Poison - Chapter 2 - victory_angel (2024)

Chapter Text

"Damn it, Valentino!" Velvette groused as she stormed into the V Tower BoardRoom, her heels clacking loudly against the marble floor. "You can't keep pulling this crap! What the hell were you thinking?"

"Hello there, Velvette," Vox greeted with a forced smile on his televised face. The flickering screen that served as his head showed a smile that didn't reach his eyes. If Velvette was in a sour mood, it meant something had happened to set her off. "How are you this hellish morning?"

"Oh, cut the sh*t, Vox!" Velvette snapped, slamming her bag down on the table. "I'm bloody pissed off, as you can well see!"

"Whatever could be the problem, my dear?" Vox asked, his tone oozing false concern. His eyes drifted over to Valentino, who seemed to be the focus of the social media influencer's ire.

"Several native Hell-trash demons in the other rings have fallen ill to the extent of slipping into comas," Velvette elucidated, her voice sharp and filled with frustration. "Oddly, the root cause has been traced to my love potion. Consequently, it's now under scrutiny as a regulated substance, and I'm compelled to address followers on my platforms who accuse me of knowingly distributing a potion that is akin to a date-rape drug."

"Well, isn't that its intended purpose?" Valentino remarked casually, his attention fixed on his phone as he lazily scrolled through messages. "Relax, hermanita, this will blow over. Nobody cares about a few worthless imps."

"Is that so?" Velvette challenged, her eyes narrowing. "I couldn't help but notice a certain spider's absence for the past few days. And before he vanished, you just happened to drop by my office, inquiring about the effects of a larger dose of the love potion."

"VAL!" Vox interjected, his voice tinged with electronic urgency, his face screen flashing a warning. "Do you comprehend the implications for our brand?"

"Haha, wow, Vox," Valentino chuckled smugly, leaning back in his chair. "I didn't know you had a thing for Angel Dust."

"I couldn't care less whether that eight-limbed asshole lives or dies!" Vox growled, his screens briefly displaying static. "But you seem to have forgotten something crucial. King Morningstar is one of the Seven Sins; he holds sway over the other rings, and our entire operation could be ruined."

"No one at that pointless hotel can prove we have anything to do with it," Valentino responded casually, not even looking up from his phone. "They have no proof, only speculations. Even if they do have the Radio Demon himself broadcast that Angel is sick or shedding due to something, we can just say he took whatever sh*t himself. After all, he is known to be a drug user. Who are people going to believe?"

"I did warn you about the potency of the love potion in large doses," Velvette remarked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "I mentioned it could induce a massive heart attack in a full-grown bull rhinoceros. So, what's your plan if he's damn well comatose? Shoot a series of p*rn flicks where the main star is unconscious throughout? Or perhaps delve into necrophilia-themed films where an undertaker romances a corpse? Sorry, V, but those would appeal to a niche audience at best. This isn't a bout of flu where you're down for a few days; this is unpredictable unconsciousness with no set awakening date. Angel's scrawny ass would only be fit for the butchers in Cannibal Town, and even then, there's barely anything salvageable."

"Let's calm down, both of you," Vox interjected, his voice soothing yet authoritative. "We can handle this situation. We can address it as a misunderstanding, attributing the effects of the love potion to misuse by those affected. While we share a sense of concern for those impacted, it's unjust to solely hold us accountable for its consequences when there are directions clearly labeled on the bottle. Now, regarding Angel... that presents a more significant challenge. We might assert that Angel mistakenly overdosed on the love potion while preparing for a film shoot and is currently undergoing recovery."

"Great idea," Velvette concurred, a twisted smile forming on her lips. "Interest in celebrity merch typically surges after their demise. Given that Sinners can only perish when struck with Angelic Steel, it follows that performances featuring that slu*tty spider would become highly sought-after."

"However, this also entails," Vox interjected, "the necessity of appointing a replacement for Angel Dust. We have other performers at our disposal; perhaps we can elevate someone to match his popularity. That would render Angel unnecessary. Frankly, I was growing weary of his self-righteous attitude anyway. The only reason we kept him around was due to him being the blood of some valuable connections in the underworld. With Angel gone, we risk losing those ties to the criminal underbelly of the city, unless we negotiate a new arrangement."

The next few days had passed slowly since Angel had lost consciousness, each one dragging on with a monotonous sameness that seemed to amplify the despair hanging throughout the hotel. Many of the other residents came to check on the sleeping spider, their visits a blend of hope and helplessness as they peered in, praying for any sign of improvement. Yet, Angel remained in a constant, endless slumber, his still form a stark reminder of his absence from their lives.

When Angel began showing some withdrawal symptoms, the Baphomet demon from before was summoned. But all they could do was administer a sedative, which was only a temporary solution. The Sloth Ring native insisted it would help Angel's body feel its need for drugs was being answered, while the sedative itself helped ease the hold the drugs were causing. This did little to reassure everyone.

Among all the visitors, Cherri was the one who consistently stayed by Angel's side. Her loyalty was unwavering, a beacon of steadfastness in the midst of uncertainty. Despite her questionable methods of friendship, such as enabling Angel's drinking benders and providing drugs, Cherri genuinely cared about him. She had always been there, through the highs and lows, the reckless escapades, and the quiet moments of vulnerability.

Often, she could be found quietly sitting by his bedside, her fingers gently brushing his hand, or cuddled up beside him on the twin-sized bed, like a younger sister seeking comfort from an older brother after a nightmare. Her presence was a silent vigil, a testament to the deep bond they shared. She would talk to him, her voice soft and soothing, recounting their adventures in the past, hoping that somehow, her voice would reach him in the depths of his unconsciousness.

In reality, Angel's unending unconsciousness was the true nightmare, affecting more than just Cherri. The entire atmosphere of the place had changed. The once lively and chaotic environment was now subdued, a pall of sadness casting long shadows over the residents. Conversations were hushed, laughter was rare, and the usual clamor of daily life seemed muted. It was as if Angel's stillness had seeped into the very walls, dulling the vibrant energy that once defined their home.

For Cherri, the pain was particularly acute. She missed Angel's mischievous grin, his sarcastic humor, and the way he could light up a room with his presence. The emptiness left by his silence was a constant ache, a reminder of how fragile their existence truly was. She held onto hope, though it grew thinner with each passing day, believing that one day he would wake up and things would go back to the way they were.

Until then, she remained by his side, a steadfast guardian in the face of an uncertain future, her heart heavy but her spirit unbroken.

On one such day, Charlie walked into the room, her steps slow and deliberate as if each one carried the weight of her worries. The two girls didn't say anything, as there was nothing to really say. Two eyes met a single eye with silent understanding, a communication deeper than words could convey. Cherri was sitting at Angel's bedside with Fat Nuggets peacefully curled in her arms, the little pig providing a rare comfort in these trying times. Charlie's cat, Keekee, had traipsed into the room at Charlie's heels and, with a grace typical of felines, hopped onto the bed before settling down beside Angel's inert body, her presence a small, warm beacon in the otherwise somber atmosphere.

Charlie, meanwhile, walked about the room as though seeing it for the first time, even though she had been here a few times before. Each corner, each piece of furniture seemed to whisper memories of happier times, times when Angel's laughter would echo through the walls and his vibrant energy would fill the space.

In the original hotel building, Angel's room had been dimly lit with mauve-colored gas lights. Despite the dark appearance, there was a feeling of comfort but also a sense of seclusion, a private sanctuary amidst the chaos of the hotel. The newer hotel preserved elements of the previous room, such as the lavish mauve pink satin pillows and blankets with spider web accents around the edges, remnants of Angel's unique style. The lights on the walls had cobweb-themed light covers, casting soft, intricate shadows that added a touch of whimsy to the room. The walls were now a soft shade of shell pink, and the plush carpet beneath her feet was a pristine white, a stark contrast to the dimness of the past.

Charlie took in the familiar yet subtly different surroundings, noting how the changes seemed to blend the old and the new, creating a space that was both comforting and isolating. The room had been meticulously arranged, every detail a reflection of Angel's personality and his friends' attempts to keep his spirit alive in his absence. She felt a pang of sadness as she looked at Angel, lying motionless amidst his personal room's carefully chosen decor. It was a bittersweet reminder of his vibrant personality and the void his unconsciousness had left in their lives.

Keekee purred softly, her small presence a comforting contrast to the room's heavy atmosphere. The gentle sound filled the silence, a small but powerful reminder that life continued, even in the face of uncertainty. Charlie walked over to Cherri and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, offering silent support. Cherri looked up, her single eye dark-rimmed and tired, but she managed a small, grateful smile. In this shared moment of quiet despair, the two girls drew strength from each other, their bond solidified by the love and concern they both felt for their friend.

Charlie sat down on the other side of the bed, mirroring Cherri's position. She reached out and took Angel's hand, feeling the coolness of his skin against her warm palm.

For want of some sort of distraction from the anxiety of the situation, Charlie continued to look around the room. She took note of the box where Angel kept his sex toys, but didn't give it any real attention aside from a slightly flustered blush. Even though she was a bisexual woman in a lesbian-leaning relationship with Vaggie, Charlie still wasn't openly comfortable with discussing or seeing things that were best kept to the privacy of the bedroom. She had nothing against the act of sex or the pleasure that came from it, but after her previous boyfriend, Seviathan Von Eldritch, she had been hesitant to explore the more carnal aspects of Lust.

Her eyes roamed to a shelf where Angel's p*rnography videos were placed. Getting to her feet, Charlie started to flip through each one of the films Angel had starred in, with titles such as Vice City Nights, The High Life in Hell, Sins and Stardom, The Sinful Stage, and Crimson Curtains. Each cover was a bold display of provocative imagery, featuring Angel in various compromising and explicit scenarios that made Charlie's stomach churn.

"Angel participates in a lot of projects involving…" Charlie hesitated, unsure if she could say what was depicted. "Violent moments, abuse situations, forced events…um." She trailed off, her discomfort evident as she flipped through the explicit covers, each one a stark reminder of the darker aspects of Angel's life and career.

"Rape play," Cherri said bluntly, cutting through Charlie's discomfort. "It's a role-playing situation since it's being filmed, so everything is consensual, but the scenes being depicted would be non-consensual in reality." She glanced at Charlie, her expression a mix of understanding and sadness. "It's just part of the industry down here. Angel knows how to separate the act from reality, but it doesn't make it any easier to see him like this."

"I guess," Charlie said, feeling sick to her stomach at the thought of the films Angel participated in. She could barely bring herself to look at the explicit covers, each one a stark reminder of the harsh and exploitative reality of Angel's profession. Taking down one video, she examined the cover more closely. It showed Angel dressed in a tournament fighter's outfit, bathed in a blue light. Opposite him stood a much larger demon resembling a bull, bathed in a red light. The two appeared ready to face each other in a no-holds-barred battle. The title of the film was 'Vices Unleashed'. Turning over the cover, Charlie scanned the plot summary.

Angel Dust joins up in the Risqué Rumble fighting tournament to win the ultimate prize, the "Golden Peen" Belt. In a battle where the losers are publicly f*cked before the gathered crowd, Angel must fight his way to a winner-screws-all battle against the 10-time ultimate champion, Charging Stud. Will Angel win? Or will he be bull-bashed by this Horned Hunk?

Choking back the bile that threatened to rise from her stomach, Charlie immediately put the video back on the shelf. She knew Angel did these sorts of performances as part of his job, but she couldn't fathom how anyone could honestly enjoy anything like this. The thought of Angel being involved in such degrading and violent scenarios made her heart ache with a mixture of sadness and revulsion.

She turned to look at Cherri, who was watching her with a mixture of understanding and resignation. "Doesn't it bother you?" Charlie asked, her voice barely above a whisper. "Seeing him in these… situations?"

Cherri shrugged, her expression hardening slightly. "It's not easy, but it's part of his life. He chose this path, and he's good at what he does. It's a job, like any other. And he's got his reasons." She sighed, glancing at Angel's still form. "I don't always understand it, but I respect it. He's surviving the only way he feels he can."

Charlie nodded, though she still couldn't shake the unease that settled over her. "I just wish he didn't have to do this," she murmured, more to herself than to Cherri. "I wish there was another way for him."

Cherri sighed, her tough exterior cracking just a bit. "We all do, Princess. We all do. But this is Hell, and sometimes we don't get to choose the easiest path. We just have to survive." She looked at Charlie with a hint of sadness in her eyes. "We have to support him the best we can, even if it's not the way we'd want things to be."

Charlie sat back down on the bed, her mind swirling with conflicting emotions. She looked at Angel's still form, lying motionless and vulnerable, and felt an overwhelming surge of protectiveness and sorrow. She reached out and gently took his hand, her grip firm and reassuring.

"We're here, Angel," she whispered, her voice filled with determination. "We're not going anywhere. We'll get through this together."

Cherri nodded, her own resolve hardening. "Damn right we will, ya bitch. We'll be here as long as it takes." She squeezed Angel's other hand, her grip strong and steady. "You're not alone in this, Angie. We've got your back, no matter what."

In the darkened void where Angel lay suspended within his mind, his eyes fluttered open as he thought he heard Charlie's voice. The familiar demeaning and cold-hearted comments still echoed around him, resounding like a broken record, but this was different. What he was hearing was something new, something that cut through the noise.

"Doesn't it bother you? Seeing him in these… situations?" Charlie's voice echoed, filled with genuine concern. She wasn't dismissive or disdainful of Angel's film performances; instead, she seemed to be grappling with the emotional and mental toll it would have on him and those around him.

"Charlie..." Angel softly said, the name slipping from his lips like a prayer. She was the first person who had never required anything from him that he didn't choose to give himself.

"It's not easy, but it's part of his life," Cherri responded. Her usual flippant tone was gone, replaced by resignation and a hint of acceptance. Even if she didn't entirely agree with what Angel did or who he worked for, she understood his choices. "He chose this path, and he's good at what he does. It's a job, like any other. And he's got his reasons." She sighed, glancing at Angel's still form. "I don't always understand it, but I respect it. He's surviving the only way he feels he can."

"I just wish he didn't have to do this," Charlie said, her voice tinged with sadness. Angel couldn't be sure, but he thought he heard the bite of a sob in her words. "I wish there was another way for him."

"We all do, Princess," Cherri responded. "We all do. But this is Hell, and sometimes we don't get to choose the easiest path. We just have to survive. We have to support him the best we can, even if it's not the way we'd want things to be."

"Cherri," Angel said again softly. She was the first person in Hell he felt he could count on as a friend, the first person who helped him cope with Valentino and all his bullsh*t. She was the first person he had ever really cared about in the same way as his twin sister.

A sudden jolt shot through him as he felt someone touch him. Looking at his hand, he expected to see someone there, but nothing was visible. All the same, he could feel a soft hand gently touching his own.

"We're here, Angel," Charlie said. Her voice was gentle but filled with determination. "We're not going anywhere. We'll get through this together."

"Damn right we will, ya bitch," Cherri responded. Her voice tried to sound strong and together, but he could hear the pain behind it. "We'll be here as long as it takes. You're not alone in this, Angie. We've got your back, no matter what."

Angel tried to call out to them, to let them know he could hear them. But his words were swallowed up by a wave of negative voices that threatened to consume him.

"I'm…the mess!?" Niffty's voice echoed within the confines of the void before she let out a bawling scream that reverberated through the darkness.

Angel's heart ached with the burden of their concern and his own helplessness. He longed to break free from the oppressive void, to return to the world where his friends were waiting, their love and determination a lifeline in his darkest hours. Yet, the negative voices clawed at him, dragging him back into the abyss. He had to fight, to find a way back to them, no matter how insurmountable it seemed.

As he struggled against the darkness, memories of his time with Charlie and Cherri began to surface. He remembered the moments of laughter, the times they had stood by his side, and the unwavering support they had shown him. These memories became his anchor, a source of strength that fueled his determination.

"Charlie, Cherri… I'll come back," he whispered to the void, his resolve strengthening against the tide of despair. "I promise."

The darkness seemed to pulsate around him, the negative voices growing louder and more insistent. But Angel focused on the warmth of the memories, the love and friendship that had been his constant companions over the past handful of months. Slowly, he felt a shift within himself, a spark of hope igniting in the depths of his soul.

He clenched his fists, his determination solidifying. He wouldn't let the darkness win. He had something worth fighting for, people who cared about him and believed in him. With a deep breath, he pushed against the oppressive void, reaching out for the light that he knew was waiting for him on the other side.

"I'm not giving up," he thought fiercely. "I'm coming back, no matter what it takes."

Fat Nuggets snorted as he felt movement, his sensitive snout twitching in response. Getting up on his tiny trotters, he shuffled up the bed, his small hooves making barely a sound on the soft sheets. Reaching Angel, he nosed the white-furred spider's cheek gently. Angel let out a soft groan, his head weakly shifting from side to side as if he were fighting to wake up from a deep slumber. His effort was in vain, and he soon fell back into a seemingly lifeless sleep.

The tiny pig co*cked his head to the side, his bright eyes full of curiosity and concern. He nudged Angel's cheek again, a bit more insistently this time. But there was no response; Angel remained still, his breathing shallow but steady. After a moment, Fat Nuggets let out a soft snort, his worry evident. He circled a few times before settling down beside Angel, his warmth providing a small comfort. Fat Nuggets lay beside his friend, vigilant and loyal, his small heart beating with unspoken concern.

The meal downstairs was somber, with very little talking among the hotel mates. With one member of their family absent, it felt like they had lost part of themselves, and none of them knew if they would ever regain it again. The two empty chairs at the table felt wrong. Most people at the dining table were picking at their food more than eating it, the clinking of cutlery against plates echoing in the otherwise silent room. The air was heavy with unspoken worries and the shadows of despair that seemed to loom larger with each passing day.

Vaggie heaved a sigh, knowing that what she had to say would be difficult for the group to hear. Charlie would also find it difficult, but it needed to be said. She glanced around the table, seeing the downcast eyes and furrowed brows of her friends, their faces etched with anxiety and fatigue. Before she could speak, Lucifer cleared his throat, drawing everyone's attention.

"So," the King of Hell said awkwardly, trying to engage with those gathered at the table. "I was looking through Hell's Registry to see if I could find anything about our friend who is sleeping upstairs." Lucifer's eyes flickered with a mix of curiosity and bemusem*nt as he continued, "It seems they've managed to slip under the radar. Quite an intriguing mystery, wouldn't you say?" His tone attempted to be light-hearted, but the underlying tension was palpable.

"Good luck finding anything," Cherri said, her voice tinged with a mixture of sarcasm and frustration. "Angie only goes by his stage name in public. He and I have been a chaotic duo for over thirty years now, so of course I've asked the bitch what his real name is. He just says that it's something he limits to blood." She crossed her arms as she pushed aside the evening meal, not really interest in eating

"Considering that Hell is sort of a second life," Husk said, his gravelly voice breaking the tension. He leaned back in his chair, the wooden legs creaking under his weight. "Using the name you had when you were alive, or using a nickname, is up to personal preference. Some of us want to hold onto a piece of our past, something that reminds us of who we were. Others, like Angel, might prefer a fresh start, even if it's just a name. It's their way of dealing with... well, everything."

He took a sip from a bottle of beer, the liquid sloshing inside. "Names hold power, y'know? They can define you, chain you to who you were, or set you free. In this place, we all have our reasons for the choices we make. Sometimes it's about survival, sometimes it's about finding a bit of control in a world where we don't have much. So, whatever name the kid chooses to go by, it's his call. Just gotta respect it."

"You did say yesterday that only one organized crime group showed up in Hell as spiders," Lucifer said, trying to steer the conversation back on track. His voice carried a measured calm, but his eyes held a keen interest as he looked around the table. "If Angel's keeping his real name to himself and only using his stage name, perhaps it's worth digging into that particular group's history and connections. We might find some clues about who he really is and maybe how to help him. I mean…it is worth a shot."

"Look, Dad," Charlie interjected before her father could say anything else. "I appreciate that you are trying to help by finding out anything about Angel's human life. But perhaps we should wait for Angel to talk about this himself. I know the registry is a database for everyone who has arrived in Hell. However, I make a point not to use it because, as much as I do want to listen to the stories of the people I am trying to redeem and know why they arrived in Hell, I also know the circ*mstances that brought people here can be personal. So, I want to give them the choice to tell me on their own rather than feel like their lives are being pried into."

"About Angel," Vaggie said, her voice steady but soft. "This may be hard for everyone, but we may need to move on." The former exorcist paused as she heard the room grow silent except for silverware clattering onto the table or, in the case of Charlie, the floor. All eyes turned to her, waiting for her to continue, the tension palpable.

"I know this isn't what anyone wants to hear," Vaggie continued, her gaze sweeping across the table, meeting each pair of eyes of Cherri and Niffty a single cyclopic eye. "But we have to face the possibility that Angel might not come back in the next few days, or even at all. If it's our goal to better the lives of the people of Hell, we can't let this paralyze us. Angel would want us to keep moving forward, to keep trying to make a difference."

"Vaggie…" Charlie responded, her voice trembling with a mixture of anger and sorrow. "How can you even say that?! Aside from Cherri, we don't have any guests at this hotel. Angel was the first sinner to agree to take part in this project. Yeah, he didn't make it much of a secret that he was only here for the free room and board and wasn't sold on the idea of redemption. Still, regardless, I refused to give up on him because I knew, sooner or later, he would make the effort to change. If we forsake Angel, then what is the point of all this?"

Tears welled up in Charlie's eyes as she looked around the table, her desperation and determination clear. "I started this project to prove that redemption is possible, that even the worst of us deserve a second chance. If we give up on Angel now, we're not just giving up on him—we're giving up on the entire purpose of this hotel. I won't let that happen. I owe it to Angel and to the rest of you, no matter how hard it gets."

"I'm not saying abandon him, Charlie," Vaggie explained, her voice gentle yet firm. "However, we don't know when he will wake up. It's been a few days since he lost consciousness. It could be weeks, months, maybe years before he wakes up at all. If saving your people is what we are trying to do, we can't afford to put our efforts on hold just because he's down."

The room fell into a deeper silence as Vaggie's words sank in. The weight of their reality pressed heavily upon them, each one grappling with the implications of moving forward without one of their own. The hotel mates exchanged glances, a mix of determination and resignation in their eyes.

"We need to keep the mission alive," Vaggie continued, her gaze steady. "For Angel, and for everyone else who needs our help. We'll keep his place ready for him when he comes back, but in the meantime, we have to keep pushing forward with your dream."

"No," Charlie said, though it sounded like she was convincing herself. She got up and paced the dining room, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. "Give it another week. Angel's going to wake up again. I just know it."

She paused, looking at her friends with a mix of hope and desperation in her eyes. "We can't give up on him yet. Just one more week. He's stronger than any of us realize. He'll pull through this, and when he does, he'll need to see that we believed in him, that we never gave up on him."

Lucifer watched his daughter, his expression a mix of concern and contemplation. "I…" He paused, choosing his words carefully. "I think your girlfriend may be right, sweetie. If redeeming Hell is our goal, we need to focus on convincing people to take part in this hotel. That way, when Angel does wake up again, he'll see that you were still working towards your goal rather than letting this problem derail everything you've done so far." His voice softened, a rare glimpse of vulnerability showing through. "You have to show the rest of Hell that this dream of yours is more than just a fleeting hope, it's a commitment."

Charlie stopped pacing and turned to face her father, her eyes flashing with determination. "You don't understand, Dad," she said, her voice thick with emotion. "He may not seem like it, but he is an integral part of this hotel and the family we have here. I've placed a lot of myself on the promise ensuring that he could be redeemed. After everything, I still stand by that promise because I know he deserves better. Yeah, he's more cynical, inappropriate, maybe more childish than I like. Still, when it matters he still cares about everyone here. He's someone I know I can rely on. He goes out there and puts up with everything done to him at the studio. Maybe it's because of a soul contract or whatever, but he still puts himself in certain danger to keep us out of that danger. Even now, Angel is upstairs fighting to come back to us, and you say we should focus on the hotel. Dad, without Angel…this hotel is nothing."

Cherri shrugged, her tough exterior showing cracks of vulnerability. "To be honest, I was fine with being here in Hell," she said. "And I'm still fine with it. I only joined up with you guys during that battle 'cause it ain't like I'm gonna just let Angie have fun in a throwdown without me. Particularly when it's an opportunity to take down those holier-than-thou bitches from Heaven after years of their genocidal bullsh*t. And…actually fighting alongside you lot…it felt right." She paused, her eyes softening slightly. "I didn't expect to care so much, but here we are. Guess I'm in this for the long haul, too."

"I've always liked Angel," Niffty said. "Even if he isn't a bad boy."

"Don't get me wrong, you might have something going with this plan of yours. But Angel isn't meant to be just a guest. If he somehow got out of the contract he has with Valentino, he could be successful as a member of the staff—maybe an assistant manager or even in public relations. Remember that time before the attack on the hotel? Vaggie told the rest of us that we could leave if we wished since we didn't sign up to be part of a war zone. Pentious didn't say if he was staying or leaving, but he did mention that if Niffty, Angel, or I wanted to escape the city, he could fly us wherever we wanted. However, leaving for us wouldn't be that easy. Alastor would understand if Niff and I left…though, knowing the kind of prick he is, he could summon us back anytime."

Husk paused, lighting a cigarette before continuing. "Angel, however, was the one who said we three could go if we wanted. He decided to stay because the hotel was home, and it was being threatened. Once the Exorcists were done here, they'd move on to the rest of the city as if it was nothing. If there was really a way to defeat the Exorcists, he'd rather try to protect our home because life on the run is no way to live. I don't know if Pentious or I felt the same way or if we were just waiting for someone to actually voice it, but we didn't argue. We just asked what he thought should be done first to prepare for the upcoming battle."

"There you see," Charlie said imploringly. "Angel didn't forsake us when things looked bad. We shouldn't forsake him just because of this." Her eyes were bright with determination as she looked around at her friends and family. "He's always been there for us, and now it's our turn to be there for him. We need to show him that this hotel, this dream, is worth fighting for—together."

"Let's give him one more week," Vaggie sighed, her voice tinged with resignation, knowing full well that Charlie would insist on it. She looked at her girl friend with a mixture of concern and determination. "However, we need to make efforts for this hotel regardless. Redeeming Hell, seeing your people welcomed by Heaven... that's your dream, not his. Remember why you started this, Charlie. This hotel is a beacon of hope for so many lost souls. Don't lose sight of your dream for his sake. We have to keep moving forward, even if it's just us. Your vision is what drives this place, and we can't afford to let it falter."

Following the conversation, everyone had returned to their dinner, though the roast chicken and mashed potatoes seemed less than appetizing. Charlie had wanted to check on Angel before settling in for the night, and Cherri likewise wanted to keep vigil over her companion. Husk, having nothing better to do, opted to close the bar down early. He had just turned off the bar light when Charlie rushed to the second-floor landing in a panic.

"Dad, call the Sloth Ring!" Charlie exclaimed, her voice trembling.

"What's happening?" Husk called up, concern etched on his face.

"It's Angel…" Charlie's voice sounded frantic, a mix of fear and urgency. "He's having trouble breathing."

"Is he having muscle spasms as well?" Husk asked, already moving toward the stairs.

"I think so…" Charlie replied, looking like she was on the verge of breaking down. Lucifer immediately summoned a portal to the second floor, stepping through it with Husk following closely behind.

Sure enough, Angel was thrashing about uncontrollably, his limbs jerking in violent spasms. A choking noise emanated from his throat, making it sound like he was struggling to breathe. His eyes were opened wide but unfocused with panic, and his hands clawed at his neck as if trying to clear an invisible obstruction.

Cherri stood off to the side of the room, her single bulbous eye wide with horror. She was too stunned to move, her hands covering her mouth as she watched helplessly. The sight of her usually fierce friend in such a vulnerable state left her paralyzed with fear.

Fat Nuggets was squealing in terror from the corner of the bed, his small body trembling. The high-pitched squeals added to the chaotic scene, a distressing symphony of fear and desperation. The room was filled with a palpable tension, every second feeling like an eternity as they watched Angel struggle.

Lucifer stepped forward quickly, his usual composed demeanor replaced with urgency. "Hold him down!" he commanded, his voice cutting through the chaos. His eyes were sharp and focused, betraying none of the fear that threatened to creep in.

"No, wait," Husk said as he immediately moved to Angel's bedside. "He's just having a grand mal seizure. Holding someone down during this is the worst thing you can do." Taking care to avoid the flailing limbs as much as possible, he gently rolled the spider onto his side. "Come on, kid, you're stronger than this," the demon cat encouraged, rubbing Angel's back and trying to keep track of the moments until the spasms began to subside.

Angel's breathing gradually became shallow but even. Husk let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding, his wings drooping with relief. Seeing his caretaker was no longer seizing, Fat Nuggets quieted down, the miniature hell pig creeping up to Angel on his trotters and nudging the back of Angel's head with his snout. However, no movement or sound came from Angel aside from a whimpered groan.

"Looks like the withdrawals are starting to hit their peak," Husk said, his voice grim. "This is both a good thing and a bad thing."

"What… what happened?" Charlie asked fearfully, her eyes wide with worry.

"He just had a seizure," Husk explained, checking the pulse of Angel's wrist. "A big one. I don't know if sedating him will be enough this time. This may be a time we let things run their course."

Cherri, who had been standing vacantly off to the side, suddenly bit back a sob and rushed out of the room, slamming the door to her room across the hall.

"I know of something that could help," Lucifer said as he approached the unconscious p*rn star and got down on one knee before turning to Charlie. "I could use an angelic healing spell on him. This would put him in a state of suspended animation as his body rests. I've been hesitant to use this because we wouldn't be able to tell if his soul is passing on or if he is recovering. It might be the best that can be offered, but I wish I could offer something more definitive."

"If it will help," Charlie said, her voice resolute despite her fear. "Then it must be worth trying. I don't want to watch him suffer and know there isn't anything I can do about it. Angel… he'll get through this. We have to believe he will."

"Alright," Lucifer said, his expression a mixture of concern and determination. He didn't know this particular sinner well, but he was someone who mattered to his daughter. He was also someone who had stood by his daughter's side in the battle against Adam. Reaching out, he gently placed a hand on Angel's shoulder and closed his eyes in concentration, letting the healing light flow over and spread throughout the unconscious spider's form.

As he continued to pour his divine energy into Angel Dust's body, Lucifer began to feel sensations of pain. Not just hints of pain or discomfort, but full-on burning sensations—not just physical, but mental and emotional. The painful feelings ran deep, years deep, decades deep. There were sinners who would sooner sacrifice themselves to a squad of exorcists than carry such a burden upon their souls. The soul he was healing wasn't just bruised and scarred; there were deep wounds that were raw and inflamed. Tears in the spider's soul that were still bloody and oozing. Each wound told a story of the boy's past and his present. Each wound told a story, each scar a memory.

The images that flashed through Lucifer's mind were almost unbearable. He saw glimpses of Angel's traumatic experiences—moments of betrayal, abuse, and heartache. Every lash, every cruel word, every moment of despair was etched into Angel's soul like a deep scar carved into flesh. The depth of Angel's suffering was overwhelming, and Lucifer could feel the weight of it pressing down on him.

He saw Angel as a child, innocent and hopeful, slowly being crushed under the weight of his father's expectations and the harsh realities of his life. He saw the young man's descent into the world of sin and vice, each step marked by pain and degradation. He felt Angel's loneliness, his desperate search for love and acceptance in a world that seemed determined to deny him both.

Before Lucifer believed he could bear the pain no longer, the spell was over. Removing his hand from Angel's shoulder, the King of Hell breathed heavily as he brushed away a coat of sweat from his brow. Part of him wished he still had contact with his siblings back in Heaven. Raphael had always been the strongest of them when it came to healing magic. Uriel and her wisdom also would have been useful in this. However, the dynamics between them had changed, with Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel taking sides with their brother Michael against him. Heaven was not a world he could seek assistance from, but from what he had felt from this one sinner…while physically a man grown, Angel was a child…hardly more than a baby compared to the eons that Lucifer, let alone Charlie, had existed. How could a soul so young carry something like this? Even beings as ancient as Zestial and Carmilla or even the Sins would have been taken aback by the intense feeling this boy's very being radiated.

Lucifer looked down at Angel with a newfound understanding and compassion. He had always seen the sinners in his realm as lost causes, their fates sealed by their own actions. But Angel Dust was different. Despite everything, there was a resilience in him, a spark of defiance that refused to be extinguished. It was that spark that Charlie saw, that she believed in. And now, Lucifer understood why.

"It's done," the fallen angel said breathlessly as he got to his feet, feeling oddly drained. "That will aid him, but if he survives… if he doesn't… that is his choice to make."

"Are you alright, Dad?" Charlie asked, her voice filled with concern. She moved closer, her eyes searching his face for any signs of distress.

"I'm fine, sweetie," Lucifer responded as he started to leave the room. "That healing spell was a lot more intense than I initially thought. You better check on his friend; she was rather shaken by everything that has happened. In the meantime, I need to go lie down for a while."

Alastor's eyes gleamed mischievously from the shadows as he watched the King of Hell make his way to the elevator. The normally majestic and imposing figure of Lucifer seemed to sag under an invisible weight, his steps slower and more deliberate than usual. It wasn't common to see the Morning Star in such a tired state, and the sight intrigued Alastor. Given how long it had been since Lucifer had taken any real effort toward tending to his subjects, it was likely he had grown rusty. The once-vibrant ruler, who commanded respect and fear effortlessly, now appeared drained and vulnerable.

Alastor's lips curled into a smirk. It was rare to witness such a high authority figure in a moment of weakness, and it pleased the deer demon immensely. There was a twisted satisfaction in seeing the mighty brought low, even if only temporarily. However, Alastor knew that Lucifer would recover quickly. His power and influence were too great to be diminished for long by mere fatigue.

Yet, something gnawed at Alastor's curiosity. It seemed strange that an everyday sinner would have such an effect on someone as powerful as Lucifer. What kind of encounter could leave the King of Hell so visibly exhausted? Alastor's mind raced with possibilities, each more tantalizing than the last. Had Lucifer underestimated a particular soul? Or was there something more sinister at play, an unseen force that even the ruler of Hell found challenging to confront?

As the elevator doors closed behind Lucifer, Alastor's thoughts lingered on the mystery. The deer demon reveled in chaos and unpredictability, and this development promised both in abundance. He resolved to uncover the truth behind Lucifer's weariness, certain that whatever he found would add a delicious layer of intrigue to his own machinations. The game was afoot, and Alastor was more than ready to play.

"I'm going to check on Cherri," Charlie said softly, her voice tinged with a mixture of worry and determination. She gently stroked Angel's hair, the tender gesture reminiscent of a mother comforting her child, or a sister offering solace. Angel had gone painfully still, his body limp and unmoving, making it difficult to discern if he was even breathing. The sight of him in such a state caused tears to well up in Charlie's eyes, but she fought them back fiercely. If she cried now, she feared it would signal her surrender to despair, a luxury she couldn't afford.

Husk stood nearby, his expression a mask of stoic understanding. He gave a nod to show he understood her intentions, but chose to remain silent. The gravity of the situation weighed heavily on them both, and words felt inadequate in the face of their shared concern. The room was filled with a tense, almost palpable silence, broken only by the faint sounds of their breathing and the distant hum of the hotel's machinery. Charlie took a deep breath, steeling herself for what lay ahead, and with one last, lingering touch to Angel's hair, she turned to leave.

Once she had left the room and closed the door behind her, Husk settled down on the floor with his back against the side of Angel's bed. He let out a heavy sigh, the weight of unspoken concerns pressing down on him. For a moment, he chose to stay as a silent guardian, perhaps expecting something to happen or fearing that something would. The room was dimly lit, casting long shadows that seemed to dance with the flickering light from outside.

Husk hadn't really been one for sentimental words of encouragement when he was alive. His rough exterior and gruff demeanor had always served as a shield against vulnerability. Yet, in the past months since he had that heart-to-heart with Angel, he had come to understand the younger man—or at least understood enough to get a good idea of why Angel was the way he was. The layers of bravado and defiance that Angel displayed were masks, hiding scars that ran deep.

He reflected on their conversations, the moments when Angel had let his guard down just enough to reveal the pain and loneliness that haunted him. Husk realized that, in many ways, they were kindred spirits—both broken by their pasts, yet still seeking a semblance of solace. It wasn't easy for Husk to acknowledge these feelings, but he couldn't deny the bond that had formed between them.

As he sat there, listening to the quiet sounds of Angel's slumbering, Husk felt a sense of protectiveness he hadn't felt in a long time. He knew he couldn't change the past or erase the hardships Angel had endured, but he could be there for him now. And sometimes, just being there was enough.

"I don't know if you can hear me, kid," Husk said into the silent room. The dim light cast long shadows, amplifying the sense of emptiness. "Things aren't really the same with you like this. Charlie's really worried about you, and she feels that if she loses you, her dream for this hotel would be lost with you. She's put everything she has into this place, believing it can make a difference. I don't know if she's so certain you are redeemable, or if she's risking a lot by believing in you. Still, she sees you as a big part of her vision, and without you, I think she'd feel like it was all for nothing.", and without you, I think she'd feel like it was all for nothing."

Husk paused, the silence weighing heavily on his shoulders."I also get the feeling that the Princess would give up on everything if you don't wake up soon. Even if Heaven does send a delegation down here and said they were willing to see if this whole thing could work. That's how much you mean to her. It's not just about the hotel or her dream; it's about proving you are the person she believes you are. Everyone else is dealing with this in their own way. Your friend Cherri's been here with you. I admit, when I first met her, I didn't think highly of her because she was enabling all the same habits this hotel is trying to discourage. She seemed like trouble, just like how I used to see you early on. But I've seen a different side of her these past few days."

Husk sighed, his voice softening. "Still, I haven't seen many moments when she's left your side, aside from making sure Nuggets gets his walk. She's been here, watching over you, hoping you'll wake up. It's funny how someone who seemed so reckless can show such loyalty and care. Kinda goes to show how someone who can read people can get the wrong impression of them."

Angel was straining to block out the cold and heartless words that continued to assault his mind. The relentless negativity clawed at his spirit, determined to break him down. Each word felt like a sharp blade, slicing through the fragile walls he had built around his heart. Memories of every insult, every sneer, every demeaning comment echoed in his mind, amplifying his sense of despair. He clenched his fists, his nails digging into his palms as he fought to maintain his composure. The weight of the negativity threatened to crush him, pressing down on his shoulders like an unbearable burden. His breath came in ragged gasps as he desperately sought a glimmer of hope, something to cling to in the storm of malicious voices. Yet, despite the overwhelming darkness, a flicker of defiance remained. Deep within, Angel's spirit resisted, refusing to be extinguished by the cruel onslaught.

"No one will ever love you."

"You're always going to be a failure."

"You ruin everything you touch."

"You're wrong," Angel said into the void. His voice was shaky, but it was a defiant challenge. Despite his efforts, a part of him still believed those painful words. In response, a memory surfaced, one that Angel recognized immediately. It was the first time he had attempted to escape Valentino and the studio.

Angel saw himself standing on a dark street corner of Pentagram City, the neon lights of Hell's underworld casting eerie shadows on his face. The scene was chaotic, with sirens blaring in the distance and the occasional shout from a passerby. He was breathing heavily, adrenaline coursing through his veins as he looked over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. The oppressive atmosphere of the city seemed to close in on him, amplifying his sense of urgency. It had been two days since Angel had left the studio; Valentino would have noticed by now that his top performer hadn't returned. While Val wasn't the smartest of the two Vees, he had sycophants who would do anything for him. Worse yet, Vox would use all forms of media at his disposal to track down the performer, even if it was simply to appease Valentino's volatile temper.

Angel's mind raced with thoughts of escape, the fear of being caught driving him to the brink of panic. He knew that every second counted, and he couldn't afford to waste any time. The city, with its twisted alleys and labyrinthine streets, offered both refuge and peril. He had to navigate it carefully, avoiding the ever-watchful eyes of Valentino's minions. Each shadow seemed to conceal a potential threat, every stranger a possible informant.

Despite the chaos around him, Angel forced himself to focus, his survival instincts kicking in. He needed a plan, a place to hide where he could lay low until he figured out his next move. His heart pounded in his chest as he darted into a nearby alley, the darkness swallowing him up. He pressed his back against the cold brick wall, trying to steady his breathing and quiet the noise in his head. He knew he couldn't let fear paralyze him; he had to stay sharp, stay ahead of those who sought to drag him back into the clutches of his tormentors.

As he stood there, hidden in the shadows, Angel vowed to himself that he would not go back. No matter what it took, he would find a way to break free from the chains that bound him, to carve out a life on his own terms. The road ahead was fraught with danger, but he was determined to walk it, one step at a time.

Angel had spent weeks meticulously planning his escape, carefully ensuring he didn't say or do anything that might raise suspicion. He rationed the times he used drugs, saving up money instead. It wasn't easy, particularly when his body craved the high, but he needed the means to hide out until his absence blew over. He packed lightly, prepared to grab his things and run if necessary—only a few outfits and a small accessory bag of makeup. He didn't trust anyone at the studio with this knowledge. While he was on good terms with some, others would expose anything odd to the boss for better treatment or more important roles.

Fortunately, the contract he signed limited Valentino's control over him to the studio. Outside, he could go wherever, do whatever, be whatever. He could almost taste his freedom, finally living in Hell on his own terms. His father and older brother would still be a problem, but as long as he didn't do anything that affected them or their business, they could be avoided.

As Angel navigated the dark streets, he replayed every step of his plan in his mind, ensuring he hadn't overlooked any detail. Each decision, each sacrifice, was a calculated move toward his freedom. He had endured so much, but the thought of finally breaking free from Valentino's grip kept him going. The prospect of living without the constant fear of punishment or control was a powerful motivator.

He moved quickly but cautiously, his senses heightened, ready to react to any threat. Every sound, every movement caught his attention as he made his way through the city. Angel's determination was unyielding. He had come too far to turn back now. The city's neon lights and dark alleys represented both the dangers he faced and the freedom he sought. He knew the road ahead would be tough, but he was prepared to fight for his chance at a life on his own terms. The shadows that once threatened to engulf him now felt like allies, concealing his movements as he moved closer to his goal. The taste of freedom was within reach, and he wouldn't let anything or anyone take it away from him.

He had just turned a corner, searching for an inn or someplace that wouldn't give him too much trouble. He didn't want to spend more than one night in the same place; if he became too complacent, Val could track him down. His funds had to be used carefully. If worse came to worst, he could sell the only thing people sought him for to gain some money. The identity of Angel Dust still carried weight, especially with wealthier crowds. Plus, once they were in their post-coital stupor, they wouldn't notice a couple of hundreds missing from their fat wallets. Even then, this wasn't something he could resort to often, as it could draw attention.

The ways out of the city weren't easy or cheap. Even slummy sh*tholes like Imp City required an arm and a leg to reach using the crappiest bus line available. Angel knew he had to be smart about his next moves, calculating each step with precision.

A familiar Spanish-accented voice coming from the door of a nightclub caused Angel to freeze and flatten himself against the wall. His heart pounded in his chest as he recognized the voice—none other than Valentino, stepping out into the night.

Valentino's laughter echoed through the street, sending chills down Angel's spine. He could see the silhouette of the tall, imposing figure. Valentino's presence was a stark reminder of the life Angel was desperately trying to escape. The air was thick with the scent of expensive cologne and the lingering smoke of Valentino's ever-present cigarette.

"Be sure to call me about that job at my studio," Val called to someone who remained inside the nightclub. "I could really change your life, Baby."

Angel's stomach churned at the sound of Valentino's voice dripping with false charm. He knew all too well the true nature behind those words. It was the same promise that had ensnared him and countless others, offering dreams of fame and fortune while leading them into a nightmare of control and exploitation.

He watched as Valentino lingered for a moment, his silhouette outlined by the garish lights of the nightclub. He could feel the weight of Valentino's influence permeating the air, a suffocating reminder of the power he wielded over those who fell into his orbit.

Angel clenched his jaw, his resolve hardening. He couldn't let himself be caught up in that web again. The memory of the chains that had bound him—both literal and figurative—fueled his determination to stay free. He had to move quickly and find a safer place to lay low for the night, somewhere far from Valentino's reach.

Angel could feel his heart pounding a mile a minute. Val's eyesight was lousy, which could work in his favor. Though this part of the downtown area had a lot of light, he was too far down the block to move back around the corner. If he tried to move, the white parts of his fur would act like a beacon. His best hope was that Val hadn't noticed him or even looked in his direction. Val's attention seemed to be turned down the street, which was good. Now if only Valentino could just continue on.

Scanning around him, Angel tried to see if there was a shadowed patch where he could be more inconspicuous. There was one just five feet away, but even if he timed his movements to the flashing lights from the overhead marquee, Valentino could still notice him before he got there. Knowing this could be his only chance, he waited for the lights to dim before he made a hesitant step toward the shadowed spot. The scrape of his boot heels seemed to catch Valentino's attention, but he made no move to see the cause. Angel contemplated a run for the corner, still ten yards away, but that would only attract Valentino.

Angel held his breath, every muscle tensed as he waited for the right moment. The lights from the marquee flashed in a rhythmic pattern, and he counted the intervals, trying to predict the perfect time to move. As the lights dimmed again, he took another cautious step, this time more deliberate, making sure to keep his movements smooth and quiet.

He could see Valentino's silhouette still lingering, his head turned slightly as if listening for any unusual sounds. Angel's pulse quickened, but he forced himself to stay calm, knowing that panic would only make things worse.

So far, the moth demon didn't appear to have noticed him. Or perhaps he had, and he was waiting to see who would make the first move. Why was he just standing there? The overhead lights dimmed once again, giving Angel a scant number of seconds to move. He had to chance it. If he could get to a darkened alley around the corner, it would be too dark for Val to see him, and he could find a way to a rooftop.

Without hesitation, Angel raced toward the street corner. He didn't hear anything over the sound of his breathing, not even some Latinized vulgarity. Suddenly, he felt something catch around his wrist and pull him backward until he was flat on the ground. He didn't need to look at his wrist to know the smokey-red chain was latched around it.

Panic surged through him as he struggled against the chain, its ethereal links burning with a familiar, oppressive heat. He glanced up, his eyes wide with terror, to see Valentino's smug expression illuminated by the dim, flickering lights. The moth demon's wings fluttered slightly, casting eerie, dancing shadows on the walls around them.

"Well, well, well," Valentino purred, his voice dripping with satisfaction. "Look who decided to take a little midnight stroll. Did you really think you could get away from me that easily, Angel?"

Angel's mind raced, searching for any possible escape, but the chain's grip was unyielding. He knew he was caught, but he refused to show the fear that threatened to consume him. Gritting his teeth, he glared up at Valentino, defiance burning in his eyes.

"Let me go, Val," Angel spat, his voice steady despite the dread pooling in his stomach. "I'm done with you."

Valentino chuckled, a low, mocking sound that sent shivers down Angel's spine. "Oh, Angel, you know it's not that simple. You're mine, remember? And I don't take kindly to my property running off."

As Valentino stepped closer, Angel felt the chain tighten. His mind racing for any way out of this situation. The weight of the chain and the reality of his capture pressed down on him, but he refused to give up hope. He had come too far to be dragged back into the darkness like this.

With a surge of determination, Angel forced himself to his feet, his wrist throbbed at the pull of the chain binding him to Valentino. Despite being frightened to the point of wanting to piss himself, he met Valentino's gaze head-on, his resolve unbroken. "I'm not your property, Val. And I'll find a way out of this, one way or another."

"Are you done with this little game you've been playing, Angel?" Valentino asked condescendingly as he approached, his dark-colored fingers caressing the smoky links. His mouth twisted into a smug but malicious grin, his blank red eyes promising pain and punishment as he neared his captive prey. "Or have you forgotten that I own you, bitch?"

Angel's heart pounded in his chest, but he refused to let the fear show on his face. He stared back at Valentino, his defiance unwavering despite the dire situation. "I don't belong to you, Val," Angel retorted, his voice sharp and filled with venom. "I never did."

Valentino's grin widened, his eyes glinting with cruel amusem*nt. "Oh, but you do, Angel. You signed the contract. You made a deal, and now you have to live with the consequences." He tugged on the chain, pulling Angel closer until their faces were inches apart. "You're mine, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Angel's breath hitched as he felt the oppressive heat from the chain threatened to burn through the fabric of his gloves and straight to his skin. Every instinct screamed at him to fight back, to break free, but the chain held him fast. He could feel the weight of Valentino's control pressing down on him, threatening to crush his spirit. But deep inside, a spark of resistance remained.

"You're wrong," Angel spat, his voice low but filled with determination.

Valentino laughed, a harsh, mocking sound that echoed through the empty street. "Keep dreaming, Angel. Keep dreaming." He yanked on the chain again, forcing Angel to stumble forward. "But dreams won't save you from reality. You belong to me, and you always will."

As Valentino's cruel laughter filled the air, Angel felt a surge of anger and desperation. He couldn't let this be his fate. He couldn't let Valentino win. With every ounce of strength he had left, Angel pulled against the chain, his eyes blazing with defiance.

Valentino's smile faltered for a moment, a flicker of doubt crossing his features. But he quickly regained his composure, tightening his grip on the chain.

"You're nothing without me," Valentino hissed, his voice a venomous whisper. "I'll make sure you remember that, all of tonight and the rest of this week." He took hold of Angel's bicep and dragged him along. Angel didn't resist; he numbly followed his tormentor as his dreams of salvation shattered.

The following days were a relentless cycle of pain and humiliation. Angel was endlessly tormented, shown off as an example of what would happen if anyone else in Valentino's stable dared to escape. Some viewed this with satisfaction, taking pleasure in seeing Angel Dust, the Poster Boy of Valentino's p*rn studio, being pulled down more than a few pegs. Others just silently observed, their expressions horrified and full of pity towards what was being done. Yet, no one did or said anything for fear they would also be punished by Valentino.

Twice a day, when Val was performing punishments that didn't require an audience or the involvement of anyone else, he would show Angel the soul contract to remind him that he had signed away his soul to him. Twice a day, Angel saw the name 'Anthony' written by his own hand. He didn't remember doing it, but the signature was unmistakably his.

The only times he was free of pain were when he was locked in his room at the studio. The money he had saved had been confiscated as payment for the scheduled performances he had missed. Further payment for his current performances was also being siphoned off as compensation for the days he was too brutalized from the punishments to perform. It would be a handful of years before he was even able to step outside the studio again.

Each day blurred into the next, a relentless cycle of torment and degradation. The physical pain was matched only by the emotional and psychological anguish, each reminder of his captivity driving the reality of his situation deeper into his soul. The days stretched on, each one a battle to retain a shred of his dignity and his will to survive. The nights were the worst, the silence of his room filled only with the echoes of his own thoughts, the gnawing fear that he might never escape Valentino's grasp.

Angel gasped at the sight of the memory, the visceral pain of everything he had endured surging through him as if it were happening all over again. His breath hitched, and he felt the weight of despair threatening to drag him down. However, a familiar voice cut through the darkness, piercing the suffocating fog of his past. It was a voice he knew he could trust, a beacon of hope amidst the overwhelming tide of anguish. The soothing tones wrapped around him like a lifeline, pulling him back from the brink and reminding him that he wasn't alone in this fight.

"I don't know if you can hear me, kid. Things aren't really the same with you like this." The fatherly tone of Husk's voice seemed to drown out all the pain, wrapping Angel in a feeling of comfort.

"Husk?" Angel said, his voice trembling. He had heard Charlie and Cherri's voices earlier, but they had been talking to one another around him, their words a distant murmur. They had to have been somewhere with him, as he could hear them. But this was the first time someone was speaking directly to him.

"Charlie's really worried about you," Husk continued, recounting things that were occurring in Angel's absence. "And she feels that if she loses you, her dream for this hotel would be lost with you. She's put everything she has into this place, believing it can make a difference. I don't know if she's certain you are redeemable, or if she's risking a lot by believing in you. Still, she sees you as a big part of her vision, and without you, I think she'd feel like it was all for nothing."

Husk's voice paused as though weighing his words. "I also get the feeling that the Princess would give up on everything if you don't wake up soon. Even if Heaven does send a delegation down here and said they were willing to see if this whole thing could work. That's how much you mean to her. It's not just about the hotel or her dream; it's about proving you are the person she believes you are. Everyone else is dealing with this in their own way. Your friend Cherri's been here with you. I admit, when I first met her, I didn't think highly of her because she was enabling all the same habits this hotel is trying to discourage. She seemed like trouble, just like how I used to see you early on. But I've seen a different side of her these past few days."

Angel heard a softening in Husk's voice as the demon cat continued to talk. "Still, I haven't seen many moments when she's left your side, aside from making sure Nuggets gets his walk. She's been here, watching over you, hoping you'll wake up. It's funny how someone who seemed so reckless can show such loyalty and care. Kinda goes to show how someone who can read people can get the wrong impression of them."

"Don't beat yourself up, Husky," Angel said into the void, though he wondered why he bothered. Husk wouldn't be able to hear him from where he was trapped in his subconscious. Angel sighed, feeling the weight of the unspoken words between them. "You were right about me and how I present myself to others. I get it; I come off as too flirty, too horny, and it's seen as a joke because that's all people see."

He paused, his thoughts drifting to memories of Charlie and the others at the hotel. "Even Charlie, who sees things in people that they don't always see in themselves, has never commented that I'm not being genuine. She sees past the facade, the masks I wear, but you were the only person who felt the need to call out that I was just playing a part. The only part where you were wrong was when you believed that I was just playing up being a p*rn star for attention. It's the same with Cherri. She prefers to deal with things her own way, which makes her seem like a bad friend, but she is someone to count on when it matters."

"For me," Husk sighed. "I've missed the times you would sit at the bar and talk with me. Those moments were rare glimpses of something real in this place. As much as I complain about Alastor forcibly conscripting me to work here and get fed up with listening to people's shallow complaints, I've always felt there was something you wanted to talk about but didn't know how to bring up.

"Every time you walked into the hotel, I could see the weight you carried, the tension in your shoulders, the way your eyes darted around the room. It wasn't just about the drinks or the company; there was something deeper, something you needed to get off your chest. I don't know if it's about Valentino and all the bullsh*t he makes you do, or if it's something else entirely. Maybe it's something from before all of this, something that haunts you even now.

"I've grown fond of you… not as a sex partner, so don't even think of going there," he added with a half-smile, trying to lighten the mood. "Even if I was interested in you like that, I don't think that's what you really need. You've been through too much, and I don't think jumping into bed with someone is the solution to any of your problems. If you were suddenly free from Valentino, a sex partner shouldn't be the first thing on your to-do list. You deserve better than that. You deserve someone who sees you for who you are, not just what you can offer. Someone who can help you heal, not just distract you from the pain. And maybe, just maybe, you need a friend more than anything right now. Someone who can listen without judgment, who can offer a shoulder to lean on without expecting anything in return.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is I want to be someone you see as a friend, maybe a father-figure or an uncle if you need that, but I can't be much more than that. Not at this time at least, maybe in the future… I don't know. Right now, I'm not really sure you know what love is anymore, or if you ever did. It's not your fault; it's just the way things have turned out. Life, or rather, afterlife, has a way of screwing with our perceptions of what's real and what's not.

"I won't make assumptions about your life or upbringing. I have my speculations about your background and how f*cked up things probably were. But I understand that everyone's got their own baggage, and I can see the weight you carry, even if you don't talk about it. My own family had its challenges and issues when I was alive, and I've caused enough of them to doubt whether I'm able to love anyone.

"My parents built an inn in what would eventually become Las Vegas. Back then, it was just a small western town, nothing like the bustling city it is today. Growing up there was a unique experience. It was a place where everyone knew each other, and strangers were always met with a certain level of suspicion. I started helping out at the bar in the saloon when I was twelve. My dad thought it was important for me to learn the family business early on. By the time I was fifteen, I was already mixing drinks. It was more than just a job; it was a way to understand people. I got to know who was just passing through, who was there to cause trouble, and who was there to forget. Every face had a story, and every story had its secrets.

"When I turned eighteen, I learned to gamble. It was a skill that came naturally to me, almost like second nature. But it wasn't just about playing the game; it was about reading people. I watched their eyes, their hands, the way they breathed. I could tell who had a bad hand and who was trying to bluff their way to a win. I learned to cheat the games too. It wasn't something I'm proud of, but in a town like that, it was a necessary skill. Survival meant knowing the odds and how to tilt them in your favor.

"My ability to read people and manipulate situations grew out of necessity. It wasn't long before I was involved with the wrong crowd. Prohibition hit, and my family's inn was at risk of shutting down. By then, I had inherited the place, and I wasn't about to let my parents' hard work go to waste. I started working with some of the first organized crime groups to create a hidden speakeasy. The main saloon shut down and became a hotel only, but behind closed doors, the business thrived. As the years passed, I gained affiliations with various crime groups in town. None of them wanted trouble with the locals or with each other if it wasn't necessary. Since I was neutral, I often spoke to each group and discussed terms. I became the go-between, the one who kept the peace.

"I had a family too—a wife and a couple of kids. They were my world, but unfortunately, gambling and drinking became my addiction. I made a name for myself as a gambler and grew overconfident. I believed I couldn't lose, and that co*ckiness cost me everything. During one round, I raised the stakes by wagering my family's hotel only to find I had dealt a bad hand. I was penniless, and my family's legacy was destroyed.

"To say my loved ones were disappointed is an understatement. Even in Hell, my family members want nothing to do with me. I don't blame them. I tried to salvage my family's hotel. I was taught to deal with my own messes, and I had made quite a mess. I continued bartending to buy back the hotel. I didn't expect forgiveness and didn't deserve it, but I wanted to give them peace of mind. My life ended before I could correct my greatest mistake.

"So, I understand the pain of living with regret and the desperation to make things right. I get what it's like to carry the weight of your past and the mistakes you've made. And I want you to know that you're not alone in this. You've got me, and maybe that's not much, but it's something. And sometimes, something is all we need to start making things better."

Cherri lay curled up on her bed, her arms tightly wrapped around a pillow as she tried to muffle the sobs that escaped her. With her single eye hidden behind the pillow's fabric, she remained oblivious to the world outside her immediate sorrow. The room, steeped in a heavy silence, seemed to press in around her, its stillness only broken by the occasional sniffle or hitched breath. At first, she didn't look up when she heard a soft knock at the door; the sound seemed distant, almost inconsequential amid her grief. The knocking came again, this time more insistent, pulling her from the depths of her misery. Following the knocks, the door creaked gently open, and Charlie's head cautiously peeked inside, her eyes filled with concern. She hesitated at the threshold, unsure how to bridge the gap of silence and sorrow that filled the room.

"Mind if I come in?" Charlie's voice was soft, gentle yet tinged with unmistakable concern as she peered further into the room.

"Just f*cking leave me alone," Cherri snapped back, her tone laced with sharp anger and frustration. "I don't need you screwing things up for me, thinking you can fix something I never asked to be fixed. If you never started this hotel, none of this f*cking sh*t would have happened."

Charlie flinched slightly at the venom in Cherri's voice but maintained her composure. She knew better than to take the words personally; Cherri was overwhelmed, her emotions raw and near the surface. Recognizing the need for her the other girl to vent, Charlie remained at the door, her expression softening.

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Cherri," Charlie responded quietly, her voice steady despite the harsh words. "I'm here if you need me, no pressure to talk or explain anything. Just know I care, okay?" Her statement hung in the air, a gentle offering of support amidst the storm of Cherri's emotions.

"So," Charlie began, her voice tinged with awkwardness as she cautiously stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. She crossed the space with careful steps, sitting down at the edge of the bed, mindful not to encroach too much on Cherri's personal turmoil. Her experience with calming Vaggie, who often became defensive in her own right, lent her some confidence, but Vaggie was someone Charlie had known for years, someone whose heart and mind she understood deeply.

Cherri Bomb was a different equation entirely—volatile, fiercely independent, and closely connected to Angel. It was Angel who had navigated the complexities of her friendship and emotions, understanding her triggers and how to soothe her fiery spirit. Charlie felt out of her depth, yet compelled to help however she could.

"Are you okay?" Charlie ventured gently, her question hanging softly between them like a fragile thread. She kept her voice low, infused with genuine concern, hoping to bridge the gap not just between their understanding but also their connection. She waited, giving Cherri the space to either grasp that thread or sever it completely, depending on what she needed most in that moment.

Charlie's gaze moved thoughtfully over the room, her attention drawn to the photos that adorned the walls and surfaces. Each snapshot was a glimpse into Cherri's life: vibrant poses, joyful gatherings, and many adventures. But amidst them all, the photos featuring Cherri with Angel were the most telling. They captured moments of laughter, shared secrets, and protective gestures that spoke volumes of their deep, almost familial connection. It was clear from these images that Angel played a significant role in Cherri's life, perhaps akin to an older brother's protective instinct for a cherished younger sister.

One photo in particular caught Charlie's eye—a poignant image of Angel standing alone on a rooftop. The pale glow of Heaven cast a celestial light over him, his posture slightly hunched, as if the weight of unseen burdens pressed down upon his shoulders. His gaze, fixated on the distant orb, carried a mixture of longing and resignation. This rare glimpse of vulnerability was stark against his usual facade of jests and bravado. Charlie knew Angel to be a complex individual, often masking his true feelings with a rough exterior, but this image revealed a depth of emotion he seldom allowed others to see.

This moment of unguarded sincerity made Charlie think back to other instances when Angel's true nature had shown through. Like the time when Niffty had burst into tears over a careless remark, and despite the chaos of the club around them, Angel had instinctively stepped in to comfort her with the tenderness one might show a distraught child. And there was that conversation with Cherri, where he had gently pushed back against her teasing about his responsibilities, affirming his genuine care and sense of duty towards those around him.

Seeing these fragments of Angel's softer side strewn about Cherri's room gave Charlie a deeper insight into the bonds that tied these souls together. It also highlighted the complexities of their relationships, threaded with both care and challenges. Now, witnessing Cherri's current distress, Charlie felt an even greater urgency to understand and provide support, bridging the gap with empathy drawn from these glimpses into their intertwined lives.

"I feel so f*cking stupid," Cherri burst out, her voice raw with self-reproach. "The moment Angie started convulsing, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't even bring myself to go get help. I just stood there, frozen, like some f*ckhead." Her grip tightened on the pillow, as if trying to squeeze out the frustration and helplessness that overwhelmed her in that moment.

"It's not your fault," Charlie supplied. She shifted slightly, her presence a steady comfort as she listened. "It's okay to feel overwhelmed," she said softly, reaching out tentatively to touch Cherri's arm, offering a silent gesture of support. "When things happen suddenly, it's hard to know how to react. Freezing up doesn't make you stupid. We all have moments where fear and shock hold us in place."

She paused, choosing her words carefully, "Angel knows you care about him, Cherri. What happened, it could've thrown anyone off."

Cherri's voice cracked with a mix of anger and guilt. "But you went to get help," she continued, her tone sharpened by frustration. "Then that drunk old man who runs the bar took care of Angie while I could only stand back and watch like I was useless. I mean, how could I do that... I've been Angie's best mate for years now, and all I can do is watch from the sidelines while you lot take charge." Her words tumbled out, bitter and accusing, yet underscored with a deep-seated self-reproach that tugged at her core.

Charlie's voice softened as she shared her own uncertainties and regrets. "You witnessed something you weren't prepared for," she said gently, seeking to ease Cherri's burden. "I... Husk mentioned withdrawal symptoms when Angel fell into this coma days ago. He explained why they happen, but honestly, I never really grasped what that could mean. Just like I didn't fully understand what sort of place the studio was or the kind of demon Valentino is."

She paused, her gaze drifting as she reflected on her own challenges and the broader struggles they all faced. "I liked to believe I understood people like you or Angel, and all of Hell as my people. I wanted to believe that I could get Heaven to see reason, to realize that the exterminations every year were extreme and unnecessary." Her voice faltered, the next words catching in her throat as the pain of a recent loss overshadowed her thoughts.

Charlie struggled to continue, the memory too raw, too painful to voice clearly. "Yet after…" She paused, swallowing hard, unable to say 'Pentious sacrificed himself' or 'Sir Pentious was destroyed.' Those words were like reopening a fresh wound, a stark reminder of the harsh realities they faced.

"If only Heaven had listened, if only they'd gotten their heads out of their holy asses and realized that maybe redemption was worth considering," she continued, her frustration evident. "Isn't it bad enough for families and loved ones to be separated by worlds alone? How many families have been completely destroyed because of Adam's arrogance or Sera's blind desire to protect Heaven from whatever threat she believed Hell could be?"

Charlie looked at Cherri, her expression one of shared sorrow and understanding. "We're all doing the best we can in situations we were never prepared to handle. You're not alone in feeling overwhelmed or out of your depth. We're in this together, trying to make sense of things far beyond our control."

Cherri listened, the tension in her shoulders easing slightly as Charlie spoke, bridging the gap between them with words of empathy and solidarity. "And this is one of those situations that is beyond our control," Charlie continued, her voice carrying a mix of resolve and helplessness. "My dad… he's used some Angelic Healing magic on Angel so he can rest as he heals, but everything else is up to him."

The mention of the angelic intervention brought a complex mix of relief and uncertainty. Cherri absorbed this, the reality sinking in that some things were indeed beyond their ability to direct or hasten. "It's hard, watching someone you care about struggle and not being able to do anything more to help," Charlie added softly, her eyes meeting Cherri's with an earnestness that conveyed her deep wish to alleviate the pain.

"Sometimes, being there is the most powerful thing we can do," Charlie said, her voice gentle but firm. "Being there to talk, or just to sit in silence. Being there when they wake up. It's not about fixing everything—it's about showing up, even when the situation feels hopeless."

Cherri's grip on the pillow loosened a little, the words offering a sliver of solace amidst the chaos of emotions. It was a reminder that her presence, her concern, and her loyalty were valuable, even if the actions she could take felt limited. It was about standing by Angel, just as Charlie was standing by her now, in the uncertainty of recovery and the slow journey back from the brink.

Charlie stood, her movement deliberate as she walked over to the array of pictures that decorated the room. She picked up the photo of Angel staring longingly towards Heaven, the image that had captured such a rare, vulnerable moment. Holding it gently, she studied it, as if hoping the picture itself might reveal more about the complexities hidden within Angel's psyche.

The memory of something Cherri had mentioned earlier flickered in her mind—Angel's human name, a detail he reserved exclusively for those he considered family, those tied to him by blood. This sparked a thought in Charlie, a connection forming as she turned back to Cherri, photo still in hand.

"If Angel has family here in Hell, people related to him, don't you think they would want to know about his condition?" Charlie asked, her voice tinged with concern. "Maybe reaching out to them could be another way to help, even if it's just to keep them informed or to see if they can offer any support during his recovery."

The idea seemed to offer a new avenue of action, a possible way to extend their circle of support and share the burden that weighed so heavily on both of their shoulders. It was a thought that might not only bring some relief to Angel but also strengthen their network of care and concern, reminding them that they were not alone in their worries.

Cherri shifted slightly, the question prompting her to sift through countless conversations and shared moments with Angel for any mention of family. "He's pretty tight-lipped about his life before all this," she began, her tone reflecting a mix of frustration and understanding. "Angel's the type to keep his cards close, y'know? He always says, 'the less said about my human life, the better.'" Cherri shrugged slightly as she picked at the edge of the pillow. "He's mentioned a father and an older brother occasionally. But the little he's said? Sounds like the brother is a f*cking dickhe*d, and the father? I don't even want to know what sort of dickhe*d he is, but it sounds like he's even worse." She let out a huff, her expression darkening with the thought. "So I wouldn't blame Angie for wanting to be estranged. Hell, I'd do the same in his boots."

"Still, isn't there a way to get in touch with them?" Charlie asked, her voice carrying a thread of hopeful concern. "If Angel is their family, maybe they should know what he's going through..."

"Look, Princess," Cherri sighed, her tone weary as she wiped away the last of her tears. "I know you mean well, but you gotta understand—not all families are like yours. Some are so twisted and broken it's better to just stay away. Angie, he... he gets this look, y'know? It's sheer panic, the kind that makes your skin crawl, whenever someone even whispers the names Henroin or the Ragno Clan. It freaks him out to the point of breaking down."

She paused, her expression hardening with resolve. "I can't say for certain they're his blood or anything, but if they are, it's probably for the best that he's kept his distance. From what little he's let slip, they're not just complicated—they're dangerous. And if bringing them back into his life could cause him more harm than good, then no, I don't think reaching out is a good idea. Angie's already going through enough; he doesn't need his so-called family, making it worse."

Cherri's words hung in the air, a stark reminder of the darker realities some face—even in a place as brutal as Hell. Her protective fierceness underscored her point, making it clear that for Angel, perhaps the absence of family was a lesser evil compared to their presence.

"Alright," Charlie said, her voice laced with curiosity and concern. "Has he mentioned any other family from when he was alive... maybe ones that may not be here in Hell?"

"Um..." Cherri responded, pausing as she searched her memories. "I have heard Angie talking about someone named Molly in his sleep. He used to be shacked up at the studio before he fell in with you lot, but every so often there would be times he'd just want some time away so he'd crash over at my place. I couldn't tell you who she was, but he's hung up on her enough to miss her."

Charlie nodded thoughtfully, absorbing the new information. "Molly," she repeated softly, the name rolling off her tongue as she considered its significance. "It sounds like she was important to him. Maybe someone from his life before all of this. It's good to know there was someone he cared about, someone who might have brought him some happiness."

She glanced at Cherri, her expression a mix of curiosity and concern. "Do you think it would be worth trying to find out more about her? Not to intrude, but it could be helpful to understand more about Angel's past. It might give us a better idea of how to support him now, especially if he's holding onto memories of her."

Cherri considered Charlie's suggestion, her brow furrowing slightly. "Maybe," she replied cautiously. "But we'd have to be careful how we go about it. Angie's private about his past for a reason, and I wouldn't want to stir up more pain for him. But if there's a chance it could help him heal, maybe it's worth looking into."

Charlie nodded in agreement, her resolve firming. "I think you're right. We'll be careful, and we'll make sure to prioritize his feelings and privacy. For now, let's keep supporting him here, and I'll think about how we might gently approach learning more about Molly, if and when he's ready to talk about her."

Both women shared a look of understanding, united in their desire to help Angel not just survive, but perhaps find some peace with his past.

Lucifer rolled over in his sleep, the silk sheets whispering against his skin, before he sat up abruptly. He wasn't physically tired—his celestial constitution saw to that—but there was a deep, uncharacteristic drain on his spiritual energy following the Angelic healing session. It had been centuries since he last dabbled in such heavenly sorcery, the kind that he, as a former archangel, was innately proficient in yet had forsaken upon his fall.

Resting his elbows on his knees, he reflected on the session. He doubted that mere rustiness was the problem; after all, divine magic was like riding a celestial bike—one never really forgot. The real issue, he mused, was that he had never before applied such potent, sanctified magic directly to a sinner. His typical interactions with the damned were far less benign, far more... transactional.

Since his banishment into the chaotic realm created by his advocacy for free will, Lucifer had carefully kept his distance from two particular lineages: the descendants of Adam's son Seth, who had always been loyal to the Heavenly host, and more personally, his own offspring with Eve—the children of Cain. That ancient tryst had given rise to a lineage mired in strength and strife, bearers of a cursed mark and a legacy of violence.

His reasons were manifold—partly pragmatic, partly penitential. Engaging with either group brought too many complications, too much heavenly scrutiny, and perhaps, a bit too much personal pain. Tonight, however, in his efforts to heal a tormented soul, he had inadvertently tapped into those long-abandoned reserves of grace, stirring memories and powers he had long sought to suppress.

As he sat there in the dim light, contemplating the ebb and flow of divine and infernal energies within him, Lucifer realized that this act of healing, though draining, might signify a turning point—not just for the sinners his daughter sought to redeem, but perhaps for himself as well.

Lucifer sat in contemplative silence, his thoughts winding through the complexities of redemption and damnation, his gaze occasionally drifting to the flickering shadows that danced across the walls of his chamber. At the center of his ruminations was Angel Dust, the sinner whom Charlie, his earnest daughter, so fervently believed could be redeemed. Lucifer saw the merit in her judgment; Angel's soul, while not pristine, carried goodness. It was not entirely selfless, yet it was far from malicious. Most of the deeds that had condemned him to Hell had been coerced by more dominant, oppressive figures.

Despite his potential for redemption, Angel himself harbored no real desire for it. The brutal exterminations carried out by Heaven annually had left him with little inclination to join the celestial realm, a sentiment Lucifer found understandable. Angel, much like his fiery companion Cherri Bomb, seemed resigned—perhaps even content—to spend eternity in Hell.

However, as Lucifer pondered the situation, a part of him was intrigued by the possibility of what Charlie could achieve. Perhaps there was a way to establish some form of systematic transfers with Heaven. After all, not all who were condemned to Hell truly deserved an eternal sentence. Such a system could offer a glimmer of hope and a path to redemption for those caught in the middle.

Yet, as these thoughts swirled in his mind, a deeper, darker concern tugged at him. There was a profound pall of darkness that enveloped everything—a darkness reminiscent of the ancient times when the root of evil first took hold in the world his celestial siblings had crafted. This darkness was familiar to Lucifer, a reminder of a past he could never fully detach from.

His thoughts then shifted to an even more troubling prospect—Roo. Charlie was not yet aware of Roo, but if Angel was marked by this enigmatic entity, it was only a matter of time before she came to claim his soul. This was a chilling possibility; if true, it meant that their efforts might be in vain, and it posed a significant danger not just to Angel, but to Charlie's entire mission.

Lucifer knew he had to tread carefully. The balance between informing Charlie and protecting her from the harsher realities of their cosmic struggle was delicate. As he considered his next steps, the weight of his ancient crown felt heavier than usual, a constant reminder of his responsibilities for his world and the difficult decisions that lay ahead.

"Greetings, Alastor speaking," the Radio Demon's voice boomed from his perch atop the Hazbin Hotel's radio tower, his words crackling through the airwaves like ethereal whispers amidst the chaos of Hell.

"There has been a bit of a hullabaloo going on here at the charming Hazbin Hotel," he announced, his tone a blend of charismatic charm and chilling authority that commanded attention from every corner of the infernal establishment.

As Alastor's announcement echoed through the hotel's corridors, weaving through the vibrant yet twisted landscapes of Hell, it reached the ears of the diverse denizens who called the Pride Ring home.

"Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed denizens of Hell," he continued, his voice resonating with a mixture of concern and resolve. "It seems Angel Dust, one of the key residents of this establishment, has fallen into a deep slumber—a coma, if you will—over the past few days."

The unexpected news hung heavy in the air, prompting reflection on the resilience of their makeshift family within the Hazbin Hotel. Despite his usual demeanor, Alastor couldn't help but admit a peculiar sentiment.

"I do admit that while I do not miss his lascivious come-ons, or his inquiries into my life since yours truly arrived here in Hell," he remarked with a hint of irony, "the days here have admittedly become quieter and dare I say duller."

Yet, amidst the somber atmosphere, Alastor rallied their spirits with a call to action.

"But take heart, my fellow residents. Let this misfortune not falter in our endeavors to bring redemption and laughter to this forsaken realm," he proclaimed, his words a dark beacon of hope amidst uncertainty.

In a dimly lit corner of Pentagram City, far removed from the Hazbin Hotel's immediate vicinity, Arackniss paused in his calculations over the money gained through their family's various activities as Alastor's distinctive voice crackled through the airwaves, carried by a nearby radio.

Arackniss, his eight eyes narrowing slightly, adjusted his position in the executive chair of his opulent office suite overlooking the sprawling cityscape. His expression, typically stoic and calculating, darkened at the mention of his younger brother—or rather, the name Anthony had chosen to go by these days—a reminder of the familial ties he both valued and often found exasperatingly complicated. The ambient glow from the city below filtered through the large windows, casting shadows that danced across the room, reflecting the turmoil in his mind.

A few days prior, Vox had made an announcement through his media empire, clarifying that Angel Dust had mistakenly overdosed on a love potion and was now in the process of recovering. However, beyond that initial report, updates regarding Angel's condition or the specifics of his recovery process had been frustratingly sparse and vague, leaving much to speculation and concern within the various circles of Pentagram City. This notice, however, with Anthony being in a coma, felt more concrete, and even then, it raised more questions than answers. Particularly since it was far too similar to how his younger brother had died—overdosed on cocaine and slipped into a coma from which he would never awaken.

As he pondered the implications of Angel's predicament, Arackniss drummed his fingers thoughtfully on the armrest of his chair. The news had potential ramifications not just for the Hazbin Hotel, but for the broader dynamics of Hell's underworld, where alliances and power plays were as volatile as they were essential to survival. While no one had connected the p*rn star Angel Dust with the Ragno family, there were still influences and power plays that the Ragno family did rely on as a result of Anthony's employment with Valentino. The uncertainty surrounding Angel's current state raised questions about stability and influence that would be lost as a result.

Behind him, the soft glow of monitors displayed financial data and surveillance feeds, reminders of the intricate web of influence and control that the Ragno Family wielded across Pentagram City. The sudden disruption caused by this situation threatened to upset some of the delicate balances that were carefully maintained for the sake of their family's business and reputation. The faint hum of the computers and the occasional beep from the monitors were the only sounds accompanying his deepening contemplation.

Setting down the pen he was using, Arackniss reached for a cigarette from the wooden case resting on his desk. Lighting it, he took a drag and exhaled slowly, one hand massaging his forehead as if anticipating a headache. Angel's involvement with the eccentric hotel concocted by the Princess of Hell wasn't unknown to the Ragno Family. The smoky tendrils of the cigarette spiraled upwards, mingling with the shadows and adding to the room's somber atmosphere.

"Don Henroin," the Capofamiglia of their crime organization, had actually been somewhat impressed that Angel had captured the interest of Lucifer's daughter during that infamous interview months ago. "What do you know," Henroin remarked dryly, "for once your brother actually made himself useful." The comment hung in the air, accompanied by a wry smirk from the larger spider demon, his eyes gleaming with a mixture of amusem*nt and disdain.

However, the Don's words soured quickly as breaking news implicated Anthony in a turf war between an overly ambitious snake demon and a one-eyed figure who fancied herself the talk of the town. Despite Anthony's involvement making a mockery of the interview, he somehow remained ensconced in the hotel, even appearing in commercials attempting to peddle the idea of redemption. The family and the city at large saw through the charade, particularly Arackniss, who detected manipulation from miles away. His fingers tapped rhythmically on the desk, a subtle indication of his growing impatience.

This sudden entanglement in the hotel's affairs by his younger brother only deepened Arackniss's concerns. It wasn't just about the potential risk of exposing their family's operations to unnecessary attention. Anthony's antics threatened to undermine the carefully cultivated image of discretion and power that the Ragno Family had worked tirelessly to maintain over the past several decades. The family's reputation, built on a foundation of silent dominance and strategic alliances, was at stake.

It was evident that Anthony had entangled himself in this ludicrous project solely to exploit the Princess of Hell, using it as a platform to advance some sort of agenda. Despite his disdain for the endeavor, Arackniss found some relief in the fact that Anthony had, thus far, refrained from openly implicating their family in any compromising activities or even revealing the family to his new companions. The Ragno Family's reputation, built on a legacy of discretion and power, remained intact—for now. However, this uneasy peace did not alleviate Arackniss's concerns. Anthony's unpredictable antics posed a continuous risk, threatening to unravel the careful web of influence they had spun across Pentagram City. Each misstep by his brother was a potential crack in the armor they had so meticulously crafted.

Valentino, known for his persuasive skills within their circles, found himself repeatedly reassuring Don Henroin that their criminal association with the Vees remained secure despite Anthony's erratic behavior. The Capofamiglia's patience wore thin as he navigated the delicate balance between maintaining their reputation and appeasing concerns within their crime organization. The conversations between them had become more strained, the underlying tension palpable.

"Angel will tire of this whole redemption thing," Valentino emphasized, his tone firm yet tinged with underlying uncertainty. "That puta will be back at the studio before Heaven can carry out this new extermination that will occur in six months." The confidence in his voice was a veneer, barely concealing the unease beneath.

As Arackniss listened to Valentino's assurances, he knew that decisive measures would soon be necessary to safeguard their family's interests amidst the chaos brewing in Hell. However, Heaven's new extermination came and went with a surprising outcome. Lucifer, a usually absent authority despite being the King of Hell, had inexplicably involved himself in the strike against the hotel. Adam, the leader of the exorcists, had fallen in battle, slain by the hotel's maid of all people. The remaining forces of the exorcist army took to the sky in their return to Heaven. Afterward, it was announced that Extermination Day was officially canceled. Fortuitously, this left a power vacuum that begged to be taken up by the Overlords, but it left enough of a power grab for the Ragno Clan to seize power for themselves. For once, they could have control within the city and not have to suck up to Overlords like the Vees or Carmine for it. The prospect of autonomy and enhanced influence was tantalizing, a long-sought opportunity finally within reach.

Arackniss exhaled another plume of smoke, his mind racing with plans and contingencies. The chaos that threatened to engulf Pentagram City could be turned to their advantage, provided they acted swiftly and decisively.

The phone on his desk rang, prompting Arackniss to immediately pick it up. It wasn't good to keep the Boss waiting when he called.

"Michael…" Henroin's voice growled through the receiver. His thick Brooklynese tone was harsh and gruff, but the subtle hint of his Calabrian dialect still made itself present. "I know you must've heard the Radio Demon spoutin' off that Anthony is in a coma right now."

"I did, Boss," Arackniss responded, his voice steady. "I don't fully buy into it, though it does fill in the blanks about what Vox and Valentino are leaving out in their explanations about why Tony hasn't been seen at the studio lately. I doubt Tony's buddied up enough with that smiling freak to get him to bullsh*t this, and the Radio Demon usually doesn't get involved with people who don't benefit him in some way. I don't buy Vox's explanation either…with his announcement the other day, that felt more like some yarn he could spin so Voxtech doesn't lose our support."

There was a pause on the other end, the only sound being Henroin's heavy breathing and the faint crackle of the phone line.

"Yeah, that's what I figured," Henroin said, his tone dripping with disdain. "Vox's story is too neat, too convenient. This ain't no fairy tale, and we ain't no fools. We need to get to the bottom of this. I got a bad feelin' that whatever's goin' on with Anthony is gonna blow up in our faces if we don't handle it right."

"Well, assumin' this whole coma thing is for real," Arackniss said, his tone measured. "Tony was a user when he was alive, and he has notoriety in that still. It would have to be somethin' he's done to himself. The princess looks like she's a bimbo and would be fooled easily, considerin' the Radio Demon is helpin' as her business partner. There is still Lucifer to consider, though. He may not seem like much, but he's the Head Honcho of this world for a reason. The fact Tony has any sort of connection to some of the most powerful forces that exist here…that don't exactly say good things for our family organization. He hasn't been doing anything against our family before, so I don't know why he'd be plottin' anything now of all times. He's certainly had plenty of opportunities in the past seventy years since arriving here in Hell. From spillin' what he knows to some other crime family, or even startin' a family that could rival ours."

"Maybe he wants to get in good with his new buddies first," Henroin suggested. "Like you said, the fact he's connected to not only the Radio Demon but also Hell's Royals. Even if it's all nothin', I still don't like it. Associations like that are too convenient and could be dangerous for our family and its operations. When I talked Valentino into becoming an association, I made it clear he needed to make sure that boy don't cause us problems. With this whole redemption hotel bullsh*t that the Princess has been runnin', if Tony's involved…sooner or later, he's gonna spill 'bout our family."

"I was just thinkin' on that," Arackniss agreed. "One of the guys workin' there is Husker, that old gambler's really gone downhill since he lost his Overlord status. He'd be aware of us, but he knows enough about our reputation. If Tony ain't plannin' on talkin', there are guys at that hotel who could connect a few dots. Let's give this a couple more days to blow over. If we don't hear nothin', I'll give this hotel a personal visit."

"See that you do," Henroin agreed. "Have I ever told ya that you was the son I could count on?" While the words were meant to sound like a complimentary question, Arackniss knew this was a veiled threat. "Be sure to keep me posted on every development, Michael. I want to know everything, no matter how small. We can't afford any surprises. And remember, this could be our family's reputation on the line. Don't let me down."

Arackniss felt a chill run down his spine at the veiled warning. "Understood, Pops. I won't let you down."

"See that you don't," Henroin said before the line went dead.

Arackniss set the phone back on its cradle and took a deep breath, letting the weight of the conversation settle over him. He stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray, the remnants of smoke curling upwards like the tendrils of a nightmare. He couldn't afford any mistakes. Not now.

Standing up, he grabbed his coat and slipped it on before grabbing his fedora. The third pair of his hands buttoned the front of his jacket. He exited his office, the door closing behind him with a soft click. The halls of the Ragno Family's headquarters were a labyrinth of power and influence, and Arackniss moved through them with purpose. The soft murmur of voices seemed to hush as he walked past. He spared them no glance as he put his fedora on the mop of dark grayish-black fur that served as his hair. Every step he took was a step towards uncovering the truth and protecting his family's legacy. Nothing would stand in his way; even traitors would suffer the ultimate price.

Descending the grand staircase, Arackniss passed the family's enforcers and advisors who nodded respectfully, their conversations ceasing as he approached. The Ragno Family headquarters was a fortress of luxury and security, filled with dark wooden panels, ornate chandeliers, and plush carpets that muffled the sound of footsteps. Arackniss appreciated the ambiance—it was a testament to their power and status, a stark contrast to the chaos and filth of the city outside.

He stepped out into the cool night air, the cityscape of Pentagram City sprawling before him in a cacophony of lights and shadows. The city was alive with sin and vice, a perfect playground for those who knew how to navigate its treacherous streets. Arackniss pulled his coat tighter around himself, the fedora casting a shadow over his multiple eyes, giving him an air of menace that matched his reputation.

His first stop was the heart of the city, where information flowed as freely as the liquor in the clubs. Arackniss needed to gather intelligence, to sift through the rumors and find the truth about his brother's condition and the implications for their family. He had contacts in every corner of Pentagram City—informants, spies, and allies who owed him favors. It was time to collect.

The streets were bustling with demons of all kinds, each lost in their own vices and schemes. Arackniss moved through the crowd with a predatory grace, his presence commanding respect and fear. He made his way to a seedy bar known for its connections to the underworld, a place where deals were made, and secrets were traded.

Inside, the air was thick with smoke and the scent of alcohol. The dim lighting cast eerie shadows on the walls, and the low hum of conversation was punctuated by occasional bursts of raucous laughter. Arackniss approached the bar, his eyes scanning the room for familiar faces. He spotted one of his informants, a wiry demon with a nervous twitch, sitting at a corner table nursing a drink.

"Hey, Nix," Arackniss greeted as he slid into the seat opposite him. "Got any news for me?"

Nix looked up, his eyes widening slightly at the sight of Arackniss. "Oh uh hi Arackniss, didn't expect to see you here. What can I do for you?"

Arackniss leaned forward, his voice low and menacing. "I need information about Angel Dust. There's a lot of talk goin' around, and I need to separate the facts from the bullsh*t. What do you know?"

Nix glanced around nervously before leaning in closer. "Word on the street is that Angel Dust's been layin' low. There was a recent announcement from the hotel say'n he's in a coma, but others think he's just hidin' out wantin' to get away from Valentino. Vox's announcement 'bout this so called love potion didn't sit right with a lot of folks—it felt like a cover-up. I mean, I s'pose it's possible, there is talk about demons in the other rings gettin' sick and some are confirmed to have even died after using that love potion that Velvette was distributing. Valentino's been keepin' tight-lipped, which only adds to the suspicion. Though there is talk that he is looking for someone who could have the same popularity as Angel Dust, so can't see that whor* workin' at p*rn studios for much longer."

Arackniss nodded, his expression grim. "Anything about the Hazbin Hotel or the Princess? What's their involvement?"

"Not much thats concrete," Nix admitted. "But there's a lot of chatter about the Radio Demon's involvement. Folks are sayin' he's got his own agenda, and the Princess is just a pawn in some game. If that p*rn star is actually involved in this hotel project cooked up by the princess, he's caught in the middle of somethin' big, that's for sure."

Arackniss tapped his fingers on the table, his mind racing. "Keep your ears open, Nix. I need to know everything that's going on. And if you hear anything further, you come to me first. Got it?"

Nix nodded eagerly. "Got it, boss. I'll keep you informed."

Arackniss stood up, tossing a few coins on the table. "Good. Don't let me down."

Leaving the bar, Arackniss felt a renewed sense of urgency. The pieces were starting to come together, but there were still too many unknowns. As he walked through the neon-lit streets of Pentagram City. With a determined stride, Arackniss disappeared into the night. He was a Ragno, after all, and nothing would stand in his way. Not even his own blood.

Poison - Chapter 2 - victory_angel (2024)
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