idol survivor | individual immunity #8 | ~1750 words
Far, far down in the deepest regions of Hell, there was a demon named Rorkanos whose sole duty was to be the Keeper of the Lake of Fire. It was a position of great importance.
Rorkanos was a short, gray, rumpled sort of demon, who had wrinkled knees and appalling taste in clothes. He liked filthy sweater-vests and porkpie hats and long pointy shoes, and he did not care who knew it. From that standpoint, he was not even the slightest bit unique.
Rorkanos had been in Hell for a very long time, so long that he couldn't actually remember how many years had passed. He had worked at many different jobs and lived in many different places, all of them dreadful. Frequently, the only distinctions in the dreadfulness between them were the details and the matter of degree.
Like many of Hell's inhabitants, Rorkanos had consumed entire centuries of time fixating on pursuing work or accommodations that were slightly better than what he currently had… or on avoiding those that were worse. By Hell-standards, tending to the Lake of Fire was about as cushy as a job could be.
It was a certainly far cry from where he'd begun.
Once upon a time Rorkanos had been a demon without a dental plan, just an ordinary minion tasked with driving the tour bus that circled Hell each day. That had been an awful job. At least one passenger always threw up, and a few more went bat-shit, every single day.
And, AND, there'd been an inspection at the end of every shift. So he'd had to stop by the fueling station behind the WalffenHoof on the way back to the garage, and try to park the bus in the tiny spot next to the free water hose. And even then, he'd never gotten close enough to be able to do more than hurry through a few rounds of mopping, scrubbing, and rinsing with a couple of used Sani-Wipes and his leftover coffee cup.
Rorkanos had tried to plan ahead, but it had never worked, not once. He'd brought cleaning supplies and a bucket along with him, and they'd always disappeared by the end of his shift. Somehow, he'd only ever had just enough time to make that frantic stop at the fueling station and rush back and forth between the hose and the various smears and piles of vomit/blood/balgesyarkt, trying to speed-clean the bus as best he could.
It was terrifying how much he'd hated that job, and he'd probably only gotten it by chance in the first place. He'd been taking the Hell tour himself, and the one who'd gone bat-shit that day was the little weasel driving the bus. Rorkanos had saved everyone by grabbing the wheel before the bus could crash into the palace of the Vile One himself, and had immediately been assigned to take the weasel's place.
He'd had worse jobs since then. He'd spent at least a year grooming the powerfully vicious goats of the Devil's Infernal Flock with an eyelash comb. After that, he'd broken rocks in the Quaking Quarry with a crab mallet and a rusty nail.
And now that he thought about it, a number of his fellow riders from that day still held positions far more miserable than driving the tour bus had been. One flogged pit-howlers by day and grew ulcers at night. Another toiled in the malodorous factory that made the dung bricks with which Hell was paved.
The most dejected of them all was Uzzeth, a slug-jockey for the weekly Gastropod Games. Uzzeth's acquaintances sometimes speculated about what he must have done wrong to wind up in a job like that. Slugs could neither be hurried nor motivated, Uzzeth would say, and he often found himself stuck in the saddle for days at a time. In his limited time away from work, the job's unrelenting frustration and boredom drove him to regularly explore new and varying methods of suicide. Hell was designed to prevent exactly that sort of escape, so he'd never succeeded. Yet, Uzzeth always said, though everyone knew the odds were against him.
Rorkanos was extremely lucky to be in his current position. He wasn't really sure how or why it had happened, and thought it best not to dwell on it too much, lest he tempt whoever or whatever was responsible to reconsider. Much better to obsessively devote himself to doing the job well, instead.
He was therefore surprised to be walking to work one morning, humming along to the moaning of the Damned, and suddenly notice that something was odd.
But what was it? Yes, the air did seem clearer, and that was peculiar. The aroma of sulfur was a little fainter too, and certainly the Lake itself—
Rorkanos stopped in his tracks and squinted a little harder toward the center of Hell, where—
Oh, dear, he thought. Oh drat-drat-drat! This is too much!
For it appeared that the Lake of Fire… had somehow managed to go out.
Rorkanos gritted his teeth in frustration. "Unbelievable! I hardly turned my back for a second," he grumbled, "and now look!"
He hurried closer, tripping and scampering in turns as he made his way over to the edge of one of Hell's most famous attractions—or scourges, depending on the point of view.
The Lake swelled and oozed, steaming here and there as the surface shoved and shifted. As Rorkanos leaned forward to examine the horrible state of things, a mound of lava-like goo roiled and rose up in front of him.
Bworp! the Lake said.
I'm doomed! Rorkanos thought.
His position required him to monitor the Lake, and to report anything strange that bobbed up in it. But he'd never actually known how it worked, or how or why the thing was on fire. It just was. Now what was he supposed to do?
The demon glanced at the knapsack he'd brought, a pitiful specimen with polka dots and mismatched stripes that contained his work badge and an approximation of lunch. Then he snuck furtive looks to the left and right, wondering if anyone else had noticed the dead Lake and whether he might possibly be able to escape before it was reported?
Rorkanos had never been in precisely that position before. Despite all his years in Hell, he knew very little about how the Devil ran things. There were rumors, and the vague impression of a trend toward Wrath and Retribution. But as far as he could tell, the only certainty was that Satan hated mistakes and quite possibly loved paperwork.
In one of his previous jobs, Rorkanos had spent all his time at Hellquarters sitting in one of the many dark little closets that was stacked above and below and adjacent to other dark little closets, all of them full of wretched worker-demons just like him. He would process incident reports and efficiency metrics all day, making spreadsheets from the data, and then spreadsheets of the spreadsheets. It had been so excruciatingly boring that he often found himself nodding off in that closet, horns grinding into the stacks of paperwork in front of him, only to be awakened by one of the random air-horn blasts issued by the office managers to keep everyone on their toes.
From what he'd heard around the corners of the food-pellet dispensaries, he'd only gotten his current job as Keeper of the Lake because the demon before him had let a rampaging herd of Hellbeasts breach the levee, allowing the Lake to ooze into the middle of the warehouse district and set a decade's worth of the Devil's favorite vintage of Rotgut Rebel whiskey on fire.
That did not bode well for his chances now…
He stared desperately at the Lake. Matches? A truckload of diesel fuel and matches?
He heard voices murmuring around him as other demons came closer to look at the malfunctioning Lake.
A fleet of dragons? Though where would he find even a single dragon, and how could he hope to control it?
While Rorkanos was still thinking, a tall fiend carrying a clipboard approached him. The fiend wore a badge that said "Inspector Doom."
"Are you in charge here?" the Inspector asked.
"Uh, yes," Rorkanos said. "Sir," he added.
"When did this happen? And what are you doing about it?"
"Uhhhhh," Rorkanos stalled. "The Lake went out sometime between now and yesterday evening, and… I haven't figured out how to fix it yet. Would you happen to know the process for requisitioning dragons or chimeras?"
The Inspector scowled at him and made a mark on his clipboard before turning toward the Lake.
"Sir?" Rorkanos asked.
The Inspector's eyes glowed red as he glared at the Lake. "You miserable puddle of putrified puke!" he shouted. "You start that fire again right now, or I'll feed you nothing but sugar plums and candy flowers and the cooing of doves until the End of Days!"
The Lake shuddered and sputtered, and then with a great Whoosh! it burst into flame again.
"That's more like it," the Inspector growled.
Rorkanos stood there, dumbfounded, as the Inspector snapped his finger. An enormous black limousine came screeching around the corner, pausing only long enough for the Inspector to climb inside before it went roaring off down the street again.
Not an inspector, as it turned out, not at all.
Rorkanos gulped. That had certainly been a close call.
Oh, why was it he'd never had a sense for those things? Some said The Unholy One could be anywhere and everywhere! Or that he could at least be in places where Rorkanos also was, a sitting duck who lacked the instincts to suspect the danger he might be in.
For all Rorkanos knew, His Vileness also masqueraded as the landlord for the slime-cave complex where he lived.
The very complex, in fact, where Rorkanos's rent had been due the day before yesterday…
Rorkanos spun around and took off running, leaving his knapsack and burnt-beetle salad behind in his haste to get home and make a payment before it was too late.
He dodged through the crowds—where had they come from?—and tried not to wonder where he'd go if his cave had already been re-rented.
He was so worried about the rent that Rorkanos never even thought about the fallout from what had happened on the job.
The hand-tooled slug-saddle and racing silks that waited inside his cave were about to become a horribly unpleasant surprise...
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