The Super Wizard From Space #26

"To Hell And Hell And Hell And Hell And Hell And Back Again, Part 2" by

"Ha! Look at you," chuckled the Devil. "A great and powerful wizard needing my help, and you don't even know it yet, do ya?"

The Super Wizard From Space grabbed the Devil by the lapels, yanking him off his feet. His thin red face was pulled right up to a very unamused frown, so close that he had to turn his cheek; the bright glow emanating from the wizard's skin was like a crackling fireplace, alive and uneven and uncomfortably hot.

"I'm certain I made my intentions clear last time you invaded these mortals realms," growled the super wizard. "I will not tolerate your presence here. Nor your trickery. I will burn away every molecule. I will crack every atom. I will unravel your infernal form down to the minimalist components and grind the remains under my boot."

The irises lit with star-fire, too blinding to look at directly. An ember of fusion was being fanned within the wizard's skull, leaking out his mouth and tear ducts. Damnation, he really meant to melt his head clean off!

"Wait! Wait wait wait!" the Devil shouted, legs kicking trying to find purchase, hands grabbing at the strong grip holding him. "You can't do this, you owe me! I saved your life! I helped you escape the terror-swamps of Triple-Hell." { The Super Wizard From Space #5 }

The frown stretched into outrage. "You're the one that put me there in the first place, trying to trade my life to buy back your own worthless skin! You double-crossed me. You double-crossed everyone. You cast us further and further down your monstrous realms. I was lucky to escape..."

"...empty handed?" the Devil interjected.

The wizard almost barked at him, letting lose a fury that could deform suns. But the outrage suddenly gave way to a confused skepticism. His mouth closed, the threatening fire died down. He stared at the Devil narrowly, then gave a glance at their surroundings.

A slight movement caught the corner of their eyes. In the debris of burnt books and ash and collapsed walls, the slow slithering of an unwelcome suggestion. Invisible and yet hiding in all the same, in the places too small for real things to hide in.

"Ah," the wizard murmured unhappily, looking back at the Devil. A thoughtful pregnant moment of reluctant understanding, then he set him down.

The Devil made a show of dusting off his sleeves and straightening his tie. He let his heart climb out of his throat, forced his breathing to slow down. He needed to be more careful about how hard he pushed those buttons, as he was probably the only being the Super Wizard From Space would get completed brassed off about.

When he addressed the wizard, it was in as casual a tone as he could manage. "You didn't know you were in a cosmic tournament at the time, did you? Otherwise, you wouldn't have left without the Super Devil's cosmic crown, the black circlet. And, unless something amazingly out-of-character has happened to you since I was last in the neighbourhood, you can't get into any of the underverses on your own... can you?"

The Super Wizard From Space remained silent.

"I didn't think so." The Devil jovially gave the wizard a single firm smack on the arm. "See here? The two of us, teaming up for the greater good? Just like old times, me here helping you out."

"But not for free?" asked the wizard rhetorically.

A shrug of his pointed shoulders. "Well... no. No, not for free. Naturally not. Slaves to our natures and all that rot. Heh. But it's a good trade. As fair a trade as you're likely to get out of me.

"Now that business with the double-crossing? That admittedly got out of hand. See, I thought I was being a clever git, making me another deal with a greater demon just in case things went south. Seems the Super Devil did the same. And wouldn't you know it, so did the fellows that we went to to have our backs. Well... long story short, the lot of us are now entombed in the stone sepulchres of Quinto-Hell.

"By the unimpressed look on your face, I can guess what you're thinking. How, you wonder, do I manage to find myself all the way up here, rather than all the way down there? My deal, the contract with the Super Devil that started all this business, it allows me a little bit of leeway... I can still travel freely so long as I'm leading you into a challenge for your cosmic tournament."

"Leading me into trap, you mean," said the Super Wizard From Space suspiciously.

The Devil rolled his eyes. "Yes, that's what it got twisted into. That's the whole lovely point of loopholes. But the contract, in its plainest boy-scouts-honor no-weaselling-about meaning, it's about me getting you to the Super Devil. Once the two of you settle your challenge, however it ends, the deal is done. All parties satisfied, free and clear.

"All those other back-up deals, they only got tangled up because the original was scuppered. You have your challenge, they all unravel, bob's your uncle, we all go home happy."

The wizard put his hand on the Devil's chest and shoved him away.

"Oh, come on now!" said the Devil, enunciating as clearly as he could. "Don't tell me you don't want to go. Not only do you get the circlet, not only do you get to rub the Super Devil's nose in it, but you get a round trip to hell. Five hells, even. Take in the sights, talk up the locals, come home and have a laugh about it with the missus. Or is there still a missus? I never was sure how that worked out with you."

An angry glare, a spark of light in the eyes. A topic to avoid then, thought the Devil.

"This tournament," said the wizard in a measured tone, "was designed for the sole purpose to punish me. By the fearful and the envious and the guilty. At the very least, they want me diminished, but their preference is kill me. Why would I be in a mind to give them another chance?"

The Devil watched the lurking idea seep into the debris behind the wizard. It had a transparent curiosity to it, and a toothy growing need. A notion that was determined to latch on and not let go. It was only waiting for a slip of confidence, and open mind to ferment in. He should be able to give it what it wanted, he figured.

With a thoughtful click of his tongue, he looked the wizard in the eye and said, "The same reason the Super Devil gave me leave to come get you, though the blighter would rather I suffer alongside him: he couldn't help it. It's the crowns, ain't it? They're linked to this tournament, driving you all to a ending. All that power at your disposal and now it's turned on you. Making you do what it wants. Driving you to what it needs.

"Tell you what… you have a think, mate. You and I can deal with this, here and now, or you can try and fight that tickle in the back of your brain until it drives you bananas. Your choice."

As the wizard tilted his head slightly in thought, the spectral notion struck with the speed of a cobra. Without substance, without weight, it drove at the back of the wizard's skull and squeezed. Like oil finding cracks in the pavement, it oozed inside. It found the rooted objection and unravelled it… it wasn't hard, the Devil was right, the animate notion had help from the battering insistences of the wizard's crown. The natural opinion and native reason were peeled apart, its own foreign suggestion layered atop instead.

The entire process was over in a split second, invisible to the naked eye. Or the mortal eye, at least. If the wizard was aware of the violent manipulation, he didn't show it. The Devil couldn't help a shiver of disgust as he watched the notion retreat back into hiding.

The wizard frowned a second, then sighed. "I take it you've already arranged a way to get us down to where ever the Super Devil is being held?" he asked grudgingly.

"Um, yes," he replied, uncomfortable by the invasion witnessed. "Yes... yes, of course. I've a car waiting outside. Fellow by the name of Ron. Cranky chap, but he'll be able to take us all the way there with only a wee bit of bodging by us on the way."

"We'll have to make a stop on the way. Every challenge has to be witnessed. He need to find another space-champion willing to come with us."

"Oh, I think we've got that covered," said the Devil as he watched the malignant notion dragged itself out of the debris pile. Condensed tightly enough to almost be perceived, it knocked over corpses of burnt books, it cracked the floor under its new weight, it made the dry air grow cold and bitter. It had no face but had the face of every speaker and author and scientist it had stolen everything from; a million pained and empty silhouettes made up of nouns and verbs and desperate interjections.

"You've no exigency to pursue a discretionary deponent," it announced from the middle of its mass, more of a memory of something said than anything with real sound. A sensation of bared fangs wrapped in a terrible smile. "The Secret Living Language will sportively chaperon your licit confrontation."

"Yes," said the Super Wizard From Space, unsurprised. "I thought you might."

Author's Notes

This issue has a lot of exposition in it. Truth be told, it's entirely exposition. I tried to keep things interesting by interweaving a couple extra things into it, like the hint about the red-dress girl and the who-is-manipulating-who atmosphere. I can promise the next few parts will have more forward momentum.

You'll have noticed the Devil has gained a smarmy british twist to him since the last arc. You can blame Tim Roth and the three seasons of "Lie To Me" I recently watched. Roth's character portrayal fit well within this arc and it had a clever, distinct sound to it, so in it went.

By this point in the writing, I have a good idea how the rest of this arc is going to play out. The exact details of the ending is still fuzzy, but all the beats for the next two or three issues are hammered out. How solid it will sound once I get to writing, I have no idea, but I guess I'll find out!