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author: hazard_us ([livejournal.com profile] hazard_us)
email: scorpio_kaur [at] yahoo.com



The demon, whose name was unpronounceable, was having a great time. He leaned over the soul that was strapped uncomfortably in the dentist's chair, its mouth held open with concertina wire, and turned on the drill. It whirred dramatically while the soul fought with itself. It wanted to twist and turn to get away from the instrument, but doing so tore skin and lips away.

This happened every day. The demon would remove this soul's teeth, one by one, sometimes making it gargle salt water just for added fun. And then overnight the teeth would regrow and they would do it all over again the next day. Some demons would find it boring to always inflict the same torment, but he found it interesting. What horrible injuries would the soul cause itself today? Which tooth should he tear out first?

Choices.

There was a knock at the door. "Inspection! Open please!"

The voice behind the door was high and female. He lumbered over and opened it. A tiny demon, no bigger than and looking just like a human soul, stood there. "Inspection," she said again, holding up a piece of paper.

"No one told me about an inspection," he growled.

"Of course not," she said, stepping around him and taking stock of his work area. "Wouldn't be an inspection if they did."

He watched her carefully as she moved around the room. She held up the instruments on his work table, tapping her finger against the edges. He wasn't worried about that. They were sharpened on the souls of pagans each night. "Is this one of the Last Ones?" she asked.

"Yes. Who are you anyway?" he asked.

"Other than your inspector?" she said, now looking up at him.

"You don’t look much like a demon," he said suspiciously, looking at her tail. It looked... odd.

"I'm not supposed to," she said shortly, going back to her examination. She tested the tightness of the straps one by one.

"I know what you are! You’re a succubus!" He snorted triumphantly, steam coming out of his nostrils. "That's why you're doing inspections, right? No more humans to seduce, no more souls to put in peril? Bet a hard day's work is something new to you," he sneered.

She didn’t rise to the bait and instead pointed into the soul's mouth. "Did you sign any paperwork for this one?" she asked.

"Er, no. Was I supposed to?"

She sighed. "You’re always supposed to sign off on your soul assignments. So it just was brought here and you set to work, huh?"

"Of course!" That's what he did. He didn't go around asking questions.

"I know what you are," she said, her voice gone to mocking. "You were a warrior demon. Not used to doing a hard day's work – or thinking, are you?"

She was showing all her teeth. It wasn't very frightening, but he was starting to realize that the gleam in her eye was intelligence and intelligent demons were the scariest of all. "Now come look at this," she ordered.

He leaned over the soul, its eyes rolling widely in fear, and peered deep into its mouth. "What?"

"Look closely. Its wisdom teeth aren't growing in."

"That's not true, they're right - " But he didn't finish that thought. He didn't finish any thought ever again, because demonic thoughts ceased when a holy relic, in this case a weapon the owner called Kumari's Cleaver, was sitting firmly in their owner’s brainpan. He slumped onto the soul, twitched and was no more.

Ijaya, for that was her name, pulled the cleaver from the demon's body and pushed its bulk onto the floor. She unhooked the wire from the soul's mouth as carefully as she could. Then with the cleaver, she cut it out of the demon's dentist chair. The soul watched as she drew a square on the wall with the edge of her blade and it turned into a window. Outside, it saw a burning plain with stunted trees - but beyond that was blue sky and white sand.

She opened the window; sulfur and screams rolled into the room. "Run," she ordered, with only the slightest bit of exasperation in her voice.

And it did.

Ijaya waited until she couldn't see it anymore and then checked her tail, flopping behind her. It was looking pretty frayed at this point, but there was nothing in this room that she could use to replace it. She'd just have to hope the next one had rope or something similar. Dying a new tail wouldn't be a problem; demon ichor lent itself to some fun colors.

She searched the room carefully, not expecting to find what she was looking for, but she was in no rush. They had been at this for days and no alarms had been sounded, no guards had come to stop her. She knew why - the final battle between Paradise and here had been fought. The winners had won and the losers had lost. Everything had been sorted out and now eternity could go on just as planned.

But unfortunately everything had not been sorted out. Surely someone in Paradise would notice, sooner or later, that a significant portion of its newest residents were missing, along with all the weapons from the Celestial Armory.

Then again Ijaya doubted that anyone would notice. She'd dealt with the vagaries of Indian bureaucracy before the seven years of torment had begun on Earth. Bureaucrats never noticed anything if they weren't being bribed to do so.

And if ever there was a bureaucratic mistake then this was the biggest one of all.

Ijaya had tried to be patient about it and she had learned patience from a country mired in thousands of years of civil servitude. She had gone from office to office until she had been directed correctly to the One in Charge of Names. She had then dutifully and humbly explained that there was no way that her son, who had been ten when the world had ended, had been guilty of anything worse than having bad thoughts about his chores, and that he certainly hadn’t accumulated enough evil deeds in his short lifetime to require having his eyes blinded with hot pokers every day. But the One had replied - with the disinterest of someone dealing with a problem that was not immediately his - that Dhruv's name wasn’t in The Book and if it wasn’t in his book then it must be in The Other Book. The bad one.

Had she not been in Paradise, she would have reached across the desk and strangled him to death with her bare hands. Such forthright and violent actions had been very productive during the final torments and she had killed no less than five demons this way. Yes, it would have given her immense pleasure but very few answers, so she’d humbly requested his supervisor.

That had not worked so she had appealed to the Higher Up. She'd even petitioned to speak to whatever he/she/they/it was in charge of Paradise*. No one helped her. An army of second string spiritual beings with name tags, pencil sharpeners and tidy desks stood between her and someone who could actually do something about her son.

Ijaya didn’t get angry; she got organized. After her husband had died and long before the torments had begun, she’d worn the pink sari in her village. For anger had not stopped the graft and the corruption and the men who beat their wives, but dozens of angry widows with sticks as thick as their wrists and steely eyes had addressed anything patience could not.

She'd found more like her in that generic Paradise. Gakere, who had a daughter in a lake of fire, and Akio, whose mother's flesh was pulled off by crows. It had come to the point where her makeshift rebel squad, formed out of desperate souls who gained no joy in watching the torments of the damned, became a full-fledged army.

It had taken a thief (Mario, whose brother was tortured by imps with small knives and who hadn't even been a thief in his past life, so there was another obvious oversight) to sneak into the Celestial Library and look at the Great Book.

Someone had very obviously torn out a third of the pages that would have contained the souls of those who had died in Armageddon. Mario told them that it had come down to a second. Those who had died immediately during the final push of demons were here while those who had been hidden in closets, basements, attics and other hiding places were not. The men and women, now in Paradise, who had tried to save their loved ones had inadvertently doomed them to eternal torment.

Maybe to the average soul an assault on this place would have proved impossible. In fact, she had argued with her husband about it. He had urged her to give up. She did not know if it had just been that he had been in Paradise before the torments or if Paradise had made him soft, but she had told him that heaven was wide and he should find the corner farthest away from her.

But the ones who followed Ijaya had survived to the end of the world. People who had fought slobbering demons and burning imps and monsters from every mythology had sharp tempered souls, like edged weapons. They were people who had survived the mundane starvation and pestilence of end times and also the more exciting boiling seas and rains of blood. They weren't going to blink twice about attacking the home of Evil if that's what it took to save their loved ones and make everything right again.

Someone knocked at the door. "Come in," she said, not looking behind her. She had nothing to worry about; if a demon thought something was wrong, it wouldn't knock first.

It was Gakere. No one ever would have confused him with an incubus - even evil had certain standards - so he'd made some horns from tree branches and tied them around his head with string. He was looking for his daughter and judging from the demon bits on the front of his shirt, he was looking enthusiastically. "You find him?"

"No," she said. "Njeri?"

He shook his head, so she stood up. "But we're in the right area. Mine was one of the last souls to enter and the demon wasn’t a regular worker."

Gakere nodded. "It's only a matter of time then."

Everyone in the ragtag army had agreed that it would have been impossible to find individual souls and liberate them judiciously. So they'd gone with a different plan; find proof that Paradise was wrong. Paper beat paper in a bureaucracy and if they could get those last pages then they would have proof of Paradise's mistake.

But upon infiltrating this place, they’d found that they couldn't see any of the other Last Souls endure their eternal torment. A quick conference resulted in the decision to free them all - every soul they found, no matter when and how it had died - and let the bureaucracy sort them out.

Ijaya did not feel guilty. She knew that bureaucrats liked paperwork. This would give them so much.

As Ijaya followed her friend out of the room, she realized that it could take years or decades before they found the evidence they needed, before they found the ones they loved and saved them. Ijaya did not have hope or faith - End Times had taken away much of both - but she had determination and patience and a soul made of steel.

She also had a holy relic that killed with a single touch. That comforted her immensely.



the end

* And Ijaya really hoped it wasn’t anyone in the Hindi pantheon. She'd initially been disappointed that rather than being subsumed in the divine consciousness, she’d been taken to a generic Paradise, but considering the current mess up, she preferred that some other theism took the blame and not hers personally.

Date: 2010-03-30 12:36 am (UTC)
ext_41718: (catma)
From: [identity profile] sleepfighter.livejournal.com
I kind of love this tons, especially the ending.

Date: 2010-03-30 01:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ivory-and-horn.livejournal.com
The men and women, now in Paradise, who had tried to save their loved ones had inadvertently doomed them to eternal torment.

This line especially was a punch in the gut, and I love how Ijaya and all her cohorts' reaction to that isn't to sit around and cry over it, but to continue the heroism that got them into Paradise in the first place. Ijaya in particular is just awesome in all ways.

Date: 2010-04-28 12:10 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I adore this, only wish it was longer.
- Ama

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