Leaving the hospital was an interesting experience. The doctors almost seemed eager to let us go, though on occasion one would shake their head as we passed, showing their disapproval. We were unimpeded though on the entire procession, which gave me a moment to make an observation that was bothering me.
“Why was Verina obscuring her features in there? I didn’t see the dragon statue anywhere. Plus, Lucifel and Shatan didn’t seem to have a problem,” I said with confusion as we moved into the elevator.
“We were wondering a similar thing, but for different reasons,” Keith explained, nodding toward Marc who pulled some mechanical device out of his pocket. “Dae’Marca here unlocked the statue and brought the device with him. He’s been keeping it with him since he could be at the hospital all day. Some of the rest of us have day jobs, which I suppose I just quit when I agreed to accompany you to Hell.”
“So then the real question isn’t ‘why Verina had to obscure herself’, it’s ‘why didn’t Lucifel’,” I muttered, not quite sure I liked where this was going. “There is more to that woman than meets the eye. Like how she avoids having her mind read. That didn’t suit me either.”
“That is indeed a difficult question, and one I would like the answer to as well,” Keith agreed. We silently mused over it as we continued our trek to the parking lot. Alan was particularly silent during the whole trip, and I almost thought that we had somehow left him behind. I turned to see if he was there, and sure enough he was keeping up just fine, though his face seemed pensive. I reached out with my telepathy to see what had him worried, though I felt a little guilty for invading the thoughts of someone who was quickly becoming a friend. It wasn’t the same as when I did so to Keith and Marc. They expected it. When I did read Alan’s thoughts, however, I was glad that I did.
“You know, you can change your mind Alan. This is not going to be easy where we’re going,” I said suddenly, as he was entertaining thoughts of doing just that. To my surprise his thoughts shifted immediately to the determination he had shown before, and he shook his head violently in response.
“No, Damien. I have to do this. It feels right, and I can’t keep second-guessing myself. Ever since you showed what bravery was in the lunch room, I’ve known that I have to start taking a stand, even if it means doing something crazy like this. You’re the one that taught me that, even if it wasn’t your intention.”
I nodded my approval and turned my eyes forward again, but not before Marc frowned at the reminder that Alan was coming. I knew that Marc liked the kid, but it was plain that he didn’t think that Alan belonged with us. I made a mental note to have a long conversation with my boyfriend about the topic when we got a chance to settle down.
When we exited the large sliding glass doors of the hospital, a large white van was there to greet us. Shatan stood outside the vehicle regarding us coldly, while Lucifel waited in the passenger seat, drumming her fingers on the dashboard impatiently. Verina stood next to Shatan, looking extremely uncomfortable. As we approached, she quickly pulled her hood up to cover her face again. My friends wheeled me to the open door and Shatan unceremoniously picked me up and set me inside, to a shocked look on Alan’s face and looks of outrage from both Marc and Keith. They both pushed past the larger man and made sure I was situated comfortably. Shatan’s reaction could only be described as amused, but I was too weak to be angry. The trip out of the hospital had already taken its toll on me, and I was definitely beginning to feel the effects of leaving early.
The others got into the vehicle quickly, though Lucifel glared at Alan for joining us. I thought I heard her question what he was doing with us, and I was pretty sure I responded, though I can’t be sure of what I said. Whatever it was, it apparently satisfied her enough that she didn’t question further, and within a few moments we were down the road. I passed out, and didn’t remember anything else for awhile.
When I next awoke, we were on some dusty highway, and Marc was staring at me worriedly. I inclined my head toward him, or tried to, but it fell back against the head rest instead. “What’s wrong?” I asked tiredly. I couldn’t understand what his look was for. I was on the mend, wasn’t I?
“You’re scaring me, Damien. You’ve had a fever since we left the hospital, and when you passed out we thought you had slipped back into your coma,” Marc replied, the worry just as evident in his voice as it was on his face.
“Let’s just hope that he doesn’t slip back into that coma,” Lucifel said from the front. Though I couldn’t seem get my head to cooperate enough to look at her, the hard edge in her voice told me everything I needed to know. Slipping back into a coma would be bad for everyone. I made a mental note to do everything I could to stay awake.
“I don’t think there’s much danger of that,” I replied. My mouth was as dry as the highway. It felt as if I was both dehydrated and had slept with my mouth open the whole time. I looked around as best as I could for a bottle of water or something, but my head started spinning as I moved.
“Whoa, hang on there, Damien. What are you looking for? Can I get you something?” Marc asked quickly, gently pushing me back into the seat that I was starting to fall out of.
“Water,” I replied, and then started coughing. It hurt almost as bad as getting kicked in the chest by Karl had. I almost blacked out again, but didn’t when I felt the nozzle of a bottle being pressed to my lips. I allowed the liquid to pass between my teeth, and felt the refreshing substance hit the dryness of my throat. More coughing quickly ensued as I took in too much, and I spit half the water back up.
“Hey, kid! Don’t get your saliva all over my van. I like to keep the space clean,” Lucifel responded angrily. Marc gave her a look that sent chills down my spine, but she wasn’t even looking back at us any longer.
Keith spoke up suddenly, in what I assumed was an attempt to distract Marc from saying something we would all regret. I made a mental note to thank him later, especially since he took extra care to smooth over rough feelings by being exceptionally polite. “Lady Lucifel, would you please explain something that has been bothering me? It does not seem to fit your style to have us riding in such a plain vehicle. I always saw you as more of a luxury car type of woman, something with class.”
“Ah,” Lucifel purred, suddenly interested in the conversation again, “I’m glad to see that there are more people who can form polite speech; such a rarity among humans, and demons as well. To be honest, it is a matter of convenience, or inconvenience rather. I anticipated that the son of Merlin would be unwilling to come alone, and that at the very least Dae’Marca would be attending. I wanted to fit us all comfortably, if possible.”
I made another mental note to be extremely cautious around Lucifel. I knew then that she could spin a half truth better than any human I had ever known. The fact that she cared about anyone’s comfort but her own was the furthest thing from the truth, though she worked it into her explanation so smoothly that it was difficult to catch the lie, and I almost found myself feeling gratitude for her consideration. I wasn’t sure that I would catch it every time though, and I knew I had to be on my guard or I would actually start liking her, and that would be when she would win.
“That makes sense. Thank you for your consideration,” Keith replied smoothly. I hoped that he had caught on to her ploy, because he sounded sincere in his thanks. I knew that Keith was particularly against working with any angels, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t fall victim to her charms as well.
“You’re welcome, Keith Morgan. Perhaps I was wrong about you. You’re being very polite as well. I was always under the impression that you were without order, considering the brashness your father always displayed. The apple usually doesn’t fall very far from the tree, but maybe in your case it did,” Lucifel replied in her same purring tone.
“My father was not a very kind man, milady. He never won any points for how he spoke to people. I have always sought be respectful in how I dealt with others, even those I don’t like,” Keith replied, his voice calm, but there was a certain subtle edge to it that told me he was on to her game. I smiled slightly and allowed myself to sit more comfortably, knowing that Keith had not fallen victim to her tactics; at least, not yet.
“Hmm, indeed. I too value respect. However, kindness is not something I have much care for. Kindness is a weakness, something that does not demand respect. Your father’s lack of kindness was not what made him despicable; it was his lack of respectfulness. Manners go a long way in relationships of any kind,” the devil replied with a smirk.
The van was silent for a few minutes after their conversation ended, and I wondered how many of the others were digesting the information like I was. I had never found kindness to be a weakness, and had in fact found it to be a strength in those who had it. Knowing where Lucifel stood on the issue was telling about her, and I found myself wondering what had happened in her past that had so set her against kindness. It had to have taken something profound, like betrayal, to have hardened her in that way.
Though I had admonished myself for starting to like her earlier, I found myself doing just that, but it was for a different reason than the games she had played. I was beginning to feel sorry for her, though I didn’t know why. I could not read her emotions telepathically, but I could read the hardness in her eyes which were reflected in the rearview mirror, and I knew that there was deeply buried pain that was far beyond what most people had endured. Somehow I knew that she had once considered kindness to be of great value, and had had that belief shattered by some horrific act. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever know the truth behind her harshness.
It was from a startling source that the silence finally broke. Alan spoke from somewhere behind me, and his voice was calm and collected, which was more than I expected from someone still new to our situation. “May I also ask a question, Lady Lucifel?”
Telepathy couldn’t tell me what she was thinking, but my study of it had taught me to intuitively understand body language. Lucifel hid it well, but I could tell that she was startled by Alan’s willingness to speak at all and even more so by his etiquette. “Yes you may,” she replied without emotion. She had recovered enough to keep her surprise out of her voice, which was a feat I was not sure I could have duplicated if I had been in her position.
“Where are we going? We’ve been driving for hours. Not that I mind, I like trips, but I didn’t think you lived so far away. Verina seemed to come by often enough to visit Damien, and I thought she lived with you. Did she really drive all this way every time?” Alan asked excitedly. It was the way he spoke when he was curious about anything, I would come to learn later.
Lucifel actually smiled as she replied, and it increased my own curiosity about her past. Something in the way Alan was acting made her lose some of her hardness, and I knew there had to be a story there. “You are excited, and I will forgive the fact that your inquiry was not entirely formal. The answer to your question is slightly complex. We are going to Hell. Hell is the name of my personal vessel, the ship I designed and built over two thousand years ago. It is the only angel ship completely built out of materials from your solar system, because the rest of the engineers that came with the fleet are too scared to try anything new. It has been hidden in the hills for almost all of that time, waiting for its chance to shine. I’ve made it my fortress since the Native Americans were still hunting freely in these lands. Those were great times, back when humans in this land had respect for things more powerful than themselves.”
“As to the question of Verina, no, she has not been living with me,” Lucifel continued, engrossed in her explanation. I was impressed that was being so in depth, considering how terse she had been in answering any other questions I had heard posed to her. “She has been living in your city for some time, and I saw no reason to change that. We have several other operatives in your hometown, and she had been staying with them. However, due to her association with you, I have decided to move her to headquarters where she will be your personal caretaker. I suspect we will actually see very little of each other once we arrive, until it is time to make our move against the forces of Heaven that is. In fact, if you look at that hill up there, the one fenced off with the water treatment facility on top of it, that is where we are going.”
I could not see the hill from my view, and I was not about to strain myself in any attempt to do so, but I sensed that everyone else was moving to look at the hill in question. We would be there soon enough, though I wished we had already arrived. I was once again beginning to feel the full effects of leaving the hospital earlier than I should have, and I wondered if we would even make it to our destination in question before I passed out again.
“Cool! I’m going to an alien space ship!” Alan shouted with excitement. Lucifel’s hard edge was back in an instant, and she turned around and fixed him with a glare that had it been me I would have wet myself, probably earning me an even worse punishment.
“Don’t shout in my presence,” she said coldly, her voice matching the glare perfectly. “I will have you all know that you are the aliens here. This is my ship, and my rules. You had better learn to mind your manners, or you will find yourself very unwelcome in Hell.”
“Yes, Lady Lucifel,” was the quick reply from Alan, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” She nodded after keeping her glare fixed on him for almost a full minute, and then turned around to face toward the front again. As she did so, I felt the van turn off of the main highway and start heading into the hills. The van was deathly silent as we made our way down a slightly bumpier road. I took the silence as an indication that Alan had been hit hard by Lucifel’s reaction, and I decided to see if I could read his emotional state to see if he was alright. Without thinking it through, I activated my telepathy.
It was a big mistake. With the trip and the dehydration I was beyond exhausted, and activating my telepathy in the slightest caused my mind to slip away quickly. I didn’t even get a chance to read my own emotions before the world once again went black for me.
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