Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Outmanned, Outgunned

I let the Firstborn blade slip from my hand.  Had I been a little more alert, I might have thought to hold onto it, but clenching my fingers around its shaft seemed too strenuous.  I focused what little psychic power I had at my disposal on healing my wounds.  This was the second time I'd been close to death in the last few minutes.  If indignation wouldn't have been so emotionally and physically taxing, I probably would have been whining about how annoying it all was.

Or perhaps I'd be commenting that I never expected being the Devil would involve so much healing.  It's a position usually associated with evil and destruction and the deprivation of life instead of the prolonging of life.  But it was all I could do to keep my eyes open and seal up the puncture wound in my shoulder, so any reflection on irony would have to come later.

Talamur, Jaelin and Sylnie were horribly outmatched.  Talamur was powerful and resourceful, but he was carrying a near-comatose devil.  Sylnie was loyal and increasingly brave, but her powers were underdeveloped and she'd probably lose a one-on-one fight with any single demon facing us.  Jaelin was strong and unhindered, but that still gave our team only one capable badass.  The opposition had almost fifty capable badasses. 

My mojo was dangerously low and Sylnie hadn't yet mastered teleportation, so if we decided to make a run for it, Jaelin would have to take both of us herself.  That's assuming we fled back to Hell, in which case Talamur wouldn't be able to follow us because of his banishment spell.  We'd have to stay somewhere in the Living Realm if we expected to regroup. 

Azraal's demons were forming a circle around us, limiting our choices to teleportation and annihilation.  Kezin looked positively ravenous for some good old-fashioned bloodshed.

"We have to run," Jaelin said.

"Agreed," Talamur replied.  "Where should we be meeting?"

Jaelin was about to respond when a narrow column of yellow light beamed down from above and deposited another figure in the center of the circle of demons.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sidelined

I was surprised and a little flattered by the ferocity with which Talamur retaliated.  From my vantage point on the ground, I watched him whip himself into a frenzy and attack Azraal with such rage that he sent the former Director of Transportation scurrying for cover.  Azraal rallied behind the safety of his underlings, however, and dozens of demons began to advance on our position.  Considering we were outnumbered twenty to one and one of us was hovering somewhere precariously close to death, I suppose we should have been proud of how cautiously they approached us.  But Talamur and I had bigger worries—like both of us dying.

"I don't suppose you can maybe stand?" my only ally murmured to me out of the side of his mouth, keeping a wary eye on our opponents.  "Maybe teleport?  Run away?  Anything?"

I strained to use my muscles and my powers but neither one responded effectively.  "Well," I wheezed, "I can talk."

"Good, good," he replied swiftly.  "That's an enormous help to us."

"That was sarcasm, right?"

"Naturally," he confirmed.  He bent down and scooped me up into his arms.

Jaelin and Sylnie appeared beside us.  "Hello again, my love," Jaelin remarked grimly.  "Sorry it took so long to find you."

"Impeccable timing, my little temptress," Talamur replied.

"Is the Devil okay?" Sylnie asked, casting her eyes toward my prostrate form in concern.

I gently wiggled the spike in my shoulder, squinting against the searing pain, until it came free.  I stared at the dark dye of my own blood on the bony dagger.  "It's just a flesh wound," I said with false bravado.  "I'll be fine."  Then I leaned heavily against Talamur's strong arms—pulling out the Firstborn blade and speaking had sapped what little energy I had left.  I wasn't sure if I was about to pass out. 

And more importantly, I wasn't sure if I would die again if I let go of consciousness.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fallback Plan

Under a serious time constraint and in the absence of any viable alternative, I went with my fallback plan—I attacked.

I teleported a few inches forward, past the Firstborn Blade, hoping to blow Azraal to bits once and for all.  As I tried to materialize in the space occupied by his body, I felt some unseen force push me out of the way.  I popped back into reality just beyond the edges of my unharmed adversary's frame.  

"I've picked up on a few of your tricks," Azraal cackled, whirling and slicing the air near my ear.  "And I've learned to defend myself."

"But I bet you don't know all my tricks," Talamur grunted.

Azraal went rigid for a moment before abruptly hurling his weapon with expert precision into the heart of one of his subordinates.  The demon dropped dead instantly.  I looked on in confusion as Azraal calmly yanked the bloody blade from his comrade's chest.  The host of demons, including Kezin, appeared just as confused.

Suddenly Azraal lost his composure and emitted an unearthly animal shriek.  "Oh, that was a fucking dirty trick!  Well done, you brown bastard!"

"I prefer beige," Talamur said with a shrug.  "But it's not really overly important anyway."

"What the hell just happened?" I asked him.  "Did you just…possess…a demon?"

"It's not as easy as it is possessing a human," Talamur confirmed apologetically, sidling up next to me.  "He shook it off pretty quickly, you may have noticed."

"I didn't even know that was possible!" I breathed.  Based on the looks on the faces of our enemies, they hadn't known either.  Despite a casualty on their side, they didn't look anxious to return fire.

In a rage, Azraal charged Talamur and the two of them began rapid hand-to-hand combat.  Though their arms and legs were a blur, I could tell just how close Azraal was getting to scoring a fatal blow on my only remaining ally.  I lunged forward to help, but Azraal had been waiting for that moment.  As I moved forward, he pointed the Firstborn Blade at me.  I couldn't stop—my momentum carried me inexorably toward yet another death.  I tried to teleport out, but my focus was broken when my skin was. 

I went down heavily, feeling intense pain but momentarily unaware of its source.  When I hit the ground and noticed that I was still alive, I realized I'd taken the hit in the shoulder above my heart. 

I felt physically and telekinetically weak, but I was pretty sure I could live through this—provided I wasn't wounded again anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Catching Up

I had no witty comeback for Azraal.  I just stared at him in horror, listening to the crescendo of sirens in the background.

"You're so happy to see me that you're actually speechless," he said, feigning shock and sentimentality.  "I knew we had something special, but I never realized how deep your affection for me really ran.  It's touching, honestly," he added, pretending to wipe a tear from his eye.  As he spoke, more demons teleported in around him.  Apparently someone was spreading the word that I'd been found.

"I'm beginning to become uncomfortable," Talamur murmured in my ear.  "There are a lot of them, even for us."

"I know," I said irritably.  I was scrambling to think of a clever idea to turn the situation to my advantage, but all I could come up with was to start killing demons.  I had a feeling that such an attack would only get both of us killed.  Then I'd wake up in Heaven, receive another angry lecture from Conrad, and, if I got lucky, get sent back to a fight I'd already lost.

The first of the fire trucks screeched into the parking lot.  Azraal lazily sent a fireball in its direction.  The resulting explosion sounded like it had probably killed everyone on board.

I needed to do something.  Fast.  More demons were still appearing. 

"Well, it was nice catching up," Azraal said with an air of finality.  "We'll have to do this again sometime."  He snapped his fingers and one of his cronies tossed him a weapon—the bony wrist blade from one of the Lucifer's Firstborn. 

In the absence of a brilliant strategy, I opted to taunt him back in the hopes of buying myself more time to formulate a brilliant strategy.  "What are you gonna do?" I scoffed.  "Even if you manage to kill me with that thing, I'll just come back and kick your ass again."

"A few of us have a theory," he explained with a menacing smirk.  "We think it takes a lot of juice to bring you back from the dead.   We think there's a limit to how many times you can pull it off."  He smiled with soured joviality.  "So we'll just keep killing you until you go away for good."  A half-second later, he was right in front of me, preparing to plunge his blade into my chest.

My taunt had not bought me sufficient time to come up with anything remotely resembling a useful plan.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Winging It

"I suppose I'll just be following your lead, then?" Talamur murmured. 

"Yeah," I said distractedly.  I'd seen a glimpse of movement in the wreckage of the gymnasium and I was focusing on that same spot to see if I could identify whoever was walking calmly through the tangle of bent bleachers.  A moment later the form reemerged and I could tell instantly from both physical appearance and body language that it was a demon. 

"I see one," I said, pointing.  "Let's go tear his head off."

I teleported into the fire and Talamur followed suit.  We arrived a few feet in front of the unknown demon, who regarded us with a smirk and stood with bold dispassion in the midst of such wanton destruction.

"Well, look who it is," he said in a low, guttural voice.  "The Devil himself.  What an honor you bestow upon us with your illustrious presence."  Though the sarcasm was obvious, he gave an over-embellished bow to seal the deal.

"Something like this, I should have known you'd have been behind it," Talamur snarled back.

"Wait, you know this guy?" I asked.

"Kezin," Talamur said.  "He worked for me when I was Director of Torture.  I appreciated his skills back then, but he's a piece of work, let me tell you."

"Aren't they all?" I replied wearily.  Talamur gave me a quick look of disapproval but said nothing.

Kezin, keeping his eyes fixed on us, turned his head to the side to shout behind him, "Sir!  I found him!"

A few moments later, another demon came striding through the flaming debris. "Did you?  Well, that didn't take long at all.  I'm actually disappointed!"  I recognized the voice before his face came into view.  It was Azraal.  He was whole again, reunited with his body, reendowed with his powers, and probably more dangerous than ever.

He put his hands on his hips and flashed me a cheesy smile.  "It's been a while!  How's my favorite weird human-demon hybrid mutant thing?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Recuperation

"You look like mostly shit," Talamur commented, extending an arm to help me up.

"You think this is bad," I grunted, "You should've seen me a few minutes ago.  So what's the situation here, exactly?"

"Demons are attacking," he said simply.  "A lot more than there were the last time, though.  Jaelin left to get you.  Where is she?"

I shook my head.  "I don't know," I said, wincing.  My neck seemed to have a relatively minor injury and the movement sent a sharp pang up into my skull.  I was still healing my more urgent wounds, so I'd have to fix my neck later.  "We didn't teleport in together, so she's probably somewhere nearby.  I was with Torvin.  Did you see him?"

"Who?"

"Torvin," I repeated, remembering that they hadn't met.  "Demon?  Dusty brown?  A little on the short side?  He was right next to me when I got blown up."

"Sorry, I didn't see anyone," Talamur said.  He waved his hand in the direction of the burning school.  "There's a lot going on, though, so it would have been easy for me to have missed him."

What looked like a glass bottle went hurtling across the sky in front of us.  Just before it reached an intact section of the building, a fireball shot out from below and destroyed it, showering the roof in flames.

"Great," I said.  "Demonic Molotov cocktails."

"We do love our fire," Talamur grinned.  "Big part of our cultural heritage and all that."

"We'd better get to work," I said.  "We need to stop this before they burn down the whole town."

"Agreed," he said.  "What do you want me to do?"

"I honestly have no idea," I said grimly.  "Let's just wing it."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Broken

Had I been able to breathe properly in the first place, I probably would have been hyperventilating.  I was dying and I knew it.  Unlike my previous deaths (with the exception of my original human death) this was not quick.  I was just going to have to lay there and wait for my broken body to give up so that Conrad could send me back.  I didn't know how long this would take and I didn't want to be awake for all of it.  Hopefully the pain would at least cause my mind to relinquish consciousness after a while.

But my mind was in perfect working order.  Maybe I could call upon my telekinetic powers and heal myself the way I'd healed Sylnie—only faster.  I needed to do it much faster.  The pain was total and it crawled along my body in dreadful, shivering waves.  One way or another, I needed it to stop. 

I started with my breathing.  It was difficult to focus on anything other than how miserable I was, but slowly I forced the bones out of my bronchioles and sealed the holes in my lungs. I moved onto my legs, repairing my shattered femurs and patching up the singed and shredded skin.

Though my legs were probably functional now, I didn't have the strength to stand.  But I did have a little less pain to occupy my thoughts and I began to observe the scene around me as I leaned against the sycamore and mended my arms. 

Peter Quincy High School was in ruins.  The administrative offices had been absolutely leveled and the gymnasium behind it was in a similar condition.  The math department still stood with only a few scorch marks, but science wing had been obliterated and the shreds of burnt paper from the library blew past me as the wind shifted.  I occasionally caught glimpses of demonic forms moving around the edges of the building, doubtlessly planning the next detonation of their psychic explosives.

And here I was, watching it happen.

Someone standing beside me cleared his throat.  "Should I be assuming that you have a good reason for just sitting there while human civilization goes up in flames?"

I painfully craned my neck in the direction of the voice.  "Talamur!" I exclaimed weakly.  "Man, who'd have ever thought I'd be this glad to see my murderer again!"

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Old School House

I'd aimed for one of the parking lots in front of my old school but before I could even catch a glimpse of where we'd arrived, Torvin and I were sent sprawling by a thunderous explosion.  I went sliding face first across the pavement and Torvin was thrown into some kind of accidental graceless cartwheel.

I got up quickly, holding my stinging, bloodied face like my hand would keep my teeth from falling out.  I hurried over to Torvin, who was crumpled against the curb.  He seemed to have sustained less damage than I had.  "You okay?" I asked.

He shakily got to his feet.  "Yeah," he said.  "I think so.  How's your face?  There's no skin left."

"I'll be fine," I assured him.  "Listen, we need to figure out—"

The second explosion was at least three times as powerful as the first, engulfing Torvin's entire form in flames and propelling us both away from the building.  I landed in indescribable pain that seemed to originate from every cell in my body.  I was pretty sure both of my legs were broken—as well as some important bones in my arms and rib cage.  A good two thirds of my skin felt like it had just melted off and my lungs were definitely messed up.  Despite my badass Devil's body and my powers of strength and healing and the fact that I couldn’t technically die, I was pretty sure I was going into shock too.

I tried to stand up but my mangled limbs failed me.  I propped myself precariously against the trunk of a big sycamore tree and surveyed the scene.  The massive building in which I used to spend five horrible days a week stood across the parking lot from me.  The closest section that had once been the administrative offices was now sporting enormous orange flames, with debris from its demolition still raining down.  It was like the daydream that almost every kid has had at some point, but in my current situation I couldn't really view this as a positive development. 

Torvin might be dead.  I didn't see Jaelin, Sylnie or Talamur anywhere. I couldn't even walk.  I wanted to let out a good cathartic expletive but my jaw was broken and my tongue was numb.  All I could manage was a demented howl of agony.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Establishing Succession

"Thanks for coming," I told the General.  "Are you ready?"

 He nodded solemnly.  "I am."

"Gus, prepare the spell, please," I said.

"Boss-Man," he began in a low, pleading voice.

I cut him off.  "Prepare the spell."

With a snort of frustration, he began to gather the ingredients from where he'd stored them in my desk.  I turned back to Gavsot.  "So you know General," I told him half-jokingly, "I'm going to need this office back once I'm done in the Living Realm."

"Of course," he replied humorlessly.

"I can count on you to step down without any trouble, right?" I pressed a little more bluntly.

"Of course, sir," he replied just as blandly.

"Good," I said.  "Great, good.  Um…let's get on with this then.  Gus?"

Gus had dutifully—if angrily—prepared the ingredients.  He offered me the little bowl of brownish sludge and said darkly, "Bleed in it like you're sending Hell to Hell in a hand basket."

I laid my hand over the rim of the bowl and mentally split the skin of my palm, dribbling a few drops of my precious human-devil-hybrid blood into the mixture before sealing up my psychically-inflicted wound.  "Take a good long swig," I said grimly, handing it to the Director of Enforcement.

Gavsot threw his head back and poured the entire disgusting concoction down his throat in one gulp.  He closed his eyes, almost as if he were savoring the undoubtedly revolting beverage.  Then he let out a long sigh. 

"I can feel the change already," he announced.  He sounded excited—thrilled, even. For the normally reserved and inscrutable general, this was concerning.  Was there some truth to Gus's warning?  Was the authority to act as supreme ruler of Hell really something that could never be entrusted to a demon?

This was General Gavsot, my loyal follower, my respectful military advisor, my friend through many adversities.  I was sure I could trust him—pretty sure, anyway.  And besides, I had a very important appointment with a horde of invading demons in my home town.  I had to go and I had to go now.

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," I told Gavsot with a nod.  I stepped past Gus and whispered, "Keep an eye on him for me."

"What am I supposed to do if he gets power mad?" Gus said.  "Your Hell Phone doesn't have service in the Realm of the Living."

"It's an expression!" I hissed.  My exasperation with him was intensified by the fear that he might actually be right.  "Just…keep an eye on him!"

I moved over to where Sylnie, Torvin and Jaelin stood waiting.  "Good luck," I told my aide and his new boss.  Then Jaelin took Sylnie's hand, I gripped Torvin's shoulder, and the four of us returned to the place where I'd almost finished growing up.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Providing a Reference

In the silence that followed, Doorknob cleared his throat.  "Um…I guess I'll go then," he said.

I pulled out my phone.  "Hang on," I said. "I'm going to put in a good word for you since you rescued Gus."

My Hell Phone rang twice before Malkino, the Director of Torture, answered.  "Yes?" he said in that rich, deep voice of his.

"Malkino," I began, "do you know a demon named Doorknob?"

He hesitated before replying.  "Not…personally, no," he said.  "But I've heard the name.  Why do you ask?"

"He works in your department," I said.

"Yes."'

"He just did me a big favor."

"Okay."

"I'd like you to make sure that he gets promoted at the first possible opportunity," I said.

"With all due respect, it weakens my authority to promote someone for doing you a favor," he replied.  "But if he serves with distinction in my department I will reward him for it, of course."

"Let's not forget that your current department and your old department both required new directors because of me," I reminded him.  "Tell you what, I'll send him to your office right now so he can impress you with his dedication to human suffering.  I'm sure you'll see things my way."

He paused again, perhaps deciding whether or not it was worth it to risk the consequences of fighting me on this.  "Okay then," he said.

I hung up and turned to Doorknob, who was actually trembling with excitement.  "You have an appointment in Malkino's office," I told him. 

"Thank you, sir," he gushed, his eyes glistening.  "Thank you so much!"

I'd known Doorknob was ambitious, but I was still a little surprised and more than a little off-put by the emotional depth of his gratitude.  "It's…no trouble," I said.  "You should probably go.  Malkino's waiting."

He nodded, took a deep breath to compose himself, and disappeared.

Sylnie smiled warmly at me.  "That was nice of you."

"That guy saved my neck," Gus said.  "You should make him Director of the newly-formed Department of Not Being an Asshole to Humans."

"You realize his job is to torture people, right?" I said.

"Sure," Gus admitted.  "But just because he shoves hot pokers up people's rectums all day doesn't mean he can't be a nice guy, too."

General Gavsot arrived as Gus spoke, effectively ending the conversation.