Author's Note: And here we go: the finale to this short story. Even though it was not very long at all (especially in comparison to the beast), it sure feels good to actually finish something. I hope that everyone who read this is satisfied in knowing a little bit more about what happened in the past. I might come out with more shorts like this, focusing on the relationship between Jack and the various Daite girls, but who knows. For now, though, this is done. Woot.

I want to thank those who read and reviewed this: Rogue, Kez, Garen, ImaSupernaturalCSI, Saranne, perforated sphere and Lady Sorciere. Your comments and support were highly appreciated!

Disclaimer: I do not own, nor stake any claim, to any of the original newsboy characters – they are the property of Disney. The characters Stress belongs to me. This short is part of the a Maldição de Diabo universe.

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Prelude to a Curse

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Pain. Terrible, desperate pain far beyond anything he had ever known. He felt the liquid burn his throat before welling at the pit of his stomach but the sensation was quickly overwhelmed by the sudden flare of pain.

His every nerve on fire, this agony coursed through his body. Whatever it was that this stranger had offered him, it was infinitely worse than even the cheapest of bathtub gin. He coughed once, then a second time, before stopping the reflex. Not only was it intensifying the pain but, with the second cough, it disturbed him to see that there was blood mixed in his spittle.

Jack wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, ridding it of any drool that remained; his arm was heavy and, as soon as the action was done, it fell limply to his side.

It was not only his limbs that were growing heavy as much of him grew weak. The longer he stood there, unaware of the slowing rain dripping down on him, the harder a time his neck was having in supporting his head. He blinked a few times, trying to fight the pain.

He failed, of course. And, as hard as he tried to keep the effects of this sudden spell from the man – the Devil – that was standing before him, observing his motions, Jack could no longer stand on his feet. His legs buckled beneath his weight and he dropped to his knees; the flask, forgotten, fell from his fingers. "Wha… what did you do?" he demanded, though his voice was raspy and not as harsh as he wanted it to be.

"The terms, my boy." Though the face of his human form gave away nothing, there was pure malice and excitement exuding off of this man. "You agreed to them. Your life is mine. You belong to me."

"My life?" he spit out, clutching his stomach as it heaved and jerked around; in comparison to this pain, the nausea he felt before was euphoria. "What the hell does that mean?"

The Devil bowed his head slightly, his lip curling as he met Jack's questioning gaze. "I gave you poison. It should be taking its effect very soon and, then, you will be indebted to me. You will get your one hundred years… but not as a human."

He stopped for a second, relishing the moment. It was not as common in that day that he got to do his work personally; he had legions of lackeys, servants and soul collectors who did it for him. Sometimes, he felt, it worked best when he did it himself. "For one who prides themselves on being as cunning as you, Jack, it was such short sight to agree to a deal without first hearing the terms."

There was sweat dripping down the boy's forehead – thought it was indistinguishable from the rain – as Jack struggled to remain conscious. Strangely enough, hearing that he had just been poisoned did not bother him as much as knowing that this man was having a grand old time, watching him die.

He grunted, his vision turning dark. He did, however, ask one further question: "Who are you?"

The man's answer was accompanied by that same cocky, understood look. He was surprised that Jack used his final breath to ask the question but he did not show it. The boy was as used to hearing the truth almost as much as the Devil was in speaking it – meaning not at all. "Why, I'm the Devil, of course."

This time, as the pain was all consuming – it hit its peak as his heart gave one final seize before failing to pump again – and his eyes began to close, Jack believed him.

And then he was dead. Spread out on the rooftop of the very building he called home, rain mingling with sweat and, perhaps, even tears, Jack Kelly died.

--

He was not alone for long. "Imp, come forth." The smooth voice of the Devil had transformed into one of power, of strength, as he summoned one of Hell's creature to him. Despite the continued drizzle, he could hear the sounds of the beast's claws clacking on the rooftop as it scrambled on all fours towards its Master.

The thing only reached up to the Devil's knees, though its head was bowed and its back hunched. Its flesh was a burgundy shade, with black bumps sticking out at the oddest of places. There were blood red stubs – the beginning of horns – growing out the top of its misshapen head, and a dark tongue lolling out as he threw himself at his Master's feet. "Master…" it said, its deep voice a mixture of grunts and hisses.

The Devil did not lower his gaze to eye the creature. His attention was only on the fallen body of Jack Kelly. "Tell me. Is he dead?"

There was another sound of scraping as the imp hurried awkwardly over to the body, its long claws skittering across the slick rooftop. It drew up to Jack's side tentatively, as if it was afraid to touch the human. But that's what he did – with one of its hands, he poked the boy's side. The touch did not last longer than a second; it yelped in pain and jumped away, returning to its place at the Devil's feet.

The Devil knew from the imp's reaction that the poison he had given to Jack had worked. The boy's body was dead but his spirit lived on.

He had not doubted that his power would work – it was more a matter of ensuring that the outcome was the one he desired. When dealing with a soul as delicate as that of Jack Kelly's – Francis Sullivan's – it was prudent to verify that everything went according to plan.

The imp was curiously sucking on its finger, using its saliva to assuage the pain that the human's touch produced. The soul had only so recently fled – placed inside a sanctuary that the Devil provided him with – and the remnants of good still resided in his form.

Stroking his goatee in a satisfied manner, the Devil proceeded to use his black magic to plant the suggestion in the old man's mind to come to the roof. Alfred Kloppman, a good man whose service in the vicious American Civil War still haunted his dreams, was another pawn in this extensive game; it was his time to assume his role.

He did not leave the roof yet, though. In order for the last player in this round of the game to take up their position on the board – with the Rhian girl and, now, Jack Kelly already in position – the Devil needed to be there to make silent suggestions and, of course, see that the result of those suggestions were granted; when Kloppman cried out that he wanted nothing more than to avenge the deaths of the two children, the curse of immortality would be immediately bestowed.

The dark stranger grinned a wicked grin as he remained in the center of the roof, waiting. It was such an evil scheme with slim odds of survival – a rousing game designed to entertain him. And, so far, he was incredibly entertained.

The imp, however, was confused. It removed its finger from its oversized maw and cautiously said, "Why Master?"

Not accustomed to any of the lesser creatures questioning his methods – only a handful of his demons had the privilege of questioning their Master without being disintegrated – the Devil was caught off guard. So off guard, in fact, that he actually answered the imp's question. "It's very simple. He's a half. The other girl was a tainted Whole. Very worthy souls."

"Half, Master? Whole?"

He should have known better than to explain something to such a simple creature as an imp but it was rare that he got to discuss the cleverer of his plans. "Half is exactly how it sounds. He was born of a good soul – a Whole soul – and an evil soul. His mother was good, his father bad. The man, Sullivan, killed his wife, releasing the good, strengthening the evil in his own soul. I did not get my hands on the Whole but I have the opportunity now to gather her son. And that girl he gave his existence for? She was a Whole but her lifestyle put streaks of black through her soul."

The Devil smiled again, pleased to know how simple a task it was for a good soul to go bad; with only one streak of black, he could stake a claim on the precious commodity. "Purgatory claimed her but, with this plan, I get the Whole and the Half. Those two will make a great addition to the warped souls I own."

The imp was quiet, trying to understand the explanation his Master had offered. All it knew was that it had once been Nothing – a simple soul comprised of nothing but evil – which was why his existence now was designed as nothing more than a lackey to the Master. If it thought back hard and tried to remember just what its life had been like before death, it remembered certain things - places and emotions -- vividly: the dark London streets, dead prostitutes, vice, sin, murder and the name of Jack. Death it knew; Goodness, though, was an entirely foreign concept to it.

Rather than ask another question, the creature remained silent. Somewhere, in the back of its small mind, it recognized how fortunate it was that the Devil humored it enough to explain their reasons for visiting this Manhattan building as it was.

The rain was beginning to let up but the Lord of Hell and his minion did not even notice it. The two of them were still standing, watching idly, as the door to the rooftop entrance opened slowly. An elderly man, wrinkled, with thin white hair and a pair of thick glasses covering his watery blue eyes, walked carefully through the threshold.

Alfred Kloppman's head was pounding. He could not understand the insane urge he had to climb the many flights of stairs to arrive at the roof of the building but he followed the inclination, regardless. The pain subsided somewhat as he opened the door and made his way out onto the roof.

At first, the old man did not see anything. It was dark on the roof and the minimal rain that was still falling made it difficult to spy anything. For a moment, he thought that there was a patch of space, right before him, where no rain was invading the area but he quickly removed his glasses and polished them on his white shirt.

Once he put his glasses back onto his nose, he glanced downward and saw Jack Kelly's empty body. There was a gasp, carried away on the wind, that, nevertheless, the Devil heard, followed by a whisper.

"Jack?"

The Devil grinned. The next hundred years would surely be entertaining.