Lidia glanced at Ahit. “How big a problem is his presence going to be for you?”
The other woman’s dark eyes turned toward her. “If he abides by the restriction set, none.”
She took a deep breath. “Ahit, if it’s an issue, I can ask Ryuu to send someone else to…”
Ahit smiled. “It is appreciated, Lidia. But I gave him and you my word I would see to your safety.” She hesitated a moment. “Are you alright, Lidia?”
“Stasya, when she was…” Lidia turned to look north. “She indicated Adam was in Paris. Or that he had been.” She rubbed her hands on her arms. “I was saving money to send him to Paris. Two weeks.” She blinked back tears, then felt Ahit’s arm go around her shoulders. “Seeing all those kids out there has me…” She sighed. “He should be out there with them.” She laughed softly, then pulled out her cell phone. “I need to, uh…”
“You need to hear your daughter’s voice.” Ahit inclined her head. “Would you like me to step outside?”
“No.” Lidia shook her head. “No, it’s alright.” She dialed the number.
“I’m fine and I haven’t burned the house down yet.” Coraline picked up on the second ring. “Can I go to Holland?”
“Coraline…” She smiled. “Are you sure you haven’t burned the house down?”
“Haven’t even had to dial 911 once.” Coraline took a drink of something. “So, can I?”
“Can you what?”
“I was going to call you. Well, actually, Mr. Ishi said he was going to call you after dinnertime there. There was an issue with one of the freezers that they keep seeds and stuff in that’s supposed to be up in the permafrost but climate change and stuff. Santa asked if he could borrow me for a few days so I could help out with sprouting things so they can greenhouse them and collect new seeds for a new facility and can I?” Coraline sounded eager.
“I’m not sure —”
“Santa said I’d be under his protection the entire time and he’d even fly here to pick me up and escort me there personally, and he’d make sure I did my homework and stuff.” She could almost hear Coraline bouncing.
“I don’t —”
“Mooooooom.” Coraline exhaled. “Mom, this is my chance to be heroic and world-saving. I can’t zap people or shoot them in the face like Aunt Stasya but I can do this. Please?”
“One moment…” She muted the phone and looked at Ahit. “Thoughts?”
“She would remain under Mr. Ishi’s protection due to your own status as his agent…” Ahit nodded. “As well as under Wotan’s protection for the duration of the assignment. The seed storage is a pet project of Wotan’s, thus when he says personal protection I believe he means he will be there himself for the duration.”
“I…” She took a couple deep breaths. Then she unmuted the phone. “If your father gives his okay, I will agree.” She had to pull the phone away as Coraline let out a loud whoop of excitement. “And tell Santa that he must ensure you check in every night with me and your father. That is a non-negotiable condition.”
“I will.” Coraline’s voice was nearly a squeal. “I need to call him back. I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, sweetheart.” She waited until Coraline had hung up, then let out the rest of her breath and sat down. She did nothing but breath for almost a full minute, then looked up. “Alright, let’s get the rest of this report off to Mr. Ishi.”
“I never quite realized how much paperwork is involved with archeology.” Laura looked at the stacks on Bridget’s makeshift desk.
“France requires a lot of extra paperwork to make sure everything is cataloged correctly.” Bridget shrugged. “Finding the art stash about doubled the paperwork as well, since the Nazis had a habit of stealing stuff, and some of that stuff had been stolen before. Tracking provenance is a full-time job on its own.”
“Can’t you have Khait zap it as done?” Laura raised an eyebrow.
Bridget gave her a horrified look. “No.” She looked down at the papers. “Plus, he doesn’t do it right. Not sure how someone can slack off on a job that takes him less than a second, but he does.”
A cat jumped up on the desk and meowed at her, butting its head against her hand as she started petting it. “You actually like all this paperwork stuff?”
“There is an incredible satisfaction that comes from putting everything in its proper place.” Bridget nodded.
The cat meowed at her again before butting up against her hand more insistently. Laura picked it up and started rubbing its belly. “So, you’re more like a librarian than archaeologist.”
“I suppose you could say that.” Bridget chuckled. “I mean, I like the field work too, but this is the important part. Without this, we wouldn’t be able to track what we found, or get it to the right experts, or anything.”
“I guess that —” Laura yelped and dropped the cat. “Your cat bit me.”
“That’s not my cat.” Bridget shook her head.
“That’s not…” She looked down at where the cat was staring back up at her. It tilted its head and gave her an annoyed look. Erilon, get everyone together in our tent. Now.
“What’s the big emergency?” Michaels scooted over to make room on the cot. Professor Kravitz sat down next to him. “Erilon?”
Before she could reply, Laura walked in, carrying a gray tabby cat. “Okay, you know the reason we are here.” She set the cat down. “Well…”
A heartbeat later, the cat vanished, and standing in its place was a young man with dark hair and slanted eyes. He was dressed casually in dark, well-made clothing, but Michaels noted he was carrying at least three guns. He opened his mouth, then blinked as Ash let out a joyous yell. “Adam.”
“First up, it’s in everyone’s best interest for all of you to pretend you don’t know I’m here.” Adam shrugged. “And that you don’t know me anyway.”
“Can handle that.” Matthias folded his arms. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ll get to that.” He looked from Michaels to Gabriel. “Second, if you can let Ted know the werewolves are friendlies, I’d appreciate it. Rather avoid any misunderstandings. The Cabal isn’t looking their way, but I needed to keep Iggy busy and guard duty seemed the best option.”
“Who is Iggy?” Laura looked over at him.
“Uh, remember that alpha I kind of beat up a little?” Adam raised an eyebrow. When Laura gave him a disbelieving look, Adam shrugged. “It’s fine. Iggy’s good people. Plus, I told him to follow Ted’s orders.”
“Right.” Michaels rubbed his forehead.
“And third…” Adam looked them over. “Uh…” He exhaled, then shrugged again. “Hi.” He focused on Stephan. “Sorry, about the…” He winced. “You know…”
“Nah, we’re good.” Stephan nodded to him. “We ran into Stasya, she’s doing okay.”
Adam smiled, and the expression made him look much younger. “Good. I…” He swallowed. “Good.” He glanced at where Bridget was standing, then toward Abigail and Khait. “You made some new friends.”
“The Cabal kind of pissed them off too.” Michaels shrugged. “So, we teamed up.” He glanced at Khait, who was watching Adam with a curious expression. Then he shrugged. “Okay, we did some experimenting. If you’re within about ten feet of Stephan, that talisman thing won’t affect you.”
“I…” Adam stared. “What?”
“Khait’s got the same problem you do.” Laura put her hand on his shoulder, then gestured at Bridget. Bridget held up the hand with the ring on it. “But when he’s next to Stephan, Bridget can’t give him orders.”
“You…” Adam glanced at Khait. “Why are you experimenting with…”
Laura sighed before reaching up to smack him in the back of the head. “We are here to rescue you, dumbass.”
Magda glanced at Adam, watching him sketch the layout of Giroux headquarters. Stephan stood only a foot away from the young man. “Servers are in here. I know they’ve got backups in a few locations, and these have some explosive charges set. If you want the data, you’ll have to disarm them first.” He looked over at Laura. “And they are dead man rigs. They short out, they go up.”
“Khait, could you teleport the bombs somewhere else?” Bridget immediately turned to the man next to her.
He grinned. “Your wish is my command.”
“You’ve got this fairly well planned out.” Magda looked up at Adam.
“Plotting the Cabal’s downfall kills time.” Adam straightened.
“Except none of this helps you, Adam.” She smiled at him gently. “How do we get to Wren, so we can get the talisman?”
“Wren’s not at the facility.” Adam sighed. “Soon as I left to come here, she headed off to meet her new teacher. And he’s going to be a problem.” He exhaled. “She can’t read me through the ring right now, because of Stephan, so she won’t know I gave you all of this. You’ll have your shot.”
“We aren’t here to take down the Cabal, Adam.” Magda felt Ash’s hand in hers. “We’re here to save you.”
“Well, get your priorities in order.” Adam shook his head. “You guys have already drawn the Cabal’s attention. Enough that the guy in charge has taken an interest, and uh…”
“Wait…” Khait’s head came up. “Define ‘guy in charge has taken an interest’.”
“He’s kind of the reason I’m here, though the mission he gave me is a bit —”
“Emrys knows we are here?” Khait’s eyes flashed red for a moment. Then he turned. “Abigail, Bridget, we need to go. Now.”
Her stomach fell, and she saw Matthias go pale. “Merlin?” Her voice actually squeaked a little. “Merlin runs the…” She swallowed.
“Uh…” Michaels looked at her, then at Khait. “When you say Merlin, do you…”
“Myrddin Emrys.” Laura’s eyes swirled with hazy fire. “First of the Dragons.”
“Oh.” Professor Kravitz sat down heavily on one of the cots. “Oh dear.”
“And he’s taken an interest in us?” Gabriel glanced down at the map.
“Well, uh…” Adam exhaled. “Specifically…” He looked up at Gabriel. “You.”
“Me?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah. You’re my mission.” Adam gave him an apologetic look. “My orders were to come here, get you, and take you back to Paris, alive, without drawing attention to the fact I did so.” He shrugged. “So, Stephan being here is the only reason I can actually tell you that.”
“How’d they expect you to get Gabe back to Paris?” Michaels blinked.
“Well…” Adam reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black case. “They gave me a lot of drugs, and told me if that didn’t work, go with a hostage situation.” He looked up at Gabriel again. “I was going to just ask nicely and hope you could come up with a plan.”
“You’re not going anywhere with Merlin.” Erilon’s voice echoed across the table.
“How long do you have?” Michaels leaned on the table.
“No deadline, but I’m guessing only a few days.” Adam clasped his hands behind his back. “At least until I start getting ‘what’s taking so long’ calls.” He looked down, then back at Gabriel. “At some point I won’t have a choice.”
“It would give me a chance to get my hands on the talisman.” Gabriel started to nod.
“Pet, what part of you aren’t going anywhere with Merlin did you not understand?” The lights flickered a little. “Dragons are out of your league.”
“Are they?” They all turned toward Professor Kravitz. He stood, looking at Khait. “Are they?”
“Right now…” Khait nodded. “Yes.”
“But that can be changed?” Professor Kravitz glanced at Gabriel before looking back at Khait.
“Professor…” Khait took a deep breath. “I don’t…”
“That’s not an option.” Erilon’s voice was firm.
There was a sound outside the tent, then the head of the foundation’s representative poked inside. “Excuse me, I need the pro…” Lidia’s face went stark white. “Adam?”
Adam’s face was a mirror of hers. “Mom?”