The massive hall was totally empty. Save for the long, long banquet table and its fripperies, nothing stirred. Not the air, not the myriad cobwebs adorning the settings like so much lace – not the long dark figure inhabiting the tall chair at the head of the table. All was still.
The figure reclined in the chair, both feet crossed on the table in front of him, cold, glittering eyes gazing intently into a glass containing a red liquid which he held in his right hand (it would be presumptuous to assume it was wine, surely). The aura which he emanated, however, was not that of the carefree libertine, despite his apparent state. The air surrounding him was electric with energy – whether physical or metaphysical, literal or figurative, it was impossible to tell. The power radiated by this being was beyond anything exuded by even the most scheming of human tyrants.
He was, to put not too fine a point on it, dead bored (pun absolutely intended; an otherworldly being needed some form of entertainment lest he go spare (a state to which, contrary to the beliefs of many, he was not presently privy)) – where was Lucheni when he need him?
The double doors slammed open.
Ah. Finally. Entertainment.
Der Tod moved not one otherworldly muscle, continuing his rapt contemplation of the glass in his hand, his legs crossed atop the table the picture of nonchalance. Or boredom. A beat of silence, into which he raised one unnaturally-manicured eyebrow at his glass.
Then, a slow drawl, echoing around the room yet somehow softer than the whisper of the surface breeze: “How many times, Don Pedro, must you be told not to slam the doors of the underworld? These doors have been around for centuries and I’m rather impartial to the design; I’ll thank you not to damage them with your... incompetence.” Half to himself, he muttered, “It is so hard to find a decent carpenter since Jesus of Nazareth left...”
The newcomer winced, as much as he was able. A curious shade of grey-white, his movements were almost as stiff as the marble he resembled. A strange type of ghost, or phantasm, perhaps.
“Apologies, my lord.” A jerky bend at the waist, an echo of a bow more graceful in times gone by. “It is my... condition. It rather necessitates a lack of... finesse.” Even his speech was stilted, the hollow ring giving further credence to his statue-like appearance.
A silence, stretching on into eternity, as Der Tod examined his glass and Don Pedro stood, waiting.
Finally the figure at the head of the table moved, rising in one smooth gesture, smiling easily, in much the same way as a crocodile would welcome the little fishes to his abode. (The metaphor was apt; visitors to the realm of death rarely overstayed their welcome – all those of use were consumed and thence returned to the ether.)
“Of course, Pedro, I completely understand your... predicament. After all, it is my doing.” he paused and an expression which might be called a smile graced one corner of his mouth for the most infinitesimal of moments. “Sit, sit!” He gestured gracefully to one of the myriad empty seats around the long table, set as it was for a four-course meal, and draped elegantly in gauzy, dusty cobwebs. “We are still awaiting the remainder of tonight’s party; Morte is coming from beautiful Verona...” he smirked. “They are doing a marvellous job – I believe this is the sixth timeline in which they have successfully intervened on my behalf.”
He folded himself back into the chair at the head of the table. “Lucifer sent his condolences. Honestly – and,” he smiled conspiratorially, given away only by his dead, unfeeling eyes, glittering with all the charisma of a shard of glass, “this is between the two of us, you understand – sometimes I wonder if he even realises what his purpose is at all. Veers wildly between cursing the very name of the living, and... cavorting with them.”
Don Pedro swallowed uncomfortably, tactfully refraining from mentioning that Der Tod himself had thus cavorted with a single human in at least eight separate timelines, collecting each one for the brief period until the soul’s essence burned away, as all essences did. (Oh, it could be Extended, certainly, but that came with its own gamut of unpredictable side-effects (as evidenced by Don Pedro himself), and ultimately Der Tod seemed to prefer the Challenge Which Was No Challenge At All, and to keep the unfortunate Lucheni on an eternal ghostly leash to act as his... man with wings, he believed was the terminology.)
Pedro liked Lucheni. He added a touch of sparkle to an afterlife fuelled mostly by loathing and vengeance. The man was so utterly mad that he almost constituted a breath of fresh air. Pedro sometimes wondered if he had been mad before he got here and became Der Tod’s favourite plaything and right-hand man, or if the pressure and the routine and the constant talk of Elisabeth (when his lordship took the notion every few years) had driven him to it. Mostly, though, he wondered about whether he would meet Don Juan here when the curse finally closed its icy grasp on the man. Would he be able to laugh in the man’s face, after all that work, after losing so much? It was imperative that he should.
“And you, Pedro.” The voice of Der Tod brought him back to the present, though how much time had passed was indeterminable. “How fares your quest for vengeance?”
As though he didn’t know. As though myriad Black Angels weren’t reporting on every action undertaken by the resurrected, the ghosts, the ghouls and general pestilences wrought upon the living by the dead. But Morte was always late, and Lucheni wasn’t here to liven things up, so Pedro obliged. (Not out of fear, certainly. He would never stoop so low.)
“Don Juan has been... affected, my lord. It is now... only a matter of time until the curse reaches its... conclusion. I hope to meet him, my lord, when he... arrives?” Don Pedro’s attempt at a questioning tone was met by raucous laughter from the other entity, echoing around the room and continuing for what felt like eons.
“I am sure that you shall, Don Pedro... though it is true I have granted you many favours, let it not be said that I am ungenerous.” Though spoken with an easy smile, the words sent a shiver down Don Pedro’s spine. He already had his immortal soul in exchange for retribution, what more was there left to give?
The door slammed open for a second time, accompanied by a screech of laughter and an apology rolled into one. Thank the stars. A reprieve, just on time.
The newcomer bowed clumsily to the assembled party of two, darting over to Der Tod and whispering in his ear, before perching on the table in front of Don Pedro, regarding him with head cocked like an inquisitive bird. Don Pedro smiled awkwardly, as much as his marbled flesh would allow, before the madman rapped him hard on the helmet, knocking his head sideways. He glared.
“Regrettably,” stated Der Tod to the room at large, “I have an... engagement elsewhere. Lucheni informs me that the earthly play is once more about to begin, and I simply must have a ringside seat.”
Lucheni cackled again, which would have made Don Pedro jump, if marble had had the ability to flinch. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately, as his reputation would never have withstood it), this was one quality which earthly and otherworldly marble seemed to share.
“Lucheni!” barked the long glittering streak of darkness. “We’re leaving. Come!”
The man slid off the table with all the grace of a recently fed boa constrictor, somehow managing despite this to dislodge none of the table settings. He bowed deeply to Don Pedro, winked, and skipped off after his master, the pair vanishing through the far wall.
The sound of the marbled ghost rolling his eyes would have grated on the ears of all but the deaf. Elisabeth again, then. Maybe this time his lordship would attempt a different tack, but he doubted it.
He turned his face back to the door and waited for his cue. He would be there at the death of Don Juan. He must be.