Smiling in the Face of Hell

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Chapter 3

“Any other questions?”

Scout glanced down at his face to see a soft expression, he knew she was curious about a lot of things.

Scout shook her head,” um, not right now, I need some time to soak up everything else before I pile on more.”

He nodded,” of course, well that means it’s my turn.”

Scout looked at him confused,” you have questions?”

He laughed,” yes I do, I don’t know everything like some people think I do, I know the sins that have been committed, not something like how are you so calm about all of this.”

Scout shrugged,” I don’t know, I guess because I’m technically dead already, I don’t think I can live if I just try and run from you, if you’d honestly let me go anyways. I’m clueless and I’d rather not be alone right now.”

Again, Lionel looked amazed,” what if everything I just told you was a lie,” he asked with a daring smirk,” what if I’m not the King, what if you can still be saved, what if I am tricking you to follow me into a cave to eat you?”

“Because your eyes spoke for you back there, I may not be a people person, but I can tell if someone is lying. You weren’t lying when you said you were tired of being alone. You were being honest and I believe you. Don’t ask me why, but I do. And I think I trust you a little more than I should, but King or no, I’m not really in any position to say no to any help I can get right now. You could have lied, could be a great actor, sure, but I’m optimistic, maybe if you did lie, I can somehow change your mind before anything happens, somehow,” she repeated, wondering what the hell she was even saying, she must be more nervous than she thought since she was blabbering like this.

Lionel laughed,” ok, ok, I get it, I was just testing you. I didn’t expect you to be so honest.”

“What can I say, your probably the only person, demon, that wants to get to know me. I haven’t exactly been popular when I was alive. I was what people call ‘antisocial’, when really they just did not want to talk to me.”

Yep, she was nervous and babbling still, she didn’t even talk this much to Dirge.

Before he could comment on her blabbering, she asked another question,” why can’t I walk on the ground without burning? Is that normal?”

He seemed taken aback for only a second before collecting himself and answering with a small smile,” well that may be because you fell through with your human body, you are still in your body, your soul is trapped here for now, but your soul is also still stuck in your body since you did not die on Earth.”

Confused, Scout knitted her eyebrows,” if I’m still stuck in my body will I still change? Will I change and rip out of my body like some crude horror movie?”

Lionel laughed, again, he sure is enjoying himself,” no, you won’t change until your soul is out of your body. However if you try and stay in your body, you will feel every ache and pain as if you were still alive, that is why I waited for you to wake up to warn you and explain an easy painless way to get your soul out,” he said finally sitting up, only to sit on her waist, so he can look down at her with a serious face.

Scout cleared her throat, he waited to get permission? So he was just ruthlessly teasing before?

He truly was a difficult man to understand, his way of going about things was way wrong, but in the end, she did not seem to mind since he was seemingly opening up himself and perhaps his own social skills were not quite on par either.

“What’s the easy way?”

“I can pull it out, your soul I mean, it takes no longer than five minutes. When I said painless though, I lied a little. When this is going on, you will feel the pain of withdrawing from your body. To put it simply you will feel like you are being skinned. However, it only lasts for a minute, and once you are out, you feel nothing,” he explained, warning her with a soft face. When he said it felt like being skinned, something flickered in his eyes, he seemed pained to have to do this, knowing that in its own way it still hurts.

“Can I think about it,” she blurted, feeling her fear finally break past its wall. She did not know if he was telling the truth, she did not want to jump for something like that so easily just yet, for a split second she was seriously contemplating going ahead and doing. That split second of being swept away with the conversation, running on so little information was very terrifying, reminding her how dangerous it seemed to be talking to him. If she wasn’t careful, if she hasn’t already through a verbal oath from her previous “ok”, she was going to get herself into a possibly very bad situation. She seemed, for the most part, safe now, she could not be diving headfirst into every proposal or promise that was offered up to her like she was doing.

She could still be alive and be able to be saved. If Lady Pers is able to find her, she can return, maybe. As much as she would love to avoid her, Scout would rather get in touch with Lady Pers first to see if it is really as this man is saying or if there are some other options that aren’t being mentioned.

He nodded, she was sure he saw right through what she was thinking because he grew slightly saddened, but he did not even question or press it,” of course, I will not force it. However, in the meantime, you won’t be able to step outside of my home without me to carry you so your feet don’t burn. My place is safe from the burning surface, you will still feel the heat, but at least it will not scorch your skin,” he then said, bringing her attention back to herself and realize that she had been sweating for a long time now. It felt like she was in 150-degree weather, 100% humidity and all.

“Do you have an air conditioner,” she asked innocently.

Lionel snickered,” no, unfortunately, I don’t. As a demon, I’m immune to the heat.”

Scout sighed,” sorry for the sweat and smell then,” she apologized, knowing she was not the prettiest smelling person right now, her hair was probably plastered to her forehead and scalp like it was slicked down with thick gel. She was surprised she was even functioning correctly in the heat. Maybe the heat is why she was so confused about her wild emotions that were all over the place, it was getting to her head, messing up her train of thought.

That was easier to believe than her thinking she was really on board with all this and was actually slowly beginning to enjoy the company.

Lionel shrugged, ” it’s fine, I do have baths you can use, I can also get someone to cool down the water nice and cold for you if you would like.”

Scout nodded and with that Lionel pulled himself off of her and rolled off, standing at the side of the bed, holding his arms out for her to come over to him on her own. Scout slowly sat up, crawling over to the edge. She looked up at Lionel, suddenly feeling embarrassed, her back was bare, her pants were a mess, her skin was pink and slick with sweat and spotted with what looked like soot. She imagined her face was just as fabulous looking as the rest of her, a thick layer of sweat coated her cheeks and forehead and dripped down her neck and her back. Two of her nails were broken and jagged, she could slice something off with them.

Lionel watched as she hesitated to move any closer, then spoke up when she stopped, looking at him with a pleading face,” what’s wrong?”

She did not want to get him any dirtier than she already did when he laid on her, his clothes were slightly coloured with her sweat,” I’m all gross, I don’t want to get any more of my nasty sweat on you,” she did not know why she even cared, she was just being silly at this point.

He glanced down at himself to see what she was looking at and looked back at her with a soft smile,” I told you it’s fine, it will be a fast trip and I will take you straight to the bath so you can wash yourself off to feel better, don’t worry about me right now, if we do not hurry, you might feel the effects of a heat stroke. My place doesn’t have an AC, but it is considerably cooler than out here.”

Scout still felt uncomfortable with the idea, but she went ahead and did as he said, worry about herself right now. Without thinking further about it, she crawled forward right into his arms. As she wrapped her arms around his neck, he scooped her up bridal style and before she could complain, she was not outside anymore, the bed was gone and she was standing in what looked like a very large mansion.

The floor was tiled with what looked like marble, the walls were a grey colour, thick pillars lined up on either side of a walkway that leads right to a flight of stairs, they start off as one pair of stairs but then split off in two different directions once they make it to the second floor.

As soon as Lionel began walking towards the stairs, three different creatures stepped forward, bombarding Lionel with questions.

“Would you like me to prepare anything for you master?”

“What would you like to eat sir?”

“Who is this?”

“Is she human?”

Scout noticed the questions were beginning to turn towards her, but she ignored them and glanced up at Lionel, something else on her mind, clearly something very important that she could not possibly wait to ask,” demons eat?”

That question shut all of the creatures up to stare at her with hard disbelief, as if realizing she was not just a human, but a human that would dare speak. I guess it isn’t common for a human being to be in this demon’s house/mansion.

Lionel then burst out into laughter again, laughing at her strange questions and the other creatures remained silenced,” yes, it’s not a need, but I like to think I still remember my human years.”

Scout stared at him,” do you?”

Lionel shrugged,” bits and pieces,” he said lightly, but his eyes grew slightly distant.

Scout knew she was pressing her limits, but she didn’t hold back,” what did you do to end up in hell?”

Lionel glanced down at Scout, his face was tight, he did not seem amused at all, however, he still answered,” killed the wrong man.”

Scout opened her mouth to ask what he meant exactly, but nothing came out as Lionel cut her off,” you know, I really don’t understand you, one moment you are frightened, then you are here boldly prying in my past. You are a very strange being, like a ‘roller coaster ride’, as I have heard some newer Hell tenants say before,” easily changing the subject on her.

Scout cleared her throat,” it’s because I don’t know what I'm supposed to feel right now,” she admitted, looking away to glance at the silent demons around them, simply observing their conversation. How could she explain it when she also is just as confused by her up and down emotions that cannot seem to find a steady happy medium.

Before Lionel could respond, a small, petite demon came teetering through the door that was behind her and Lionel, making him shoot a glare behind him to the small being that came through what looks like the front door,” what is it,” he snapped, becoming almost a completely different person than the one Scout was speaking to just moments before.

Someone doesn’t like being interrupted, Scout found herself musing, making her realize that it might be the reason no one spoke out while they were speaking. Why she was amused by that fact instead of scared, Scout did not know why.

“Sir, the Council is calling for a meeting, they say it is an urgent matter,” the small thing said, it's voice was small and chipmunk-like, the only real comparison she had to offer to explain that tone and pitch.

Lionel’s shoulders visibly sagged,” either they are desperate to find and keep you, or they already know I have you,” he said with a heavy sigh as he glanced down at Scout.

Suddenly the front door burst open again, as if blown open by an unimaginable force making the massive Victorian style double doors slam back into the wall with an audible crack. Scout felt her face pale when she came face to face with Lady Pers just outside the blasted doors. The small creature that had came in just before her had been harshly blown back with the doors and was sent across the large room, the poor thing quickly forgotten about by all almost immediately.

Lionel held himself and Scout in their spot, completely unfazed by the dramatic, uncalled for entrance. It almost seemed like he was oddly used to such things, which was a curious thing considering he was a King, and she would imagine that something as rude as boldly destroying his front doors would have warranted a massive punishment.

However, with Lionel's facial expression, she realized that it is not at all acceptable, but Lionel wasn’t worrying about the details yet because he knew something bigger worth waiting for was coming, making her skin crawl. First of all, how did she suddenly know that, and secondly what more could possibly go wrong?

“So it is just as Dirge assumed. I wanted to brush off that brutes attempts at trying to tell me that he was sure that was your minion that broke through the gate and pushed my gatekeeper into the door. However, when you disappeared around the same time Scout fell, I could not help but do some digging and figure out the truth. Now, King, please do tell me, why have you pulled my employee down here against her will?”

Lady Pers sounded calm, like the creepy, you’re-’bout-to-die calm. Scout shivered slightly, fearing for her life that she apparently doesn’t even have anymore anyway.

Lionel looked pissed himself, but he only tightened his grip on Scout as he turned to fully face Lady Pers,” who the hell said you can come barging into my home?”

Scout swallowed the nervous lump that formed in her throat, staring between the two as they talked, now scared out of her wits from the pissed and annoyed tone of Lionel, if his voice could kill, Lady Pers would be long gone by now, that’s how intense his voice sounded. It did not at all help that she was literally pinned right in the middle clinging to Lionel like a baby koala.

Lady Pers pointed to the ground, pointing out the fact that she wasn’t actually in his home, but an inch just outside of it, a very childish and cocky thing to do, especially, to all demons, the King,” I did not barge ‘into’ your home, King, I just simply opened the door so I can retrieve my property.”

Scout wanted to say she belonged to no one, but, in the end, it was probably true, she did sign papers, she had no doubt now that somewhere in teeny tiny fine print somewhere, it did indeed say she belonged to Lady Pers after signing it. In fact, she could confidently assume it was not even in fine print, she never read the paper as she should have, it was probably in bold clear print for her, but she did not bother, too scared to think of anything but sign the papers and get that demon out of her living room.

The King snorted,” you have got to be kidding me, you came all the way over here for this human, who is now already dead, who is now in my home, which makes her mine now.”

Scout felt her frustration begin to boil under her layer of fear, being talked about like she was an object like she wasn’t there made her angry, but both sides of this argument seemed too frightening to try and fight. If she talked back to one of them, would she suddenly die a second time?

“Me and her have arranged a deal, she had given me the verbal ok to work and belong to the council as the gatekeeper, even after death, and knowing how humans work, I even have it written on paper, her signature and all,” Lady Pers said triumphantly, snapping her fingers, making a purple cloud appear and fall away to reveal the same paper that Scout had indeed signed.

“Hey wait a minute, I signed only for the job as the gatekeeper, not to be the ‘council’s’ pet,” Scout tried to defend despite knowing just how useless it was, but somehow, even without what would be said next, she knew she had lost this argument. Her attempt was futile, but she felt like she had to at least show she tried.

“It doesn’t matter, your ignorance and fear had allowed me in as soon as you said yes. As soon as you agreed, I was able to bound you to the council, even after death, you were to work for me and the council for the rest of your miserable life,” she said, even though her face was hidden behind a mask, Scout heard her grin, she heard her evil.

“That’s wrong, you can’t do that,” Scout shrieked, feeling used and even stupid for not having the balls to ask questions and get answers before jumping into a yes. Stupid for actually believing that it was not true. Feeling stupid for even being mad at anyone but herself.

Strange, when Lionel told her the same thing, she took it well considering her situation, but as soon as Lady Pers comes around and repeats it in different words, Scout loses it. Maybe it was the fact that things were catching up to her, that she was realizing just how serious her situation really was. Or she was just subconsciously picking the most ideal side that she thought she would be better off with, the council clearly not being the side she wished to reside in.

Well damn.

“But she can, on many and most occasions. However,” he then said, smirking slowly, ” as King, I can out rule her and eliminate that contract that has bound you to Lady Pers here and the lousy and annoying council,” Lionel assured, giving Scout a slight comfort in the matter. There had to be some kind of catch.

Lady Pers was slowly stepping out of her cool and collect act and beginning to act more and more like a spoiled brat who was most definitely not patient and had a few too many doses of confidence, she was definitely not used to being told no or not having her way.

“Breaking the contract means death to the one who broke the deal, soul and all,” she said, crossing her arms as she clearly stared down at Scout, having the air of someone who had just won the argument, but Lionel was quick to shoot her down.

“And any harm brought to a soulmate means death to the one who is responsible, which will end up on your head Lady Pers.”

Silence crashed into the hall in which they stood, Scout felt a strange weight press upon her shoulders by his words, and with stress beginning to pile on top, soon she’d break from all the pressure.

With all that weighted pressure, Lionel set Scout on her feet at his side, a protective arm around her, keeping her tucked into his side, making her lean on him to help her stay upright. It seemed like he was preparing to do something frightening that required at least one hand.

Soulmate. That sounds like something that lasts a long long time. Made up. Permanent.

“Impossible,” Lady Pers seemed to fall back slightly, her arm raised across her chest as if trying to avoid a stroke,” this thing is your soul woman,” she then shrieked, pointing her other, slim, sharp looking finger at Scout, stopping only an inch from the tip of her nose.

Lionel pulled Scout back so the haunting finger did not touch her, making her stumble on her feet, leaning heavily on him to keep from falling over.

Mortified, Lady Pers drew her arm back at this gesture and stared between him and Scout. She couldn’t see her face, but Scout heard the incredulous disgust in Lady Pers’ voice.

“Nothing is impossible Pers. Now if you don’t mind,” Lionel reached up and flicked his finger towards the signed paper, that had remained floating since Lady Pers had summoned it, sending a small, penny-sized fireball at it, immediately catching it ablaze within moments, making ash rain onto the floor under it.

Scout doubled over when she felt a sharp pain in her chest, her breath was squeezed out of her as if someone had just smashed her lungs against a wall, pain spasming through her body.

Lady Pers gasped, then stepped back even further when Lionel placed a large warm hand over Scouts back, instantly soothing the strange and painful feeling that flew through her, making sure she did not lose her footing.

“You don’t understand, I have invested so much into her,” Lady Pers began, the panic swarming her tone.

“Yes, and the council hates failure,” Lionel purred, clearly enjoying making Lady Pers swim in her fear she suddenly sported.

Scout straightened out, feeling slightly sick, but overall she could breathe again and her chest no longer hurt. She was beginning to see more and more of this story come together.

“I-I,” Pers cleared her the throat, forcing her spine to straighten, dropping her arm to her side, swiftly collecting herself before speaking again,” I see, I shall report back to the council immediately. Good day, King.”

Scout watched in shock as Lady Pers turned to try and make a hasty retreat, only to stop when Lionel spoke up,” hold on.”

She was as stiff as a mountain, Scout could have sworn she saw the poor demon tremble in her robes.

“Have you realized your mistake here today? You deliberately ignored my words, thinking you have the upper hand in this situation, when you didn’t, soul woman or not, she would have gone nowhere with you today. It is almost laughable that you honestly thought you could get away with this.”

From behind, Scout saw Lady Pers shrink into herself as Lionel continued, his teasing attitude gone,” you have broken the law by challenging my power and my word.”

Scout paled for Lady Pers, she had no experience with this kind of stuff for real, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know, even in known human history, defiance against a King is the biggest and boldest crime to commit.

Lady Pers turned and fell to her knees, practically kissing the floor,” please forgive me. I am still new and I have already failed the council, punishment will be spent where it is due, please have mercy,” she begged.

By how Lady Pers acted when she first arrived, Scout would have never guessed that she was pressing her luck well past her limits coming at the King as she had. Now the weight of her mistakes towards the King of Hell has squished her down to her knees, begging for another chance. This was all way more serious than Scout could handle. He was going to kill her. Scout wasn’t sure how, but it was clear that was what he was implying. Or perhaps something worse than simple death.

“As a King, allowing you to live after such defiance, it will make me look weak. I don’t like looking weak.”

Lionel took a slow step towards Lady Pers, Scout moved with him, suddenly feeling compelled to help the same lady who tried to basically take her as a slave to the council just moments before.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Scout began stepping in front of Lionel to stop him, making him snap his eyes down to her, instantly softening.

“Scout, you are too soft-hearted, and you don’t quite know how Hell works, maintaining my title as King requires me to not give second chances. One strike and you’re out.”

Scout stiffened, she knew she was about to screw up, but she couldn’t let this woman die, no matter how horrible she is,” but she said the council will already punish her, I’m sure they will take care of her for you, no need to waste the energy when she’s already doomed right?”

Lionel crossed his arms and stared at her, a smile graced his lips as his eyes challenged her to keep it up, a teasing kind of gesture, not a keep-talking-and-you-will-suffer-the-same-fate kind of look. He had the nerve to actually be amused.

“Milady is right,” Lady Pers began. Out of fear her speaking would just dig her grave deeper, Scout whipped around and shushed her, effectively cutting off whatever she was going to say. Clearly, Scout was the favored one out of the two of them, making her the very center of attention, so Scout should do all the talking if she expected to save her.

“So, like I said, no need to kill her off now and not get the proper punishment from the council for her failure. Right?”

“What makes you think the council will do worse than I? What makes you think she deserves this chance?”

Questions, questions, questions, she needed to produce answers, answers that will please him to get her out of this mess that she so easily put herself in.

Scout put one finger up, gesturing for a moment as she turned and faced Pers,” what is the punishment for failure in the council?”

Pers answered quickly, Scout didn’t sense any lies as she spoke, her voice stained with sobs and tears that most likely splayed on her face under her ivory mask,” stripped of title, put on trial. I will either get 200 years of torture, outcasted into the deepest part of Hell and all powers taken away, or will be executed slowly, resetting everything. My defiance towards the King is sure to make it to their ears and torture will be my outcome with many, many more years added to it.”

Scout felt sick to her stomach, but she swallowed down her fear and pity as she turned and looked up at Lionel who was patiently waiting, a smile still on his lips. Just the word Execution had her rattled to the bone, she had not even fully registered everything that was said and never seemed to realize that a “resetting everything” was added right after it.

“So what’s better, immediate death, or torture. Personally, prolonging the punishment other than killing her right off the bat is better no?”

Suddenly Lionel laughed, Lady Pers whimpered behind Scout, who jumped from his sudden outburst.

“I was going to do something like that already.”

Scout pouted, really testing her limits,” well, even better, you don’t have to even bother, let them do it, so you don’t have to lift a finger. Look, I know I’m being unreasonable, er, maybe, but she is already in trouble, no need to add on. She lost, and she knows her mistake and all. Just let her go and let the council punish her accordingly.”

Scout didn’t know why she was going through such lengths, most likely embarrassing herself in the process, to save this demon who did not expect to lose, but she didn’t feel right letting Lionel kill her when the council already promised what she ‘deserved’, assuming killing her would have been the outcome to his ways.

Lionel tilted his head slightly as he stared down at her, his eyes as soft as butter,” you are going to make me regret it if I say no and have my way, aren’t you?”

Scout wasn’t sure where her honesty would get her but she answered honestly anyways,” yes, I won’t leave you alone, I will keep pestering you until you let her go and even then I will be mad at you.”

I’ll be mad at you,’ really Scout? Was that the best you can come up with for the King of Hell? Just how far are you trying to take this? The fact that even though she questioned her own words, she did not feel childish for it, because it was as if somewhere deep down, she knew he would not like that. She knew, yet had no way to explain why he would not like it, just that she knew.

Lionel moved, and Scout twitched away and squeeze her eyes shut, waiting for some kind of physical blow or maybe yelling, but nothing of that nature came, instead, warmth wrapped around her and before she knew it, he had her by the waist pulled into his side. Scout opened her eyes and looked up, her shock had frozen most of her body and brain, making it impossible to ask or fight it.

She really did not expect a hug out of all the things that she thought should have happened.

“Lady Pers, by consent of the Queen, you have been released. You are to report back to the council just as you said you were and you are to suffer whatever punishment you get. As King, my part of this agreement is that if I see you anywhere near me or my Queen, you will be executed on sight, am I understood?”

Scout swallowed nervously as Lionel leaned down and rested his chin on the top of her head, staring intently over at Lady Pers who stood to her feet quickly doing a full 90-degree bow before scurrying off completely out of sight within seconds before he changed his mind.

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