Mr. Ishi had definitely made an impression on her mother. For the first time since James had been murdered, Coraline was allowed to be off by herself. For a short time, with a cell phone, and in a strictly limited range. While her mother discussed taking a job in the casino’s small art museum, she was allowed to be in its arcade. That the arcade itself was dragon-themed amused her just a little.
With freedom so new, it took her a bit of time to work up her nerve. She took a few deep breaths before slipping out of the gaming area and toward the operations area of the hotel casino. She got past the first level by stating she was there to see her mother, but the second level simply told her to take a seat and asked her for her mother’s name. “Actually, I need to speak with Mr. Ishi.”
The receptionist gave her a look of amusement and skepticism. “Right.”
“Look, just let him know Coraline Wu would like to speak to him and it might be important.”
After a moment, the receptionist rolled his eyes and got on the phone to pass the word back. She sat there for a few minutes with him occasionally looking up from his work to smirk in her direction. A tall, elegant looking black woman came out of the door behind the receptionist’s desk. “Miss Wu?”
Something about the woman unnerved her just a little. She had to take a deep breath before replying. “Yes.”
“Mr. Ishi will see you now.”
It was all she could do not to poke her tongue out at the receptionist as she followed the woman back. The look on his face was comical. When the door closed behind her, however, she felt trepidation. Rather than give in to the desire to turn and walk back the way she’d come, she looked at the hallway. The walls were painted with Japanese style artwork, featuring elegantly rendered natural disasters of various sorts. She’d expected to see more works depicting dragons.
His office was large and elegant, but oddly asymmetrical. “Miss Wu.” Mr. Ishi gave her a concerned look. “Is everything alright?”
“I…” She had to take a couple deep breaths. When she glanced at the woman nervously, Mr. Ishi gestured and the woman inclined her head before turning to leave. “I don’t know.”
“Please, sit.” He indicated the chair across from him. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No, I…” She went to the chair. “I think there is something you need to know. I’m not sure if…”
“Miss Wu, I assure you whatever it is you tell me will go no further than this room without your permission.” The smile he gave her was warm, and rather grandfatherly.
“That’s not…” She reached into her purse and grabbed the item she’d brought with her, setting it on his desk. He raised an eyebrow at the small pot and seedling. “I’m just not sure if it’s going to work. It doesn’t, not all the time, but…” She put her hand around the pot, and concentrated. Most of the time, it seemed to only work by accident, and with him watching she was sure it wouldn’t… The seedling suddenly started growing, spurting up in height and spreading as though weeks were passing in seconds. She took her hand away, then looked up at him as he stared down at the lavender plant on his desk.
“You’ve a gift, Miss Wu.” He slowly nodded. Then he rose and walked over to a small cupboard. She blinked as he set a slice of cheesecake in front of her. When she gave him a surprised look, he smiled again, gently. “Magic uses your own energy. I’ve never known any witch who would turn down food.”
“That Cabal wanted me because they thought I could do magic.” She took a bite of the cheesecake, chewing and swallowing before continuing to speak. “What happens if they find out I really can?”
“The woman who escorted you to my office…” He sat back in his chair. “Her name is Ahit. And she is no more human than I am. There are others here. Some like you. I even have a few werewolves and a vampire on staff. They are all under my protection. That does come with a few restrictions. I expect you to be discrete with your usage of magic. It is in the vested interest of all that our world remain less than visible to the world at large. I also will expect you to refrain from using your powers to harm innocents. As long as you meet those expectations…” His eyes caught hold of hers. “You will be safe.”
“I used to have this t-shirt. Adam got it for me. It showed a knight with smoke coming out of his armor, and said ‘do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you —’”
“Are crunchy, and go well with ketchup.” He smiled. “There are several variations on that theme for sale in my gift shops.”
A small laugh escaped her. “I just, uh…” She finished the cheesecake, then set the fork down. “I thought it was something you needed to know.”
“You indicated your control remains a work in progress?”
Coraline modded. “Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes parts of the plant grow at different rates, like the roots sort of explode but the leaves don’t come in, and uh…” She winced. “I’ve had some mishaps with fruit.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “I can arrange a teacher, if you would like.”
“You may call me Ryuu.”
“Then you can call me Coraline.” She nodded. “I, uh…” She took a deep breath. “Can I help?”
“I mean, if I could shoot fireballs or something I could go help Stasya kick all the asses. But it seems like…” She shook her head. “I mean, Spiderman said it best. With great power comes great responsibility. I’m just not sure how great this power is.”
For a moment, he was silent. Then he opened the laptop on his desk, and typed for a moment. He turned the screen toward her. “This plant here is known as dwarf wheat. It is the creation of a man called Norman Borlaug. And it is a creation on par with the invention of penicillin. Without it, billions would have starved. Entire cultures would have died out. This single, humble plant, my dear girl, saved the world.”
“I…” She stared at the image on the screen, then looked up at him. “I want to help.”
Stasya knelt, looking at the terrified girl. Gently, she extended a hand. “Come with me.” The girl hesitated, then put her hand in Stasya’s. She pulled the girl to her feet, then stepped over the corpse of the businessman. The girl looked down at it, then shook her head and spat on the body before kicking it in the head. Then she kicked it again, and again, and again. Stasya caught her hand again, then pulled the girl to her as the girl started to sob. “He cannot hurt anyone. Not anymore.”
Technically, her instructions hadn’t included shooting the pimp. Then again, they hadn’t included not shooting the pimp. She led the girl out. A guard tried to stop her, and she shot him as well. Then she looked around. There were other girls. Other guards. She pushed the girl she’d come for behind her as the gang moved in. Then she smiled as she pulled the trigger.
Lidia tried to tamp down on the flow of anger. She’d told Coraline not to leave the arcade. At least she hadn’t left the hotel. She followed the attache in to an elegantly appointed office and found her daughter sitting at a table with Mr. Ishi. Papers were spread out in front of them, and Coraline was waving her hands adamantly as she talked and occasionally paused to note something on the paper.
She watched for a moment, then to her surprise, found herself starting to smile. It was like seeing the old Coraline again. “And what are we…” She walked over, then blinked when she saw the papers.
“We’re colonizing the moon.” Coraline turned one of the papers. “See, the soil there doesn’t have any of the microbes you’d need for a farm, so you have to start off with pure hydroponics. But you’ve got to keep the system in balance, right. Plants make oxygen, but need carbon dioxide, so you’ve got to have the other half of the system in animal life. But that means you’ve got to feed the animals. Smaller systems are much, much harder than big ones because there is no give. It’s all got to be perfect the first time.”
“You’re…” Lidia stared at her daughter for a moment, then turned toward Mr. Ishi. “Colonizing the moon?”
“Getting you people there the first time was a monumental undertaking.” Mr. Ishi waved a hand.
“Gravity is still a problem. It being too high or too low does all kinds of nasty things. Breeding strains to adapt is going to be tough at first because of having to figure out what it is we are breeding for.” Coraline nodded. “I think we’re going to need to start with algae.”
“And you are going to have to get at least one bachelor’s degree before I let you fly any space shuttles.” Mr. Ishi smiled.
“Let’s, uh…” Lidia laughed. “Focus on high school first.”
“She has a gift.” Sean watched his daughter playing in the backyard. “Why didn’t she tell us?”
“Until recent events…” Mr. Ishi sighed. “She thought she was a freak, or that it was her imagination.”
“The last couple years haven’t been…” He nodded. “I’d have listened.”
“You’re listening now.” Mr. Ishi smiled. “Sometimes, however, it is easier to tell a third party.” He glanced at Coraline, then back at Sean. “I have some questions, if you have a moment.”
“About Coraline and Adam?” He gestured for Mr. Ishi to join him in the living room.
“Actually, I would like to ask you about Wren.” He looked Sean over. “And about yourself.”
“I, uh…” Sean nodded. “Okay. What would you like to know?”
“Let us start with you, Mr. Wu. I would like to know the nature of your gift.”
“I…” He shifted uncomfortably before taking a seat on the couch. “How’d you know?”
“I am a dragon, Mr. Wu.” Mr. Ishi sat in the recliner. “Your sister had a gift. Your daughter has a gift. Gifts do have a tendency to run in the blood.”
“You…” Sean frowned. “You know Mandy?” He hesitated. “Do you know what…”
“I can confirm she is deceased, Mr. Wu.”
He exhaled. “Yeah. I mean, I knew that, but I didn’t…” He slowly nodded. “I stopped hoping almost twenty years ago. Sometimes I think the only good thing she ever did was give us Adam.”
“Family can be…” Mr. Ishi nodded. “Trying.”
“Yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “My gift isn’t much. It’s pretty useless a lot of the time. I mean, until all this, I’d stopped actually thinking of it as anything other than just being at one extreme of the spectrum. Some people are color blind. I can see in the dark.” He shrugged. “Since I’m not exactly ninja material, it uh…” He shrugged again. “Mostly it just helps me not trip over stuff at night.”
“Is it similar to infrared?” Mr. Ishi raised an eyebrow.
“You mean can I see heat signatures?” He shook his head. “No. It’s just…” He waved a hand. “I don’t seem to need light to see. No infrared, no x-rays, just doesn’t matter if the lights are on or off.” He exhaled. “And despite of how often I’ve tried, I can’t set anyone on fire by glaring at them.”
“I was trying to figure out how to ask about that.” Mr. Ishi smiled.
“And you wanted to know about Wren.” He leaned back. “What do you know about her?”
“An only child. A lot of success in her extended family, but she herself was a poor student. I’ve yet to find any other members of her family with a gift, leading me to believe she is one of those strange flukes that show from time to time.”
“Well…” Sean sighed. “Alright, I suppose honesty is probably the best tactic here, so I’ll just come out and say it…” He looked up at Mr. Ishi. “I never liked that girl.”
“It seems you are an excellent judge of character. I don’t care much for her myself.”
“Her parents are nice people. Actually, they uh…” He frowned a little. “Everyone else who lost someone in that…” He swallowed. “We all broke a little. Susan’s dad, he drank himself to death a few months after. But Aidan and Rebecca? They, uh…”
“Their lives improved.” Mr. Ishi slowly nodded.
“Rebecca and my wife had been friends. Then Rebecca kind of withdrew from everything. After the…” He took a deep breath. “She came out of her shell again. And Aidan started being active again, getting involved in politics like he had a few years ago.”
“I see. Both of them became more…” Mr. Ishi frowned a little. “Introverted around the same time Adam began his relationship with Wren?”
“He and Wren were about twelve?”
“Yeah. I…” He blinked, then turned toward where Coraline could be seen in the yard. “My eyes didn’t get weird until puberty.”
“Given Wren’s power, it’s likely her first efforts were unconscious. Untrained, she would have had no true control, but she would have been able to influence those around her.”
“She made my son fall in love with her.” He rose, and started pacing. “Mr. Ishi, did she have anything to do with —”
“No. Wren was blameless in the death of James, and there was nothing either she or Adam could have done to prevent the occurrence. They survived because they were not present when it happened, coming upon the scene later.”
“Then…” He swallowed.
“Beings of magic tend to be able to recognize each other. The witch that was responsible seems to have realized what Adam and Wren were, and took them prisoner instead of killing them.”
“And this witch is…”
“Would you think less of me if I was happy about that?” Sean exhaled. “Wren was…” He sat back down. “She was a spoiled brat who never really took responsibility for her actions. She was nice to Adam, and they clearly enjoyed each others company. I want to say that I believed she loved him. She even joined drama club because it was important to him. But she tended to be jealous and didn’t like it when he paid more attention to his other friends than he did her. And she…” He looked down at his hands. “Adam was brilliant. He had scholarships. He could have gone anywhere, but she wanted him to stay at the local college. So, he stayed.”
“Can you…” He took a deep breath. “You implied you’re doing something about the situation. Can you tell me…” He looked up. “Anything?”
“Mr. Wu…” Mr. Ishi stood up. He smiled, and put a hand on Sean’s shoulder. “I siced two werewolves, four witches, a demon, an archangel, a medal of honor winner, and an IRS auditor on her.”
“That, uh…” He blinked, then nodded before shaking his head a little. “An archangel?”
“The left hand of God himself.”
“Right.” He stood. “You know, I’d be skeptical about that, but uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ve currently got a dragon in my living room.”
“Seven young women between ten and sixteen.” Mr. Ishi looked over the notes. He paused, then raised an eyebrow. He looked up at her, then back at the paper, then up at her again. “What, exactly, is an glamdring knock-off?”
“Lord of Rings movie,” Stasya replied.
“And why did you feel it necessary to shove it hilt first up a man’s ass?”
“He sell little girls so he can buy himself shitty movie swords.” She shrugged.
“I…” He glanced down at the report. “Well, when you put it that way…” He smiled.