December 22nd, Saturday. Saturday, Saturday. I needed to keep that in mind. It was important. Days were important. They were something to latch onto in the haze of drugs.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed through the broad glass double doors into the building. I was still wearing my sensual coat, but now I had a black bodysuit underneath for the sake of decency. When my father was in charge, I hadn’t bothered, but now when leaving the domain I needed to present a more respectable image.
Saturday. Don’t get distracted. Saturday.
“I am here to speak to Bel,” I said, striding towards the elevators without waiting for an answer.
The twins behind the desk jumped up and spoke with one voice. “You can’t see Bel without an appointment!”
I pushed past the pod-brain hard enough to send one of the bodies into a wall. “I’m done waiting.”
I stepped inside the first elevator, then glared at the vampires inside. The drakes might not have recognized me, but they knew an angry Noble when they saw one, and ran out as fast as they could. I jabbed the button for the top floor, and waiting patiently as the elevator rose quickly.
Eventually, it stopped, but the doors didn’t open.
“We’re sorry,” a female voice dripping with condescending friendliness said out of the speaker. “But this is Noble Bel’s penthouse suite. You are not authorized to be here without an appointment. Please choose another floor.”
Tempted as I was to rip open the elevator doors, they would be prepared for that. Not only was the penthouse armored like a bunker, but the cable would probably cut, and I would fall a hundred stories in this metal box.
Instead, I jabbed the call button. “Tell Bel Fierna is here to see him.”
The reply was instantaneous. “Noble Bel is in a meeting right now. If you would be willing to wait a few hours, we would be more than happy to set something up at a later date. Tomorrow night, perhaps.”
“Tell Bel that I’m here, and I’m not leaving until he sees me. I’ll live in this damn elevator if I have to.”
There was a pause, then the doors opened.
Bel’s penthouse was nothing special, as vampire suites went. Polarized windows that could darken during the day but allow a beautiful view of the city at night. Nightlights in the ceiling—currently dark—and a nice wet bar in the corner. He had his bedroom and a kitchen hidden somewhere, but out here in the foyer there was just lots of open space and a couple scattered couches.
In the center of the room stood Bel, Noble of Avernus, Lord of the Bronze Throne. He didn’t look much like a vampire. He had big muscles and pebbly red skin, very strange for a vampire. Not even the Nosferatu used those toys. But he had black eyes and a mouth full of overly large fangs, which was enough. He stood with back ramrod straight, betraying nothing.
He was alone. I knew he wasn’t meeting anyone.
“Fierna,” he said curtly.
“Uncle Barry,” I snarled.
He sighed. “Fi…”
“No,” I said. “No no no. I was hoping you didn’t realize it was me. I was hoping you thought I was just some pretender to the throne, and that you were denying meetings due to some, I don’t know, honoring the dead thing.”
“Fi, it’s more complicated than—”
“But you knew it was me,” I spat. “You knew this whole time, and you refused meetings set up by the Dragon himself. You always idolized Dracul, Uncle. Has that changed in the past five years, too?”
“Can you just let me say—”
“What could possibly justify—”
“YOU RAPED HER!”
I shut my mouth with a snap.
His fists were clenched hard enough that his nails were drawing blood; I could smell it in the air. His eyes were wild, and he was breathing heavily. He looked like he was about to charge me like an animal.
“At Shendilavri, you raped Lilith. You tried to break her.”
“She’s forgiven me for that,” I said quietly.
“Well I haven’t! You did unspeakable things to the only mother I’ve ever known, and you expect me to just shut up and work with you?”
“Uncle Barry, you’re ten years older than her—”
“So what?” He shook his head. “When I came to this city, I had nothing. I became a demon because of her, then a vampire, then a Noble. All because of her. That beautiful woman who would even forgive someone like you.”
He took a deep breath, and walked over to the bar.
“Get out,” he said tiredly. “And if your dad’s still alive, tell him I’ll kill him if he ever shows his face again.”
I rolled my eyes. “Dad is not alive. You saw his body yourself.”
He poured himself a drink, muttering. “Body doubles, clones…”
“You did a DNA test. And you know he didn’t fake the corpse. The drugged-up Noble of a drugged-up culture wouldn’t be able to manage something like that.”
Bel didn’t say anything, but I knew I’d made my point. Not only was my dad horrible with the toy maker, but none of the cultures who sided with Malcanthet were much better. The people who worked with the toy maker on regular basis were known for being pretty devoted to the Mother Monster. Even the mercenary sibriex had refused to help Malcanthet.
“What of your mother?”
I sighed. “She tried to run. Got past the Belians pretty easily, but Lupa caught her, executed her before she could make any more trouble. She’s probably buried somewhere under Shendilavri right now.”
His hand tightened on his glass. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“I still want you to leave.”
“This is bigger than us,” I insisted. “We need an army.”
“The city has an army. One not made of slaves and slavers.”
I gave him a look—wasted, since he was peering into his glass. “Uncle Barry. Do you know how many soldiers this city has?”
I shrugged. “Fair enough, neither do I. But don’t you think that an extra two hundred thousand freed vampire slaves will make a difference?”
He looked up, blinking. “Two hundred thousand? Really? I thought Phlegethos was dying!”
“Two hundred thousand sclavi. A thousand true Belians.” I shook my head. “Balan and the others thought to compensate for our low nightstalker numbers by using addiction to swell the ranks of our slaves. But now the time of such things is over. I don’t need them ready by the time the war with America starts. I need your help weaning the sclavi off their addictions, as well as de-programming them.”
“Your mother didn’t exactly leave notes on her process lying around.”
“I can have those sent to you.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You can? Then why not just de-program them yourselves?”
“First, they’d still be addicted and vulnerable. There’s not enough fixer in the city to keep every single one of them sober. Second, she didn’t leave notes on de-programming. And we don’t have enough skill with the brainwashing in the first place to figure it out.”
Bel frowned. “Gaziel could at least puzzle out some of it.”
I closed my eyes. “I… killed Gaziel. He tried to assassinate me a couple times, and… look, it’s not important. The point is, you’re the only one I trust with the skills I need. Please, help me undo my mother’s work. It’s what she wanted, at the end.”
He groaned and downed his glass. “Black night, girl, using your mother against me is low.”
“It’s for a good cause.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s what Dracul and Ishtar said…”
“You know I wouldn’t have gotten either one of them involved if that wasn’t true.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I heard what happened to poor Gazra. How is he?”
“We had to manually repair his pelvis with the toy maker.”
Bel shook his head, still smiling. “Oh, I know I shouldn’t be laughing…”
I failed to suppress a smile myself. “I’d ask you to keep it secret, but Ishtar has already been telling anyone who will listen. She’s having dinner with Glasya about now. I’m sure it will be all across the city by dawn.”
Bel paused for a moment, playing with his empty glass.
“I still don’t forgive you,” he said quietly.
I nodded. “I know.”
“Mother preaches forgiveness, but it’s hard…”
He took a deep breath. “Give me the notes and a hundred sclavi. The worst of the worst. I should have them fully de-toxed by tomorrow night. Not sure about the de-programming. If we’re lucky, we can do it at the same time, but don’t hold your breath. Either way, once the first batch is done, the rest will go faster.”
I bowed low. “Thank you, Noble Bel.”
“Don’t thank me,” he said gruffly. “Thank my mother.”
I smiled sadly. “I think I will. We haven’t spoken since I took back the throne.”
“Does she know you’re back?”
“She must. And she knew who I was when I was working for Necessarius. When did you think I earned her forgiveness?”
He shook his head. “I should have known. Wish she could have told me, though…”
“It wasn’t her secret to tell.” Besides, when several hundred million people see you as their mother, it’s a little hard to give them all reasonable amounts of your time. That was why she worked like she did.
“Yes, I suppose not.” He waved his hand and turned back to the bar. “Send me your sclavi, Noble Fierna. Let’s save your stupid culture, and this city along with it.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 274)
Ah, Bel. He’s a fun one to write. This was probably his worst scene, but it was still fun. He’s at his best when interacting with Clarke. Hopefully we get an opportunity to see them snarking at each other soon.