Dark Day, Bright Hour – Snippet 03

Doors hung open, and most of the windows were broken out. “Does anyone live here?” Freddi’s voice was hushed, like she was afraid someone would hear her.

She was answered with a scream, as a naked man bolted from one of the buildings and ran down the street like his ass was on fire. On a second look, it was. A demon followed him, in a leisurely fashion, armed with a crossbow. It fired, and the bolt thudded between the man’s shoulder blades, trailing a rope that the demon used to reel him in like a large and struggling trout.

My gorge rose again. “How is he still moving?” I asked. “Shouldn’t that have severed his spine?”

“What, and make it so he couldn’t feel his torment?” Derek said. “You don’t have a physical body anymore, Anthony. The pain inflicted here is on the spirit.”

Zeeviel’s knuckles were white on his sword. “And yet, some are punished more than their sins warrant.” The man writhed on the ground while the laughing demon beat him with a thorny branch. Chittering rats gathered and licked at the blood spatter.

Derek snorted bitterly. “And why should Heaven care? They’ve been given over to Hell to do as we will, Zeevi. That their suffering is more than some arbitrary deity not involved in the process warrants? Is of little concern to those of us who were tossed out of the Presence. It’s not like He can rebuke us more.”

“Maybe He can’t.” My arm rose, nearly of its own volition, and aimed the gun at the demon torturing the wretch, whose screams had been reduced to snuffling whimpers. “But I can.”

“Anthony, what are you–“

I didn’t wait for Derek to finish. The trigger had a nice smooth action, and the gun kicked much less than I expected for such a large weapon. It made a satisfyingly loud BOOM, however, and blew a satisfyingly enormous hole in the demon’s chest. The creature staggered and stared at the wound in shock, dropping the branch and falling to his knees before dissolving into a puddle of black goo.

Freddi blinked. Derek facepalmed. And Zeeviel grinned, possibly for the first time since we’d shown up here.

“Did you kill him?” Freddi asked.

I didn’t actually know, and we looked to Derek. “No,” he said into his hand. “I said stopping power, not killing power. But you smited him pretty good and he’ll be pissed when he makes it out of the Lake.”

Zeeviel’s chin came up. “He will not find us sleeping.”

“I’ll shoot him again if he comes after us.” I jerked my chin at the poor guy on the ground, who hardly seemed human at this point. Maybe he wasn’t anymore. “What about him?”

Derek made a show of looking around. “Stunningly enough, still in Hell.”

A different demon–I was beginning to be able to tell them apart, and wasn’t sure how I felt about that–skulked out of the building. He threw a startled glance at Zeeviel and picked the moaning man up like he didn’t weigh anything, tucking him under one arm and tossing a sloppy salute our way before going back inside.

Derek made a pensive noise while I holstered the gun. “At least Carrabius will mete out fair punishment, unlike Aziguth. So I suppose you did a good thing here, Anthony.” One eyebrow lowered. “You probably shouldn’t make a habit of it.”

I wondered what “fair” punishment would entail and decided not to ask. “I’m not sure you’re the boss of me, and you don’t look to be in the torment business.”

“I’m not, on either count.” He shrugged. “Just some friendly advice. On your head be it.”

Freddi snorted. “Friendly advice. From a demon.”

“Hey, I have to live down here too. If it gets around that I’m with a guy who’s messing with the natural order of things, my life, such as it is, will get difficult.” He bared his teeth, which were sharp and pointy, and all the more disturbing for being in an ostensibly human mouth. “If my life gets difficult, I will take it out on the person making it so.”

“Your natural order of things is appalling, for the record,” I said.

“Well, yes, Anthony. We. Are. In. Hell. In case you missed the memo.”

“But you said yourself that the guy was being punished more than he deserved. So I put the order of things back where they belonged. Theoretically.”

“You think Earth politics are bad? You should see the jostling for position we go through.” He shook his head. “There’s a reason I spend most of my time in crossroads instead of here.”

“You mean, other than your own bitterness making you wish to corrupt as many of Father’s people as possible?” Zeeviel said, with a certain amount of bite.

“He’s the one who tossed me out on my ass, brother. You can’t blame me for wanting to get some of my own back.”

“I most certainly can. No one Falls by accident, and you knew what you were getting into when you decided to follow the preposterous rantings of an utter fool.”

Derek flinched. “For Dad’s sake, Zeevi, would you keep your voice down? Lucifer has ears everywhere, and he would love to have your wings as a trophy for his wall. If you don’t trust anything else I say, trust me when I say he wouldn’t hesitate.”

“Well do I know the Morningstar’s proclivities, Derek.” Zeeviel looked tired. “I wish–” He stopped. “Well. Wishes change nothing. We must deal with what is.” The tired expression turned a little belligerent. “And what is, is that I love you still because you are my brother and always will be.”

Daddy didn’t see fit to love me enough to–” Derek snorted and grimaced, shaking his head. “Tell Him that. Or is that something you’re permitted to say aloud Upstairs?”

“We are not forbidden to love, even to love those who have rejected Heaven and all it stands for. Father created us to do so, after all. That you have turned your back on it makes me love you no less, for that would be its own form of disobedience.”

“Pretty words. We’ll see how much weight they hold when this little shoving contest between Principalities and Powers down here becomes all-out war, and you’re stuck in the middle of it with your Charge.”

“War?” Freddi said. “Will it really come to that? Before I leave?”

“There are rumblings. Divisions into factions. That bastard Anthony smited is on one side. The one who took over from him is on the other.” Derek shrugged. “Nothing overt yet, because no one wants their own liver eaten, but mutterings of discontent.”

“Which side are you on?” she asked.

He scoffed. “My own, of course.”

As we walked, the neighborhood became more upscale, the buildings less crumbled, and demons more in evidence. Many of them had leashed and whimpering humans in tow, yanking them along by collars that were spiked on the inside. The rats were replaced by packs of enormous black… dogs, for want of a better word, many of which were more the size of ponies and weighed a good four hundred pounds or more. Their fur was matted, their eyes glowed malevolent red, and rather than four fangs like a normal dog, their mouths were filled with them, dripping saliva that smoked when it hit the ground. Some of them had three heads.

One aimed a vicious snap at a human, who fell to the sidewalk, thrashing and screaming with a burning chunk taken out of his leg. The demon holding his leash laughed and kicked the man with an enormous cloven hoof–I heard ribs crunch even from where I was standing–and then dragged him along the street.

None of the other humans reacted at all, which I found odd. “Oh, they can’t see each other,” Derek said. “Once they get through the line and come through the gate, all they experience is us.”

“But,” I sputtered. “Freddi and I can see each other. And them.”

You have a special dispensation and are accompanied by my not-Fallen brother. She is Redeemed, so the rules are different for her.”

My mouth twisted. “So, what happens to me when Zeeviel leaves with Freddi?”

Derek huffed. “I would imagine that you lose your nice clothes and end up like, well, the rest of the damned. More or less.”

I shuddered. To be utterly alone, isolated forever, with only demons for dubious company, was a nightmare scenario come to life. “And there’s no chance–“

“Anthony.” Zeeviel’s voice was filled with both impatience and pity. “You grew up Catholic. You’ve known practically since the cradle that murder is wrong, and you continued on your way regardless. What did you think would happen when you died? You’ve read your Dante, have you not? He wasn’t so far off, at least in the spirit of the matter.”