Two months had been enough time for Don Giordino to be forgotten by the tattered remains of his family and friends. They had also been more than enough time for Don Giordino to truly learn what it meant to go to Hell.
Fire and brimstone had been death’s archetypes in his catholic upbringing – and the underworld had them in no short supply. But Hell was not as barren as the church had wanted him to believe. After a brief adjustment period, Don even found it to be similar to his time on Earth: it had roads, and commerce, and even whole cities sheltered amongst the jagged crags and red rocks of its landscape.
Redland was the largest and chief most of these municipalities – the very heart of Hell. When the demons had come for Don’s soul, that was where he’d quickly found himself. The former crime lord had been prepared for torture in every form imaginable; and yet he instead found himself blessed with wealth and power infinitely greater than anything he’d known among the living. Hell punished those who eventually succumbed to their evil tendencies; but it rewarded those who lived their lives with them. The Dark Prince himself had crowned Don Giordino as one of the Lords of Hell and, in doing so, made death into the start of a new life for the man.
And any new Lord of Hell was quick to learn that while Redland was the heart of Hell, the Crimson Palace was the heart of Redland. And while no Lord of Hell was ever denied access, few willingly chose to enter the fortress. It was a place both depressing and horrifying, said to contain a room for every form of punishment imaginable – the screams from which formed a constant, macabre chorus that filled its halls every day and night. It was also the home of The Dark Prince – which, if nothing else, was more than enough of a deterrent for most.
But Don Giordino had not been given a position of power for being spineless. In life he had seen and carried out enough bloodshed to snap the mind of a lesser man, had even gone so far as to stare his eventual killer in the eyes. He was already dead; and he figured he had little left to fear.
A pair of burly demons waved him through the front gate, where a far shapelier demoness led him through the courtyard and lower levels. The palace itself quickly became a labyrinth for Don; and he knew then why few who entered The Dark Prince’s citadel never came out. It was much to his relief that, when they ascended the stairs to the penthouse, his guide decided to remain just outside – ready and willing to take him back outside when all was said and done.
Giordino straightened his tie and smoothed back his oily hair. He reached out to knock; but the doors swung open before his knuckles touched the brass. Without having to be told, he strolled into the chamber’s dark interior – forcing himself not to look back as the way out closed behind him.
The room itself had an almost cozy feel to it – an ironic twist, for being the lair of absolute evil. A fireplace crackled contentedly in one corner, ringed by walls lined with towering bookshelves that spanned from across history. Intricately woven red and orange rugs lined the floor, leading visitors to the far wall – one that had been turned into a great, single window that overlooked the city below. While the landscape around Redland still glowed with Hellfire, the glass eerily seemed to absorb the light to keep the room in a perpetual shade of shadow.
In the center of the room sat a large desk, devoid of all but the bare essentials. At the desk sat a figure that, at a glance, seemed no different than any other man. Clean-shaven (save for a short goatee) and no older than his late twenties, he was hardly an imposing figure; but the longer one remained in his presence, the more they felt his aura of superiority. It was a darkness far older and far more powerful than anything inside creation’s boundaries could appreciate that clung to The Dark Prince; and it was a strength even the infamous Don Giordino could learn to respect.
The man gestured towards a chair directly across from him, and Don took a seat. Aside from his host, Giordino was only aware of one other object on the desk: a small, black nametag with fine white writing. It was said that the name on it changed every day, but that patterns would appear over time. During the middle ages it rather bluntly boasted titles like “Satan” and “Lucifer.” As culture changed and the Devil became more archaic and mysterious the nametag changed to compensate, adopting labels like “Natas” and “Old Nick.” During the seventies, it was rumored that The Dark Prince would periodically change it to “Ozzy Osbourne” when he was in a particularly good mood.
Today, Don was addressing “Diabolus.” He vaguely recognized the title as Greek; but he also had never taken his education or his religion very seriously, and could discern little more than that. As far as he was concerned, he was talking to his boss – and little more mattered than that.
“Ah Don, always a pleasure.” The Dark Prince purred. He reached under his desk and produced a pair of cigars, popping one into his own mouth. He offered the second to his guest, but Giordino declined. The crime lord had been an avid smoker back among the living; but the very act of breathing in the underworld was like one long drag on a particularly bad cigarette.
“I believe this is the first time we’ve been able to speak one-on-one.” Diabolus mused, replacing the unwanted cigar under his desk. “Believe me when I say I’m honored to have some of your precious time.”
“I’m an immortal soul: all I have is time.” Don said with a weak smile.
“Not all.” The Devil noted, nodding towards the crime lord. “You didn’t come here to compliment my goatee or hit on my secretary. You want something, Don.”
“Don’t we all?”
Giordino produced a red folder and pushed it across the desk. Diabolus eased it open and flipped through the first few pages, his brow furrowing slightly. As he neared the end, though, his expression changed from distaste to amusement.
“Who told you about the Black Magic Grant?”
“A little birdie.” Don said coyly.
“Well did your ‘little birdie’ mention that I reserve these for very important cases? Lost and evil spirits trapped in the world of the living, or powerful demons capable of crossing into the human world?”
“It eluded to that, yes.”
“I restrict them for good reason.” Lucifer explained. He leaned across the table, pulling back one cheek to expose his gum. Three molars were notably missing, tarnishing his otherwise flawless smile.
“A little part of me goes into every grant. You use my essence to warp a person’s physical body. True, said person receives a number of noteworthy benefits: they can breathe fire, fly, change form, and even manipulate the minds of others. They’re my answer for Heaven’s archangels. But they’re not cheap, and (while I hate to say it) they’re not usually worth the effort.
“Which brings me to ask why you of all people want one, Don Giordino?” The Dark Prince asked quietly. “It isn’t for yourself. The grants are useless once you’ve crossed into Heaven or Hell. So it has to be for someone in the world of the living…”
The Devil turned back to the folder, ruffling back through the pages. He stopped somewhere near the middle – on a photograph of a young girl with long, brown hair and dark, chocolate colored eyes.
“Remarkable!” Diabolus laughed incredulously. When his chuckles subsided he added “As the Prince of Lies, I’m sometimes blind to the truth. Don Giordino – the man who never gave a damn about human life – has a soft spot for his little girl!”
“I suppose you think I’m weak for it?”
“No.” Lucifer said immediately, his face suddenly growing very serious. “No man acts out evil for the sake of it. There is always a motive – always a cause behind his actions. Most do it for love of themselves and their own gain. But not you, Don Giordino. You haven’t loved yourself since you killed your wife almost two decades ago.”
The crime lord cringed. It was one of his few acts that he’d come to despise. The fight had been a long time coming; but he’d never meant for the argument to end with a body. He had told Lindsey her mother had died in a car accident; but it hadn’t stopped the girl from growing up motherless.
“I’ve often wondered what your incentive was.” The Dark Prince admitted. “Now I guess I know.”
Diabolus snatched up the folder and straightened the pages inside. Unlocking one of the drawers to his desk he slid the file inside with an affirming nod. Then, reaching into his mouth, he took hold of something and yanked it free. That “something” turned out to be a molar – one which he presented to his newest Lord of Hell.
“Give this to one of my errand imps.” The Devil explained. “Lesser demons can easily slip into the mortal world. Instruct the creature to slip this into your daughter’s drink or food. It will become essence: tasteless and undetectable. Once absorbed, the transformation will begin. She won’t be able to control it at first, but she’ll learn over time.”
“Thank you.” Don said with a sigh of relief, rising to leave. Before he could turn a presence took hold of his mind – a will that wasn’t his own that held him in place, forcing him to look his boss in the eyes.
“I always find it interesting to see what parents will do for their children.” Lucifer mused. “They’ll throw themselves in front of cars, even starve themselves. Selflessness – especially from people who are otherwise sinful or deceptive – always pains me.”
“I don’t expect you to understand. You aren’t a parent.”
“True, very true.” The Dark Prince conceded. “But also don’t think that I didn’t catch your ulterior motive in all of this, Don. You think your rivals – the other mafia families, the ones that eventually killed you – will go after your daughter. Sure, you’re protecting her; but you’re also enacting your own revenge.”
The grip on Giordino’s mind released, leaving him free to go. But Don stayed for a moment longer – just long enough to give one last, confident smile.
“They say a troubled spirit cannot rest until it has found peace.” The crime lord mused. “At this point, I’ll literally raise Hell if it will help me find it.”
He turned to go, the burning eyes of Diabolus boring into his back. When the doors shut behind Don Giordino, the Devil could not suppress another cackling laugh.
Lucifer worked his tongue over the bare spot on his gum, shaking his head. Allowing the Black Magic Grant was an unusual act of generosity on his part. But Don was not the only one with ulterior motives in their transaction – and, somewhere in his subconscious, the crime lord probably knew it.
The Devil turned back towards his great window, casting his gaze out across the charred landscape of Hell. Earth had long since forgotten the terror he was capable of bringing, the lawless and civil unrest it had known in the past. In life Don Giordino had come close to showing Avalon City that same gut-wrenching fear through his unsavory appetite for killing.
Lucifer hoped his daughter shared that same rampant neglect for human life. Through her, he planned to take the modern era back. To an immortal, life was a show – a play whose acts spanned the course of centuries. Now that he controlled an actor, he could slowly move the spotlight back where he wanted it.
But if nothing else, as the audience, he planned to be thoroughly entertained.