"You poor..." Ada was about to say 'soul' but it didn't seem entirely appropriate. "—Sausage." She stepped back, pulling the door further open but her free hand curling around the handle of the sword, just in case. You never could tell: the woman could turn out to be an advocate for the Evangelicals, even now. "You'd better come in."
Legion, if that was really her name, scurried into the house, glancing up at the sky once before she reached the safety of the shadowed interior. "Thank you! I and my children thank you a thousand times for shelter from the Eye of God."
"You'd best come along in." Ada was convinced that the adage 'Mother knows best' was applicable to all times and the appeal of one mother to another – even if the first was a soul-sucking leech straight out of the pages of the Bible – was not something to be lightly dismissed. Ada let go of the sword and led her visitor into the sitting room out of the sight of the sun. "Do sit down." She used her hand to beat imaginary dust from the seat of an overstuffed arm chair. "Would you like some tea?"
The woman sat gingerly on the edge of the seat. "I come because you are the mother of a demon," she said, slipping the cowl from her head to display two thousand years of pain etched into every pore of her face. "I need your help to find my lost children."
"Lost are they?" Ada patted her hand. "It's a hell of a journey to get here, isn't it? I lost my Harold on the Waterloo line once. He had a fine old time until I caught up with him on the Southbound platform at Finsbury Park."
Legion pulled her head back like a cobra about to strike. "I did not lose them like a careless idiot on a street corner. They were taken from me. Stolen by the Tormentor and cast away as if they meant less than the price of a single man's soul. You cannot equate the loss of your Harold with the gaping desperation of two thousand years."
Ada reached out and just held her knee for a few seconds until she calmed down. "Was that a yes to the tea, love,?"
Confused and slightly hurt by the woman's glare, Ada busied herself with making tea. At least, she went into the kitchen and set her imp, Stinky, to the task while she took five minutes to cast an eye over the racing form for Kempton Park. She made a few notations at the edge of the page while she drank the tepid coffee she'd made before Legion turned up.
"Mistress?" Stinky held up a silver tray of tea things. She tapped the paper with her fingertip as she stood.
"Phone those through to Mr. Jenkins in my voice, would you? I've no idea how long this is going to take."
"Yes Mistress." Stinky handed her the tea tray and gave a little curtsey. "Be careful with her. I've seen her like. She comes from the darkest places. She's the kind that was here before any of us. Before the Fall, even."
Ada pursed her lips, pressing her tongue between teeth and gum as she considered the warning. "Nothing I can't handle," she said. "Beauty gets you a long way in both this world and the next but that one won't pass the starting line. She needs my help."
Despite her assurances to the imp, Ada paused in the hall and opened the drawer in the telephone table. Meteoric Iron was as dangerous to a woman of the Fae as it was to a demon but now was the time for prudence and the sheath of the Witchblade was easily and safely attached to her thigh.
"Tea!" Legion looked up as Ada bustled in with the tray and set it on the glass-topped coffee table. "Milk and sugar?" She bit the edge of her lips, tapping the air with her finger. "Or lemon? You've the sort of face that would suit a lemon, I think."
"Milk would be adequate. I have no desire to be the butt of your grim jokes."
"Grim, are they?" Ada poured two cups. "I can't see you being the life and soul of the party. Well, life, anyway. Best you don't ever meet my Harold. He takes the punch out of every line without intending to. He never was any good at humour."
"Unless you count sarcasm. He's so cutting he could slice you to ribbons before he notices you crying."
Wisps of steam rose from the tea as Legion stared into its depths, but whether she was lost in thought or contemplating the future in half a pint of Sainsbury's Best Blend Ada couldn't tell. The only personality test she was qualified to apply was whether someone needed help or not, and this odd woman definitely needed help.
Legion looked up. "Are you a good mother?" she asked. "I don't see a child here or any evidence of one. The wind whistles through your barren loins like a gale from the Styx itself. You wear the guise of an English lady with your obsession with cats and cups of tea but you are no mortal. What kind of being are you? Why was I sent to you for help against the Tormentor?"
Ada pursed her lips, an indication of her ire any close acquaintance would read instantly and scarper. "My son is forty-three and lives in the mansion at the top of the hill," she said. "You're right to spot I'm no mortal but what mortal would have survived birthing the son of Lucifer and still had the wherewithal to pass the time of day with a strumpet mother of a drove of pigs? And just for the record, all the cat ornaments are presents from Harold. I've always preferred dragons myself." She closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. "More tea?"
Legion stared at her for a long moment, then reached out and placed her cup on the coffee table. Ada was uncertain if the woman was going to laugh, cry or leap forward in an attempt to rip off her head. She put her own cup down as well, the better to reach for her knife if she needed to. After what seemed like an eternity, Legion's face split into what must, in demon circles, pass for a smile.
"So! You have spirit after all, Wife of Lucifer."
"Ah. Now hang on a moment." Ada stood and moved around the arm chair, ostensibly to pick up a framed photograph from the sideboard but also to put the bulk of the armchair between them. She hadn't felt this discomfited since Samael the arch-duke of Hell had dropped in unannounced for a cup of sugar. "I didn't say we were married or anything."
"Oh? Living in sin?"
"There's only sin if you subscribe to it." Ada showed her the picture. "This is my Harold when he won the Laverstone Businessman of the Year award."
Legion traced his features with a fingernail so long and dark it should have dropped off years ago. "He looks almost human," she said.
"He is human," said Ada. "Near enough, anyway."
Legion her cowl away from her head. "These are my children," she said.
Her face was made up of myriads of separate shadowy spirits – Ada was reminded of a bucket of eels all slithering over each other – but for a long gash running from her left temple to her right shoulder which none of the other writhing spirits would cross. "I have carried these disfigurements for two millennia," she said, tracing the line of it with the middle finger of her right hand. "This, and six others across my body."
"And they're your missing children?"
She nodded. "Six spirits to each of my disfigurements. I have wandered the earth searching for them." Legion narrowed eyes that weren't so much inky pits in a well of nothingness as forever shifting masses of deep shadow. It was no surprise she didn't wear make-up. "I have crossed deserts of burning sand, felt the pain of a dying sun and drunk from the veins of slaughtered gods," she said. "I have watched the flow of ice from a glacier crush a mountain and listened to the cry of the wind as it boiled in a volcano."
"You're been around a bit then." Ada nodded a few times and stared into the depths of her cup. "So how can I help this quest to find your missing kids? I'll have no truck with social services, you know. They wanted to put me into a home."
"They are close," said Legion. "I can hear their cries in the dust."
"Metaphorically speaking. In the ether their wailing echoes across the miles."
"Ah. Ether is it?" Ada twisted in her seat, fumbling for the catch on the sideboard door. "I've got some Gin. It's a bit early for me but they say it's always five o'clock somewhere."
"You use humour to fill the gaps in your discomfort," said Legion. "Why?"
"I can't rightly say as I do." Ada took a sip of her cold tea and hid her grimace with a tight smile. She could feel the weight of the dagger against her thigh and wondered if she could draw it before Legion could close the gap between them. "It's more a way of breaking the ice, see."
"To put me at my ease?"
"Then there is something missing in your approach, for I am very much in a state of dis-ease."
"You don't say."
"Oh, I do."
"So let's cut to the chase then. What are you after? Why did you come to me?"
"I was told you could help."
"So you said. You didn't mention who told you that or what help you're looking for."
"My children are near. Some of them, anyway. I was sent to you by Azazel and Asmodius, Beelzebub and Balthazar, Casiel and---"
"All right, I get the picture. What is it you want me to actually do, though?"
"Help me find my children?"
"I don't know what they look like."
"Here, I can show you."
Legion opened her robe to one side, exposing the wriggling masses of spirits that made up her form and the deep clefts of scars that were the provinces of her missing children. "Here," she said, taking Ada's hand and plunging it deep inside one of the scars. "You can feel it, yes?"
Ada felt the cold burn of the places between the worlds, imagining her hand freezing like a lump of meat in a vat of liquid nitrogen. She began to struggle, her face changing with the pain, her cry of fear boiling inside her chest but Legion held her fast. Then she felt it. The fluttering of a spirit, lost and alone, warm against her fingertips. Her face changed and she saw, in her mind's eye, a darkened room filled with the detritus of modern life – a television, computers, beer, cigarettes – and the greasy head of a youthful boy as he wiped blood off a screen. Legion released her arm and she pulled away and looked down at the self-confessed mother of demons. "Yes," she said. "They really are here. I felt one."