Killed By Death
rating: +1+x

Ul-Akagh laid his hands on the keyboard of his organ. His fingers flew, tearing dissonant notes from the instrument. The sound itself did not evoke an organ. It was more a mixture of violin, bagpipes and drums. The immense machine that filled the one hundred and twentieth hall of the third floor of the second circle of Hell worked thanks to an ingenious system invented by Ul-Akagh himself.

Each press of a button actuated a mechanism that tortured a damned man specially selected for the timbre and pitch of his cry. The sound then passed through skulls to distort it and give it that muffled tone which pleased the organist's auditory bulbs. In addition, bones struck tense skins at the same moment the voices were released, bringing some percussion to the symphony.

The cacophony produced by the machine was barely bearable. However, there were more harmonic passages here and there. A few notes gleaned from Verdi's Requiem here, a passage from the Hungarian Rhapsody there, all mired in an avalanche of notes whose order seemed to be drawn by lot by Ul-Akagh. This went on for several minutes, until the final chord. The latter made the musician jump. He tried again. Same jolt. He put his index finger on the C he had just used. Instead of a note, a faint crackle came out of the pipes.

"Damn it. This sinner was a fragile one."

A tiny winged, fat creature landed on the organ.

"You haven't taken care of the proper functioning of your instrument for thirty years."

Ul-Akagh turned his head towards the imp.

"Grmf. I'll pick up a stained soul later."

"You know very well that your rank does not allow you to serve yourself in souls staying in Hell for your personal leisure."

Ul sighed, leaned on his keyboard and turned towards the creature.

"You're a pain in the ass, Aldrick."

"Sir, I'm just reminding you that-

"I know you didn't come here to tell me I take care of my organ like shit. What's going on?"

"Indeed. I've come to warn you that a ritual to summon you is in progress. Please pack your things."

Ul-Akagh stood up, and repeated:

"Damn it."

"You've been warned."

"Yeah, yeah."

The demon of the second circle stretched both arms parallel to the ground. A long navy-blue coat materialized on his body. Then he disappeared in a cloud of flames.


At the same moment, Fabrice Müller, his hands laid on an unholy book resting on a pedestal, in the middle of a dark and ancient library lit by a few candles with a violet flame, was finishing an incantation.

The large pentacle drawn on the ground lit up briefly with a flash. A silhouette was there now. The first thing Fabrice saw from Ul-Akagh was his bright yellow gaze through the darkness. Once the sight of the young teenager got accustomed, although a shining fog remained on the bottom of his retina, he could see the demon more clearly.

It was a man slightly over two meters, wearing a long navy-blue coat. The most remarkable was not his eyes similar to those of a cat, but the goat's skull that he had as his head.

"Who summons me?"

The child answered in a trembling voice, and falsely assured:

"I… I am Fabrice Müller, son of Theodore Müller, holder of the seal of Adytum. I command you to obey me-"

"Fabrice? Ooooh, how you've grown… The last time I saw you, you were no higher than that."

Ul-Akagh stretched out his arm the lowest he could. He was smiling.

Well, no. His lack of face prevented him from expressing such emotion through facial expression, but his mocking gaze and the tone of his deep voice allowed him to convey similar information.

"How's your father? It's been a long time since I've had to serve your family…"

"He's… he's dead."

"Oh. It is unfortunate, he was a very respectable person. I wish I could have fetched his soul with my own hands. What happened to him?"

"He was murdered."

"Indeed… very regrettable. I was going to say that I was surprised, he still had some good years ahead of him. You could have warned me."

Before the silence of the young Fabrice, he added.

"Anyway. Why did you summon me?"

"His body was only found today."

"I see… And?"

"I'd like you to find the killer."

"I'm not sure I understand. Wouldn't it be better to entrust an investigation to… qualified people in your world?"

"Come see the body, you'll see for yourself."

"In case you've forgotten, I can't get out of this pentacle."

"Oh, yes, of course."

The child blew out one of the candles at the ends of the pentacle and wiped out part of the circle with a wire brush that was lying there. Ul-Akagh sighed.

Fabrice's behavior was irresponsible. After an invocation, it was not without risk to allow a demon to leave the pentacle without first making sure that the entity would not do the least harm to the madman who called it. It was necessary to be suspicious, even very suspicious, if the demon himself asked to leave the circle.

"You still have a lot to learn, Fabrice."

"What do you mean?"

"Another demon would probably have jumped you the moment you blew out the candle."

The heir Müller turned white.

"Ah… But you're the servant of our family, right? Doesn't the contract you signed with my father forbid you to harm the bearers of his name?"

"This contract applied until his death. However, I can offer you an identical pact, which will apply until yours."

To illustrate his words, he took a sheet out of his inner pocket, and handed it to Fabrice.

"Here. You just have to sign at the beginning."

The latter grabbed the object, and read it conscientiously, page by page.

"That seems correct to me."

New "smile" from Ul-Akagh.

"Good, good. Know that if you had decided to take my word for it and sign it without reading it, the contract would have modified itself in order to increase the price to be paid, and to remove all the advantages that you would have gained. Never make a pact with a demon without precaution."

"It was the first thing my father decided to teach me."

"And your soul thanks you for remembering."

Fabrice grabbed a white dagger decorated with cabalistic symbols, placed on a shelf, and cut his finger over a small cup, then signed the pact with his blood, after which it fell into ashes.

Ul-Akagh knelt.

"What a pleasure to serve your family for another generation, Master!"

"I… uh…"

"Let's go see that body, shall we?"

The demon with the goat's skull stepped over the circle and passed through the door, before stopping sharply.

"Oh yes…"

He stood still.

"Is there a problem?"

"Let's just say only the feathered losers from above are omniscient. We demons do not possess this gift. So I'd go to the body… if I knew where it was."

"…In his office."

"Hm. So be it. I know the way."

Then he left again. He was walking, but moving much faster than a normal man. Fabrice ran after him. When he saw him again, the demon was already at the top of the stairs and disappeared another time. Finally, he found him in the office of the late Theodore Muller, squatting near the corpse. The man was emaciated, his skin greyish and his flesh dried up. His hair had lost all colour and was now whitish.

"Master, I'm afraid this is far beyond my competence."

"What do you mean?"

"My specialization consists more of slitting the throats of widows and orphans."

"But… the contract I signed?"

"But I am still your servant. However, I think you will easily understand that it is difficult for me to go out on the street and question the suspect."

"Ah, is that what's causing you trouble?"

Young Müller smiled and added.

"Do you know the date?"

"Ahem… uh… Must have been two millennia since the virgin trollop delivered her kid?"

"Yes, no, the year doesn't matter. Today, you have the opportunity to show your face in public. Today is October 31."

"So what?"

"The streets will be filled with mortals disguised as demons and monsters. You can easily pass for one of them."

Ul's gaze showed his disbelief. After a silence that seemed to last forever, he sighed.

"I'll be right back."

Then he vanished into thin air.


Ul-Akagh caught with fury Aldrick by the throat, who was tranquilly scrubbing his claws perched on a bust representing Lucifer in his best years. The latter yelped miserably.

"What… is it?"

"You're gonna give me a hand."

The man with the goat skull dropped the pile of fat and added.

"Give me the list of the residents of my organ."

"Right away, boss." he replied, taking out of a bag a set of parchment. He spent the next few seconds reading them diagonally, while mumbling.

"Here it is!"

Ul-Akagh grabbed the piece of skin that his assistant was handing him, without deigning to look at him. He kicked him, before reading aloud.

"C 4: Robert B, writer. D 4: Antoine S, aircraft pilot."

He continued, reciting the name and profession of each "boarder" of his instrument. The macabre game continued for a few minutes, before his tone changed.

"Ah, finally. F 8: Luc S, medical examiner."

Ul-Akagh carefully folded the list and calmly moved towards the organ. He took his time, breathing softly, enjoying every moment, before tearing off the pipe of F 8 with a brutality that had nothing to envy even the worst alcoholic father. He shook him, pulling out a pile of mud in a vaguely human form. The thing was screaming, in a low, high voice.

"Air! Air! The sulfur burns me!"

"In due time, in due time. Luc S, is that you, scumbag?"

"Yes! Yes ! Make it stop!"

"Looks like it's your lucky day. Or rather… your lucky night. I'm offering you an opportunity to stop burning for a few hours in exchange for your expertise. Do you accept?"

"Of course I do! Of course-"

His mouth tightened for the duration of a long howl of pain. The sulfur in the pipes must have stuck to his skin.

"Anything you… want."

"Perfect."

On this word, Ul-Akagh lifted the soul of the former medical examiner off the ground, then stuffed it in his mouth. In the next second, he had disappeared into a blaze.


Ul reappeared in the office, scorching in passing the edges of the many books and notebooks that were carefully stored on the shelves. He leaned over the corpse and immersed himself in intense reflection. At least that is what his look suggested.

"First, determine time of death."

The devil lifted Theodore Muller's tunic, and observed his belly.

"No green spots. Putrefaction hasn't started yet. So it's been less than 48 hours since our victim died."

"You know, he was still alive when I left around seven. It was when I arrived tonight around six o'clock that he was in this state."

"I see…"

Goat-Skull lifted slightly the head of the corpse and looked at his neck, then he did the same with his pelvis. He noted the slight purplish markings.

"Dead lividity, or Livor Mortis, is light, but still present. So the murder, or accident, happened at least three hours ago. However, this phenomenon reaches its peak around the twelfth hour. Given their almost negligible presence, I think the death was less than six hours ago. Now let's test the Rigor Mortis."

Ul-Akagh opened his mouth slightly, letting a long and thin blackish tongue escape, wagged it slightly, then pulled it back in.

"The air temperature is about 20 degrees Celsius."

He stuck his hands on the jawbone of the body before kneading it.

"The cadaveric rigidities have already taken its temporomandibular joint well. In view of the air temperature, this confirms my previous observations."

Ul reopened his jaw and stuck his tongue against the corpse's forehead, not without getting a chill out of the son.

"Body temperature: roughly thirty-two degrees Celsius. I'm not sure."

"Can't you be more specific?"

"Well, let's say the most accurate places to measure body temperature are the mouth and rectum."

"Ah…"

"So I think I can safely say that the death occurred four or five hours ago, knowing that a body loses about one degree Celsius per hour, and taking into account all the other parameters."

"So you put death at 2:00 or 3:00 pm?"

"More or less."

"And what's the cause of death?"

"I'll get to that, don't rush."

Ul Akagh observed the face of the late Theodore Muller.

"The pupils are whitish. Looks like he was suffering from cataracts. To my knowledge, it's very hard to catch one that developed in less than a year, the date of my last daily visit to you."

"He didn't have one this morning."

"Which makes it even more improbable. The hair, too. They quickly lost their tint, and I assume their length is abnormal."

"Indeed… they were much shorter."

"The skin is wrinkled, the teeth are loose, the flesh is melted…"

Ul-Akagh stood up and seemed to stare at Fabrice. It turned out, in fact, that he was merely staring into oblivion, thinking.

"I first met your father when he was forty-one. The first extension I offered him was for thirty years and the second for twenty-five. The latter was coming to an end. It would appear that their effect has been cancelled, and that on the assumption that he would have lived eighty-five years without any help on my part, we would find ourselves in front of the body of a person of one hundred and forty-one years. In other words, he was killed by death."

"Killed by… death?"

"I mean, it's a figure of speech. I tried to lighten the mood."

Silence.

"…The cause of death seems at first sight to be a multitude of health problems due to old age. My demon-of-the-second-circle senses reveal to me that no anomaly is present. Without context, one could almost say that the death is natural."

"But based on that principle, we can clearly say it is, right? It’s just its cause that is not."

"Unless you ki- young man would know of situations that could cancel a demonic pact and its effects, when the user has respected the terms, you are correct, Master."

His eyes moved towards a bird cage hanging from the ceiling.

"What is this?"

"This? Uh… it's his cockatrice cage, I think, but… it's weird, it's gone."

"Mh. I see."

Ul-Akagh went into the office, to a vast piece of solid wood furniture, on which were stored various devices and loose sheets. A layer of dust covered everything, except for one spot, the only one where nothing was placed. This faint area had the shape of a perfect rectangle about twenty centimeters by ten centimeters. Fabrice spoke again. The demon, for his part, began to search the many notebooks that were lying around.

"Maybe my father hadn't read his contract in its entirety. That's plausible, right?"

"No."

"Why is that?"

"I would have felt it, and I would have abused of my new right to dispose of him as I see fit. That is not the case. Your father was a great magician, and he would never have broken such a simple safety rule."

A few seconds of silence imposed themselves.

"Ah, finally something interesting!"

"What's that?"

"I got my hands on his diary, it seems. And he had an appointment at 2:00 with a guy named G. Aignant."

"Is there any other information about him?"

"A phone number and address."

"We don't have a phone."

"Really? Then can you tell me the way to 8 Avenue du President René Coty?"

"Yes, of course."

"Perfect. This guy was probably the last person to see your father alive."

Ul-Akagh had come out relatively quietly. Outdoors, he felt naked, vulnerable. The eyes were on him. When a bystander photographed him, he almost thanked the bureaucrat who had refused his promotion to demon of the third circle, which would have made him semi-present in the mortal world, and therefore invisible on photographs not taken with a camera equipped with a suitable filter.

He took out of his pocket a pack of Beatrice cigars, and carried one to his mouth. He discreetly lit it with his thumb. Sulphur filled his lungs, or whatever could assure this function in his case. His work was not easy. The quota (imposed by damn managers) of souls of sinners to bring back to Hell and pacts to sign increased cycle after cycle. His desire for a job well done came into conflict with the working conditions to which the hierarchy subjected him, generating stress, which he evacuated as well as he could. And not just him, by the way. All his colleagues were getting into it. Everyone smoked like him, or drank. The manufacturers of Beatrice and Styx, an alcohol based on gourmet's fat, were lining their pockets. One of his colleagues had even resigned and had become a bartender in a human speakeasy.

Still, Ul-Akagh went up Victor Hugo Avenue, in search of a crossroads that would lead him to his destination. He ceased to stare at the sidewalk and stopped suddenly. He was going to have to make a detour. Two hundred meters in front of him was a sanctified cemetery. The place was ridiculously small. The fence was in a terrible state. But he couldn't move on. He was about to cross over to the other side, taking advantage of the green light, when he heard a yawn on his right. A beautiful yawn in C 5.

The demon turned his head towards the spring, located at the bottom of a dark alley, and used his gifts to better distinguish it. It was an old bum with a nauseating smell. The man was leaning against a trash can, staring into nothingness. By sniffing him, Ul learned some information about him. It was Robert Gilly, an ex-physiotherapist, who suffered a drop in the number of patients following rumours that spread doubt about his ability to treat.

Ul-Akagh approached and spoke to him.

"Dr. Gilly, is that you?"

Old Robert turned his dull head towards the man with the goat skull.

"Yeah, that's me. Who the hell are you? I don't recognize you in your mask."

"Oh, I was simply told about your talent for treating back problems. I have by the way a problem in the lower areas. It doesn't sound right."

Gilly giggled.

"You know, I haven't been physio in a long time. And you must be the only person who believes I have a talent for this job. You should go see a real one."

"No, no. Only you can solve my problem."

Ul approached the ex-masseur.

"Ohla, not so close."

The demon grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up.

"Hey, what the hell are you doing?!"

"Robert Gilly. You are accused of envy, lust, sodomy, and therefore violence against your Creator. By virtue of the demon powers of the Second Circle conferred upon me, I condemn your soul to a one-way trip to Hell. However, as stipulated in the third paragraph of article twenty of the rights and duties of the average demons, I am authorized to pick for my personal use a soul harvested from my hands per century. So I spare you the blazing blaze of the Third lap of the Seventh Circle and instead send you to the Second Circle."

With these words, Ul-Akagh caught the sinner, and opened his throat with his sharp teeth. The body went up in smoke, while the organ welcomed a new resident. An additional smell of sulphur was emitted, in addition to that of the Beatrice, which was burning out.

The demon took out a new one and lit it. Footsteps came from outside the alley. Ul turned around, and saw a young woman walking towards him, looking surprised.

"Did you just scream?"

"Hm? No, it came from the street behind."

He smelled a deep smell of lust coming from the woman. He sniffed again, and learned that Justine, as her name was, ran a libertine club. Ul wondered if she should be "picked" right away, before he felt her deep disgust for religion. The sheep was slowly moving away from the sheepfold. That was the reason he left her alive. That and the desire to piss off those fucking managers.

"Sir, are you all right?"

"Yes, yes… I must go."

"I was wondering… how did you make the eyes?"

"Excuse me?"

"The eyes of your suit, there. They seem so… real."

"It's because they're mine."

"Ah, did you wear phosphorescent lenses?"

"No. They're like that naturally. Allow me to introduce myself, Ul-Akagh, demon of the second circle."

"Hahaha, I like people who become their characters. I'm Justine."

"Nice to meet you. But if you'll excuse me…"

"Yes, sorry."

Justine moved, letting Ul-Akagh out of the alley and across Victor Hugo Avenue. He walked for a long time to find a path around the cemetery. This town was filled with dead ends that forced him to turn around. Nothing was worth the small medieval villages, where it was very hard to get lost. Unfortunately, those days were over, and the demon had to deal with it. He let off steam by ransacking a deserted church. Invert the crosses, urinate in holy water, destroy the statues. Nothing was too much when it came to calming his nerves. Those were childish actions, worthy of an imp of the first Circle, but Ul didn't care. He had the opportunity to enjoy himself, he seized his chance.

After this short break, he set off again. The day had set in the meantime. People in suits were multiplying. Fabrice hadn't lied. Many humans, especially children, were disguised, and went door to door to collect sweets. Without saying that he went unnoticed, he was not scaring anyone, which was a first for him. He watched the wanna-be monsters come and go. The rain began to fall. The drops were dripping on Ul-Akagh's bone and horns. It was a rather unpleasant sensation because, not having soft skin to cushion, his bare skull felt the slightest shock.

He entered a deserted street to avoid drawing attention to himself. After a few steps, he saw a glow that was moving. As he approached, he saw that this gleam came from a young woman. Curious, he came closer. It even occurred to him to ask for his way to President René Coty's Avenue. Even more curious than her luminescence, the young woman had deer ears. She looked into his eyes and looked surprised for a few seconds. Then she uttered:

"Aleks? Is that you?"

Although unable to express it openly since his facial muscles were located inside the bone, the presence of the individual did not leave him indifferent.

"Nah. Well, it is. I'm on the second floor now. And they gave me the name Ul-Akagh. It's less human than Aleksander."

"Oh. Glad you got promoted."

"And you, Morgana? What's up? We haven't seen each other in 50 years or so."

"Well… nothing. Always picking up pigeons."

By "pigeons", she meant her victims. Morgan belonged to a different branch of Hell. Her job was not to steal souls, but hope. Demons like that, the Smoothtalkers, were seen as minions. In a way, they were the technicians who arranged for their victims to be inclined to sell their souls to "real" demons in order to find happiness. For that, everything was allowed. To torture physically, psychologically, to aspire the joy of life…

The Smoothtalkers were generally those who failed the first exams.

She asked:

"And you?"

"I'm investigating a murder."

She tittered.

"Is that what is expected from you on the second floor? Assist human justice?"

"No. I'm investigating the murder of my Master's father. And I got lost in this shit town."

"Where do you want to go?"

"Avenue of Président René Coty."

"Oh, I think I know where it is. Shall I take you?"

"If you may."

And they walked together in the rain, remembering the good old days. They laughed, shared anecdotes while smoking, and Morgana told him about the case she was on.

"I've been keeping their kid in a coma for four years and get her to moan from time to time. I never thought I'd get them to back down, but now they're finally ready to sign. I contacted Arnoldo to get him to buy their souls, I don't know if you remember him."

"The one who tried to gouge my eye out at Walpurgis?"

"Yeah, him."

"What happened to him?"

"He's still at the First Circle."

"Ah, he screwed up his interview?"

"No, just that he's not interested in promotion. So we still work together."

"I see…"

They remained silent and arrived at their destination. Ul-Akagh was looking for the number 8. When he turned to Morgana to wish her well, he saw that she had disappeared. He insulted her mentally, before returning to the subject of his investigation. The terraced houses along the avenue were in poor condition. They looked like simple concrete pavers. After some progress, he finally found Aignant's home. It did not stand out from its neighbours, although this one radiated an aura different from those of the others.

Or rather, it was more like the only house that didn't have any. The building was strangely normal, completely sanitized. Ul-Akagh didn't see anyone inside. He went ahead to open the door, but the door was locked. The demon was not surprised, so he snapped his fingers while concentrating on the lock, before pressing on the handle again. It would take a lot more than a lock to stop him. And indeed, there was much more, for the door refused to open.

Ul-Akagh traced in the air a symbol resembling a circle from which a number of broken lines unfolded. If that seal of minor magic didn't work, he would have agreed to tear his eye out.

And unfortunately, the door remained closed. The man with the goat skull screamed internally, before abandoning his attempt to enter it the conventional way. He stood facing the wall, and planted his left hand in his arm, covering his phalanges with a blackish fluid, before drawing a rectangle about one meter by two on the concrete. In place of the route now stood a hole, which closed when the demon crossed it.

Ul-Akagh was in an entrance hall with a sober decoration, but which showed a certain refinement. His left leg was clinging to a potted shrub that he nearly spilled. On the white walls were hung abstract paintings, in dark grey frames. The floor, of the same colour, was covered with a cream carpet. The demon took a deep breath and felt nothing.

No sins, no virtues. Nothing. It was like no one had ever been in here before. Yet everything was well maintained.

He sniffed the air, looking for the way to Aignant's office. He felt nothing again.

"It's not possible."

Ul-Akagh spent the three next minutes searching for what might look like an office. He found the room in question on the first floor, after climbing a relatively narrow staircase. The office was very similar to Theodore Müller's in the arrangement of the furniture. However, the care taken in stocking this room contrasted with the other. The old grimoires and loose sheets were replaced with scientific books, as well as a large number of folders and pockets. The anatomical diagram hung on the wall representing some chimera being the brainchild of a madman was replaced by a frame that contained only these three words: "Nostram Assulam Pavete".

Having found nothing interesting during the search, and not being willing to wait for the owner of the premises to question him before knowing who he was facing, Ul-Akagh decided to use one of his demonic gifts. His eternity allowed his body to endure most non-abnormal physical injuries, and his limbs to remain under his constant control. So he stuck a finger in his orbit, ripping out his right eye. He covered it with a slime before gluing it to the wall of the office. He did the same with his auditory bulb before concealing them from the eyes of mortals with a simple gesture of the hand. Then he disappeared, leaving behind him vague flames and a smell of sulfur.


Ul-Akagh's fingers twirled on the keyboard again. Although his hearing pleasure was reduced by half, the demon remained joyful. The cacophony picked up the slack again. The Night on Bald Mountain mingled with Dante's Symphony to form a magnificent ensemble of cries, all gathered in pain and music. Ul-Akagh liked to combine business with pleasure. Using the suffering of the damned in this way was self-evident, but one had to think about it.

Aldrick appeared and perched on the top of the organ. He took out of his bag a miniature violin, and began to accompany his master, who thanked him with a boot thrown in his face. With the imp on the ground, the demon resumed his digital dance. His hands were juggling notes, chaining fugue to symphony.

He felt liberated. Playing the organ allowed him to relax, while reflecting on the investigation, on which he was not getting anywhere. He was missing something. But what? He continued to play until the final chord, which again mobilized the C5. The ridiculous crackling seemed to make fun of the demon.

They told that at the bottom of the Ninth Circle, in the mouth of the thing that was devouring him again and again, Judas heard Ul-Akagh's howls of rage.

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