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The Devil Takes Care of His Own

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When you first awoke within the muck of the drudges of the damned, it was without any recollection as to who you were or what you were about or even why you were here; somehow, in spite of the personal amnesia, gray meat in the ol' chrome dome was able to quickly surmise where "here" was. Drew a blank on your friggin' name but not on your location? Didn't really inspire much confidence, still doesn't actually.

You've grown some since, about a month's time if you're keeping track accurately- that's up for debate however, passage of time operates differently here- and though you're honestly no closer to figuring out just who in the hell you were, you've managed to forge some footpaths in the mountain that is ciphering the inner machinations of Pentagram City... and who you are in this concrete jungle of copper smells and marquee lights.

And, of friggin course, who you are just so happens to be the biggest bleeding heart in all of damnation.

The scene before you is playing out in such a way that it's resonating within the cavity of your ribcage so differently than ever before- well, at least within your short term memory anyway. See you're no stranger to violence, though your familiarity sings distinct from most everyone else's, but in the thirty or so days of consciousness you've witnessed first hand turf wars over a single city block, a lover's quarrel that resulted in a heart literally being cleaved out of someone's chest, muggings for baggies of white powder that you swiftly deduced was not confectioners sugar, and oh so much more over oh so much less. Hell, even you've slipped past the avaricious claws of would be thieves eyeing your satchel. Joke's on them, the contents are merely yellow parcels and white envelopes. And not to toot your horn but you're-

"-fast. I'm very fast. I'm like Forrest Gump, except I'm not an idiot." The voice, masculine and strained through puffs of heavy breathing, echoes in your ears yet it doesn't ring a bell.

... now's not the time for an episode, self.

And it's a burst of noise- like a mixture between water and air spraying- that brings you back into focus.

Right.

The carnage that's about to take place cause you're standing around like an idiot with a thumb up your ass.

A young girl poises herself before a cavern of teeth, staring her aggressor in the maw with a grin curling on her rosy cheeks. As if certain not-death ain't about to swallow her noggin whole, bones and all. The aggressor in question peels their jaw further apart and a low, rolling sound rumbles from within the depths. Still the kiddo doesn't flinch, doesn't even blink at her impending doom.

She can't be more than fifteen so her fight or flight instincts should be well in the process of switching over to autopilot, but to your utter dismay they don't seem to be engaging.

Cause she's still just... standing there.

The demon looms over her tiny body with a hunched back, sickly green scales flutter under the pentagram's fluorescence, and their torso gradually expands outward- not unlike that of a balloon- as if they're gulping down a throat full of breath- as if they're bracing for the pounce-

Liquid ice gushes through your veins, through your muscles, and pools around the bones of your ankle joints; inner thighs clench, knees slack; left foot ferociously stomps at the asphalt with the right quickly following suit, left right, left right, rapid hastening cycle; the thinning rubber of your sneaker's soles does little to absorb the impact- every footfall strike sends ripples of tingly pain up your shins, making all extremities tremble; you pump one arm in tandem with your racing heart and the other prepares with hooked finger bones. The harsh pace kicks up cement dust in your wake.

The aggressor leans further- the kid ain't moving- you're not gonna make it in time-

-heat: stifling. black cloud: smoke inhalation. neighbor: passed out. not much time. not enough of it. get him out now.

Grab her.

-grab him.

NOW

____________________________________

Some feet ahead and to the left is the mouth of an alleyway, and if memory serves correctly this side street should eventually spill out into Fifth, and if that's the case then the alley should house the back entrance to the (alleged) cannibal cafe- an establishment that maintains the coveted fourth place on your personal list of "Must Avoid Unless Absolutely Necessary".

The owner, an absolute unit of saccharine smiles and four barbed tusks to match her literal boorish appearance, is a demon gal that you get along with well enough; a relationship constricted to the limits of professionalism, you often find yourself engaged in weather talk after the ritual of mail delivery is completed. Of course the hairs on the back of your neck rise whenever you look her in the eye for too long, but that's to be expected when she's pricing out whatever cuts your hide might produce. At least, you're like eighty percent certain that that's what she does while exchanging pleasantries.

Still, your options are between cutting through Mrs. Sowbelly's Cafe or stay on the straight and narrow... and both choices carry considerable risk behind them. Both choices could land the two of you in the trap of a beast's glistening, spittle sheen teeth.

And full transparence? You like the sniff of your chances with the widowed pig more.

Besides, provided that you shield the young cyclops from view, Mrs. Sowbelly shouldn't be able to commit your damsel in distress's identity to memory and start getting any funny ideas. The kiddo should be safe.

So it's with a pivot on your heel, a rapid change that leaves you hopping on one leg momentarily, that you tear your body to the left and haul ass down the alleyway like the devil's nipping at your heels.

Which, ironically though no literally, he/she/they are- well, not the devil but rather a devil. It's a clever metaphor dammit, and you're gonna applaud yourself later if you survive this clusterfuck of a shitty ass situation.

Then again... folks down here don't really die, do they? Not like how they do topside. Probably hurts just as much, however.

A drag of oxygen claws from deep within your stomach, swells the airway in your throat until they ache, and the muscles around your knees ignite with an icy burn- all fueled by a dwindling supply of addictive adrenaline. The tiny girl shifts in your arms, causing her red tresses to ghost the underside of your chin, before her single, rather large ocular finds you; there's a question gleaming in the yellowed pit of her iris, and while your soft heart would love nothing more than to humor her there are other matters you must attend to first- that being saving your skins- so you tuck her head back into one shoulder and twist its partner to lead the two person charge.

Brace.

Grit your teeth.

And- BAM!

Pain- biting deep into the blade. Nothing serious. Bruise at worst.

But you're in.

In the split second it takes all of the neurons to collectively process your surroundings, you quickly discover that the cafe's back door immediately leads into a quaint kitchen. There might be a lace and heart motif on the walls, and there might be a slab of oozing, fleshy meat on the counter? Or your brain is misidentifying things, wouldn't be the first time downside; shuffle around the island and through the white swinging door before you throw a brief apology to Mrs. Sowbelly about the rude intrusion. And maybe there is some sort of higher power still looking out for your unbelievably dumb ass because the swinging door opens up to the dining portion of the cafe.

Thank Whomever or Whatever for small miracles.

"Oops, sorry!" and "pardon me, sir!" and "oh fuck! I'm really sorry!" become your mantra as you dodge wooly servers and rodent customers alike. The shrill cry of porcelain shattering rings in the periphery of your attention span and your stomach churns itself with guilt.

The display you must be putting on, ruining these poor people's lovely, likely cannibalistic brunch. God, you're such a jerk.

Still, there's a certain appreciation for escape and safety that's far outweighing the acidic aftertaste of shame right now- not to mention you haven't heard the aggressor in a bit and that's worrisome- so you swallow your pride, hunch your back a little (effectively obscuring the kid from the public's eye), and much like a bull in a glass shop you sprint all the way to the entrance. Broken dishes, disgruntled employees, pissed customers, and all.

Out of the cafe and on to the cobblestone of Fifth Street do you stop; now should you continue on through the crowds, or cut through more establishments in an unpredictable route? Your assailant seems to be gator-based so maybe you should-

"- in order to escape from an alligator, you should run zig zag because they can only charge straight."

That... sounds like misinformation, but time's a-wasting and you gotta make a choice now.

Crowd? Or the coffee shop across the street?

... well coffee does have a tendency to make you more productive, placebo or otherwise, and you certainly trust it over Hell's denizens by leagues. So coffee shop it is!

Rinse, repeat: dodge the condemned, serpentine through the building, apologize to everyone who has the misfortune of in your path, and make your grand exit through another door. This rampaging circuit sees you bulldozing through some sorta clothing boutique, a toy store that's definitely not for children, your favorite chocolatier distributor, and a pretzel shop that serves everything but pretzels. Naturally there are some other businesses in that line, however you don't deem them important enough to fully acknowledge them. No offense to the owners, of course.

And not once do you dare to glance behind your shoulder to see if the reptilian fellow/dame/gender neutral folk is trailing your footsteps.

____________________________________

"Why'd ya grab me?"

"To save you."

She blinks twice, an odd bundle of curiosity this one, then asks you the age old question known as "why?"

And honestly you're not entirely sure of the reasoning yourself. Admittedly- admittedly it was more of a reaction than a conscious decision, with a memory that might or might have not been your own reverberating from the back of your mind until your feet were already moving. Cause in that moment all you were seeing was a monster ready to hurt a teenage girl- and demon or no the novelty of leaving a kid to fend for herself sounded heinous. Vile. So you snatched her up and ran.

No reason to bore her with that explanation however, kids have short attention spans and all that, and you're more than willing to chalk this up to something akin to Occam's Razor- "the simplest solution is more likely the right one."

... boy howdy, you can remember that but not your own goddamn name? Just how in the hell have you survived this long?

"Seemed like the right thing to do."

This seems to confuse her further for both top and bottom eyelid draw closer around the globe of her eye, rosy cheeks puffing out as she looks you up and down then back up again for... insert reason here?

Oh. Oh!

Two things about the doomed denizens of Pentagram City, location one of the numerous layers of Hell: they tend to garb themselves in whatever fashion is familiar to them from the time/date of their death, probably as a last ditch effort to grasp at whatever shreds of humanity they have left? And the longer they've been here the less human they appear- you hear that there are exceptions to this observation but the general consensus states that one's residency in the realm of suffering determines how much metamorphosis one undergoes.

And this little lady? Based off of the giant eyeball and way she's dressed? You're kind of half expecting her to break out into Sandra Dee's routine of "Summer Nights" what with her billowing pink poodle skirt and matching scarf. Actually, scratch that, the pink is trademark Frenchy. "Beauty School Drop Out" it is.

Anyways, point being that this teen more than likely bit the dust like seventy-ish years ago, thus making her chronologically older than you, meaning she's been here a hell of a lot longer than you, exposed to some of the worst humanity has to offer, so your whole "good samaritan" spiel is probably translating to something along the lines of "stranger danger".

"That's weird." She says.

"Sorry?"

"You know we're in Hell, right?"

Why yes you are aware of your current and permanent residency, and if anybody asks you you personally think that it's fucked the fuck up that a friggin teenager is in Hell! What could a kid possibly do to warrant their soul's final resting place be the kingdom of sin and evil?! Grant it you don't know what you've done to receive the same treatment either, but a. you're an adult and b. it was probably real messed up compared to... whatever she "did".

Ponder the fallacies of morality later, it's time you get her back home.

Your knees bend until one cap burrows into the dirty below, and you bring yourself to be at a more leveled height with her- don't reach to her, not yet at least, likely doesn't feel safe around you yet (if ever.)

"Hey, is it cool if I ask you what your name is?" You smile, mindful of your canines so that they don't pierce your bottom lip. Again.

The reaction you receive is instantaneous.

"I'm Niffty! Who are you?" She chirps with a huge grin.

You choke on your words; "I uhh... don't remember? But you can call me 'Newbie', lots of people- erm, demons? Uhh, lots of folks call me that." Clear the throat, bring back the smile on your face. "So listen Niffty, do you have, like, parents or uhh.. family I can bring you to?"

"Pfft, I don't think anybody here has parents. Except for the princess of course! Well, there might be others... but anywaysie daisy, nope! No parents here!"

Jesus Christ she's an orphan on top of everything else?! Next thing you know she's gonna mention how someone drowned her pet lizard and chopped all the heads off her favorite stuffed animals when she was the tender age of three... you're way too much of a sentimental idiot for this bullshit.

"Okay, that's okay. How 'bout a home or, like, some kind of safe space I can drop you off at?"

"Oh! The Hazbin Hotel!"

... pardon? The what hotel? Wait.. there's a hotel in hell (heh, rhymes)? Why?

"Originally it was called the Happy Hotel but the bossman changed it, and if you ask me I like the new name better," she whispers the last part as if her opinion over the name is a secret between you two. Precious kid.

But also a hotel here just simply named the "Happy Hotel"? Yeah that sounds shady as fuck. Ain't a lot of happiness going around these here parts, not genuine happiness at least.

"Best job I've ever had too! I get to clean and cook all day, every day! Except during my time off... that's a real bummer."

That... kind of makes sense actually; child labor laws are likely ignored in favor of cheap drudge, and if folks are willing to exploit youngens in life then why would they forgo the practice after death? Trick question: they wouldn't cause people are terrible... unfortunately so are you.

It's not as if you can just uproot Niffty and bring her in under your non existent wing- mail delivery only pays for so much after all and there aren't enough routes in the city to haul your head above the water's hemline. So housing, feeding, and clothing a-whole-nother being when most of your nights are spent in the company of ravenous hunger and the legitimate consideration of selling off your parts to Mrs. Sowbelly? Ain't happenin, cap'n.

"Well I've never heard of this hotel, but I can at least see that you get there safely," you offer, one hand rubbing at the back of your neck. "Dunno if that gator is still-"

"Wo-ow, you must be new if you don't know about the Hazbin Hotel!" She gives you a once-over again. "Guess that explains why you don't look... 'demon-y'."

You're losing track here; gotta get her back to her home as soon as possible, direct her attention towards that goal. Butter her up. Kids like that, right? Your gut says so at least.

"Heh, well it's gotta be pretty fuc- I-I mean, pretty awesome if they got someone like you workin' there, Niffty."

"OH, you're SO right! I make the place sparkle!"

She continues on with her excited babbling as she twirls her petite body around towards the east, billowing poodle skirt and all. Not gonna lie, you're kind of jealous of her and her garment; maybe something ankle length you can get away with. Meanwhile the young cyclops flutters on her feet with mentions of "doing my absolute best" and "that's why the bossman hired me", and though you'll admit that the details of her employment are enshrouded in mystery, and what little information you can glean sounds very sketchy, still you don't attempt to dissuade her from her goal destination.

Who knows, maybe this Happy/Has-been Hotel won't be so awful?

Heh. Yeah right.

The moment Niffty is safe and secure, at least as far as the gator demon is concerned, you're gonna be well on your way back to the dingy apartment you call home.