By volta arovet
Stone knew that something was wrong, even before the Devil arrived. He tried to concentrate on the game on TV, but his mind kept wandering. There was something lacking in the air. The lights were brighter and more cheerful. Everything seemed to be in sharp focus instead of the usual haze that surrounded his world. The world of shadows was well lit, and the things that had been intensely bright to his dulled senses paled and faded into the background. The familiar scent of brimstone was gone.
The Devil kept his normal mocking tone of voice as he greeted Ezekiel, appearing suddenly from behind as was his usual modus operandus. "Greetings, Ezekiel. Catching up on some TV, are we? Whiling away your free time for some pixels on a screen?"
Ezekiel turned off the TV. "Not really." He turned around and looked the Devil straight in the eye. "What's my next clue? Who's my next target?"
The Devil's face broke into a wide smile. "That's the spirit! I'm glad to see you've finally come to my way of thinking. That spark of hellfire within you may burst into flame yet!"
"Who's my next target?" Stone asked again, more intensely.
The Devil's lips twitched slightly and small creases formed at the edges of his eyes. "What's the matter? You're usually not this tense about hunting."
"What's the matter?" returned Stone. "You're usually not this tense about giving me clues about the next damned soul."
"Nothing's the matter," the Devil said too quickly.
"The world feels different, and I'm pretty sure you know why," accused Stone.
The Devil gave a strained, dismissive laugh. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were paranoid."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were scared," said Stone coldly. The Devil drew a step back and struggled to regain control of the smile fading from his face. "Now the question is: what would be scaring the Devil?"
"I am not afraid," said the Devil, the last remnant of bravery vanishing from his face.
Stone reached out suddenly and grabbed the Devil's wrist. "You're shaking."
The Devil pulled his wrist back. "I am not."
"You're growing weaker, aren't you? I would never have been able to touch your hand without your wish before. You're losing your powers. Something's putting out your hellfire."
The Devil made no attempt to deny it. He only said, "It's not just me, it's all of us."
"Who is it? Ash?"
The Devil laughed bitterly. "Ashur Badaktu is a minor nuisance compared to this. No, he's taken a much more direct route, one that may destroy him, as well as both of us. He's strong enough to twist dimensions, to enter one connected to this one, but ruled by science and fact."
"But how can that hurt us?" asked Stone, confused.
"We exist only as works of fiction in that dimension. This damned soul has risen far enough up the ranks in his office, that his is in charge of our work of fiction. And now he has, in effect, 'canceled' us. Soon our world will melt into the 'real' one."
"But we'll still exist in the 'real' world, right?"
The Devil laughed bitterly again. "Do you honestly think the laws of science will allow devils or dead people to walk the earth? No, we will either become fully human or fade away entirely. Personally, I don't find either option too enticing."
"But I can destroy his eyes, send him back to hell, right?" asked Stone.
"That only works in our world, and we've melted too far into the world of science to destroy a damned soul that way. The only thing that can hurt him now is public opinion. Convince enough people that our fiction should be saved, and he'll be forced to return our world to the way it was."
"How can I do that?"
The Devil tossed a pad of paper and a pen at Stone. He caught them by sheer reflex. "Write letters. Convince people." The Devil turned to leave.
"Who is the damned soul?" asked Stone, causing the Devil to pause.
"The head executive at FOX," he said in a deadly cold voice, and promptly vanished.