"No, You Take Him."

Gadriel was the first to arrive, and as he stepped into the mortal plane, he briefly exulted, glad to see that he’d beaten his fallen counterpart there, if only by a few fractions of an instant.

It wasn’t until nearly a nanosecond later – practically five minutes, to Gadriel’s perception – that Laxazz appeared, bursting forth from a red-tinged portal, his roar of satisfaction quickly shifting to a surly growl as he caught sight of Gadriel’s glowing wings and folded arms.

“Oh.  You’re already here,” he grunted, practically each word accompanied by a droplet or two of spittle, thanks to his hulking fangs.  “Finishing fast, huh?”

Gadriel didn’t know how this was meant to insult him, but he could recognize the tone, and chose to ignore it.  “Listen, I beat you, so I get first pick of the soul,” he stated instead, letting one of his hands drop down to rest, ever so lightly, on his sheathed sword.  The thing didn’t flame up in the sheath, but Laxazz knew how easily that blade could burn his flesh.

“Yeah, whatever,” he grunted back.  “Let’s just get this done so I can get on to the next harvest.”

With the initial exchange concluded, both the angel and the demon finally looked around at their surroundings – and the angel’s face fell.  Both of them had emerged into a gray cell, with only a small window offering much light, most of which was blocked by the thick steel bars.  This was, most definitely, a prison cell.

Laxazz clapped his hands together.  “Yes!  Looks like I’m going to get to claim this soul!”

“Not so fast!” the angel protested.  “Maybe he’s innocent, or he repented!”  Gadriel couldn’t quite make his tone sound confident, however, and the demon chuckled.

To combat the darkness, both the angel and the devil summoned up lights; Gadriel summoned a small, brilliantly white glowing sphere, while Laxazz called forth a sullen ever-burning flame.  Both of the lights lit up the interior of the cell, and they spotted their target for the first time.

As one, both the angel and devil drew back slightly, their expressions twisting.  The look of revulsion looked much more repulsive on Laxazz’s face – Gadriel just didn’t have the tusks and warts to pull the look off effectively – but both faces clearly portrayed the same emotion.

“Well, looks like he’s one of yours,” the angel spoke up first, already beginning to move his hand in the gestures to summon an exit portal.

“Hey, wait a minute!” the demon snapped back at him, raising his batlike wings a little in protest.  “I don’t want this one!  I’m willing to pass him back to you!”

With a sigh, Gadriel ceased twisting his fingers in the complex patterns that seemed to somehow pass through each other.  “No, that’s okay, you can take him,” he replied, giving the soul in the corner another look of disgust.  “I think he’ll fit much better in Hell.”

As the angel and demon bickered back and forth, the soul had slowly been coalescing back into its human shape.  When first severed from their host body, souls tend to dissipate as a featureless mist – but over time, they’re pulled back into the body shape that they’ve come to know so well for the last several dozen years.  Now, the man in the corner managed to sit up, blinking for a moment at his shimmering, translucent hands before raising his attention to the bickering supernatural entities in front of him.

“Hey!” he called out faintly, needing to focus even to make a sound.  “What’s going on?  Why are you two arguing?”

“This doesn’t concern you,” Gadriel snapped at the soul brusquely.  “Just let us talk.”

If Laxazz had done the snapping, this might have shut up the soul, but Gadriel just couldn’t project that same level of command.  The soul frowned, but then opened his mouth again.

“I thought I was supposed to be judged,” he commented, looking back up at the pair.  “Isn’t that what you’re here to do?”

As the soul spoke, Laxazz was making a fierce argument, muttering something about how “no, that’s just gross, we don’t want that sort of stuff in Hell” and jabbing Gadriel in the chest with a fat, leathery finger.  But as the soul spoke up, Gadriel suddenly held up a hand.

“That’s a good idea, actually,” he said.  “The soul needs to be judged – and who better to know his crimes, than him himself?”

Laxazz still wore a frown, as much over the syntax of that last sentence as over its content, but Gadriel was already turning to the soul.  “So, mortal,” he spoke up, putting on a smile that seemed to hover an inch or so in front of his face without touching the rest of his features.  “Where do you think that you belong?”

“Whuh?”

The angel’s smile didn’t budge at all, although his eyes looked slightly more strained.  “You know all the good deeds and sins in your life,” he pointed out, accenting the sins a bit more.  “Do you think you belong in Heaven?  Or in Hell?”

“Hey!  Not fair!” Laxazz cut in.  “You lot have convinced them all that they’re sinners!  He’s just going to pick me!”

The soul looked back and forth between the arguing pair.  “Wait a minute,” he said, shaking his head.  “Do neither of you want me?  Is that what’s going on here?”

Neither the angel nor the demon answered, but they both glanced away, the angel pretending to whistle, the demon reaching up to pick something out of one of his fangs.  Both supernatural creatures looked quite uncomfortable.

“Well, yes,” Laxazz finally answered, his wings dropping a little in embarrassment, his scaly tail flicking back and forth against the backs of his hooves.  “You’re a pretty terrible person, you know.”

“What?”  The soul shook his head, or the protoplasm that formed the semblance of a head.  “Doesn’t that mean that I should go to Hell?”

If Laxazz could sink into the floor, he surely would be doing so right now.  “Normally, yes.  But the things you did…” The demon grimaced – which is something to see on a face with horns and tusks.  “That’s not exactly the sort of thing we get in Hell, even.”

“So what?  I’ve been too wicked for Hell?”

“It’s not even wicked, not exactly,” Gadriel pitched in, unable to bear the awkwardness any longer.  “It’s just, well….”

“Ew,” Laxazz stated succinctly, and the angel nodded.

“Yeah.  Ew.”

The soul stared back and forth between the two, his mouth hanging open for a moment, before managing to reply.  “So what, you’re trying to decide who has to take me?  I’m the one that nobody wants to choose??”

“Yeah, basically.”

But then, just as everyone fell silent, the demon in embarrassment, the soul in outrage, Gadriel suddenly straightened up, snapping his fingers.  “Ooh!  I’ve got an idea!”

He leaned in towards the demon’s twisted, wrinkled ear, whispering.  At first, the demon looked surprised, but then, after a second, he started nodding.  “That could work,” he agreed.  “Of course, neither of us could report on it.”

“That works for me,” Gadriel replied.

The soul, looking back and forth between the angel and demon, grew more and more frustrated.  “Hey!  What the hell’s going on?  Someone talk to me!  Tell me – I want some answers, dammit!”

Both the angel and the demon turned back to the soul – and, simultaneously, they both snapped their fingers.

His mouth open halfway through another curse, the soul vanished, with a slight “pop” noise.

For a second longer, both the angel and demon stood in the empty chamber.  Gadriel was the first to move, twisting his hands through the portal summoning gestures once more.

“Well, that was a waste,” he groaned out loud.  “See you at the next one, Laxazz.”

“Yeah, see ya,” the demon replied, still staring at where the soul had, until a second ago, been angrily standing and ranting.  “Where do you think he went?”

As his portal appeared, Gadriel shrugged.  “Who cares?” he answered.  “The point is, he can make another attempt, and hopefully not muck things up quite so much this time.”

The demon considered this for a moment, but then shrugged.  “Eh, he can’t do much worse,” he replied, thinking back to the list of the soul’s activities and shuddering.  “Guh, I know that I take sinners off to Hell, but some of those thing were just-“

“You don’t need to remind me,” Gadriel answered, grimacing.  “Point is, we’re done with him for now.  And I’m off, before one of my bosses wonders what exactly happened here.”

The angel did strike a good point, Laxazz reflected, as he called up his own portal back to Hell.  After all, he was supposed to collect souls, not send them away.  No matter how disgusting their activities had been while they were alive.

#

The demon’s portal, as is typical of most portals to Hell, left a good amount of residual heat behind.  That heat crackled the stones and soaked down into the earth, causing some of the insect eggs mixed into the dirt to accelerate their hatching processes.

From one egg, a small worm twisted, wriggling its way out into the dirt.

Worms generally don’t have much in the way of thoughts at the best of times, and even when they do, most of those thoughts tend to be reflections on things like soil temperature, mineral content, and humidity levels.  A worm’s universe is intimately small, and comprised almost entirely of things passing through its digestive tract.

For this worm, however, as it crawled into existence from inside its egg, it found itself dealing with some strange thoughts.  First among those was one that shouted out, “Reincarnation!?  That’s not what I wanted!  Why the hell did they reincarnate me!?”

Worms, however, don’t have much of a long-term memory – or, really, any memory at all, so this strange thought soon faded.  Soon, the worm didn’t remember anything of its past life, or even its present life.  Instead, it focused on chewing its way through the dirt.

And hey, maybe that wasn’t so bad, after all.  Worms can’t get up to too much trouble.

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