A couple of years ago I actually finished a novel set in a world where Heaven and Hell and the war between are at the heart of the story. I just had to revisit that world for Chuck Wendig’s challenge.
A couple of explanatory details: Demons do not have names until they earn them. Damned souls get sorted according to whatever sins they used to damn themselves when they were alive, but Hells internal security get no souls that way, so they get to hand-pick the ones they want using criteria unknown to anyone but themselves.
Pandemonium. All Hell broke loose. No doubt all of the new arrivals had used those expressions on several occasions, without having any idea what they really meant. They couldn’t have imagined the controlled chaos of Hell. For them, the closest approximation would be the inside of a bee hive. There was a system and an order to the writhing movements of the masses, but it was devised by an alien mind, unfathomable to humans.
It showed in their faces as they huddled together in the centre of the square, staring wide-eyed at their surroundings. They were all naked but most seemed oblivious to the fact, although some of them tried to cover their bodies with their hands and at least one of them stared greedily at the nakedness around him. The demon wrinkled her nose at this. Hell do not suffer fools gladly.
“Right!” Her voice was sharp and crisp like a gust of the wind that never stirs in Hell. The damned souls all turned to look at her. The man from before stopped gawking at the others and looked her up and down instead. She ignored him. “I don’t think I need to tell anyone where you are.”
This close to them, their thoughts could be sensed. They were scared and confused, but there were no-one here who did not know where he or she was.
Slowly their thoughts became more coherent. Why am I here? I don’t deserve this? I didn’t do anything, I just watched. I would have paid the money back. I hardly touched her. It was an accident.
Their thoughts seemed to be coming from all directions, but they all ended up in the same place. They melted together until they were all the same thought, repeated over and over again. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.
The demon smiled. “Right,” she said again. “It would seem you are all ready to move on.”
“Move on?” one of them asked.
“This is only the transit hall. From here you will be handed out to the different Princes depending on what particular vices and weaknesses that landed you here.” She bared her teeth in what might have been a smile, but then again, perhaps not. “Think of it as the Sorting at Hogwarts.”
“So,” it was the indecent little man from before, “does that mean I get to go somewhere having to do with sex?”
The demon Looked him over. “Yes. Go stand over there.”
He was actually grinning as he went to the spot she had pointed out. She shook her head and wondered whether he was all there. Not that it would make any difference to him in the end. Hell suffered lunatics even less gladly than fools.
She started Looking over the rest of the souls and dividing them into groups. Most were easy to make out, but a few had so many sins in so many different areas that it took several long Looks to find out which were the most prominent.
She had just finished, when she felt someone behind her and turned to find herself standing face to face with a demon much taller than her, with a body made of unsubstantial smoke.
“I am here to collect souls for the Web.”
The demon tried not to look afraid but suspected that she failed miserably. The demon in front of her came from the Web, which amounted to the internal security of Hell, and no-one liked to talk to them, because doing so almost always meant that you had been accused of something and there was little chance of clearing your name. Still, she told herself, the demon was simply here to collect souls.
She bowed her head and stepped aside and the smoke demon glided towards the souls and started to inspect each one, her following right behind it. Most of them it spared only a glance, although she suspected that it still Looked deeper than she had been able to. Others, it examined for longer, before moving on. Finally it stopped in front of the nasty little man.
“This one,” it said.
“That’s not fair,” the man complained. “You said I would go somewhere with lots of sex.” He would have protested some more, but she grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him at the ground in front of the smoke demon.
“Sorry about this. That guy is an ass. I’m sure there are others that are more suited for …” She trailed of. She had no idea what the demons from the Web actually did with the souls they collected.
“No.” A smoky tendril uncoiled itself from the lowest part of the smoke demon and touched the man, as if it was prodding him with a foot. “He will do very nicely.” Then it continued.
It only picked one more soul. A young teenager, really no more than a child, who had been weeping silently but uncontrollably the whole time. Her youth and desperation belied the fact that she had ended up here because she had killed her younger brother.
Done with its work, the smoke demon turned towards her and hovered for a moment as if assessing her as it had the souls. “You have done well.”
“I will see you again.” With these words it turned and started to float away, the two souls following it. The man wasn’t complaining but was eyeing the girl next to him.
The demon stood frozen in place, the words echoing in her mind. Finally, with an effort, she shook her head. It had only talked meant it would see her, the next time it came to collect souls. Yes, that had to be it.
She looked back at the remaining souls. “Right,” she said. “I’ll get you lot on your way.” She wasn’t in any danger. She hadn’t done anything. It wouldn’t be fair.