I found myself standing on a long, winding desert road. The Devil walked a ways ahead of me, following the pavement. He had about a fifty foot lead on me. I started walking quickly to try and close the gap between us.
The intense heat didn’t seem to bother the Devil, despite his all-black attire. Though he walked calmly, he moved at a surprisingly quick pace. The back of his head remained an unusual sight for me. An occasional hot breeze billowed his curly hair and jacket behind him, but his top hat always remained firmly in place.
On either side of this barren highway was a vast expanse of sand. The land itself would be flat enough to see to the horizon if not for some plateaus in the distance. In the time that we followed this road, not a single car came by. The only landmark along the road was an isolated house a mile or so ahead of us.
“Where the Hell are we going?” I asked, still a good twenty-five feet behind the Devil.
“We’re going to have a little chat with Marco,” he answered, still flustered from before.
“Toni’s brother,” he sighed, “and likely also your ‘M.G.’”
“Toni had a brother? Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“Would you have cared before now?”
“I--” I paused, shaking my head, “I guess not.”
“As you’ve probably figured, that house in the distance is where we’ll find him. This place is his punishment, or rather, his attempt at redemption.”
“During his life, Marco was an infamously cutthroat crime lord. In his day, he was as bad as they came,” the Devil stood pondering his statement, “Or maybe he’s just caused me so much grief that I’ve forgotten any others.”
“He’s that bad?” I asked, trying to take in as much information from this impromptu history lesson as possible. It wasn’t often that the Devil opened up about the happenings of the past.
“He spent the first twenty-two years after his death being a royal pain in my ass. The last time I judged him, he should have gone to the Pit.”
“Why didn’t he?”
“I spared him. He’d gotten slow, sloppy. He’d grown tired of his own games. Marco asked for one last chance. He wanted to retire and put it all behind him.”
“And you let him off that easily?”
“Hey, I’m not as cold as you make me out to be!”
“But you really thought someone like that would change?”
“Of course not. But being faced with his own mortality, I think anyone would make the same cowardly choice. He’s spent the last eighteen years here without incident.”
“And where does Toni fit into this?”
“The pair of them used to be a duo. Whenever one was involved, sure enough the other one would be. But that changed around the same time.”
“Toni settled into Milton and laid low until recently.” I concluded.
“That’s right. Toni stopped being a problem. The brothers split and Marco continued his trouble-making.”
“But it’s been so many years. Could they have been in contact with each other?”
“No, that would be impossible. If they did conspire on recent events... they did so a long time ago.”
“So do you think Marco’s dangerous?” I asked.
“Maybe, I don’t know for sure.”
“So that’s why we’re walking...” I trailed off.
“Better than being ambushed, right?” the Devil asked with a smirk.
We approached Marco’s lone desert house. Bright and pristine white paint to help repel the extreme heat. The house was a little small, though no smaller than my first house. There was a porch in front with a few dusty chairs.
“Well, here we are.” The Devil said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
We crept up the porch and stopped in front of the door. In a sharp contrast to the rest of the house, the door was painted jet black. While everything around us seemed to glow in the sun, this door absorbed any light that dared to come near it.
“Prepare yourself,” the Devil warned. I took a deep breath, clenched my fists, and braced myself for what could be inside. The Devil reached for the door, clenched his own fist and... casually knocked on it.
“Come in,” a raspy voice called from inside.
The Devil reached for the knob and slowly opened the door. I don’t know what I expected to see inside. A suited man, armed to the teeth, ready to blow our brains out? A burly man wielding a battleaxe? Maybe a psychopath strapped with a vest of dynamite. What I wasn’t expecting was a harmless old man.
Marco looked to be about a hundred years old. His skin was wrinkled and discolored in spots. He sported a passing resemblance to Toni, though if you weren’t looking for it you probably wouldn’t notice. Though he lounged on his couch, he was dressed rather formally for the occasion, with a button up shirt and khaki pants. He wore dress shoes, and had his feet up on a coffee table.
“Welcome to my home,” he greeted, extending his arms. “I don’t get visitors here very often.”
“Wasn’t that the point?” asked the Devil, unimpressed.
“Yeah, so? In eighteen years, you couldn’t bring yourself to visit even once?” Removing his feet from the table, Marco leaned forward and motioned toward a pair of wooden chairs on the far wall. “Come on, make yourselves at home already.”
The Devil entered the room first. He dragged the two chairs to the center of the room, facing them toward Marco. The Devil sat down in the chair he’d placed farthest from the door, all the while the impassive look remained stuck on his face.
“I know it’s not quite as comfortable as the chair you’re used to, but you could at least try not to look like you’re in pain,” Marco taunted the Devil. Turning to me, he said, “And you must be Axel, the Devil’s right-hand. I’ve heard stories of you. Word travels faster in this afterlife than you’d think.”
I tried to look friendly as I took the other chair. Before I could sit, Marco cut me off with an exaggerated handshake. “So what’s it like working for this guy?” he asked me nonchalantly. “I bet he’s a hardass!”
I sat down silently, mouth half-open, not sure how to respond or if I even should. Marco meanwhile, returned to his couch.
“Has he ever told you that you aren’t the first person to serve him?” Marco asked with a smirk, “Oh yeah, there’s been tons of them. You’ve had more predecessors than I could count. I was responsible for breaking quite a few of them in,” his smile grew. “Well, perhaps it was more breaking them outright, but the point remains.”
“Ahem,” the Devil cleared his throat, “We’re here on business.”
“Of course,” Marco nodded, “My brother’s not causing trouble again is he?”
“Your brother’s gone,” I replied coldly.
“Really? That’s unfortunate. I’d hoped he’d given up his bothersome ways.” At another annoyed look from the Devil, Marco put away his friendly attitude and spoke seriously, “Alright, then why have you suddenly decided to pay me a visit?”
“You haven’t aged well,” answered the Devil in the same joking tone that Marco had been using.
“That’s what happens when you’re left alone with nothing to do,” replied Marco. “You get tired and old.”
“Drop the act!” I yelled. “Awhile back I found a document with your initials on it. You’re the kingpin of the pentagram gang, aren’t you?
“That’s a little ludicrous, isn’t it? I’m sure there’s a lot of individuals in this afterlife that share my humble initials.” Marco looked from me to the Devil, hoping for a reaction to my accusation. “Come on Devil, the two of us go way back. You don’t believe this nonsense do you?”
“Sorry, I wouldn’t call a couple of decades ‘way back’, especially the way I remember them happening. So, what exactly have you been up to all this time?”
After pacing around the room, Marco had returned to his seat. “A little of this, a little of that. Retired life isn’t all that bad, you should try it sometime.”
“I’ll pass.” The Devil’s tolerance of Marco’s antics was running out. “People are disappearing from my afterlife,” he said with a stern gaze, “You can imagine how that makes me feel.”
“Yes, you used to have quite the temper,” taunted Marco. He turned toward me and added, “Trust me, you do not want to piss this guy off. There might as well be a volcano hiding under that top hat.”
“Last chance,” the Devil declared. “Tell me what you know about the disappearances! What have you done?!”
“Now, that sounds a lot like a threat,” Marco said unphased by the Devil’s anger. His lighthearted demeanor had faded, but Marco showed no restraint, meeting the Devil’s gaze head on. “Tell me, just what exactly are you planning to do to me? Send me to the Pit like you should have?”
The Devil’s patience had worn thin. He rose to his feet. From the inside of his coat, the Devil pulled out a remarkably familiar gun. Identical to mine in almost every way, it sported a black finish unlike my polished silver. Etched into the side of this weapon was the same lettering mine had, however, his glowed a deep bloody red.
“Enough of your bullshit!” the Devil’s voice boomed. The windows had darkened and all the light seemed to be sucked out of the room. The Devil’s voice had an odd echo to it. I was startled when I realized what I was hearing.
Before me stood no less than three of the Devil. One stood to Marco’s right, one to his left, and one in front of him. All three had their weapon pointed at his head.
Marco began to laugh hysterically. “Not in a mood for games, huh?” he asked. “I guess I can’t blame you, an eternity on that throne would get to me too.”
“Marco Giuliani, you stand accused of bringing chaos to my afterlife! However you plead is irrelevant. I sentence you to an eternity of suffering in the Pit!”
“I wouldn’t do that!” a voice called out. Next to the Devil on the right was the mysterious hooded man I’d unfortunately come to know so well. To the Devil’s head, he held a gun of his own. “You forgot to tell them your plan boss.”
“Right! Of course!” Marco exclaimed. “Old age isn’t kind. It doesn’t really suit me, does it?” As soon as he asked his question, his appearance began to change. No longer was he a helpless old man. He continued to get younger until his appearance was the spitting image of Toni. Marco was nearly identical to his brother.
“Oh well, it’s of little consequence now,” Marco continued. “Suffice it to say, I’ve put into place some countermeasures should any harm come to me.
I stood helpless, not wanting to act for fear of making the situation worse. What would happen if the Devil were killed here and now? I didn’t want to risk finding out.
“Let’s just say we predicted your arrival rather easily,” the hooded figure spoke. “I think you’d better lower your weapon before someone gets hurt.”
The Devil complied. I went from helpless to paralyzed. He lowered his weapon and returned it to the inside of his leather coat. Finally, he raised his hands in the air to surrender.
“Good,” Marco gloated, “Glad to see the all mighty Devil be so submissive. It’s been fun catching up, really, but now I’m afraid I’ve got to take my leave.” Marco walked around the Devil on the left and headed for the door. Keeping aim at the Devil, the hooded figure followed after Marco.
“See you soon Axel,” he said. The way he said it made me assume that, underneath his hood, a wink must have accompanied the statement. The pair left the building, slamming the door behind them.
“Dammit!” the Devil cried. He dropped to his knees and slammed his fists on the floor. In that moment, I realized that there was now, once again, only one of the Devil in the room.
“Now what?” I sighed.
“We head home. Come up with a plan,” the Devil said. Though his words were clear, there was none of his usual confidence behind them. “I hate being right,” he commented, rising from the floor.
“That old man act would have fooled anyone. There’s no use being upset over it.” I knew my words were wasted breath, but it was all I could think to say.
“Not about that,” the Devil replied. “Marco has made a pact with the Old Guy. I’m afraid there might be no stopping him now.” The Devil sounded defeated. I had never heard him so distraught.
“How? He’s been stuck here all this time, just like you said.”
“Because I was blind and stupid!” he yelled. All the fires of Hell roared in his voice. “I let this happen!”
“Hey, calm down. Start from the beginning, tell me what’s going on here.” I asked.
“Marco and Toni are twins! I sent Toni to the Pit. How could I have been so stupid?!”
“I don’t get it,” I shrugged.
“Twins share a soul. I’ve told you that before. By sending Toni to the Pit, I was indirectly sending half of Marco as well. Toni made a deal with the Old Guy, and Marco’s reaping all the benefits!”
“What?” The weight of the situation almost knocked me from my feet. Twins share a soul. That was a lesson I shouldn’t have forgotten. When a twin dies during their life, their ‘half’ of the soul is always sent back to the world of the living. Sometimes a surviving twin will still feel the presence of their counterpart, like they’re being watched over. That isn’t far from the truth.
Marco had used this to his advantage. He’d tricked his own brother into condemning himself just to reap the rewards. Now the Devil’s description of “as bad as they come” seemed fitting of the fake old man.
“I shouldn’t have come here,” the Devil stated. “I’ve left myself vulnerable. They could have ended me right then.”
“But they didn’t,” I added, “so there must be something they want from you.”
“Yeah,” he trailed off. Though the Devil tried to look tough, I could see how broken he really was. He stood there in shock. For the first time in an eternity, he didn’t feel he had control of the situation.
“I’ll go after them!” I exclaimed, trying to take charge. “You should head back to the Throne Realm. I’ll bring an end to this.”
Upon seeing my determination, the Devil regained some of his composure. “Alright! Now that’s what I pay you for!”
“You don’t pay me,” I said unimpressed.
“Details, details,” he closed his eyes to focus for a minute. “They went to City-Life 452, just north of Jameson. If you hurry, you should be able to catch up to them.”
“Near the Yamato Corporation, makes sense.” I shut my own eyes and focused on the street corner I’d infiltrated the building from. It was the closest I’d been to the north end of the city, so it would have to do. I’d have to be quick!
“Good Luck,” the Devil said with a nod.