The rain fell from above in a light wave. As Mira made for the pavement, it spattered over her heavy overcoat, which almost dwarfed her diminutive form. The gray sky pressed against the buildings above her as it shed its load. The rain mixed with the dirt that caked the storm drains and gutters, and permeated the air with a sodden musty aroma. Mira screwed up her nose as she skipped onto the dry pavement under an awning, her long dark-brown hair sticking against her coat from the rain.
She stood in front of a large two-story brick building, stained a dark brown from the rain. Big plate-glass windows let a soft orange light onto the street around her. A quick glance through them told Mira there were hardly any patrons at Boothby's tonight.
But that was still too many.
She opened the door gently, but the bell above it still tinkled loudly.
People looked up and watched her enter. This was just what she needed – witnesses.
Mira jammed her wet hands into the lined pockets of her overcoat and let out a little sigh. She never had any luck. Whether it was with games, bets, the weather, or even romance – she could never rely on the Good Lady. And as for her job, well that was a whole other level of misfortune.
"Have you located the target yet?" the voice rang out in her mind. Audible only to her, it spread through her awareness like a soft cloud.
She nodded then quickly shook her head in thin-lipped exasperation. The voice couldn't see her, could it? How many years had she been doing this?
She called up a flicker of concentration with a deep breath and answered with a thought: "I just got here, what do you expect already?"
"I expect a little discipline." The voice sighed in her mind. "No, that's not right: I'd hoped for discipline, I expect you to stuff up as usual with your cavalier ineptitude."
Her bottom lip pushed forward in a pronounced pout. "You're not helping," she almost shouted to the world at large.
"Just get on with it, Agent."
Well that was easier said than done. Another cursory glance at the three patrons of this dingy establishment told Mira that any one of them could be her target. Any one of them could be infected with a slimy evil demon of hell.
She walked towards the large, solid wood counter at the end of the room. Two staircases flanked it on either side, and hidden away in the dark alcoves alongside them were two of her fellow customers. Sheesh, why did dodgy people always make it so hard to eyeball them from afar? At this rate she would have to sidle right past both of them without letting her search become conspicuous. And that was the really hard bit; demons always knew when you had your eye on them. They're used to being hunted, after all.
The other patron, a short man with a countenance like a buoy bobbing in the ocean, sat at a table next to one of the windows. He had a ray of graying hair around his round head and his nose was buried in the large tabloid he had spread across the table.
She could start with him, cross him off the list at least. He looked like middle-aged middle management – probably the owner and operator of a stationery company. Could there be anyone less likely to be possessed by an agent of evil? Perhaps her angelic self, maybe, but stationery manufacturers would come a neat second. Demons would quickly see that their chances of world domination would be trounced if they signed on with the texta dexter over there.
She took several more steps through the room, picking her way carefully around the tables and chairs, trying to maintain a loose-shouldered nonchalant walk that would put all demons at ease. The bartender looked up and blinked at her slowly. She took the opportunity to beam back with a wide, mega-cute smile, her deep-brown eyes twinkling.
The bartender turned from her and shuffled off with a tall glass of something suitably alcoholic for one of his customers.
Hmmm, people never appreciated her amazing smiles. He probably had the demon if he wasn't won-over by that winning grin. She quickly flicked her eyes up to closely analyze the figure of the bartender as he carried the glass across the room. Unfortunately he didn't have the heavy black aura of the damned.
The bartender headed for one of the men in the corner.
Mira dug her bottom teeth into her lip and sniffed softly. This demon was hardly going to catch itself, and if she waited any longer, the damned fiend would get all jittery from late-night caffeine.
"Excuse me!" she called out with a cute little wave, "I'm looking for someone." Hands innocently tucked into her pockets, she ran up to the bartender and the shadowy-alcove-dwelling customer. "And I was wondering if you could help me."
The bartender slowly placed the steaming glass on the table with a snow-white, knife-like hand and turned to her. His face was equally pale and the dark circles under his sunken eyes only added to his ghostly appearance. One web-like thin eyebrow was raised.
She instantly grinned as she tried not to baulk. Her neck still receded into her collar though, and she only widened her grin in an attempt to appear unaffected. "Umm," her voice was unusually high, "I'm looking for someone," she repeated before she could catch herself.
The bartender's lips parted slowly, like mist rising off a gravestone. "And?"
Ewgh this guy was creepy! He was way creepier than a low-level demon. Whoever he was, he was definitely into the dark arts. He wasn't a demon though – she would know by now – but he wasn't your average bartender either.
She suddenly realized she hadn't replied and, quickly clasping her hands together in embarrassment, nodded politely. "Well, I, ah, there's this guy." Her cheeks began to flush with a warm shipment of blood, and she realized she was falling apart. Things always went pear-shaped when she had to improvise. "Annnnnd, well he said he'd meet me here ..." her voice trailed into a thin whisper.
The ghostly bartender blinked. "I see."
"Really? Because I'm having trouble following you, Angel. If this is how you handle the staff, I can't wait to see your style with a demonic agent of Hell." The voice in her head rang out with a clear and quick tone.
She almost bit through her lip. Her Controller always had it in for her.
"Who are you looking for?" the bartender prompted, his sunken eyes appearing to recede further into his sallow face.
She let her eyes drift to the man behind the bartender. He was why she was here; she had to check if he was really a red-eyed master of death. A closer look revealed nothing but a set of broad shoulders, a rigid, chiseled face, and dark swarthy features. He looked more like a stiff-lipped gym teacher than Lucifer.
"Ahh," she stalled for time, "Bob?" her voice uncontrollably peaked on Bob like it was a question. "Bob," she quickly repeated with more confidence.
The bartender licked his lips with a whip-like dark-red tongue. "I do not know a Bob."
Just as the words left his mouth, a figure darted across the base of the stairs. It must have wandered down to catch a glimpse of them. Out of the corner of her eyes, she'd seen it. Seen as it had popped its extended, grayed head around the door, its long boned hand on the wall. One red-rimmed eye had stared at her, unblinkingly.
Bingo. This must be one of those stupid demons, hallelujah.
"Ah, that's okay! You know, I think Bob might be upstairs!" She pushed herself quickly, but gracefully, towards the stairs. "Bob!" She threw herself up them. "Bob, what are you doing up there?"
"So much for keeping this quiet, I knew I should have chosen a better Agent."
She ignored the voice, applying all her concentration to the dark stairway before her.
Above her something grated as a heavy object shifted its weight.
She reached the top of the stairs and quickly pitched into a dive roll. She didn't even bother to check for danger. There was only one thing she needed to know: the room was totally dark.
She curled her back against the uneven wood before lithely jumping to her feet with a thud. Twisting her neck from side to side, she desperately listened for a sound of Bob the demon. Heavy breathing, shuffling feet, maybe the unfurling of black wings. There was nothing though.
When her eyes had adjusted to the gloom with inhuman speed, she noticed a long window was open at the end of the room. It let in the smell of rain and a ray of dim light.
"Bob! God bless you, Bob!" She took pleasure in the curse; nothing irks a demon like a good old divine blessing.
A heavy, high-pitched grunt cut through the open window.
Winking to no one in particular, Mira sped towards it. With deft moves she avoided the stacked chairs and tables that littered her way.
She sprang at the open window before she ascertained what lay beyond. She sailed through the cold air then landed on the steep roof. Scrabbling against the wet tiles, she slid downwards like a puck across ice.
"Ah ah ahhhh!" She desperately tried to pull herself upright and fight the downward pressure of gravity on lubricated roofing.
Finally gaining traction, she dug both feet into the slate and pushed backwards, instantly flattening herself against the roof, fingers scrabbling and toes clenching.
"Errrrgh." She was barely centimeters from the gutter and the unpleasant 15-meter plunge to the dirty city street below. Was that lucky, or what?
There was a swoosh as something unfurled behind her, blowing a cold gust of air and rain against her back.
"Ohh ... not so lucky then." Still pressing her body into the hard tiles, she twisted her head. In the gap between her building and the next, floated the demon. Stretched thin like a sheet of plastic wrap, and unfathomably dark like a black-hole, it snapped its contorted head towards her.
"You dare hunt me, human? Me? Lord of the dead, king of the underworld, of the putrefying flesh of your brethren? Bringer of pain ..."
Mira rolled her eyes and took a deep, reverberating sigh. If you let 'em, demons would talk your ear off, in more ways than one. "Sorry to interrupt," she carefully pushed herself up, "but the Agency isn't pleased with you, mister."
The demon let out a shriek, clawing at its face with a hand twisted and bent like a misshapen rake. "Agent?"
She nodded. "And secondly," she reached into her pocket, "you're not king of anything." Demons hated it when you brought them back to Earth. "You're just a lowly little foot soldier."
The demon shrieked again, this time with a terrible high-pitched whir. "You lie! You will never encounter a greater—"
Mira leaped forward. Her hand whipped out from her pocket and brandished something before her. It was a palm-sized medallion on a heavy chain. "Go to Hell!" She hurled the pendant at the demon. It arced above the creature, and as it reached its zenith, Mira shouted: "Seal!"
A blazing, engulfing light cascaded around the demon, trapping it between its luminous rays. The demon shrieked once more, but the shriek was distant and soon cut out altogether. The rays shot back towards the pendant, which lay suspended in mid-air, and soon the light it cast receded into a dim pulse, then nothing at all.
"Phew, that went better than expected." Mira smiled and gave several little claps of appreciation for her own clever self. "Now I can go home and watch TV!"
The pendant slowly fluttered towards her, as if on the wings of an angel. She snapped a hand towards it and grabbed it, stuffing it back into her pocket in a quick move.
For a moment she hesitated on the edge of the roof, not sure whether to take the long or short way down. She quickly decided that seeing the ghoulish bartender wasn't something she wanted to do before bed, and made for the edge of the roof.
In several quick and calculated moves, she disappeared.
A cigarette landed on the roof and slid down to the point where Mira had been standing moments before. Its red glow flickered and extinguished against the wet slate.
"Well," a voice said from the open window. "I've never seen that before."
Mira threw out a hand and managed to catch the edge of the bowl. She pulled it towards her with a caveman grunt, crisps spilling across her reclined body and cascading over the edge of the couch.
"What did you have to go and do that for?" she scooped up a crisp and flicked it into her mouth. "Now I'm going to have to pick you all up."
She made several attempts at corralling the loose crisps without actually moving, but soon gave up. "Be that way then." With a sharp wave she dismissed the crumbly mess to some future cleaning frenzy.
She lolled her head back in the direction of the TV and grinned. Just what she needed – a good movie. Not just any movie though – a Brent Double, perhaps the finest looking man since the gods invented muscles and cheekbones. She beamed at the screen and stopped short of offering a thumbs up.
The phone rang just as the opening music faded to a frantic car chase full of screaming tires and women.
"No, no, no, not now!" She leaped off the couch, the bowl flying off her belly like a startled bird from the coop.
She sprang towards the kitchen, feet eating into the lush carpet in her mad dash to get there before the phone rang off.
In the center of the kitchen table was a large fire-engine-red phone. It was old school, maybe even retro by now, with its chunky receiver and curled cord. Heaven, after all, never ran with the times.
Hand beset with the slightest tremble, she snapped up the receiver. "Erm, hello?"
"Hello? Hello? Who answers the phone with hello?"
Mira shrugged slowly and frowned. Hell-o, there was something in that, she conceded. "Controller." There was no time for pleasantries when your business was protecting humanity from encroaching evil.
"Your mission was a success, Agent, though it lacked finesse."
Ohh no, ten points off for style. What did they want from her? A fricking Lycra bodysuit and a catch phrase? "Yes, Controller."
"Just yesterday Michael managed to subdue an underground satanic cult, the lot of them possessed by a level 5 demon. Now that was memorable."
A blush warmed Mira's cheeks at the mention of the Agency's finest. She even added a little shake of her shoulders and a twitch of her nose.
"Jumping through an open window and scrabbling down a roof doesn't make it on to my list of acceptable agent conduct. I expect a full report." The curt, high-pitched voice cut out without so much as a goodbye, let alone a well done for saving the world.
Mira pulled the phone away from her ear and sneered at it before plonking it back on the receiver.
She waited a moment, the fingers of one hand drumming on the table with a soft rat-a-tat-tat
A single white feather floated down from above and landed on the table before her. It emitted a soft yellow light and instantly changed into a long oblong tube.
Angel mail: not nearly as useful as email, though still kind of cool.
She grabbed the tube and quickly pulled out the contents: one demon-hunt declaration form, a bill for lodgings, and a copy of the Good News Monthly. Mira threw the bill over one shoulder and, with the other two documents in hand, headed back to the couch.
She detested paperwork.
Mira had hardly begun filling in her report when she'd been distracted by the Good News' new shiny cover.
Obviously they had some new blood in their design department. Perhaps they'd even spruced up the usually drab contents, too. Even if they hadn't, it was better than recounting her "unstylish" encounter with Bob the demon.
Plus, she was supposed to be in this issue. They'd gone and picked a random Agent from each level – from the highest to the lowest – and yeah, she was the prime example of low in the Agency.
The whole article was something about "meeting the foot soldiers of the revolution, the wings behind the work." She hadn't been paying attention when the memo had come around, all she'd cared about was selecting the right picture for her bio.
She fumbled quickly through the pages, her fingers searching for grip against the slick glossy paper. There was a lot of fluff in this magazine. Interviews with the bigwigs, analysis of demon-possession trends, even an article on the latest set of revelations to come out from the Eternity Scrolls.
With a nervous grin, she found her page. The grin quickly morphed, her lips dropping into a pronounced frown. What a horrible picture!
Mira pushed her face into the magazine, trying to find an angle where the small picture of her didn't look like it showed a frazzled, beatnik yeti with wild, boil-like acne. How dare they use such an old hideous picture!
The bio itself wasn't too impressive either. It read like a personal ad. A bad personal ad, the kind of ad you might use if you were looking for abject, pitiless rejection.
Her fingers tightened around the edges of the magazine, her knuckles white streaks across her ruddy hands. Whoever wrote this article was mean, mean as Hell ... Well not that mean. Still, this wasn't very lucky.
As her chagrin settled, she began to flick through the rest of the article. She rested, inevitably, on Agent Michael.
"Wow," she flicked her eyes across his bio. "You really are magnificent, aren't you?" 260 sealings, 569 healings, 45 commendations, 3 Pure Heart medals, and a set of Golden Wings. Lord knew he was the best.
For a slow hour, Mira divided her attention between Brent Double, Agent Michael, and her report.
The night outside grew darker and a crisp air fluttered through her window before she eventually reached the final question.
Question 25 was always the hardest. She had to hold her innate sarcastic nature back. What do you think the demon was trying to achieve? What kind of a question was that? How the Heaven was she supposed to know? Demons don't stop to fill you in on their plans while they seek to possess the innocent.
She chewed the end of her pen with short sharp chomps. It was getting late and this question was still bugging her. What was Bob up to at that greasy bar? Socializing, eating nuts, drawing caricatures on napkins?
Eventually, with a heavy, belly-shaking sigh, she wrote down her answer. There was no evidence to suggest that this was anything other than a random demon attack.
Finally satisfied, Mira rested back into the couch and fixed her attention back onto the muscle-bound Brent Double.
The perfect end to a hard day's night.
The end of Chapter One. The rest of this book is available from most ebook retailers.