“Are we sure this is a good idea?” Michaels put the car in park, then turned to look at Matthias.
“We need information, and we can’t risk compromising Adam to get it.” Matthias nodded.
“Yeah, but given what this guy can do…” Michaels shook his head.
“That’s uh…” Matthias exhaled. “Why I brought you. Erilon’s tapped into your head pretty good, so she can monitor things and counter him.”
“Not.” Michaels gritted his teeth. “Comforting.”
“It seems a reasonable plan, however…” Erilon’s eyes reflected back from the rear view mirror. “I’ve never directly tried to match Khait before and I have no idea what his current strength levels are at with the talisman in play. Please try very hard not to make Bridget or Abigail feel threatened.”
“Maybe I should wait in the car.” Matthias sighed.
“That’s not the worst idea you ever had, but we are going to need to intimidate and interrogate some people and uh…” Michaels shrugged. “I happen to know you’re not bad at that.”
Matthias winced. “Yeah.” He opened the car door and got out.
Michaels followed him up to the porch, then rang the doorbell. After a few seconds, a lovely young black woman opened the door. She looked them over, then turned and looked over her shoulder. “Bridget, the scary men are here.”
“Tell them to come in and ask them if they want coffee.” Another voice came from the kitchen.
“Come in.” She smiled and stepped back so they could enter.
“Thank you.” Michaels entered, Matthias a step behind. “You must be Abigail. I’m Detective Michaels…” He gestured. “This is Matthias Jarlson.”
“Thats a lot of werewolf.” A male voice came from behind them, making him jump slightly. A young man leaned against the wall, a slight smirk on his face.
“Khait, you promised to behave yourself.” Abigail pointed at him.
“Simply making an observation.” Khait tilted his head at Matthias. Then his eyes widened slightly. “Wait…” He grinned. “Jarlson?” He suddenly started laughing.
“Khait…” A brunette woman who must be Bridget stepped out of the hallway and folded her arms. Her voice was heavy with disapproval.
“Yes.” Matthias squared his shoulder. “Jarlson.”
“Ah, Jarl…” Khait gave a low whistle. “Now, he was fun. They don’t make Vikings like that anymore.” He rolled his eyes. “Now they all lose to cheese boxers.”
“Chee—” Matthias blinked.
“It’s Packers, Khait, not boxers, and that’s football.” Abigail snickered. “Not real Vikings.”
“Oh.” Khait blinked. “Is that why they don’t have axes?”
“Can we…” Michaels pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Sorry.” Abigail directed them further into the house. “We are working on getting him up to date on modern culture and there are still areas of misunderstanding.”
“Such as why they call it football in the first place.”
“It’s an American thing. Americans insist on calling proper football ‘soccer’.” Abigail chuckled. She had a trace of a British accent. “Oh, did you want coffee?”
“I suspect…” Michaels took a deep breath. “That we are going to need it.”
“You’re in a really good mood.” Laura grinned at Ted. “Naked yoga is good for the soul?”
“It is.” Ted chuckled. When Laura leaned forward, he rolled his eyes. “And you are not getting details.”
“Ugh.” Laura fell backward onto the couch. “I think Stasya is lying about not having the rest of the pictures. Who in their right minds would throw those away?”
“I’m still not happy about those pictures existing.” The joke was starting to wear thin a little. It did bother him that the others had some idea of the nature of the relationship between himself and Gabriel. Having that secret had been special. A small smile came to his face. Then again, the new secret was a little bit better. “She did the right thing by disposing of them. It demonstrates that she does have ethics.”
“Adam trusts her.” Laura sat up again. “She’s the only one in the world he does.” She swallowed. “It was good, hearing his voice.”
“He must be an incredibly strong-willed young man.” Ted nodded.
“He’s amazing.” Laura smiled, her voice slightly dreamy.
Some part of him couldn’t help but feel a trace of concern at the level of crush Laura had on Adam. It was understandable, certainly. Yet he dreaded what it would mean if it turned out Adam didn’t return her feelings. A kiss in a highly charged moment might not mean as much to him as it obviously had to her. Fortunately, Michaels and Gabriel both seemed to share his concern. “As much as I understand why we have no way to reach him, I admit I’d feel better if we had some means of contacting him.” Ted moved a piece of paper into his desk drawer. “At least enough to ensure he can avoid being at any target we hit.”
“Well, that’s where Khait can come in handy. He can just teleport Adam someplace else.”
“I…” Ted blinked. “Actually, that is an excellent point.”
It was hard not to start laughing. The dozen or so men on the small island were various stages of bedraggled, though Khait and the girls had been kind enough to make sure the island had fresh water and a source of food. Not quite kind enough to make sure it had soap or bathing facilities. It was clear a couple of the men knew who they were, but none of them made any move to initiate hostilities. “So…” Matthias glanced to his left, where an amused Michaels stood, then to his left, where Khait just looked bored. “We have a few questions.”
“We’re not going to tell you jack —” The young man who spoke up was smacked in the back of the head by the man sitting next to him.
That man rose. “You’re Jarlson.”
“I am.” Matthias nodded.
“So, I’m guessing you’re not going to be giving us a lot of options here.” The man exhaled. “What do we have to do to get…” He looked around the island. “We’ve been here for two months. If you’ve got a pack of cigarettes, I will tell you every fucking thing I know.”
“Uh…” Matthias glanced over at Khait, who shrugged, snapped his fingers, then offered him a pack of cigarettes. “Yeah, I think we can work something out.”
Daniel glanced at Magda, then nodded. Then he shifted awkwardly. “You don’t mind, right?”
Magda ruffled his hair. “If it doesn’t bother Ash, it doesn’t bother me.” She leaned on the railing next to him. Ash and Gabriel were stripped to the waist, moving through sword forms. He may have started watching because they were two very pretty men, but despite Gabriel being one of the most beautiful men he’d ever seen it was Ash that kept drawing his attention. Ash was actually enjoying himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Magda blink back a few tears. “He’s not bad at that.”
“They were using a katana style blade earlier, but Gabriel switched them to the…” Daniel tilted his head. “He told me the word, but I forgot it. European style longsword. Said this style is better for defense, and can incorporate a shield or offhand blade.”
“Where did Gabriel learn to use a sword?” Magda sat back.
“I asked him that, and uh…” Gabriel had gone still at the question before quietly stating that he’d never had sword-fighting lessons. He shifted awkwardly.
“Some part of him is starting to remember.” Magda’s voice was quiet.
“Yeah. At least I don’t remember him using a sword last time we were here. At least…” Daniel exhaled. “Things would have gone a lot worse for Matthias if Gabriel had been armed when…” He turned to look at her. “I got a sense of just how much power Gabriel has and just a drop of it was nearly enough to kill me. What happens if…”
“Ted called him back before.” Magda put a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah, but Ted’s not coming to France.” Daniel wrapped his arms around himself. “Erilon said that cause of what Matthias did and used to be that…” He glanced over his shoulder at Gabriel.
“She also said that side of Gabriel is contained once more. As long as she doesn’t release it…” Magda squeezed his shoulder. “As long as things go at least somewhat according to plan, releasing it won’t be necessary.”
“Yeah.” He nodded, then turned back around to watch the practice. “It’s both comforting and scary as shit that we’ve got an ‘in case of apocalypse break glass’ option.”
“I cannot argue with that.” She put an arm around him and he leaned into her shoulder. It was kind of nice. There was still a small part of him that missed his mom, but Magda helped. “So, I was wondering…” She touched her cheek to the top of his head. “You going to make an honest man out of my son?”
He snorted. “Magda…”
“Worth a shot.” She grinned.
“We need…” Stephan jumped back, a small scream escaping him as Michaels and Matthias both suddenly appeared in front of him. He took a couple deep breaths. “Holy fucking shit don’t do that.”
They looked almost as startled as she had been. “So when you asked him to take us home…” Michaels exhaled.
“We should have been more clear about which home we meant…” Matthias ran a hand down his face.
Michaels chuckled, then glanced at Stephan. “You know, you do a great impression of a four-year-old girl.”
“Yeah, well, you’re about to do something similar.” Stephan exhaled.
“Why would…” Matthias started shaking his head.
“Fuck.” Michaels kicked the side of the couch. When Matthias glanced at him, Michaels gestured at Stephan. “Khait just teleported us to five feet away from anti-magic boy.”
“Oh.” Matthias swallowed. “Fuck.” Then he glanced at Stephan before looking back at Michaels. “Well, we are in Ted’s house, surrounded by allies and shit. Possible he’s dialing it back a lot right now.” He glanced at Stephan. “I mean…”
“I don’t really have a lot of conscious control over it, but that’s…” Stephan shrugged. “I was pretty relaxed until about a minute ago.”
“Right.” Magda looked over everyone sitting at the dining room table. “What all have we learned?”
Father Williams folded his hands over his plate. “In some ways, the Cabal hasn’t changed in decades. Or perhaps more accurately, in centuries.”
“It’s hard to pinpoint the exact origins, but it goes back to the days of the British Empire at least.”
“Khait indicated that it may be the descendant of a cult that goes back to the Roman Empire.” Michaels held out his cup so Ted could pour wine into it.
“Khait’s information should always be taken with a grain of salt. His perspective tends to be somewhat skewed.” Erilon’s voice sounded reluctant. “However, on this, he may be correct. He was far more active in Rome than I was, and moved in different circles.”
“Were you serious about the Khait burning down Rome thing?” Laura raised an eyebrow.
“Yes. Khait has always had a penchant for causing chaos.”
“Erilon, it’s not that I don’t trust you, cause I absolutely do…” Michaels set the wine glass down. “But is it possible you are a bit biased where he is concerned?”
The lights in the room flickered for a brief moment. Then Erilon’s voice answered. “It is…” She made a sighing sound.
“He’s your brother.” Ted slowly nodded.
“Family shit gets fucked up.” Daniel swallowed, and Matthias put an arm on his shoulder. Daniel smiled as he lifted his head to receive a kiss.
“We did get some good information from the castaway Cabal.” Michaels glanced toward Stephan.
“I’ve confirmed enough of it to admit there is a possibility it is all good.” Stephan glanced over his shoulder at his laptop before going back to cutting his steak. “Though I’ll grant those guys were fairly low on the totem pole. Their intel was good, but it doesn’t go up very high. They know their handler, but not much higher than that. Adam’s intel was far more wide-ranging.”
“Who…” Ash stabbed his own steak, then frowned. “Who actually runs the Cabal?”
All their eyes turned toward Father Williams. He shrugged. “That is…” He let out a small laugh. “Actually a very good question. I can’t recall ever once meeting someone who didn’t have a superior they reported to.”
“Got to imagine some of those are mere figureheads. Mouthpieces.” Michaels nodded. “Could think of the Cabal as kind of like the mafia. Got bosses that exist to draw attention to themselves, and then bosses that actually have power and quietly make the decisions without anybody ever being the wiser.”
“There are a fair number of Cabal members who believe they are the good guys. Holy warriors doing battle against monsters and the forces of darkness.” Father Williams moved his food around on his plate.
“Adam said Patrick was a good man, who joined the Cabal because his brother was murdered by vampires.” Laura’s voice was quiet. She hesitated a moment, then looked up at Father Williams. “Why did you join?”
“I…” It was the priest’s turn to hesitate. He took a couple deep breaths. “I am not certain that is appropriate dinner conversation, Laura.”
“It’s okay, I mean —”
“He fought in ‘nam.” Matthias took a drink of his wine. “Got stuck being part of a squad sent to help clean up after the uh…” Matthias swallowed. “Tran Cu Lien incident.”
“The…” Daniel went pale.
“Yes.” Father Williams nodded. “Several of us were recruited after that. A few years later I learned that…” He gave a small shake of his head. “He who fights monsters can easily become one. I imagine the Cabal draws its ranks from many such as I was.”
“Dicks taking advantage of vulnerable people.” Michaels sighed.
“That’s how a lot of terrorist organizations work.” Magda nodded.
“Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” Gabriel’s voice was soft, but it drew all their eyes to him. “Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” He picked up his wine glass. “Adam may not be the only soul we save on this mission.”
Magda smiled, then raised her glass. “I’ll drink to that.