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The smog hunched over the Los Angeles basin was particularly thick and unyielding today. The Sin of Lust sat in a tree on the roadside of Mulholland Drive, watching the noon sun struggle to pierce the hazy veil so it could shine on the valley below.

The metropolis was as busy as ever, full of irreverent mortals too busy to take a breath and notice the world suffocating around them. Cars whipped by on the drive behind Amoroth and tourists oohed and awed over the view, but none of them had seen her. None considered looking up.

Amoroth's hair bobbed with the wind as she smoked and waited in her arboreal perch. Her phone began to ring, causing two passing joggers to glance around in confusion, and the Sin huffed as she stuck her cigarette between her lips and fished the phone from her pocket. She was expecting several emails from Dorian—but this was not emails. This was a phone call. From Jackson.

"Hell and damnation," Amoroth softly fumed as she accepted the call and held the phone to her ear. "Amoroth speaking."

"Why aren't you here?" came Jackson's reedy command.

"Your tone leaves a lot to be desired, Jackson dear," she said as she inspected her nails. An inebriated lowlife climbing the unkempt hillside spotted her in the tree. He stared, baffled and unsteadied, until he toppled backward and disappeared into the bush. Amoroth snorted.

"I don't care if you don't like my tone!" Jackson yelled, pausing to have a hacking cough fit. "The corporation is in a nosedive and the CEO isn't. Even. Here!"

"The corporation is not in a nosedive. My presence isn't required. Not at the moment."

"Your presence is required if I say it is. I own you!"

The bark on the tree crackled as the sap froze and the leaves wilted, falling one by one.

"The profits for this quarter are unacceptable. You told me this problem wouldn't affect my bottom-line—but it is. There are news vans and police cruisers outside my house every day and night! You will fix this now, Amoroth!"

"I am handling the problem. You own nothing, you sniveling punk," Amoroth retorted as she flexed her fingers and tried to rein in the miniature climate shift.

"I own you. Even after forty years, I could call our arrangement void and you'd get nothing. I could tell the world exactly what you are."

Amoroth stood on the branch, ripping twigs away from her face. "You could," she acquiesced, sucking essence through her bared teeth. None of the humans had noticed the snowcapped tree yet. "And I'd be banished—but I can promise you, boy, I'd rip your head off before I went, soul or no soul. And yes, you could tell the world that I'm a big bad monster. But remember, Jackson, I'm not the only shark swimming in the abyss. I'm not even a big shark, really. You should think before sticking your blood-soaked hands into the water."

The Sin didn't wait for his response. She crushed the phone in her fist, swearing when she remembered the emails she was supposed to check. The crumbled remains fell from her palm with the leaves.

Darius appeared in an adjacent tree, his heavier weight causing the chilled foliage to creak ominously. Amoroth's eyes narrowed as she dusted off her hands.

"About time," she spat as she stepped forward from her perch. The younger Sin shifted through the Realm to land on the bough at Darius' side—and she noted the air about his sizable frame rippled with cold, his eyes black and his teeth narrowed. Amoroth shivered before she could restrain herself.

The Sin of Pride tilted his ear toward Amoroth, lowering his chin to his chest. "That was an...interesting conversation, fifth-born."

Amoroth's lips pressed together. She averted her eyes, allowing her gaze to wander over the bursting county below. "It's none of your concern, prick."

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