By Moe Lane


Nybbas returned to applause.

When you're the Prince of the Media, you quickly learn to distinguish between various types of applause. There's many kinds, ranging from 'I'm applauding because I really don't want to die' to 'I'm applauding because everyone else is' to 'I'm applauding because it's finally over and I can go back to what I was originally doing'. Plus, of course, 'I'm applauding because I'm a good little bootlicking toady' - but that's practically part of Perdition's background noise anyway. However, this particular time the applause had an odd note to it.

The note was, freakishly enough, sincerity.

The decorations had obviously been set up on short notice, but were impressive for all that. Monitors flanked the broad clearing; on each one was a montage of scenes from the Prince's recent Role on Earth as a superstar musician, up to and including the fiery car crash that culminated it. Every spare speaker in Perdition had been dragooned into playing Nybbas' signature song from that Role - a song that was now assured even more airplay, even more obsession, even more influence for the foreseeable future. Nybbas had timed things perfectly; he had 'died' at the height of his Role's popularity, and there were plenty of previously recorded tracks available to keep the hype going - not to mention control musical tastes for the next ten years. In short, it was a virtuoso performance that had impressed even the most jaded.

The applause had by now grown to deafening levels - then shut off with a shocking finality. The crowd of demons rippled as each one went to one knee (or equivalent), showing their obeisance to their Prince. The silence was broken only with the sound of hundred of thousands of autograph books opened and proffered.

Nybbas grinned and raised his hands. "What can I say, baby?"

The traditional response shook the Principality. "LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG AND LEAVE A GOOD-LOOKING CORPSE!"

The crowd did not, of course, carry him to his office - even under these unusual circumstances, Hell is not a place to be too familiar - but it was still an amazingly jovial and enthusiastic progression, all the same. Demons are not given towards showing appreciation for another's abilities, but there is such a thing as professional pride. Nybbas had just once again personally demonstrated that he was, indeed, THE MAN - and incidentally made all of their jobs easier. Besides, it wasn't showing weakness if everybody else was doing it, too. Also, of course, no one in the crowd even thought to speculate about presuming to follow Nybbas into his inner sanctum. If he needed any of them, he'd say so. If he didn't... well, better not to spoil the Prince's mood.

Once in his office, the Prince relaxed. Seated in his favorite chair, finest cigar in his mouth, his face was unwontedly serene as he perused the ever-shifting monitor bank in front of him. It was all good, baby.

Until, of course, it wasn't.

Nybbas had by now worn his trademark smile for so long that it was a real effort to remove it - but for once it went away normally as he stared out into nothing. After a certain amount of time, he stood, opened a desk drawer, pulled out a key and walked over to a cabinet. Inside the cabinet were a variety of musical instruments: all glittery and ornate, of course, but of undeniable quality. Nybbas removed the guitar, brought it over to an amp and plugged it in. Then, he began to play.

The tune that he expertly performed was the same as the one that heralded his arrival, but the Prince didn't play it even remotely like he had a thousand times on Earth. He played it... hesitantly, carefully. Various bars would be replayed, as if he was trying to hear something, or else bring something forward. After running through the song several times, Nybbas began to sing along, again almost seeming to be trying to hear for some undetermined note or lyric. His facial expressions were partly obscured by his glasses, of course - but his very posture declared that he was looking for something that not even he was sure existed.

Eventually, he stopped, shrugged, unplugged the guitar and put it back in the cabinet. Still obviously vaguely dissatisfied, Nybbas turned - and froze.

There was a bulky envelope on his desk.

It took some time before the Prince of the Media could be satisfied that the envelope and its contents weren't about to explode, implode or otherwise attack him. It took some more time before he could bring himself to open it; there was a lingering smell to it that Nybbas was grimly sure that he recognized. Inside the envelope were a folded note and a standard audiocassette tape. Being Nybbas, he naturally accessed the latter first, not even bothering to use a tape deck. What was on it shocked him.

It was his song.

Well, it was mostly his song. 99.99% his song. There were minute changes: very, very minute. A few words were pitched slightly differently, or altered. The notes had been moved up or down in a few places. The overall speed was somewhat slower. It was instantly recognizable - and, somehow, so very, very different than his version. So much better. Nybbas could hear the improvement, and knew that this was what he had been hearing in his head, all along. He also knew that, once humanity heard this version, a thousand cover bands would immediately switch to the new arrangement. Somehow, he knew that humanity would hear this arrangement.

It didn't destroy his success - it did something worse. It used it.

After a while, he opened the note. It was, of course, from that eternal thorn in his side.

<I was in a studio and just thought that I'd whip this off; I could see where you were going with this one, but you were forcing it. Stuff like this has got its own opinion about what it should be. Let it flow out next time and see where it takes you, OK?


PS: No need to fix the Grammies this year: it'll win on its own merits.>

The tape, envelope and note impacted the wall so hard that they left dents - but, afterwards, the Prince of the Media angrily set up the guitar again and replayed the song, using the new arrangement. After playing through the entire number, Nybbas simply stood there, his face only slowly losing its furious expression. Reluctantly, he nodded. It did work better - but, by Lucifer, it was still his Goddamned song, not Eli's. He made it, not the Archangel of Creation, and no amount of the latter's tweaking could take that accomplishment away from him.

It was not until quite some time later that it occurred to Nybbas that possibly that had been Eli's real point all along...


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