “I don’t have a name.  All I know is that he’s from your department and he might be an acquaintance of a demon named Sebrev.”

“And he’s green,” Sylnie put in helpfully.

“…and he’s green,” I finished.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Getting a Lead

The demon rolled over to go back to sleep, but Jaelin gripped him by the shoulder and turned him back to face us.  "You must have heard something," she insisted.  "Did he have any friends?  Anyone you overheard him mention or talk to?  Anyone who visited him?"

"I did see him talking to a demon from the Department of Housing a little while back," the demon said slowly.  "Seemed to be kind of an important conversation but you could tell they didn't want anybody to hear them."

"Did you get a name?" Jaelin asked.

"If I tell you the name, do I get to go back to sleep?" he countered.  When I nodded, he said, "I didn’t catch one.  Now piss off."  He rolled over again.

Taking a page out of the police procedural dramas my parents used to watch, I said, “Describe him for me. Did he have any distinguishing characteristics?”

“He was a demon,” the sleep-deprived witness growled.  “He had arms and legs and he was…I don’t know…greenish, maybe?  He was a fucking demon.  We didn’t pose for photos.”

"So that’s it?  We’re just looking for a green demon from Housing?" Sylnie summarized disappointedly.  She'd been quiet and she seemed extremely uncomfortable.  I wasn't sure if it was because she was getting jostled a little too lasciviously by the lewder demons, if she was nervous in her new role as a more active member of the team or if she was simply embarrassed at being the only demon in the entire barracks wearing clothing.

“We’ll have to talk to Fikhos,” I said sourly.  “See if he knows something.  And if he doesn’t,” I continued loudly, “We’ll have to come back here and beat the crap out of this punk until he decides to remember something useful!”  The demon ignored me and pretended to snore.

"Well, it looks like your investigation is whisking you out of our fair department," Wyver said with dramatic wording but flat intonation.  "I'm afraid our paths will part here."

"Yeah," I nodded.  "A pleasure as always, Wyver."

"Parting is such sweet sorrow," he replied, adding "sir" as an afterthought before disappearing.

"A Wyver by any other name would still be as smug," I muttered to no one in particular.  I turned to Jaelin.  "I've never been to the Department of Housing," I told her.  "So you'll have to take me and Sylnie with you when you teleport."

By the time I finished my sentence, the three of us were standing in what I assumed was the office of Fikhos, the Director of Housing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Transportation Barracks

The demon barracks in the Department of Transportation were an appalling sight.  They were crammed into the dark basement level of the building and consisted of long maze-like corridors lined with bunk beds arranged parallel to the walls.  The halls were narrow enough already, but with the metal cots stacked on the sides there wasn't enough room to walk without brushing shoulders with someone heading the opposite direction.  As Wyver led us toward Sebrev's bunk, Sylnie had considerable trouble squeezing her plump figure past some of the denizens of the barracks.  I'm pretty sure she got downright groped by some of the more concupiscent demons we passed.  Jaelin had a pleasant figure, of course, but she'd adopted a stern, bloodthirsty demeanor that had convinced the entire department to keep their hands to themselves.  I imagined most of them reasoned that her ass wasn't quite smackable enough to risk losing a hand.

It seemed that Wyver hadn't known the exact location of Sebrev's bed, but it only took a minute or two before he pinpointed it.  Sebrev's name was etched into a flimsy wooden nameplate beside a top bunk. Nothing else was in the immediate area except a thin gray blanket that had been neatly folded in the center of the bed.

"I take it that blanket isn't the guy we're looking for," I said.

Wyver smiled wryly.  "You don't miss a trick, do you?"  He leaned over into the lower bunk and roughly shook the demon who slumbered there. 

"Hey, what the fuck?" the demon mumbled, squinting at us with puffy eyes.  "What do you want?"

"Do you know where Sebrev is?" Wyver asked him.

"Who?"

"Your bunkmate, dipshit," Jaelin snapped.

"Hey, go easy, I just woke up," the demon said defensively.  "I haven't seen him in a while.  Longer than usual, now that I think about it."

"Where would he go?" I asked. 

The demon shrugged.  "I don't know.  We're not friends.  I don't really pay attention to what he does unless he's snoring loud enough to keep me awake."  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Locating the Perpetrator

Sylnie did not have the ability to teleport so I took her with me when Jaelin and I transported ourselves to Jorge’s office.  The Chilean Director was deeply engaged in what appeared to be a very opinionated but very hushed discussion with one of his aides.  When he saw us appear, he finished his thought, clapped the demon reassuringly on the shoulder, and sent him away.

“Sir,” Jorge said with a respectful nod in my direction.  “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Do you know a demon named Sebrev?” I asked.

“Yes I do,” he replied, sitting down behind his desk and leaning back comfortably in his chair.  “He’s one of my aides.  Why?”

“A group of masked demons attacked two of my aides and took one of them hostage,” I said.  “I have reason to believe that Sebrev was one of the attackers.”

“You have reason to believe?” Jorge said dubiously.

“Jaelin recognized his voice,” I explained.

Jorge nodded.  He glanced over at Jaelin and registered some shock at the wound on her face.  Though the gash was healing, it was clear that it had once been deep and bloody.  “Sebrev is not on duty at present,” he said.  “I don’t think he would have done this.”

“Tell me where he is and I’ll find out for sure,” I replied impatiently.

“Of course,” Jorge retreated.  He pressed the intercom on his desk.  “Nuver, can you send someone in please?”  A moment later, the door opened and one of Jorge’s aides stepped inside.

“Wyver,” Jorge said, “Take the Devil and his aides down to our barracks and help them locate Sebrev’s bunk.”

Wyver nodded crisply.  “I live to serve,” he replied dryly. 

“It’s great to see you again,” I lied.  “So many wonderful memories.”

He rolled his eyes.  “We can go whenever you’re ready.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Demon Lineage

Jaelin frowned at me.  "What happened?"

"It looks like Tithenai's been taken too," I said with a sigh.  "We might need to go in all guns blazing and beat some information out of Sebrev after all."

Jaelin was about to respond with all joy and vigor when Gus cut in, "Wait.  Tithenai got kidnapped?"

"Yeah."

"Tithenai is a psychic," he said.

"Yeah."

"How exactly does a psychic let herself get captured?"

"I don't know, but it happened," I said dismissively.  "Jaelin?  Ready to go bust some heads over at Transportation?"

She smiled broadly.  "Hell yes I am, sir."

"I'd like to come too, if that's okay," Sylnie said.

All three of us turned to give her pretty much the same look.  "You want to go with?" I asked.

She shrugged.  "I'd like to be more involved.  And I've been working on my telekinesis a lot."

"I thought you were a low order demon," I said.  "I didn't think you could do telekinesis."

"I can't," she said shyly.  "Well, I couldn't.  I should be able to develop more with practice."

I glanced at Gus.  "It's kind of like leveling up a magic-user in Dungeons and Dragons," he explained.  "More experience means more power, more ability.  It's just that LODs start off at level one and the high order demons are all like level twenty."

"It has a lot to do with breeding, too," Sylnie added.  "The first group of demons created by Lucifer were all very powerful, but as the demons breed with each other, it gets watered down with each generation.  The potential is still there, but it takes a long time for a young demon to reach a level of strength that's even close to what the first demons had."

"So a low order demon isn't actually a different kind of demon?"

Sylnie clarified, "The term generally refers to a demon from at least the fourth generation that hasn't yet exhibited any kind of power."

"And you're…?"

"Sixth generation," she said humbly.  "But I'm pretty sure Jaelin is third generation.  Right, Jaelin?"

Jaelin scowled.  "If you guys are just going to stand around chatting all day, I'm going to do this myself."

"Right," I said, embarrassed at how easily I'd been sidetracked.  "Torvin.  Totally important.  Jaelin, Sylnie, let's go."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thinking it Through

Jaelin got to her feet, gritting her teeth angrily.  "We start by kicking down the door to the barracks in Transportation and cutting off Sebrev's limbs one by one until he tells us where we can find my sweet."

I shot her a boggled glance. "My sweet?"  Gus masked a chuckle by coughing a little too loudly.

"Torvin," she corrected abashedly.  "Until he tells us where we can find Torvin."

"Right," I said.  "Well, if Jorge was here, I'm sure he'd tell us all to take a deep breath and think this through before we do anything rash."

"Good thing he's not here then," Jaelin said with feigned pleasantness. 

"Okay, so obviously we need to talk to this Sebrev guy, since he's kind of our only lead," I admitted.  "But we should have as much information going in as we possibly can.  We don't know who these demons are, what their cloaks and masks mean, what they want, or what they're doing with Torvin.  We need to know what's going on or we'll probably just wind up getting ourselves into more trouble."

Jaelin glared at me.  "Fine," she said stubbornly.  "But I'm only agreeing because you're making sense.  And I'm not saying I won't cut any of Sebrev's limbs off."

"Just as long as you're willing to put a pin in that for later," I grinned.

"So what are you saying?" Sylnie asked.

"I'm saying I get to have another lovely chat with Tithenai," I replied.  "You guys…stay here.  Make some calls or whatever.  Talk to some people.  But don't do anything substantial until I get back.  Okay?"

"If Jaelin tries to do anything crazy, Boss-Man, I'll just overpower her with my superior strength," Gus assured me, puffing out his chest.

"And when that fails, I'll at least mop up his blood," Sylnie said.  "No reason to leave all that mess in your office."

"Good to know who I can count on," I said.  "I'll be right back."

I appeared a moment later in a much different version of Tithenai’s cave from the one I’d last seen.  The couch was overturned.  A controller lay upside down on the rock floor.  The television screen said "Game Over." The sparseness of the room made it easily evident that Tithenai was gone.  I immediately returned to my office.

"Yeah, we're going to need to modify the plan a little bit," I announced.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Heartlessness

"Great, more problems from Jorge's Department," I grumbled.  Azraal had come from there.  The plot to kill my parents at my funeral had come from there.  I'd thought that Jorge's masterful command of the Department had neutralized its earlier tendency to breed trouble, but it seemed that something rotten still had its roots behind that crooked four-story office building.

"As much as people bitch about the DMV upstairs," Gus quipped, "They have no idea how good they have it.  At least their department of transportation doesn't try to overthrow the government, murder the families of political leaders and kidnap presidential advisors."  He grinned triumphantly to a somber room.

After an awkward silence he asked me privately from the corner of his mouth, "People still bitch about the DMV, right?"

I nodded and whispered back, "Yeah, you're good.  I think maybe your comedic timing was a little bit off, though."

He shrugged.  "Some nights you kill it, other nights you whiff it."

Sylnie gave Jaelin a reassuring squeeze across the shoulders and looked up at me.  "So what are you going to do?" she asked.  I honestly didn't know and that made me hesitate much longer than I should have. 
Jaelin looked up at me, her glassy eyes wide with alarm.  "You have to rescue him!" she told me.  "Sir, please!  You can't just let them have him!"

"I know you don't think much of Torvin," Sylnie said as soon as Jaelin had finished.  "But at least get him back out of respect for Jaelin! We both know how much she's done for you and you know how much Torvin means to her!"

"And Torvin's fate should concern you anyway, Boss-Man," Gus pointed out, almost talking over Sylnie, "considering that these demons originally tried to target Jaelin.  An attack on someone in your inner circle is an indirect challenge to your authority too, am I right?"

I put my hands up to silence their preemptive protests.  "Guys," I told them.  "I may be the Devil, but I'm not that heartless."

"You do kind of treat Torvin like shit sometimes," Jaelin said.

"That's because he is like shit," I replied.  "But Gus is right.  He's a member of my inner circle whether he's useless or not.  He's one of us.  And we're going to go get him."

"Great," Gus said.  "Where do we start?"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Demon-napped

"The demons?" I asked in disbelief.  "The demons were wearing the cloaks?  I didn't think demons generally wore anything."

"It's not very common," Sylnie commented.  I guessed from her inflection that she harbored a little resentment over having to wear the maid outfit all the time.  But that wasn't exactly an important problem right now.

"I'd never seen anything like it before," Jaelin continued.  "They attacked Torvin and they tried to grab me, but when I fought back it looked like they gave up on me and just grabbed him instead.  I can't believe I let this happen," she added, shaking her head with frustration.

"It's not your fault," Sylnie reminded her softly.

"They were trying to kidnap you?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.  "That's exactly what they were trying to do."

"How do you know?" Sylnie asked.

She took a deep breath.  "Because the one that was in charge told the others to ignore Torvin and take me.  When I broke one of their legs, he told them just to take Torvin."

"'Take?' That was the word he used?" I said.

"Yes," Jaelin confirmed.  "And I recognized his voice, too.  It was Sebrev."

I didn't recognize the name.  I looked to Gus for help.  He offered me an apologetic shrug.

"I know him," Sylnie said somberly.  "I can't believe he'd be involved in something like this, but I know him.  I worked with him in the Department of Transportation."

I rolled my eyes.  "I know, it's shocking that a demon might be involved in a violent crime, right?"  I'd forgotten that I was talking to two demons.  They reminded me of my bigotry with matching scowls.  "Sorry," I said swiftly.  "Um…this Sebrev...I'm assuming he's still with Transportation?"

"Yeah, as far as I know," Sylnie replied.  "In fact, I think he's one of Jorge's personal aides."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Taken

I quickly thanked Tithenai.  She gave a curt nod and resumed her game of Mario Kart as I disappeared.  My phone was still ringing when I materialized in my office.  Gus, who had his own phone pressed to his ear, hung up when he saw me. 

"What's going on?" I asked, looking around the room.

Jaelin was seated on the floor, her arms pulling her knees in against her chest.  She had a huge gash extending from one cheek, across her nose, and over her eye. The wound appeared to be healing, but she was covered in blood and I was pretty sure that most of it wasn't hers.  She wasn't crying, but she seemed to be on the verge.  Sylnie was crouching beside her with a sympathetic arm around her shoulders.

"What's going on?" I repeated.

"They took Torvin," Jaelin whimpered.

I'd never seen her show anything close to this level of weakness or vulnerability.  I had no idea how to behave around her.  But I also had no idea what she was talking about.  "Who took him?" I asked.  "What do you mean, took?"

I'd spoken more brusquely than I intended to.  Sylnie flashed me a reproving glare and Gus murmured, "Hey, go easy."

"I'm sorry," I said, making a concerted if only partially successful effort to sound gentler.  "I just…I need to know what happened."

Jaelin gathered her characteristic strength and looked me in the eye.  "We'd just come back from our vacation," she explained.  "I was dropping Torvin off at his bunk in the Department of Enforcement when a bunch of demons appeared.  There were maybe five or six of them.  They were wearing these dark hooded cloaks with masks or something."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Her Terms

"Right," I nodded.  "Um, do you have a phone here?  Because if you get some kind of psychic inkling about something important, I need you to call me and let me know."  I wondered why I hadn't bothered to get Tithenai on speed dial already.

She looked down and shook her grotesquely dainty little head.  "No way.  I don't work for you."

That came as a shock.  And kind of a slap in the face.  "What?  What do you mean?" I asked.

Tithenai sighed.  "Look, all I want to do is have some fun.  I got a feeling I'm not the only one.  I just want to play my video games, all right?  You want to come bother me with questions every now and then, that's fine.  That's one thing.  The fact that I even paused my game to talk to you means I like you.  But that's as far as it goes.  I'm not involved.  I don't lift a finger.  I don't go out."  I got the sense that she had been hoping that I would pick up on how she wanted to do things instead of making her come out and say it explicitly.  She looked miserable having to speak it aloud.

I tried to be understanding despite the fact that I didn't understand.  But she had helped me out in the past.  She was powerful and useful and she didn't seem to relish being difficult, so I figured it was best that I cooperated with her hermitic wishes.  "Okay…uh, sure.  Then can I just come bother you from time to time?  And if there is something you know you'll tell me then?"

"Sure, man, whatever," she agreed dejectedly.  Then her demeanor abruptly darkened.  "You should get back to your office."

Her tone was alarming.  "What?"

"It's Jaelin," she said urgently.  "You need to go back to your office."

Just then, my phone started ringing.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Intelligence Gathering

I arrived in Tithenai's private cavern to find that, unsurprisingly, she was stretched out on her couch with a controller in her hand.

"Hey," she greeted me without looking up.

I squinted at her screen.  "Mario Kart?  Seriously?"

She let out a short snicker.  "Yeah, I know.  It's not my usual thing.  But sometimes I get tired of the serious games and I have to play something silly for a while.  Helps me relax.  Don't do it.  When you wanna go to it."

"You did that one already."

She furrowed her brow.  "What?"

"Never mind," I said.  "I was wondering if we could talk for a minute."

"That's not what we're doing right now?" she asked.

"I meant if you could pause the game and give me your full attention," I clarified.

"I'm a psychic.  My mind's all over the place," she reminded me.  "There's no such thing as my full attention."  Perhaps just to make me feel better, she paused the game anyway, sat up, and made eye contact.  "So what's going on?  I said hey—what's going on?"

"I just wanted to ask you if there were any important developments that I should know about," I said.  I didn't tell her that I had stopped by because I had a mounting paranoia and nothing else to do.

"What kind of developments?" she asked, emphasizing my word as though the terminology were absurd and unnecessary.

"You know, like a looming crisis or something.  Halkkor two-point-oh.  That kind of thing."  In my self-conscious state I wondered if Tithenai ever felt this exposed in her cavern.  It may have been tucked away out of sight, but there was such a tremendous amount of open space that her little electronic oasis seemed like a target in a crosshair.  An entire army of demons could teleport in and swarm her and there would still be plenty of room left.

"Probably," she told me.  "But that's just the way it is.  Some things will never change.  That's just the way it is."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Twiddling Thumbs

The Council of Hell wasn't quite what I'd hoped, but I felt that it was definitely a move in the right direction.  I wasn't really a proactive, take-charge kind of guy to begin with, but I was getting there.  I'd had some practice being at the helm and I was starting to warm to it.

In the absence of a crisis, I continued trying to take care of the administrative aspects of my domain.  Once I returned to my office, I briefed Gus and Sylnie on the departmental reports.  I explained that I needed them to go through the entirety and alert me to anything notable or urgent. 

"Don't you want to go through these yourself?" Sylnie asked hopefully.  "That way you can arm yourself with as much information as possible."

"But I don't want to have too much information," I said.  "I can't micromanage something as huge as Hell.  But I trust you guys to bring something to my attention if I need to know about or if I need to do something about it."

Gus said, "We'll be your eyes and ears, Boss-Man."  Then he amended, "Well…mostly just your eyes.  Unless these reports come in audiobook format."

The reports started to arrive soon.  Most of them were delivered by courier.  Fikhos was the first one finished and he delivered his personally.  Jorge sent his with Wyver, who didn't seem as annoyed to see me as I expected.  The last to arrive came from one of Diseppia's aides and I was pleased to discover that it was only two hours past the deadline.

Sylnie and Gus busied themselves by dutifully poring over the piles of printed pages. I found myself completely and unexpectedly unoccupied.

"I think I'll pay a visit to Tithenai," I announced.  "Maybe I'll see if there's trouble brewing somewhere that I should know about."  For the first time I could remember during my stint as the Devil, there wasn't any trouble brewing.  It made me uneasy.  There was probably something bad going on.  Somewhere.  This was Hell, after all.

Gus, immersed in an analysis of the gradual deterioration of the cable car system above the Lake of Fire, mumbled something distractedly in response.  Sylnie wordlessly turned a page in her article on the supply shortage in the Information Technology Department.

With that lively sendoff, I teleported away.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Making Policy

The meeting wasn't quite as eventful as I'd hoped.

I wanted to generate loyalty among my directors.  I wanted them to see me as charismatic, energetic and full of great ideas.  I wanted to be Steve Jobs up on that stage, introducing a revolutionary new product to uproarious applause and admiration bordering on deification.

Once I really got going, I did the energetic thing okay.  I recouped some of my losses on the charisma front in the aftermath of Diseppia's defiance.  But the biggest problem was that I had no revolutionary new product to introduce.  I was a lamer, impotent version of Steve Jobs getting up in front of his ensorcelled followers to say, "So, what do you guys think we should do?" 

It didn't fly. 

We eventually got down to brainstorming and the Council of Hell finally began to produce some results.  I'd wanted to improve unity and communication, so Jorge suggested that each department submit periodic reports of its operations.  Out of some deeply-ingrained sense of democracy, I almost called a vote.  Then I remembered that I was supposed to be a formidable dictatorial leader, so I simply declared that Jorge's suggestion would become policy.

I also took some time to preach unity.  I reminded my directors of the threat of the Firstborn and tried to instill some fear that there could be other threats out there—which was probably true, but I wasn't exactly speaking from a position of education on the subject.   I reminded them that I was the one who had terminated the threat and that it was achieved through the cooperation of multiple departments. 

"The more we support each other and the more we cooperate, the stronger we'll be.  A house divided against itself cannot stand," I concluded boldly to a silent room.  "Any questions?"

"Sir?" Fikhos said timidly, raising his hand like a kindergartener asking to go to the bathroom.

"Yes?"

"Did you just quote Jesus?" he asked.

"The irony isn't lost on me," I admitted.  "Does anyone else have any questions?"

"Yeah," Diseppia piped up.  "Can I go now?"

I sighed.  "Yeah.  You can all go.  Just remember—I want a report on the current state of each of your departments on my desk in an hour!"  They had begun teleporting away so quickly that most of them were gone before I finished speaking. 

"That went super," I whispered sourly to the emptiness.