“Just remember… I’ll be watching.” Lucielle whispered from an alley as she let me walk into one of the bars in Sector Violence’s Border District and slipped back into the shadows like she was a part of them. She could be amazingly stealthy when she wanted to be. She had snuck up on me multiple occasions since our time together, always managing to startle me. It wasn’t always on purpose, either. Her footsteps were always light and silent, without her trying. I could always detect Luca’s presence when he was near, but never hers, which was interesting.
He would be sure to find me here. Someone would tell him, and he would come, and I would have to break his heart.
I sat down at the bar, and observed. All eyes had landed on me the moment I opened the door. Of course, everyone recognized me here. I had been his prized second in command and I had gone missing. A couple people near the door exchanged looks and left. The bartender got me a drink immediately without me even needing to ask and I thanked him. I needed it.
I looked at a faceless clock that hung above the bar while I waited. It was a common thing to see in Hell. I wasn’t sure if the faceless clocks were some kind of ironic symbol for having all the time in the world or just because people felt like they were lost without keeping track of time like they had when they were alive. The clock still worked, I could hear it ticking, but the hands had been torn off and discarded and the numbers were gouged away by some sharp instrument.
After a few minutes, no longer than ten, the door opened and I knew it was Luca without looking, mainly because everyone had fallen into dead silence. No one wanted to do anything to set him off because he must have just recently calmed down.
“Leave.” He ordered, and everyone got up and left, even the bartender. They were scared of him, and I couldn’t blame them. His voice was rough and scratchy. He walked behind the bar and kept his back to me as he poured himself a drink. I looked down at mine and clenched one of my fists in my lap. My skin illuminated white; it had been doing that a lot lately, after the time in Lucielle’s sector. I could protect myself now, I knew that, and I didn’t have to be afraid.
“I hear you’ve been keeping busy, with Lucielle.”
I didn’t reply.
He turned to face me. He looked… worn, haggard, impossibly older and all the more morose. He looked like a wreck. Why he let himself appear this way in public was beyond me. Showing strength at all times was key to staying in power. I have no doubt people in this sector had started to covet for his spot as a leader of Hell. “Why did you leave?”
I swallowed. He had gotten right to the point. It was hard to speak, especially knowing Lucielle was observing the whole thing. I never liked having an audience when I was with him and the bar was no exception. “Why did you lock me away?”
“You wanted to stay out of it, didn’t you? I was just trying to keep you out of it and keep you safe.”
“You made me your prisoner, Luca.” I finally met his gaze. He was high, of course. I could tell in his eyes. “You don’t do that to someone you care about. You just don’t.”
“I was just trying to protect you, don’t you see that?”
“Of course I do, Luca!” I was starting to raise my voice, emotions getting the better of me. Lucielle had told me it would be best to at the very least keep a calm and collected exterior. All of her coaching went out the window the second he came in that door. “But that was not the way to do it. You had been protecting me by trusting me, by teaching me to fight, not locking me away.”
“It was the only thing I could do to keep you out of the war. You left and look what happened! You’re one of Lucielle’s dogs now, just like Michael!”
“Don’t you dare call me a bitch! I know you’re thinking it. You’re leading up to it.”
He stayed silent because I had been right. We knew each other far too well to have petty arguments and childish name calling.
“But at least it’s of my own free will, don’t you get that?” I mocked what he had said and regretted it immediately. I shouldn’t antagonize him. “I had to get away from you, you’re going crazy, you’re not sane anymore, if you ever were in the first place.”
Luca set his glass down calmly, but quickly circled around the bar. I stood up and backed away, but he caught me by the throat. “You will not talk to me like that.”
“And you can’t keep me prisoner. I had to run away from you. You were hurting me, can’t you understand that? Do you even care?” I pulled at his hand but he wouldn’t budge. I wasn’t scared, though. He wouldn’t physically hurt me, he didn’t have it in him anymore. I knew that he was weak. “I would think you would understand that. Lucielle told me where you guys came from. Granted, it’s a little hard to believe that you were once a judge, but if you can’t see that keeping me prisoner was the same as what was happening to you in Heaven, you really have been corrupted by this place.”
It struck a chord in him, I saw it in his eyes. He went from angry to sad in a second. “But you’ll come back to me, won’t you? I…” He trailed off. Was he going to say he loved me?
I know what he did was wrong, but God, this was hurting me so much. I came here under orders to break his heart but the look in his eyes was breaking mine.
“I need you, Persephone. I do. I’m so sorry, there’s no excuse for what I did. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time, but I see that it wasn’t. You just have to come back to me.” He kissed me suddenly, his lips as powerful and commanding as always, trying to persuade me to return to him.
I kissed him back because I couldn’t help it. Tears slipped from my eyes. I placed my hand on his throat for once, it illuminating once again. He jerked backward, letting go of me and steam hissing from his skin. I pushed him down onto his knees. “I don’t have to do anything.”
He fell back in confusion, clutching his throat. I saw an angry red mark the shape on my hand burned into his neck. “What the fuck, Persephone? What happened to you?”
“I can’t trust you anymore, Luca.”
“You don’t want me anymore? Fine.” He stumbled to his feet. “Don’t expect me to save you anymore, even when things get rough, and good luck getting Lucielle to be there for you.” He punched a massive hole in the wall next to me and left with a “get the hell out of my sector, traitorous bitch.”
My legs were still shaking when Lucielle walked in.
“That was really good. A real tear-jerker. You certainly delivered.” She laughed heartlessly. I envied her. I was a crying mess and she was flawless. “You can have the night off after that. I’ll be leaving this filthy sector now. You can do whatever you want.” She ducked out as quietly as she entered and I was alone.
I sat back down at the bar, trying to regain feeling in my legs and hastily wiping tears away before they spilled over. It had been the right thing to do, but why was it hurting me so much? The look on his face, the surprise when I had burned him, it was too much. I wanted to finally collapse and release all the hurt I had been holding in, spontaneously combust in rage and tears, but I couldn’t. Bottling all those things inside as my dysfunctional way to cope had made them glued in place.
The front door of the bar pushed open, making a sharp grinding noise as the bottom of the door scraped against the rubble Luca had made. “What the hell? Where is everyone?” Sam popped her buzzed head in. “Oh, Persephone, is that you?”
I wiped my face again before fully turning. “Sam?” I always seemed to run into her at the most random times.
“Wow, it is you. Crazy coincidence, am I right?” She laughed and helped herself to the bar. “Free booze, that is, if you don’t tell anyone I’m taking it.”
I waved her off. “Have at it. I don’t care.”
“So, uh, yeah, where is everyone?”
“Long story, honestly. They’ll come back eventually, though. Better get it while you can.”
She still had her back to me, but was watching me from the cracked mirror behind the bar. “So you don’t know when they’re coming back?”
“No, Luca told them to leave.”
“And what about Luca?”
I let out a bitter laugh because it was better than a sob. “Haven’t you heard? I’m back with Lucielle now.”
She came to sit by me. “Yeah… I thought I had heard something, wasn’t sure if it was true, though. You and he were pretty close.” She paused and pointed at the hole in the wall. “So… was that the breakup-slash-I’m-not-your-second-anymore talk?”
“Yep.” I rested my head in my hands, defeated and exhausted. I wanted to be able to not feel anything anymore.
“Want to talk about it?”
Spilling my guts about the inner workings of my relationship with the Lord of Sector Violence was the last thing I wanted to do. Spilling them to someone who was essentially a stranger, even more so. I wasn’t stupid. “Nope.”
“Thank God, because I couldn’t think of any worse torture.” Her tone had changed part way through her statement and I looked up just in time to see her sector tattoo flash green and to get hit in the head with a bottle, glass shattering in my hair. I blacked out instantaneously.
* * *
I couldn’t tell how long I was out, but when I woke up, I was in a pitch black room, sitting on cold concrete, ankles and wrists tied together, and I was pissed.
“Are you fucking serious?” I leaned my head back against the post I was tied to, the bones in my neck popping. “Every god damn time I even so much as talk to a person here, they turn out to be some liar, a spy, whatever.” I hissed under my breath, but I was not surprised. An afterlife full of deceit tends to make one more cynical.
Sam had always popped up in the most peculiar of times, the coincidences going unnoticed until now. Based on her look, I thought she was Sector V, but I had seen her green tattoo. She belonged to Vincent. I guess he was tired of waiting for Luca to come around, and I wasn’t Luca’s anymore anyways. She wouldn’t have been able to take me on by herself, and she probably knew that, which was why she opted for the sneak attack.
My head hurt, and just about everything else. I was stiff and sore from being tied up on the cold cement, which meant I had probably been here for awhile. It had been extremely quiet since I came to. I heard no voices or movement of any kind, save for my own and leaking pipes that dripped in a pattern that was starting to sound rhythmical, but that gave my hearing time to adjust. Muted voices came from another room.
“Well, what do we do with her?”
“I guess we’ll have to wait until Lord Vincent decides what to do.”
“You weren’t supposed to take her just yet.”
“She was vulnerable. I saw an opening and I took it. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a better chance.” This was Sam. “I’ve been tailing her for ages. You guys don’t know how boring that is.”
“Bitch,” I murmured, for my benefit, and tested the strength of my constraints. They felt like zip ties.
A new voice sounded from the other room, louder and panicked. “He’s here!”
“What in the hell did you incompetent fools do?” This was Vincent, and he didn’t sound too happy.
“Incompetent? I just captured your prize.” Sam sounded indignant.
Vincent must have slapped her, I heard the sharp crack clearly from the other room. “You were supposed to wait! I had everything planned just so and you’ve ruined it. Now Lucielle and Luca will oppose me.”
“She ended things with Luca…”
“You think that will make a difference?” Vincent screeched. I had never seen him lose his temper, but even hearing it made my hair stand on end. I almost felt pity for them. “He’s mad about her. You insignificant little bitch, you have no idea what it’s like to have him go into one of his rages. There are no words of reason that will reach him. It will ruin everything.”
“Lord Vincent… I’m confident you can find some way to make this an advantage.” Margot spoke up.
He sighed. “You’re right, Margot, thank you. I need to think for a moment.” There was a pause. “All of you, turn around. I can’t focus with your ugly faces pointing in my direction.”
“I guess I should get out of here,” I whispered, testing the restraints again. I flipped on my newfound powers, the pale light illuminating the room. It was bare, all rusty pipes, cracked cement, and puddles of stagnant water. My wrists started to melt the zip ties and I hissed in pain as the molten plastic dripped onto my skin. In a matter of seconds, my hands were free. I snapped the tie around my ankles and stood up. I hadn’t made much of a noise doing so, so I took a moment to stretch out my limbs and crack my joints.
“What’s that light coming from under the door?”
“Margot, you’re disturbing my thought process.”
Sam’s voice spoke up. “Oh, shit.” If she had been tailing me, she knew exactly what that meant.
My cover had been blown so I kicked down the door, feeling the jarring blow from my heel to my teeth. Vincent and Margot didn’t seem very shocked about my entrance, but Sam and a few unfamiliar men were.
“Well, Margot, looks like that’s our cue to leave.” He ushered her outside and tipped his hat to me. “Persephone, we’ll meet again soon.”
“I’m sure,” I sneered. “Lucielle and I will be seeing you in the future.” I let them leave. It was not my job to take on one of the Lords of Hell by myself. I would get destroyed. I turned back to Sam and the men, eyes and hands blazing, but my voice was calm and steady. “I’m going to kill all of you.”
A calm and calculated revenge.
Sam moved behind the guys as they went after me, a way to save herself for last. I could see the fear in her eyes as time slowed down. One of the men shot a gun at me, which I easily dodged, knocked the gun away from him, and tore him apart with my bare hands and a pleasant smile on my face. The rest were more than slightly apprehensive to attack me after they saw me destroy their buddy’s soul with ease, but I took care of them just as easily as the first.
Sam was left alone, eyes wide with fear as she backed herself into the corner of the room. She cowered in front of me and it felt like I towered over her. Then my hand found Sam’s exposed throat.
“I have to admit, it was smart of you to attack me when I wasn’t looking. You can’t take me on.” I smiled and wrapped my arm around her neck.
She wasn’t putting up much of a fight, but she did ask me a question. “What are you?”
“Who knows?” I shrugged. “I’m just something that can kill you.”
That was how Michael found me.
He kicked down the front door, rushing in with a few other people in military-looking uniforms, confused to see me surrounded by piles of ashes and about to kill Sam. “Uh, this is a rescue mission?” He offered but lowered his gun, seeing that I clearly had this under control.
“Not necessary. Sam, here,” I grinned and shook her for effect. “Apparently has been tailing me since I was in Sector Violence and thought it’d be a good idea to kidnap me for Vincent after I broke up with Luca and was emotionally compromised. Turns out, it wasn’t a very good idea, and now I’m pissed!” I sunk my fingernails into her chest, and she was reduced to ashes.
“How do you do that?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” I toned the light thing down and returned to normal, looping my arm through his. “Let’s get out of here.”
“So, who exactly was behind this kidnapping?”
“Vincent, that girl I just dusted…”
“We’ll have to tell Lucielle about this.” Michael sighed and slung his gun over his shoulder. “This will change things knowing Vincent, and Lennox, of course, are our enemies.”
“I figured.” I paused, thinking of the way he had tipped his hat to me. “I never did like that slimy bastard, you know?”
He looked at me, smiled, and chuckled. “I know, but we need to get out of here. It’s not safe in any sector but Pride, active war zones and all.”
We moved out, Michael’s back up surrounding us as a protection detail. They had high-powered rifles, the kind that Luca had been trying to hoard away from everyone else, and carefully swung them around as they monitored for enemies. We made it back to Pride without incident, maybe because Vincent let us, maybe because of luck. Lucielle was waiting in my apartment when we told her the news.
“This gives me a headache. Vincent will be a formidable adversary, but I can’t say I’m surprised.” She shook her head and gazed out the window. “Lennox won’t be that much of an issue, but he always backs Vincent up, unfortunately. He’d rather sleep than participate in a war, and Callista and Luca are both wild cards. There’s no telling what they’ll do.”
“But, I figure I should at least say that Sam acted on her own accord. Vincent was pissed that she took me, because she was supposed to wait. I guess it messed up his grand scheme, whatever that was. He didn’t elaborate. He took Margot and left before Michael arrived.”
“How do you know?”
“I overheard them before I made my escape. Also, I’m curious, how did you find me so fast? I had to have been out for at least a few hours but still. You couldn’t have known who I was taken by and where I was hidden.”
“I had someone trustworthy watching you, and before you protest, it’s a good thing I did.”
I scowled at her, but didn’t say anything. I easily could have gotten out of there myself, clearly, but there’s no telling what could have happened in his sector once I escaped. I glanced at Michael suspiciously.
“Hey, don’t look at me like that. It wasn’t me. It was Ethan.”
I had no idea who this Ethan man was, but didn’t have time to ask. A bright light came from another sector and lit up my entire apartment, moments before an incredibly loud boom reverberated across Hell. We all jumped to our feet.
“What the fuck was that?” I squinted through the light, trying to shield my eyes and find the source.
The light dimmed just in time for us to see one of the skyscrapers in Sector Greed collapse into another and bring both of them down.
“Holy shit,” Michael murmured, still shielding his eyes, and the guards behind him muttered agreements in shock.
“That was Vincent’s base. Let’s get down there.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Lady Lucielle?” Michael asked cautiously. “He just kidnapped Seph.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s not a good idea. If he’s just been targeted, I want to know by whom and how badly it hurt him.”
So we ran back over to his sector. Center Sector had been cleared, oddly enough. Maybe the people were too scared to go outside anymore. Finally, something they did was at least semi-intelligent. The smoke coming from Sector Greed was a good way to find exactly where we needed to go, but the closer we got, the more we had to stealth through buildings and hide behind clouds of smoke. Gunfire got louder as we approached, but I could hear more quiet booms and crashes in the distance. I couldn’t make out the origin.
“What is that?” I whispered to Lucielle, who was next to me, peering out of the window. We had taken refuge in an abandoned cigar bar.
She listened for a few moments. “I wouldn’t go to Sector Violence anytime soon. Luca has gone into a rage.”
Michael spoke quietly. “Are you sure?”
“Positive. Stay away from there or you’ll get yourself killed, without a doubt”
I gulped. I had caused that.
“The smoke is starting to clear. We’ll be able to see things now.”
She was right. I could see figures firing guns at each other between buildings, but it was clear that one side was winning. More and more of them were going down, and then there were Lennox and Vincent ripping souls apart with their hands out in the open. Vincent was making a game out of it, telling Lennox what to do, who to chase. They turned suddenly, hearing something behind them. Vincent pointed and Lennox disappeared in the smoke, only to be kicked back out, bearing four deep, smoking slashes down his chest. He stood back up and ran back in, this time with Vincent in pursuit. A few seconds later, they came back out dragging a woman that was kicking and screaming; it was Callista.
Lennox restrained her arms with fingers extended into black talons. They were burning her, but I could tell he was in immense pain too. Vincent was standing in front of her, trying to address her and saying things I couldn’t hear, when she kicked him, her stiletto heel sinking into his chest, right below his collarbone. He reared back and slapped her. The hole in his expensive shirt was bleeding, but he looked fine. He said something else, his hands turned to claws, and he plunged them into her chest. She started screaming in agony, which I could finally hear.
I glanced at Michael. I think we were both holding our breath. Watching this happen, hearing her screams, it was unnerving.
Lucielle was clearly not too upset about this, addressing Callista as if she was here. “So ignorant and so weak. Did you even deserve to rule Hell for the time that you did? Of course you’re the first to fall, and Lennox will be the second.”
“Lucielle, are we going to step in?” I finally asked.
“No, of course not. Let them take out one of our enemies for us.”
“You guys can kill each other?”
“That’s amazing.” She gave me a weird look in response to my statement. “How have you been able to restrain yourselves this long?”
She gave me another look, more pointed but more amused. “Sheer force of will.”
They still weren’t done with Callista, even after our little exchange. I guess Vincent had other plans for her that just outright killing her.
Lucielle stood up silently. “We need to get moving.”
“But…” Michael protested.
“I’m sure they will finish her off, eventually. We came for intel and nothing more. This has been an enlightening experience.”
“Callista dealt with, Lennox gravely injured… I shouldn’t have to explain myself. Move before they start to sweep the area. We aren’t prepared for this, not yet.”
We got the hell out of dodge.