What Happens in Undervegas - Part 2: Crane Fly
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“Hey hey hey!” Veronica’s voice was a tad hoarse after a night of partying at her favorite underground scene, the Inamorata. “Fresh shipment o’ brandy, whiskey, rum, and for you adventurous folk, your personal favorite hits on any shape o’ tab ya like!” Of course, there was also the Inamorotica strategically attached to it for once the partying got a little too heated. “And remember, folks! Anytime anyone asks ya why ya feel so good, tell ‘em ya talked to Vicky!” The dancing and loud music on the main stage was usually enough for her.

She had the help of a lady named Esmer that day, long, flowy black hair reaching down to her hips. She was always a hit no matter where the boss put her, so she’d end up somewhere new each couple of days. Fridays were already busy enough, but with Esmer merely existing behind the counter beside her, the entire length of the bar and the tables surrounding were packed with happy customers.

Sure, it implied that she didn’t have the same natural allure as her coworker, but the money was the only important thing at the end of the day. That’s why the boss liked her. Profit-driven, just like all the most respected denizens of that fiery hellscape they came from.

“Hey hey hey!” Esmer called out afterward in her deeper, sultry tone she was known for. Didn’t have the same attention-grabbing flair, Veronica thought, but it was a good attempt. “You heard the lady! Start seeing your wildest fantasies while fire and electricity courses through your veins! How often do you get the opportunity to have this kind of experience? Indulge yourself!”

She was met with a boisterous holler from some of the men in attendance, glasses raised and foam spilling onto the crimson carpets. A human woman wandered across the casino floor dazed and confused after taking a hit of Xalthumum from the smoking cauldron Veronica kept on the wall with all of her alcohol. It wasn't meant for humans and she'd be lucky to remember who she was by the end of the week, but it was no skin off her nose.

“Nice pitch,” Veronica mentioned close to Esmer’s ear over the chatter that surrounded them. She had to stand on her toes to be on her level because she was demonic perfection personified, so of course she'd be tall. She got in her own head for a moment on whether or not it was redundant to add personified to the end of that thought, but she was quickly distracted by one of the actors working at the newly opened Treasure Island.

She knew him as Forlore, one of the most popular demons among the female demographic, human and demon alike. He had a small black mustache parted at the center reminiscent of a pirate stereotype, while the rest of his features were a perfect fit for the handsome, dashing lead role in whatever show they had going on over there.

“Miss Saller,” he formally greeted her, sending her heart aflutter despite her usual preferences. "A pleasure to be making your acquaintance."

People only ever spoke to her like that when they wanted something, especially if they looked like him. This was still Undervegas, after all.

“You here to see Miss Popular?” Veronica asked, gesturing her head to Esmer while her hands were busy preparing drinks.

“I would never simply ignore you, Miss Saller,” he went on, leaning into the counter to get closer to her. “I’ll wait until the crowd dies down to have a moment of your time. Both of you.”

Shrugging, Veronica said, “Yeah, alright.” It didn't take long for women, mostly human, to begin asking for his autograph, quickly taking his attention away from the bar. She didn’t know what an actor like him wanted with her, probably pity, but she’d bite regardless.

A different man, human this time, cleared his throat to garner her attention as her head pivoted to meet his. She half expected it to be Harry from the unkempt shape of his beard, but it was a popular style among human men, she supposed.

"Can I help you?" she asked as the man's eyes never once left hers, his silence an eerie thing even to a demon such as herself.

Finally, he said, "I'm looking for women. I heard there are always places to find them if you ask the right questions in Vegas."

Sliding a freshly poured mug of whiskey to a waiting customer, she said, "Yeah, we offer some services like what you're insinuatin'. What kinda women ya lookin' for?"

"I have my eyes on one right now, don't I?" he went on, causing Veronica to physically tense up in a moment of revulsion.

"I ain't for sale, buddy," she let him know, one brow raised as she moved to a different part of the counter to pick up a tab. He followed her.

"You've gotta have a price," he asked, leaning in closer this time.

"Six grand for an hour," she blurted out, hoping that would be enough to disinterest him. If not, well, six grand was six grand.

"Aww, c'mon," the man said with a grin, holding up his hands in mock surrender. "I thought the floor models were always the cheapest!"

Veronica shrugged. "Them's the brakes, I'm sad to tell ya. If ya want a nice girl who'll treat ya right without breakin' the bank, you know we've got 'em, right?"

"Yeah, yeah," the man muttered dismissively with a wave of his hand. "Maybe I'll come back sometime and… bring six-thousand friends, eh? I'm sure they'll be able to do the talking."

"Yeah, well, lemme know when ya get that popular," Veronica said firmly. "Until then, it's an admire from afar kinda situation."

Nodding and grinning, the man faded back into the crowd and out of sight. There was nothing about that interaction that was in the least bit redeemable except that it had ended, but at least it assured her she had some kind of sex appeal going on in the presence of the Amazonian demon beside her. Sure, it was with the likes of the worst kinds of creeps, but she'd take a win where she could get one.

Later into the night when their shifts were up, the three of them sat at a nearby table as another bartender’s shift began behind the counter. Both Esmer and Forlore were smiling as if they knew something she didn’t. The whole thing was starting to look awfully fishy, but she supposed that didn’t come as much of a surprise considering Treasure Island was involved. She mused internally about the pun but kept a firm expression on the outside.

“The Tropicana is doing well tonight!” Forlore said as if it was coming off as praise from him. “You both look absolutely beautiful and…” He struggled when he looked down at Veronica’s pinstripe suit before saying, ”Stylish. Very stylish indeed.”

“Vicky brings a needed professional, masculine energy to the bar,” Esmer explained as Veronica’s eyes narrowed. “Isn’t that right?”

She retained the same face as she asked, “Why’s a suit gotta be masculine?”

“Anyway,” Esmer desperately pivoted, “we wanted to talk to you about my role here in the casino. Both of us are in… very firm agreement that I would be better suited acting alongside the great Andre Forlore in Mystère.” She never once looked at her when talking, her eyes locked onto Forlore’s, whose first name Veronica just then learned. “We know since you’re on good terms with the boss, maybe you could work something out that doesn’t end in dozens of dead tourists, which would undoubtedly start unprofitable rumors about me. We all know how passionately she feels about having me here at the Tropicana.”

Veronica crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat, processing the request to a high degree of skepticism. “Boss already ain’t on good terms with the Treasure Island folks, or as she calls it, ‘Shit Reef.’ And lemme tell ya, she’s lookin’ for any excuse she can get to put that whole establishment underground. You remember what happened to Nob Hill last year.”

“I’m not afraid of the Tropicana Boss,” Andre stated proudly. “Treasure Island has Franco Dragone, whom I’ve worked with closely. If you think Tropicana can go toe to toe with the likes of our forces with Dragone at the helm, you would be sorely mistaken.”

“There’s another route,” Esmer said, reaching out a delicate hand to cover Andre’s. “Remember? The Foundation. The Luxor. Someone can tip them off that the Tropicana is getting ready for an attack on Treasure Island and they’ll intervene.”

“I feel as though you two don’t understand where my allegiances lie,” Veronica chimed in. “I don’t want any bloodshed either, y’know? I’m a reasonable person, everybody knows this, but… cards on the table, I’ve got a lot invested in this place doin’ well, eh? You gettin’ the Luxor involved is gonna be cheatin’ the game and I’m not too keen on that. You two may not like it, but Esmer stays here for now. No violence, no conflict, just amicable business for all parties involved, just like the dark lord intended probably.”

The two of them exchanged looks of disappointment with one another, clearly unwilling to back down. Andre spoke up then, asking, “Have you ever been in love, Veronica? Have you ever wanted to bend hell itself to your whim just to be with that special person?”

“Look, I get it,” Veronica remarked, her hands held up in mock surrender. “Of course I’ve been in love- I’m only Satanspawn, right? I mean, give or take a few hundred generations, but you get the picture. We’ve all been there. Some crazy fucks are even fallin’ in love with the humans, it’s everywhere, can’t escape it, but sometimes ya gotta work with what you’ve got. And if what you’ve got is the distance between our two casino resorts, is it really all that bad? Is it really worth startin’ wars over?”

She knew she wasn’t getting through to either of them by way of their silence, but it was worth a shot regardless. Of all people, it had to be her thrust into the middle of this…

“It was a mistake to come to you, then,” Andre announced after a prolonged hush that had swept over them.

Veronica sighed, screwing up her face in her anguish. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess so, huh.”

It was never so simple, of course. Andre merely being there at the Tropicana was risky enough as it was, and considering the two lived in their respective resorts, it was hard to find the space to be alone together. Sure, Veronica would occasionally meet a certain someone at the Inamorata, but if that certain someone was from a rival resort, well, tough shit.

And tough shit was exactly what she managed to come across on her way to the elevators.

"Am I gonna have to call security?" she asked the creep as she pressed the sharp nail of her index finger against his chest.

He stood there looming over her in the shadow of a flight of stairs overhead. He lit a cigarette hanging from his lips and asked, "You ever heard of Vermillion Vagaries?"

Unsubtly tilting her head to one side to glance beyond him, she contemplated walking right past the man and forgetting about the whole thing.

"They've got this weird way of sticking around. You really shouldn't've gotten involved in all that. Should've just let the girl have her fun."

Furrowing her brows, Veronica took a step back and asked, "What the fuck are you talkin' about?"

"She pledged herself to the crane fly and you took that away from her."

Veronica stopped him there. "Wait, hold up, that's what Vagaries are for? Some dime-a-dozen cult ritual bullshit? What, were you plannin' on sacrificin' me once we got a room?"

The man was silent after that, the uncomfortable look in his eyes telling her everything she needed to know.

"Look, pal," she went on. "This is cute, but don't go fuckin' around with real demons, alright? Gonna get yourself in real eternal trouble like that." She placed a scalding hot palm on his shoulder as she passed by, leaving him there to have his brief moment of reflection.

"All are embraced by the crane fly," he said without so much as an acknowledgment from Veronica. "Human and demon alike. Its legs are everywhere."

Once she was comfortably alone in an elevator headed straight for the top, she took a moment to breathe and collect her thoughts. The last thing she needed in her life was more people popping into it because she couldn't help but be a good friend. If she had her way, she would have cut Enreau out of her life ages ago. Maybe it was a sign from the dark powers below that it was time to let go of Altha entirely, forget about her and let her and her new flame be someone else's problem for once.

As she rose past the dozens of floors on the exterior of the mega-casino, looking out over the ever-burning lights of that crazy city outside she called home, she couldn’t help but feel weak. Not just for her inability to let sleeping dogs lie, but for her loyalty to the boss of the establishment. Esmer and Andre were naive, sure, but they were just lovestruck morons. They didn't deserve whatever was coming their way in the near future. She knew she didn’t have much of an option, though, and she knew the boss would want to sink that island into the sea after hearing about this.

“She WHAT!?” The boss of Tropicana was short, even from Veronica’s height at five feet and four inches. If it hadn’t been for the pure wickedness in her face and the way her lips would bend and curl like the horns on her head, there wouldn’t have been anything intimidating about the lady. She knew business like she knew warfare, and to her, they were one and the same. Rarely would she be seen anywhere outside of her luxurious penthouse, each room catering to every desire imaginable. Up a flight of stairs was an observatory overlooking all corners of the city and at least one employee stuck up there keeping an eye out for anything suspicious at any given time.

“They do seem perfect for each other,” Veronica admitted, hands relaxed behind her head on the only uncomfortable seat in the whole room, which of course was meant for anyone addressing her directly in front of her massive desk. “But instead o’ goin’ in guns blazin’ and all that, I was thinkin’ we could make up for losin’ her. She’s a traitor and a lost cause, right? But she’s probably over there right now already and there ain’t much we can do about that. Sure, she’s a valuable asset, but she’s been workin’ here for years, we got staff who know all her tricks and, lemme tell ya, some o’ them could give Esmer a run for her money if they put a little oomph into it.”

"Obviously we replace her, Vicky, that didn't even need to be said,” the boss said, brows straining under the weight of her own thoughts. “If we don’t retaliate, then who the fuck even are we? Eh? Buncha fuckin’ pussies with our thumbs up our asses. They think they can start up an empire out of nowhere, steal our valuable property, and just fuckin’ get away with it? Do they even know who the fuck runs Tropicana? Have they not heard the name Prissy before? I’ll mark it on their god-blessed foreheads for all eternity once I’m done with ‘em.”

All things considered, that was exactly what she was expecting to hear from the one and only archdemon known as Boss Prissy.

“Andre said somethin’ about a Franco Dragone,” Veronica mentioned, leaning the chair back ever so slightly. “You know anything about that?”

Prissy made a retching sound with her mouth as she glared into one of the windows. “Yeah, I fuckin’ know him. People call him the Administrator. He organizes every little detail, every movement of every limb on every single fuck he’s in charge of. I would’ve called him a puppeteer, but people don’t like knowin’ that they’re bein’ controlled.”

“Sounds like an artistic director,” Veronica suggested.

“That’s because he is, dumbass,” Prissy snapped back. “And he’s over there usin' choreography straight from hell to mesmerize the whole fuckin' nation. Humans aren’t ready for that shit, it’s blowin’ their minds! I’m gonna need to talk to Finn soon about gettin’ better comedians for the Comedy Stop. Or just liftin’ jokes straight from hell, since that’s on the table now. Tropicana’s gotta be the only place you can lose your mind laughin’. Jot that down.”

Veronica shrugged and looked around the room incredulously. “Do I look like a secretary? You want me to write it down on my suit with coke or somethin’? ‘Cause that’s all I got.”

Prissy made another guttural noise from her throat and picked up a pen from her desk to write it down herself. “Eugh, I hate it. Forget it. Get outta my office, I gotta make some calls.”

“Sure thing, boss.” Veronica stood up and saw herself out, thankful to have it done and over with. If that Undervegas luck could shine down on her just once, she’d get out of having to participate in any of the ensuing retaliation her boss spoke of. Wishful thinking, of course. Just like the thought of getting to spend the rest of her night alone in her own apartment after the elevator had gone subterranean.

The red, orange, and violet neon lights lining the sides of her living room in a rising staircase design flickered on as she stepped inside, illuminating the deep black couch at the center surrounded by a kitchen behind a curved counter in one corner and a cursed floral sofa running perpendicular to it off to one side. She hated the thing, but it came with the room. Little did she know that 'came with' meant 'eternally bound to.'

Enreau was lying on the black couch, her hair blending in with it to make it appear as if the leather itself had encroached upon her head. Her reddish-brown eyes were open, but staring at the ceiling instead of her.

"Fuck are you doin' here?" Veronica asked as she removed her pinstripe jacket and tossed it onto the sofa. "Altha gotcha in the doghouse or somethin'? Takes a lot for her to resort to that, I'd know."

"The Crane Cult has its legs around you," Enreau replied in her meager voice. "You shouldn't have interfered."

Veronica tilted her head back and raised her brows before nodding slowly. She had almost forgotten about that. "Yeah, I had a run-in with one of its uh… members today. Real nice guy, you two probably get along."

"You stopped me from leaving this place," Enreau went on. "The Realm of the Crane Fly doesn't force us to keep working forever to get power like Hell or Earth. The rules just don't apply there."

Sitting on the other end of the couch beside Enreau's feet, she raised a leg and rested her head on her knee. "So you were lookin' to leave Altha behind altogether without lettin' her know? Demons get a deservedly bad reputation, but that's a real dick move o' you to pull." She reached to the coffee table beside her and stuffed a cigarette into her lips. "So now what? How am I gonna be inconvenienced by this Crane Cult thing? 'Cause I got a war loomin' on the horizon already and I ain't lookin' to deal with any more goat shit on top o' that."

Enreau shifted to her side, her eyes on the front door. "That's why I'm here. I've already tasted the nectar. I can see the crane fly, and it sees you. You're marked. But I can keep it away."

Veronica gave her a skeptical nod as she lit her cigarette. "I'm not new to this," she stated alongside several clouds of smoke escaping with her words. "You don't need to keep watch for me, I've handled worse. Go home to Altha, I'm sure she's worried about ya."

"Altha doesn't own me," Enreau said firmly. "I'm staying here until the crane fly moves on."

Taking a deep breath, Veronica stood up and passed by the kitchen on her way to her bedroom, saying, "Do whatever you want. Just know that the boss is goin' at it with Treasure Island. You're technically an employee, so be prepared for the worst, eh?"

She opened her black iron door and was about to close it behind her when a question popped into her head. Slowly creaking it open yet again, she asked, "Hey, uh… You said I was marked. Marked for what exactly?"

Enreau lifted her head above the back of the couch to make eye contact with her. "Containment."

After a moment of silence, Veronica looked elsewhere and said quietly, "Huh…" She closed the door shut and stared at her open black bed, its sheets forever undone for a lack of bothering with it. Even underneath them, she couldn't seem to close her eyes or clear her head. For which exact reason, she couldn't be sure.

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