“Your power is…” Tomer raised an eyebrow at Stephan. “Complete immunity to magic?”
“We are still figuring it out.” Stephan shrugged. “I haven’t figured out how to even control it, and at least one dragon has proved able to bypass it.”
“Dragons.” Tomer exhaled. “Still wrapping my brain around that.” He glanced up at Magda. “Khait said there are currently nine?”
“There are, though as far as I know I’ve only met two. Ryuu and Tia.” Magda chuckled. “Ryuu and I had a fling, back in the 18th century.”
“I should have asked Khait for more of his stash.” Tomer laughed softly, then glanced again at Stephan. “My friend, I think I rather envy you.”
“We’ve only heard what happened in San Francisco from Laura’s viewpoint, Professor.” Stephan leaned forward. “I know asking you if anything unusual happened is kind of an odd question, considering —”
“No, I get what you mean.” He took a deep breath. “I spoke with Adam privately.”
“What did he tell you?” Magda raised an eyebrow.
“Enough that…” Tomer exhaled. “Enough that invoking his name was enough to convince me to help you. As for the rest, it was indeed a private conversation and if he’d wanted Laura or Erilon to know I’ve no doubt he’d have spoken in front of them.”
“Yeah.” Magda leaned back. “Yeah, I get that.”
“May I ask how it is you first encountered Adam?” Tomer raised an eyebrow.
“Well, uh…” Stephan laughed awkwardly. “He told me some bad jokes then his partner kicked me in the head.” He straightened. “He didn’t have a choice there. As soon as he did have a choice, he risked a hell of a lot to help us and…” He glanced at Magda.
“Adam saved Ash. I owe him for that.” Magda glanced at the door. Ash was around college students, people his own age. He was being quiet, but he was making some effort to interact. The professor had learned of Ash’s interest in geology and had introduced him to one of the students who specialized in dating rock samples and dirt layers and the conversation had quickly lost her entirely.
“He saved me.” Tomer nodded. “I owe him for that.” He hesitated. “And I will note this. Save when dealing with vampires, each time Adam fought he opted for nonlethal combat. He may call himself a killer, Magda, but I do not believe that characterization is wholly accurate.”
He waited until he was out of earshot and in his quarters, then stared at the mirror. “Erilon.”
Her flaming visage appeared in the mirror. “Yes, Matthias?”
“I’ve got a question, and it’s a growing subject of concern regarding the uh…” He shrugged. “Your male counterpart.”
“Khait.” Despite being made of fire, she managed to wrinkle her nose.
“You’re taking steps to keep him away from us, but only three of us haven’t encountered him yet. Ash is a sweet kid, but I doubt he’d particularly catch the interest of an incubus…” Matthias stared at her. “Daniel’s power isn’t particularly useful to an immortal, which leads me to believe you’re protecting —”
She made a hissing sound. “Of course I am.” She shook her head. “And if you are smart, you will as well.” The flames around her flickered. “Matthias, I harbor you no ill will. The opposite, in fact. You are one of those I am trying to keep safe, and if Khait…” She looked away. “He’s sufficient chaos that a dragon personally bound him to the curse of the djinn and sealed him up for centuries. I don’t even want to contemplate what could happen if he learns about Gabriel.”
Matthias ran a hand through his hair, then folded his arms. “Yeah, that’s definitely a terrifying thought.” He sighed. “You know, for the past century or so I’ve been used to being one of the heaviest hitters in the world. Only beings that I really had to worry about were dragons.” He looked down, then looked back up at her. “Erilon, what is Gabriel?”
“You know what he is, Matthias.”
“I know what…” Matthias swallowed, then leaned on the sink. “That’s not exactly something easy to wrap my mind around.” He hung his head, then looked up at her again. “Maybe the more important question is why is he here?”
“I…” Erilon trailed off.
“You…” He stared at her. “Shit. You don’t know, do you?”
“So you aren’t part of his mission, whatever it is.” Matthias straightened up. “You just attached yourself to him and…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “And what, Erilon?”
“I didn’t know what he was at first.” Her voice was soft, and the flames around her seemed somewhat dimmer. “Thought he was just an exceptionally powerful witch. A good source of food. My desire to help was real. I could use him to assist with my work of dispensing justice, and in return I could aid him with his. And then…”
“When did you realize what he was?”
“The first time I tried to tap into him to boost what I thought were his abilities.” She laughed softly. “It was like jumping into what you thought was a kiddie pool only to find yourself in the ocean during a hurricane.”
“Daniel described it as finding a volcano where you expected a candle.” Matthias rubbed his forehead. “Alright. So we keep him away from Khait. Shouldn’t be too difficult, Khait’s with the students and we won’t be for long.”
“And I’ll keep this conversation between us.”
“Professor Kravitz says there are some online programs I can get into.” Ash smiled as he crawled in next to Magda and felt her arms go around him.
“You want to go back to college?” She smiled.
“I don’t know.” He laid back. “It might be worth trying. I need…” He sighed.
“Ash, you help us a lot.” She patted his shoulder. Frustration filled him, and he sat upright and put his feet on the floor. “Ash.”
“You can’t get under the beds on the ship.” He swallowed. “They are flat on the floor so you can’t fit.”
“What happened?” She sat up, putting her arm around him.
“I was doing okay. Talking about sediment layers and then…” He wiped at his eyes. “I don’t even know what triggered it, but suddenly the edges blurred and I was running back to the room. I was trying to get the latch open on the closet when Erilon realized. Gabriel was closest so she got him.”
“Was he able to help you?” She rocked him gently. It was comforting, but also frustrating. She was rocking him like a baby.
“Yeah. He uh…” Ash nodded. “He said the trigger was probably a smell. Someone wearing the same perfume as…” He swallowed. “Smell is the sense tied strongest to memory.” He pulled away from her. “Then he taught me a couple more sword forms.”
“You don’t have to fight, Ash. You can —”
“I can what?” He glared at her. “Be your fuck toy?” As soon as he saw the look on her face he tried to take the words back. “I’m sorry, Magda. I didn’t mean it. I just…” He wiped at his eyes.
“You don’t have to sleep with —”
“No, Magda, I didn’t…” He leaned his head back, then rose and started pacing. Then he shook his head and laughed. “I used to have the biggest crush on you. Back in…” He sighed. “No, that’s wrong too. It’s not…” He ran his hands through his hair. “I should just stop talking.”
“No.” Her voice was sharp enough that he turned toward her in surprise. “Ash, I want you to talk to me. I want you to tell me when you are upset or when…” She held out a hand to him.
He swallowed, then took her hand. “I didn’t really mean it, what I said…” He let her pull him closer. “I like being your good boy. I want to be your good boy.” He put his arms around her, and felt her arms go around him. “I love you, Magda.”
“I love you too, Ash.”
“I can’t find the paperwork.” Bridget lifted up the pad on the desk again. The papers again failed to materialize. “Shit. I hope they weren’t in the pile that got shredded.”
“Would you like me to —” Khait started to stand up.
“What did I saw about forging the professor’s signature?” She raised a finger in his direction.
“That it is a .2 on the scale of bad…” He clasped his hands behind his back and shrugged. “And I should not do anything on the scale of bad.”
“I said it was a 2 on the scale of bad.” She frowned at him.
“Yes, but Abigail said when it comes to matters of academic integrity you exaggerate by a factor of ten.”
“I…” She opened her mouth, then glared. “Okay, she might have a point.” Then she sighed. “Alright, I’m going to look around again and if I can’t find them I’m going to have you transport me to the professor. We need that requisition and it can’t be a fax.”
“I live to serve, kind mistress.” He gave her an exaggerated bow, spreading his hands in a flourish.
“Stop that.” She laughed, then sighed. “You know, if you join up with these superhero types I’m going to miss you.”
“You are?” Khait smiled at her.
“Of course.” She shook her head. “Going back to having to drive in San Francisco or use public transportation? Now that…” She turned and started going through the papers again. “Is hell.”
Behind her, Khait came up behind her and kissed her cheek before hugging her from behind. “I love you too.”
Bridget laughed. “Go bother Abigail. I’ll let you know if I need your help.” She blinked, then smacked him. “Hands.”
He laughed as he headed out of the office.
“Thank you for looking out for Ash yesterday.” Magda offered Gabriel a cup of coffee.
“He’s at a transition.” Gabriel accepted the cup. “Fully cognizant of his difficulties but hasn’t yet found a path for overcoming them.”
She sighed. “Any suggestions?”
“Just be there for him.” He shrugged. All things considered, Ash was doing fairly well. “You’re a mother, Magda. You’ve been through the teenage years before. In many ways, this isn’t so different.”
“I think the teenage years were easier. Matthias hit puberty and started howling at the moon and outgrowing all his clothes.” She leaned on the wall. “And I failed him.”
“If you’d failed him, he wouldn’t be here now.” Gabriel smiled at her. “You laid a solid foundation, one he eventually found his way back to.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “You’re doing fine.”
“You…” She looked down at her coffee, then swirled it in the mug before taking a drink. “Are pretty good at this.”
“I did major in psychology.” He took his own drink. “And you’ve met my family.”
“True.” She looked around. “What do you think of all this? I mean, working with the professor and all. You’ve met him before, what’s your read?”
“He’s a good man.” Gabriel leaned over to see Michaels throwing a squealing Laura into the pool on the lower deck. Daniel, Stephan, and Ash were all trying and failing to do the same to Matthias.
“I’m getting paranoid in my old age.” She chuckled. “Yeah. He seems to be a good man. I going to go chat with him about the specifics of the site. Come with?”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “For what purpose?”
“I…” Magda hesitated. Then she sighed. “He let slip that the grant he got came from a foundation I happen to know is actually run by Ryuu Ishi.”
“Ryuu is paying for the dig?” Gabriel straightened.
“Yeah. So, I’ll be blunt.” Magda clasped her hands behind her back. “I’m going to have the professor show me pictures of what they’ve already found and see if I recognize anything. Taking a chance that maybe you uh…” She shrugged. “I know this is a decoy thing but if Tomer’s students really are in danger then…”
“Then we are obligated to protect them.” He nodded, then started walking with her as she headed toward the professor’s room.
Magda looked over the photos. “So part of the site was used by Nazis.” She sighed. “Is there anything those asshats didn’t fuck up?”
“They didn’t contaminated the area of primary interest to us, and the foundation is sending a representative to handle the discovered artwork.” Tomer shrugged. “Frankly, until you brought it up I considered it a non-issue.”
“It might be.” She chewed her lip as she looked over the spread photos, then walked around where Gabriel was standing to look at them from another angle. “Just seems like one hell of a coincidence.” She set the photo she was holding down. “Then again, he does have his fingers in a lot of pies and this kind of expedition is something he’s funded before.”
“You’re not convinced.” Gabriel raised an eyebrow at her.
“No, I’m not.” Magda sighed. “But at the same time, Ryuu isn’t one to put people in danger unnecessarily. Especially innocent people. It might be part of some game he’s playing and I’m certain if it is he’ll be more than willing to use us as pawns, but…” She looked at Tomer before looking over at Gabriel. “I don’t think he’s any sort of direct threat.”
“That is comforting.” Tomer nodded. “And for the first time, I actually find myself relieved to have you —” He cut off as two new forms suddenly appeared in the room.
She turned to see Abigail and Khait. Abigail immediately grinned and held up some papers. “Professor, we need you to sign —”
Abigail blinked and turned toward Khait. Magda frowned. Khait had gone pale, and was staring at Gabriel. He swallowed twice before speaking again, his voice little more than a hoarse whisper. “Please be real.”
“Khait?” Abigail frowned as Khait took a half step forward before reaching out to lay his hand on Gabriel’s chest. “Khait, what’s…”
“Uh…” Magda started to take a step forward. Erilon had seemed very concerned about Khait taking an interest in any of her people. “Maybe—”
“Are you real?” Khait looked up, staring at Gabriel.
“I’m real.” Gabriel nodded.
“You…” Khait’s voice was choked off by what sounded almost like a sob before he lunged forward and threw his arms around Gabriel..
“Do you…” Tomer glanced at Abigail and Magda before looking back at the two men. “Do you two know each other?”
“Yes.” Gabriel slowly nodded, then gently put his arms around the shaking Khait. “He’s my brother.”