The ruins of San Venganza glowed orange in the setting sun. A strong breeze blew across the sand, stirring it into dusty whirlwinds that took on a life of their own. Grain by grain, the fallen angel Gressil materialized until he stood in the center of the crumbling old town, brushing the dirt from his coat sleeve. A useless gesture. Beside him the wind elemental Abigor resolved himself from his misty form, and gazed around with his breeze-streaked eyes. “Where’s Wallow?”
“Probably running late,” Gressil grunted.
“That’s what you think, Pebble Brain,” came a voice from the well in the center of the old square. Out of the darkness rose an undulating sheet of liquid that took the form of Wallow, the water demon. He was having trouble keeping his facial features from dripping off.
Gressil wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Well at least I don’t look like a fucking Picasso.” Demons of a liquid constitution never ceased to revolt him.
“At least I can tell time,” Wallow gurgled angrily. “I’ve been here waiting for the past hour.”
“What a terrible inconvenience,” Abigor said, his sarcasm like a venomous black cloud. “After all, I’m sure you’ve got tons of things to do now that Lord Blackheart is dead.”
All three demons fell quiet, and the reason for their meeting was suddenly remembered. “Are we sure he’s . . . gone?” Gressil ventured.
“I heard the Rider killed him,” Abigor said solemnly. “Burned him from the inside out.”
“Bastard,” Wallow uttered, slapping his wet fist against his palm. He hated fire.
“But we’re still alive,” Gressil argued. “Did any of you see Blackheart down below? Maybe he’s just taking a long time to recover.”
Abigor and Wallow shook their heads. “If the Rider didn’t kill him, Mephistopheles would,” Wallow said. “Face it: we’re on our own.”
“But-!” Gressil stammered. “But Blackheart has always been with us.”
“Telling us what to do,” Abigor recalled fondly. “Beating us if we got out of line.”
“Remember when we were kids?” Wallow asked mournfully, his shoulders sagging.
“Yeah,” Gressil sniffed. “Even on the playground at Lost Angeles Academy. I shoved him too hard during Tag once. He kicked me and broke my leg off, then used it to beat me into rubble.”
“I remember those days,” Abigor said. “He made me push him in the swing until recess was over.”
“I can’t count how many times he made me slip the teacher in the hallway,” Wallow added. “If I never have to dust chalkboard erasers again, it’ll be too soon.”
“Get this,” Abigor went on. “At Hellion High he locked me in the ventilation system with a stink bomb. I almost died.”
“I remember that. Whole school had to be evacuated.”
Wallow said, “Sounds like what happened to me. When I was a freshman he flushed me down the toilet with a cherry bomb. I got suspended for two weeks.”
“Just two weeks?” Gressil grunted. “I got three when he convinced me to be a part of his sophomore art project — I’ll never do clay ever again. When that kiln exploded it took out five classrooms.”
“That’s nothing,” Abigor boasted. “You should have been there when he used a slingshot to propel me into a tuba during band practice. I got two week’s suspension and after-school detention for a month.”
Wallow crossed his arms. “Well, I was always his favorite. We used to steal his dad’s car and go joyriding around San Diablo.”
“Yeah, and every time he wrapped the car around a phone pole he always blamed you,” Gressil pointed out.
“So? I let him. That’s what friends are for.”
Abigor scoffed. “Dream on, Soggy. Blackheart and I were BFF long before you squished your way into the picture. Me and him were in Demon Scouts together.”
“I knew him before any of you,” Gressil snapped. “My aunt lived next door to his family.”
“Yeah. She was a volcano.”
“Whoopty doo,” Wallow muttered, waving his wet hands around. “Just because you knew Blackheart first doesn’t mean you’re his favorite.”
“Yeah,” Abigor nodded.
“It means I’m his favorite.”
“You wish, Fish.”
“Screw you, Windsock.”
“Hey,” Gressil interrupted. “Lay off Abigor.”
“Yeah,” Abigor chirped.
“He can’t help it if he’s an airhead.”
“Hey! Who are you to-!”
Wallow laughed, a sound like water chugging down a drain. “Haa ha! You must be pretty stupid if Gressil thinks you’re an airhead. He’s dumber than a sack of bricks!”
“You wanna take a dirt nap, Drippy?” Gressil snarled.
“Was that a come-on?” Wallow retorted.
“Both of you shut up!” Abigor snapped.
“You shut up, Vapor Dick!” Gressil growled.
“Eat my dirt!”
“Okay! I think I’ll have a SANDwich!”
“You’re both a couple of retards!”
“Stay out of this, Trickle McToilet!”
“Choke on it, Boulder Breath!”
“Go fuck a bucket!”
“YOU ALL SUCK!” Abigor screamed.
Two seconds later there was a brawl. Water jumped rock, who jumped air and hit the ground drowning, slowly turning into a puddle of mud as he and Wallow fought. Then Abigor jumped in and soon wet clay was flying everywhere. Wallow was halfway down Gressil’s throat in an attempt to suffocate him when a sudden crack of thunder made them all slam to a screeching halt. Darkness swept down upon the town of San Venganza, and from the thin air materialized a pale, slender figure in a long black coat, striding toward the three quarreling demons.
Blackheart frowned as he came to a stop. “What the hell is going on here?” he demanded lowly.
Wallow, Gressil and Abigor stared in shock, all thoughts of murder and mayhem vanishing from their one-track minds. “Oh no!” Gressil cried. “It’s the ghost of Blackheart!”
“He’s come back to haunt us!” Abigor cowered behind Gressil.
“He’s come back to flush us!” Wallow choked.
Blackheart reached down and hauled the demons off the ground, and then, in classic Three Stooges slapstick, backhanded all three of them with one blow. “What’s the matter with you?” he snapped as they rubbed their stinging cheeks. “I leave you alone for a few hours and you’ve all gone batshit insane. What kind of pathetic minion losers are you?”
“We’re your pathetic minion losers, Lord Blackheart!” Wallow sobbed, throwing his arms around his master and shedding tears. Full-body tears.
“You’re back!” Gressil exclaimed, grappling a startled Blackheart around the waist. “Oh thank Sod!”
“We don’t know what we’d do without you!” Abigor howled, hanging himself from Blackheart’s shoulders.
“GET OFF ME BEFORE I KILL YOU ALL.”
The elementals immediately drew back (mainly because they knew he was serious), but all three were grinning like giddy monkeys. Blackheart straightened his lapels with an annoyed glare in their direction and wiped the dusty water droplets off his coat. “Judas Christ. You’d think I’d died with the way you’re carrying on.”
“But you did die!” Wallow wheedled.
“Yeah, we thought you’d bitten the dust!” Gressil added.
“Morons,” Blackheart muttered. “I was temporarily inconvenienced by the Ghost Rider, who is now going to pay for my punishment, so help me, if it’s the last thing I do.”
The three demons stared, frightened. “What did Mephisto do to you?” Abigor finally asked.
Blackheart tried to look tough, but he hunched his shoulders in embarrassment. “I’m grounded for a month and my allowance got cut in half.”
The elementals immediately began to cry and moan about the injustice, but Blackheart waved his hand to shut them all up. “I know, I know. It’s terrible, but I can’t just sit at home while Johnny Blaze rides around a free man. Now, you three worthless pinheads get your asses in gear and follow me.” He turned and began striding away; Wallow, Gressil and Abigor pounced after him like eager puppies.
“Where are we going?”
“What are we doing?”
“Are we gonna get the Rider?”
Blackheart smirked to himself as he led his bumbling, devoted followers forward on their next adventure. “Ah, my precious idiots. What would you do without me?”
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