Friday, January 30, 2015

Custody Battle

"Tithenai!" I blurted.  "You're here!"

"Here I am," she confirmed with one of those dry, homely smirks of hers.  Then, inevitably, she added, "Once again.  I'm torn into pieces.  Can't deny it, can't pretend."

As she spoke, the Leader turned around and glared at me.  He seemed to be under the impression that a nasty look mostly hidden behind a mask would be enough to make me go away.  "You should not be here," he growled. 

"Yeah, well, neither should you," I replied with forced flippancy.  "I mean, this is clearly some kind of secret lair for your plot to overthrow the king of Hell, which has to be some kind of treason or something under the…um…Articles of, uh…Articles of Damnation."

He was still glaring.  His chest was heaving and his clenched fists were trembling.  His body language was reminiscent of a cartoon character who was about to turn fire engine red and start blowing steam out of his ears.  Behind him, one of his shrouded goons appeared to back him up.

I continued babbling nervously. "You know, article five…section eight…paragraph two…the, uh, anti-mutiny clause?  Not ringing any bells?"

I was met with more enraged silence.  "That's okay, man," I assured him.  "I was just making that stuff up anyway.  Listen, I'd better get out of here.  I'll just take the psychic and be on my way."  I reached out for Tithenai.

"Don't you fucking touch her," he snapped.  His speech was quick enough and sharp enough that I instinctively froze when I heard it. 

I drew my hand back and grinned up at him.  "How fast is your draw?" I asked.

"What?" he barked impatiently.

I was maybe three feet away from Tithenai.  The Leader and his henchman were probably two yards past her.  If I were to reach out to teleport her away right now, he'd need some fantastic reflexes to stop me in time.  I let a moment pass before rocking suddenly forward and swiping for Tithenai's arm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Deal or No Deal

"As I said to you before," the Leader replied disdainfully, "I owe you nothing.  I don't have to explain myself to you."

"Okay, fine," I said.  "But since I've got your new best friend in two pieces, perhaps we could arrange some kind of prisoner exchange."

"You want the psychic," he predicted flatly.

"I want the psychic," I confirmed.

He waved me off.  "Absolutely not."

"Don't you want Gavsot back?" I asked.  "Take it from me, dude, he's a useful guy to have in your corner."

"If I require him," the Leader said haughtily, "then I will take him from you."

I snorted.  "Now whose hubris knows no bounds?"

I was pleased to see how riled up I was getting him.  His chest was heaving and his enraged breath was whistling sharply out through his mask.  "If Zyzyfus's idiotic little mutiny hadn't interrupted me," he grated, "you'd be rotting away as a pitiful human in that dark tunnel I left you in while I ruled Hell the way it was meant to be ruled."

"Sure," I taunted.  "Blame it on bad luck.  Don’t blame it on the fact that you were too stupid to leave someone down there with me to stab me again in case I got my mojo back."

"It wasn't supposed to take that long," he insisted.  "Zyzyfus threw everything off track!"  He let out a long, frustrated growl of growing volume.  "Enough of this!" he shouted.  "I have better things to do than stand here and trade insults with the Abomination!  Next time you see me," he promised grimly, "I'll be drinking your blood and taking your throne!"

A statement like that could only mean he was preparing to leave.  I pounced on him and just barely managed to grab the hem of his robe as he teleported.   A moment later, I was on the dusty floor of yet another small cave.  Tithenai, bound with ropes a few feet away, looked up and greeted me, "Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?"

Monday, January 26, 2015

A New Guest

"That definitely is confusing," I agreed.  "Let me start by saying that Zyzyfus is a bad guy.  And the creepy cloak guys are too.  Gavsot apparently is with them now, but I'm hesitant to place him firmly in the bad guy category just yet."

"The general?" Sylnie said in shock.  "Really?"

I shrugged.  "Well, he stabbed me," I explained dryly.  "And made some kind of deal with my enemy.  So there's that."

"How could you?" she shrilly reprimanded Gavsot's half-conscious head as it lay unceremoniously with its nose bent against the carpet.

Suddenly there was a new presence in the room.  "Gavsot!" cried a masked and shrouded figure who looked about the correct height to be the Leader of the cult.  He must have planned to say more, but he fell silent when he realized that he and his conspirator were not alone.

"He's a little under the weather right now," I said.  "But I'd be happy to take a message."

"What have you done with him?" the demon asked thinly.  Now that he'd spoken a complete sentence, I could recognize the voice of the Leader. 

"What have you done with him?" I countered.  "Making him turn against me?  Was it some kind of spell?"

"He's merely under the spell of self-interest, Abomination," he scoffed.  "As if it would take some kind of supernatural force to convince one of your precious favorites to break your holy bond of trust.  Can your arrogance really have no limit?  Does your hubris know no bounds?  Does the breadth of your—"

"Does your mouth never shut the fuck up?" I interrupted.  "Quit grandstanding and just level with me.  What do you want?  You want to rule Hell?  You want to rule the Realm of the Living?  What is it?"  I stepped toward him and was overjoyed to sense him instinctively flinch.  For all his pompous pontification and self-righteous self-aggrandizement, he was still scared of me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sylnie's Story

With Gus finally silenced, I turned back toward our rescuers.  "Sylnie!" I enthused.  "You look fantastic!"

Still dressed in her French maid outfit, she shot me a sexy little wink.  "I never get tired of hearing that."  Then she quickly added, "Sir."  She was holding a Firstborn blade stained with enough blood to indicate that she'd been very busy killing demons.

"So you and Belvidon here have been defending the home base or what?" I asked.

Her confidence wavered.  "Well…we thought we were, but things got so confusing that I'm not really sure who we're supposed to be fighting anymore."

She was about to go on, but I saw Zyzyfus stirring out of the corner of my eye.   "Hold that thought," I told her.  I bent over, planted my foot on his neck, and forcibly ripped his head off to effectively sap his telekinetic powers.  I just needed to make sure the head stayed far enough away from the body so that he couldn't surreptitiously heal himself and take me by surprise.  I rolled his head into the far corner.  Then I did the same thing to Gavsot.   Onslaw, at least, I allowed to come safely back to consciousness.

I nodded toward Sylnie.  "You were saying?"

"At first, General Gavsot and I were in the office just talking," she began.  "But then he started asking some weird questions about what I'd been doing on that last assignment you sent me on.  Then some demon in one of those creepy cloaks came in to tell him to hurry up, which made me think that somehow Gavsot was in league with the bad guys.  But then he explained that there was a group of demons mounting an assault on the office, so I thought maybe I'd join those guys because they sounded like they were against the creepy hood people.  But when Gavsot and his wingman went out to fight them, it seemed like Zyzyfus was trying to take over Hell from you, so I thought maybe he was the bad guy.  But then the hood guy brought more hood reinforcements and there was this big fight in the hallway.  And that's when I put Belvidon's head back on and we decided that we'd let the two groups kill each other and then we'd defend the offices against whoever was left.  Except we kind of got…sucked in," she finished with a shrug and a deep breath.

I let out a low whistle.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Daimon ex Machina

I was back on my feet with Zyzyfus still hanging around my neck and chomping on my shoulder.  I was trying to twirl to throw him off, but it was only making his teeth dig in deeper and I was starting to get dizzy.  Onslaw and Gavsot throwing each other around the room wasn't making it any easier to avoid falling down.  My computer monitor had been shattered by Onslaw's face and there was a Gavsot-shaped dent in the back door. 

"WITH PLASTICENE PORTERS WITH LOOKING-GLASS TIES," Gus crooned tunelessly. 

The room was spinning and the dizziness was affecting my judgment.  I had no idea what to do, but what I really wanted to do was sit down.  Thankfully, Zyzyfus cried out in pain and slipped off my back.  A moment later, Gavsot and Onslaw went silent, too.  I teetered away into a corner, slumped against the wall, and slid down to the floor.  I gazed leerily at the room in an effort to discern what had happened.

Standing over Onslaw's inert form was the demon I'd captured from the cult a while back.  He was holding Gavsot's knife.

"Belvidon," I said weakly, my chest heaving.  "The last time I saw you, your head was sitting on my carpet."

He set the dagger down on my desk and hurried over to me.  "Yes, sir," he replied, helping me to my feet.  "I'm feeling much better now."

"Not that I don't appreciate the help," I said, "But I have to admit I'm surprised that you came in to put a stop to this crazy little altercation here.  I didn't think we'd really made friends out of each other or anything."

"It's cool, sir," Sylnie said, entering the room with a confident smile.  "He's with me."

From the corner, Gus sang, "It was twenty years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play."

"Dude, seriously?" I snapped.  "Can you just stop?  Not everybody loves the Beatles!"

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dual Vengeance

The two demons rolled across the floor in a flurry of fists and teeth and blood.  Onslaw was screaming something about avenging his brother and Gavsot remained quiet and focused.  Despite all Onslaw's rage, I'd have bet any money on Gavsot emerging as the victor.  I didn't want Onslaw dying on me, so I jumped in, trying to pry the two of them apart using both my physical and supernatural strength.  It was not easy.

"What are you doing!?" Onslaw growled at me.  "This bastard killed my brother!  You have to let me kill him!"

"You won't beat him," I tried to reason with him.  "You can't get revenge if you're dead."  He responded by punching me squarely in the jaw.  It was a hefty enough blow to send me reeling backward.  I tried to rejoin the fray, but Zyzyfus leapt on my back, wrapped his arms around my throat, and basically tried to choke the devil out of me.  I tried to buck him off, but he hung on doggedly, even as I slammed him against the wall repeatedly. 

Gus, alarmed by the growing level of violence in the room, began shouting the lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

As I struggled to shake Zyzyfus free, Onslaw and Gavsot tumbled past in a blur, knocking my feet out from under me.  I collapsed clumsily, bringing the lanky orange demon down on my neck.  Hard.

"A GIRL WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES," Gus bellowed off-key.

Having just accidentally executed an epic professional wrestling move on me, Zyzyfus thought he'd beaten me enough to steal my throne.  I assumed that's why he decided to sink his teeth into my shoulder and latch on like a lamprey.  He had drunk a little bit of my blood, so he only needed to get me to ingest some of his while mine was still in his system.  I was not putting up with that, especially considering how painful it was to have him gnawing on my clavicle.

"WHERE ROCKING HORSE PEOPLE EAT MARSHMALLOW PIES," Gus continued. 

Onslaw spat blood in his direction.  "Will you shut the fuck up already?!"

Friday, January 16, 2015

Attempting Diplomacy

Before I could flee or Zyzyfus could hit me with his demonic taser action, the headless body of a demon came sailing through the hole in the wall and clobbered my latest usurper from behind.  General Gavsot stepped through the opening.

Onslaw gingerly got to his feet.  "It's Gavsot, sir," he told me.  "Let's get him!"

Zyzyfus already had the same idea.  He'd recovered from his blow quickly and rolled into a kneeling position.  Without exchanging a single word with the general, he raised his arm to hit him with the same ability he'd just used on Onslaw.  Gavsot flicked his wrist and dealt the gangly demon a telekinetic smack that sent him flying against the opposite wall.  Without breaking his stride, he moved toward me quickly, brandishing his knife. 

I backed up.  "Gavsot," I pleaded.  "Come on, man, let's talk about this.  We were tight once.  What happened?"

To my surprise, he actually stopped.  He didn't put his knife away, but at least he stopped.  "You decided to open a route to Heaven to free souls from Hell," he explained.  "It was not a course of action I could support."

I scoffed.  "Really?  That's it?  It's not a course of action you can support?  That doesn't mean you have to throw your lot in with my enemy right away.  What about all the stuff we've been through?  Haven't I earned the benefit of the doubt?"

He seemed to consider that for a moment, and in the brief silence I realized that Gus was nervously humming "Yellow Submarine" to himself as he crouched in the corner.  "Perhaps," Gavsot finally admitted.  "But you were planning on completely altering the very nature of Hell and I knew I could not change your mind.  This is my home.  Your actions would cheapen it.  I could not permit it."

I shook my head.  "Letting innocent people go is cheapening it?" I asked incredulously.

With an impatient howl, Onslaw interrupted our productive dialogue by tackling Gavsot.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Accountability

"Okay, okay," I admitted.  "I'm partly responsible for what happened to Vilnius.  But I didn't have much of a choice.  If I hadn't used a spell on him, he would have taken Hell from me.  And if I hadn't ordered him to attack Halkkor, Halkkor might have taken Hell from me."

"All I hear is me, me, me," Zyzyfus snapped.

"Why does no one care for poor little Zyzyfussy?" Gus whined quietly as he cowered in the corner.  He'd almost finished his cigarette and seemed to be savoring the remaining stub like it was the last smoke he'd have for the rest of eternity.  Luckily, the vengeful son of Vilnius didn't appear to have heard his mockery. 

"Look," I said, attempting a more frank tact, "I'm sorry that I got your dad killed.  It's not how I would have preferred things to play out.  But we can't go back and change it."

"Oh, I agree," Zyzyfus said, advancing carefully.  "Which is why my only option is vengeance.  I'm going to take Hell from you and throw you in the darkest, smelliest little hole I can find down here."

"Oh," I said, backing up just as carefully.  "Uh, okay then."

Onslaw stepped between us.  "Look, we really don't have time for this right now," he began.  He opened his mouth to continue, but his face went rigid.  His eyes darted around fearfully as a thin greenish sheen shimmered across him.  Every muscle in his body was stiff and immobile and he slowly toppled over on his side.  The second he hit the ground he cried out in pain and seemed to regain control of his limbs.  "What the hell was that?" he panted.

I glanced at Zyzyfus.  He was standing there with a confident smirk on his face and it seemed clear to me that whatever had happened to Onslaw had come directly from him.  He moved past my rattled comrade and trained his gaze on me.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Prepare to Die

"Hey, Zyzyfus," I said with a nervous chuckle.  "How's it hangin'?"

Ignoring my friendly greeting, he hopped nimbly through the ragged hole he'd created and stared me down with an icy glare.  "A while ago, I learned some disturbing information," he grated.  "It was common knowledge that the King of Lucifer's Firstborn killed my father.  It was an honorable passing," he continued as he strode toward me, clearly relishing this moment.  "If you have to lose a parent, for him to go down as a hero fighting someone so fearsome and so dangerous to everything we hold dear is a good way to lose him.  But what was brought to my attention later was that Halkkor wasn't the one truly responsible for my father's untimely demise."

The last time I had seen Zyzyfus, he had been a wimpy pushover, meekly laying claim to the Directorship of Developstruction because it was his "birthright."  Either that had been some kind of an act, or the understanding that his father had been betrayed by his own king had become some kind of catalyst for the guy to reinvent himself.  This version of Zyzyfus was not a wimp.  He was aggressive, he was angry, and he exuded a power I hadn't thought him capable of as he slowly circled around me in his moment of Inigo-Montoyan vengeance.

I didn't bother denying my role in Vilnius's death.  I opened my mouth to admit blame but Zyzyfus didn't seem to want me to participate in his score-settling scene.

"It was you!" he roared.  "You enslaved him with a spell and then forced him to attack Halkkor to save your own skin!  Your cowardice and your arrogance and your sloppy mismanagement of this entire kingdom are responsible!  You will pay for your treachery, for your betrayal, for your selfishness, for your sins!"

"Well, there's a little bit more to the story," I pointed out once he paused for a breath.  "I don't know who told you this stuff, but there's more that went down between me and Vilnius."

"He told me enough," Zyzyfus snarled.  "He told me you killed him."

Despite the gravity of the situation, it was extremely difficult to restrain myself from replying in my best Vader voice, "No.  I am your father."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Unexpected Arrival

"Maybe now's not exactly the best time for drugs," I told Gus gently.

"Relax," he replied.  "It's not like I can overdose or anything. I'm already dead."

I shrugged.  "Yeah, but if everything going on really is this confusing, I'm going to need you to be at your, uh, maximum cognitive capability."

"I don't think that's really an option anymore, sir," Onslaw whispered.  "It looks like he's kind of mentally checked out already."

"Even a little vodka would take the edge off," Gus suggested hopefully. 

"No," I said firmly.  "Listen, Gavsot betrayed us.  He's allied himself with the guy who's running that secret cult thing.  I'm not sure what they're up to exactly, but I'm positive it's not anything good.  So we have to figure this out, we have to figure the whole Zyzyfus thing out, we have to get Tithenai back, and on top of that we still have to blow open the doors to Heaven, so I think we just need to hunker down, work together, and—"

My increasingly desperate monologue was interrupted by a thunderous noise and a shower of drywall, plaster and dust.  A demon shrouded in a long, hooded cloak had been hurled through the wall to land in a battered heap on my office carpet.  He groaned but did not get up.

"You!" I hissed venomously.  I stomped over to him, planted my foot on his chest, and reached down to rip off his mask.  It was a gaunt-looking demon the color of Mountain Dew.  I'd expected the mastermind behind this problematic secret organization to look a little more intimidating, but his guy appeared beat to hell and scared shitless.

"It's not him, sir," came Onslaw's calming voice.  "He's much too tall."

I looked him over again.  He was practically Ichabod Crane in demon form.  Onslaw was right—the Leader was kind of on the short side.  This poor schmuck was probably just a rank-and-file member of the Leader's group of followers.  I looked back toward the gaping hole through which he'd made his violent entrance.  Silhouetted in the settling dust was the gangly, creamsicle-colored form of Zyzyfus.

His chest heaving, probably from the exertion of having thrown someone through a wall, Zyzyfus raised a bony finger toward me and growled, "You!"

Monday, January 5, 2015

Don't Panic

I took Onslaw back to my office.

The first thing I noticed upon our arrival was the noise.  The room itself was perfectly quiet, but there was so much chaotic sound coming from somewhere nearby that I half-expected to see Godzilla stomping around if I were to stick my head out into the corridor.  The second thing I noticed was Gus, sitting on the floor in the corner, smoking a cigarette.

"Gus?" I said.  "What's going on?"

He shook his head and let a long stream of smoke escape through his lips.  "I don't fuckin' know," he murmured.  "This shit's getting way too complicated for me, Boss-Man.  I'm just staying out of the way until it's all over with."

"Until what's over with?" I pressed. 

"This weird little grudge match outside, for one," he replied.  "I went to talk to Zyzyfus, just like you told me.  He was completely useless.  He had no idea what his father Vilnius might have been talking about that one time he mentioned a door to Heaven.  He apologized for not being much help and had someone drop me off in the waiting room.  So right before I finish walking back here, suddenly Zyzyfus and a bunch of his friends are in the hallway.  Then Gavsot and one of those creepy cult guys come out of your office, exchange a few fightin' words with Zyzyfus, and all hell breaks loose.  Then Sylnie comes out of the office too and joins in the violence, although I can't really tell whose side she's on and I definitely can't tell which side is the right side to be on, so I just decided to hole up in here until all this shit blows over because I don't have a fucking clue what else I should be doing right now."

Onslaw and I stared at him.  It was quite a speech.  It reminded me a little bit of the speech he gave me following the dramatic advent of Lucifer's Firstborn.  He was shaken up, confused, and panicking in his own way. 

"Incidentally," Gus added, puffing out another breath of smoke and gazing at his cigarette as though it were somehow defective, "this really isn't doing the trick like I'd hoped.  Mind if I head back to your storage rooms and rummage around for some cocaine or something?"