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Las Vegas, Nevada

            “So it doesn’t bother you, to just help who you want to help even if they’re on opposing sides?”

            The white-haired, young-looking man in front of her scoffed, as though this was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. Fishing a pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket as they made their way along the Strip, the bright lights and flashing marquees lighting their way, he lit the smoke before answering.

            “If I worried about who I was helping and why, I would have given up on this world a long time ago. You’re all fucked and you’re all worth saving in some measure, so I figure being the go-between is about as much fun as I’m allowed to have without having to pick a side.”

            “You’re not worried that someone from either side might take offense to this?”

            The traffic that was a constant within this part of the world, an addition to the bright lights and continual noise of Vegas, thrummed to their left, but she ignored most of it as she listened to Abel, one of the last people she would have expected to come to her aid. He was, after all, one of those that been screwed over the most by the ‘good book’ since his involvement had ended when his pain in the ass brother Cain had ‘slain’ him and gone on his way. Apparently back then no one had bothered to check for a pulse, since Abel had been very much alive, but like so many others within the good book he’d been forgotten, passed over, and left to his own devices. Unlike a lot of others that had been left out of the story though, he’d been given a reprieve of sort from death’s cold threshold by learning of a certain trick that most human beings had forgotten a long time ago.

            They were all vessels. It didn’t matter how much they took in, what form it took, or how it was done, every human was a vessel for energy, but many of them didn’t realize it. Abel had realized it long ago when a traveler had come to the place where Cain had left him and attempted to rouse him. The transfer had been instinctual, a hungry soul trying to feed on anything he could, and the power, one of many that the big boss had never told His children about, had taken over. And after a couple of millennia of finding the need to feed on others and keep low, here he was.

            “If someone takes offense to it then so be it. My own brother took offense to me being a good son and beat the living hell out of me. If you can think of something worse than that, please, tell me all about it. The demons and the angels leave me alone for the most part, and if they don’t, well, there’s a reason I still look this young. But I don’t provoke it, and I don’t go looking for it.”

            “But they come to you anyway.”

            Still walking, Abel pointed a finger at her as he smiled, “Smart girl. Now, where and when did you want to start this little, uh, let’s call it a scuffle?”

            “It’s going to be public,” she said with a sigh, “I don’t think there’s any getting around that, since I’m not leaving the city.”

            “Well, there are other places apart from the Strip to do this. Back alleys, parking lots, parks, so on and so forth.”

            “I think it needs to be public, so that others can see,” she replied, casting her gaze from one side of the street to the next, “Is there a casino that has a bigger lot than the others?”

            Abel shrugged, “There’s plenty of space around town, I mean the Planet Hollywood Resort has a ton of space. I could even get you up to the top of the Mandalay Bay. Hell, you could even fight on the tarmac over at the airport. That would make a statement and a half.”

            “I need someplace that I can use to dictate the pace of the fight,” Lenore said, stopping where she was as she glanced back to make sure no one was trying to move past her. Thankfully, as busy as it was, people had given them enough space to move about unhindered.

            “This is Vegas lady,” Abel snickered, “Anywhere you go you’re bound to draw a crowd, at least on the Strip.”

            Lenore inhaled through her nostrils, gazing up the Strip, then down it.

            “I’ve got an idea. Let’s go.”

            “Yes ma’am,” Abel said, reaching in a pocket for his cigarettes.

                                                            *                      *                      *

Treasure Island Casino

            “This city is rife with demons and angels alike, and we can’t find her?”

            “Unlike you, I’m not equipped with a homing beacon,” Gabe stated, reclining in his seat as the lights around them painted a muted tableau of the area. Machines colored in gaudy shades of red, yellow, and other various hues were everywhere, while the green felt tables with their various numbers and markings kept the humans happy as they frittered away their life savings upon one game of chance after another. Many of them thought they might get lucky and walk away with a bit more than they came with, but many would leave with next to nothing, and might even lose more than they intended.

            “I trust you’ve called someone who won’t mind my presence?” Gladys said with a smirk. She’d remained outwardly chipper since arriving in this forsaken city, and had remained so while in his company, but Gabe didn’t know how much longer he could keep this up. She was a vessel, a being that knew how to draw in demons and angels alike, and he’d mistaken her for another demon-touched that knew how to draw upon the dark energy of the foul and unclean spirits around her. This made her dangerous, as she had already absorbed the essence of his immediate superior, Aubrie. He had no doubt that his other superiors weren’t going to look kindly on this, especially considering that he hadn’t attempted to detain her. There was one problem though. He wasn’t certain that he could.

            “Azazel is able to move quicker than we might,” Gabe replied, not looking at her, “He’ll be able to move through this city quicker than anyone.”

            “Mm,” she replied, “But will he?”

            “Maybe,” Gabe said, turning about as he felt a brush of something he couldn’t see, “He is a fallen angel after all, but he hasn’t had a lot of love for the lot of us lately.”

            “I wonder why,” came the deep, bass voice of a man that came to stand directly in front the two of them, a colorful drink in either hand.

            “Azazel,” Gabe said with a nod, noting the drinks, “Are those for us?”

            “No, I enjoy double-fisting it, just ask your mom.”

            “How delightful,” Glady said with a titter, “What’s in them?”

            “A Scooby Snack for the lady,” Azazel said, his large black hand, or the hand of the person he was currently using, setting the bright green drink on the table, “and something I know you don’t get enough of Gabe, a Sex on the Beach.” The half-breed inhaled slowly through his nostrils as the big black man pulled up a chair to sit down, his bulk making the wood and metal construct creak a bit as he settled in.

            “Nothing for you?” Gabe said with a raised eyebrow.

            “Mine’s coming,” Azazel replied, looking squarely at Gabe.

            “So, do you actually feel the effect of the alcohol, or is it a disconnected feel when you’re inhabiting someone like this?” Glady asked, stirring her drink with the straw.

            “I like that, ‘inhabiting’,” the big man said, grinning at Gladys. A server arrived at their table at that moment, the pretty young woman smiling as she was paid to do while delivering two shots of an amber liquid and a tall, citrus-looking drink as Azazel thanked her, making certain, or so it appeared, that he didn’t touch her. The look of his eyes made it clear that he’d like to though. As he turned back to the table he saw Gladys looking, though she didn’t make any attempt to hide her interest.

            “Just imagine what it would be like to ride in a body like that,” Azazel said with a huge grin, “Imagine getting ridden in a body like that, or riding a body like that. Oh, the sensations a person could have.”

            “I can only imagine,” Glady said, taking a sip of her drink as she shuddered slightly, “Ooha, strong one.”

            “It’s good shit though,” Azazel said, taking one shot after the other as he set both shot glasses on the table with a distinctive thump, “These bartenders here are top of the line, they’re not like those pussies over at the Mandalay Bay that don’t want to get in trouble and only serve so many drinks at a time. I mean come on, this is Vegas! Who cares if a person falls on their lips from too much? Casinos aren’t exactly known for having entirely clean reputations anyway. People get the idea of what goes down when they step in the doors.”

            “Are you finished?” Gabe interrupted.

            “Well hello, welcome to the conversation,” Azazel quipped, grinning at Gladys before looking back to Gabe, “Take a drink half-breed.”

            “I’d rather not.”

            “Then I’d rather not help,” Azazel shrugged, “But I’ll gladly sit here and bullshit for a while. I’ve got nothing else to do except move from person to person since you uptight pricks keep rousting me from one host to another.”

            “You’re allowed to stay here with certain conditions,” Gabe said firmly, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can’t be persecuted further.”

            “I’m what?” Azazel said, leaning forward slowly, a dangerous look coming the dark features he wore, “Say that shit again half-breed, and see how fast I rip those fuckin’ wings off your back for everyone to see.”

            Gabe didn’t budge, “You’d have a dozen angels descending on you the moment you touched me.”

            Azazel smirked, “You’d be in pieces before any of them even knew what was going on you little prick. You want my help, you’ll mind what you say, or I’ll remind myself why I don’t enjoy inhabiting your kind.”

            The two continued to glare at each other as Glady sipped at her drink, enjoying the creaminess of it and the slightly sour flavor that came from the ingredients mixing together. After several moments of trying to stare each other down the two sat back, perhaps sensing that neither one of them was going to budge. Gabe reached over, picking up his drink as he nodded to Azazel, who did not reply or even move. As the half-breed took a small sip, Azazel finally did appear to relax.

            “Just because you have a job to do doesn’t mean you have to be as uptight as your fuckin’ bosses,” Azazel said calmly, picking up his own drink as he took a long pull from it. “Hoo! That’ll put lead in your pencil, sure enough.”

            “I’ll take your word for it,” Gabe said stonily, “In any case, I need, we need, you to locate a woman for us. Her name is Lenore, and she’s-“
            “A vessel, like her, no offense.” Azazel raised his palm to Gladys following his pointing finger, to which she replied by shrugging it away.

            “I don’t care what people call me,” Glady said, taking a sip of her drink as she swallowed and said, “I know what I am. But this bitch, my daughter, she’s a tough nut. If you’re not careful she’ll likely try to suck you right into her. It’s likely she’s pulled another demonic being into recently since we did find a dried-out husk not too long ago, just today in fact. It’d be a surprise if the cops or someone else didn’t stumble across it at some point.”

            “Shit, she doesn’t finish?”

            Gabe cleared his throat, “Can you help us?”

            “Well, yeah,” Azazel said in a matter of fact tone, “But what am I dealing with here? Is this bitch, as you put it,” he nodded at Gladys, who nodded in turn, “Going to be looking to suck me into her too? I’ve met a lot of vessels, and they’re hungry fuckers from what I can tell. But not a one has been able to get me yet.”

            “She’s not much different from any other vessel as far as I know. Unless you have something to add,” Gabe said, raising an eyebrow in Gladys’ direction.

            “She’s just a tough one, that’s all I can give. She’s taken down some fairly rough and tumble demons and at least one or two devils that I can guess, judging by her appearance.”

            “What, she’s projecting?”

            Projecting was dangerous for any vessel, as it typically meant that the human host was beginning to take on the form or appearance of those spirits they were absorbing into their bodies. When this happened, as Gabe and Azazel both knew, the vessel had to expel the spirit quickly or find a dark corner of the world to absorb it completely until the physical effects wore off.

            “No, nothing like that,” Gladys said, keeping that damnable smile on her face, “But she is a very tough individual to resist. She has taken down a few very powerful demons in her time.”

            “Much like her mother I presume. But you can absorb angels as well I take it,” Azazel said, taking a sip of his drink as she nodded. He then cast his gaze to Gabe, smirking as the half-breed rolled his eyes.

            “That must make you nervous, huh?”

            “A bit,” Gabe admitted, “She did absorb Aubrie.”

            Azazel raised his dark brows as he regarded Gladys again, “No shit?”

            “None,” Gladys said with a smile, “She was ready to kill me, and left me no choice.”

            “Yeah, that sounds like Aubrie,” Azazel said with a sigh, rattling the ice in his glass as he raised it up, hoping to get the attention of a passing server. It only took a moment as he set the glass down on the next server’s tray and ordered another round of drinks for himself, placing a twenty dollar bill on her tray as he remained careful not to touch her.

            “It would be nice if you could get to this soon,” Gabe said, drumming his fingers on the table.

            Azazel scoffed as the waitress left to get his order, “And it would be nice you could eat my ass with a spoon,” he finished with a snort, “We haven’t discussed what’s in this for me yet. That’s the part that’s most interesting to me, you know that.”

            The sounds of the casino continued around them unabated as Gabe stared hard at the big black man, his jaw working as Gladys continued to sip her drink. She was rather enjoying the show as of now, and wanted to see how it would end.

            They would catch her daughter eventually.

                                                            *                      *                      *

The Luxor Resort

            “This will work,” Lenore said with a smirk, “It’s the perfect spot to use. Now we just need to attract the right attention.”

            “That shouldn’t be a problem,” Abel replied, turning about as he took in the attraction known as The Oasis Pool, one of the Luxor’s biggest features and one that was accessible only by the guests, and for good reason. In recent months this area had been largely off limits to everyone, thanks to the damned virus that the humans had manufactured somehow. But thankfully cooler heads had prevailed finally, and the pool had reopened, but with strict guidelines like everything else.

            Abel put his hands up, using them to frame the scene for himself before shifting the view to Lenore, who gave him a sly grin as she posed a few times. He chuckled as well, “This would be the perfect place for an epic showdown, so long as one of your opponents has the ability to do that little time stop thing. Do you know how to do it?”

            Lenore shook her head, casting her gaze around the massive pool space. From where they stood they could see all four corners of the pool as it dominated the rear of the resort. There were pyramids everywhere thanks to the ridiculous nature of the casino, as well as columns massive walkways, and an entire Egyptian motif that she found more than a little gaudy.

            “The last time I tried nearly tore me apart,” she said, “I thought I could call upon the power of the demon that I’d taken in, and it worked for a few seconds, but I couldn’t sustain it.”

            “What about your mother?”

            Lenore’s good cheer melted away as she glanced at him, “What about the bitch?”

            “Can she use the time stop?”

            “Not that I know of,” Lenore replied, “But then, we haven’t really been that close for a while. How soon can we make this happen?”

            “I can get right on it if you want,” he said with a shrug, “But it’s likely that Gabe and your mom are currently still looking for you. If I was Gabe though, some low-level little pissant thinking he was something he wasn’t, I’d be looking for someone that could help out, meaning a high-level…no, not that. Gabe has too much humility to pull that bullshit.”

            “Would he tap one of the demons within the city? If he had no choice?”

            “Not a demon, not that guy,” Abel chuckled, shaking his head, “But I can see him calling on someone that might still be associated with the big boss, or someone that used to be. Right now though that’s pretty uncertain to be honest, since Gabe is usually so predictable, I mean you could set your watch by the way this guy operates. But if you’re saying that he’s with your mother, a vessel, and that they’re not trying to kill each other, then I’m not sure anymore. I still don’t think he’d work with a demon, but the chances are good that he’s going to try to find someone, and given the contacts that most angels make, even half-breeds, it’s bound to be someone that will carry a little bit of weight in this city.”

            “Would it be anyone you know?”

            Abel rolled his eyes, “Babe, I know a lot more people in this city, and more than just people, than Gabe could ever dream. Little baby angel’s nuts hadn’t dropped yet when I was making contacts from one end of this dirt ball to the other.”

            Lenore’s gaze flared slightly as she said, “Don’t call me ‘babe’, I fucking hate that.”

            Abel brought his palms together in a quick sign of peace, nodding once as he said, “Sorry, old habits and all. But as to your question, I know plenty of people in this burg, but trying to pin down just who Feathers could be working with is bound to be a little tough since he uses them as tools, I use them for entertainment from time to time, and for services rendered.”

            “’Feathers’?” Lenore asked with a bemused smile on her face.

            Abel nodded, smiling as he said “I love fucking with them as much as I can. The big boss doesn’t let them touch me, something about having gone through enough for the sake of humanity and some shit. But it pisses ‘em off something fierce.”

            “So can you get things moving?”

            “The sooner the better, right? You’re sure that you’re ready?”

            “No,” she admitted, “But I’ll be damned again if I don’t try to end this once and for all. I get the feeling there are a lot of other challenges to face following this, but I want to get this one out of the way, pronto.”

            Abel nodded, “I feel that. So, are you going to stick around, see the sights, that kinda shit?”

            “I’m going to secure my battleground,” she said with a grin, “If that’s what you meant.”

            Abel’s smile was positively evil as he said, “Oh yeah, that’s exactly what I meant.”

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