Authors: Devin Harnois
Tags: #heaven, #gods, #demons, #Young Adult, #Supernatural, #hell
To Anne Victory, my wonderful editor.
And to Kanaxa, Goddess of cover art. I swear you climb into my head to pull out these images.
Thank you both. I love my team.
My name is Alex Holden, and I’m the Lord of Hell. I killed my father, Satan, and got stuck with his job. Jehovah made me do it. He threatened to let the demons run free on Earth if I didn’t take over Hell. I don’t know why the fuck he wanted me to do it so badly. Did he expect me to fail?
As soon as I announced I was taking over Hell, demons started challenging me. I can’t really blame them. If I was a demon a few thousand years old and some seventeen-year-old demigod started telling me what to do, I wouldn’t take it well, either.
And to be honest, part of me liked the chance to fight.
Beelzebub was one such pissed-off demon. He’d seen me kick two other demons’ asses, but that didn’t matter to him. He was wearing something close to a human shape so he could hold his sword. “Surrender the throne and I will let you slink back to your beloved Earth.”
“And you’ll just leave Earth alone? You’ll keep all the demons from hurting humans?” I asked, gripping my sword hilt. We stood in the bright white throne room. It was like a hospital crossed with a Greek temple, all smooth, clean marble.
“I will stay away from you and yours. This I promise.”
I chose not to point out how much a promise from a demon was worth. “All of Earth is mine. The world is under my protection.” As I’d proved when I saved it.
Beelzebub laughed. “You have Satan’s ambition, if not his vision.”
“How about I give you an offer? You give up now, walk away, and I won’t make an example of you.” The throne room was full of demons lurking in the shadows behind the enormous columns. These fights always drew a crowd. The other two demons I’d fought hadn’t been as strong as Beelzebub. Maybe kicking his ass would convince the others not to fuck with me.
He narrowed his eyes. “His arrogance as well.” Then he charged me, sword straight out as if he expected to run me through.
Dumbass. As if he hadn’t watched me kill Satan. I dodged and brought up Animus. She sang, wanting to taste more demon blood. The sword got her wish, slicing along Beelzebub’s left arm.
The demon hissed and whirled, but I was just as fast. My sword met his, the clang ringing through the hall.
He glared down at me, a good two feet taller. “You little whelp. I am going to flay you and feed you to the hellhounds.”
His size didn’t bother me. I’d fought bigger things. “Heard threats like that before. Not very original.” I tried to go for a quick kill, but he met my attack.
He growled and threw a fireball with his free hand. That, I hadn’t been expecting. The other two demons had seemed to have limited powers. Beelzebub might be a match for me after all.
I stumbled back and threw up a wall of fire. The fireball hissed when it met my flames, then disappeared. I shoved the wall at the demon. Beelzebub jumped over it and I filled the floor below him with jagged spikes of ice.
He tried to change course, wings springing from his back, but he didn’t have time. He landed with a choked cry, ice piercing through both legs and his abdomen. Black demon blood leaked from the wounds. I backed away as he summoned fire to melt the ice.
Beelzebub tried to get to his feet, but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. “You fucking bastard! You human-loving piece of shit!”
I had a few seconds to consider what to do. Did I really need to keep him around? Was it worth the risk to let him live and have him resent me? I didn’t want to be constantly worried about him attacking me. The other two demons had just been opportunists, thinking I was an easy fight. I’d kicked their asses in a few minutes and they’d been properly cowed.
I didn’t think Beelzebub would make things that easy.
I charged and stamped on his sword as he tried to bring it up. Animus flared, red fire burning along her blade, and I sliced through the demon’s neck. Both his head and his body caught fire. I lifted Animus and faced the lurking demons. She was singing so loudly I was sure they could hear it. Some of Beelzebub’s blood hissed as it burned off the sword.
Several demons stepped forward, but instead of challenging me, they dropped to their knees. Others slipped back into the shadows, glowing eyes winking out as they disappeared.
“I’m not weak. I’m half human, but that doesn’t mean any of you are stronger than me. I killed Satan, and if you try to fuck with me, I’ll kill you, too. Just like him.” I pointed at Beelzebub, still burning on the floor. His body bubbled and crackled.
I watched him for a moment before heading back to the throne. Mew-Mew hopped from the seat up to the arm.
Maybe they’ll leave you alone now,
It’ll make them think twice, at least.
For right now, I didn’t want to fight anymore, but I suspected in time I’d welcome another challenge. I wondered what it said about me that I liked violence this much.
I sat on the throne and looked around the huge, long room. It was bright and white, not at all what I’d expected the devil’s throne room to look like. The huge columns on either side of the room cast deep shadows behind them, so dark the walls disappeared. The darkness acted as a doorway to the rest of Hell, allowing demons to come and go from all over. It was creepy, but I was starting to get used to it. Only a week had passed since I’d taken over, and so far I’d spent as little time down here as possible.
Much as I didn’t want to, I needed to see all of Hell and figure out what I was going to do. I’d already ordered all the demons to leave Earth alone. With Beelzebub turning to ash in front of me, now was probably a good time to make other changes.
“Astaroth, come here.” He was one of the kneeling demons, and one of the first I’d met after I took over. He was powerful but didn’t seem interested in challenging me.
“Yes, my lord.” The demon approached and knelt at the foot of the throne.
“I want you to take me on a tour. I need to see everything in Hell.”
This is so depressing,
Mew-Mew said from his perch on my shoulder.
So far we’d seen vast areas where thousands of souls were being tortured. Murderers, rapists, pedophiles—the worst of humanity. I agreed they deserved to be punished, but it wasn’t fun seeing terrible things being done to terrible people.
We teleported to a new area where souls were trapped in a vast, gloomy swamp. They moaned and struggled, trying to get free, but the lower halves of their bodies were stuck. Not as bad as being endlessly burned or torn apart, but no fucking picnic, either.
“So what did they do?” I asked Astaroth. We stood on a high ledge overlooking the swamp, which stretched out for what looked like forever. I saw a few demons, some with food, others with ropes, standing near the souls and taunting them, holding things just out of reach.
“This is the Swamp of Suicides.”
” My head whipped around.
“They took their own lives, which is a sin.”
“Wait, hold the fuck up. All they did was kill themselves?” I expected them to have done something horrible.
He looked surprised. “Yes. It is a sin against God, so they are cast into Hell for eternity.”
“Well, fuck that.”
I’m going down there. Do you want to stay up here?
I asked Mew-Mew.
I want to help.
He hopped off my shoulder and grew to the size of a panther. Since becoming a ghost, he’d gained a few powers.
I jumped down into the slimy, cold muck. The demons stood on top of the water, so that had to mean I could, too. I focused for a moment and stepped up, the water now supporting me. Mew-Mew did the same. I made my way to the nearest soul, a pale man with sunken eyes.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just want to die. Let me die,” he muttered.
Maybe that was part of the punishment, that he was stuck in that last moment of despair that had made him end his life. “You are dead,” I told him. “This is Hell.”
He blinked. “What?”
“Take my hand.” I reached out.
He hesitated, then took it. His hand was cold. I pulled him out of the swamp and onto a drier patch of mossy grass.
“I’m in Hell?” He shivered and hugged himself.
“Yeah. You killed yourself.”
He started to cry. “I just wanted it to end. I couldn’t take the pain anymore.”
I took his arm and looked straight into his eyes. “Your pain is over.” I was about to ask if he’d hurt anybody, just to make sure he really didn’t deserve to be here, but I saw it in his eyes. All the bad things he’d done, all the mistakes he’d made. It came in a rush that left me a little dizzy. But there was nothing there that made him deserve eternal torment. Just the normal mistakes everyone made in their life—hurting people’s feelings, cheating on a test, promising a loved one he’d stop using drugs but going right back to them.
He was just a depressed, damaged, lonely person, and he didn’t deserve to be here.
Nearby, Mew-Mew was helping an older woman out. I looked out across the vast swamp. It stretched on farther than I could see. Pulling each person out would take forever.
“There has to be a better way,” I muttered.
Astaroth flew down to land beside me. “What are you doing, my lord?”
“Did Satan create this swamp?” Someone had to have, and if not him, it had to be Jehovah.
“Yes. Everything in Hell was created by him.”
“So maybe I can get rid of it.” I reached into the pocket of my jeans and pulled out the black key. Ever since Jehovah had given it to me, my powers had been much stronger. I hadn’t tested the limits of them yet. I closed my eyes and imagined the swamp draining, leaving the souls on dry land. Energy shifted in me, and the ground—well, the water I was standing on—started to shake.
I opened my eyes and watched the swamp drain. Confused souls and demons looked around. The moaning turned to uncertain murmurs.
“I’m getting rid of this swamp,” I said, my voice echoing across the area. I turned to Astaroth. “No more punishing suicides. Tell the demons to leave them alone.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Killing yourself is really fucking sad, but it’s not a sin. Not to me,” I told the confused, pale people as the water dropped below their knees.
“Who else is down here?” I asked Astaroth. “What other stupid ‘sins’ land people in Hell?”
He started listing things, and I got more and more pissed off.
“Suicides, gays, nonbelievers…” I paced the room. “They have no fucking business being down there.”
“So the conservative Christians really are right?” Hayley asked, looking a little pale. She’s my girlfriend and she’s awesome. When I’d told her I was the Antichrist a few months ago, she had taken it surprisingly well.
“Guess so. But not all souls go to Heaven or Hell. There are plenty of other afterlives.”
“You mean like Hades and Valhalla?”
“Exactly.” I walked past the couch yet again. “I need to talk to Jehovah and figure out what the fuck is going on. Those souls can’t stay in Hell.” I finally stopped pacing and flopped down on the couch. “At least they aren’t being tortured anymore.”
“Are they just wandering around Hell, then?”
“Not all over. Just the same areas they were stuck in.” I’d left a few of the less torture-happy demons to guard them and make sure they didn’t wander into a lake of fire or something.
“So are you going to ask him to take them into Heaven? It sounds like they’re down there because he thinks they should be.” She leaned her chin against her upraised knees.
“I have to try.”
Teleporting was easy now. I could go from Earth to Hell with no trouble and anywhere on Earth if I’d been there before or wherever my friends were by focusing on them. But getting to the gates of Heaven took a lot of concentration and several minutes of trying. And I couldn’t get inside the gates at all. Not surprising, I guess.
I stood outside and shouted for Jehovah. The gates aren’t made of pearl like some sources describe them. They’re made of gold and set into an endless mass of giant, fluffy clouds. Some clichés really are true.
Another true story: Saint Peter guards the gates. He looked up from his giant gold desk. “What business does the devil have here?”
“I’m not the devil, you jackass.” I’d told him that the last time. “And I need to talk to Jehovah. Send an angel to fetch him or whatever.” The day after I took over Hell, I’d gone to Heaven to ask Jehovah why he really wanted me to take over. He could’ve just taken it himself or picked one of the demons to be the new devil. Jehovah had just told me I was the rightful heir and it was my responsibility. When I’d tried to get more information, he’d talked in circles and wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Fucking frustrating. I was worried I’d get the same thing this time.
Peter glared at me but summoned an angel to pass along the message.
I waited, tapping my foot.
Jehovah appeared on the other side of the gate. “What do you want, Alexander? I can’t keep answering questions from you every few days.”