Lia returns! I actually think she's the most popular character I own… not bad for an emotionally disturbed, sometimes feral/sadistic psychic with holy-light-emitting eyes (now, at any rate) and enough power to level California.

The moment my feet hit the LA sidewalk, I knew I was home. I inhaled the familiar smells of the city—then was interrupted by a loud, imperative meow from the cat carrier by my feet. "Okay, okay, I know you want out. Just hold on a second."

Another loud meow answered me as I opened the door and lifted out my cat, Ember, named for the silver splash of fur on his otherwise-black chest. He mewed happily at his release from the carrier as I kicked the cheap piece of plastic aside, then scooped up my satchel and headed for the airport parking lot to pick up my bike. It was a sleek black Ducati 990—I'd bought the machine secondhand, but after extensive modification, it worked like a dream and more.

The engine roared to life—slipping on a pair of shades and making sure Ember was safely in the kitty carrier I'd installed, I took off, heading for home.

I stopped by a few places before going down to Midnite's club near sundown. The protective glyphs on my bike glowed softly as I activated the ward—anyone trying to steal my bike would be on the receiving end of a very nasty backlash from my favorite protective spell. The bouncer held up a card—unlike five months ago, I didn't have to squint at it, barking, "Hippo in a tutu." as I brushed past.

Ember let out a tiny meow as I plunged into the club, then he hissed viciously. I spun and spotted a low-ranking male half-breed making his way toward me. "What do you want?" I growled impatiently.

"The bossss, he wantsss to ssssee you, Greeneyessss." The half-breed hissed sibilantly.

I pulled off my shades, staring directly at him—he flinched away. "No longer just green eyes." When I judged that he was sufficiently cowed, I put them back on. "Lead the way, then."

Midnite was sitting at his desk waiting for me, six feet of African-witchdoctor-vibes and dead-black eyes. He nodded as I walked in—the half-breed shut the door as he greeted me. "Lia. Good to see you. How was New York?"

"Same as usual. In other words, teeming with scum." I dug into the pocket of my duster and handed him a pile of carefully wrapped packages. "Your items."

He inspected them impassively until he opened the largest package. It was a battered leather belt studded with glyphs and amulets. "The belt of Saint Catherine." I told him. "Way better than what you asked for."

Midnite continued examining the belt for a minute, then rewrapped it carefully. "Ten grand for the lot."

I snorted. "Are you kidding? I had to blast my way through two hells' worth of demons to get that belt. Twenty."


"Eighteen." I countered.

"Done." He pulled out a wad of bills fro a hidden place and handed them to me, before eyeing my sunglasses. "Why the shades?"

I removed them wordlessly—he nodded. "Interesting. Would you like the news from the area?"

"Tell." I put my shades on again, then scooped up Ember and sat down.

I didn't know if I was seeing things, but Midnite looked faintly uncomfortable. "John quit smoking." he finally said.

"What?!" I sat bolt upright, nearly dislodging Ember, who meowed at me to register his displeasure. Absently petting my cat, I stared at Midnite in utter shock. "What did I miss?"

I sat there for the next hour as Midnite explained everything—the Spear of Destiny, Luciver's son, Gabriel's fall, Angela Dobson, And John's lung cancer being healed. Before I could ask about John, though, Midnite explained, "Dobson got posted to Miami as a promotion. She moved two months ago, a month after the incident. John hasn't been seen around here since."

"Shit." I swore, picking up Ember and making for the door. "I gotta get down there—God knows what he's done to himself—"

As I yanked open the door, I came face-to-face with none other than Gabriel. Ember hissed angrily and I snarled, "You." If vocal loathing could burn, Gabriel would have been incinerated on the spot.

Gabriel attemped a placating smile that only succeeded at increasing my ire. "Lianon. Greeneyes, it's good—"

I lashed out, catching him full across the face so hard the slap sounded like a point-blank range gunshot. Which, in a way, it was.

My handprint blooming crimson on his face, Gabriel looked me out of those blue eyes. "Would you explain that, Greeneyes?"

"Explain?" I hissed venomously, rage making my hands tremble. "You… you betray God and us, and you ask me to explain why I slap you?"

He hung his head slightly. "I deserved that."

"Damned straight you did!" I spat back.

An ironic, self-deprecating smile curved his lips. "John punched me. You slap me. I see a certain resemblance in the reactions."

"Oh, John decked you? Then maybe I should follow suit!" I drew back a fist—Ember leapt to the ground—but Midnite's big hand closed over my wrist. "Let go, Midnite!"

"Enough, Lia. He's no longer an angel, he got hit by you and John—and he's been taking all kinds of grief in this dive. Let him live with his guilt." The older man said calmly.

I glared accusingly at the ex-angel, who lowered his gaze. "For the little that you probably think it's worth, Greeneyes, I'm very sorry."

Looking at the pathetic figure he cut, I softened. "Come here, and bend down a little." When he did, I focused a bit of power and drew a few Aramaic characters on his forehead.
"The mark of Cain?" he asked wryly.

"No. My personal mark. It means you're under my protection. If those scum give you any crap, show 'em the mark and it should scare them off." I explained.

Gabriel touched the faintly glimmering mark. "Greeneyes—thank you for your mercy."

"Don't thank me just yet. I can still erase it." I growled.

"Ah. Then I am grateful that you even bestowed it." he replied, then crouched to hold out a hand to Ember. My cat hissed and slashed four parallel, bleeding grooves down the back of his hand.
"It looks like he marked you too." Stifling a smile, I scooped up Ember, nodded to Midnite and headed out the door.

To Be Continued

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