From the outside, the house looked perfect.
A well-designed home, light brick with wood accents, and a cute little fence. The hedges were shaped, and flowers flourished in the gardens. Chimes that looked as new as the day they’d come out of the box hung from a hook near the door and lightly tinkled in the breeze.
It looked normal.
And bad people could never live in a house that looked normal. Child abusers could never live in affluent suburbs with tended gardens.
Sick, perverted monsters wouldn’t have chimes.
Bad guys wore black hats and twirled impressive moustaches.
Jones pushed open the gate and walked up the path – still feeling naked for the lack of a lab coat, but that would draw far too much unwanted attention.
So far as the neighbours knew, this was a quiet house, on a quiet street. Anyone who had been there during the raid would repeat the cover story – that the homeowners had been held hostage – because there was no chance that their wonderful, beautiful neighbours had been starving and torturing their son in the basement.
The agency kept the house – just in case – and had set it with automatic protocols to turn lights on and off, and had arranged for ordinary, human services to come clean the exterior and keep the lawn and gardens in check.
Jones stepped up to the door, and a security window appeared in his HUD. Three levels of security later, the door popped open.
Aside from a few scans and samples, they had left the house in the same condition it had been the day of the raid – including a few holes in the wall he was sure came from Taylor.
The top floor of the house looked, like the outside, normal – at least at first glance.
After you stopped and stared for a few minutes, you’d begin to realise that the leather-bound books on the shelves weren’t there for decoration, and that when you tried to read their titles, your eyes couldn’t focus on the letters.
There were a dozen other little touches that looked innocent on first pass. Items that could have been souvenirs were artefacts from another plane; half the fake glass fruit in fact were laced with magic – bombs lying in wait, pretending to be apples.
Jones walked through the house, through the kitchen and its mouldering jars of arcane ingredients, to where the door to the basement had been.
It had taken a powerful, but controlled, explosion and a lot of brute force to finally get the door from its hinges. The door had been taken to Central and was sitting in some lab, waiting for an agent to have the free time to examine it.
According to the reports, the stairs had fought back when the combat team had attempted to descend.
It had taken more brute force, more explosions, and fae weapons to bring the stairs under control – and “control” in this case translated to “rent into a thousand small, inert pieces”.
Taylor had been injured, as had two other members of the team, so Magnolia had been tasked with going down – and had created the first good memory Merlin had ever had. The first one he imprinted on each new box: a strong, brave hero there to rescue him from the dark.
In the follow-up investigation, they had installed a lightweight staircase, which creaked as Jones went down into the basement.
The basement hadn’t been an original feature of the house, which wasn’t surprising, as basements were a rarity in Australia. It always seemed to surprise American transfers: Houses
“Down Under” didn’t have a space “Down Under” the ground floor.
The facts that the floor was dirt and the walls were made of rock were also good indicators that it hadn’t been built by approved tradesman.
The rock walls seemed to breathe when you weren’t looking directly at them – slight movements, a sense of breath, all unnerving. Whether they had been created by the demon or by Merlin was something they hadn’t been able to ascertain.
A naked bulb hung from the ceiling, the only source of light, until the agency had brought in freestanding lamps. It had been Merlin’s sun and moon, as there were no windows. From what Merlin had told him, it hadn’t even been on most of the time – hence why the boy was still so sensitive to light and had goggles for every occasion.
Merlin’s box lay on the floor – they had been unable to move it from its position no matter what they tried. You could bend the cardboard and open the flaps, but it was impossible to slide it from the centre of the room, even by an inch.
A workbench sat behind the cardboard box, covered in a heavy piece of canvas. The covering didn’t matter. He knew what was under there – wood stained with the blood of Merlin and all his brothers and sisters who hadn’t been “lucky” enough to survive the process.
‘It surprises me,’ a woman’s voice said, ‘that you don’t have constant surveillance here.’
Jones spun – and as he did, his system connection died.
He stared at the woman, not even needing to ask who she was. Merlin’s mother, like the house, looked deceptively normal. He tried to capture every detail of her face, so they could get some clue of who she was, or who she had been – of possible connections they could explore.
‘Agent,’ the woman said, walking starting to circle him. ‘Statement. Not question. Physique.
‘Murderer,’ Jones said. ‘Monster.’
He had to remain calm. He had to be sensible. He had to be logical. This was an amazing opportunity to find out something – anything – about his son and the monsters who dared think of the twisted experiments that they had performed on him.
The woman stopped walking and leaned against the rock wall. ‘I didn’t kill my children,’ she said. ‘Their own weakness did.’
Jones threw a punch.
Technical agents, despite appearances, were perfectly capable of defending themselves.
There was rarely a need, but there was some measure of fight training programmed into every agent, from the miscellaneous staff to the directors of directors.
The punch never landed.
The woman stared at his hand as it vibrated in midair, all the power he’d put behind it burning at his fingers.
He swung his other arm up, needing to try and attack the monster, even if it was pointless.
To try and get some revenge for Merlin, to fight back for the other children that she’d murdered.
The woman barked a short laugh, shook her head, and Jones felt himself forced to his knees, invisible hands on his shoulders pushing him down, and pieces of the floor rose up to swallow his legs and keep him in place.
‘Did he like his birthday present? It didn’t kill him. That’s all that matters.’
Jones stared at the floor, words failing him. There was no point in engaging with her – any word could be a lie. And whatever he learned would disappear the moment she dashed his brains against the wall.
Demons didn’t usually kill agents. There were few enough demons walking around that the Agency usually managed to stay off their hit list.
If you got in a demon’s way…unless you had backup, prayer, and a way to disappear as quickly and completely as possible, then–
It felt so strange to be afraid.
The woman knelt and cupped his chin. ‘I can take him from you, whenever I wish. For the moment, all he has to do is grow, so you are doing me a favour by looking after him. One day, I will take him.’
Jones glared, his eyes narrowing even further. ‘You can try.’
The woman waved a dismissive hand and the floor spat his legs out, sharp shards breaking against his back. He grunted in pain and fell onto his stomach, feeling blood pouring out of his shredded legs.
‘And I will,’ she said, then walked up the stairs without another word.