“It’s been fun, Margot, but like you said, nothing personal.” I smiled again and tore her apart. Her dust slipped between my fingers and it was ridiculously gratifying. “Well, maybe that was a little personal.” I didn’t hear Vincent behind me, which was more than slightly unnerving. “I guess I’ll be on my way now!”
Suddenly, I was grabbed by the back of the neck and pushed roughly against the very wall that was covered in Margot’s blood. “I don’t think so, Persephone.” Vincent’s face was pressed into my hair, breath ruffling the white-blonde strands. “Turn around, slowly, and I hope you aren’t stupid enough to try anything.” His hand loosened slightly on my neck as I did what I was told. He was too close for comfort but I didn’t resist, hands hanging limply by my sides. “First things first.” He looked down and reached a hand between our bodies, easing the gun out of my jeans, sliding the barrel up my stomach, pulling my shirt up with it, and tossing it away. The act felt just as slimy as his smile looked. “Didn’t want you to shoot me. Irrelevant and ultimately useless, but unpleasant.”
“Fair enough.” I tried to be calm but I could feel my heart racing. My breaths were shallow because of the broken ribs, not because panic was setting in, I tried to tell myself.
Vincent didn’t say anything as his eyes swept across my face. For a moment, I thought he was going to try to kiss me. “You know, I really like the hair cut. Usually, I like my women with long hair, like you had before, but this suits you as well. Good to know, good to know.” He finished with a chuckle that had a deeper meaning that I didn’t want to know.
“It was always in the way. Long hair isn’t practical.”
“Practical for what?” He was being ironically quizzical. “Killing off my people?”
I shrugged. “Well, maybe.”
“It’s a shame about Margot, really. I liked the woman. Very ambitious, confident, and competent, as I said earlier, but apparently not as competent as I thought.”
“Not every woman can be like me.” I joked. I had a habit of doing that in inappropriate situations.
He gazed at me, all admiration and darker things. “I really enjoyed your little display, although it was a bit boring in the beginning but you made up for it in the end. I’m going to be honest, I would’ve been disappointed if you had lost.”
“I’m glad I didn’t disappoint, then.” I lied through my teeth. His hand around my throat sickened me, but at the same time, excited me, and I was disgusted by that. He was not Luca or Lucielle.
He glanced down again. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” My hands had started glowing without my knowing, but he grabbed them and pinned them above my head. “So submissive now, but that’s probably Luca’s doing.” He commented. “Which brings me to ask, why Luca?”
“What?” I thought I hadn’t heard him properly, or didn’t really understand his meaning.
“He’s attractive, but so am I, right?”
“You didn’t strike me as the type of man who needs to be validated, Vincent. Low self-esteem?” I chuckled. “Besides, I’m sure the both of you have pulled your pants down and compared measurements. I know how men are. I’m fairly certain he has you beat in the length department.”
He ignored my jab. “But why?”
“You’re skeevy and you’ve always vaguely nauseated me.” I smiled. “I like to trust my gut on things like that.”
He smiled back but his grip on my hands tightened and even started to sizzle. I looked up and saw his hand was an angry red.
“Am I burning you?”
“I don’t mind.”
“Huh, neither do I, but I also didn’t peg you as a masochist, either. Good to know, good to know.” I repeated his words back to him.
“Enough with the pleasantries, Persephone, you’re coming with me.”
“No, thank you. I’m fine right here.”
“I’m sure you are. I’d prefer if you didn’t struggle but I won’t be against using force if needed.” He looked down at my body, letting one hand fall to trace the curve of my hip, and made me even more uncomfortable.
I tried my best not to squirm away from his touch. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. “Margot already ruined the merchandise, sorry.”
“You’ll heal.” He didn’t seem to care all too much because he was right. “Your body will heal but I wonder how long you’ll keep your smart mouth. That certainly won’t last forever. I think I may miss it when I have you broken, pliant, and begging for me.”
I turned deadly serious. “Vincent, I’d rather die than be raped by you and if you even try, I’m taking your dick with me.”
He laughed. “There’s the Persephone I know.”
“You don’t know me.”
“Sure I do. A lot more than you’ve probably realized.” He laughed. “I sent Sam after you, didn’t I? She followed you when you were Luca’s other half in Sector Violence, watching your patterns, what you did with him, how you acted. There were a lot of public displays of affection, weren’t there? I made sure Sam described those to me fully, for future reference. And weren’t you suspicious that I found you so fast when you were dumped in my sector? Sam followed your kidnapper and found you. They were actually from Sector Lust, like I told you. Admittedly, that was a smart plan on Callista’s part.”
“Yeah, what happened to her? You taking me to the same torture chamber you dragged her off to?”
“Callista is long gone. You see, torturing really isn’t something I take all that much pleasure in. That would be Luca. Callista’s screams were very grating and I decided to end her awhile ago.”
“Mercy killing? How kind of you.”
He rolled his eyes at my comment. Both of us knew it was not about mercy. “Before Sam was your shadow, it was your redhead friend. What was her name again? Fia? It was really a shame when she went off the deep end and Callista killed her after that one welcoming party.”
I couldn’t speak for several moments, stunned. “Fia?”
“I saw you befriend her the moment you got here. I had to keep an eye on you, after the alarming differences between you and all the other souls. Lucielle made you so important. I was curious and, of course, I gave Fia what she wanted. She was so jealous of you, of how one of the Lords of Hell took a liking to you. I made her feel better. The carpet matched the drapes, too, if you know what I’m saying.”
I felt like I was going to be sick. First finding out Michael had been a spy, and now Fia? Absolutely no one in my afterlife was in it without ulterior motives.
“She even tried to woo you at one of those welcoming parties because I told her to, so you wouldn’t escalate things with Luca, but that didn’t work, clearly. She was useless to me after that. I think that’s why she went downhill.” He smiled faintly. “I am good in bed, you know. I’ve had eons of practice. You would enjoy it.”
“Not interested. No means no, Vincent. Didn’t you take any consent classes?”
“Well, I think I’m about to be kidnapped and I’d like to not be so…”
“Enough!” He pulled me away from the wall and I kicked him in the groin and then the chest, hard. I think I heard a bone snap. His grip on me didn’t let up, even though he was doubled over. He glared at me and smashed me back against the wall, other hand holding my hair. I could feel the strands being ripped out of my scalp. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
“I’m going down swinging if I’m going down at all.”
“Just come with me and I won’t have to hurt you, stubborn woman. I would give you anything you wanted!”
“Vincent!” I screamed, snapping and finally saying all the things I’ve thought about him. The thoughts spilled out jumbled and quick. “You disgust me! I will never, ever want to be with you and I will never, ever be yours. You are a slimy bastard who’s probably a rapist already. If women want to be with you, it’s just because of your power, and I feel extremely sorry for them, because they must have extremely low self-esteem if they even want to be with you…”
He smashed my head against the brick wall. My vision swam with black dots. I tried to kick him away again but that only resulted in a knee to my gut. I tried to use my glowy hands but he had them gripped extremely hard and I didn’t have enough power. I was exhausted, injured, and he was so much stronger than me. I really had no chance. I hung my head in defeat.
I saw something move behind him, which could have only been my blurring vision, but then I heard gunshots. Vincent let go of me and stumbled. I was going to make a run for it but then I saw who shot him and who Vincent was rapidly approaching.
“Michael, no!” I gasped in horror.
“You ruined my suit!” Vincent’s hands formed into claws and his eyes glowed green. “Michael Knight, I’ve been waiting so long for this. Now Lucielle will be without a second as well. Once I kill you and take Persephone, she will have no one!”
Michael shot him a few more times but Vincent just walked it off. He started to dive for Michael and time slowed. I raced towards them and tried to knock Vincent out of the way, making us both tumble into the gravel, stones embedding themselves into my skin. I glanced back at Michael, who was laying on the ground unmoving. Vincent wrapped his hands around my arm but suddenly I was scooped up by the waist and shoved away roughly.
“Persephone, stay back.” It was Luca, coming back from his sector. He already looked beat up, bloodied knuckles and a few bruises. He didn’t even bother to look at me.
I didn’t waste any time grabbing Michael and pulling him away from the two of them. He had a deep black gash down his chest and he was breathing, but only faintly.
“What the hell happened here?” Lucielle asked from behind me. I turned to look at her, surprised to see her arm in a sling. I thought her wound from Lennox was supposed to heal, but maybe she lied.
“I’m sorry I left. I know I wasn’t supposed to. There’s no excuse for my actions.”
“Of course you left. I can’t say I’m surprised.” She noticed Michael in my arms. “What happened to him?”
“Vincent. I tried to stop him but I was too late.”
“You seem to have stopped the killing blow, at the very least.”
“If the scratch Lennox gave you did that, to you, I don’t want to find out what it would do to Michael.”
I overheard Vincent talking to Luca, getting up and brushing the gravel off his torn and bloodied suit. “It’s too late. My forces are on the way.”
“I had to fight through half of them myself to get here and my people are holding the rest of them off. You know I’ve been stockpiling weapons for ages. Who do you think will win? You’re alone.”
“Yeah, why is he alone?” Lucielle asked me.
“I found him and a few others sorting out people to take from our sector and people to kill. They saw me. I killed his guards and Margot, but Vincent… I couldn’t. Not in the state I’m in, not even if I was uninjured.”
“I know, it’s okay. You did what you could. Margot, huh?” She looked me over. “How injured?”
“Broken ribs, gunshot wound to the leg, and my head…”
“Ouch. You’ll heal in no time.”
“It’s okay, it only hurts to inhale.” I winced and cradled Michael in my arms, leaning down to whisper to him. “I’ll do everything I can to make you better. Thanks for coming after me like you said you would and for saving me. I would take your place if I could.”
Luca looked back at Lucielle with a meaningful gaze. “Stay behind me.” She nodded and didn’t move away from me as Luca turned his back to us without looking at me once.
His back tensed but he showed no other signs, at least not to me.
Vincent looked between us and started laughing. “Trouble in paradise?”
“None of your business, filthy pervert.” I snapped.
“In due time, you’ll find out firsthand.”
“Oh, for the love of God, Vincent, quit antagonizing the poor girl.” Lucielle sounded disgusted. “Have some decency for once.”
“You’re stalling, Vincent!” I mocked.
Luca growled, probably from agitation and annoyance. I knew him and I knew this moment was crucial. The image was sketched into my memory forever. Luca was a silhouette against smoke and flame, but I’d know his stance, the curve of his torso, how his shoulders connected to his muscled arms, and the way his unruly hair sat on top of his head anywhere. There was Vincent in front of him, disheveled and grinning like a crazed madman. The blood stood out on his white suit, but then again, everything stood out against it.
“Vincent, no more of your games, let’s just finish this once and for all.” I watched Luca’s hands elongate into claws and Vincent’s do the same.
My heart was beating in my chest, pounding against my healing ribs, and everything was hurting.
Luca made the first move, and I wasn’t surprised. He dove at Vincent, who moved out of the way and tried to swipe at Luca, but at the last moment, Luca threw a kick out and Vincent flew across the street, almost thirty feet. Vincent dug his hand into the ground to slow himself down and in the blink of an eye, he was back at Luca’s side, landing a well-calculated blow to Luca’s sternum. Luca was blown backward and landed on his back. I saw him struggling to breathe.
This was the kind of power they held? Even after all this time, I had no idea. It was like one of those superhero movies that were so popular when I was alive, incredibly strong and fast foes, destroying buildings and cities in their wake.
Luca righted himself and wiped blood from his mouth. “You’ve gotten better since last time.”
“Last time?” I hissed the question to Lucielle. “What was last time?”
“Never mind that now.”
“And you’re just as predictable as always. I would’ve thought you would have picked up some new moves from Persephone, but that must have been in a different department.”
Luca shot himself off the ground and rammed into Vincent, a knee to the chest, just as hard, if not harder, than the blow Luca received.
“What the hell are you doing? Just tear him apart already.” I whispered under my breath. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to Luca, even after everything that had happened between us.
Vincent grabbed him by his hair and slammed him into the ground, the force creating a crater in the pavement.
Luca struggled to get up but he smirked through bloodied teeth. His eyes weren’t glowing like Vincent’s, looking more like black smoke. “Vincent, bro, you fight like a bitch.”
“Hair pulling, really? I’m ashamed of you even more, if that’s even possible.” Lucielle tsked.
Vincent rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on! You aren’t even participating. Conveniently injured, huh?”
“Shouldn’t have sent Lennox after me. You knew he would be crushed.”
I looked at her, trying to gauge whether Vincent was right or not. Knowing her, I wouldn’t put it past her.
She caught me staring and shrugged. “A girl has to do what a girl has to do.”
“You’re despicable.” I almost smiled. She knew I didn’t really mean it.
“Aren’t we all?”
The men continued fighting for ages, meeting every blow. The kicks, punches, and grunts echoed like gunshots off the buildings, amplified. I heard real gunshots in the distance, which must have been Luca and Vincent’s forces clashing in Center Sector. Luca was taking the abuse, but he never let Vincent get close to us, even though he attempted a few times. Luca would go down and Vincent would try to make his move, possibly to use one of us as leverage, and Luca’s arm would whip out and he would catch Vincent by the ankle, dragging him down too. Was he protecting me because he still cared or because Lucielle had made that treaty with him? Did I even want to know the answer?
Just when it was starting to look like Luca had the upper hand, with Vincent pinned to the pavement, face ground into the dirt and Luca’s knee on his back, he started to say something.
“You’re holding back.” He laughed. “Afraid you’ll hurt her or afraid she won’t like what she sees? Your wrath makes you stronger.”
“That’s because I don’t need it to beat you.”
“Oh, really?” Vincent managed to get out of Luca’s hold without me even seeing him move, his wrists scarred black. He grabbed Luca by the shoulders and dragged him down so his jaw could meet his knee. Luca was flipped onto this back and skidded across the ground, but he didn’t immediately rise. “She makes you weak.”
I bit my lip. “Come on, Luca, get up.”
He did, eventually, but it was hard for him. He was in pain and I hated to see him this way. I had spent all the time in the compound avoiding him like the plague and lying awake in bed trying and failing to not think about him and the pain and regret that surfaced when I did. I tried so hard to forget the feelings. I should hate him.
Vincent wasn’t looking at Luca, though. He wasn’t worried about him for the time being. He was staring at me and then he laughed, again. “Luca, man, look at her. She’s practically crying over you.”
He didn’t look, instead ran at Vincent with claws extended. Vincent only saw him at the last moment, but it was too late. He came away with deep slashes in his abdomen and stumbled back onto the ground away from Luca.
He checked the wounds with his hands, acting like it didn’t hurt. “That smarts. Now I’m really going to need a new suit.”
Luca was standing still, back to me, but then he fell to his knees.
I looked at Lucielle in horror and even her expression was worried.
“Luca, get up!” I screamed and wished I had the courage to stand, feeling glued in place like a statue. Why couldn’t I help?
Miraculously, he did, with the help of one arm and shaking legs. He was holding his hand to his stomach and when it came way, it was bright with fresh blood.
“No…” I murmured softly, tears threatening to spill over. I glared at Lucielle through them. “Is it fatal? Tell me the fucking truth.”
She glanced at her arm. “Depends on how bad it is.”
“How bad is it?”
I swiped at my eyes before returning to look at the men. If Luca was going to die and wouldn’t even look at me before he did, I was going to be pissed, and I’d follow him to wherever he goes. I spoke to Lucielle again without looking at her. “If Vincent gets to me, promise me you will end me before he can… before he can…” I couldn’t even bring myself to say it. I had been so confident earlier, foolishly thinking it was never going to happen, but now the possibility of it was stronger than not.
She touched my shoulder, her thumb stroking over the fabric of my shirt, which made me look up. The act was too comforting to be from her, especially in view of others. “I promise I will try my best.” She paused her words, looking at me directly. Was it true sincerity? “Persephone, truly, I respect you too much for him to defile you in the ways he wishes. I have never known another soul of your like in all my years, valued companion.” She sounded so old just then, so tired, but I could relate. I think we all could.
Vincent took his time getting back up but stalked towards Luca when he did, extending his hands into black claws, claws that meant certain annihilation, once again. Luca was battered and bruised, exhausted, but still stood between Lucielle and Vincent, the look on his face was probably still as proud and defiant as ever. He knew this was his death. It made my internal organs feel like they were shredding apart.
I looked down at the unconscious Michael in my arms, running my fingers through the mop of his curly hair. Would he ever wake up or had his existence been eradicated like so many others caught up in this war? I didn’t know. Nothing was certain anymore, if it had ever been, though I faintly remember thinking it had been, once, but that felt like four lifetimes ago and maybe that was an accurate timeline.
It was no longer just Luca and me, completely distracted with one another and caught up in our own world, together in his home. My heart ached to remember the time before his hatred for me. It was no longer Michael, Fia, and I having the most outrageous and laughable conversations on the floor of my living room. All of those memories were long gone.
“I’m sorry it had to be this way, brother,” Vincent breathed heavily through the pain as he paced even closer, clearly worn out. “We could have been allies, but instead, you chose her?” He nodded to Lucielle. “We know better than most that she has never cared about anything except herself from the beginning.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Luca spat blood onto the ground. “This wasn’t my choice, none of this was.” He looked up at me, stormy eyes filled with rage.
He was right, it was my fault, all of this was; his brothers and sisters at war, killed and one by his own hand, his entire life being upturned in chaos, everything. I knew it was and it was killing me. I had never wanted any of this either, I wanted only the best for him, but my actions led to this exact moment and the blame was on me. Nothing I could do would make a difference now.
So much for that divine prophecy, the thought made me want to laugh and cry.
“And her,” Vincent focused his attention on me. “You can’t even begin to imagine what I’m going to do to her once you’re gone, no longer there to protect little Persephone. She will be powerless like she always was. Haven’t you realized that? The only power she had is what you two filled her head with and once you’re gone… I’m sure she won’t have much fight in her after that. She’ll be easy to break or maybe she won’t. I’m hoping for the later. The struggle will be half the fun.”
Luca made no move to defend me. He didn’t care anymore. I wanted to throw up at the thought of Vincent’s hands on me.
Vincent moved closer. “So this is it then? You’re not even going to fight back when it comes right down to it? How anticlimactic.” He raised his hand and readied to plunge it into Luca’s chest.
I dropped Michael’s body and moved on instinct to throw myself in the way. Time slowed, I knew that throwing myself in the way would only delay the process, but if it had any chance at all to save him, I would gladly give my afterlife to that. He may never forgive me, or care for me again, but I would give anything to save him. I had realized in my time in Hell that he was one of the very few I cared about and I would protect that if I could. Time returned to normal.
I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes, but I hadn’t the first time I died, either.
“Stop!” I screamed in a raw voice, such emotion and desperation thrown into it that it felt like something broke free inside of me.
Time stilled again. Vincent had paused, squinting at me, the area around us getting brighter and brighter, like the intensity of the sun. It felt warm and invigorating to me, something I hadn’t felt in a long time, but then Vincent started screaming. His skin reddened, blistered, and started to melt away, his clothes lit on fire, and in only a few seconds he was reduced to a steaming pile of liquified remains at my feet.
I looked down and saw that the light was coming from inside me, not only my hands. I was this sun. My thoughts were transformed, emotions fading away into a sea of mellow bliss and not a care in the world. I turned around to see Lucielle dragging Luca away, both suffering from serious burns.
“Come on, you can’t, she’ll kill us…” Lucielle, only able to use her one arm, was struggling to pull him away to get shelter.
But that didn’t seem to matter to me that much, strangely enough. My eyes fell on Michael’s body, where I had dropped him, and I walked over, feeling like I was floating, to touch his face. His wounds healed instantaneously and his eyes fluttered open, just long enough to close them again from the light.
“It’s going to be okay, friend. I’ll fix this. Better late than never, right?”
He smiled and opened his eyes again. Whether it was a joke or a serious question, I didn’t know, but he asked, “Persephone, are you an angel?”
“Honestly, do you think we’ll ever find out what I am? Isn’t the mystery the fun part?” I smiled and kissed his forehead, but he started to slip away from me.
I was levitating, slowly moving higher and higher towards the turbulent sky. I saw Luca break free from Lucielle, and stood to look at me fully, disregarding the burns he was receiving. He did not look surprised, only awed. “This is what the sun is like, except it usually doesn’t burn as much.” I said faintly, unsure if he could hear me. “I’m sorry, Luca, you’ll never know how much.”I thought I saw him smile.