Welcome to Hell
Naomi Harper, a recently deceased former secretary-turned-dominatrix, was currently experiencing her afterlife at a rate of several WTFs per minute. After being made to endure several gruesome trials that were nothing short of traumatic, she now found herself waiting to be judged by King Enma… who was currently on his lunch break.
'Seriously… the fuck is going on here!?' Naomi thought, sweating nervously while she waited at the front of the line in seiza, guarded by two armed and fierce-looking oni.
First, three oni had just randomly showed up out of nowhere and dragged her off on a seven day journey wrought with darkness, hurricane force winds, and flying swords. A few days into the journey she was assaulted by horrible birds that tore at her skin and tried to pluck out her eyes, while taunting and screaming at her to hurry up. Next, she and the other souls came to an enormous mountain that was covered in sharp thorns and scraped the clouds. The path up the mountain was steep and impossibly long, and anyone who lagged behind got hit by the oni's spiked iron club.
Finally, after seven days, she arrived at this really creepy looking river, where she faced the first trial put forth by the first judge, a guy calling himself 'King Shinkou'. Shinkou then judged her and the other souls by how much killing they had committed, down to every bug that was squashed and every fish that was caught. Quite a few of the others were sent straight to Jigoku, while she and the remaining souls were told to cross the river. Where they were allowed to cross over depended entirely on the results of their trial. The souls with the most good deeds were allowed to cross the bridge. Those with a mixture of both good and evil were allowed to ford the river in the shallow part. The worst of the souls could only cross by swimming through snake-filled rapids. Naomi loved animals and wasn't even bothered by most insects, but because she had grown up fishing and all of the cockroaches that she had exterminated over the years, she had to wade through the shallow part. After crossing the river, she and the other souls encountered a scantily clad, saggy-breasted old woman called the Stripping Hag and a guy named Ken-e-ou. True to her name, the old hag forcefully stripped them of their clothes and hung them on the tree she was sitting under. The amount the branch bended under the weight of the clothes served as a measure of the weight of the sin on each soul, to be used as evidence in the trials to come. Despite her work as a dominatrix, Naomi was actually rather shy about this sort of thing and found the experience very embarrassing; but she was still better off than the souls who arrived with no clothes (some had discarded or lost them while swimming in the river), because the Stripping Hag would then flay his or her skin and hang it from the tree instead.
The second trial took place fourteen days after death, and was overseen by King Shokou. Shokou judged the souls on how much they had stolen. As with the previous trial, he sent the most grievous offenders straight to Hell, and allowed the good to pass on to the next trial. The fourteenth day after death is an important day for family members to perform ceremonies in honor of the deceased, in order to help him or her pass this trial. Since no one in her family was Buddhist, it was very fortunate for Naomi that she had never stolen anything before.
Before the third trial, each soul had to pass through a fortified gate that was guarded by a fierce oni. The oni wielded large blades, which he used to haphazardly chop off the arms and legs of the souls, saying stuff like, "That hand helped you to sin. I'll cut if off for you!" Unfortunately for Naomi he got one of her legs, and she had to crawl along the ground until it regenerated. She and the other souls then had to cross an enormous bay, wider than the river they had previously crossed, and filled with boiling liquid. The river gave off foul smelling fumes in all directions for many miles. The third trial took place 21 days after death, and was overseen by King Soutei. Soutei judges the souls on their sins of lust and sexuality, using a cat and a snake. The cat is used to judge the souls of men, and the snake is used to judge the souls of women; but since this story is rated 'T', the rest of the process has been deemed too graphic to be described. The mere memory of the traumatic event made Naomi shudder. She felt so violated… As before, some went on to Hell, while others—with the aid of funerary services from their surviving family members—passed on to the next trial. Despite how harrowing she found the experience, Naomi somehow managed to pass this one as well, and proceeded on to the next trial.
The fourth trial, 28 days after death, was overseen by King Gokan. Gokan judged the dead on the number of lies they told in life. He weighed each soul against a large, heavy stone. The number of stones it takes the balance the scale determines the weight of one's sins. Excessive liars are damned, and those who are not may continue on to be judged again. Once again, the family is supposed to hold a funerary service to aid their beloved departed in this trial, hoping to sway the mercy of the judge. Fortunately for Naomi, the lies she had told (while more numerous than she had realized) were very small, and once again she somehow managed to pass.
Next, she and the other souls had to cross a vast blasted, desolate landscape of unfathomable length. Balls of red-hot iron fell constantly like rain from the sky, burning the skin of the souls and causing their feet to blister as they walked the path to the next trial. Which finally brings us up to the present: the fifth trial, which takes place 35 days after death, and is overseen by the Great King Enma, who is the ruler of the underworld… and apparently a big fan of long lunches. Just how much longer was he going to make them wait? Her legs were going numb kneeling there.
"Ha-ah." King Enma sighed tiredly as he sat in the cafeteria, picking at his food. Lately they had been so swamped with work due to a sudden spike in suicides during this latest ongoing economic slump that even Hōzuki was beginning to feel the stress, and when Hōzuki was stressed, everyone suffered, especially Enma who was the most frequent target of his venting violence. 'There must be something I can do to improve the situation…' He thought with another heavy sigh, just when a commercial on the TV suddenly grabbed his attention.
[Are you being swamped with too much work to organize and to sort out yourself? Tired of being bombarded with calls you don't have time to take? Having trouble keeping track of all your appointments? Sick of doing all your own filing and paperwork? Looking to reduce the stress in your life?] Enma immediately perked up and whipped his head around to watch the ad for an agency promoting skilled secretaries.
"That's it! I should get Hōzuki-kun a secretary!" He cried excitedly. "Ah, but that's for the mortal world…" He realized, visibly wilting as he remembered how understaffed they already were. None of the existing minions could be spared for something like this, and a lot of them would probably need training. If only he could find someone down here who was free and already skilled in both administrative work and torture…
Back in the hall of Enma's court, Naomi's sneeze echoed through the halls.
"Achoo!" It was so loud and unexpected that the two oni guarding her actually flinched.
"Hey, cut that out!" the one with the afro scolded her sternly. "You trying to give us a heart attack or something?"
"Uh, my bad…?" Naomi said, sweat-dropping, as she wiped her nose, bemused by their reaction. How could creatures capable of mercilessly inflicting so much pain and trauma on others be scared of something like a sneeze? Weren't they supposed to be demons?
"Tch. I see Enma-sama has yet to return. He'd better not be late for the judging." She heard a familiar voice remark moodily, causing her head to snap back up as her eyes widened in surprise and recognition.
"Ah!" She shouted, pointing at the handsome man/oni with only one horn who had just entered the hall, getting his attention. "It's you!" She said, causing her guards to flinch again as they stared at her in shock.
'You?' Did this girl have any idea who she was talking to!? What was she thinking!? That was Hōzuki-sama!! Daring to address him so familiarly… They shuddered to think what he might—
"Oh, it's the girl from the zoo." Hōzuki said calmly, recognizing her almost immediately. She was the one who had put him onto the Ueno Zoo. "I didn't expect to see you so soon." Especially not down there. When she had given him, a stranger she hadn't spoken more than two words to, the second half of a pair of special backstage passes for a behind the scenes look at some of the animal feedings without any obligations or strings attached and had walked away without bothering him any further or asking for anything in return simply because the friend she was supposed to go with had canceled, he had thought she must be some kind of saint. But obviously not, seeing as she was now in Hell.
"Same here." Naomi replied with a wry smile, looking strangely relieved. "But since you are here, it explains a lot. Everything was so horribly vivid that I had started to panic, but now I finally get what's going on here. I'm just having a really disturbing nightmare!" She exclaimed brightly, wiping the sweat from her brow as she exhaled a sweet sigh of relief.
"… Whatever gave you that idea?" Hōzuki asked with a brief glance at the clock, taking note that Enma now only had two minutes left.
"Well, I've heard the faces of people you see in your dreams are often borrowed from those of people you've met or seen before in real life. That's what this is, right?" She said explained nonchalantly with a shrug. "I mean, why else would you suddenly be an oni?"
"It's not sudden. I've always been one." Hōzuki replied matter-of-factly.
"… Are you trying to tell me that hat was just there to cover your horn and ears?" Naomi asked dubiously, raising an eyebrow. "Isn't that kind of disguise a bit too half-assed? You might as well have just walked around without it and pretended to be a cosplayer."
"Ah." Hōzuki said, hitting one of his hands against the open palm of the other in a sort of 'ah-ha!' gesture. "I see, so there was that option, too…" He said thoughtfully, as though he were beginning to seriously consider trying it, although he doubted it would work outside of Japan. "However, escaping into denial won't save you now." He stated more seriously, looking straight at her. "Haven't you already experienced a number of trials before reaching this point? You should already know by now how real everything you're experiencing is based on pain alone." His withering stare was completely wasted on her.
"Yeah, sure. Whatever you say, fellow animal-lover. It's true that I've been through some excruciating stuff that would probably curl my shrink's hair, but on the other hand, dreams always seem to make sense and feel real while you're having them. It's typically only after you wake up when you realize how weird and unrealistic most of it was." Naomi said carelessly with a wave of her hand, determined not to let anything else upset her.
"Well, that may be true…" Hōzuki conceded coolly. "But this isn't some dream. This is reality, so wake up and smell the brimstone already."
'This new soul has a lot of guts!!' The other oni minions thought, gulping nervously as they watched the exchange. Whether it was due to bravery or just an overly abundant dose of stupidity, the fact that she could talk back to one of the most fearsome beings in Hell so easily and so fearlessly was impressive!
"Ah~ That was a good lunch!" Enma said as he entered the hall at that moment, finally deigning to join them.
"You're half a minute late." Hōzuki said strictly as the big boss took a seat behind his skull-lined desk to begin the judging.
"Geez, you're always so strict and nagging, Hōzuki-kun…" Enma mumbled with a frown as his able assistant handed him the scrolls for this next batch of souls. "Hmm? 'Naomi Harper'?" He asked aloud as he read, looking up as she was grabbed by the guards and dragged to stand before him. He was surprised by the data listed below her name. Even though Japan was slightly less homogenous than it used to be in the past, it was still unusual to see a foreign name on their list. And there was also the matter of her chosen occupations… It was an odd leap to go from respectable secretary to dominatrix, wasn't it? From the looks of things, this girl had lived a pretty eventful life.
"Uh, thanks, guys, but you know I can walk on my own, right?" Naomi told the two oni gripping her arms, sweat-dropping.
"It's to make sure you won't run away when you hear your sentence." Hōzuki deadpanned.
"Which is?" Naomi prompted, gesturing for them to get on with it.
"Uh, hey, Hōzuki-kun… is it just me, or does this one seem a little strange?" Enma asked, sweat-dropping at her blasé attitude. Most souls were usually petrified with fear and/or begging for their lives by this point. And why was she acting so familiar? It almost sounded like they knew each other.
"Oh, that may be my fault." Hōzuki said, surprising him. "I happened to encounter her once before during a business trip to the living world. After seeing me she suddenly relaxed and lost all fear. Humans these days…" He muttered darkly, furrowing his brow slightly.
"Well, no offense to the others, but after looking at their ugly mugs, it's super refreshing to see a bishi again." Naomi said with a careless shrug and a wry smile. Besides, she already knew he was an animal lover. Oni or not, he couldn't be all bad.
"Eh?" Enma said, glancing between Hōzuki and Naomi in shock as they continued to banter with each other in an almost friendly manner, stunned. To think that someone would have the guts to talk back to Hōzuki… and was it just his imagination, or did they seem to be getting along? He had never seen Hōzuki bother to directly acknowledge a soul of the deceased to this extent before.
"Hmph. You won't be smiling once your punishment begins." Hōzuki told her. "Killing, lying, perverse debauchery, and having held thoughts or beliefs contrary to Buddhist teachings—At a glance it's quite obvious that you're destined for the Burning Hell."
"What's that?" Naomi asked, furrowing her brow slightly in confusion. "Like you said, I'm not Buddhist, so I have no clue what that means."
"In that particular part of Hell, the tortured souls are typically beaten with red-hot iron clubs. They also have hot skewers thrust through their mouths and out their anuses, and are broiled over a great sea of fire. A lifespan in this hell lasts 16,000 years, one day of which equals 16,000 years in Takejizai-ten, where one day is equivalent to 1,600 years on Earth. A soul damned there usually spends the equivalent of 54.5 quadrillion Earth-years being punished in this way."
"Oh… Ew." Naomi said, wrinkling her nose slightly, as she grimaced and winced in disgust, taking a moment to imagine all the horror and pain. "So glad this is a dream!"
"Huh?" Enma said, blinking in confusion.
"You're still saying that?" Hōzuki asked sternly with a frown. What was he going to have to do in order to make her understand the reality of the current situation, beat it into her?
"Well, no matter how much you insist this is all really happening, I find it hard to believe I could go to Hell without dying. I mean, I think I'm still too young to have died of natural causes, so it's not like I could have died in my sleep or anything." Naomi pointed out rather reasonably. "And if I really did die, then it would probably have been caused by some sort of violence or trauma, because there aren't that many illnesses that can kill you that quickly nowadays, and I'm pretty sure I'd remember being beaten to death, or something like that…"
"Oh, I see. You're one of those." Hōzuki said with an annoyed sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose as he felt a headache coming on.
"Ah, that's right. We do get cases like this from time to time: people who for some reason or another can't remember their death." Enma said, nodding his head in understanding, while Hōzuki picked up the remote for the Mirror and began searching for the marked time in his notes, fast-forwarding through her childhood and other significant human milestones.
"There." Hōzuki said, stopping a minute or two before the moment of her death. "Now watch and pay attention. I'm only going to do this once." He told her strictly. It was a pain to have to rewind. He pressed 'play', and they all watched as a very drunk and dazed-looking Naomi was dragged out of a bar, supported by two other very attractive women.
"Oh!" Naomi gasped in realization as she watched. That's right, the last thing she remembered was that she had been at a bar with her boss and a couple sempais from the club just before all this craziness started…
[Geez! I told you not to make her drink so much, Mi-chan!] Asuka-sempai, their S&M club's best masochist, chided their boss, Asami with a frown.
[What are you talking about? When trying to get over a broken heart, isn't it best to drink until you forget?] Asami retorted haughtily with a frown.
At this, Hōzuki and the others in the room all glanced at poor Naomi, who shifted uncomfortably under their scrutiny.
"Yeah, that's right—my boyfriend dumped me, right after I found out he was cheating on me and confronted him about it—I was having a rough week! Got a problem with that?" She snapped defiantly, blushing a little out of embarrassment as the airing of her dirty laundry continued.
[I still can't believe that bastard! I won't forgive him for making our cute little Nao-chan cry like that… I say we abduct his ass and teach him a lesson.] Asami stated darkly, emitting a murderous aura.
[No, that would be a crime.] Asuka retorted hastily as she hailed a cab.
[Tch!] Asami clicked her tongue in disappointment as it pulled up to the curb. [It'd be better if she could just give up on men all together. They're all a bunch of useless and boring losers to begin with, and in this line of business it's really hard to meet someone who isn't a complete nutcase, because all of the supposedly 'good guys' are either taken or too chicken-shit to keep dating her once they find out she works for us as an 'S'… We all know it's just an act. It's not like she's actually into it.] She grumbled while they maneuvered the unconscious Naomi into the back seat. [On the contrary, she's even though she's really pure for someone in the sex trade! I was kind of worried about how things would work out in the beginning because of that, but now I wish I had ten more like her! She never sleeps with the clients, and she's really popular, and the fact that she can deliver such hardcore punishment while staying completely professional is what's so great about her!!] She gushed enthusiastically, clenching her fist. [If it were me, I'd…] Asami suddenly paused in the middle of closing the door while Asuka was giving the driver Naomi's address. [I'd better go with her, just to make sure she makes it home safely, in case someone dangerous tries to take advantage of her in her weakened state.] She said determinedly with a lecherous grin, practically drooling as she imagined finally having Naomi all to herself.
[You're the dangerous one!!] Asuka snapped at their boss, stopping her as she tried to slip into the cab, quickly slamming the door shut so the cabbie could leave.
Naomi sweat-dropped, eternally grateful to her sempai for the intervention. Putting aside the fact that she just wasn't interested in other girls that way, it would've been extremely awkward to wake up naked next to the boss, who unlike Naomi, who only acted out the part of an 'S' for work, was a real sadist and known for being extremely fond of the kind of play that was too graphic and disturbing to be considered legal in most parts of the world. Naomi had really dodged a bullet there.
"!?" Naomi gasped when the cab suddenly crashed into the truck that had suddenly slammed its brakes on right in front of it. Her eyes widened, watching in slow motion as the cabbie's head slammed into the steering wheel, and a long metal pole came shooting off the back of the truck through the windshield, passing over the cabbie's head, through the gap between his seat and its headrest, straight into Naomi's head, piercing through her left eye and brain all the way to the back of her skull. Death had been instantaneous.
"And there you have it, the exact moment of your death." Hōzuki said, stopping the playback so that it was paused on the image of her sitting there lifelessly with the pole stabbed through her head. "It's no wonder you can't remember it, since you somehow managed to sleep through the whole thing."
"…" Naomi stared at the screen in shock. She couldn't believe it. She didn't want to believe it! "Fuck…!!" She shouted, shaking as she crumbled to the floor, slamming her fists on the ground. "The hell's up with this Final Destination shit!?"
'Ah, she's so shaken that she's reverted to her native language…' Enma and Hōzuki thought as they watched her explode. It would seem she was finally moving on from the first stage of dying, 'denial', to 'anger'.
"Now, now, Naomi-san…" Enma said with a nervous smile, trying to calm her down. "Girls shouldn't talk like that…"
"That's right. This is Jigoku, the Japanese Hell, so speak Japanese." Hōzuki stated coolly.
"No, that's not what I—" Enma started to say, when Naomi's head abruptly snapped up, glaring at them with an intense flame of defiance burning in her eyes.
"Speaking of which, why am I even here to begin with!?" She demanded hotly. "This is clearly a hell for Buddhists, so aren't I in the wrong place? You should've at least put me in the Catholic/Christian Hell!! At least I might actually stand a chance there!"
"Ah, that's true… It says here she went to confession just a couple of days ago. By their standards, she'd probably get off almost scott-free." Enma commented after a quick glance back at her scroll, where someone had made a special note. He was kind of starting to feel sorry for her after finding out she'd been dumped so harshly just before getting shipped off to Hell. This poor girl's luck was the worst. It would seem she really hadn't slept with any of her customers. The only thing she was guilty of in relation to her work as a dominatrix was abusing and humiliating people who wanted it… And she only turned to that out of desperation after the company she used to work at as a secretary went bankrupt because the CEO was caught up in a huge embezzling scandal, and no one else would hire her because they felt she was tainted by association, even though she was completely innocent.
"They have their rules, and we have ours!" Hōzuki reminded him strictly, cracking the floor as he slammed the end of his iron club into it for emphasis. Confession was such a cop-out. If an apology could solve everything, then there wouldn't be a need for the police. "As for why you're here," he said, addressing Naomi, "you appear to be under the impression that all souls are sorted out and sent to whatever afterlife corresponds with their chosen faith in life, but that isn't the case. Doing that would be far too troublesome and time consuming, so it was decided the afterlife would be divided up and sorted out by country and region. It's not a matter of religion but geography!" he declared boldly.
"!!" Naomi gasped in shock, so appalled that she looked like a tragic heroine straight out of a vintage shoujo manga as lightning flashed in the background behind her. "No way! But I was born in America! I know I applied for Japanese citizenship, but it's not like it was official or—"
"Actually it was." Hōzuki said, interrupting her to switch the view of the Mirror to show the arrival of her official certificate of citizenship in the mail while she was out. "Congratulations, you were approved and made an official citizen of Japan just in time to qualify for Japanese Hell."
"ASASDFGHJ #$%^&!!!" Naomi cursed, nearly ripping her hair out in frustration. They couldn't have held off on that for just a little longer!?
"And even if you didn't engage in sexual intercourse with your 'clients', you're still guilty of seducing and leading others down a path of perversion." Hōzuki continued while he had her on the ropes. "You need to be properly disciplined for your actions."
"O… Objection!!" She shouted desperately, raising her hand to point a finger at him.
"Overruled!!" He retorted without hesitation. "Who do you think you are, Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright!?"
"B-But I never actively recruited or enticed anyone into entering the club!!" Naomi protested, entering the bargaining stage. "They came in on their own! They would've been running full-speed down that path sooner or later whether I did anything to them or not!"
"Even so, you enjoyed it, didn't you?" Hōzuki pressed as he loomed over her ominously.
"N-No! I mean… I admit that occasionally it felt kind of good as an outlet to relieve all the pent up stress in my life… B-But it's not like I got off on it!!" Naomi stammered defensively, starting to panic as he leaned in closer and began needling her in the cheek with the tip of his club. Her face flushed uncomfortably as she tried to scoot back to put some distance between them. "Anyway, you're too close! Way too close!" His good looks were even more lethal than his weapon at this range!
"Hoh…?" Hōzuki hummed, watching her like a hawk through slanted eyes, as he placed a hand on top of her head in a vice-like grip to keep her from squirming away. "You have a lot of guts to still be talking back in this situation." That panicked expression wasn't bad.
"Well, I'm already going to Hell…" She pointed out glumly, sweating nervously under his intense scrutiny. "At this point, I think it's pretty much either go big or go home…"
"No, you can't go home because you're dead." He reminded her bluntly.
'Hōzuki-kun… It almost looks like he's having fun…' Enma thought, sweat-dropping. It was like watching a cat toy with its food. Enma glanced back down at Naomi's scroll. An ex secretary/dominatrix, huh? His eyes suddenly widened in realization. 'Hey, wait a minute… Isn't this kid exactly what we need!?' He thought excitedly as he was overcome with a stroke of genius, jumping up out of his chair so fast, everyone in the hall immediately stopped what they were doing, taken aback. "Naomi Harper!" His voice boomed, echoing through the hall as he whipped his fan out and pointed it at her.
"Y-Yes?" Naomi stammered, looking slightly startled by the sudden change in his demeanor. Now that he was serious, he finally looked the part as the Great King of Hell.
"For your sins, I hereby judge you to be sent to the Burning Hell, where you are to endure 8,000 years of torture with red-hot irons!" Enma announced, causing her jaw to drop as she paled and turned blue in the face, understandably horrified by the verdict. "Or so, I might normally say…" He said, stopping the guards when they moved to take her away. "But I have an even better idea. Instead, I'm going to have you pay off your sins… through community service!" He declared boldly. Now it was his minions' turns to be shocked.
"Community service…?" Hōzuki asked, furrowing his brow slightly.
"Yep! Since we're so short-handed, I was thinking she could be your secretary." Enma said brightly, looking rather proud of himself. "What do you say, Hōzuki-kun? Isn't it a great idea?" For a moment, the entire hall was so silent you could have heard a pin drop.
"E—EEEEEEHHHHH!?" Naomi and the others all shouted incredulously in disbelief, positively stunned by this unexpected turn of events.