I stood up gingerly, not really trusting my limbs to hold me. But they held. Bella guided me out of the aisle and led me outside of the chapel. I was not prepared for that gust of cold air. It was cold! So cold!
Chuckling, Bella pulled her hat on. I hugged Mark’s jacket around myself. I didn’t so much realize that we had let go of our hands as I felt it as an emptiness within myself. I told myself it was nothing. But still, those alarm bells within me were ringing.
“So,” I said as Bella began walking forward to the skidoos. “What just happened? Why did you show me that? Why?”
“Well aren’t you full of questions?” asked Bella with a smile as she drew to a stop by her skidoo. She pulled on a pair of gloves and pulled her turtleneck higher up on her throat. I couldn’t help but notice how soft her skin looked. But I refused to be distracted. My head was a bit more on my shoulders, that strange craving for her now only a tiny feeling in my gut. So I crossed my arms, told myself to digest that feeling, and scowled.
“What’s your plan? What – why even show me that?”
But Bella grinned at me. My heart flip-flopped stupidly. “Because I like sharing,” she said sweetly. “I like giving people answers to their questions. So,” she fiddled with her skidoo helmet. “What’s your next question?”
I took a breath. Really? Was this going to be that easy? A question about the portal almost slipped from me. But I stopped. If I really wanted to know – “Where’s Mark? What’d you do to him?”
She ducked her head, grinning widely. The vampires looked concerned. “What?” I asked. “You said you like giving answers.”
“Mark, ah, had an accident,” she said with the smile that said she was lying.
“Really?” I asked. “Well I still want to see him. And Leo.”
Bella’s eye twinkled. “Well then, let’s do that, shall we?”
I hesitated. “Really?” What, was she letting me dig my own grave?
“Really,” she nodded at the vampires. “Let’s go.”
And off we went.
I was expecting us to go to the hospital, or to suddenly transport into a medieval dungeon where bits of Mark would be hanging around. Instead we went to a mansion. It wasn’t quite quaint. It was modern (Ish?) with giant windows, peaked towers, and well, it was huge. I sort of wondered why Bella wasn’t living her instead of her small victorian-era home. Was she just into vintage?
“Here we are!” Bella announced as she drew off her helmet and I awkwardly got off the skidoo behind mcwhateverhisnamewas. She pulled her gloves off and gestured to the house with a large grin towards me. “The center!”
“The-?” I balked. Was she really showing me something important?
“Center,” she said, dropping her skidoo helmet into the seat. “Our intelligence center, where we keep people who are problematic, and where,” she shrugged “Our center is.”
I blinked. The center. There was going to be a portal at the center. Whoah. She just spelled it out for me.
She flashed her trademark smile at me. “What’s that face for?”
I shook myself. “N-nothing.”
The other vampires didn’t look so certain however. They were giving me the stink eye. I did my best to put on a casual smile. Wouldn’t want to give away that she’d just solved my biggest problem for me.
Well, up we walked to the door. Big, imposing, double doors. I was expecting some sort of high-tech fingerprint or eyeball-checking security system. No such thing. We just walked straight on in.
My alarm bells rang at that. Why was she so trusting? How come they could afford to just – no security? It made me frown as we walked in.
“Namastay!” cheered someone so happily that I jumped. Whoah. Right there, just a few steps in, a cluster of vampires were standing around and sipping out of water bottles.
“Namastay, namastay!” said Bella so happily as she strode on in through them. She hugged several members and patted others on the back. “How is everyone?”
My brain balked. What the hell? The vampires had the same adoring eyes for her that the humans had. They chirpily told her that oh, everything is good, grand mistress, all good.
“Excellent,” crooned Baella. She reached for me, gesturing me over. I slowly scraped over, letting my feet slide grudgingly over the floor.
Mcsomething or other shoved me forward so I stumbled next to Bella. Bella took me by the shoulder and righted me with a crick. “This is Chaos,” she said sweetly, her fingers digging into my shoulders one second and caressing me the next.
A general coo went up, like I was a baby. Adoring eyes went from Bella to me. Bella’s hand slid across my shoulders to hug me sideways. “She’s visiting!” said Bella excitedly. “So let’s all be on our best behavior, okay?”
I gingerly looked around, hoping I wasn’t blushing ridiculously. Bella was holding me so close. So tightly. It was… very nice to say the least. Something in my gut was twisting free, squealing in joy at the attention just as I found it strange, very strange.
After some aimless chatter, I was led away, my hand in Bella’s. “I’m sure you’re very worried about your friends,” she said happily as we walked down the entrance hall.
“Very,” I muttered, looking everywhere but at her while all my attention was on our hands together. I didn’t want to let go. It felt so nice.
Up a flight of stairs we went, vampire troupe still in tow. Into endless corridors we went. The place stunk of old money, old luxury, that had all been torn down. There were spots where paintings had been removed from walls. The bannister was pointedly not polished, full of grummy handprints. The corridor was making me sneeze.
“Too much fur?” teased Bella.
“Is there cats here?” I asked, sniffling.
Bella shook her head. “It’s the werewolves you’re smelling.”
“Uh- huh,” I grumbled. I knew no werewolves had escaped hell. That, they had been sure to tell me. Only vampires on the run.
And then a door opened and – yeah, those were werewolves. My jaw practically hit the floor. The werewolf in charge (some muscly dude with a mohawk) did the same. His eyes bulged and a look of sheer panick crossed his face, eyes flitting from me to Bella. Then to our joined hands.
He made a sound, pointing at me.
“This is Chaos,” said Bella as we walked up to them.
“I – know,” said Munch, as I liked to call him. Munch and I never got along. He was dumb. He ran a small gang that always got into trouble with ol’ Beelzebub and – wait a minute. They’d been really quiet lately, hadn’t they?
“Chaos is visiting,” said Bella, swinging sideways to bump her shoulder against mine like we were best buddies.
Munch chewed on that for a minute, jaw working. He ogled me, then again, our hands. “Okay,” he said finally. Bella flashed him a grin. Then, leading the way on, she gestured him to come along. “How have our guests been doing?” she asked as Munch tailed along sheepishly at her side. By his expression, I guessed that he wasn’t used to this much attention from her.
“Good,” he mumbled, making part of my brain explode. Munhc? Mumbling? Whoah. Usually this dude just up and yelled every word in people’s faces. For him to be so docile…
I eyeballed Bella. She just looked so sweet and docile, her evil red eye completely hidden by that eyepatch. Hmph.
Up another flight of stairs, we were suddenly swamped by the smell of chemicals. “This is the science flight,” she said happily, stating the obvious. There was a cluster of scientists here and there in the hallways, all whispering excitedly at our passage. One quickly stepped forward and opened door for Bella, who smiled so sweetly at them as we went through.
And there was Mark.
He was shirtless, his hair a grimy mess. Propped up in a hospital bed, he was restrained by cuffs and tubes coming out of his veins. He was utterly unconscious, looking almost peaceful.
“See?” Bella pulled me to his bedside, where she planted me beside a drip-bag-thing that was connected to Thor’s tubes. “He’s not all that bad, is he?”
I had to say that she was right, actually. I’d been expecting, well, much worse than him to be simply incapacitated.
“He tried to run away,” said Munch, crossing his arms across his chest and flexing. “We tried our best but,” he gestured to Mark’s arms and wrists, where there was some bruising. But that was minor, right?
“And Leo?” I asked, mouth dry.
“Right here!” cheered a vampire from behind us as Leo himself was pushed in.
Leo was in fresh clothes, wearing a lab coat and a very, very, unhappy expression.
“See?” said Bella. “All fine!”
Leo gave her a hateful look. Munch flexed again.
“Can we talk? Alone?” Leo said, glaring at me like I was to blame for the universes’ problems.
Bella looked at me. A frown crossed her face.
“Please?” I asked.
And that was all it took? Again, her smile returned. She left, and everyone else followed, looking quite puzzled. The door was shut.
“What are you thinking?” hissed Leo, walking to my side. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
I looked around, puzzled. “Really? I mean, this place is weird but-”
Leo rolled up his sleeves and showed me several pinpricks. “They keep injecting me with ‘vitamin B’,” he hissed. “Have you found the portal yet?”
I looked around to avoid looking at him. “No, but I know it’s going to be in this building.”
Leo snorted. “Good job, kid. You’re really on top of things.”
“They’re not being awful,” I argued back.
He squinted at me. “So you too are going to start singing praises about Her?”
I flushed. “No.”
“Yes. Do you know why Mark tried to run away last night?”
My mouth was dry. “No. Why?”
“I don’t know. But they used quite some technology and magic to heal him.” he gestured to Mark. “He didn’t look that good earlier on.”
I wanted to kick myself for being so gullible. But then again, what really was wrong here? Everyone seemed so happy… “You’re right,” I said flatly. “Something’s wrong.” People just aren’t this happy. Besides, if Lucifer wanted this place shut down, there had to be a good reason, right?
“They’ve got information that,” the door opened and Bella strode back in. Leo scowled.
“So? All caught up?” she asked sweetly.
I caught myself smiling back at her. She was so sweet. So pretty. “Yeah,” I said without thinking. Beyond Bella, Leo glared at me. Like, really glared. He wanted to murder me.