Little Lions 🦁

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Supernal Ascent 14 The plate plunged further down. So much so that sparks from the Hell vortex jumped up past the rim. Todd tried to jerk toward Grace and Helen. He felt tears bubbling. Their eyes were closed. Maybe they weren’t— He couldn’t move without strangling himself. The cuff pulled against his neck. “Helen!” he gargled. She just lay there, looking frighteningly dead. “Ah yes, your family. I can’t believe you’re putting on this show again, Greeley. You know how that ended last time.” “Leave them alone! Helen’s Not involved in this and Grace is a child! A baby! Babies can’t sin! Wait, can babies sin?” Satan looked impatient. “No, they can’t. They haven’t reached the age of reason. Infants don’t know what’s right or wrong and, even if they did, they can’t do much of either seeing as they’re just little lumps of fat and muscle, so no, babies don’t sin. But she won’t be a baby forever. And Helen isn’t involved in this? Please, Todd, she’s your wife. Hasn’t she been asking what it’s like being dead? Why haven’t you told her?” Todd turned his glare on his tormentor. “To protect her! From you!” “Protect her! HA! You would keep her ignorant! If you wanted to protect her from me, Greeley, you would have told her everything so she could arm herself. Why haven’t you?” The grin Satan had made Todd realize that he already knew. He only wanted Todd to say it. He looked at the surface of the plate, flickering orange as the fire reflected on the metal. He hadn’t realized it was that low. He grit his teeth. “Hel and I have...talked about our beliefs before. She’s atheist. She thinks religious people are all nuts. All sheep who participate in crazy cults. I haven’t told her because she clearly won’t believe me.” “You haven’t told her because you’re a *coward*. You’re afraid she’ll stop loving you and that she’ll put *you* in the category of crazy religious nuts. You’re afraid she’ll *leave* you and take your child with her. That’s why you haven’t told her. And that’s why you never will, because you value your pride more than the opportunity to save your wife’s soul. Coward!” “I’m gonna tell her eventually!” Todd protested. “I just...need to know how. So she won’t...I don’t know, go crazy on me.” “You won’t. You’re scared! You fear for your reputation more than the safety of her soul!” “Then why are you telling me to?” Todd barked at him. A silent grin was the only reply. *Does that mean it’s wrong for me to be telling Helen, since that’s what he wants? Or does he know I’m thinking that and he’s trying to get me to see telling her as wrong because that way she’d stay ignorant and he’d get her soul? Why is he telling me this? Why don’t I know what to do?* Corpse Todd’s hand twitched and began to grope along the surface of the plate. It met Corpse Helen’s, and their fingers twined. Their mouths stretched, far bigger than they should have been physically able to smile, and they stood up. Their movements were slow and jerky. Todd noticed that Satan was controlling them. Making little gestures with his hands and fingers like he was making a marionette dance. Soon Todd’s corpse family was all standing around him, even the baby, all wearing grins so wide he thought their faces were going to split. Until they did split, and blood and ash ran in rivulets down their chins and throats. They didn’t seem to notice, they just kept staring at him with empty eyes, leering down with permanent Glasgow grins. “No, no! Stop! Stop it!” Todd begged. “You’re hurting them!” “They’re dead. And I intend to hurt them. Look at your happy little family, inspector. Isn’t it so sweet? Doesn’t seeing them all together make you feel warm and fuzzy?” Mold grew from their mouths and spread across their faces. Todd felt wetness on his cheeks. He tried to squirm away, shaking his head in horror, but he was chained to the plate. He couldn’t retreat. He couldn’t even fend them off, as his hands were chained behind his back. “Of course, they’ll be together in Hell because of your inaction, but...” He shrugged. “I don’t make the rules. I wonder what would make you suffer more, seeing them like this or not seeing them at all?” He rubbed his chin. “I’ll have to see. I didn’t think you could cry this easily, Greeley. How lovely.” “Why are they on the scale?” Todd asked in a shaking voice. “Hmm? Oh, yes. If you don’t tell your wife what happened, who will?” Satan asked smugly. “Who else could get through to her besides someone as close as her husband? Her daughter’s father? Those two are on the scale because their fates are twined very, very tightly with yours.” Corpse Todd and Corpse Helen’s grips on each other’s hands tightened. Sickening cracks came from their knuckles. Todd shuddered. “If you come back to Hell, they are sure to follow. But if you somehow grow a spine and get them to believe it’s all true, because it comes from *you* the chance that they’ll not only believe, but act on that belief is significantly higher. But that’s only if you somehow convince yourself to tell them.” “What’s your point?” “If you start acting like you want to go to Heaven, they might follow. But if you screw up, they’re just as doomed.” “What’s your point!” The corpse Greeleys’ grins grew up to the bottoms of their ears. Blood, ash, and now tar poured from their mouths, coalescing around Todd’s feet. The heat wasn’t helping either. He was sweating. “Raising the stakes,” Satan said with a smirk. “Watching you panic is hilarious. And so are the implications. When you die you’re judged on two things. The sins you commit and the good deeds you did or didn’t do. Things like responsibilities, practicing virtue, and how you treat the souls you’re responsible for. Tell me, Todd. How many priests do you think are in Hell?” “P-priests? Can’t be many. They know what you’re supposed to do to get to Heaven.” The devil clapped his hands with a laugh. “You would be surprised! We get a lot of priests. The ones involved in scandals, of course, but then there are others. Some don’t even believe in Hell. They never *tried* to stay out. We get ones that did their jobs poorly and didn’t talk about the dangers I posed because they wanted to *protect* their congregation from hearing such terrible things. All the souls that could have been saved but weren’t because they were never properly warned? That was held against them. I count two other souls you’re responsible for. Two other souls you’re not protecting. I hope you’re ready to explain that to God, Greeley. He won’t be happy with you.” Todd grit his teeth. “Look, it’s been a day since I’ve gotten back. I can’t go teaching them stuff I don’t know myself. I wouldn’t want to teach them anything wrong by accident, right? That would be worse! I think.” The devil crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “I’d like to at least know what I’m doing, and that I’m doing it right before dragging Grace and Helen into it.” “You can make excuses, inspector, but—“ “It’s like when a plane’s going down and you all need to put on oxygen masks. You’ve gotta put yours on first before you help anyone else, right? It’s like that!” The devil scowled. “You’re absolutely right. But you don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” “No, not really.” “And I’m not even done putting things on your side of the scale.”

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Supernal Ascent 14 The plate plunged further down. So much so that sparks from the Hell vortex jumped up past the rim. Todd tried to jerk toward Grace and Helen. He felt tears bubbling. Their eyes were closed. Maybe they weren’t— He couldn’t move without strangling himself. The cuff pulled against his neck. “Helen!” he gargled. She just lay there, looking frighteningly dead. “Ah yes, your family. I can’t believe you’re putting on this show again, Greeley. You know how that ended last time.” “Leave them alone! Helen’s Not involved in this and Grace is a child! A baby! Babies can’t sin! Wait, can babies sin?” Satan looked impatient. “No, they can’t. They haven’t reached the age of reason. Infants don’t know what’s right or wrong and, even if they did, they can’t do much of either seeing as they’re just little lumps of fat and muscle, so no, babies don’t sin. But she won’t be a baby forever. And Helen isn’t involved in this? Please, Todd, she’s your wife. Hasn’t she been asking what it’s like being dead? Why haven’t you told her?” Todd turned his glare on his tormentor. “To protect her! From you!” “Protect her! HA! You would keep her ignorant! If you wanted to protect her from me, Greeley, you would have told her everything so she could arm herself. Why haven’t you?” The grin Satan had made Todd realize that he already knew. He only wanted Todd to say it. He looked at the surface of the plate, flickering orange as the fire reflected on the metal. He hadn’t realized it was that low. He grit his teeth. “Hel and I have...talked about our beliefs before. She’s atheist. She thinks religious people are all nuts. All sheep who participate in crazy cults. I haven’t told her because she clearly won’t believe me.” “You haven’t told her because you’re a *coward*. You’re afraid she’ll stop loving you and that she’ll put *you* in the category of crazy religious nuts. You’re afraid she’ll *leave* you and take your child with her. That’s why you haven’t told her. And that’s why you never will, because you value your pride more than the opportunity to save your wife’s soul. Coward!” “I’m gonna tell her eventually!” Todd protested. “I just...need to know how. So she won’t...I don’t know, go crazy on me.” “You won’t. You’re scared! You fear for your reputation more than the safety of her soul!” “Then why are you telling me to?” Todd barked at him. A silent grin was the only reply. *Does that mean it’s wrong for me to be telling Helen, since that’s what he wants? Or does he know I’m thinking that and he’s trying to get me to see telling her as wrong because that way she’d stay ignorant and he’d get her soul? Why is he telling me this? Why don’t I know what to do?* Corpse Todd’s hand twitched and began to grope along the surface of the plate. It met Corpse Helen’s, and their fingers twined. Their mouths stretched, far bigger than they should have been physically able to smile, and they stood up. Their movements were slow and jerky. Todd noticed that Satan was controlling them. Making little gestures with his hands and fingers like he was making a marionette dance. Soon Todd’s corpse family was all standing around him, even the baby, all wearing grins so wide he thought their faces were going to split. Until they did split, and blood and ash ran in rivulets down their chins and throats. They didn’t seem to notice, they just kept staring at him with empty eyes, leering down with permanent Glasgow grins. “No, no! Stop! Stop it!” Todd begged. “You’re hurting them!” “They’re dead. And I intend to hurt them. Look at your happy little family, inspector. Isn’t it so sweet? Doesn’t seeing them all together make you feel warm and fuzzy?” Mold grew from their mouths and spread across their faces. Todd felt wetness on his cheeks. He tried to squirm away, shaking his head in horror, but he was chained to the plate. He couldn’t retreat. He couldn’t even fend them off, as his hands were chained behind his back. “Of course, they’ll be together in Hell because of your inaction, but...” He shrugged. “I don’t make the rules. I wonder what would make you suffer more, seeing them like this or not seeing them at all?” He rubbed his chin. “I’ll have to see. I didn’t think you could cry this easily, Greeley. How lovely.” “Why are they on the scale?” Todd asked in a shaking voice. “Hmm? Oh, yes. If you don’t tell your wife what happened, who will?” Satan asked smugly. “Who else could get through to her besides someone as close as her husband? Her daughter’s father? Those two are on the scale because their fates are twined very, very tightly with yours.” Corpse Todd and Corpse Helen’s grips on each other’s hands tightened. Sickening cracks came from their knuckles. Todd shuddered. “If you come back to Hell, they are sure to follow. But if you somehow grow a spine and get them to believe it’s all true, because it comes from *you* the chance that they’ll not only believe, but act on that belief is significantly higher. But that’s only if you somehow convince yourself to tell them.” “What’s your point?” “If you start acting like you want to go to Heaven, they might follow. But if you screw up, they’re just as doomed.” “What’s your point!” The corpse Greeleys’ grins grew up to the bottoms of their ears. Blood, ash, and now tar poured from their mouths, coalescing around Todd’s feet. The heat wasn’t helping either. He was sweating. “Raising the stakes,” Satan said with a smirk. “Watching you panic is hilarious. And so are the implications. When you die you’re judged on two things. The sins you commit and the good deeds you did or didn’t do. Things like responsibilities, practicing virtue, and how you treat the souls you’re responsible for. Tell me, Todd. How many priests do you think are in Hell?” “P-priests? Can’t be many. They know what you’re supposed to do to get to Heaven.” The devil clapped his hands with a laugh. “You would be surprised! We get a lot of priests. The ones involved in scandals, of course, but then there are others. Some don’t even believe in Hell. They never *tried* to stay out. We get ones that did their jobs poorly and didn’t talk about the dangers I posed because they wanted to *protect* their congregation from hearing such terrible things. All the souls that could have been saved but weren’t because they were never properly warned? That was held against them. I count two other souls you’re responsible for. Two other souls you’re not protecting. I hope you’re ready to explain that to God, Greeley. He won’t be happy with you.” Todd grit his teeth. “Look, it’s been a day since I’ve gotten back. I can’t go teaching them stuff I don’t know myself. I wouldn’t want to teach them anything wrong by accident, right? That would be worse! I think.” The devil crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “I’d like to at least know what I’m doing, and that I’m doing it right before dragging Grace and Helen into it.” “You can make excuses, inspector, but—“ “It’s like when a plane’s going down and you all need to put on oxygen masks. You’ve gotta put yours on first before you help anyone else, right? It’s like that!” The devil scowled. “You’re absolutely right. But you don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” “No, not really.” “And I’m not even done putting things on your side of the scale.”