I once earned the sobriquet "The Rock" for my patience and
stamina, but crouching in an empty elevator shaft in the dark was
beginning to wear on me.  Normally, I felt at home even in such dark,
confined spaces as this, but this job didn't sit well with me.  My
every instinct was screaming danger.  Under ordinary circumstances, I
would have walked out on this job without thinking twice.

	But these were hardly ordinary circumstances, and I no longer
had that choice.  I was, officially speaking, nonexistent.  It would
be best, for the near future, that I remained that way... which would
require the considerable resources of the Society.  In return, I
worked for them; we all did.

	To be sure, it wasn't much of a chore, most of the time.  The
entire team was top-flight, and on top of that, we weren't assigned
too many jobs.  Mostly, it was just a matter of being available at
short notice, twenty-four hours a day.

	Then there were the nights like tonight.

	A sardonic female voice broke in on my thoughts.  "Zel, you

	"Sure am.  Is it time to move?"

	"Almost.  Just checking."

	Despite myself, I smirked.  Just checking, indeed.  "No
problem, Lina.  Is my backup in place?"

	I'd expected a moment of silence as she checked, but the
answer came immediately.  "He's all set, if you need him.  Amelia's
ready, too, and-- wait a minute."

	"Something wrong?"  I tried to keep the apprehension from my
voice, but judging by her soft chuckle, I didn't entirely succeed.

	"Your target's gotten up.  Hmm.  Bathroom break, I guess.  Can
you reach the office before he gets back?"

	Now it was my turn to chuckle.  "We've been working together
for almost a year.  You tell me."

	A year... had it been that long already...?


	"Zelgadis Greywers," the man read from a sheaf of papers.
"What the hell?  What kind of a name is that?"

	"It's real," I replied, taking a single step forward in answer
to his roll call.  My boots clicked softly against the floor tiles as
I stepped into the light.

	"Right," he said gruffly.  "Zelgadis Greywers, ex-CIA.  Black
belt in judo, pistol marksman.  You prefer a .357?"

	"I prefer a crossbow.  But if I need to carry a gun, then--"

	"Right.  Crossbow."  He made a note, and continued.  "Your
specialty is physical entry."  I nodded to affirm this, but he didn't
wait for my response.  "You'll do.  Welcome to X.E.L.L.O.S.  Let me
introduce the rest of your team."

	I tried to protest.  "I usually work alone--"

	"Not here, you don't.  I assure you, though, these people are
the best.  First--"  A tall, stocky man with unkempt black hair and a
short beard stepped forward.  "--Gourry Gabriev.  He worked for the
KGB before defecting to us a decade ago.  He's been with
X.E.L.L.O.S. for nine of those years.  He's master of a half-dozen
martial arts and a marksman like none you've ever seen.  He'll serve
sa your main backup, either as a sniper or physically.  Next is

	"Inverse," the woman who stepped forward interrupted.  As our
host raised an eyebrow, she explained, "A handle.  I've renounced my
family name."

	"Very well," he conceded.  "Lina Inverse."  The woman looked
to be on the verge of protesting, but he didn't give her the chance.
"Another recent recruit, this time from the civilian sector.  She's a
hacker, and she found something she shouldn't have.  Now they're after
her.  She'll handle computer and surveillance ops, and

	"'They?'  Who's 'they?'" I asked, curious.

	"We'll get to that in a minute.  First, meet the final member
of your team."

	A young woman stepped forward to stand beside the others.  A
young woman who, at first glance, appeared to come about to my waist.
"A kid?" I blurted out.

	"I'm no kid!" the blonde snarled.  "I'm an adult, and I'm
every bit as good as you, you overblown freak!  So nyah!"

	"A kid?" I asked the man again, already feeling less than
thrilled by the prospect of this team.

	"Amelia Seiruun.  She's a trained Interpol agent, believe it
or not--"

	"Hey!  I resent that!"

	"--And an absolute prodigy.  She can drive or pilot most
vehicles, and she's a master of disguise and infiltration.  She's also
got total recall, along with a good amount of medical and scientific

	"Quite the celebrity, isn't she?" I drawled, trying not to
look too impressed.  Then I remembered why her name sounded familiar.
"Wait a minute, Seiruun, isn't that--"

	"Daddy's an opera singer," she affirmed, nodding.

	'An' opera singer, she said.  That was like calling Mozart 'a'
composer or Rembrandt 'an' artist.  He was that famous.  Heck, even
I'd heard of him, and I'm not exactly an opera enthusiast.

	Great.  Not only a kid, but a princess, to boot.

	"Indeed," our host said.  "That Filionel Seiruun."

	I nodded, mentally shrugging; if I had to work with these
people, I had to.  At least I knew Gabriev was competent; I'd heard of
him, back when I was with the Agency.  "So.  You sent for me; I'm
here.  Why?"

	The man clasped his hands behind his back -- probably he'd
been a military man, I'd known several who'd picked up that habit --
and remained quiet in thought for a long minute.  I didn't try to rush
him.  Like I said before, I have a certain reputation for patience;
it's well-deserved.  "Well," he said, at length, "You're here because
your records are exemplary, because you have the skill... and because
you know something most people don't.  Don't you?"

	"I know a lot of things most people don't," I said calmly,
though I knew full well what he was talking about.  "That was my job
for quite some time."

	"Well answered, Mr. Greywers.  Very well, I shall be blunt."
He paused, and his expression grew grim.  "You are here because you,
nearly alone among the population, know for a fact that almost
everything our modern society derides as superstition is actually a
reality.  You've seen the paranormal.  You've had your run-ins with
R.E.Z.O., even if you didn't know it at the time.  That's why we need

	"Frankly, we'd like to keep the existence of such things under
wraps.  You can imagine the kind of chaos a revelation, a real,
believable one with evidence, would bring.  For the sake of societal
stability, we don't dare reveal too much too quickly.  However."  He
punctuated the statement by pointing one thick finger toward me.
"R.E.Z.O.'s plans would cause even more instability, so we have to keep
them in check.  Since direct confrontation is out... you're in.  You
four will form the core of an elite force under X.E.L.L.O.S. direction;
Your mission, to investigate R.E.Z.O. and, when possible, to eliminate
their threat.  You will be our Slayers, operating in secret.  To the
world at large, it will be as though you do not exist.  If you are
captured or revealed, we will disavow any knowledge of you or your
mission."  He shrugged.  "It's a dangerous job, but a very lucrative

	"And if I refuse?"

	His eyes were hard.  "Then you refuse.  You'll be relocated
and free to live your life, and you will never again come into contact
with X.E.L.L.O.S. or its agents... unless, of course, you should
attempt to reveal us.  The consequences then could be rather
unpleasant.  But," he finished, "We're well aware that we can't force
you to work for us at your paramount skill level.  So the choice is

	I considered for a moment... but adventure always did get the
better of me.  If it hadn't, I wouldn't have joined the CIA, I
suppose.  "I'll do it."

	He nodded.  "Good, then you're official.  You're free to do as
you like, as long as you're available when we call.  I'll give you the
full orientation later.  Right now, do you have any questions?"

	I shrugged.  "Not really... oh, one.  What's
X.E.L.L.O.S. stand for, exactly?"

	He favored me with a thin smile, waving an admonishing finger
toward me.  "That," he pronounced, "is Top Secret."


	"Yeah, I guess you can.  Well, we'll find out... your target
has Left The Building.  Go for it."

	"Gone."  I opened the elevator doors just wide enough to slip
through and ghosted along the corridor, swiftly and silently heading
for office 832.  "You in the computer yet?" I whispered, knowing the
transmitter would pick it up.

	"Yeah, it looks like a real gold mi-- uh oh.  Damn."

	The office door opened silently.  I slipped inside, then
smiled sardonically to myself and sat down in my erstwhile target's
desk chair.  "That doesn't sound good," I whispered.

	"Someone in security is on the ball.  They're trying to trace
me.  I'll have to get what I can, wipe the traces, and get out."

	"Do we need to abort?"

	"No!  I can handle it.  By the way, your target is headed
back.  Gourry says he has a good view of the whole office, so you're
covered.  I need to concentrate on this now, but I'll have Amelia
monitor you."

	I didn't bother to acknowledge the message.  Lina was already
off of the line, if I knew her.  Besides, I would be busy myself in
another moment or two.

	The door opened.  Right on cue.  Chris Levin looked exactly
like his photos, down to the staid navy suit -- a wide but otherwise
unremarkable face, eyes that looked a bit too small behind the lenses
of wire-rimmed glasses, a short, slightly overweight build.  He'd
taken two steps into the room before he noticed my presence and froze

	Such a meek little man.  How would even the most superstitious
paranoid think that he might be a werewolf?

	"Who-?" he croaked.  Nervously licking his lips, he tried a
second time to form the question, with more success.  "Who are you?"
This seemed to embolden him, and he squeaked resolutely on.  "What are
you doing here?  Don't you know that this is--?"

	I cut him off.  "I'm quite aware.  I am also here to ask
questions, not to answer them."  I fell silent, staring unblinkingly
at him over steepled fingers -- a pose that had been known to unnerve
even some of the more strong-willed agents I'd met.

	Levin wasn't even close.  "Wh-What do you want?" he stammered,
and I wondered for a moment whether he might faint.  Werewolves
certainly weren't what they used to be.

	I smiled slowly, with absolutely no warmth.  "Information,
Mr. Levin."  He gasped, gaping like a fish.  "Yes, of course I know
your name.  More importantly, I know who you really work for.  Now,
why don't you tell me--"

	"Zel!"  Amelia's voice derailed my train of thought with
extreme prejudice.  I might not doubt her competence the way I once
had, but I still wasn't terribly fond of her when her mouth was open.
Which was nearly always.  "Get out of there, I'm reading--"

	Levin's skin had begun to writhe, but I ignored him as I leapt
to my feet, then vaulted over the desk.  I was dimly aware of the
window breaking as Gourry's bullet entered, streaking forward to bury
itself unerringly in Levin's throat.  The man's mouth moved in a
frenzy of agony-wracked screaming as he clutched at his throat, but
only a soft gurgling emerged.  The Russian's first shot had been
dead-on, as usual.

	"Silver bullet," I took a moment to murmur as I made my way
past him.  Might as well let him know that his death would be
relatively quick.  A normal bullet might or might not have done the
job, placed as it had been, but either way, it would've taken much
longer.  I don't know why the silver legend is true, but it is; they
can't heal the wounds it inflicts.  Amelia thinks it might cause a
reaction similar to hemophilia.

	I got to the elevator shaft in under 20 seconds; just in time,
too, because an alarm started to ring.  Dropped to the ground floor
faster than I've ever gone before, with the friction burns on my hands
to show for it.  Dashed across the lobby, staying low, but a cry told
me I'd been spotted.  A bullet bounced off the floor near my heels,
but I was through the door before they could really draw a bead.
Three seconds later, I was still alone on the street; they must've
been building security, not R.E.Z.O.  Which meant the real attack was
yet to come, if they managed to identify me.  I knew I'd avoided the
cameras on the way in, but one of them might have caught me during
that last dash... damn, that had been careless.

	A grey van roared up the road beside me.  The back door was
open, Gourry standing just inside, extending a hand toward me.  I
pushed my body faster for three steps, four, five... and leapt.

	I sank to the floor as Gourry slammed the doors closed behind
me after pulling me in.  "Did they get you?" he asked dourly.

	"I don't think so.  But there's a chance.  Why the abort?"

	It was Lina who answered.  "Their network security suddenly
got a lot better.  Turns out their security daemon really is a daemon.
I managed to cover our tracks, but it was close."

	"I hope you found something.  Gourry had to kill my man before
he answered my questions."

	"Sorry," said Gourry, not sounding very apologetic.  Well, at
least he was polite.

	"Not much," Lina admitted.  "But there are some scary signs.
I think they're trying to summon a demon.  One of the really big

	"Great.  A little cliche, isn't it?"

	She nodded.  "So it would seem.  I can't help feeling there's
something I missed..."

	"Details?" Amelia suggested.  She earned a dirty look for her

	"No... the demon they're summoning isn't the usual sadistic
bloodthirsty horror of immense power--"

	"You say that as though it were a bad thing," I murmured.

	"--It looks like they're getting ready to summon... well, an
architect.  And it is a bad thing, if we don't know what their motive

	"An architect?" Gourry asked.

	"Yeah... the architect of Hell.  What do you suppose they'd
need him for?"

	"Renovating their secret base?" Amelia quipped.

	"Building something," I mused.  "What could they...?"

	"That's what we'll need to find	out."  Lina smiles, a
predator's grin.  "And it just so happens that I have an address..."