The call came in at midnight; a demonic attack in the most exclusive part of Tulsa. The local fire department was on the job but they were seriously outgunned. Spellfire doesn’t extinguish with water or chemicals. Lucky for our guys from the FD, the Chief had our number and was quick enough on the uptake to call for backup.
I hit the silent alarm for our residential complex and my team arrived in the conference room, ready for a fight. Mitchell Hernandez, Anura and Kushali Singh and I are Team Red Hawk, paranormal infestation specialists.
Mitchell slid down the fire pole from his room above, dressed in camo pants, a black sleeveless t-shirt and a leather strap tied around his right bicep. His perfectly chiseled features and pouting mouth made female hearts go pitter-pat. Longer than regulation black curls tied back with a bandana made the man look like the cover shot for Playmax: Gun Freak edition. He carried more concealed weapons than a gun catalog. That habit might save our lives tonight. I nodded as he took his favored position by the door, arms crossed over his sculpted pecs and washboard abs.
The mage twins, Anura and Kushali, arrived a few moments later. Both of them had large messenger bags strapped across their chests containing the materials they would need to do magic: everything from antelope horn to braided zebra hairs, ground toad to fluorescent glitter.
Anura dressed in flowing silk, her tunic and trousers patterned with traditional Hindu symbols of peace and harmony. Kushali wore a black leather bustier, fishnet stockings and a skirt so short it looked like a belt. I knew it wasn’t because she had a small silver-handled whip hanging from a chain wrapped around her waist. Kinky.
Despite Anura’s Beverly Feldman pumps and Kushali’s thigh-high leather-girl spike heeled boots, the twins seemed to float into the conference room. A calm and mystical aura surrounded them; a sense of power radiated just below the smooth surface of their cocoa brown skin. This supernatural air was spoiled slightly by the fact they were stuffing themselves with Krispy Kreme donuts.
Svelte and gorgeous, built with the smooth strength of swimsuit models; the twins were mystical eating machines. Casting magic takes calories and the twins were ready for a metabolic onslaught. I hoped they had a good dinner, because things were likely to get ugly.
Newton arrived, the chest pocket of his short-sleeved polyester shirt bulging with pens and pencils. His lank hair glistened with pomade and the smell of grocery store cologne filled the air as he hurried over to me. His saddle shoes skidded on the floor, revealing dark argyle socks under his khaki pants.
The techno-geek carried a roll of duct tape and a tangle of electronics. His job was to maintain communications and provide us with information as we met our foes. He slapped a square of duct tape to my forehead as he hurried to stick the rest of the team.
“Hey, what’s with the sticky stuff?” I groused as I felt my newly shiny forehead.
“Sensors to determine psychic input, output and response,” Newton huffed, having completed his circuit of the room dodging kicks, slaps and an empty Krispy Kreme box.
“All right, listen up.” I announced. “We got a call. Looks like a demonic manifestation.”
I briefed the team on the location and strategy before dropping the bombshell, “We have to teleport. The call came after the house was already in flames. We need to get there thirty minutes ago. You will land on the third floor and set up a defensive position. I will recon on the second floor and try to flank the beast.”
The twins groaned and rolled their eyes. I agreed. We all hated to teleport. It was definitely a “not right” feeling to bend time and space. Plus, who knows what could happen. There is the fear of your soul ending up in someone else’s body. Or your body reappearing with Shatner’s toupee. But we had a job to do.
Team Red Hawk formed a tight circle around me. When everyone was ready, I touched my special amulet and said, “Activate Teleport.”
The walls of the mansion flickered with unholy light cast not only from the fires eagerly licking at the walls, but also from the spells cast by the creature stalking the hallways in search of prey. The demon looked like a bipedal toad with long, sinewy arms dragging the ground as it moved in short, powerful bounds of its web-footed legs.
The creature grinned as it yanked open a cabinet to reveal a cowering servant tucked amongst the fine Italian linens. It seemed to savor the shrieks and pleas of the hapless maid. Then, with a sickening crunch and a wet gulp, it swallowed the frightened woman to the waist. The evil creature threw its head back and the victim’s legs disappeared down its throat. The maid’s final cries seemed to echo in the hallway. Or perhaps in the creature’s gullet.
This was a definite category three manifestation on the Van Helsing scale that went to five. Each creature is rated by type, powers and damage potential. Like the Fujita scale for tornados, but instead of measuring meteorological phenomena, theVan Helsing scale measured reality twisters.
Demons. Hellspawn. Various creatures of the night. Definite bad guys. Category one held things like your basic werewolf or vampire. Category two added supernatural powers or sorcery. Category three covers things from other planes of existence.
Tonight my team was called in to deal with the demon summoned to destroy the family of William Roxburgh. Never heard of him? Well, you wouldn’t have. The wealthiest people in the world are never advertised. Forbes would never publish a list including William Roxburgh. He was beyond loaded; rich enough to replace everything that burned tonight a hundred times over.
Except for his three children, who were in the nursery on the third floor. The first two floors were on fire and I expected to hear the shrieks from the little kiddies any second as the creature moved up the stairs. Each leap left a pair of smoldering, webbed prints upon the polished mahogany of the staircase.
The single-minded thing wouldn’t like the greeting it was about to get from the rest of my team. I grinned from my concealed position behind the partially opened door of a cloakroom on the second floor landing. Ah, the sweet staccato of gunfire!
“Mitchell, sit rep!” I barked into my communicator. I needed to know what was going on up there. Over the swell of chanting from our magic-wielding twins and the crackle of unholy flame, I could barely hear my team second respond.
“Bad news, boss. The creature is not harmed by our attacks. Bullets have no effect and the twins are having trouble keeping the barrier up in the hallway. We are going have to…”
The com went dead. Electronic technology doesn’t work in the presence of too much spell energy. Cursing, I left the safety of my concealed position and ran up the smoking stairs in the wake of the demon.
The hallway erupted in flame before me, as the demon’s fiery footprints touched off the priceless Persian runner and spread to the elegant tapestries covering both walls. Despite the smoke-filled hallway, I didn’t have any trouble seeing the battle. I touched the charm keeping my breathing and eyesight clear. We didn’t have to wear fire suits and oxygen apparatus like the firefighters working the bottom floor. Our team depended on magic.
Mitchell’s M-16A2 stuttered as he fired at the creature. The muzzle flash of his assault rifle illuminated his face, teeth bared in a feral grin as he directed the weapon’s three round bursts right into the gleaming eyes of the hellspawn. The bullets might not harm the toad-thing, but the hot lead aimed at its face would certainly annoy it.
Screaming, the demonic creature covered its eyes from the stinging onslaught with one long arm as it made a mystic gesture with the other. A claw of dark magic formed in front of my gunman, slapping him across the length of the hallway to land heavily against a wall. Mitchell lay still, crumpled in a heap below a priceless painting, his gun a twisted scrap of metal and plastic smoking at his feet.
The chanting redoubled as Anura and Kushali held hands and attempted to maintain the barrier keeping the creature from traveling down the rest of the hallway to the nursery. Our twins may dress like Martha Stewart and Betty Page, but when they merged to do magic, they were a perfectly balanced mystical powerhouse. I had yet to see anything break one of their protective shields. Until now.
The creature focused its burning yellow eyes at the barrier and roared an incantation of its own. Gouts of infernal flame surrounded the barrier. Anura and Kushali were visibly fading; they grew thinner as they fought to keep control. The magic forces they commanded were burning through their body fat as the power demands grew. Anura’s silk tunic was drenched with sweat and her normally sweet expression was a mask of agony as she fought through the pain of her physical reserves being ripped away. Kushali’s soaked leather squeaked as she fought to maintain the spell, eyes narrowed in anger. She clenched her perfect teeth in a jaw-cracking rictus of determination to keep the protections intact through the force of her will alone.
It was a losing battle. The twins could not keep up their efforts against the punishing onslaught of infernal flame and demonic power. Their last reserves depleted, the mages collapsed and the barrier gave way. Grinning in triumph, the creature contemptuously kicked the twins’ unmoving bodies aside. The long claws dug into the floor as it hopped merrily towards its goal.
The doors to the nursery were painted with sweet children’s book characters and happy little animals. They seemed to symbolize the innocence of the children within. Children the demon wanted for a snack.
Drooling, the creature held up a massive claw and growled an incantation. Hellfire gathered and released; the door shuddered with the impact. I was the only one left. I gripped my blessed silver knife between my teeth and leapt through the fiery barrier. I sprinted towards the creature and ripped open my t-shirt, revealing the holy sigils tattooed to my chest.
This was the last chance those kids had; their last hope for rescue. The runes inscribed upon my chest would open a portal to hell. All I needed to do was hurt the creature enough so some of its blood would activate the spell. I grabbed the holy knife and shrieked a battle cry.
But before I could stab the demon, the doors to the nursery burst open. All was lost; the creature had gained access. Thrown from my feet by the concussive force, I landed in a heap of despair. I closed my eyes and prayed to whatever God might be listening that the end would be quick and vengeance would be mine.
I opened my eyes after a heartfelt mental “A-men!” and blinked in confusion. The demon huddled in front of me, cowering against the golden light radiating from a figure in the nursery door.
“Be gone, creature of darkness. Trouble us no more!” intoned the shining figure. Squinting against the light, I could make out the form of a powerful woman, veiled in shimmering energy. She raised her hand and the air filled with a powerful clean scent as well as a searing bolt of mystic force.
The creature shrieked and rolled its yellow eyes in pain. It raised feeble claws against the woman in the doorway, but could not fight against such awesome power. With a stench of sulfurous smoke and a whirl of infernal fire, it disappeared.
The hall filled with the smell of talcum powder and vanilla perfume, driving away the last of the nasty demonic stench. I rubbed my eyes as the golden light faded. When my sight cleared, I faced a sensible looking young woman attired in a simple blue dress and matching cardigan.
She put a small spray bottle into the pocket of her sweater. Even from several feet away, she smelled of comforting soft scents. “That’s that, then,” she said.
“Who the hell are you?” I demanded.
She drew herself up with indignation. “Watch your language! This is a proper nursery!” She turned and closed one of the doors. As she closed the other, she looked me in the eye. “I am the Nanny!” A click from the lock told me the key had been turned on the inside. I stared at the tightly sealed doors. The little painted animals seemed to smirk at my confusion.
The hallway was silent. Pressing my ear to the nursery door, I could hear the soothing sounds of a lullaby. My unbelieving eyes noted the flames were out in the hallway and the smell of vanilla and baby powder was stronger. The wallpaper repaired itself and the tapestries seemed to reweave to repair their fire damage. Even the rug rearranged itself to lie straight and pristine on the shining wood floor.
“Newt!” I snapped into my com, “I need everything you have on a ‘Nanny.’ Is this a protective spirit or what?”
“Boss, we just got Intel from HQ. We are to evacuate the premises.”
“We’re being sent home?” My voice cracked with sudden, incredulous rage, “What about the kids? What about the Nanny?” I gritted my teeth together so hard it hurt.
I could hear Newton breathing hard as he typed on his keyboard. Asthma and allergies to just about everything on the planet kept him from being a field agent, but he was good with electronics and meticulous in his duties as a communications specialist.
“Uh, Boss, all I can get is this floor is covered by an MPN system, which is classified under a clearance I don’t even recognize. HQ is online and they say we need to evacuate our team.”
I was pissed. HQ wanted us to retreat without giving us a chance to do anything. With the demon gone, we could search the place for clues. Dammit, if we went home now, there would be no way to get a look at the evidence! By morning, fire and police investigators would have muddied any mystic trails we could use to catch the demon summoner.
Newton wheezed as he heard my incoherent growl of fury. Emotional displays set off his asthma. “Yeah, boss. You will be debriefed in the morning. HQ is calling for a meeting of all Alpha Team Leaders.”
I looked at the door again, certain now the little forest creatures mocked me. That baby deer was definitely giggling. With a rude gesture, I turned away. Out of the corner of my eye, the bunnies looked shocked. Was that a cute gasping noise? Good.
I walked over to Mitchell, groaning his way into consciousness. I helped him stand and we each scooped up a twin. I touched the amulet at my throat that would take us home. “Activate Teleport.”
We reappeared in the conference room. Newton had done his job watching the health meters, because a full medical crew waited for the injured. Mitchell and I loaded the twins onto gurneys so the nurses could do triage. A burly nurse shoved Mitchell into a wheelchair and everyone traversed the short hallway to the clinic.
I followed the brightly lit corridor to the antiseptic-scented suite of our med center. Each of us had spent time in here under the care of the most brilliant emergency specialists money could buy, located conveniently on site at our home base. It would be awkward to explain some of the wounds we brought home from most missions. Triage is much easier when The Company has a medical staff paid not only for their skill, but also their discretion.
The twins were rushed into critical care. The battle with the hellspawn had drained them dangerously. Most of their body fat had been burned away and dehydration was a danger as well. The nurses had trouble finding veins for the IVs in the fragile arms of our mages. Anura moaned feebly. I stepped towards her but was thwarted when a nurse shut the door in my face.
I went back up the corridor to check on Mitchell. He looked small on the hospital bed. Vulnerable. The bright fluorescent lights made his skin seem paler, more fragile. I guess being hurt can make a little kid out of even a normally impressive six foot four, two hundred and fifty pound man.
I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned in the doorway of the clinic to watch. The doc checked my weapons specialist over carefully; even a skull as hard as Mitchell’s can crack after being thrown into a wall by a demon. Head wounds are always dangerous. A hard enough hit will cause your brain to bleed, but your skull will keep the blood inside. With no place for the blood to go, the pressure will crush your brain. The cure? Drill a hole to relieve the pressure. Trepanation. Not something on my “10 Things To Do Before You Die” list.
The doc’s latex gloves were red with blood as he palpated Mitchell’s skull. My jaw tightened with anxiety as the doctor ordered a CT scan. Mitchell’s dark curls were matted on the back of his head.
As I shifted my weight from the doorjamb, I brushed against a tray of shiny metal medical instruments. The equipment clattered to the floor and I backed out of the doorway. I guess I made too much noise, because the nurse walked over and shut the door in my face. Deja vu.
The med-team wasn’t overly fond of me. I don’t come in for check-ups and never, ever follow medical advice. Who has time to remember two weeks of horse pills when you feel better in a couple of days? Doctors get touchy when you stop taking antibiotics and then come back with an infection.
I admit I’m a bad patient. But I’m worse when one of my team is hurt. I used to stay in the clinic to keep company with the wounded, but now I’m pretty much banned entirely. I guess they got tired of my questions, demands and comparisons of their treatments to what I have seen on TV medical shows. Those docs on “ER” must know what they are talking about.
Then there was the whole ham and swiss sandwich incident. How was I supposed to know an autoclave was not a type of microwave? There was no sign saying “sterilizer.”
Thwarted by door-shutting nurses, I turned on my heel and headed towards my apartment. Newton rushed over to me. The communications specialist was not a sight for sore eyes. Or, wore yet, sensitive noses. Sweat stained the man’s polyester shirt in giant armpit half-moons. Even heavily applied cologne was not enough to cover the powerful aroma of Newton’s nerves. I made a face and walked faster.
“Boss, these are from HQ. They want to confirm a debrief at 8:00 tomorrow morning.”
I ignored him and the sheaf of papers he carried. He flipped through files and tried to get me to sign, initial or read several forms. Newton waved the stack of files at me. Unfortunately, each wave of paper carried more “Eau de Newt” through the air. My eyes watered; I had to get out of there before I threw up.
I marched out of the facility and to my car. Newton followed me anxiously, still trying to hand me form after form. I hit the unlock button on my remote and my car chirped. I slid onto the cool leather seat and shut the door in Newton’s face. Ahh. Now I could understand why the nurses enjoyed it so much. Understandable. Irritating, but understandable.
As I started the car, Newton tapped on my window with a chapped knuckle. I made a mental note to buy him some lotion for Christmas. Strongly scented lotion. Newton rapped again. His knuckles were red and I could see a hangnail glistening with saliva. I changed the mental Christmas list to lotion and a manicure. I dragged my gaze from the cracked skin of Newton’s hands and glared at his face. Was he still talking? I didn’t want to hear about HQ or meetings. Ever persistent, Newton rapped on my window again.
I was not going to listen to him yap on about HQ. And I was certainly not going to let his nasty chapped knuckles smear my clean windows anymore. How could someone with so much dry skin still leave greasy prints? Ugh. I started the car and threw it into gear. I screeched out of the parking lot, leaving Newt to leap aside, papers fluttering to the ground like giant rectangular snowflakes.
I gripped the steering wheel too hard as I revved the engine up the steep hill. My teammates were hurt. Someone was going to pay for this. I wanted answers and I wanted them immediately. Luckily, I knew where to find them.