mirror, I saw an eagerness that was missing from the faces of my siblings. Even when I tried, I could never look as removed as Gabe and Ivy. Their expressions of grave composure rarely altered, regardless of the drama unfolding around them. My face always wore a look of restless curiosity no matter how hard I tried to look worldly.

Ivy crossed to the sink holding her plate, as always moving as though she were dancing rather than walking. Both my brother and sister moved with an unstudied grace that I was incapable of imitating. More than once I’d been accused of stomping through the house as well as being heavy-handed.

When she’d disposed of her half-eaten toast, Ivy stretched out on the window seat, the newspaper open in front of her.

“What’s news?” I asked.

In reply she held up the front page for me to see. I read the headlines — bombings, natural disasters, and economic collapse. I felt immediately defeated.

“Is it any wonder that people don’t feel safe,” Ivy said with a sigh. “They have no faith in one another.”

“If that’s true then what can we possibly do for them?” I asked hesitantly.

“Let’s not expect too much too soon,” said Gabriel. “They say change takes time.”

“Besides, it’s not for us to try and save the world,” Ivy said. “We must focus on our little portion of it.”

“You mean this town?”

“Of course.” My sister nodded. “This town was listed as a target of the Dark Forces. It’s strange the places they choose.”

“I imagine they’re starting small and working their way up,” said Gabriel in disgust. “If they can conquer a town, they can conquer a city, then a state, then a country.”

“How do we know how much damage they’ve already done?” I asked.

“That will become clear in time,” said Gabriel. “But so help us, we will put an end to their destructive work. We won’t fail in our mission, and before we depart, this place will once again be in the hands of the Lord.”

“In the meantime, let’s just try and blend in,” Ivy said, perhaps in an effort to lighten the mood. I almost laughed aloud and was tempted to suggest she look in a mirror. She might be as old as time, but sometimes Ivy could sound quite naive. Even I knew that blending in was going to be a challenge.

Anyone could see that we were different — and not in an art student’s dyed-hair-and-kooky-stockings kind of way. We were really different — out-of-this-world different. I guess that wasn’t unusual given who we were… or rather, what we were. There were several things that made us conspicuous. For starters, human beings were flawed and we weren’t. If you saw one of us in a crowd, the first thing you’d notice was our skin. It was so translucent you might be persuaded into believing that it contained actual particles of light. This became even more evident after dark when any exposed skin emitted a faint glow as if from some inner energy source. Also, we never left footprints, even when we were walking on something impressionable like grass or sand. And you’d never catch any one of us in a tank top — we always wore high-backed tops to cover up a minor cosmetic problem.

As we began to assimilate into the life of the town, the locals couldn’t help but wonder what we were doing in a sleepy backwater like Venus Cove. Sometimes they thought we were tourists on an extended stay; other times we’d be mistaken for celebrities, and they’d ask us about TV shows we’d never even heard of. No one guessed that we were working; that we had been recruited to assist a world on the brink of destruction. You only had to open a newspaper or flick on a television to see why we’d been sent: murder, kidnapping, terrorist attacks, war, assaults on the elderly… the ugly list went on and on. There were so many souls in peril that the Agents of Darkness were seizing the opportunity to gather. Gabriel, Ivy, and I had been sent here to offset their influence. Other Agents of Light had been sent to various locations across the globe, and eventually we would be summoned to evaluate our findings. I knew the situation was dire, but I was certain that we couldn’t fail. In fact, I thought it would be easy — our presence would be the divine solution. I was about find out just how wrong I was.

We were fortunate to have ended up at Venus Cove. It was a breathtaking place of striking contrasts. Parts of the coastline were windswept and rugged, and from our house we could see the looming cliffs overlooking the dark, rolling ocean and hear the wind howling through the trees. But a little farther inland, there were pastoral scenes of undulating hills with grazing cows and pretty windmills.

Most of the houses in Venus Cove were modest weatherboard cottages but, closer to the coast, was a series of tree-lined streets with larger, more impressive homes. Our house, Byron, was one of these. Gabriel wasn’t overly thrilled with our accommodations — the cleric in him found it excessive, and he would no doubt have felt more at ease in something less luxurious, but Ivy and I loved it. And if the powers that be didn’t see any harm in us enjoying our time on earth, why shouldn’t we? I suspected the house might not help achieve our goal of blending in, but I kept quiet. I didn’t want to complain when I already felt too much like a liability on this mission.

Venus Cove had a population of around three thousand, although this doubled during the summer break when the town transformed into a teeming resort. Regardless of the time of year, the locals were open and friendly. I liked the atmosphere of the place: There were no people in business suits charging off to high-powered jobs; no one was in a hurry. The people didn’t seem to care if they had dinner at the swankiest restaurant in town or at the beachside snack bar. They were just too laid back to worry about things like that.

“Do you agree, Bethany?” The rich timbre of Gabriel’s voice recalled me to the present. I tried to remember the threads of the conversation but drew a complete blank.

“Sorry,” I said, “I was miles away. What were you saying?”

“I was just setting out some ground rules. Everything will be different as of today.”

Gabriel was frowning again, mildly annoyed by my inattention. The two of us were starting at the Bryce Hamilton School that morning, me as a student and Gabriel as the new music teacher. It had been decided that a school would be a useful place to begin our work of countering the emissaries of darkness, given it was full of young people whose values were still evolving. Ivy was too unearthly to be herded off to high school, so it was agreed that she would mentor us and ensure our safety, or rather, my safety, as Gabriel could look after himself.

“The important thing is not to lose sight of why we’re here,” Ivy said. “Our mission is clear: to perform good deeds, acts of charity and kindness; to lead by example. We don’t want any miracles just yet, not until we can predict how they would be received. At the same time we want to observe and learn as much as we can about people. Human culture is so complex and different from anything else in the universe.”

I suspected these ground rules were mostly for my benefit. Gabriel never had difficulty handling himself in any kind of situation.

“This is going to be fun,” I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

“It’s not about fun,” retorted Gabriel. “Haven’t you heard anything we’ve said?”

“Essentially we are trying to drive away the evil influences and restore people’s faith in each other,” said Ivy in a conciliatory tone. “Don’t worry about Bethany, Gabe — she’ll be fine.”

“In short, we are here to bless the community,” my brother continued. “But we mustn’t appear too conspicuous. Our first priority is to remain undetected. Bethany, please try not to say anything that will… unsettle the students.”

It was my turn to be offended.

“Like what?” I demanded. “I’m not that scary.”

“You know what Gabriel means,” said Ivy. “All he’s suggesting is that you think before you speak. No personal talk about home, no ‘God reckons’… or ‘God told me’… they might think you’re on something.”

“Fine,” I said huffily. “But I hope I’m at least allowed to fly around the corridors during lunch hour.”

Gabriel threw me a disapproving look. I waited for him to get my joke, but his eyes remained serious. I sighed. Much as I loved him, Gabriel could be totally lacking in any sense of humor.

“Don’t worry, I’ll behave. I promise.”

“Self-control is of the utmost importance,” Ivy said.

I sighed again. I knew I was the only one who had to worry about self-control. Ivy and Gabriel had enough experience of this kind for it to be second nature — they knew the rules back to front. It wasn’t fair. They also had steadier personalities than I did. They might as well have been called the Ice King and Queen. Nothing fazed them, nothing troubled them, and most important, nothing upset them. They were like well-rehearsed actors whose lines came to them without effort. It was different for me; I’d struggled from the outset. For some reason, becoming human had really thrown me. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of it. It was like going from blissful emptiness to

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