Photo by Monique Laats
Read Part 1 here
CHAPTER 2: THE BASE
We land at the Philadelphia Airport a little more than three hours later, sore from the TSA’s poking and prodding. I swear, the mortals’ stupid security systems are even more obnoxious than the entire damn Dynasty. But whatever makes them feel safer, I guess. The drive to our new, temporary home base is only about a half an hour. Briella is entirely silent the whole way. All I can hear is the rustling of her scarf brushing against her shirt. I lean as far away from her as I can without seeming rude, so that I end up essentially sitting on Montero’s lap with his arm wrapped around my shoulders.
Finally, we arrive at a small, worn-down one-story rancher with a tiny, half-rotted porch.
“Lovely,” says Montero, wrinkling his nose. “Just beautiful. The Dynasty only provides the best for its employees.”
“Seems homey,” said Briella with a grin. “Besides, no mortal’s gonna come wandering in. No matter what kind of desperate state you’re in, you wouldn’t go to this place looking for help. Way too shifty.”
“How do you know?” asks Montero.
Briella just smiles and starts towards the door. I look over at Montero, hoping for some kind of assurance, but he just shrugs and follows her. With a sigh, I do the same.
The inside looks a lot better than the outside does. The furniture in the living room/dining room/entryway hybrid that we stepped into is chipped and the whole place is swirling with dust, but at least the paint isn’t peeling and the floor isn’t about to give way and drop us all into the basement.
“I call the biggest bedroom,” says Briella, starting down the hallway. Then she glances back at us. “Oops. My bad. Second-biggest, then.”
Montero and I look at each other again, this time more confused than nervous, and then follow her. She throws open the doors along the hallway as she passes them, and on the third one down I hear a startled mrop and see a flash of coloured spots darting out of the doorway.
“There’s a cat here?” I ask incredulously as the darting shape stops next to the next doorway down, its body poised to attack. “No one said anything about a cat.”
Briella starts towards it, and I take a step towards her, my mouth opening to yell at her not to hurt it, when she bends down and holds out her hand for the cat to sniff. It leans forwards warily, then nudges its nose against Briella’s fingers. She kneels down and starts scratching the cat behind the ears, a smile spreading across her face.
“I… you like cats?” I ask. “That… I didn’t know that. I thought…”
“You didn’t think I was gonna hurt it, did you?” asks Briella almost incredulously, looking up at Montero and I without stopping petting the cat. “C’mon. Am I really that bad? I don’t hurt animals.”
“Oh” is all I can think to say. Briella shrugs, scoops the cat up into her arms, and carries it back into the room that it ran from.
“She’s crazy,” I mutter to Montero after she’s gone.
“She’s a Madman,” he says. “Sort of their shtick.”
I nod and sigh, then walk back up the hallway the way we came to claim one of the two bedrooms that Briella had opened up.
After a quick run to the local blood supply and the supermarket next door and maybe twenty minutes to settle in, Briella, Montero, and I all gather around the dining room table. Briella puts the cat in her lap, and it curls up in a little ball, nuzzling up against her. There are already little calico hairs on her shirt and scarf.
“I’m gonna call it Flesh-Eating Stabmonster the Destroyer,” says Briella absently. “Stabby for short.”
I blink a couple of times. The knot in my head grows a little bit, and I grimace slightly at the pain. My thoughts are getting distorted again; this is that and that is this and it’s all a great hot mess. I imagine pulling the threads of the knot apart. Slowly but surely, the pounding in my brain reaches a manageable level again.
“Are you going to be keeping it?” asks Montero.
“Of course I am,” says Briella. “I’m not just gonna leave Stabby here to die a lonely death. He’s coming back to HQ with us.”
“I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have him,” I say, opening my eyes again. Briella stares at me, but I can’t read her face. I look away first.
“Right,” says Montero. “Well. We need a plan. Briella, you know the Devotees better than either of us. What can you tell us about how they work?”
“The Devotees are– were– a sharp bunch,” says Briella, still not looking away from me. “The whole cannibalism thing may have been why most of the Crazies in their ranks joined, but it isn’t why we stayed. The None– their pseudo-god, the one Dania claimed to be getting prophecies from– made promises. Big promises.”
“What kind of promises?” asks Montero.
Briella shrugs. “You know the popular ones already. Fame. Fortune. That was the stuff that kept the Shadows and Fools hooked. But Dania told the Crazies something different.” She leans in towards me, lowering her voice. “She told us that there would be a day when the None would arrive here, accompanied by their companion– the All. That day, the None and the All would rise up and overthrow the Dynasty, and the ways of the Devotees would become the ways of all vampires.” She grinned and leaned back. “Of course, that’s all bullshit. If there was any sort of God or None or All the world would be a whole lot different.”
I look over at her. She’s petting the cat nonchalantly, looking down at the chipped oak table.
Montero opens his mouth as though he’s about to speak, then closes it and nods. “All right. We need a plan. Briella, what do people wanting to join the Devotees do?”
Briella glances over at him, raising an eyebrow slightly, then looks back down at the table. “You don’t. You need a reference from a senior member to get in.”
I groan. “Well, then, what are we here for? If we can’t get in–”
“Don’t be stupid,” Briella interrupts. “Why do you think I’m here?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I never officially quit the Devotees,” says Briella. “I was the Dynasty’s undercover vamp back when the cult was getting bigger. I should still be a known member. Even if I did skip out on Veracruz.”
I shudder slightly, and the sickly sweet smell of vampire blood fills my nose.
“So you can get Ava in?” asks Montero.
“Ava?” asks Briella, looking over at me. “Cute. Suits you, somehow.”
“Um,” I say. “Thanks?”
“Okay, introductions out of the way, now can you get us in?” Montero snaps.
“Touchy,” says Briella. “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna steal your girlfriend.”
“I’m not his girlfriend,” I say sharply.
“Good thing, too. You deserve better. Yes, Mister Saviour, I can get you in.”
Montero’s face is stormy. “Don’t insult my family name.”
“You guys use my family name as an insult. I think I’m allowed a jab or two,” Briella says. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep it to a minimum.”
“So are we going tomorrow night?” I ask. “Seems like the best time, especially since I would like to sleep some, since I haven’t gotten any rest since I broke my legs.”
Montero blinks, then shakes his head and says, “Yeah. Yes. Good idea, Ava. We’ll all go get some sleep and we’ll try to join the Devotees tomorrow evening. Well, you two will. I’ll stay here and run comms and keep a line open to HQ.”
I nod. “Sounds good. Morning, all.” Then I stand up and walk down the hall to my new bedroom, trying to ignore the pounding in my head, the new twisting in my stomach, and the palpable silence behind me all at once.