Have you heard?!
The whispers began at midnight.
Yes… an inquisition. To determine our legitimacy.
Sloth peered nervously around the corner, ensuring that their conversation would indeed remain unheard. She looked imploringly towards Gluttony.
Are you nervous?
Gluttony sneered, his snout quivering with the malice of his indignation.
Am I ever?
The chamber, as always, was readied at a moment’s notice. The vaulted ceilings stretched infinitely upwards--their windowless visage doing little to alleviate the darkness of the hall’s interior. The cackling of Satan’s minions echoed ominously as they lit the torches, the gloomy light of the dancing flames further illuminating the instruments of torture.
All seven entered slowly.
Conquest and War flanked the left side of the high inquisitor, while Death and Famine sat imperiously to his right. Those on trial shuffled about nervously, fighting silently for acquisition of the seats furthest from the jury. Eventually, the sins fell silent. After what seemed like an eternity, Lucifer stood, in all his dark, regal glory, and the trial finally began.
You, the accused who sit before me, have, some of you for centuries, served as my ever-faithful, ever-vigilant executioners of ire. Among all the men and women who have ever wandered earth, it is you who have laid claim to the darkest aspects of the human soul. Your sins were reprehensible, leaving no one more proficient in the recognition of your kindred brethren than yourselves. You know that they must suffer. You know they cannot leave. And yet, I question your legitimacy. For the first time in the history of this very Hades, you have Let. One. Go. The classification of the fugitive has yet to be determined; it goes without saying that they who are responsible shall suffer the worst of all imaginable agony. You knew the law--if any one of you are at any point deemed unworthy of your post, then you shall be recycled back into the sector of the damned, and made to suffer the retributions that you currently inflict. The proceedings shall now commence… and may I have mercy on your souls.
The proctor cleared his throat respectfully, unfurling a long and tattered piece of parchment as he stood.
The Prince of Darkness, Our Son of Perdition, oh Serpent of Old, the Lawless One, Beelzebub himself, calls forth to face this inquisition, Gluttony, ruler of all those who imbibe in excess.
Gluttony stood, his hugely swollen body seeming barely able to support his massive, boar-like head, a feature which had adorned his shoulders since the day of his arrival. Of all the transformations, his had been the most severe, a fact his filthy, piggish snout was fond of constantly reiterating. Finally, he ended his laborious descent into the Pit of the Accused, settled comfortably into the Armchair of Atonement, and began to tell his tale.
Gluttony, ruler of the sixth terrace.
King Henry the Eighth, ruler of all England.
Method of Retribution?
The damned are force-fed rats, toads, and snakes until the point of suffocation, deprived of drink till they go mad with thirst, then have their stomachs pumped so that the process may begin anew.
You may proceed.
I was born in the month of June, 1491, to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. I was made ruler of all of England following the death of my brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. By papal dispensation, I was wedded to his widowed bride, Catharine of Aragorn, on June 11th, 1509. We ruled the kingdom together for many years, with numerous attempts to produce an heir, a matter in which we were perpetually unsuccessful. I ate, drank, and fornicated in perfect moderation, until the day that I met… her. Anne Boleyn was the most beautiful creature I’d ever beheld--she invoked in me a hunger that I was powerless to resist. I became insatiable… Anne was… beyond reason. Her very presence caused every inch of me to ache with desire, with longing--and when I finally bedded her, my mission became clear. To keep her. I tried everything I knew--I placated to her every whim, I displaced Catherine, I moved worlds for her… and with every passing moment, I watched her slip away. The rumors had already begun--that she was a villainous traitor; that her political aspirations were all that kept her by my side.
When she produced a daughter, I became… enraged. She was too weak to fornicate, so I began sating my sexual appetites with food and drink. It was said that she was incestuous… an incestuous whore, who had never truly wanted anything, save power. The day that I beheaded her, there was a moment… as the sword came down, separating that lovely head from her milky white shoulders, that I hungered for her once again. Our eyes met just before she died, and I knew, in that moment, that I would never again be full. I was injured, and growing older by the day; what was left to me but food and drink? I bedded others… but their skin felt… cold, their bodies lifeless… nothing culled my ache nor quenched my thirst. Your honor, I AM Gluttony. No one takes their role more seriously than I--those that have hungered as I have, that have known the sense of longing that follows ultimate ingestion, they suffer in my region as I have suffered every moment since her death.
Gluttony squinted haughtily towards Conquest, knowing better than to sneer.
Oh? To what, exactly, do you object?
It was you who caused her death. How are we to trust the validity of your testimonial, if you claim to suffer from events that were produced by your own arrogance?
Slowly, Gluttony began to laugh, a sardonic smile twisting the corners of his snout.
Arrogance? You claim her death was caused by arrogance?! My dear Conquest--I had no choice! Anne was the crux of my undoing, the downfall of a kingdom… if she had lived, it would have been the end of me. You dare to doubt my suffering?! Yes, perhaps I hated her, for a time… undoubtedly, there was some resentment, but that never meant I didn’t want her! Every moment of consumption I have experienced, in this world and the previous, has been a futile attempt to satiate my emptiness. By the bounds of my own retribution, I shall never again be near her. I punish those who have landed in my care based on the knowledge that they all have sinned as greatly as myself. I assure you, they suffer without exception.
Lucifer, upon conference with the others, motioned for the proctor to proceed.
Gluttony, you are excused. We shall now hear the testimonial of Wrath, sovereign of the vengeful.
Wrath stood, haughtily making her way towards the area of inquisition. As she moved, she looked imperiously towards the justices, as though daring them to find fault with her coming testimonial. The other sins avoided eye contact, for even in this realm, the depths of her fury were nothing short of legendary.
Wrath, ruler of zee third terrace.
Princess Olga, official ruler of Kievan Rus.
Method of retribution?
Zose of my terrace are made to valk through blinding, acrid smoke. Zis is followed immediately by zee process of live dismemberment, upon zee completion of vhich, zee process begins anew.
You may proceed.
Vith? You bring me here to, vat, challenge my intent? I assure you, it vas not I who let zem go.
The proctor cleared his throat uncertainly.
You are required to relay the events which led to the appointment of your post, in order to determine your eligibility for maintaining it. Your guilt of the incident in question shall be determined by the sincerity of your account. Now, I must ask you once again, please proceed.
Wrath glared furiously at the proctor before, at last, she began to speak.
Vell, as I have previously stated, I have no connection to zee incident of vhich you speak. I vas born in Russia, and I married Igor of Kiev in zee year 903. Vee vere very happy for many years, following our intellectual, as vell as our marital pursuits. Zen, vun day, I received word zat he had been murdered by zee Drevlians, and my fury knew no bounds. Zey sent twenty of zere best men to convince me to marry zee Prince of zee Drevilians and to abdicate my throne. I had zee messengers buried alive. I zen sent vord to zee prince of zee imbeciles zat I vould accept his proposal, but zat he must send his highest ranking noblemen to accompany me on my journey to his land. Upon zere arrival, I lured zem into zee bath-house, vich I zen locked and set on fire, burning zem alive. After zee disposal of zee noblemen, I invited all zee traitorous dogs to my home, under zee ruse zat zey vould be attending a peaceful funeral feast for my dearly departed Igor. Under zee ruse of reconciliation, I made zem drunk, and commanded my army to murder zem vhere zey stood. Vith 5,000 of zem dead, and zee rest begging for my mercy, I once again pretended to comply--asking from each house a payment of three sparrows and three pigeons, to vhich I attached sulfur, thread, and cloth. Ven night fell, zee birds were released back to zere homes, igniting zee entire city, and burning its people to zee ground.
The courtroom sat in stunned silence; her rage was undeniably intimidating. The proctor stood and cleared his throat, a poorly concealed look of apprehension marring his composure.
And… you did all this in response to your husband’s murder? Meaning no offense whatsoever, but... were you not raised in a religious house? Surely, it must have dawned on you that you’d be made to pay for these acts of vengeance…
Wrath smirked, her eyes glinting with manic condescension.
Yes, zis is vye I killed zem. Every single Drevilian dog vas guilty by association. I vas raised quite religiously, and I knew instantly zat my current fate vould be zee outcome of my crimes. I knew, and I cared not zen, as I care not now. I vould suffer as zose zat are brought to me are made to suffer for a thousand lifetimes, if it meant zat my enemies vould feel even an ounce of zee pain I felt zee day he died. I vould never release a sinner. If zey are here, zen zey deserve zee pain zat I will bring zem; vhich I assure you, is severe.
All eyes turned to Lucifer, who, without bothering to confer with any of the presiding horsemen, nodded his permission for the trial to proceed. Wrath returned to the seated region of the courtroom, staring down her colleagues with a look of utter disdain.
The jury calls to the stand: Lust, supreme monarch of the wanting.
The tone of the courtroom changed immediately. It was common knowledge among the sins that Lust had no genitalia to speak of. Every semblance of her physical abilities had been stripped away upon her arrival in the underworld. Her desirability, however, had become unbearable. Lust’s physical form was personalized to all those who beheld her figure, cadence, and even gender merging seamlessly with the tastes of the individual. The courtroom exhaled a collective sigh of appreciation as she sashayed down the slanted hallway, cursing the irony of her absolute impenetrability.
Lust, Madam of the seventh terrace.
Madam Marjory Miller, Mistress of the Soiled Doves.
Method of retribution?
She smiled coyly at the judges, batting her eyelashes and flipping her hair from side to side.
Smotherin, mostly-immersed in pits of brimstone and flames.
You may begin.
Oh? I don’t have anything to say really. I’m innocent of any rule breakin’, and, I assure you, guilty enough to deserve my post.
She winked sardonically, enjoying the varied looks of disbelief. The proctor cleared his throat.
Madam, you must testify. Why should you continue to be allowed to rule? How can we be certain that you take this seriously?
If the question threw her, she disguised it beautifully.
Why of course I take it seriously! It’s me and my kind that brought most of ‘em here in the first place! I was a girl when I was sold into the brothel game; doin’ clean up, housework, mostly. But you’d better believe that I was watchin’. Some of them girls weren’t much older than I was, and boy were they ever richer. I knew the madams wouldn’t let me start working yet. Even in that world, there were rules about that kind of thing. So, I ran away and changed my name-lying about my age to everyone I met. Eventually, I found a place that took me in. I don’t really think they believed that I was legal, but they did it anyways, and that’s all that mattered. I was a fast learner, and soon I had become the top girl in the cat-house, takin’ so many men I could have flown that place solo. The other girls didn’t like me much. They felt like I was stealin’ all the best clients, takin’ more than my fair share. How could I explain?! While they merely deigned to do it, I would have died for it! Nothing in the world made me happier than obligin’ all those men. Hell, sometimes I think I wanted it more than they did! As I got older, I started to realize where the real money was. I had a reputation already at the joint where I was workin’, so rather than goin’ through all the hassle of startin’ over, I poisoned my mistress’s favorite whiskey, and let nature do the rest. When I took over, there were some… changes to the institution. I just didn’t see why I should exclude the younger ones. They couldn’t stay virgins forever, so who was I to stand in the way of the inevitable? I mean sure, they would cry sometimes, and yea, I’d occasionally have to beat ‘em a little, but that’s the nature of the game! I admit, sometimes it would make me so damn mad… how come they couldn’t see how lucky they were? “It hurts, he beats me, this life ain’t right…” I could have cut their ungrateful tongues out! One thing I can most assuredly take credit for--ours was the most creative. I mean, with all the competition in those days, I made sure that there was nothin’ my girls wouldn’t do to make our clients happy. A few of ‘em died along the way, but what’s a few in relation to the bigger picture? Anyway, like I was sayin’… ain’t nobody in creation that takes their business more seriously than I do. I would never let one leave, because dammit, they should feel grateful to be here. No matter how much it hurts now, I’ll be damned if they didn’t have a damn fun time gettin’ here, and I am hereby, and forever after, committed to remindin’ ‘em of what they’re missin’. Now… will that be all?
The horsemen engaged in the longest debate of any of the testimonials thus far, their violent whispering echoing throughout the chamber walls. Finally, they seemed to come to an agreement, motioning to Lucifer an affirmation of their belief, as he stood authoritatively to address the accused once more.
We shall now take a brief recess, after which the trial shall recommence. If any of you attempt to flee, regardless of your participation in the proceedings thus far, you shall be hunted down immediately, and I assure you, the consequences will make you beg for an execution that will never come.
The accused spilled into the hallways, all but one chattering excitedly about the testimonials they’d heard so far. Not a single soul, alive or dead, had ever witnessed Sloth exude such manic, desperate energy. Pacing desperately back and forth, her near hyperventilation attracted the attention of the proctor, who immediately hurried back into the chambers from whence he came, a look of sheer determination gleaming in his eyes. After some time, Sloth’s panicked breathing subsided into a poorly concealed look of utter dread as, one by one, they filed back into the dungeons, where the examiners stood waiting.
The prosecution calls forth to the stand, Sloth, leader of the lackadaisical.
Sloth swallowed nervously, the tenuous fibers of her sallow neck straining with the pressure.
Sloth, ruler of the fourth terrace.
Anastasia Baronova, prima ballerina of the New York Ballet association.
Method of retribution?
Continuous running until their limbs are raw and ruined, followed by condemnation to the snake pits, while their appendages regenerate. I assure you, none have ever-
And do you, at this time, wish to confess your guilt to the matter at hand?
Sloth started, looking desperately from side to side.
But, the trial! You haven’t even concluded the investigation! Don’t you… can’t I…
Did you or did you not allow a member of your terrace to escape these very premises, returning to the mortal world?
I… I didn’t… I didn’t see! I tried of course, once I saw that he was missing, but you can’t expect me to…he was impossible to find!
Sloth gasped; the skin on her feet was dissipating rapidly, as a thousand unseen serpents slithered slowly up her torso, setting themselves, leisurely and noose-like, around her waiting, pleading neck.
Please, your honor, I beg of you, my oversight was unforgivable, but I assure, you… I swear to… I… no, wait, please, I…… BEG OF YOU… oh dear god, it’s too tight, I CAN’T BREA--
Her final scream was cut short by the crushing of her windpipe, as the congregation and her peers observed the morbid spectacle with rapturous delight. Her form lay still for what seemed like an eternity, when Lucifer himself finally stood, a sardonic grin marring his normally stoic features.
The interview process for a leader of the fourth terrace shall begin within a fortnight. During this time, Gluttony shall cover both the sixth terrace and the fourth, and may you let today’s proceedings serve as evidence of the unforgiveable gravity of error. We thank you for both your diligence and your cooperation. That will be all.