“Professor Kravitz?” Laura raised an eyebrow. The man behind the desk looked to be in his forties, with hair just starting to go gray. His glasses were fashionable rather than spectacles, and he wore a simple t-shirt and jeans rather than what she expected from a history professor.
“Can I help you?” He smiled, then looked from Adam to her. “I’m fairly sure I would recall you if you were one of my students.”
“I’m here touring to decide if Berkeley is the school for me.”
“And you’ve an interest in archeology and history, then?” His smile warmed. “How delightful, though I’ll warn you it’s not quite like Indiana Jones makes it out to be.”
“Oh god, I hope not. Running from giant boulders 101 sounds like a really tough class.” Laura grinned. “But since my name actually is Lara Croft…” Or so it said on her IDs.
Professor Kravitz laughed. “Well then. As I just had a meeting cancel, I’ve a few free minutes.” He glanced at Adam. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“I’m Adam Wu.” Adam glanced at her, then looked back at Professor Kravitz.
“And you’re also interested in history?”
“She’s the prospective student.” He jerked his head at her. “I’m just…”
“He’s a hit man.” Laura shrugged. “Professional assassin. It’s pretty boring, so he’s killing time hanging out with me. So, your focus is European history? Excalibur and shit?” She waved at the artwork hanging on his office wall. Help me out here? Right. Try this. “I read your screed on all the things wrong with that King Arthur movie with Clive Owen that suggested he was a Roman officer. I didn’t catch that the swords were held together by screws until I read that, and then it was like all I could see every time the camera focused on a weapon.”
“That might have been a forgivable error if they hadn’t also had trebuchets and stirrups.” The professor nodded.
“Oh, and the whole landing north of the wall instead of, you know, sailing around it? Though that’s just bad writing rather than an anachronism.” Laura nodded. She caught the rather bemused look Adam was giving her. “But what I’d really like to ask you about is Merlin and Nimue.”
“I fear there is little historical basis for any of the Merlin myths, though I admit the folklore regarding the character is incredible. Some of the earliest —”
“Specifically, the Landau expedition.” Adam’s voice was quiet. The professor’s head immediately came up, and he stared at Adam. Adam shifted his position just slightly. “You worked for Professor Landau’s son, didn’t you, Mr. Adler?”
“I was trying to be subtle.” Laura glared at him.
“You told him I was a professional assassin.” Adam glared back.
“I think you are mistaken.” Professor Kravitz started shaking his head.
“No, he really is a hit man.” Laura shrugged before turning her full gaze back to the professor. “The Cabal knows where you are, Professor. I’m not part of them. I can help you.”
“I don’t have what you are after.” His smile had vanished, replaced by no small amount of fear. “The artifacts were destroyed.”
“We know.” Laura nodded. “But they want the files.”
“They burned —”
“You scanned them all.” Adam clasped his hands behind his back. “You’re an archaeologist and historian. You wouldn’t have disposed of that data.”
“This is insanity.” The professor swallowed. “People were murdered because some cult believed…” He shook his head again. “It’s insanity. You realize they actually think werewolves and vampires are real?”
“They are real.” Laura shrugged. “I got captured by vampires once and a couple good friends are werewolves.” Maybe she’d leave out that she was regularly possessed by a succubus. That sort of thing does seem ripe for misunderstanding. She glanced at Adam. “Hey, come to think of it, what even are you?”
“Can we…” Adam sighed.
“That’s it.” The professor glared. “I’m calling —”
“Oh, don’t do that. It would get awkward.” Erilon’s form rose in the mirror on the back of his office door. “And I think you’ll find things are both more and less insane than you previously believed. Also, they weren’t joking about Adam being a hit man. Please don’t give him a reason to hurt you or anyone else.”
After the professor fumbled his keys, Laura gently took them from him. “Maybe let me drive?” She smiled.
“Right, I…” Professor Kravitz swallowed, then shot Adam a nervous look. Laura had kept up the pretense that this was a polite, friendly outing, but it was clear the professor understood Adam wasn’t giving him a choice in the matter.
He chose to sit in the back, behind the professor. Laura rolled her eyes when they made eye contact in the rearview mirror. “The scary mafia act isn’t helping.”
“Laura…” Adam took a deep breath. “We are currently kidnapping a professor.”
“No, we aren’t.” She shook her head and looked at the man sitting next to her. “We’re not, really. We’re just having you take us someplace —”
“Against your will.”
“To retrieve something —”
“Under threat of violence.”
“Fine, alright, we’re kidnapping him. Sheesh.” Laura started the car. “Sorry.” She glanced at the professor again. “This is kind of my first time kidnapping someone.”
“I’m not…” Kravitz gave a small shake of his head before shifting a little in the passenger seat. “Really sure how to respond to that.”
“Are we the first to have come looking?” Adam raised an eyebrow.
“I changed my name for a reason.” Kravitz sighed. “But no, you are not. A few, cultists of various sorts. One group quite recently.”
“Tell me about them.” Adam frowned. If they’d been Cabal, then why bother sending him in? Kravitz was supposedly just an ordinary human.
“About a month ago. Rather rough sorts. Fortunately for me, they uh…” He glanced back at Adam. “I was in a more public area that time and there were others around to notice. They withdrew and did not return.”
“What did you tell them?” Adam narrowed his eyes.
“That the documents had been destroyed in the fire.” Kravitz swallowed. “Unlike you, they…” He looked down. “It didn’t occur to them that I had copied the work.” He gestured. “Turn here.”
It took almost two hours before they reached their destination. “Why so far?” Laura asked when they stopped.
“Have you tried renting space in the city itself?” Kravitz raised an eyebrow.
“Fucking parking space costs $400 a month.” Adam shook his head. “There’s the real monsters, right there.”
Kravitz blinked. “Where’d you find one for $400?” He frowned. “I pay $750.”
“Garage over on 15th”
“Can I get the information from you after?”
“I may have negotiated the price a bit…” Adam shrugged. “Strenuously.”
“You threatened to shoot him, didn’t you?” Laura rolled her eyes.
“Please, have you met a garage owner? He didn’t even blink at the gun.” Adam shook his head. “I dosed him with some neurotoxin from an Australian jellyfish then offered him a nerve blocker after he agreed to charge me a third the normal rate.”
“Young man…” Kravitz stared at him. “You’re a little…” He exhaled. “Fucked up.”
“A little?” Laura giggled.
They headed into the storage warehouse. Uh oh, we aren’t the only ones… Laura sighed as a group of four intercepted their path. Okay, how bad is this going to be? They are werewolves. Okay, let’s hope Adam can use that gun and we’ll focus on getting Kravitz back to… Two more between us and the door. Shit. “Werewolves.”
“Were…” Kravitz swallowed. “This is a nightmare, and I’m going to wake up at any moment.”
“Been telling myself that for two years now.” Adam shrugged. He stepped to the front as the wolves approached. “Who the fuck is in charge here?”
“The strongest leads.” A man stepped out from the group.
She swallowed, and caught the arm of the clearly terrified Kravitz as the man took were form. “You run, they’ll chase.”
“The strongest?” Adam nodded. “And that’s currently…” He tilted his head.
The wolf wasn’t quite the size of Matthias, but he was considerably larger than Magda. An alpha, then. Not good. He snarled. “Me.”
“Right then.” Adam nodded.
Laura blinked when Adam abruptly vanished. Oh, he didn’t leave… The werewolf in front of them suddenly howled as if in pain. A heartbeat later there was a massive gorilla behind it. It grabbed the werewolf by the throat and twisted to slam the werewolf bodily down on the concrete floor hard enough to actually make a crack. Then it vanished again as the werewolf started back up to its feet. It looked around and then howled again, it’s entire body twitching. Then a tiger leaped onto it’s back, sinking teeth and raking claws. Just as the werewolf recovered enough from the surprise to try clawing back the tiger vanished again. It whirled, and then a snake buried fangs into the back of its leg. It swiped down at the snake, but the serpent vanished before the claws connected.
The hell? I have no idea. Laura, what he’s doing is not possible. Witches cannot do this. The werewolf started to whirl on them and then all of a sudden a fucking rhinoceros of all things hit it full steam, driving it backward a dozen feet. The rhino vanished. The werewolf started to climb back up and then howled in pain again, shaking and screaming. It whirled in place, and then there was a damn anaconda or something wrapped around it, crushing its still twitching body. She heard bones snap, and then to her shock the werewolf stopped moving. Slowly, it returned to human form and went limp as the snake dropped it. The snake vanished as the werewolf hit the ground, and Adam was suddenly standing over it again. “I’ll ask again…” He looked around at the staring pack. “Who the fuck is in charge here?”
Hesitantly, a woman took a small step forward. “You are.”
He hadn’t killed the alpha. The man was wounded, but still breathing. Given the healing factor of werewolves, it wouldn’t take more than a day before the alpha was back on his feet, even with the amount of venom he’d pumped into the guy’s system. Laura and Kravitz were both staring at him. Adam shrugged.
“I think…” Kravitz took a few deep breaths. He was swaying just a little. “I’m feeling a bit…”
“Hey, no passing out, professor.” Laura rubbed his shoulder.
“You are here for the artifacts?” The woman was staring at Adam. He’d just taken over a pack of werewolves. Well, this could be interesting. “They are not here. We’ve been searching for…”
“They aren’t here. But the means to get them is.” Adam nodded. “Professor?”
“Yes, I…” Kravitz swallowed. “There is a small black box with amber set into the lid. Inside is a portable hard drive.”
“There is nothing here.” The woman led them to a storage room. Just as she’d stated, it was empty.
From the look of shock on Kravitz’s face, he had no more idea what was going on than they did. Adam turned toward the woman. “And?”
“Whoever took it was in the last couple days.” She made a growling sound. “We got here just before you did.”
“Shit.” He nodded.
“So bad guys have it.” Laura shook her head. “Great. So, is this like end of the world shit, or are we just talking a few major population centers?”
“Depends on which bad guys.” Adam rubbed the back of his neck.
“It’s encrypted. They won’t be able to get the files without the security pass.” Kravitz shook his head.
Frustration filled him. Well, now that he knew that… “And this security pass?” Kravitz must have seen something in his eyes, because he went pale again. Laura must have seen it to, because she actually moved to put herself between him and the professor. “No, we won’t worry about it now.” He turned to his new pack. “Who hired you to retrieve the data?”
“Cult leader.” She shrugged. “Kind of dumb, but paid good.”
“This mean we aren’t getting paid?” One of the other wolves blinked.
“You’re getting paid.” Adam waved a hand. “Orders are simple. Trouble starts, you’re to make sure Kravitz and Laura here don’t get hurt. Grab your buddy back there and get him patched up, we might need the extra muscle. Get me a means to contact you, then lay low until I call you in. I’ll deal with finding our target.” He frowned. “And get me the info on this cult as well.”
“Yes, sir.” She tapped her chest.
“Holy shit.” Laura waited until the pack had scattered before turning back toward Adam. “Holy shit, I mean, holy shit. That was…” She shook her head. “Holy shit.” Her eyes widened. “You really are a hit man, aren’t you?”
Adam ran a hand down his face, then nodded. “Get now why you shouldn’t be anywhere near me?”
“Adam…” Laura stared. “How the hell could anyone bind something like you?”
“Maybe let’s not talk about it while the professor there looks like he wants to wet his pants?” Adam gestured at the pale professor.
“Oh, right.” She gently pulled Kravitz back toward the door. “Let’s get you out of here and somewhere you can have a stiff drink.”
“That was a werewolf.” Kravitz nodded dully. “Then there was a gorilla, and a tiger and…” He let her lead him to the car. “Snake.”
“Yeah, seriously. I mean, why’d it have to be snakes?” Laura rolled her eyes. She heard Adam groan, but the quote seemed to get through to the professor just a little. He was looking at her now instead of staring kind of vaguely. “You back with us, professor?”
“I think…” He nodded. “A stiff drink sounds good.” He opened the passenger seat and got into the car. She went around to the driver’s side again, and started it. “Ms. Croft…”
“You can call me Laura.” She started the car.
“Exactly what is it you and your companion intend to do with…” He took a couple deep breaths, apparently working up his nerve. “I took you to the warehouse to get you away from any collateral damage, because I knew you couldn’t get to the files without the encryption protocols. But if…”
“No, no, no.” Laura started shaking her head. “We don’t want those. And we aren’t going to hurt you.”
“Laura…” Adam’s voice was low and soft.
“Okay, well, I don’t want those and I’m not going to hurt you, and Adam and I are going to damn well do our best to make sure he doesn’t have to hurt you either.” She shrugged. “Maybe let’s save talking about it to where he can’t overhear and thus doesn’t have to stop our plan, alright?”
“I…” Kravitz blinked.
“Oh, uh…” Laura sighed. “Okay, cards on the table. Adam’s one of the good guys but due to really complex magical things, he’s got no choice but to be working for the bad guys right now. But he doesn’t want to, which is why he brought me in. He can’t screw with their shit, so I’m going to.”
“And…” Kravitz looked over his shoulder at Adam.
“She’s got the gist of it correct enough.” Adam nodded.
“Hey, do you think I could actually get a letter of recommendation from you?” Laura gave Kravitz a hopeful look. “Cause from what I saw of Berkeley, it looks kind of awesome.”