There was no privacy in Hell. You learned that on day one. Everyone shit, showered, shaved, and died in front of everyone else. It didn’t matter if your reproductive organs were on the inside or the outside of your body. But that was Hell. This was Earth.
Gerry kept his irritation in check as he pulled on the clothing the Soulless had brought for him. He’d forgotten about privacy long ago, but it was different to have a Soulless, who looked like a high school cheerleader, constantly sizing up his dong. Worst of all, he knew she was doing it on purpose.
<Don’t let it get to you.> Gerry knew he had a lot to learn about the world and how much it had changed.
Prince Seere’s mental update had done a lot to help with that, but a lot of the information he had was theoretical. He knew what a skyscraper was in theory, but he hadn’t actually seen one until fifteen minutes ago, and that was true with a lot of things. Even the limo he was sitting in was alien. Moving without the assistance of his own two feet, or his wings, was a novel experience for him.
It was also a little unsettling, which was only adding to his irritation.
“You said you didn’t like the old Dux just sticking it to you, correct?” He finally growled at Victoria.
“Yes,” she grinned, showing fang.
“Hmm.” He pretended to think. “Then I suggest you stop staring at my cock or I’ll demote you to my own personal vacuum cleaner. I know you Soulless are renowned for your sucking ability.”
That hit a nerve. Victoria hissed at him, fully baring her fangs. Even Alfred, who was sitting placidly in the front seat, made a low threatening noise.
Gerry just laughed as he pulled up his pants and tightened them. <What an amazing fabric.> He fingered the gold drawstrings for a second while the two Soulless calmed down.
They traveled a few more blocks before he broke the silence.
“What’s your story, Victoria? May I call you Vicky? You look like a Vicky to me.”
Victoria, now Vicky by decree of the new Dux, smiled politely. All indication of the prior argument was gone from her flawlessly pale face.
“I was born here in 1909, and died in 1927. A wanderer passing through the town changed me. I was just walking home from a friend’s house with my father one night and he attacked me out of the blue. He said he did it out of loneliness, but I never believed him. My father died in the transformation process. I did not.”
Gerry thought he saw a twinge of hurt pass across Vicky’s face, but if it did it was gone so fast it looked like an illusion.
“I have spent my entire existence in this city. I have seen it grow from a cotton town to the second largest financial center in the United States. I know everyone worth knowing, they all know me, and I know where all the bodies are buried.”
<Selling yourself as irreplaceable is always a good tactic.> He just nodded.
“And how did you come to be the leader of your coven.” The emphasis he put on “you” made her already cold features harder.
“B, T, and A,” she replied without hesitation.
Gerry raised an eyebrow in interest and waited for her to continue.
“Brains.” She pointed to her head. “A lot of my kind focuses more on brawn. They don’t think long term, which is moronic since we’re immortal. Most just think about the next meal, but I’m different. I think about ways for us to improve the quality and quantity of our meals. I’ve created a distribution system with contingencies and compartmentalization. I’ve created an income system and advanced us into the twenty-first century. While others were busy sinking their fangs into some young pussy, I was busy building a sheltered empire away from human infringement.” Her grin was predatory. “And if anyone got in my way I took their head.”
<That’s the spirit.> Gerry smiled and inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“So that’s B. The others are T and A; tits and ass.” She gave herself a smack, cupped her chest, and gave him a wink. “No one looks at me and thinks Queen of the Bloodsuckers. That’s why I drag Alfred around with me. He looks the part.”
Alfred’s head bobbed from the front seat of the limo.
“Even in 2016 people still underestimate women. Those who live around here no better, but it gives me the element of surprise over any newcomer. And I’m quick.” With a blurred flourish Vicky produced twin daggers.
The weapons glinted in the moonlight showing how sharp and polished they were. It was nothing compared to the molecularly-honed blades Gerry was used to handling, but it was good for this plane of existence. Her hands blurred a second time and they were gone. Considering she wasn’t wearing much he wondered where she put them.
“Impressive.” He wasn’t being totally dishonest. “Bring me up to date on your numbers, assets, resources, and anything else I need to know.”
She hesitated, and he jumped at the opportunity.
“You say you are willing to serve. You want to be my lieutenant. Do you want to take your rightful place of power within this city?” He waited patiently for her to make up her mind.
“Yes,” she finally exhaled.
The words were true, and that brought a smile to his face. “So?”
“My coven had twenty-two members including myself. We live throughout the area, but are most concentrated in the entertainment district.”
“Naturally, we run the nightlife in the city.” The pride in her voice was unmistakable. “We outright own more than half the clubs and bars in the city, and have a stake in most of the others. We try to keep it classy, and we aggressively enforce our own members.” She made a point of that.
Soulless were always unpredictable due to their feeding habits. Since their souls had been ripped from their bodies they could no longer hold the æther necessary for every living thing to survive. As a result they needed to feed off those who had æther, a.k.a. humans. People made the mistake of thinking they were drinking blood when in fact they were drinking life.
“Through our ventures we are able to maintain a regular rotation of donors. Some know what we are and want to be like us. Pop culture has helped us out a lot there in the last few decades. Others think we have a fetish they share. Others are just so hungover they think they got drunk and someone gave them a hickey.”
Despite what people thought, the Soulless didn’t leave puncture wounds if they didn’t want to.
“We also control the drug scene in our clubs. Eliminating the enhancements all together is unreasonable and unprofitable, so instead we regulate it. We ensure the product is high quality, the dealer is reputable, and we charge a premium. Humans know they can come to our clubs, get high, and not worry about baking soda getting mixed into their cocaine.”
The way she shrugged told Gerry she couldn’t care less about a human overdosing. What she cared about was her club’s profitability and reputation.
<She wasn’t kidding about the brains.> He liked her more and more by the minute.
“On top of the club scene, we’ve got a decent stake in the local escort business. Not as large as I want, but enough to get our foot in the door of any big occasion in town. It also allows me to look after the girls.”
Something deeper than truth echoed in those words. It was the opposite of a lie. It was complete sincerity.
<She feels a genuine desire to protect other women.> It was something he could use if he needed.
Knowing the weakness of your allies along with your enemies was just good strategy.
“Being involved in the legitimate, semi-legitimate, and outright criminal enterprises also enables us to keep an eye on the local PD.” She motioned to flashing blue lights heading in the opposite direction.
Probably toward the homicide Gerry had felt.
“We’re able to play both side of the law. We rake in the money from our less than legal endeavors, provide information when it benefits us, and establish solid CI covers. We throw them a bone on our own assets every once and a while to avoid suspicion, but it’s usually when someone has gotten too greedy or put their dick where it didn’t belong.” She sat back to judge his reaction.
He couldn’t do anything but nod. Vicky and her twenty-one strong coven had cornered the market.
There was only a nano-second of hesitation this time.
“We’ve got the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels in our pocket. They run protection for a lot of our operations, and we only call in one of my coven if it’s something big or someone from our neck of the woods is stepping onto our turf.”
<That’s irony for you.> He stopped just short of laughing.
“What’s the greatest threat to your turf?”
His question surprised her. Gerry didn’t know anything about the last Dux, but they guy apparently didn’t manage his resources well. Letting your subordinates know you valued what they valued, especially when they were already trained and organized to this degree, was basic leadership.
“Truthfully,” she sighed, like what she was about to say sounded silly. “Our biggest rivals are the Lycans just south of town.”
Now he understood her timidity. There was nothing more stereotypical than the mainstream vampire-werewolf vendetta. In reality, there wasn’t some big blood feud or century’s long conflict. It was simple. They were both creatures of the night, and they fought over the same real-estate. They were also created by different Lords of Hell.
The Soulless were Satan’s creation, and the Lycans were Belial’s, The Duke of Damnation. Unfortunately, from what Gerry had heard, Belial didn’t have a creative bone in his body. If his body even had bones. Belial just copied Satan’s curse and tweaked it to his own liking. The result was the Lycans.
Unlike the Soulless, Lycans retained their souls except during the full moon. Under the full moon their souls were locked away, feeding their gathered æther to Belial. As a result, the Lycans transformed from their human form to their wolf form and normally went on a bloody rampage. Older Lycans were able to control their urges more, but it took a lot of practice. They still suffered from the same casualty rates as the Soulless when the curse took hold, and they tended to die off even quicker; because everyone came together to kill creatures who were rampaging through civilization.
For all that, they only got mediocre rewards. Their strength and speed were two, maybe three times human normal, and they lost it all during the day.
“There are two packs that we know of. One is more feral and stays in the woods between Charlotte and Columbia. The other is more organized and operates out of Rock Hill. They like to harass our distributors and raid our stash houses. It’s nothing we can’t deal with in time,” she hurriedly added, not wanting to sound week in front of the Dux. “But they are a thorn in my ass sometimes.”
“And we don’t want a thorn in that beautiful ass of yours now do we?” Gerry grinned. “We’ll deal with the Lycans soon, but I believe we have arrived.”
Gerry looked through his second sight at the high-rise building they’d stopped in front of. It was a fancy hotel right on the corner of a busy intersection. It was maybe ten stories tall, made of an old-fashioned looking brick, and had an ornate awning above the front door. On the surface it looked like an upscale, respectable business establishment, but beneath the veneer were layers and layers of wards.
Gerry didn’t understand them all. He was a warrior not a scholar, but he could see the basics. Most were simple ones to protect the occupants from eavesdropping and other modern methods of surveillance. Some drove people away who didn’t have a need to be there, but the most intriguing were the wards that hid the wards from all but Infernal eyes.
Gerry looked at the tortured language of the angels and understood a bit more of its power. <Hiding in plain sight. Very clever.> The old Dux didn’t appear to be a total ass.
“This is where we’ve been instructed to bring you.” Vicky looked out the window and clearly didn’t see what he was seeing. “Please call if you need anything, anything at all. We’re here to do you bidding, Dux.”
“Don’t play submissive, Vicky.” Gerry chided her. “It’s not your style,” he softened the blow with a grin. “I’ll be in touch soon.”
He gave her a farewell nod and exited the car. Once the door was shut they drove away and left him alone on the sidewalk. But he was never alone.
Aether drifted everywhere around him. The woman that gave him a wide berth was suspicious of her boyfriend. He had too many friends who were girls, and she was convinced he was cheating on her.
A man walked by in the opposite direction and looked back at the same woman, particularly at her butt. He lusted for that ass.
Gerry felt it all, and all of it gave him power.
“Sir, can I help you?” The doorman asked politely.
The quick look around showed Gerry that he was not dressed for this place. He was wearing a black track suit that strained to contain his human bulk. Everyone else was dressed in suits or at the very least business casual. He didn’t look like he belonged.
“I’ve got this, Timothy.” A rich, cultured voice spoke from the doorway.
A handsome man walked out of the entrance sharply dressed in a three-piece suit. But that was the veneer he presented to the world. Beneath it was a man covered with scars, but still a man who held his chin high with pride. The glow of hellfire could be detected behind his kind green eyes, and a crown of horns encircled his head.
There was no mistaking that this man was a demon.
“Dux.” The man whispered while nodding his head. It was clear he wanted to bow lower, but it would draw too much attention from the nearby humans. “Please follow me to your Demesne. Everyone is waiting.”
Gerry didn’t hear any lies in his statement, so he nodded. “Lead the way.”