Gabriel stepped back as Lidia nearly pushed Matthias down in her rush to get to her son. Adam looked shell-shocked as she threw her arms around him. “Adam. Adam.” Her voice broke into sobs. “Oh, Adam.”
It took a moment for Adam to put his arms around her. “Mom…” His voice was thick. “Mom, you shouldn’t be here.” He took a deep breath. “You have to get out of here.”
It took a moment for Magda could find her voice. “She’s here as the personal representative of Ryuu Ishi. She is in no danger, Adam.”
“Danger…” Lidia raised her head.
“It’s…” Adam blinked away tears. “It’s a long story.”
“I know.” Lidia pulled him to her again and kissed his forehead. “Stasya told us. She told us you sent her to protect us.” She kissed his forehead again. “Oh, my baby.” Then she went still a moment before turning to look at them. “It’s you. You’re the ones Ryuu…” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Mrs. Wu…” Gabriel held up his hand. “Please, sit.” He gestured Stephan to stay near Adam as he guided them to one of the cots. Adam got on his mother’s other side, and then sat down next to her.
“You’re going to help him, right?” Lidia caught hold of his hand. “You’re going to help my son?”
“That’s why we are here.” Gabriel nodded. He looked over her head to meet Adam’s eyes. “That’s why we are here.”
“Horseback riding?” Adam couldn’t stop himself from smiling.
“She’s been trying to sweet talk us into buying this mare…” She reached up to caress his cheek.
“Do it.” Adam swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I know I sent enough money for you to get her a horse.”
“Not until she brings home a report card with at least a 3.0 average.” Lidia shook her head but smiled.
Most of the crew had cleared out to give them some time and privacy. Stephan was still there, though he’d put in ear buds. Laura sat cross-legged on a throw blanket a few feet away. And Gabriel stood near the entry to the tent next to the woman that was apparently his mother’s bodyguard. “Fine. Then tell Stasya I said to buy Coraline a horse.”
Lidia laughed before hugging him again. He felt her go tense before she pulled away. Then she gave a small shake of her head. “If Ryuu knew where you are…” She took a deep breath, and her voice hardened. “Why didn’t he…” She turned to look at the guard.
“Dragons do not interfere with the business of other dragons.” The woman, Ahit, inclined her head.
“Other…” Lidia’s face darkened.
He started shaking his head. “Mom, please. Don’t get involved.”
“Which one?” She looked from him to Ahit, then started look at the others. “Which.” She stood. “One.”
“Mrs. Wu, you can’t —” Laura started to stand
“Which. Fucking. Dragon. Messed. With. My. Son.” Her voice was little more than a growl.
“Merlin.” Adam spoke up quietly.
“Merlin.” She took a deep, ragged breath. “Merlin. That son of a bitch walks into my museum, shakes my hand, comes near my daughter, and he…” She clenched her fists. Then she fumbled for her phone.
“Ryuu knew that —” She had just hit the second button when Gabriel took the phone out of her hand.
“Mrs. Wu…” He set it down next to her. “We are here to help Adam.”
“I…” She exhaled, then took a deep breath. Then she took another. “Was Ryuu telling the truth?” She looked up at Gabriel. “About you?” She swallowed. “About what you are?”
“Yes.” Gabriel nodded. Adam gave him a confused look. “He was.”
“Glad to have confirmation of that.” Ted’s voice came over the other end of the line.
“Wait…” Michaels blinked. “They are already…”
“They showed up about two hours ago.” Ted chuckled. “Javier and Felipa are making tamales with Sister Margaret.” He paused. “Ignacio is here in the living room with me. He’s worried about Adam.”
“Tell him Adam’s okay. He’s with us.” Michaels glanced back at the tent. Laura and Gabriel were still there, keeping an eye on things. “Merlin has apparently taken an interest in Gabe. Adam was told that a hostage situation would be arranged if uh…” He took a deep breath. “Stay safe. Really don’t want to consider how Gabe would react if you got hurt.”
Ted was silent for a moment. “Seems foolish to ask you to keep an eye on Gabriel.”
“I’ll do my best.” Michaels smiled
“That’s far from nothing.” Ted chuckled. “Keep the other eye on Laura.”
“Consider it done.”
Magda put her arm around him, then ruffled his hair. “How are you doing?”
Ash smiled. “He got to hug his mom.” His smile widened. “He needed that.”
“I think you’re right.” Magda squeezed his shoulders.
His smile faded. “He’s not safe with Stephan.”
“Yes, he is.” Magda frowned. “They can’t control —”
“They could hurt the talisman.” Ash shook his head. “Like what Bridget said they did to Khait.”
She went still. Then she sighed. “I didn’t consider that.” She leaned forward to press her forehead against his. “We’ll get him safe, Ash.”
He reached up to touch the leather collar around his neck, then smiled before leaning in to kiss her. “I think he knows that now.” He kissed her again, and she smiled before brushing her fingers through his hair. Gently, he pushed her back down onto the cot before moving in to start nuzzling her neck. Her arms went around him, running her hands over his back as he shifted down to taste her breasts.
Magda made a soft purring sound. “Oh, that’s my good boy.”
Lidia bent down to kiss Adam’s forehead again. She smiled, then reached over to rub Stephan’s head. He took the earbuds out and looked up at her. “You’re protecting my son.”
“If you call sitting a few feet away protecting.” Stephan nodded.
“Considering what happened the last time we met…” Adam gave a small shake of his head.
“Water under the bridge, kid.” Stephan started to stand up, and Adam quickly stood to give him a hand back to his feet. When Lidia raised an eyebrow, he shrugged. “I cancel out magic. It’s got it’s uses, but it means our healer can’t do much for me.”
“I should…” She started to straighten up again, then shook her head and turned toward Ahit. Ahit gave her an understanding nod. “I’m not going back to the hotel. I’m staying here.” She ran her fingers through Adam’s hair. “I need to call your father, and your sister, and…”
Her heart broke a little when Adam shook his head. “Mom, it’s…” He sighed. “It’s risky enough you being here. Please.”
“Mom.” He put a hand on her arm. “Please, I…” He hung his head. “I didn’t want any of you to be part of this, part of…” He took his hand off her arm and folded his arms around himself.
“Oh, my baby…” She reached out and pulled him into a hug. Stasya hadn’t told them much, but enough that she could imagine what the last couple years had been like for her son.
Matthias glanced over at Khait. The demon had been sitting quietly for the past hour or so. Which, considering how many innuendos had passed between himself and Daniel, was starting to be concerning. “Khait, you want to join the conversation here?”
“No.” Khait continued staring at the wall.
Abigail frowned. “Khait?” She tilted her head. “Khait, you’re the one with the most insights into what we can do about —”
“She’s not his mother.” Khait sat up.
“Uh…” Daniel blinked. “What?”
“Do we need to…” Michaels started to stand up.
“No.” Khait shook his head. “She’s…” He folded his legs under him, then looked up at Michaels. “It’s like you and Laura. The bond is there, you are her father. But the link isn’t, because you aren’t tied by blood.”
“Adam…” Daniel slowly nodded. “Adam was adopted.” He glanced at Matthias, who frowned. “But…”
“And if my read is correct…” Khait shrugged. “She knows, and he does not.” He leaned back again, his expression thoughtful. “She said Ryuu sent you to protect him.”
“Sort of. He put us on to the talisman.” Matthias put rested his arms on the table and leaned forward. “By the time we’d linked Adam to the talisman, we were already planning to rescue him on account of him saving Ash.”
“Khait, why does Adam being adopted concern you so much?” Bridget raised an eyebrow at him.
“Two reasons.” Khait rose. “One, he’s a shapeshifter. That’s not possible.”
“You indicated you can shapeshift.” Bridget shook her head.
“Bridget, if I were capable of full shapeshifting, I’d have breasts and you on a leash.” He gave her a pointed look, and Matthias heard Daniel snicker.
“Fair point.” Bridget shrugged.
“I can modify my form to assume one more pleasing to my target, if needed.” Khait squared his shoulders. “Matthias or Magda can take the forms of wolves. But in both cases, it’s limited. I cannot, for example, simply shift myself to look like Matthias.” He waved a hand. “If for no reason other than I lack the mass.”
“Adam can shift himself only partially.” Professor Kravitz looked up from where he’d been making notes. “Laura and I saw him shift his skin to be luminescent.”
“Professor Kravitz, if you were anyone else…” Khait looked over at him. “I would call you a liar. What you saw is impossible. Except…” He gave another shake of his head.
“Then there is the second reason.” Khait sat down again, this time next to Abigail. “Gabriel is here. Something else that isn’t possible.”
“Forgive me, but considering the number of impossible things I’ve seen in the past year…” Professor Kravitz set his pen down. “You being one of them…”
“Tell us what you are thinking.” Abigail put her hand on Khait’s arm.
“I…” Khait shook his head. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, my love.” He brushed her hair back from her face.
“Why not?” She frowned at him.
“Because if I’m right…” He exhaled. “If I’m right I’m grabbing you and Bridget and teleporting all three of us into the deepest cave I can find on the other side of the planet, then locking it behind us because…” He shrugged. “It’s bad.”
“Fuck.” Matthias tossed the deck of cards he’d been absently shuffling onto the table. “Which means by the law of the perversity of nature…”
“You’re probably right.” Michaels finished for him. “Khait, what is Adam?”
“Dragons have a rule.” Khait rose and begin pacing. “They didn’t start the rule until a few thousand years ago, and uh…” He looked down at his hands before clasping them behind his back. “There are beings out there with draconic blood in their veins. One in this very room.” He waved a hand at Matthias. “That’s how werewolves, and for that matter Ananazi and quite a few other things get their mojo. They are descended from humans that mingled with dragons way back when. Alphas have it a little stronger, descent from multiple bloodlines to concentrate it a bit.”
“That…” Daniel shrugged. “Okay, I get what you are saying, but…” He trailed off. “Alphas are the boss fights.”
“Precisely.” Khait nodded to Daniel.
“Boss?” Matthias glanced at him.
“Matthias, if uh…” Daniel started shaking his head.
“If you’re a distant descendant of a dragon…” Professor Kravitz slowly nodded. Then he looked up at Khait. “What is a half-dragon like?”
“Oh shit.” Michaels leaned back.
“The biblical term for them is Nephilim.” Khait rubbed the back of his neck. “And the reason you won’t encounter any is uh…” He folded his arms. “They got to be trouble, and the Horseman rode. They wiped out all but three of them, and most of the quarter-dragons as well. Rather than risk another such apocalyptic event, the dragons made a pact with each other. No more half-breeds. The remaining half-breeds were also forbidden from breeding on pain of being executed by the dragons.”
“And there are three of those.” Professor Kravitz exhaled. “By any chance, is this Ryuu fellow the father of one?”
“Yes.” Khait slowly nodded. “Yes, he is.”
“So, you think Ryuu’s interest in Adam is…” Michaels took a deep breath. “Is he protecting his kid, or looking out for his grandson?”
“You’re assuming that Khait is right.” Matthias frowned. Then he picked up the cards again. “It’s fucked up. So it probably is.”
“Three Nephilim.” Bridget pulled a notebook out from beside her, then clicked a pen. “Tell us about them.”
“Well, the first you’ve almost certainly heard of.” Khait shrugged. “I’m not sure of his real name, but he’s in a lot of myths under the name Poseidon.”
“Poseidon.” Bridget wrote the name down. “The Poseidon. Is he Ryuu’s kid?”
“No.” Khait sat down again, then shifted to accommodate Abigail snuggling into him. “He’s the son of Mbaba and a merman. He was allowed to live because he was leading the withdrawal of the merfolk from the world at large.” He shrugged. “And I don’t think I’d be surprised to learn he’d been killed at some point since they went dark. Merfolk cut ties with the surface almost two thousand years ago.”
“So, which one was Ryuu’s kid?”
“Ryuu’s surviving daughter is Amaterasu.” Khait frowned. “I think there is still a cult or two devoted to her, but I can’t say I ever encountered her. She’s likely still in Japan. But…” He shrugged. “She’s not a rule breaker.”
“Turned you down?” Abigail glanced at him.
“Flat.” Khait nodded.
“And the last one?” Bridget looked up.
“A bit more complicated. See, he was pretty much the first Nephilim, son of a dragon and one of the fey. His father was one of the dragons slain by the Horsemen back before humans had really grasped the whole ‘concept of fire’ thing. He absorbed a large portion of that power, and thus ended up powerful enough that he’s counted as a dragon rather than a Nephilim.” Khait leaned back.
“As in Ragnarök?” Bridget blinked. “That Jörmungandr?”
“That’s the one.” Khait nodded, then grinned. “Now, he’s fun, and for the record, that whole Rome burning down thing was way more his fault than it was mine.”
“If he’s that powerful, why didn’t the Horsemen take him out?” Michaels frowned. “I mean, you said they took out dragons, so…”
“Probably because at the time, he was busy wiping out Nephilim himself, in defense of the shepherds. For that matter, he was the one that interceded on Poseidon’s behalf, convincing them to let him go deep with the merfolk instead of wiping him and thus putting the remaining merfolk at risk.” Khait chewed his lower lip. “I think half the reason the whole Ragnarök story got started is that for a while they suspected the Horsemen left him one of the seals and thus the power to start an apocalypse.”
“Wait, he can…” Bridget’s head shot up.
“Nah.” Khait shook his head. “Pretty sure if he could have, he’d have done it by now. Merlin’s smacked him around pretty good a few times over the centuries.”
“So if you don’t think Adam is a Nephilim’s kid, what exactly do you…” Michaels trailed off.
“Holy fucking shitballs.” Matthias sat bolt upright. “You think he’s Ryuu’s kid?”
“And Merlin’s met him.” Khait nodded. “Which uh…” He hung his head a moment, then lifted it again. “Means that if we take him away from Merlin, Merlin’s just going to give the order and nine dragons are going to start hunting that kid down.”
“Well…” Matthias broke the silence that descended in the tent. “Shit.”