Las Vegas, Nevada
Apparently her latest indiscretion several weeks ago was still in the news, but the part about the body being left desiccated and dried out hadn’t been circulated as much. It didn’t need to be obviously since the man she’d taken had been a transgender woman, or had identified as one. Had anyone asked, she could have told them that the individual had been all man, and she would have gladly licked her lips while saying it. But the devil that she’d taken on and taken in had been a rough one to absorb, especially since it had gone kicking and fighting into her body, actually causing a bit of physical damage as it had been absorbed.
That had healed thankfully, but the devil had yet to fully absorb into her body, meaning that she’d had to lay low as much as she could. Leaving Encanto had been the best move, especially considering where she was now. Vegas was without a doubt rife with sin, and the possessed were all around her on a constant basis, though only a few had taken note of her thanks to the insidious thing she was still in the process of consuming. Demons and devils were amusing creatures, they could fight until the end, and many of them would. But if they sensed any weakness, even the slightest of an opening, some of them would actually contemplate whether or not they could trick their host into thinking that they meant to leave.
Other, less intelligent and less canny individuals might have fallen prey to the demons and devils that wanted to possess them, but Lenore, much like her mother, was special in that she was able to keep whatever she caught indefinitely. If she needed to, she could drain them slowly, keeping each deadly spirit chained firmly within the depths of her mind until they were little more than a shell, and weren’t even able to beg for oblivion.
Seated as she was at one of the many bars within The Mirage casino, she could see a good deal of the floorspace that was dominated by so many. Tourists, locals, those seeking to break the bank, and those hoping to go home with at least enough money for a tank of gas surrounded her, and a good percentage of them were infested with one spirit or another. Whether those spirits would follow them out of this place or not was hard to say. She had seen more than one spirit come creeping out of the shadows to attach itself to a guest that had just stepped into the casino. For most it was just a tickle, explained as the air conditioning perhaps, or static electricity. Whatever people thought it might be, they never guessed that they’d just been saddled by a demon.
It might have made her laugh, but instead she felt slightly irritated, and she knew why. Demons weren’t the only beings that had infested this city.
“Can I get you another?”
She turned to regard her bartender, a handsome young man in a black polo shirt with startling green eyes and a very appealing build. It almost made up for the fact that he was bald, but she had no designs on him anyway.
“Another double of rye,” she said dismissively, turning back around as the bartender went to get her drink. She didn’t bother to be polite, but he would be getting a tip, so she didn’t need to be.
Right now that irritating feeling she had, that strange, nettling tickle that wouldn’t abate, was all she was really thinking about. She’d already tried to identify it, but in a place such as this, with so many people wandering about, it was difficult to pinpoint anyone.
“Can I buy your drink for you?”
Her first inclination was to tell the stranger that had just approached her that no, she would buy her own drink, and that he could piss off. The nettling sensation had grown stronger suddenly, and was actually a little painful at the moment. She couldn’t help but feel the demons and the devil that were inside her as they sought to retreat, the feeling confusing her for a moment. But then she looked upon the individual that now stood in front of her, and she knew why.
He wasn’t glowing, or even wearing light-colored clothing. In fact he was clad in mostly black and red, colors she might have selected had she found something she’d been fond of on the way to Sin City. The stranger was also dark of skin, not black, but definitely a person of color, perhaps descended from the Middle East or somewhere nearby, as his features were a bit hard to place. He was handsome though, with a dark, closely-cropped beard and mustache that fit his face as though it had been airbrushed on. Light green eyes were about the only vibrant color to this individual, which was not uncommon in those from the Middle East, but was still an interesting look.
But was really interesting about him, or infuriating she guessed, was the angelic spirit that infused him from head to toe.
“Should I kneel or curtsy?”
He smiled, clearly not intimidated by her presence, “Seeing as neither of us are royalty or even that high up on the ladder I’d guess it’s okay to just say hi.”
That stung a bit, more than it should have in fact. “Are you here to expose me?”
“No,” he said simply, taking a couple of steps as he leaned against the bar, placing his right elbow on top. “I guess you could say I’m here on a scouting assignment. The boss wanted me to look for someone in particular, but someone else will get assigned to you.”
“That sounds like it’s against protocol,” she quipped, “Is it?”
He smiled again as the bartender arrived, placing Lenore’s drink in front of her before asking the stranger what he’d like.
“Whiskey, straight up, a double please. And if she’ll let me, put her drink on my bill as well if you will.”
The bartender glanced at Lenore, who merely nodded before he turned away.
“Not much into manners, are you?”
“Why do I care what a peon thinks?” Lenore said with a snort, “He’s just one of gaggle of idiots that works at these places thinking that they’re going somewhere and this is temporary.”
“You mean he has hope?”
“I mean he’s a simp, just like all these other idiots thinking that they’ll hit it big on that one draw, or that one toss of the dice, or on that next hundred dollar bill that the machines so willingly suck up. It’s sad really, but it’s pretty funny as well.”
The bartender set the man’s drink near him without a word, granting Lenore a glance that spoke of his utter disdain for what he’d heard. She didn’t even turn around, she could feel the look, and she didn’t give a shit what he thought.
“I’m sure you don’t care, but my name is Gabe, and you’re right, conversing with you is against protocol. But I’ve never been much of one to follow the rules to the letter.”
“Gabe, huh?” Lenore said with a snort, “Where’s your horn and scythe ‘Gabe’?”
He chuckled, “A lot of people have made that joke over the years, but I’m not that Gabriel. In fact, that guy is kind of a prick sometimes, but he means well.”
“Ooh, badmouthing your fellow angels,” Lenore said, making a pouting face, “What would the boss think of that?”
“He’s used to it,” Gabe said, taking a sip from his glass as he gently slid the tip of his index finger around the rim, “What he’s not used to is someone like yourself showing up in a city that’s capable of keeping you around for much longer than you’re supposed to be here.”
“Oh please,” she scoffed, glancing around, “Most of those in here would have this ability if they weren’t so damned afraid of what might happen to their precious souls when they finally die.”
“You might be surprised,” he said, “And mind your tongue around me.”
“Why?” she crooned, “Is there something else you’d like my tongue to be doing?” She flashed her tongue at him as she spoke, waggling it back and forth in a lewd manner. Gabe just snorted as he shook his head.
“I wouldn’t touch you if I was paying for it,” Lenore spat, dismissing him as she turned around to regard the room again, “Almost everyone in here deserves what they get just for stepping into these vice dens, so says your beloved scripture.”
“Well, as an angel, I might agree, save for the fact that gambling doesn’t automatically doom one’s soul. But since Vegas has become more of an over-priced video game these days it’s easier to think as a half-breed and understand that people are just trying to have fun, to enjoy themselves, and not sin just for the fun of it.”
“What a hypocritical answer,” Lenore said in a bored, disinterested tone, “Why don’t you down your drink and go find a holy roller to inspire. You don’t want a quarrel between us. Trust me on this.”
“Interesting choice of words,” Gabe replied, “And to be fair, I’d rather not spend another moment in your company unless I have to. But the downside is this: I have to. The boss wants you out of this city, and I couldn’t agree more.”
“That’s a little fascist, isn’t it? Or is it discriminatory? It’s hard to tell these days.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” Gabe muttered, “But all the same, you’ve got to go.”
“When I’m ready,” Lenore said with a mild laugh.
“The funny thing is, I think you’re ready now.”
Lenore felt a mild, mental shove to her senses that was none too gentle, reminding her that the being sitting next to her was definitely skilled, and had a serious amount of experience to use against her. That was okay though, she plenty of backup if she needed it.
“That wasn’t nice,” she said, raising an eyebrow as she reached for her drink.
“It’ll get less nice the longer you stay,” he replied, taking a sip from his own drink, “Like I said, the boss wants you gone.”
“So is it the ‘big boss’? Or is it the next in the chain of command that wants me gone? Oh wait, don’t answer, I don’t give a fuck.”
“You probably should.”
Lenore suddenly noted the shift that had taken place. Nothing was moving, each person within her line of sight was absolutely still, and all sound, save for their voices, had stilled. She hadn’t dealt with many angels, or angel-touched in her life, but even from her limited experience she knew what they could do, and this was something she’d hoped to never see again, among other things.
“Are you sure this is how you want to play it?” she asked, swallowing her drink in one go as the angel did the same, his feathery appendages coming into view as he set his glass gently on the bar. A heavy, two-handed sword with jagged edges near the cross guard had appeared in his left hand, and unfortunately for her, he appeared to wield it quite easily with one hand. The blade burned just to look at, but Lenore still managed a smile. She had her own tricks, and if she wished to survive this encounter she would likely need to use a few of them.
“I’m done talking,” Gabe said, lifting his blade-
-and stopping as it lifted towards an amorphous blob of darkness that swiftly faded from sight as the sound of Lenore laughing could be heard from the further away. Gabe ground his teeth, cursing himself silently for not stilling her when he had the chance. The order had been clear, to convince her to leave, or to make her vacate the city. There had been no provision about being honorable and speaking with her to reason things out if the second way became necessary. But as an angel, many of his kind still felt the need to do the right thing and give the demon-touched a chance. This one was obviously different though, much as he’d sensed upon coming near. He had no doubt that she’d sensed him, but still he’d felt the need to give her a fighting chance.
Shaking his head he willed his sword into the ether again, once more taking on the human form he’d created as he let time roll onward as usual. No one tripped, no on missed a beat, as the lot of those within the casino went about their business as though nothing had happened. Motioning to the bartender for another, he began to think of how he would find the woman again. His superiors wouldn’t be happy with this failure, but once he relayed what he’d discovered about her, no matter how little it amounted to, they’d likely understand.
She wouldn’t be leaving Vegas alive.
* * *
Lenore felt invigorated after the strange but pleasing shadow jump, chuckling as she exited the casino in search of other excitement for the night. People continued to wander to and fro, oblivious to anything but their own meager experience within the place known affectionately as Sin City.
Everywhere she cast her gaze Lenore could see some bit of sin, some bit of debauchery, and demons and devils willing to lap it all up like dogs as some of them writhed in absolute ecstasy within their human hosts, while others guided their humans towards various pursuits that appeared innocent but would easily turn pleasurable and absolutely sinful in short order. Her lips twisted as she noted the families, the children, and of course, those that did not share in the same lust for sin as others, minor gray lights in an otherwise glowing field of vibrant colors that some might have called dangerous and spiteful, but were like warming home fires to her sensibilities. The shining white light emitted by some of those that walked by was repulsive, particularly in those children that were so well-protected by their parental benefactors. How she wished she could have corrupted the lot of them without any fear of reprisal.
Turning about, she saw no sign of pursuit and no other angels poking their heads out of the crowd at her presence, but plenty of the demonic entities that noticed her either turned in Lenore’s direction or shied away, perhaps sensing what she was, but not fully understanding. Their human hosts knew nothing of course, only that she was another person on the fabled Strip, another soul that they didn’t need to worry over too much since she meant nothing to them.
She did have the sensation of being watched however, thought not by anything that would spit and roast her over some divine fire to rid her of the damning influences. This was a fanciful notion no doubt, as the hosts of heaven would likely expel the demons within her and leave Lenore just as dried out as she had left so many others. But finding a spot along the Strip where she could watch others she could see no one and nothing that would offer her any real threat, only the same mass of humanity that visited this place day in and day out, continuing the cycle of endless loss and misery that this city had been built on so long ago.
Some people would claim that Vegas had been built to offer entertainment, to create a haven within the desert where people could come and have a good time and not worry over what they lost, so long as they gained something in return. Of course, many never attained the second part of that bargain, as Las Vegas was not known for being an altruistic city. The casinos were here to take money, to earn money, not to give it back. Those high rollers that strolled into each casino knew how to play the game, and they knew how to leave with more than they entered with, and as such they were among the favorite and least favorite of the casinos.
Back in its early days, the city had been crueler, possessed of a harder edge. These days it was like a theme park for adults, where they could gamble their savings and the futures of their children away for a bit of fun while they sipped at one drink after another and slowly but surely lost everything. Sometimes what was lost was never recovered, much as Vegas wanted it.
“I hear tell there’s an angel looking to rid you of a pesky little something that you’ve squandered,” said a voice nearby, startling Lenore a bit as she jumped from her seat.
“He must be near if you’re so jumpy.”
The voice had surprised her, but upon turning around, Lenore sneered at the woman she saw seated on a bench only a few strides away.
She looked younger than she had when Lenore had last seen her, which meant she’d taken in yet another powerful spirit. Many of the wrinkles that had creased her brow and been prevalent at the corners of her lips and eyes were gone, her looks and her youth replenished, at least for now.
“I left Gabe behind in the Paris,” she chuckled, “Once he finds me, if he finds me, he’ll likely want your head too. It would seem that I’m not welcome in Sin City of all places.”
Her mother simply nodded, smiling thinly as she closed her eyes.
“The angels think they’re an authority in this world,” she said lightly, “But they don’t like to admit that they have marching orders just like anyone else.”
Lenore’s good mirth disappeared, “What are you doing here mother?”
“Your brother is dead.” She said this as though she were discussing the weather, but it didn’t bother Lenore. Not a single bit.
“I know, I saw.”
“Did you even feel bad?”
“Nope,” she replied, shaking her head, “He was more like dad I’ll bet, human and flawed.”
Gladys laughed, a horrid, cawing sound not unlike a raven, “He was at that, for certain. Your father was just another human, not a vessel like you and I. But your brother, he had potential, but it went in the other direction.”
“He could trap angels?”
Her mother shook her head, “He could accept them, harness them, use them, or be used by them. You and I, we’re honeypots for demons and devils. They see us and they want a piece. But your brother, he was a different tool altogether, and the demons hated him for that. They hated his weakness, his inability to do anything to defend himself, especially since he refused to learn.”
“Why are you here mother? And how did you find me?”
Gladys glanced at her daughter, giving her a look that suggested she was being naïve.
“So it’s come to that then?” Lenore said, spreading her arms out wide.
Gladys only nodded.
“Well then come and get it bitch.”
Her mother didn’t move, but perhaps she was counting on Lenore to jump into the shadows once again. This time she saw people react to her sudden disappearance, some of them gasping and a few staring in shock as the rent she’d created in the fabric of reality sealed itself once more and the darkness heeded her command.
She had to get moving again, since an angel was one thing. Gabe might be a hard fight, but her mother was a seasoned receptacle. Her current youthful appearance made it easy to believe that she’d absorbed a rather powerful fiend recently, which meant that the coming fight could be more difficult than she’d been expecting.
* * *
“She was just here, wasn’t she?”
Gladys smiled as she patted the bench next to her, staying calm as the positive energy that the angel exuded pulled at and repulsed her at the same time. Gabe hesitated, inhaling through his nostrils as he regarded her for a moment. This woman was different than her daughter in some ways, but she was just as detested in his view. Still, she’d proven useful in the past, maybe it was time to let his guard down just a little. As he sat down across the bench from the woman he could almost hear the evil within her trying to tempt him.
“I think we should talk,” Gladys said pleasantly.
“And what do we have to talk about?” Gabe asked, rolling his eyes.
To that, Gladys just smiled, leaving Gabe to think that he was about to agree to something that he might regret.