Chapter 1

Antonia Ramirez rechecked the address that the Agency provided for what seemed the umpteenth time. It was her first interview with the new family, and she wanted to be on time. As it was, the bus to this upscale neighborhood was behind schedule, and she was going to be late. If she hurried, she could still make it on time. She knew that being punctual counted a lot with the anglos.

She brushed a strand of her dark hair away from her face, hoping she was still looking presentable. The Santa Ana winds were blowing fiercely throughout the Southland this week. Plus it had been over an hour on the transit from her home to this interview, and she didn't want to blow it. Her family needed the money, especially with her sister, Annalia, back home from grad school (and jobless! after all that time and effort!), and her mama the only one bringing in an income with her own cleaning company, which was not doing very well at the moment...Papa had gone several years ago… he had gone back to his hometown in Mexicali to visit family but he had never returned, not even for her high school graduation. Antonia sometimes found herself desperately wishing he would return...some days, after seeing her mama stare grimfaced at the window, at that the traffic, at the people on the street, at nothing... she wished that he would never come back.

The area she found herself in was definitely more upscale than her own, a sign that the people who worked here had money, or worked in jobs that ensured they would always have fat bank accounts. Lush, manicured and well-watered lawns, giant palms,multistory houses. Luxury cars or SUVs in every driveway. She allowed herself a small smirk: no 99% here! It was something her sister would think.

A minute later, she rethought that, spotting a homeless guy slumped against the last turn before her destination. He looked way out of place here, and actually she wasn't quite sure he wasn't dead. The guy's head was slumped down against his chest, straggly dark hair hanging down from his forehead, so she couldn't see his face. He was dressed in faded digital camouflage pants, the kind that the Army (or was it the Marines?) wore, torn away at the knees, revealing pale, scabby, hairy legs, and a ripped and fraying hoodie. Maybe somebody had stolen his shoes while he was passed out. Various trash was strewn around him, and a large cardboard sign propped up against the wall that read,

Blessed are the peacemakers!

2012! This is the year!

Saint Justice comes and

All sins made right

Please donate if you can!

God Bless You!

And can you help us...?

The writing deteriorated into further, unreadable scrawl at that point and Antonia was in no mood or time to try to find out. She couldn't help but feel a twinge of remorse: maybe the guy was a homeless vet, or just a drug addict. Her cousin César had come back from Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury, although she'd heard he was doing well, in therapy. But she couldn't stop to find out. The man did not move or look up as the hopeful young housekeeper candidate hurried past.

Antionia found the house without any difficulty, a large three-story set somewhat apart from the other "McMansions" (as he older sister would have called them), and offered some privacy. A late model BMW sat in the large driveway (she would also snark on that, Antonia thought). She rang the bell, which was answered shortly.

"Mr. Huston?"


"I'm Antonia Ramirez, the Agency sent me to interview with you about the housekeeper position."

She gave her best prospective employee smile, and hoped her nervousness didn't show. The man who'd answered the door was dressed impeccably despite the warm weather, in a formal gray suit. He had gray eyes and a thick thatch of blond hair, yet despite his boyish good looks the man had rather a stern, almost grim look to his face, and he seemed quite stiff and uptight. He stared at her intensely for a moment. Great, she thought, what's the odds that he'll try to report me as an illegal any second now? Most of Antonia's family had their papers in good order.

"Yes. Of course. Come in."

He stepped aside to allow Antonia to enter the large marbled foyer. As she expected the house was huge: a chandelier hung from the ceiling, and beyond she could see the vast expanse of living room, and a massive spiraled staircase leading to the floors above.

"Mrs…Huston is not present at the moment, so I will explain your duties to you."

The pale anglo seemed to not notice Antonia's confusion as he walked her though the many rooms of the house, explaining thoroughly, what each required in the way of upkeep. He barely looked at her, only to make sure she was attending to his instructions. Antonia noticed that the house seemed full of antiques, and she had a hunch that they were more for show than anything else. There was a huge flatscreen TV on one wall, but she didn't see any thing else that would hint that this house had...a warmth, a lived-in feeling. She wondered if they had just moved in, or if these things were theirs, or they were just watching them for someone else, the real owner. This wouldn't have been the first place she'd worked at that had something less-than-legal going on under the roof. She also had the feeling that this Mr. Huston would not appreciate many questions being asked of him other than the most obsequious.

"Miss Ramirez?"

"Yes sir?" she also felt that he would also not take kindly any distracted housekeepers.

"There is also one other instruction: under no circumstances will you go upstairs. Is that understood?"

"I...ah, yes, sir." More weirdness. Of course she would not help wondering what was "upstairs." Probably where the "stash" of whatever it was, was! "Um...does this mean I have the job?"

He stared at her for a moment, momentarily nonplussed. "Yes...yes of course. You will begin this week, as agreed per the Agency..."

Quickly approaching footsteps, crisply sounding out on the foyer, made them both turn. Antonia saw a stunningly beautiful, slender woman, with the bluest eyes Antonia had ever seen. She was dressed in clothes that matched those eyes, a soft light blue blouse, and matching skirt, that revealed shapely legs. She extended a hand and Antonia took it.

"Miss Ramirez, we've been expecting you! I'm Mrs. Huston, but please, call me Sapphire. Have you seen the house? Yes, good, I'm glad you like it. We are still in the process of moving in, but hopefully it will not be much longer, you know how these things are."

Antonia really didn't but she nodded, a bit relieved that this person at least was less intimidating that her husband. She seemed oddly to resemble him, blonde (and white) and somehow quite formidable. She couldn't help noticing that Mr. Huston seemed to have become even more rigid and stone-faced as his wife talked. She wondered if they were going through troubles. Most of these rich couples did, she imagined.

"Yes, yes...I'm very happy to be working here. Thank you for giving me this job," Antonia felt herself rambling, forced herself to stop. Fortunately, Mrs. Huston seemed not to notice, exclaiming that they were relieved to have a reliable young lady in their employ.

Antonia hurried to catch the return bus home, not noticing her new employers watched her until she vanished from sight.

"She is the trigger?"

"Perhaps...or perhaps she is something...perhaps only a sensitive. Nineteen years old, in good health, descended from Aztec, Spanish, and Zapotec heritages."

"It's unwise to bring a human into this, even a sensitive as she does appear to be," Sapphire turned away from the window. "It is too dangerous for her to be here."

"I'm not surprised you would express concern for a human rather than to consider what is at stake here," Steel rumbled ominously, a smoldering volcano. "A war that is still being fought…"

"A 'war' that we have lost…the Elementals are scattered and fled, the Authority is either destroyed or has fled, where we don't know, not that we could rely on…."

"We have NOT lost. We are conducting an insurgency operation, from this location..."

"Well I know it," Sapphire turned and faced Steel squarely "And I know your methods."

Steel flinched at the cold inflection his partner placed on the last word. Certain memories threatened to overwhelm him, and his resolve, his determination needed to do whatever it took to reverse the course of Time. This determination that had nearly destroyed any semblance of relationship he had with his longtime partner. The look in Sapphire's eyes that told him that relationship could still easily crumble beyond repair.

Perhaps it already was.

For a long second the Elementals stood there facing each other, unable or unwilling to speak. Then, a sound, an unusual sound, emanated from the upstairs where Antonia had not gone. It was a thin, high noise, clearly identifiable as from a living being, but of what sort, would have been unclear, even to a person like Antonia, who came from a diverse family of young and old extended members. If she had heard it, perhaps would have raised as shiver in her.

Sapphire, who had been staring at Steel deliberately, without expression, allowed a slight smile, although it did not extend to her eyes.

"Our child calls, " she said crisply, "Come, let us attend him"

She turned her back and returned up the stairs. After a quiet moment, Steel followed.