There was something odd going on at the Lounge of Supreme Evil. Lucifer noticed it as soon as he turned on the street. A small crowd had gathered in front of the door. Tash floated slightly off the ground behind the others, the claws on his four hands impatiently clicking one at a time along his thumb. A tall, mannish figure stood beside him, dressed like an evil sorcerer with a black cloak and skull cap. Lucifer remembered he had a name as original as his costume. Maybe one of the Lords of Darkness, or something like that. Or maybe, no, "Evil," that was it. He was called simply Evil. Lame.
Jadis, Slortar the Old--who looked and acted like he was about ten--and others he couldn't quite see crowded around the door, not going in.
Lucifer had never heard of the Lounge being closed, and he certainly had never ever heard of a door that could be barred against this crew. Still, every Supreme Evil has his bugaboo. Jadis and Tash had that lion, Evil had the Supreme Being (talk about lame). Morgoth got his face ground into the dirt by Tulkas once, and he was never quite the same. Sauron, poor chap, had an inferiority complex with Morgoth, so say the word "Tulkas" around Sauron, and... well, let's just say that Lucifer never said "Tulkas" if Sauron were sitting in one of his good chairs.
Of course, Lucifer himself gave a wide berth to a certain sandal-wearing Nazarene. Not that Lucifer couldn't whip the old priss, it was just that he didn't want to start Armageddon with an off-color joke. Shuey was too sensitive.
The Adversary didn't break his lazy, ambling stride as he thought these things. He circled the crowd casually, and found an opening on the other side, beside one of those annoying pricks who called themselves Lord of Darkness.
An arm shot out and blocked his path. Lucifer turned with shock, to see which being was fool enough to stand in his way. He hoped it was Darkness.
It wasn't. Instead, it was a beautiful elvish-looking man with a gold ring bearing flaming script.
"Sauron!" Lucifer exclaimed. "Dude, what's happening?" He slugged Sauron in the shoulder.
"Hey, Luce," Sauron said with a glance, then turned his face back to the open doorway. "Don't go in there."
Lucifer frowned. "What, is Morgoth on a rampage?"
"What?" Sauron half-turned and glared at Lucifer, black smoke curling around his pointed ears.
"Joke, man, joke!" Lucifer said. He really shouldn't tease Sauron about Morgoth, but, well, Lucifer wasn't really in the business of resisting temptation.
"Not funny," Sauron said, and turned back to stare in the door.
"Then what the me is going on?" Lucifer said. The Warlock Lord was blocking his view, so he grabbed the shadowy shroud and tossed him over his shoulder.
The current bartender of the Lounge of Supreme Evil wass not as tolerant as his portly predecessor, who had to retire after an unfortunate accident involving running water and a freak reflection of sunlight off a high-flying airplane at twilight. He was an ancient vampire by the name of Vlad, who, when he wasn't impaling mortals who displeased him, or sucking the blood of college girls, likes to grow ornamental plants. If he wanted to see them bloom, of course, he was restricted to seriously shade-tolerant varieties, which he would complain about to anyone who would listen, which was nearly no one. Sympathetic ears were in short supply at the Lounge of Supreme Evil. But he'd even made a couple of futile efforts to put some planters about the place or in front of the facade. Futile, because, apart from those who would kill the plants just because someone else liked them, there were those like Tash, whose mere proximity made healthy plants shrivel up and die. But always Vlad kept at it, once even keeping a couple potted palms and a tub of ferns living for almost a month, when Tash was out of town, and Sauron was dragging Lucifer to movie openings.
Inside the Lounge, there were roughly a dozen tables, about three dozen chairs, a scattering of leather armchairs, and a chaise longue for any evil beings that needed to drape or sprawl or otherwise look evil in a horizontal position. There was also Vlad, washing glasses, and one extremely large tree.
The Lounge has a perspective-damaging ability to fit its clientele, regardless of size. This was handy, given the enormity of some of its customers. And the tree was enormous. It was inside the room. It also was brushing the bottoms of clouds with its top-most branches. Some sort of great pine or fir tree, with shaggy bark.
"Whoa!" Lucifer said. "That is one huge tree."
The vampire waved to Lucifer to come in.
"Well, all right!" Lucifer said. "Let's go."
He started for the door, but barely got one cloven hoof in front of the other before Sauron yanked him back. "Are you crazy?"
"Aw, let him go," said the Warlock Lord. "It would be fun to watch."
"Hey, I've got an even better idea," Sauron said. "I'll throw you in there, so we can see what it does."
The dark shadows where the Warlock Lord's eyes should have been grew wider, and he backed away. Sauron made a lunge, and the Warlock Lord pelted out of sight.
Ordinarily, Lucifer would have joined in on the grab, it was a great old game, but an idea was growing in his head, and he didn't like it.
"That tree in there," Lucifer said. "That's not the... how do you say it? Kithea? Chithea?"
"Chthea," said a stony-faced Grecian that Lucifer hadn't noticed, wedged between Jadis and the door.
"Leave it to Pluto to know that." Sauron rolled his eyes.
"Hades!" hissed Hades.
"Really? Is he your brother or something? You guys look exactly alike."
"Come over here and say that," Hades growled, "You sub-centenarian fictional poser."
"Don't you love it when mere gods of the dead pretend they're evil?" Sauron said to Lucifer.
"Yeah. Too bad Death of the Endless never gets that in her head," Lucifer said.
"Oh, man!" Sauron said. "She is hot! She's like the hottest chick this side of Annihilation."
"But not evil," Lucifer said.
"Not evil," Sauron agreed.
Their eyes slowly glided back to the tree in the lounge.
"It can't be more than we can handle," Lucifer said. "Two Supreme Beings against a tree?"
"Go ahead and try, then," Hades said.
"No, seriously, dude, you so do not want to mess with that thing," Sauron said.
"Why?" Lucifer asked. "How evil can a tree be?"
"It can see the future, little demon," Jadis said, dropping a disdainful look out of the corner of her eye.
Lucifer decided to let that one pass. You couldn't take every insult personally. Not in this crowd. "So can I," he said with a little shrug.
Jadis just watched him out of that corner of her eye, unblinking, waiting. Lucifer felt a chill on the night air.
"Sometimes," he admitted.
"Not like the Chthea, man," Sauron said.
"It sees the future perfectly," whispered Darkness. This Dark Lord had bull's horns growing out of his head, enormous horns so big they looked like they would snap even his muscle-roped neck, although they had a peculiar habit of wobbling if he moved too quickly. "It knows the outcomes of all choices."
"So?" Lucifer said. He was momemtarily distracted, because a peculiar image had just come into his mind, of the Lord of Darkness dressed in a corset, fishnet tights, and badly-applied make-up. Singing...
Sauron tore Lucifer away from his private horror-show. "So, Dude, if there's like, anything that anyone could say that would make you piss yourself and collapse in a crying puddle of ichor, it knows what that is, and exactly how to say it to you."
"Do you seriously think there's anything could do that to me?" Lucifer gaped a smile and spread his arms wide, as if inviting a sucker-punch.
"Think, proud angel," Jadis said. "Is there nothing you have done that you have ever regretted? Nothing you have lost, since the beginning of time?"
Lucifer laughed. "Are you kidding?" But the laugh died away. There was a memory. A very old memory, he had lost something... he'd told everyone he preferred to rule in hell, told it for so long he'd come to believe it himself. Almost. Lucifer felt a chill of fear slide down his spine. Was there anything it could say, could make him feel that loss again? Lucifer didn't want to know.
"I told you, Dude," Sauron said. "Nobody, but nobody, messes with the Chthea."
Lucifer turned back to stare at the towering trunk of the tree. He felt weak in the knees.
Inside, Vlad carried a watering can over to the tree. The vampire looked tiny, and the contents of the watering can laughable compared to the mighty river the tree's roots must drink.
"That's weird," said Slortar the Old.
"What?" asked Lucifer.
"Yeah," Lucifer said, peering at the vampire. "Why isn't he burbling on the floor like a half-finished lunch?"
"The Chthea's probably using him as bait," Sauron said.
"He's wearing ear plugs, you ignorami," Hades said.
"No way!" Sauron said.
"Well, yeah," Lucifer said, eyes lighting up. "If all it can do is talk at you, it can't do anything if you can't hear it."
"You're right!" Sauron said. "Let's get some ear plugs!"
The entrance to the Lounge of Supreme Evil is in a dark side street off the main road of a city that cannot be named for the safety of the public. The main road is brightly lit, flashing neon, crowded with clubs, short-stay hotels, small movie theaters that never showed Hollywood blockbusters, not even Ishtar, and portable kiosks selling everything from hot pretzels to condoms. But, at that hour, there was no open pharmacy in sight.
This, of course, did not stop the supreme duo. Half a block down the road was a line of patrons waiting to get into the Nasty Nightclub, a seedy dive for evil beings who did not meet the strict membership requirements at the Lounge of Supreme Evil. The two picked up a pair of patrons each--Lucifer chose two Sith lords, Sauron two wickked stepmothers--stuffed them in their ears, and headed back to their own watering hole.
It is an advantage of being a Supreme Being that matters of dimensional space and conservation of energy are really matters of convenience. It was convenient that the heads of the unfortunate four fit snugly into their ears, and so they did. The protruding arms and legs dangled only just past the shoulders of their hosts, but still deserved larger heads than they appeared to have.
Said arms and legs kicked and struggled for a time, but eventually the lack of air experienced from having one's face jammed against the side of someone else's external auditory meatus caused the limbs to eventually droop listlessly. All except one of the Sith lords, who evidently wore some sort of rigid breathing mask, and continued to struggle.
Sauron and Lucifer said something each considered uproariously funny, thought the other was laughing at his joke, slugged each other, and marched into the Lounge. The waiting crowd parted before them, then closed tightly behind.
"And they say you aren't really evil," Jadis hummed to Hades, towering over the others to watch from the top of the doorway.
Hades, pressed in on the right, laughed darkly. "I've been waiting for this night for a long time."
Tash had the left side. Evil and Darkness crouched beneath, although Evil couldn't see well, with those enormous horns constantly wobbling toward his eye.
Slortar the Old slid on his belly beneath them all, propped his chin in his hands, and kicked his heals in the air. "Those two give evil a bad name," he said. The Warlock Lord returned, but couldn't find a vantage point to see the action.
"Come on, guys, let me in."
"Quiet," growled Darkness.
At the door, they could clearly hear the conversation at the table.
"Good evening, gentlemen," Vlad said. "I was wondering if you would ever come in."
Lucifer and Sauron exchanged a worried look.
"One-fifty-one," Lucifer said. "Neat."
Vlad's face fell, "Sir, the fire marshal--"
"Make it a double!" Lucifer said.
Vlad's dark eyes turned darker, and he turned to Sauron. "Is the diabolical gentleman having a bad day?"
"Can you give me a sloe comfortable screw?" Sauron asked, and giggled.
"'Comfortable' have I never been," Vlad said, and the tips of his fangs pushed their way through his lips. "But I will bring you your drinks."
After Vlad left, Sauron leaned toward Lucifer and asked, "Did you see his face when I asked for a sloe screw?"
"What?" Lucifer asked, turning a Sith-stuck ear.
"I said," Sauron put his mouth to Lucifer's ear and shouted. "Did you see--" Unfortunately, this was the ear whose earplug was still struggling, and it kicked Sauron hard in his upper right incisor.
"Ow!" Sauron clapped his hand over his mouth. "Damn! Shit, he just about broke my tooth." He opened his mouth and wiggled one incisor. "Ai 'ooth is woose!"
Lucifer leaned back in his chair. "If you don't want to tell me, that's fine."
"Hey, Luce, promise me you'll torture that worm for the next ten thousand years?" Sauron said, finally taking his fingers out of his mouth.
Lucifer didn't reply, because at that moment the earplug succeeded in doing what it had been attempting for some time, which was to kick Lucifer in the eye.
"Gah!" Lucifer said, and slapped his ear. There was a snapping sound, and the earplug went limp.
The two evil beings sighed, looked around the bar, then back at each other.
"You can't hear a word I'm saying," Lucifer said.
"Now what do we do?" Sauron said at the same time.
"Do you know how ridiculous you look?" Lucifer asked.
"I wish Kali were here," Sauron said, and planted his chin in his hands.
Lucifer rapped his fingers on the tabletop. Sauron sighed.
Suddenly Lucifer looked toward the crowd at the door, and his eyes lit up.
"Dude!" he said, and slapped Sauron on the shoulder.
"What?" Sauron asked.
Lucifer glanced around the room. "Vlad!" he called to the bartender, as he brought them their drinks.
"Now what do you want?" Vlad asked.
"Vlad, do you have a pen?" Lucifer asked, swiping his drink off the tray.
"A pen," Vlad said. "Once I was the Dragon of Romania. Now I bring drinks and a pen to idiots."
"You know, a pen," Lucifer repeated.
"Yes, yes. I am familiar with the unusual and rare device you mention," Vlad said, pulling a ball point from inside his jacket.
"Thanks, dude," Lucifer said, snatching it with his free hand. Then, with a flourish, he threw back his drink, which immediately exploded in a blue fireball right where the bartender's head had been a moment before.
Lucifer scrawled a message on the napkin. Sauron read the message, looked up at the door, and grinned.
"Right on, dude!" He gave a thumbs-up sign, to make his meaning clear.
Lucifer fist-pumped him. The two got up, and began a slow meander in different directions around the lounge. If they were pretending to be doing something other than getting closer to the door, they were doing a very bad job of it, having nothing in particular to do instead.
Lucifer wandered past the tree, reaching out one hand to brush its bark, then continued his circuitous route back toward the door.
"I think I left my, uh, something in the cloakroom," Sauron said aloud.
When they were each about ten feet from the door, they met eyes, and lunged forward. Each of them grabbed Tash by two arms, and dragged the vulture-headed monster into the bar. Although prodigiously strong, Tash's feet never touched the ground, which meant he could get little purchase against two other Supreme Beings.
Tash let out a blood-curdling screech, but the pair dragged him through the bar, tables and chairs flying out of their way in a clatter and snap of broken legs. They dragged him all the way to the great tree, then, swinging him back and forth and shouting, "One! Two! Three!" they hurled him up hundreds of feet into its canopy.
At once, Vlad came running over, his eyes red and his fangs gashing through his lower lip. But there was nothing he could do. The proud branches of the tree drooped, and dry, brown needles pittered on the floor like rain.
Sauron and Lucifer high-fived each other. They hooted their victory, and crowed like roosters. They pulled the earplugs from their ears, although the head of one of the Sith lords got stuck, and popped off when Lucifer pulled too hard.
"Get out!" Vlad fumed.
"Cruel children!" Jadis cried, sweeping into the bar, ice crackling in her breath. "You are nothing but cruel children." The others came in after, grinning manically. Tables and chairs leapt upright and broken legs mended themselves to receive the guests.
"What?" Sauron said, as innocently as possible. Lucifer was busy trying to hook the Sith lord's head out of his ear with a fingernail. He could hook the blasted thing, but this was the one whose head had been covered with little horns, and it just wouldn't come free.
"Get out!" Vlad raged. "Both of you! Out!"
"We just made it so your customers could come in," Sauron said. "If Tash is stuck up there it's not our fault. He has a bird head, I thought he could fly."
"Tash had promised to leave my sequoia alone!" Vlad fumed. "But, oh no, you idiots had to throw him on it. Do you have any idea how much work it took to get a sequoia in here? You don't care, you don't give a shit about hard work, or trying to make the place look nice, or anything, except having your little joke!"
Sauron looked to Lucifer for help, but the Adversary was busy, holding his head sideways and thumping the opposite ear.
"But the Chthea--" Sauron started.
"Zeus above!" Hades swore. "You didn't think we were serious? Rub those little brain cells together and try to get a spark! The Chthea doesn't move! How could it get here?"
"You looked really stupid with those people stuck in your ears," Slotar the Old said, and giggled.
"I said, 'Get out!'" Vlad raged. "And don't let me see your faces again for the rest of the century!"
"I think they need some help," said Darkness.
"I'd be only too happy," said Evil.
Sauron and Lucifer suddenly found themselves grabbed and lifted by all four limbs. Supreme Beings are not, as a rule, accustomed to being manhandled, because no one is really strong enough. However, if you happen to be grabbed by other Supreme Beings, well, omnipotence verses four omnipotences doesn't have much of a chance. First one, then the other went soaring out the door, into the sky, high over Ymris, over the Discworld, to crash on a sandy beach far away.
"Damn that hurt," Sauron said, rubbing his head. Something about this beach looked familiar.
"Dude!" Lucifer said, not caring that the Sith Lord's head had been knocked from his ear. "We just got banned from the Lounge!"
Sauron had other things to worry about. He'd become aware that what he had knocked his head against was not a rock, as he had first suspected, but an extremely hard shin. The shin was attached to a large foot at one end, and a club-like knee at the other. The knee gave way to a massive thigh, followed by a rough loincloth, an abdomen fairly rippling with muscles, brawny chest and shoulders, and atop it all a ruddy, smiling face with pointy ears and wild hair.
"Tulkas?" Sauron said, his bladder suddenly emptying itself.
Tulkas smiled even broader. "Someone's been a very naughty boy."