Word Count: 1732
A/N: Written for musemuggers Challenge #533, Option #1. This is the ongoing saga of the Devil and his sidekick, Smee.
“Sir! I need to speak with you.” Smee, the Devil’s right-hand man, entered Limbo bearing several ledger books and wearing his customary green visor that meant a financial reckoning was close at hand.
The Devil nodded, aware of how debonair he appeared with the light of the river Acheron glinting off his pompadour. “Just the man I wanted to see.”
“I … really? Because I’ve been sending you texts for three days. We need to go over the budget,” Smee said.
The Devil shrugged. “I had to oversee the panderers on Eight, and you know how the reception is down there.” He pulled his phone out of his cape and made a show of scrolling through the screens. “Yep, yep, look at that. I see now that you were trying to get ahold of me.”
“Right.” Smee cleared his throat. “Well, the important thing is that I found you. The abysmal valley here is as good a place as any to go over the ledger. I found some extra cash from the increase in Charon’s levy—a brilliant idea on my part, if I do say do myself—that I do believe we can begin shoring up the wall in the City of Dis. It’s in a bad way and it’s just a matter of time before someone gets hurt. The Epicureans have started a petition to have it condemned. I’m sure we can get some of the violents to do most of the hard labor once we procure the goods; it’s amazing how much energy they have. Attila actually has some really great ideas about architecture, too. I lent him my book on flying buttresses and he’s a natural. So if you can just sign this document authorizing the dissolution of the cross-ring boundary—”
The Devil held up a claw. “That’s all very interesting—” It wasn’t, of course, “but it’s an amazing coincidence that you found me, Smee, because I was just on my way to speak to you anyway.”
“It wasn’t a coincidence at all. I’ve been trying to find you for three—”
“I don’t have time to discuss budgets,” the Devil went on. “I’ve been giving it some thought, and it occurs to me that I need to take a field trip.”
Smee pushed his glasses up on his nose. “A what, sir?”
“I need to get out more in the world. See the earth,” the Devil said. “I need to be a presence.”
“I see, sir,” Smee said, although it was possible that he didn’t. “Can we go over the budget first? I’d really like to make sure that we keep the sword-wielding demon hacks under lock and key since that last incident, and if we don’t have enough money—”
“That’s not really my area of expertise,” the Devil said. “I realized that I’m not happy at a desk job, you know? I have to be out, doing things.”
“Doing things?” Smee repeated. “Like, signing this check? Sir?”
The Devil waved him away. “I feel like you’re not listening to me, Smee. Do you remember that epic high-stakes poker game that I hosted … oh, about two hundred years ago?”
Smee swallowed. “We do not have the funds for that. Sir.”
“But you remember it?”
A pause. “Yes.”
“I had totally forgotten what a great time we had.” The Devil smiled, remembering the night. “Death just didn’t want to give up, but in the end I won the four horses from him. You should have seen his face! He was completely blindsided, the schmuck! He never could play poker worth a damn. He always goes all in when he should learn to bluff a little, poor chap. Of course you shouldn’t gamble more than you can afford to lose, isn’t that right, Smee? So that’s hardly my fault.”
Smee blinked, his eyes huge behind his glasses. “But you aren’t authorized to set loose the—”
“Oh, come on!” the Devil said. “They’ve been here all this time, just sitting in the stables. I should be able to use them at least once.”
Smee shuddered. “If you recall, sir, the terms of your winnings stipulated that you do not use them. They are a vanity piece only. Let’s just go over these numbers. Please, sir. And afterwards I’ll bake you a cake. I know how much you like cherry chip.”
The Devil stood and made his way to the Seventh Ring, where the horses were housed next to the centaurs. “I’ll have a double portion when I return, Smee. À la mode, if you please. But right now I’m off to return the four horses of the apocalypse to Death. I’ve stabled them long enough. And you should be happy—think of the savings in horse kibble. We’ll save thousands!”
Smee frowned. “They eat grass. So it isn’t really—”
“Whatever. I am many things, but I never claimed to be a horse doctor.” The Devil flashed a grin. “Just think of the photo op. The contrast alone is going to be worth it. I can see it now: my beautiful dark suit against that sick white horseflesh. I’m going to look spectacular up there, waving my pitchfork benevolently at the masses. Wait, not benevolently. What is that word? You know I can never remember it.”
“Selfish?” Smee suggested. “Spiteful?”
“No!” the Devil frowned. “The other one.”
“Ah. Malevolent, then.”
“Yes. That’s it. Waving my pitchfork malevolently. I might even make the cover of Time.” The Devil smiled.
“Wait,” Smee said. “You aren’t going to ride the pale horse yourself, sir. That’s dangerous. Only Death himself can do that!”
“Of course I can!” the Devil said. “And what’s more, I’m going to lead the way. I don’t follow anyone, least of all the three inferior horsemen of the apocalypse. I always thought that Death had the wrong end of the stick on that one. No, I’m going to do it and do it the right way: up front. Now, don’t forget my cake. I’ll just pop over to Death’s place and be back by this afternoon. Ta!”
The hours ticked by. Smee’s cake cooled on the counter and the Devil’s slice waited for him as the sounds of Hell rose and fell in their own rhythms. First Smee paced, then tried to watch a movie, then eventually sit silently and bit off all his nails. The evening wore into early morning before the doors to the kitchen slammed open and the Devil dragged himself home.
“Sir!” Smee cried. “I’ve been so worried. Are you hurt? You look—”
The Devil held out a cloven hoof. “I’m unhurt, I assure you. It went exactly as planned. Exactly.” He smoothed down his windblown goatee.
Smee hurried to pour a cup of tea. “Of course, sir. I had no doubts.”
The Devil sipped his Earl Grey. He made a few false starts before he said “Well, maybe not quite exactly as planned.”
“There was a little matter with zombies,” the Devil said under his breath.
Smee started. “Z—did you say zombies, sir?”
“Well, how the blast would I know that there was a reason for all that ‘and he who follows is Death’ stuff?” the Devil asked. “I can’t be expected to know everything. How did I know that the order of the horsemen would make such a big difference? I was just being helpful. A friend, if you will, returning Death’s own mount. I can’t help it that the pale horse was such a bad tempered old nag.”
“A friend.” Smee’s hand shook as he took a sip of his own tea. “I trust that you didn’t leave the earth in that state? Zombies. How did that happen, sir? I don’t quite understand.”
The Devil snorted. “It’s not so hard to get, Smee. Apparently only Death can ride his horse or things go pear-shaped. I’m not good enough to do his job, I guess.” He sniffled.
“There, there, sir,” Smee patted his back. “I think I understand. Death’s job is to separate souls from their bodies. If you rode his horse you only did half the job. But truth be told, I think it’s admirable that you brought so much chaos. Not just anyone could bring about a zombie uprising like that.”
The Devil brightened. “You think so, Smee? You’re not just saying that?”
“I know so, sir. Now, how did the situation resolve itself?” Smee asked.
“Famine spooked when he saw all the moving corpses,” the Devil said. “War and Conquest were more battle hardened, I guess, but Famine freaked out and ran into my mount. Then they all bolted and I was thrown. I fell off and it still hurts, Smee! I’m going to have a bruise. We were almost at Death’s house, though, so they all just ran to the barn and it was okay. Death was a good old sport and came out and cleared up the whole zombie problem. Oh, uh, we have some unscheduled new malefactors on Levels Three and Six, by the way. My bad. But I stayed and chatted with Death while I was there. We had a nice visit. He showed me some of the work he’s doing on his place. He has a nice little log cabin he built, really cozy little house. Turns out he’s pretty handy with a hammer and a nail. He’s going to show me how to lay wood floors next weekend. I thought the heretics might appreciate them.”
“Well, aside from the flaming tombs, I agree. It might be better executed with the frauds,” Smee said diplomatically.
“Sure, sure,” the Devil said. “The important thing is I am learning a skill and I’m going to save us money doing it.”
“Well,” Smee blinked. “I guess I can’t argue with that.”
“I also have another poker game set for Friday night. That’s where the real money’s at, you know. Half a mil buy-in. All the guys are going to be there. It’s going to be great! Hey, that cake isn’t going to eat itself. Hand me a slice, will you, and don’t stinge on the ice cream. I’m starving,” the Devil said. “Death might be good with wood but he’s cruddy with food, let me tell you. Did you make dinner?”
Smee sighed. “I’m afraid it’s just desserts.” He cut them both a generous slice with a side of ice cream and together they ate every last crumb.