Abigail and Bridget had both fallen asleep on the couch. Khait put a blanket over each of them before returning to the table. The professor had grabbed one of Bridget’s empty notebooks, and was on his way to filling it. “Mermaids.”
“Yes, but stealthy and generally hostile toward humans.” Khait shrugged. “You people dump a lot of nasty things into the oceans.”
“Yes, well…” Professor Kravitz shook his head. He frowned a little. “You were at that protest where the…” He tilted his head. “The cop that tried to arrest Bridget got run over by his own police vehicle.”
“He lived.” Khait grinned.
“I…” The professor took a deep breath. “Right. Okay.” He put the pen down, then picked it up again. “The…” He hesitated.
“Earlier, when you were talking about the dragons…” He looked up at Khait. “Erilon insisted the subject be changed.”
“She had a point. The dragons don’t like certain information getting around. It’s not…” Khait gestured. “In their best interests.”
“But dragons are immortal.” Kravitz started taking notes again.
“Immortal is a funny word.” Khait waved a hand. “Technically, I am immortal, yet I can say in perfect honesty that Abigail and Bridget saved my life.”
“So can I define immortal as cannot die except under very special circumstances?” Kravitz continued jotting notes.
“Yes.” He leaned back. “Some circumstances are more special than others. Dragons require perhaps the most. One way would be the intervention of the other dragons. It took five to kill the tenth.”
“Five dragons to kill a dragon.” Kravitz slowly nodded. “Which implies that they can’t just go about fighting each other. The death of a dragon would require a majority consensus…” He sat back. “Why then do the dragons bother to hide themselves at all then? Why not rule openly?”
“Because of the safeguards put into place after the deaths of the first two.” Khait paused, then reached out and took the pen from the professor’s hand. “It is not a truth the dragons will allow to be known. They do not like having to acknowledge there exists power greater than theirs.”
“I…” He inhaled. “I see. Perhaps…” He closed the notebook, and stared down at it. Then he glanced at where Abigail and Bridget slept before looking back at Khait. He shifted again.
“You want to know?” Khait smiled.
“It’s like this horrific itch at the back of my mind and I know if I scratch it it will just make it worse but I can’t seem to will it away.” He took a deep breath. “Yes. I want to know.”
Khait sat up. “You may already know part of it. There were safeguards put in place, to protect humanity. The beings that sprang up in this world with the capacity to…” He shrugged. “Humans have souls of their own, rather than drawing their energy from ambient magic like most other beings. Witches, of course, are both. Possessed of souls and drawing magic. Hybrids of a sort. It was decided such beings needed to be protected. And so, safeguards were put into place.”
“Safeguards.” Kravitz nodded. “Like what…” His eyes widened, and he pointed at Khait. “Like your kind?”
He barely avoided flinching. “Like my kind, but not…” He took a deep breath. “Dragons are powerful. They can make volcanoes erupt with sheer force of will, but they must restrain themselves. Too much damage, and they risk breaking a seal. Since if they were known, the human tendency toward revolution would come into play, they hide instead. Guide from the shadows, pull strings, rule behind the scenes.”
“The seals. What are the seals?” Kravitz raised an eyebrow.
“You know the seals, professor. I’ve attended a few of your lectures.” He raised his hands dramatically. “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals…”
“One of the…” Kravitz stared. “Oh god.”
“Exactly.” Khait nodded.
“Angels can kill dragons.” Kravitz sat back, his face pale.
“Well, no. I mean, not just any angel.” Or he wouldn’t be in his particular predicament. “Most angels are —”
“You’re a demon.” Kravitz stared at him.
That time, he did flinch. “Don’t.”
“I’m sorry, I…” Kravitz trailed off. “That’s why Erilon didn’t want to speak of it as well, then…”
“Most likely.” Khait exhaled. “Angels don’t interfere. Those are the rules. They are bound in chains of…” Khait sighed. “Stupidity and cowardice. As long as the dragons do not create too much destruction and do not interfere with the basic tenets of free will…” He spread his hands. “The world is on its own.”
“Unless a seal is broken.” Kravitz slowly nodded. “And given the kind of devastation already wrought by history, I imagine what it would take to break a seal is…”
“You asked what killed two dragons…” Khait rubbed a thumb against his palm, then twitched a shoulder. “The big four came down and obliterated them, spread their ashes all over the world, send their magic back into the primordial ooze. The very act that endowed humans with the traces that enable them to be witches.”
“The big four?” Kravitz’s voice was little more than a whisper.
“Yes, professor.” Khait nodded. “Your kind calls them —”
“Indeed.” Khait leaned back. “And if one of those guys has to show up, then things are definitely fanning into the creek.”
“Fanning…” Kravitz blinked, then gave a small head shake. “What?”
“Uh…” Khait gestured. “When you use one of those fanning boats to go up the shitty creek? Instead of paddling?” When Kravitz continued starring, Khait frowned. “It’s an idiom?”
“I think you either mean ‘up shit creek without a paddle’ or ‘when the shit hits the fan.’” Kravitz slowly nodded.
Ted lay with his head on Gabriel’s shoulder, staring up at the sky. There was a slight chill in the air, but Gabriel was nice and warm. “I can’t remember the last time I just…” He exhaled. “Watched the stars.”
“Eternity spread out before us.” Gabriel’s voice was quiet. Ted thought he was done speaking, and jumped a little when he started again. “I remembered you.”
“When…” Gabriel exhaled. “When it was the other and…” He swallowed. “It’s mostly just a blur, but you…” He pulled Ted a little closer. “I remembered you.”
“That’s good. Kept you from cutting off my head.” It had been terrifying.
“It’s a relief, in its way.” Gabriel leaned down and caught his chin to kiss him, then rested his forehead against Ted’s. “It means no matter how this ends, I will never forget you.”
He let out a ragged breath, then pulled Gabriel closer to him. “I love you, Gabriel.”
“I love you, too.”
“Gabriel…” Ted hesitated. “I, uh…” He swallowed. “I have a request.”
“Anything you want, Ted.” Gabriel smiled.
“Well, two requests, actually.” Ted brushed some of Gabriel’s hair away from his face. “First, I want to tie you to that tree over there and take my belt to you before fucking you until you can’t see straight…”
“Handcuffs are in my back pocket.” Gabriel grinned.
“And then, uh…” Ted swallowed again. “Then, I uh…” He took a deep breath. “Then uh…”
“Ted?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“Gabriel, will you marry me?”
“Erilon has a nemesis.” Matthias just shook his head when he looked at his mother. “And the words ‘don’t worry’ actually came out of your mouth?”
“He’s got the same problem Adam does.” Laura folded her arms, her eyes a little angry. “Bound to the will of a mistress via a talisman.”
“Though Bridget certainly is far more benevolent…” Magda sighed. “And Khait considerably more troublesome than Adam.”
“But he’s going to help us rescue Adam, right?” Ash looked up from where he was snuggled into Magda’s lap.
“He’s going to help.”
“Erilon, what’s your take on all this?”
“I am hoping Stephan’s power is sufficient to neutralize Khait’s tricks.” Erilon’s voice came from the direction of the radio.
“What are his tricks?”
“Well, for starters, he can inspire feelings of lust in anyone even remotely attracted to men.” Erilon made a frustrated noise. “Enough to make him effectively capable of mind control.”
“That, uh…” Daniel frowned. “That sounds like something that could be a problem for this group.”
“Ya think?” Stephan snickered.
“Not sure I like the thought of allying with someone that can take control of our two heavy hitters.” Michaels frowned. “Or, you know, potentially everyone here but me.”
“Might work on you.” Matthias poked him in the arm.
“Remind me to shoot you later.”
“Would it work on Gabriel?” Stephan raised an eyebrow. “Where is he, by the way?”
“He and Ted are having a date. Said they’d be back sometime tomorrow.” Daniel sat up. “I mean, would it work on Gabriel?”
“It may be best if Khait and Gabriel are not in the same vicinity.” Erilon’s voice was contemplative. “Alpha werewolves are not that unusual for him, they would not tempt him to more misbehavior than his usual.”
“Alright. We have…” Matthias took a deep breath. “We actually have a functional plan.”
“That’s a first for us.” Daniel shrugged.
“Ash is right. Magda and I plan things.”
“Have any of your plans worked out like they were supposed to?” Laura raised an eyebrow.
“Great.” Michaels sighed. “We are doomed.”
Adam looked down at the burner phone. He spun it on his leg, and sighed again. He picked it up, then set it back down. Then he growled and picked it up, dialing the number.
“Yo cago en la leche du tu puta madre.” The voice on the other end sounded furious.
He raised an eyebrow. “Va te faire enculer, fils de pute.”
“Oh, jefe. Sorry.” Iggy’s voice immediately became abashed. “Thought you were…” He swallowed. “Never mind. We’re in position to —”
“Call it off.”
“Iggy, I need your crew to get the fuck out of there. You especially.” He stood. “Cabal has something and they are looking to capture an alpha to test it on. I’ll send you details so you know what to watch for.”
“Jefe, we can —”
“Iggy, amigo, hermano, take your crew and get out of there. Lay low at the ranch. I’ve transfered funds. Keep your heads down until I give you the…” He took a deep breath. “Look, I’m advancing you a year of pay. If I don’t get in touch with you by June, go to Washington and find Laura. The blue-haired chick. She’s your new boss.”
“Adam.” Iggy’s voice went completely serious. “Hermano, look, you need me there, I got your back. I like being one of the good guys, jefe.”
“You’ll still be one of the good guys working for her, Iggy. Get clear, alright?”
“Vaya con Dios, hermano.” Iggy hung up.
He took another deep breath, then dialed a different number.
“Detective Michaels.” He answered the phone.
“Do you have tabs on Matthias?” The voice on the other end of the line was familiar, and he immediately gestured to the crew before putting it on speakerphone.
“Yeah, Adam. He’s right here.”
“Adam?” Laura’s eyes went wide.
“Adam.” Ash’s voice was thrilled.
There was silence for a moment. Adam’s voice was slightly hoarse when it came again. “Hey, guys.”
“What do you have for us?” Matthias folded his arms.
“Matthias?” When Matthias grunted affirmative, Adam continued. “Cabal is actively hunting Alphas, and you’re a priority target. They’ve got some…” He took a deep breath. “It’s like a poison. Starts off by putting an alpha into an uncontrolled rage, and let’s the cabal do something to take control of their minds. So far, it has to be ingested to work.”
“We appreciate the heads up.” Magda put a hand on her son’s shoulder.
“Yeah, well, there is no vaccine or antitoxin or anything, so keep your fucking eyes open, alright, cause I’m not sure it works on anything Daniel can do something about. Hits other wolves too, just nowhere near as hard.”
“Adam, are you safe?” Michaels stared at Laura when he asked the question. Her eyes were watery.
“I have to go. Good luck.” The phone went dead.
Laura took a ragged breath, and Ash put an arm around her and pulled her close to him.
“He’s alive and kicking.” Stephan folded his arms. “And still one of the good guys.”
“Yeah.” Daniel smiled. “Let’s go save his ass.”