Chapter 5

Prince Charming and Princess Scarlet! And their hap­piness! Azzie was fascinated in spite of himself. He re­turned to the magic mirror in his workroom. It was large and had a faintly bluish cast. He staggered up to it, a bottle of ichor clutched in one hand, and stood before it.

He stared into the mirror and said, “Show them to me.”

“Show who?” the mirror said.

“You know damned well who,” Azzie said.

“Just one moment while I make the connection,” the mir­ror replied.

Azzie waited, fuming. Beside him, in the leather bag, the various parts of Frike squirmed. Azzie ignored them. Caught up as he was in a demonic obsession, infused with unholy dynamism, he watched the mirror turn cloudy, then slowly grow clear.

The images of Prince Charming and Princess Scarlet ap­peared. How pretty they were! In their silken clothing, they seemed a symbol of all that was good with the world.

Azzie could hear them, in their soft, well-modulated voices, making small talk with each other.

“Izzum my woozie baby?” This from Scarlet.

“I am yours forever,” Charming said. “I know it is usual in these matters not to look into the denouement. I know that the sour scansions of a later age will say that I bullied you, or that you nagged me. But what care we for such cynical glosses? We are young, we are in love, we are beautiful, and contrary to popular expectations, we are going to stay this way for a long time and love each other faithfully and well.”

“How nicely you put it!” Scarlet said, settling back into his arms.

“Happy, are you?” Azzie snarled. “We’ll see to that. There must be something I can do.”

“Master! There is!” This from the leathern bag.

“What is it?” Azzie asked.

“Ah, master, take a moment to put me back together and I’ll be pleased to tell you!”

“This had better be good,” Azzie muttered. “Better than the quickness of falling steel.”

He opened the bag and spread out Frike’s parts. Working swiftly, he joined them together, getting the arms a little wrong in his drunken haste, but doing a creditable job, all in all.

“Thank you, master!” Frike said.

“Now, speak!”

“Oh, master, you can still take your revenge on these despicably pretty and lucky young people. The unlimited credit card, master! You still have it!”

“Oh, good thinking, Frike! I’ll soon put paid to their mer­rymaking! “

He removed the card from his waistcoat pocket and tapped it twice on a convenient nasty surface. There was a very brief hiatus and then the supply clerk appeared before him.

“Yeah, what do you want? “

“I need a special wish,” Azzie said. He smiled meanly, an expression he had often practiced but had never really used before, saving it for a moment like this. The hell with the rules.

“What would you like?”

“First, a nice catastrophe. I want to collapse the castle of Prince Charming and his consort, Princess Scarlet, around their ears. Then I’ll need a special Hell to put them in for a few thousand years, to prove to them that it doesn’t pay to flaunt your happiness in front of a demon.”

“What sort of a catastrophe?” the clerk asked, reaching for his pencil and order form.

“Let’s make it an earthquake.”

“One earthquake coming up,” the supply clerk said.

“And after that I’ll show you our collection of special Hells.” The clerk opened the big ledger. Suddenly he looked up. A great bell had begun tolling. Azzie could hear it, too. In fact, in the village near Azzie’s ch?teau bells were tolling, too.

“What is it?” he asked. “It isn’t Sunday, is it?”

Frike had rushed to the window. “Nay, master, it is the beginning of the Millennial celebrations. People are dancing in the street! Oh, master, what spectacles of untoward joy open before my eyes!”

“To hell with that,” Azzie said. To the clerk: “What are you waiting for? I want an earthquake!”

The clerk smiled meanly and closed his ledger book with a snap. “Sorry, your order is canceled.”

“What are you talking about? I’ll have your guts for a necklace unless you do as I say!”

“No, you won’t,” the supply clerk responded. “It is the stroke of high noon. The Millennial contest is over. The Great Powers of Darkness have canceled your unlimited credit card.”

“No, they can’t! Not yet! I must do this final thing!”

He held up his card, waving it frantically. The supply clerk smiled with sour satisfaction and made a gesture. The card melted in Azzie’s hand.

Azzie let out a scream of baffled rage and tangled madness. Frike lurched away and crouched within an elaborately carved armoire. Azzie stamped his foot. The floor opened beneath him. He sank through it, down, down, down to a remote dark cool underground tunnel where he might wander for a while and regain his composure. Frike rushed to the hole and peered in. He could see Azzie sinking ever downward, still fuming. And outside, from village to village all across the land, the bells of the Millennium went on ringing.

About The Author

Roger Zelazny is the author of the Hugo-winning Lord of Light and the bestselling Amber series, including the classic Nine Princes in Amber. He is a six-time Hugo winner and has won three Nebula Awards.

Robert Sheckley is a novelist and scriptwriter whose short fic­tion has appeared in Playboy, Atlantic Monthly, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. One of his short stories was adapted to film as The Tenth Victim.

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