That's not your Name
I don't care how you spell it. Louisiana Belle. Louise Z. Annabelle. Louisie Anne Abelle. It doesn't matter. Call me what you want. You can call me Toots, but you may get your ass kicked. See none of those things is my real name.
Oh, and you think now is the time where I'm going to tell you what my name really is? Don't hold your breath, buddy. That's need to know information, and nobody needs to know that.
You see, what a lot of people don't get about this world is that names have power. That's why every hunter like me hunts under an alias. The thing is I'm a little more devoted to what I do than most. The others put down their styxshooters or holy swords at the end of the day and go back to being Mrs. Jones, mother of three, or Larry Clarke, college student. But for me, this isn't a pastime, and it isn't even a job. It's my life. So everywhere I go, I'm Louisie, or Louise Z. Of course I know the danger of a person's adopted name becoming real to them. So I recall, every once in a while, the name I was born with. I recall it, but I do not speak it.
I remember the past.
When I was a kid, I was probably a lot like you were. You probably grew up in the 'burbs, on some cul-de-sac, in a house with a three car garage and a fenced in yard. I bet I'm close. Anyway. It wasn't a bad place to live. I won't tell you where I was, geographically, but I will tell we had all four seasons. The neighbors were fine enough on most days, though mostly concerned with outdoing each other in terms of Christmas light displays and how many cookies they took to the PTA meetings each month, or whatever.
I shouldn't badmouth it, because that house was the pride of my dad. When I was young, I knew that both my parents worked, if only because I spent a lot of time being watched by friends parents. I didn't realize that the two incomes were keeping us afloat. My dad made decent money driving that truck across the state all the time, and my mom made less than decent money teaching the kids how to spell and count, but when it came together we were living the American dream, and I none the wiser.
I think the most foolish thing either me or my parents did was assume that we were safe. It's so easy to fall into that belief, especially when your life is filled with manicured lawns and soda pop shops. You really end of believing that you've found or created a world that's separate the poverty, crime and demonics of the outside. But the thing is that if you can't see evil, it's because it's found a good way to hide. It was the nineties so it wasn't like demons had definitely come through by this point. Everyone knew that demons could come through at any time, and show up anywhere, and in school, we learned a few phrases and symbols we could use to ward off the evil creatures. But to us, demons were monsters that stalked dark woods or hung out in the ghetto handing out cursed candy. They'd never come to where we were.
Damn that Mrs. Hamilton. Actually, I shouldn't say that. Mrs. Hamilton wasn't her real name. And what I would give to find out what her real name was so I could curse her to hell. To think that, for all these years, she fooled all of us. She impersonated a normal housewife. She even had half demon kids with Mr. Hamilton. It's mind boggling. Still to this day, I cannot think of a single thing wrong with Lauren and Audrey. They weren't brats, they weren't meangirls. They used to come over to my house and eat pizza and watch TGIF. And, I guess that's what was so troubling about the whole Mrs. Hamilton affair. My brain tells me that what Mrs. Hamilton did, she did with no malice. But my heart can't separate the lies she told from what ended up happening.
Because they came. Mrs. Hamilton's demon kin came and demanded she come back with them to the underworld. And the thing is, my mom was caught in the crossfire. These demons didn't care about keeping up the masquerade. To them, Mrs. Hamilton, or whoever she was, belonged to them and no one would stand in their way, not even her. And my mom...my poor, sweet mom...all she was doing was bringing an apple crisp because Mr. Hamilton had broken his foot. I honestly don't know if it was a good thing that I was at school that day. The counselors told me that it was better that I didn't see it, but there was no shortage of details about the event. An imagination is a terrible thing to let run wild and I used to have dreams in which either my mother's or my own head was exploding. I used to wonder what it felt like- whether she had been in any pain. At least it didn't last long.
And no, you don't get to analyze my dreams my nightmares and find out I'm secret afraid of dying like her or whatever. I've gone over this with the lady back home and, believe me, all these so called therapy is just a formality. Yeah, I know my life was fucked up. I'm not going to pick it apart memory by memory and let you put some kind of label on me or prescribe me some kind of drug that will impair my ability keep slaying those bastards. But the law dictates that I have to see you for a half hour a month, at minimum, so have at it. You may wonder why I'm even tell you all this. Maybe I'm lying, I bet you're thinking. Maybe I am. But you can look at my file with my history on it at any time and see that my story so far checks out. I bet you're looking at it and seeing a big blank after my mom died, but before the Caldwells took me to the hospital. Well, we still have time to kill, so I'll fill you in
My dad loved that house and, I guess, after my mom was gone, it was kind of a connection he had to her. Or maybe he just wanted to make sure I grew up in a relatively safe environment. Anyway, he wouldn't sell it- not for anything. Even after a lot of our neighbors moved away, spooked by the whole Mrs. Hamilton incident. And of course, it's not like the property taxes went down when they left. Thanks a lot, President Bush. Dad took on another job, which was hard for him, because he had back problems. But it wasn't long before we were drowning, so he looked for other ways to make money. Before long, the gambling became another thing he couldn't be without, and the debts piled up. He'd liked the slots and the horse races before, but it had never been like this. It's like without mom there, his self control just sort of crumbled away.
When I was fourteen, I was married. The details don't make sense to me. That whats do, but the whys and the hows have no logical answer. Maybe my dad had a demon in him. Not a demon from hell, but the kind of demon you can't get rid of by saying prayers and holding up a cross. It had to be the reason why he gambled away my right hand to that demon- a real hell spawn this time. And of course the demon won. Demons always win card games- that's an actual, proven fact. By the terms of his agreement, the demon won my hand, and he placed that golden wedding band on it and suddenly I was swept away to a snowy peak and I was Mrs. Bartholomew...though I know that wasn't his true name.
Even then, I knew I was in hell. I look forward to the day when our Hadelogists finally map hell, but as it is I'm still surpremely frustrated that I have no idea where in Hell I was. It didn't snow, but there was constant icy rain. Weather isn't just constant. It flares up and it dies down sometime. But this sleet kept on exactly the same way. For a girl from North Carolina, it was misery. There was no way I was getting out of the cabin. The ground was too steep and too icy and it was sheer drop strait down. So, what could I do but wait? I could sit here and tell you I was biding my time until I saw a chance to escape, but that would be a lie. I was sure I wasn't getting out of there alone. What I was hoping for, every day, was rescue, and rescue never came.
Mr. Bartholomew- it doesn't seem like a proper name, does it? I saw his real face. I saw his real face when I was just a kid and it brought tears to my eyes. But...I never knew his name. The bastard was a fucking intelligent prick, and he wasn't going to let me have any control over him. Lucky for me, he didn't know my name either, but we'll get to that. I don't know what he wanted with a human girl wife, but I do know he was obsessed with my right hand. I- I'm not going to into it. Do you think I'm emotionally scarred? Do you think he raped me and bringing up the memories are too painful? Fuck you; I know what I'm about; I get on just fine and I don't need to go over those details with some limey stiff. No offense.
So, the reason I chopped the hand off was to spite him. Because it was the only thing I could think of to do to hurt him. I didn't know what would happen. My knowledge about demons back then was miniscule- nothing. Well, of course, I chop my hand off with the meat cleaver. It hurts like fuck and there's blood everywhere, but I realize I can't hear the constant wind on the sides of the cabin anymore. I'm back in my house- the two story with the three car garage. Only my dad's not here; it's some couple I don't even know(so I guess he finally sold it) And when they see me there, in my rags, and loosing about a gallon a minute of blood, they rush me to the hospital.
I can see that you're confused. See, it's just my hand that that the demon owned. It just so happened that my hand was attached to the rest of me, so when he took what he owned back to hell, I went with it. Then, when I wasn't attached to my hand anymore...yeah, you get the picture now. I guess it helped that my dad misspelled my name on the note he gave to the demon. Just a weird dyslexic fluke...he switched two letters around, but the contract was all the weaker for it. And no, I'm still telling you what my name is!
Adjusting back into society is something that I never did and...even if I wanted too...it would be impossible now. You'd think that I'd want to do everything to get as far away as I could from anything demonic but, instead, I poured myself into it. I read every book I could find, and I picked up all the warding spells I could. Something about the hair of the dog; I don't know. At first the League didn't want me, because of my age and, well, I was a gimp. I was seventeen though, already married once, and stupid...I tried to do my own slaying. With one hand. I think Ivan(also not his real name) decided to take me under his wing because he knew I would get myself or his guys killed without someone to watch over me.
So I've been working for the League for ten years. Once you get a certain amount of respect within the League, they kind of trust you to take care of things your own way- hence the hat. No; all Americans do not dress like this. Call it a bit of personal conceit. When I was a kid, I wanted a horse. I wasn't allowed to have one, so I used to pretend to ride and play cowgirl with my friends on the playground. I think I never stopped wanting to be a cowgirl. I even took my alias from a cowgirl doll. Well, sort of.
See my aunt had a collection of these designer dolls, and she had this one she never took out of the box, even. I always looked at her when I went to her house and of course I wanted to play with her. At that age, it's what I thought a woman ought to be. I know it was a doll, but she dressed like a princess, but held herself tall, and she had class. And best of all, she was so far away from all the dust of the house. Untouchable. Kind of like what we we thought we were, living in the suburbs. So I guess you can read a bit of irony into that, Doc. On the box it had the words LOUISIANA SOUTHERN BELLE. And I always thought those end two end words were pretty together: Louisianabelle. So that's the name I picked.
I guess that's kind of funny, considering my prosthetic is made of porcelain too. Want to see it? You wouldn't believe it was porcelain, would you? It's supple like skin, but it's tough as bricks, and it can be as hard as stone. It changes with my will- sometimes I want it to be a knife, sometimes I want it to be a drills, or so on. I can make it a gun, but I have to provide the bullets myself. Yeah, there's a demon in there. He's just an imp. Yeah he's not getting out of there any time soon. Those symbols on the outside make sure of that. Meanwhile, he's completely under my control.
Oh, you want to know what I think about being here? What do you mean- in England or your office? Oh, that's just like you therapist types- never answering a question directly. Fine, I'll tackle both. Looks like we have like, five minutes left, right? Try to make the best of it, I guess. Okay so, yeah. About the month ago, the league gives me this promotion. Tells me they want me working in more of a mentor role. Guess they want me to show a thing or two to new recruits. Which is their way of telling me they think I'm old I guess. Not sure why they send me here, but I guess you brits have about as many demons as anybody. I guess it's fine here. Cold as shit, compared to North Carolina, but not as bad as marriage, I guess. Little joke, there.
Well, I think my time is up, doctor. You know, I get why they send us to these mandatory, monthly sessions. I hate it, because it's time I could be putting to good use tracking down the demons of this fair city. Or teaching some young shits how to track them down themselves. Whatever. If they get in my way and die, I'll be pissed. Anyway, the more I talk, the less useless questions your going to ask, so I figured I'd bullshit for a while. Accept for it seems I told the truth this time. Whatever. Well, see you next fifth. Have fun.
The mask was still rocking on the sideboard and the cloak was still settling it’s crumpled pile on the floor when the couch made a complaining groan which was swiftly followed by a distinctly human heavy sigh. The reddish-blonde hair spilled over the arm and down the side of the soft furniture. The legs had still got the boots they came in with on, the feet hanging over the other sofa arm. One hand rested, palm up, on the floor. The other pulled a cushion over the head of the now prone female figure.
It had been a very long night.
Jess had spent day studying, as she always did. There was always something new to learn about demons and their kind. She had not been scheduled to go out that night but someone else had called in sick, one team had to go out and deal with that demon while the sick person’s team were left a man short. Step up Jess. The DSL had been trying to get her out of the office and into field work for a while but this had been their first successful attempt. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t gained all the necessary training, in fact she had been near the top of her DSL intake class. It had just been statistics and human resources issues that had required her to stay inside.
The problem with the way things had turned out was that Jess was a little rusty and certainly unwilling to head out into the field. She liked her desk, her books, her pen collection, the cloak and mask she had for fieldwork was just for show… she hated mud and dirt and blood. Given the choice a few years ago and she would have jumped at the chance to head out and take on the demon problem directly, now she had become comfortable in her role and was uncertain about the sudden change in direction. Now she would have to write the report instead of extracting relevant information and filing it.
The demon in question tonight had been a succubus, great fun indeed when the rest of the team was male. Three of them, completely under her spell by the time she had sorted herself out and followed them. Jess would have quite happily turned and left them to be eaten, she would have happily admitted to anyone that she was as close to needing a change of underwear as she had been since she had been in diapers. Despite all the shouting from her conscious mind to turn and run the subconscious and training took over and by the time she knew what was happening the demoness was dealt with and the men were slowly returning to consciousness.
Jess had sat silently in the back of the van on the way to the office. She was covered in something smelly and distasteful, presumably from the succubus. She wanted to slap the men and tell them how stupid they were for running straight in and not waiting for her. She knew they had had their doubts about her but what they had done was dangerous. They had risked themselves and her through their stupidity. Thankfully it had all turned out well this time and she thought they might have realised that the pen-pusher had a secret side too.
Back at the office she had been decontaminated and given a fresh set of clothes to go home in. She was sulking, tired and fed up. Home and sleep were the priorities right now, coffee and breakfast could wait for a few hours. Jess had been told that she would not be expected back in until 2pm the next day, any other time this would have been appreciated but she just gave her boss a glare as though to tell him that she was not impressed and she wasn’t planning on being until then anyway. She said nothing, talking would have meant expending energy she didn’t feel like she had.
The pillow had blocked out the light of the room, dawn was approaching but all Jess wanted to do was sleep. The persistent and invasive buzzing of her phone permeated through to her ears. The hand from the floor lifted and reached to the coffee table where she had left it, she knocked it at the first attempt and had to pat about to find it again, all the while blankly refusing to look. Finding it she pulled it under the pillow to her head, “Hello?” Whoever was on the other end would certainly have thought for a moment that Jess had been locked in the boot of a car.
He had been to the mortal realm before, but things had been so different back then. It had been three hundred years since the demon had visited the world of the living. Back in those days, demons were believed in by a lot, but the scientific community scoffed at these beliefs. Back then, demons on earth were weaker, this is true, but that fact that only a few believed in them gave them an advantage. Everything changed after the Breach- not just for the human world, but for the demon's world as well.
The barrier had once been just that- something that took skill, strength, and a sacrifice to cross. The sacrifice the barrier had demanded of those demons who would crossed used to kill those who were not ready. Even he, the last time he had gone to earth, had been severely weakened by his own crossing. The nature of the world had been different too- a demon could not survive under God's sun for long. Now it was all changed. The barrier the equivalent was now a knee high wall you had to swing your legs over to cross. Only the most feeble and sickly of demons were stopped by it. Even earth's sun did not seen to shine with nearly as much holy energy as it had before, as if God had given up on his creations and let the instrument of his love burn out.
The demon had been told all of this- how Earth was different now and how going there was a different experience entirely. He had been told, but he hadn't been prepared. He felt he had barely touched the barrier before he was blinking in the light of the human sun. He only had a few moments to take in his surroundings. He was on a street crowded with foot traffic, and tents and market stalls were set up. People moved in and out, from on stall to another, bills and coins passing hands.
The demon could hear, under the swell of voices, a constant mix of rumblings and, when he looked up, he saw several crafts flying along in the air. Indeed, the air seemed more crowded than the street. Tag was on a slight incline, which the road followed as well. At or near the top of the hill was a giant with many rounded platforms jutting out. Many of the flying vehicles departed from and came here. So it was a kind of port, but for the air.
The demon realized that a great many eyes were on him. Some people lifted their fingers and pointed in fear. Others backed away or made signs of the cross. He realized that he was completely visible, and, worse, in his natural form- very muscular, with a thick mane of hair, many tines horns jutting out of the sides of his face and four digit hands with claws. The last time he had been on earth, he had been almost invisible. The others were right. He hadn't been expecting this.
He needed to acquire a new form, but not like this. Not in public. He moved away from the marketplace- casually. After all, humans all knew that demons existed now, so he wasn't that strange, was he? As he moved away from the marketplace, people moved to opposite sides of the street to make way for his hulking form. Perhaps he should be running now.
He glanced over his shoulder to look back, and saw that someone was pushing through the crowd, trying to go after him. His sharp demon eyes took in much information at once. He could tell, for instance, that this human was female, even though the wide brimmed hat and the overcoat seemed a little masculine. He could tell that she was slender and tall, but athletic. She saw the crucifix on her necklace and the trapping symbol on her white glove. Yep, he should be running.
Tag increased his gate to a sprint. "Stop!" The feminine voice behind him yelled out. He didn't know why she was chasing him, but he had a few ideas. He had heard of the DSL and they weren't to be taken lightly. Tag made his way for the port-tower, as he could tell that there was a lot of human traffic in it. If anything, he thought, the swell of bodies would make it difficult for the woman to follow him. The woman must have realized what he was trying to do, because she yelled "Stop!" Again, and this time, he heard three shots being fired before feeling two burning points of holy light in his arm. He groaned, and made a last push into the door of the tower-port.
He entered into a wide space that was in constant movement. People seemed to be moving in groups in different directions, and there were a great many doors that lead to small rooms. People would gather in one of these, and the door would close. And then on some, different doors were opening and people were stepping out. It seemed very strange. Why would so many humans want to be in the same enclosed space? The demon looked around, but didn't see another mean of escaping. His pursuer was nearing the building.
At least if he his in one of these rooms, he thought, he she wouldn't know which one he had chosen. She'd have to stake all the doors out, and she had the possibility of frightening the wrong group of people. It was better than nothing. He dove for one of the empty rooms. He tried to pull the doors behind him, but they seemed to have disappear the walls. This had been a stupid idea. He would trapped in here once those doors closed.
Something moved in the corner of the room. A human, of regular height and with skin that was lighter to match a majority of the people in this region was pressing himself into a corner. He had tried to bolt for the door, but when the demon turned around he had frozen himself to the spot with fear. Sweat dotted his brow. The demon growled to himself, but took no interest in the man and his petty life. However he had a new problem when the doors suddenly closed! He put his hands on the door, realizing that this had probably been a trap set by the slayer, but with one arm in incredible pain, it didn't work. A second later, he felt a curious shift. His body was heavier. The room was rising!
He turned on the man "What is this trickery?!?"
The man stuttered "El-el-el-elevator?" Then "Please don't eat me!"
He growled again. Wherever this Godmade room was going, the slayer was probably going to be there. It was a desperate gambit, but if the demon looked like this shivering idiot, then maybe she wouldn't kill him outright. At least he lost none of his powers when he changed, so he could put up a fight if it came to one. All in all, he lost nothing my taking this man's form.
He wrapped both of his claws around the man's arms and dug them in, keeping the man where he was. The man squirmed, but he was trapped. The demon grinned, then opened his mouth wide. A cloud of flies came out of the demon's throat, coalescing around the man and forming a barrier over him. Tag's victim screamed as many tiny bacterial spawn started eating his fleshed from the outside in. In minutes, it was over. There was no trace of the man- not even a scrap of the cloths he had worn.
Tag opened his mouth again, and the flied flew back into the demon. They carried with his everything about the diseased human. His appearance and his outfit, but also his memories. As Tag's body started to take on a smaller form, information about this world came to him. He was on Shooter's Hill, in the car-port. The man he had taken had once been a cabby- someone who transported other humans for a living. And this room was no trap, but an elevator- a vehicle for kind of transportation. When he stepped out into the lobby, on the sixth floor, that place would be nearly as chaotic as the first floor lobby had been. His pursuer would have a hard time following him. The only clue that he might not be the same man were a couple of wounds in his arm.
There was pause from the other end when Jess answered with the semi-muffled greeting. “Jess?” there was another pause, “Jess it’s your mother, how did your date go last night? You know you aren’t getting any younger and I really would like some grand-children to play with before I can’t bend over any longer.” Jess winced, her mother continued but instead of listening she reached out with her hand and placed the phone face down back on the table. Her mother, she knew, had this speech all planned out and she knew exactly what would be said and in what order.
Five minutes of dozing later, with a big sigh, Jess sat up and prepared herself to face the music. Lifting the phone she placed it to her ear and heard the final sentence of the rant, she had the timing down to a tee, “So, Jess, how was the date, was he nice and when can I meet him?” Sighing again she replied, “Mother, it wasn’t a date, it was work. I’ve only just got in and I’m really tired. I also have to back in work at 2 today so I’m sorry but I have to go.” Without another word she hung up. Her mother would be annoyed, she knew that but Jess was, in the words of those who made these things up, exhaustipated.
Looking at the clock she realised that she had actually slept between pulling the pillow over and the phone ringing, it just hadn’t felt like it. 9am, about three hours sleep. Flopping back on the sofa Jess closed her eyes. It wasn’t going to work. Her mother had spoiled it all now. Now that she had been woken up there was no way she was going to get back to sleep. Growling with irritation she stood up, there was no point in hanging around here when she needed to get shopping in. The drab grey clothing she had been sent home in was certainly not suitable for anything other than travelling home. Stomping to the bedroom she pulled out a change of clothes, back jeans and white t-shirt, and pulled them on. She reached under the bed and pulled out a pair of her chunky-heeled ankle boots, laced them up and headed to the door. Her keys and purse were sat in the small bowl beside the door and her coat hanging behind it. She pulled on her coat, put things that needed to be in pockets safely in and opened the door.
It was not an unpleasant day outside and Jess felt her spirits lift a little as she walked down the road, she didn’t have her own car, she didn’t see the point and certainly didn’t want a demon hanging around any more than was absolutely necessary. Instead she headed to the car port, a cab was just as easy to get around in, cheap enough and she didn’t have to hang around for long near the things that caused her life so much hassle recently. The Shooter’s Hill port was her closest and making her way through the throng of people commuting late to avoid rush-hour she hopped into an elevator and made her way up.
The sixth floor would have cabs going in the direction she wanted, alighting when the elevator stopped she walked forward, head down and shoulders hunched against the chaos of so many moving bodies. One she gave a particularly hard thump to and looking up she was eye-to-eye with a rather attractive man. Jess blushed, thinking of the monologue she had been subjected to not long ago, “I’m so sorry… are you alright?”
Demons are damn fast. That had been the problem, and Louisie was not herself a slowpoke! She had loaded her shape-shifting hand while running and put a few blessed bullets into the demon's arm. That was enough to make him trip up for a second, but the second hadn't been long enough. No one wanted to touch the hulking, horned demon, hence why they opened a pathway for him, but people more or less filled in the space between the demon and Louisie. The slayer had to push through and around bodies. She kept flashing her badge, but that wasn't nearly as effective as being a hulking giant from another plane of existence.
Getting stuck behind an old lady with a cane when she finally come to the door of the carport did not help her temper, and by the time Louisie got in, she couldn't see the demon anywhere. People were moving in all kinds of directions, and there were about a dozen elevators going to different floors. Very few cars left from the ground floor and, if they did, they were only going a few blocks away. If her demon had taken one of those cabs, her radius of search was all the area within a few blocks on this station. If he had taken one of the elevators, he could, logically, get much farther, but that meant more time spent in the building first. So she might have time. But it was complicated by the fact that, the longer he was out of sight, the longer he had to take on a different form- if he had that ability. Louisie would be able to use her imp to detect him, but it would still be more difficult then if he remained a big red eyesore.
Not missing a beat, she ran to the information desk- a large round structure with several young people in professional makeup. Only a few seats had people waiting for them at this time of day, so Louisie ran to one without a body. She instructed her hand to resume its normal form and flashed her badge. "This station needs to be put on lockdown."
The lady smiled a barbie smile up at Louisie and replied "I'm sorry, but that's impossible."
"There's a demon in here," Louisie said gruffly, recovering quickly from the surprise of the fast refusal "and I-"
"There are several demons in here." The woman interrupted her. Louisie grounded her teeth. Technically she was correct. Not only where the engines of the flying cars demon powered, but so were the electronic devices that were omnipresent. Every person had some sort demon powered device on them, whether it was one of the popular 3Ps or a hearing aid. The receptionist's desk display was demon powered. Even Louisie's hand had an imp trapped inside it.
"I mean a real demon! A free, large, muscular demon who'd use babies as chew toys. I'm telling you, lady, if this carport isn't shut down in five seconds, someone is going to get hurt!"
The woman put her hands in the air, the international symbol of my hands are tied "I'm sorry. There's nothing more I can do."
"Let me speak to your manager!"
"I can put him on the line," she said, picking up a 3P "but I'll have you know, he'll only tell you what I will: Without a warrant, it's not happening."
More details came to the demon's brain. Like the man's name. Tag Nesem. The demon thought that he should probably think of himself as Tag- at least for the time being. It was dangerous to share one's true name, and the demon didn't have one that was impossible for humans to pronounce. Oh, it was long, and had many syllables. It was difficult to get all those syllables in order, but it wouldn't been impossible. He had to be more careful than others. Tag was a good stand in for now.
He had barely left the elevator when some weight was being pushed into him. At first Tag though that it was the slayer, finally caught up to him, and he tensed to run. But the woman in front of him was different- though still tall, with brown hair that caught shafts of gold in the sun and bright, golden brown eyes. Tag kept his face completely calm as she realized that he recognized her face.
Tag had been sent up to earth with a list- a list of people hell wanted. For indeed, hell was still a place for the condemned. See, Tag's role in hell was a Fauster- a demon who convinced humans to give up their souls willingly. It often meant granting some kind of wish, but that kind of thing was easy for a demon of Tag's power. Long ago, any old souls would do. But then the Great Breach took place and it became far easier for demons to get through to earth- for fausters to do their job. Hell got an influx of souls, and something like inflation took place in hell- for soul-pieces are a type of currency there. That's when the Far-Belows heightened their standards. Now souls could only be brought back if were specifically sought- either they had a certain resiliency, or they were old souls- souls of reincarnated people, or they were souls of those who belonged to some sort of prophecy.
She was one of them. What divine luck. Or, Tag should say, what diabolic luck.
He flashed her a smile. He noticed the blush, and guessed that this form he had chosen was rather attractive to this female. Even after a hundred years, humans were the same when it came to attractive members of the opposite sex. Another flash of luck. Perhaps hell was smiling on him today. What demons considered to be attractive was not the same as what humans considered to be so. In fact, if Tag had chosen someone who's appearance to steal, that person would have probably disgusted this human. Strange creatures. Yes, Tag should stay with, well, Tag.
"No bother at all," he said, briefly feeling his arm. If one were to unroll his sleeve, they would see two gaping wounds. The bullets the slayer had shot must have been blessed, because they burned a lot more than the balls of lead he remembered from centuries ago. But right now, the demon would have to push through the pain. "Miss."
He moved to his- or rather, Tag's vehicle- something black and rounded, with rubber bracers on the bottom, sitting in area marked off by painted yellow lines on the concrete of the jutting platform. As he moved around the car, his hand touched the hood, just verifying to himself that the imp was inside. Indeed, yes, it was a transformed world. Some demons were angry about the imps who had been imprisoned by the human race, but imps were the lowliest of the low, non-thinking beings. They had simple names, like Tom, Dick and Harry.
"So, where to, Miss?" He said, leaning on the top of his vehicle, smiling cheekily over it.
“Westfield Shopping Centre if you would?” Jess replied. She hadn’t even realised that she had followed the man to his car. As she looked at him across the top of the vehicle she subconsciously noted several features about him, his hair was just the right side of messy, his eyes were strangely compelling and had a definite twinkle about them, his chin with that adorable indent. He was a handsome picture to be sure although she wasn’t sure her mother would approve of a mere cabby –either that or she would try and steal him for herself.
She slipped into the back seat, opposite side to the driver, and fastened the belt. As he got into the car she watched him settle and get ready to pull away. “Been busy today?” she asked trying to make conversation. She had never felt truly comfortable in these cars but taking a cab was better than owning a car of her own. The imps they used to run them were still demons even if they were the lowest of the low. She read reports daily of how demons had caused so much trouble so she didn’t even trust the smallest or stupidest ones around.
Now she’d even witnessed it first-hand and was even more uncertain of how to feel about the imp-powered devices that ran everything around them. Not that she could do anything about it of course, everyone – including her – relied on them so much for so many things. Her eyes were taken back to the man in the front of the vehicle, she twirled her hair unconsciously and thought about the report she was going to have to write. She contemplated exaggerating it a little to make it seem as though her input into the mission was minor, she didn’t want to go back out there again. The thought didn’t last long, she had to tell the truth because other people’s lives were always at stake in this job.
Settling back into the seat she looked out of the window as they started to move off, it was still an impressive sight, being above the city like this. She wondered how many of the people scurrying about below were really demons in disguise. They should come up with a portable demon scanner really, she thought to herself, that would solve a lot of problems. The image of a doorway scanner, like the ones stores used to prevent people walking out with tagged goods popped into her head, one that scanned the person walking in would be a great way of checking to see if they were human or demon. Maybe she would suggest it this afternoon when she got into work, surely the R&D guys would have some idea of how to pull it off.
She turned back to the cabby as he started to talk to her, answering her question. Yep, he was still good-looking, she thought, and has a nice voice too. No, this is your mother talking, she always does this to you with her guilt-tripping baby and grandmother speech, she complained to herself in her head. She smiled warmly at the man in the front of the vehicle, deciding that despite her mother’s influence she could still look even if she did not give in and touch.
Tag took to the air like a duck takes to water. No surprise, given that all the muscle memory of the former Tag Nesem was now his. He took off over the city, glancing briefly to see how small the people down below looked. He saw the outdoor market he had fled the slayer from. He wondered if he could see her but, only having a split second to look, didn't see anything definite.
The pain in his arm as exacerbated once he started driving. The craft was piloted with a left handed yoke, and the left arm had been hit by the slayer's bullets. Tag would need attention soon, or he could get sick. And yet with his prey having just walked right into his hands, he couldn't let her go, could he? Yet he knew he would have to make his contact with the woman short. If he lost too much strength, he would revert to his demonic form right in front of her and ruin everything.
"Been busy today?" The woman asked- a rather safe question.
"Aye," Tag spoke "but no more so or less so than yesterday. So off to the mall, are you?" Taking this cabbie meant acquiring a healthy knowledge of all the roads and places in this city, not that Westfield exactly a secreted away. The woman in the back talked to him, without fear, and they had a healthy conversation, but the pain in Tag's arm got worse and he grimaced visibly. When asked by the his target about it, Tag responded, with a roll of the eyes, "Carpal tunnel acting up again. No big."
Tag figured this would be a good time to try to get this woman's name out of her, as they were halfway to their destination at this point. Names were far more valuable a currency than souls. If you knew a thing's true name, you had complete power over that thing. Likewise, if your true name was known, you were screwed. Many humans still didn't realize this, even after the Great Breach.
So he turned the conversation a little, talking about his or, rather, Tag Nesem's life. How he had moved to the inner city six years ago to learn and start a career as a concert pianist. Somehow, it just hadn't clicked, yet. He told the woman about his university days, studying music, and about the loans he was strapped with now. In any case, this seemed to earn him some sort of sympathy. "My name is Tag, by the way, and what was yours again?"
Whether the name she gave him was true he had no way of knowing yet, but she gave one. That showed that she was at least willing to play along.
Tag landed his car on the park on the roof of the mall, as close to the door as he could get. After the young woman exited the vehicle, Tag started to shiver. Had she looked back at just the right moment, she would have seen handsome Tag Nesem combust into flames which would burn his skin, clothes and hair away. Then she would have seen the hulking ruddy brown demon where he had been before. Tag took off, hoping she nor anyone else on the roof could see him in this form.
He put his massive hand on he screen of the car's mapping device and briefly conversed with the trapped imp inside it, getting from it information about London that no human was privy to, because they didn't know how to ask. Following the mapper's direction, Tag shot off over the suburbs and into a much more slummy part of the city, where buildings were close together as if huddling conspiratorially and people put sheets over their windows. Tag landed the car in a chasm between two buildings, on a road with a blunt end that had fallen into disuse, its asphalt all but made into blue colored gravel now. A number of things had been left on the street- mattresses, a rolled up carpet, stinking and bleached from the rain, and even the exoskeletons of a couple of cars, stripped of their engines and parts.
He grabbed a bright orange emergency blanket from the back and threw it over himself, then walked to the door and knocked three times. He was let in and told to take a seat. Tag imbibed great quantities of scotch while a doctor demon worked on his wound with stone tools. Most metals were loyal to the human race by now, many of them having been created by the creatures. Even iron, which existed in a pure long before humans or demons, had turned coat, so to speak. But stone had made its demonic pact years ago, and was much more flexible to demonkind than humans could even imagine possible.
The bullets were placed into a stone vase with a stone cover which was promptly sealed. Tag drank more whisky, this time mixed with the blood of some unfortunate creature to recover.
When Jess arrived in the office, it was too late not to be a hero. Other "slayers", though mostly office grunts, were raising their mugs of coffee and saluting her. But one or two active duty slayers gave her a wink. The Slayer Captain was not so amused or, in any case, didn't show amusement as she told Jess to start writing up a report of what had happened with the succubus the day before. She pressed that the report needed to be factual and unembellished. "Since three of my men decided to go to cloud cookooland at the time, I need your report to be especially accurate. That is unless this business has gone to your head?" She asked, raising an eyebrow dangerously.
Captain Brennan put Jess in more or less isolation from the pencil pushers who wanted to make a hero out of the girl. A lot of them claimed they wanted to be in the field, but their reports from their trainers and even their basic reaction skills as seen around the office told Brennan that they were better off where they were. Adding an inexperienced, hot-headed recruit to a delicate situation was worse than adding another demon. As for Jess, she was a borderline case. She seemed to have no interest with dealing with demons after coming out of training- an odd trait for someone in the DSL, but better than having too much bravado. The day before resources had been stretched and Brennan had put Jess in a in the field. She didn't want to have to do it again, but with three of her best men recovering from a succubus's spell, she didn't have much of a choice.
Though she may be down four men down, she thought with a scowl, as she watched the door to the precinct.
Louisie was coming. She just had to finish off her drink first.
She had found the bar in the carport- a little place built into the very modern building. She found the taps were already opened, which peaked her curiosity in any case. She sat down in a crowd of gruff looking men and a few women- people just getting off the night shift and stopping for a breather just before they got home. A 24-hour bar- what a great idea? How many times had Louisie pulled an allnighter chasing some hellspawn all over down and really needed a drink?
Though this was a drink of frustration rather than celebration. The slayer hated that she had let the demon get away so easily after she had seen him clear as day. She had spoken to the president of the carport and, of course, the man had given her a bullshit answer about how business and the steady flow of human beings could not be put on hold, and how regretful he was, and he offered Louisie a gift card for all the amenities of Shooter's Hill Carport. Louisie ground her teeth, but there was nothing she could do. The carport was a part of Lee industries, as was the DSL, and it took precedence.
She snapped the gift card away from the president's hand angrily and stormed in another direction. She had wanted to cut it up into many small pieces until she saw the 24 hour pub.
Louisie nursed her beer, off in her world. This wasn't over yet. The demon was still out there. He would be harder to find, now. Even if he had no powers of camouflage, he at least knew Louisie was after him now. She was already coming up with a number of strategies to find him by the time she got up. So she was in a relatively better mood when she got to station. The captain, however, was not, wondering why Louisie was an hour late.
"I was chasing a demon through the carport." Louisie saw with a shrug, for it had happened.
"Is that alcohol I smell on your breath, Bell?"
"I got thirsty." Was Louisie's cheeky reply.
Captain Brennan's face became stormy "Your former captain told me you were a trouble maker. I'll have you know that I won't put up with glibness in my precinct."
Louisie grinned and shrugged "Glibness? Sorry, I don't know your fancy British words." Yeah Louisie was asking for it, but what could the captain really do? Louisie was good at her job. Her thick file showed success after success. But she did it her own way. That was just the way it was going to be, and if the blond couldn't see that, then they'd never see eye to eye.
"I don't have time for this," Brennan rolled her eyes, poked her head in an office and called a name. A woman followed her out into the lobby. "Your attitude will be dealt with later," Brennan said, narrowing her eyes at Louisie "but for now, I need you two to look into this," she said, handing Jess a file "Jess, Louisie. Louisie, Jess. Great, you know each other," Brennan said gruffly. Her slayers did not have to like each other; they just had to have each others' backs. "Now get out of my sight. And you-" she said to Jess "keep an eye on her."
The cabby was friendly enough, busy it seemed too but then every day was busy for these guys ferrying folk around the city she mused. His arm was sore but he had put it down to carpal tunnel, she’d heard of people suffering from that before and understood it could be really painful when it flared. She gave him a sympathetic look. They talked a little longer, about him and his life. Like so many had done over the centuries of the city existing he was another who had come to seek his fortune in London but as yet had not succeeded.
She sympathised again when he mentioned the loans, she was still paying her own tuition fees back slowly. Education was stupidly expensive still and the debts you could rack up as a student could take literally a lifetime to repay. “It’ll all be worth it in the end,” she smiled reassuringly although she couldn’t have told anyone whether the reassurance was for him or for her.
Jess mused again as to whether the name he had given her was a real one, there were still people out there who weren’t aware of the dangers of a true name despite the occasional breach by a hulking demonic beast that threatened to eat babies and enslave mankind. Tag, a strange name but she liked it. She smiled when he asked for hers. “Maria,” she answered without hesitation. It was no more her real name than Jess was and inside her head she thought her true name to herself, just in case there was any doubt of her believing the lie.
She thanked him for dropping her off so close to the door and hopped out, paying him the fare and a generous tip. She heard him start to move off before she had gone very far and was a little disappointed but turned anyway to look, he was too high to have seen anything other than the bottom of the vehicle and with a sigh she turned back and headed inside. Jess mindlessly wandered around the mall and bought the items she needed, she did try to look after herself and cook food from scratch when she could. She was a pretty good cook actually and enjoyed making things for other people to enjoy. This time however, as well as getting some good things to make, she found herself in the ready-meals section, pulling out a few to save her time.
The cab ride home was not anywhere near as pleasant, the driver was some religious nut who kept preaching to her as he drove. There were so many around with all the demon infestation seeming to prove the points of many of the varied religions of the world and even creating a few new ones in the process. This guy was a traditionalist, preaching how it was all their own fault for being corrupt and evil humans who had brought it upon themselves and that the whole Earth would fall. Sometimes she wished she could throw a few of them into across the barrier down below and let the demons suffer the ravings. Mind you, she thought, it would probably make the demons want to come here even more. She smirked at the thought of the demon race fighting to get to Earth to get away from those like this guy. The driver seemed to take the smile as an insult and started again.
Grateful to leave the cab, Jess gave the exact payment to the driver and left hurriedly. Returning to her apartment she put the things she had bought away in their allocated cupboards and quickly changed for work. She wasn’t looking forward to going in and hoped that everyone had been left in the dark about what had happened the night before. She didn’t live too far from the office thankfully and although she had been dropped off at her door after last night’s fiasco she usually walked both too and from work. She dragged a bag out of a cupboard in the tiny hall between the bedroom and the lounge to put her mask and cloak in, walking around dressed like a Slayer outwith working hours was never a good idea – it drew too much attention to you and where your home was.
Jess was right to have been worried about the reaction of the others. From the moment she walked in she was the centre of attention. Her colleagues in the administrative section raised mugs in salute and some of those who were field agents even tipped her a nod and winked. The whole affair embarrassed Jess, she didn’t want to have any attention. The look on the boss’ face suggested she didn’t want Jess to be the centre of attention either. Brennan could be a bitch, Jess knew that but her strict, no-nonsense approach was also what made her a great Captain. Today she was the bitch, insisting that Jess’ report was entirely accurate. Jess actually felt a little hurt by that, she prided herself on her accuracy and unbiased reports. She merely nodded and followed Brennan meekly into an office away from her usual workplace. Jess set down her bag, sat down and started work.
Jess was mid-sentence when she was called again by Captain Brennan, she started to mouth the words ‘One moment’ but looked up in time to see the thundercloud that was the Captain’s face. Jess shot up and walked out of the office close to her superior’s heels and saw the woman standing in the corridor looking cocky. She wondered who this person was, she hadn’t seen her before as far as she could recall. "Jess, Louisie. Louisie, Jess. Great, you know each other," Brennan said after handing Jess a file. All Jess could do for a moment was open and close her mouth, trying to form at least one of the dozen or so questions that sprang instantly to mind, but nothing came out.
Once the moment had passed Jess turned to her new partner, “Hi… I’m Jessica MacMillan. Louisie? Are you the Slayer who’s got the unsurpassed record of captures in the entire League? It’s an honour to meet you.” She didn’t mean to sound like a fan-girl but that’s probably how it came across. Inwardly she facepalmed before smiling at the women, “I guess we’d better have a look at this file. Would you mind coming through here, I’m nearly finished the report that Brennan needs and I want to get it done before anything else crazy happens.”
She did not want to look after this arrogant looking American woman, she didn’t want to be partnered up with anyone in the League. Walking back through to the office she sat the file down opposite her and started working on the report, she had told the truth when she said she was nearly done. “So what’s the file about?” she asked Louisie while she was typing away, “I won’t be a few minutes so if you can give me the gist while I finish I can catch up better once this is in.”