The sound of a woman's cries careens over the others.
Loud and shrill and fresh.
You can always tell the new souls from the veteran's ones. A veteran tortured soul's screams lack that naive fear invariably present when they first arrived. It was a palpable sense of unknowing, a forever questioning:
How long will I have to suffer? Will it always hurt so much?
And unfailingly the, My God, will you not save me? Will no one rescue me? Why? What have I done so wrong – and on, and on the questions would echo.
After a year or two down here though, depending on the strength of the soul, the screams become hollowed, emptied, muted. They'd succumb to the realization they've got nothing to look forward to but more incomprehensible misery and they would no longer waste whatever minute slivers of energy they had left on such unavailing questions. Helpless and hopeless, they'd commence their journey to demon-hood.
This was Hell.
An endless pit of dolor.
An eternity of the never-ending agony. A deep, pulsing abyss of once willful souls leeching off each other's terror. Not a single soul content unless finally allowed to unleash the same torment, if not worse, on the next fresh batch of naively hopeful victims. An endless cycle of all-consuming darkness in a place packed with masses created from light.
It was all quite exhausting really.
Dear Lucifer, he was already starting to miss the simplicity of the human world. Maybe he shouldn't have returned so soon? If he hadn't been summoned by –
"Michael," A woman's voice rasped, sharply, as if she'd smoked three packs a day. Which she had, back when she was human.
Mike sighed. Speak of the devil.
"Hey, mom," Mike greeted softly, startled from his casual reverie of the place he called home. Although a great distance from each other, there was no need to raise his voice. No one needed too here. In Hell, conversations always reached the demon intended. It didn't really make sense, but that's Hell for you.
Making the impossible, possible.
Mike casually waited for the woman, who resembled a slighted jackal, to cover the remaining feet between them. The few milling demons strolling the hall backed away, slightly lowering their slanted eyes in begrudging respect to the irritable demoness.
His mouth twitched around a humoring smile. It never failed to surprise him how terrifying his mother was. Only reaching 5'3", 5'5" when wearing her favorite 'demon-ass-whooping heels,' with long mousy brown hair and a slender but out of shape frame, she was infamous for her cruelty. Even among high-level demons, despite only being mid-tier, her sick games have been known to flip even the most wicked of the witches' stomach in fear. It was even rumored that she had caught the eye of the illustrious Alastair, torture extraordinaire. Which didn't surprise him much after he'd confirmed the rumors were true. He could vouch first hand that his mother, behind those cold, unfeeling eyes, and harsh words, and demonic soul, really was as cold as her touch.
Yet, still he loved her, deeply. He'd do anything she'd ask.
'Cept, call Azazel "dad."
"Where have you been?" she asked as she reached him, already smoothing his rumpled clothing, always making sure he was immaculate. There was a stiffness in her usually fluid movements. She'd been expecting him. But for what?
"Above," he admitted, almost embarrassed. "Watching the humans."
His mother judgment was already settled on her face.
"Why you must mingle among those disgusting slabs of meat, I will never understand," she criticized almost before he could finish. "But you'll regret being up there for so long." She glanced up at him, gelid blue eyes piercing his own indifferent emerald.
"HE's here. HE came to see you."
"Azazel?" He asked but received no answer as she began to walk away; her strides swift and long. Despite her short stature Mike hurried to follow her.
"How long has he been waiting?"
"An hour, which is when you told your brother you'd be back."
"He never comes," he argued, hiding his unease with practiced irritation.
"Well, he did this time," she stated reasonably as they continued hurriedly away from the cacophony of souls' screams and towards what he'd dubbed the Labyrinth.
The Labyrinth was more like a transport station. A continuous hall lined with doors on both sides, demons would transport themselves to different locations within Hell. There were as many doors as there were low-level demons, probably more. Not even his mother knew the exact number. He'd asked. Mike even suspected that the hall was forever expanding. Building new links to someone's personal hell. None of the doors were marked, and each of them were identical to the rest. As a child Mike had gotten lost often, and with no help from anyone, had to learn the hard way how to find his way back to his mother and food; by trial and error. Memories of those unexpected excursions still make him shiver.
"It's because you are always shirking your responsibilities," his mother lectured, continuing her tirade that he'd, honestly, tuned out of.
"I just want to understand them, mother," he tried to conciliate, as much as he was allowed. He'd learned the hard way the thin line between showing respect for her and lowering himself to her level. He was an elite, favored; while she was mid-tier. Respected, even revered by some, but still beneath him in class. She made sure he understood his station. His ravaged back from enduring play time with Alastair may have healed entirely, but the lessons were seared into his soul.
"I know when you lie, child." His mother sniped, like an irate harpy, "You never took to the responsibilities you've been given. A gift, your role, yet you squander it."
Mike knew better than to argue. It wasn't worth the monologue about how "special he was," and how "so few were fathered by" the "all mighty" Azazel.
Honestly, he suspected he had more human than demon in him.
He'd heard the story many a time, how Azazel felt an attraction to the late witch. How small, human woman was able to torment her tormentors even while on the racks. How Azazel coveted her and took her despite her station. How, when Mike was born, she'd risen in station and tasked to raise this powerful demonic child.
But what if his mother was more human than demon at the time of their base sexual act?
What if, the humanity still left in her was passed on to him?
Mike would never voice these concerns to his mother. He didn't wish to shame her.
But, ever since he turned thirteen, he'd begun to realize that he wasn't as simple as his siblings. They felt nothing but hate and fear; their actions driven by lust and power. Mike felt emotions other than hatred, jealousy, and blood-lust. Problem was, he didn't exactly know what those emotions were. So, he studied the "walking-slabs-of-meat" as his mother called them, hoping he'd understand himself a little better.
And he had.
He'd discovered curiosity, creation, humor, determination, and more recently, love.
These discoveries were why he still went "topside."
They were the reasons why he would sometimes stay.
But, they were things that he could never share with his mother, nor his siblings, or any Hell-bound soul for that matter.
Instead, he put up with his mother's litany of complaints about his utter lack of leadership, and misuse of the title he'd officially been given at twelve, and the complete and utter disregard for all the effort she had put into grooming the perfect commanding officer in Azazel's quickly expanding army.
Speaking of, his mother was just getting to that very monologue.
Silently he swallowed a sigh and heavily suppressed an eye roll, knowing his mother would sense the movement before he'd even begun the action, minutely wondering why he didn't exert his so called, "birth-right" to just shut her up.
Due to their differences in ranking, Mike's only allegiance to his mother was one of respect. Like a royal would his eldest adviser, he trusted her to do what was right for him. However, he never had to obey her. Their roles as mother and son were quite different than the humans. From the moment Azazel took a liking to him, every decision she had ever made was first approved by him. After all, she was raising one of Azazel's finest.
He pondered on the thought. An almost simpering look settling onto his face of the imagined delight in the power.
But he didn't.
He assumed that was love.
Lucifer, have mercy.
His mother leading the way, they pushed through one last door before stepping onto the floor which housed their humble abode. Standing in front of their door, his mother gave one more scrutinizing survey of his clothes before rubbing harshly at a spot of smudge on his face and irately combing sharp nails through his messy brown hair.
"Remember your manners," she lectured. "And for Lucifer sake, DON'T mention your little excursions, okay?"
He felt his eyes start to roll but stopped as he caught something on her face. Something different. Something like what he'd seen with the humans.
Whatever it was, it was gone in a flash and in its place was the customary resting bitch face he'd grown to love.
Already missing the moment they'd shared, however briefly, he opted for a stiff nod as his mother opened the door.
Don't screw up," she cautioned one last time. "Actually, just stick with short answers. "Yes," and –
"No?" Mike offered, biting off most of the nervous smile crawling on his lips.
"Just do what is expected of you," she growled.
This time Mike's eyes did search upward.
"Go," she ordered and shoved him through the door.
He stumbled a bit, but quickly corrected himself.
He had only taken a few steps inside when his eyes met yellow and Mike snapped to attention, unable to help the overwhelming feeling of fear and need to run, go, get away. But the door snapped closed behind him, the sound sharp and loud in his ears.
He was trapped in a room. A kitten in a cell of feral dogs.
Only one thought went through his mind.