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    None -- Year 218


    "He watches her, noticing first the way she moves beneath moonlight, and he is reminded of a time before magic ran rampant as it does now. How back then there were some that simply seemed to be magic without actually having it, the kind that could capture your attention and keep it." --Eadoin, written by Colby

    I'll Be Damned
    My mother used to say that when you died and got to Heaven, you'd be returned to the age you were at your best, and then made better. No aching joints, no blurry vision, no diseases or disorders. Just you, perfected. I found out, probably sooner than she'd hoped, that the same holds true for getting to Hell.

    I died at 2:15 a.m. on a cold Saturday right before Christmas. I'd drunk more than most folk recommend for such a drive, but then so had most people at the party I was coming from. Life can change in an instant, and sometimes that change is that it's over.

    My poor old Rabbit didn't stand a chance against sixteen tons of steel coming at it at 70 miles an hour on the freeway. Crumpled like a tin can is how the police report put it. In the week it took them to put a name to the body, they had a pretty good idea what had happen. My poor mother got told pretty bluntly that her daughter was driving home drunk and fell asleep at the wheel just long enough to drift into oncoming traffic and under the tires of a man hauling lumber upstate.

    There'd be a small trial at which he'd be acquitted, and a funeral that was attended only a handful of friends and even fewer family members. I wasn't there to see it. The last thing I saw was a brilliant white light, and I didn't live long enough to know if it was headlights or Heavenly lights. It was quick, I'll give it that. White light, one last breath, a great crashing noise. Then silence. Darkness. Peace.

    A lot of noise. Chaos, a thousand voices and the scent of salt and sticky sweet beer. My eyes blinked open, fluttering against the sudden assault of light and color. When my vision cleared I found myself sitting on a bar stool in a crowded pub, frosty cold brew in a tall mug before me. For a moment I thought that I'd had too much to drink. I'd left the party, hadn't I? Did someone bring me back? My head swam for a moment, and I grab the beer for a long swallow just for something to do. This wasn't the bar I'd left. Bodies writhed on the dance floor, flickering in the strobe light. There was a definite lack of Christmas decor. In fact they seemed to be going for something closer to a BDSM dungeon. Leather figured prominently in both decoration and apparel, and the bar keep had a rather grim look to him that forbade striking up conversation.

    "Where the hell am I..." I murmured to myself, moving to sip my drink again only to pause with it touching my lips. An idea struck me with a sickening surety.
    "Don't worry, it's not drugged. That's most people's first thought. Nothing but good, old fashioned stout there, but we find a drink or two helps lubricate the transition." While I'd been people watching the bar stool next to me had been filled by a tall, dark stranger. His eyes looked up and down the length of me appreciatively in parody of the same look I'd just given him.

    Good lord, but he was eye candy. I knew that from the get go but for some reason it took a moment for me to settle on just how he looked. A trick of the light, maybe, but his hair seemed to flicker between ashen blond and ink black before settling on the darker shade. It was easy to ignore once I met his eyes. Pupiless and whiteless, they whirled like pure molten gold as he smirked at me. "You did get one thing right. Welcome to Hell. Drink up, drink up." He urged, waiting for me to comply before gesturing around the room. He spun around to lean against the bar, a glass of something pink with an umbrella in it suddenly loosely held in his hand.

    "First things first. I'm Ba'al, King of the East and proprietor of this fine establishment. Seriously, drink your beer." He admonished, and stared me down with his eerie eyes until my glass was empty. "Good. Now, where was I? Oh yes, welcome to Hell! I'm Ba'al, blah blah blah, standard punishment for passive suicide is community service. One hundred years of it, nothing crazy. Even the option to apply for reincarnation after eighty if you're good. Not that we'll hold it against you if you're not. This is Hell, after all. Free will reigns supreme, and consequences are... inconsequential. Eat what you want, smoke, drink, fuck. You will not get fat, cancerous, or diseased. You get pissed and want to stab someone? Do it. They might stab you back, and you'll both feel better. That's the idea, anyway." He shrugged his Armani-silk covered shoulders, looking decidedly uncaring. 

    I watched as he sipped his pink Cosmo, then followed his line of sight to the crowded dance floor. Bodies twisted and gyrated, shadows spinning between them. I looked closer, and began to notice some oddities. Here a ragged wing, there a pair of horns. Skin in every conceivable color, and I don't mean just the shades between black and white. Chartreuse, scarlet and marbled navy blue ground against each other in hypnotic rhythms, to music that pounded through my bones. 

    Still staring, I brought my glass to my lips again, only remembering I'd finished it off when I felt cold liquid slide down my throat. I looked at my drinking buddy, only to find that he was looking at me first. A soft ha brushed past my lips, my head shaking dumbfounded. "One hundred years for passive suicide, huh? Any way to contest that, Lord of the Bar?" My flippant challenge melted away as our eyes met, and suddenly I lost track of where we were. 

    The next thing I knew, we were sitting in theater seats in a darkened room. Light flickered across the wall scattered and regrouped, dancing like sunlight on water until it coalesced into a clear scene. It was me. A few years ago, longer hair, fewer worry lines. The aura of hopelessness had already settled in though. I could see it in my eyes. I was sitting in a bus stop shelter, waiting for a bus that wasn't due for another hour and was never on time to begin with. But I'd had no where else to be, not after the night before. 

    "This is the day you stopped looking both ways before crossing the street. When you started staying out too late and insisting on walking home by yourself through bad neighborhoods, and drinking way too much."  Images flickered across the screen as he spoke, showing flashes of the actions as he described them. It was all true, of course. The evidence was plain as day before us. With an effort, I tore my eyes from the screen, mouth set in a stubborn line as I regarded the being sitting beside me. He was drinking from his seemingly bottomless Cosmo, a slightly amused smile twisting his flawless lips. "Everyone contests. Things make much more sense when you stop lying to yourself, darling, that's just way it is." 

    There was that feeling of losing track again. When I caught back up, I was back on the same bar stool, holding my beer like nothing had happened. Ba'al nodded like a self-satisfied feline, lifting his drink in greeting to someone behind me. "I'd love to stay and chat some more, but my part here is done. Plenty more half assed deaths to deal with today, and I think we've got a corrupted bishop due to fall down his stairs this afternoon. Always fun, those Catholics. Miriam will take it from here." 

    Without further ado he was gone. No flash of light or puff of smoke. Just gone. A clearing throat drew me back to the present, mind oddly blank about the whole thing. With a little push I spun the stool around to see who I'd been left with. Blonde, petite, with an expression like she rather be anywhere than here. Makes sense, seeing as we were currently standing in Hades Welcome Room. Her outfit looked like she'd walked off the stage of an Ancient Egyptian themed strip club: black and gold and barely there. 

    Her expression went from disinterested to hateful in the time it took for us to appraise each other. "Oh puh-lease. At least I've got style. What are you supposed to be, a Xanax-addicted business major dropout?" She'd read my mind. I was sure of it, and not in the metaphorical sense. This was just going to be a weird day. "Better that than King Tut's sloppy side-piece. Fuck off, Nile River Barbie." I snarked. This really was going to be hell if she was my babysitter for the next hundred years. Somehow, the whole good behavior option seemed to be a shrinking possibility. 

    Our eyes met, igniting a silent battle of wills. If looks could kill... well, I'm sure they would have if we weren't dead already. Then, as sometimes happens in staring contests, a giggle slipped out. Then a snort. Within seconds our stare down dissolved into a puddle of laughter, tears in both our eyes. Miriam swiped a hand over her eyes, gasping for air. "You're alright, bitch. But seriously, we need to do something about this outfit. Plaid skirt and a light up Santa sweater? If we're doing holiday, at least do it right." She looked thoughtful for a moment, introspective, almost. Then she winked and laughed. "There we go, much better." 

    Suddenly the room seemed much colder. 

    "Oh, you are kidding me." My hands roved down my now-bare waist, encountering low on my hips a blood-red skirt trimmed in snowy white maribou that only covered half my ass. A matching bra top and arm and leg fishnets completed what I hesitate to call an outfit. A light pressure settled on my hair and without seeing I just knew that a dorky little Santa hat had appeared on my head. "Two things: first, how did you do that. Second, change it back. Whore corture is not my thing." I pulled at a bra strap in emphasis, flipping off an ogling horned dancer as he passed. Miriam rolled her eyes spectacularly. 

    "Whatever. It's not hard, just takes practice. And you've got all the time in the world to do that now. But it's really not important. You have a body, more or less. A nice one, too. Show it off. The Vanity people walk around bareass naked most days, and nobody cares. But if it really means that's much to you..."
    She flipped a wrist in my direction. Red crushed velvet exchanged for black jeans and a black t-shirt. Sparkly crystals spelled out NEWBIE on the chest. I raised an eyebrow sarcastically but held my tongue. Better this than Santa's Little Helper. 

    Smiling like she knew my thoughts, my scantily-clad companion finished her drink and hopped off her stool. "C'mon. Lots to see and eternity to see it in." Her eyes flashed with something I could almost believe was wistfulness, if I'd thought the peppery blonde was capable of such an emotion. The expression evaporated as quickly as it had appeared, replaced with another devil-may-care grin. Her hand slipped coolly into mine and I found myself tugged along behind her like a balloon on a string. 

    We fought our way through the crowd, scales and fur brushing against my skin in the crush. It wasn't until Miriam tugged my hand sharply did I realize I'd slowed down. The music was intoxicating and with a few beers in me, dancing seemed like a wonderful idea. "They're"ll be time for that later!" She shouted over the din. Breathlessly, we broke from the mass and out into the ruddy light of Hell. "You didn't think that dive was all of it, did you?" She asked, glittering in the hell-light.

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