The most important demon a freshly deceased should know of upon arrival in Mort City is the one who calls himself The Angel. He is the oldest and most dangerous of all existing demons in the area, and is also the reason for Mort City’s infrastructure and continued existence. In all primitive societies, a feudal system develops, led by the region’s most powerful warlords, as in Medieval Europe, China, Middle East, etc. Like all warlords, he is also ruthless, bloodthirsty and psychopathic. He is somewhat exceptional, however, in that despite his intelligence and shrewdness when it comes to matters of survival and business, he is also utterly insane. I would advise every newly dead soul to avoid dealings with him at all costs.
– Blood Dweller’s Guide to the Underworld, Chapter 4 (Life After Death)
Will moved as he had never moved before. The high bars of the fence should have been impossible to scale, but he flew up them as though he weighed nothing. Screams and the sounds of bodies dragging on the ground came to him, but he didn’t look back, his entire being fixed on the empty space just on the other side of the brutal spikes. He was going to make it.
A sword pierced his stomach, the point pushing all the way through his belly button and clanging against the fence. He stared at it for a full second, shocked, before the pain engulfed everything like a thick blanket and he went blind. He didn’t know he was falling until he hit the ground.
When he regained consciousness he was lying face down on the concrete. Whoever had impaled him had removed the sword and planted a tree-root foot over the wound on his back, keeping him down. The white demon stood just where he had a second ago, as if he hadn’t moved at all, but Darla and Phillip were in a bad way. The other demon – the one that looked like a gorilla with big eyes – had Darla pinned up against the fence with his sword pressed to her throat. Phillip stood in the far corner, arms ribboned with cuts and his gutting knife lying at his feet.
‘Kick it over.’ The white demon said in his gurgling voice, and Phillip obeyed, sliding it across the ground. The gorilla also handed over the knife he’d taken from Darla. Will couldn’t make sense of any of it. How had this happened so quickly? They’d been alone just a few minutes ago, and now they were captured. It had been so easy.
The white demon stepped over to Will and crouched beside him, and Will forced himself to meet the blood clot eyes, though he was in tears from the pain. He couldn’t keep from breathing, and each intake was like inhaling needles.
‘Hello, Seer boy. What is your name?’
‘Will. My name is Flay. My friend there with the big muscles is Meal, and him with no eyes and his foot on your back is Bone. We are The Angel’s men, and we left our names behind when we joined him. Do you know of The Angel?’
Will tried to shake his head and ended up wincing instead, hands bunching into fists. It felt like someone was taking a pair of scissors to his liver.
‘Then I will teach you,’ Flay said. He stood up and walked over to Darla, who was still struggling despite the fact that the gorilla – Meal – was leaning most of his immense weight on the blade across her throat. She relaxed her efforts as Flay approached, eyeing him.
‘Darla knows about The Angel,’ Flay said. He took one of her scaled hands and rested his own cruel blade on her wrist. ‘Yet she crossed him. Now I will show you what happens when you cross The Angel.’
‘Screw you,’ Darla said, and those were the last words she spoke for a while. Flay pulled her arm straight and drew his blade across her wrist almost gently, like a man playing a violin, while she screamed. Will wanted to close his eyes, but he couldn’t – he couldn’t so much as blink – and so he watched as Flay separated Darla’s right hand from the rest of her, tendon by tendon, bone by bone, taking his time. Blood spurted from her wound. The ligaments and veiny meat were just what Will would have expected from a living organism, rather than any misty substance a soul might be made of. No, she was as solid flesh as anything alive, and she was suffering, if anything, more. There could be no bleeding out in Hell, after all. Even the relief of death was out of reach.
When he was done, he tossed her twitching hand over the fence. ‘Something to lead the Hounds,’ he said.
Then he moved over to her other hand, and this time Will did close his eyes, and all his own pain was forgotten, drowned by the screams of his friend.
No, it wasn’t that… His pain wasn’t forgotten – it was healing. He wasn’t merely listening to her agony, he was drinking it in – it was filling his own wound, easing his suffering. A line from Blood Dweller came to him, unwelcome and undeniable: Then there are the Parasites – those pitiable demons who must feed on the misery and suffering of others. What a cruel twist, that – to make a good man torture when the rest of us need only eat.
This time, when Flay had peeled her hand free he came to place it right beside Will’s face, where he could smell her blood and see the dirt under her fingernails. ‘This is the second time she has crossed The Angel,’ Flay explained. ‘So I had to take two hands. You understand.’
‘If you lie to me, you lie to The Angel. Do you understand that?’
‘Good. Who is the Reaper?’
Will’s eyes darted over to Phillip, but there was nothing but defeat in his red eyes. Flay jabbed Will’s shoulder with his blade. ‘Look at me.’ Will looked. No defeat here. No anything.
‘Who is the Reaper, and where did you come from?’
And Will told him. Every word he spoke was more painful than the sword that pierced him, more than Darla’s screams, but he told him all the same, because he couldn’t bear the thought of what might happen if he didn’t. He told him about Phillip, and Freya, and Dale, and everything he thought this gurgling demon in front of him might want to know.
And when he was done, and his tears were dripping into the pool of his own blood that was spreading across the concrete, Flay nodded and patted his head with a heavy hand. ‘There. It is much less painful to serve The Angel. That is your first lesson.’
Flay returned to Meal and tapped him on the back. ‘Throw her to the Hounds. Then go to the surface with the Reaper, to the house of Freya. Raid it, damn her, and kill anything living inside.’
‘NO!’ the word escaped Will, and the demon on his back pressed down on him, trying to squeeze the wound that was no longer there. Will tried to push against him, but something sharp leaned on the back of his neck and he stopped.
‘Don’t stop fighting, Will! I’ll come back for you!’ They were the last words Darla could get out before Meal closed a huge hand around her throat and choked her off. He dragged her, scaling the fence in a second like the ape he was, and hauled her over the side with a grunt. She fell silently, droplets of blood following her down like rain.
Phillip had no words for him: just a faraway gaze and a bitter smile. That’s Hell for ya, kid. And then Meal turned him around and stuck his sword between his shoulder blades and nudged him back toward the stairs. ‘Go slow if you want the Hounds to catch us,’ Meal said with a deep voice that matched his frame.
The weight on Will’s back disappeared and he allowed himself to be dragged to his feet. He was in shock. Darla had gone, just like that. The Hounds sounded awfully close now, their barks and laughter all around, but when Flay growled in his ear he heard his words clear as morning: ‘Now you’re all mine, Seer boy. Welcome to Hell.’
And Bone laughed, his toothless mouth making a sound like wind through dry leaves.