AN: Keep in mind that this is a sequel to another book. There are some aspects that you won't get without reading the previous novel, though I will try to make this as free-standing as possible.
Now, read, enjoy, and review!
The Records Room: a soundproof place without light, due to someone's inability to get around to changing the light bulb. Taking those two points together, it was a very opportune place in which to meet someone…secretlike. Not that Evita would ever stoop to luring Death there.
"Yes, and…Ah, here it is."
The black-clad man, tall, with dark hair and gray eyes, straightened up from the box he'd been shifting through in that dark room, handing a brassy object to his subordinate, Evita. She was a petite woman in her late twenties, with curly dark brown hair and eyes, telling of Moorish blood in her ancestry. She too wore a black uniform decorated with Hungarian knots, as Death did, and cavalry sabers hung at their belts. Having once been a partisan against the French, she had died in battle, and was now existing in the curious establishment called MOHL (Management Of Human Lives,) though Death had recruited her before, when she was still alive, for a short time.
"It's not a fork!"
"It's a fork, Death. See the three little prongs and handle? This utensil is what we call a fork."
"Aright, fine, it's a bloody fork."
Evita looked up sharply at him from her intense study of the fork. He was using more and more English expletives of late, making her wonder if he was slowly moving back to the man he'd been in life, an Irish bandit. Usually, once one came to MOHL, they forgot who they were in life. Usually. All the occupants at MOHL, it seemed, were starting to remember.
He noticed her look, guessed what it was about, then quickly moved on in the conversation.
"Carry this with you at all times. It's your special weapon."
"Yes, a fork!" he snapped back in reply. Evita grinned. Baiting him was easy and fun! Although, on the 'weapon' note, she didn't think it would be very effective. Being a table utensil, and all.
"Well, that and a lump of gold'll buy me a pretty dress."
"I know it doesn't look like much," Death grated, "but it'll come in handy eventually. For now, keep your sword."
"I was planning on it, yes." Evita smiled wider.
Death was silent a moment. "You're very annoying."
"And yet you chose to keep me around."
She could have said 'So are you,' but it wasn't true anymore.
"And yet." He echoed with a sigh. "Now, that's everything, right?"
"I don't have any questions."
"Ooh! Having fun?" Kindness' golden head poked around the door, a sly little grin on her face. "You've been in here for ages."
Kindness was one of twenty - no, twenty-one, counting Evita, with her office of Sacrifice, according to Death - officers at MOHL, each named for an aspect of the human psyche. Or, in Death's case, the lack thereof.
"I was just filling her in on her new job, thank you." Death sniffed.
"I got a fork!" Evita giggled.
"I do believe the dust and darkness is growing mildew on your brains." Kindness commented sweetly. "I'd get Briggy M-"
"-Brigadier Malevolence, for the General's sake!" Death growled, adamant that the hierarchy of MOHL be upheld.
"-to change the bulb, but he just drinks a lot. Denial refuses to even acknowledge that I asked her, and Betrayal just keeps telling me that the thing is planning to overlord us. I swear, I'm the only normal person around!" She finished breathlessly, then sighed, and her smile returned. "Truth's got an announcement for you from the General, Briggy D. It looks bad. Have a nice day!"
"Can't wait 'til she moves on…" Death grumbled under his breath.
"That's not nice, Briggy D." Evita said, mimicking Kindness' title for her superior.
"I don't have to be nice; that's the beauty of rank."
He held the door open for her, and they headed toward Justice' office. Truth was like an electron; to find him, you went wherever he was most likely to be. Since he rarely stayed in one place, his cubicle was the only actual location where he could be found.
As they drew near, his telltale red hair was not visible. Evita was about to suggest that they go back to Death's office, as the man liked to ambush them around there, but Justice was striding up to them, a paper in hand. For once, he wasn't dressed in the strange fashion that only Death and Evita did not share. He looked like an Englishman, though somehow…not.
"Justice." Death greeted with only mild surprise.
"Death." The officer returned before presenting him with the paper, which Death immediately started to scan. "I didn't read it, but Kindness told me what it said. My apologies."
To what? Evita wondered, though most of her brainpower was mulling over Justice' outfit. He caught her glance, and smiled faintly.
"I was just visiting the Americans. Have you ever been there?"
Evita wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Aren't they English?"
"Not really, and they'll be angry with you if you say so." He answered with a chuckle.
"An exam?!" Death suddenly blurted, his eyebrows furrowing dangerously. "What..?"
"We're all taking one, except her." Justice said soothingly, motioning to Evita. "I'm sure it says why."
"Well, yes, it does, but…" he almost looked worried.
"Why so ruffled?" the Spaniard inquired with a raised eyebrow.
Death and Justice both gave her odd looks.
"Do you know how Charity 'examines' people?" the former asked.
Evita shook her head.
"She takes out your brain and runs tests on that." Death said with a face, as if the very sentence was as distasteful as what it described.
Evita gulped and clapped a hand to her head, very glad that she was not to be examined. "Well…uh…Kindness didn't look worried…?"
"Of course not. She gets to help poke at my brain!" Death exclaimed, borderline hysterical. "She answers to Charity!"
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I'll make sure she doesn't do anything weird to it."
That sounded very, very weird just coming out of her mouth. She probably couldn't go through with it, anyway.
"No!" he fairly yelled, clutching the paper with white knuckles. "I mean…you have to go down to Earth during that time so we don't get behind."
It was Evita's turn to give him an odd look; Justice had since walked away to handle other business. "Right."
Death nodded his head faintly, crumpled up the paper, and tossed it into the nearest trashcan.
She was like a mother taking her child to get a shot. Death never actually turned tail and ran, he was too proud for that, but she could tell that he very much wanted to. He took as much time as possible going to the elevator, and pushing the button marked with an 'M.' Evita had to hold his arm to make sure that he went to his brain-poking session.
"Sure you don't want me to stay?" she asked periodically. He almost went back on his primary objections, she could tell.
"Yeah. Just leave me, I'll be fine…"
Charity never looked scarier. When the doors opened, she was decked out in full surgical regalia, including an intricate and rather silly pair of glasses with about ten different lenses attached. Evita could see Kindness and Joy walking between polka-dot-clad prostrate forms on examining tables. None were moving.
She looked at her superior, actually worrying over his safety. It was no hard guess that he was, too. His eyes were riveted on the sight before him, muscles in his jaw flexing.
"Ready?" Charity asked happily. "Of course not. Well, come over here, dear, and leave that frog sticker by the door."
Evita removed his cavalry saber for him; Death had gone too numb to do it himself.
Charity, flanking Death's other side, led them over to an empty table. Kindness practically appeared out of nowhere, surely grinning like a Cheshire cat behind the blue mask she wore.
"You can let go now." The head surgeon directed at Evita, who then reluctantly let go of Death's arm, taking his hat as was proffered to her by Kindness. Death grumbled in a way that sounded like a whine. Charity had him lie down on the table.
"Best leave now, Evita. You probably don't want to watch this." Charity mumbled, giving Death a shot of something. His limbs jerked once, then his eyes closed and he went limp.
"Leaving." She gurgled, making a beeline for the elevator. Blue gem firmly in hand, she quickly punched the 'E' button, expecting soul collecting to take her mind off of the image of Kindness poking her superior's brain with a glass swizzle stick.
She was thrown completely off guard when the box lurched to a halt and the lights and music faltered with an almighty creak of metal. Throwing her hands out to keep herself from falling, the ex-partisan looked around wildly for any source of light or explanation. She was dipped in absolute darkness; she couldn't even see her hands. The air was close and stale, and silent. It was quiet enough for her to hear her own breathing and thumping heartbeat. If the elevator was broken, she wasn't sure what she'd do.
But then the lights and garish music came back on, and the box rumbled back into motion. Evita uneasily kept hold of the handrails just in case it stopped again. She had half a mind to go back to the main office and have someone look at the thing, but then…She shuddered. Better not to.
Soon she was zipping to Earth on one of the rare occasions on which she was alone. The Spanish countryside bloomed before her, turning into very familiar terrain. But why was it so familiar? She saw rows of beans just starting to sprout, and a little well with its badly shingled roof, and a big crack from when she'd come home once and her father had shot the stone, thinking her an intruder.
That was it! She had arrived at her family's homestead. A wave of dread washed over her as she set her feet on the ground, taking slow steps toward the cottage before her. She knew her father passed away some time ago, so was she now here for her mother? She looked over the white clay walls and homey touches with glazed eyes, running her hands over the rough wooden railing of the porch. She was home, though most certainly not for a good occasion.
The door creaked when she opened it, a telltale sign that something was wrong. However, if something was so supposedly wrong, she couldn't tell what. All the belongings in the house were in their proper places, and it looked as if nothing had been touched for a few hours. Her feet took her through the first of two bedrooms; hers. She didn't spend long looking inside before she went on to the next door.
Here, the gravity of the situation dropped on her shoulders like a full book bag. She saw a still form laying in the bed on the far side of the room, presumably her mother. Her bootheels clunked dully on the wooden planks that made up the floor, adding to the suspense. She suddenly lurched forward and tossed off the blanket from the body.
It was her mother, looking as if she slept, instead of being dead. Evita sighed and berated herself for getting so worked up. Well, mother, she thought, you'll be going to a better place. She held the gem over her mother's mouth, and waiting for the silvery wisp of her soul to enter it.
No, something did happen. A shape, ethereal as all things that only the agents of MOHL could see, exploded into existence. When she was done getting over her heart attack and standing up – the surprise had thrown her off balance, and she fell – she saw that the shape was that of a clown, like from inside a jack-in-the-box.
"Hello!" the clown said cheerily. "This is a recorded message from Pestilence, Keeper of the Nine Copyrooms of Hell. No need to collect this one! It's in the Fire and Brimstone Department now."
"Means 'Hell.'" The clown clarified the last sentence.So…her mother's soul was in hell.