“They sent Adam here.” Daniel looked up hopefully. “That means the Cabal messed with Ryuu’s shit and Ryuu can get involved, right?”
Lidia immediately turned toward Ahit, and her heart sank when Ahit gave a small shake of her head. “Adam did not interfere with the dig, and you are not Ryuu’s agents.” She gave Lidia a sorrowful look. “The opposite may be true. If we involve ourselves in this matter, we will lose the benefits of Ryuu’s protection.”
“I…” Lidia swallowed. “I’m not going anywhere. Let Sean know —”
“I am sworn not to leave your side, Lidia.” Ahit shook her head.
“But I’m —”
“I am sworn not to leave your side.” Ahit met her eyes calmly, then gave a small smile. “Nor do I want to. I am, as they say, in.”
“That’s aid I am very much not inclined to turn down.” Matthias gave her a respectful nod, and Ahit returned it with a slight incline of her head. “I think for now, we have to trust Gabriel knows what he’s doing and go back to the original plan.”
“You mean Adam’s plan of busting the Cabal headquarters?” Michaels raised an eyebrow. “With a dragon —” He frowned.
“Matthias is right.” Magda stood up. “Merlin is going to be occupied with Gabriel. This may be the only real chance we get.” She put her hand on Ash’s shoulder. “There has to be something there we can use or something we could trade for Adam.”
As frightened as she was, it was somewhat comforting to realize these people were dedicated to saving her son. “I’m not sure how much help I can be, but I want to help. Even if it’s just making coffee.” She wiped at her eyes. “I can’t lose him. Not again.”
“You think with these files, we can keep Merlin from being a problem for Adam?” Laura glanced at Khait. “I mean, assuming Gabriel doesn’t just squash him.” When Khait gave a small shake of his head, Laura frowned. “Gabriel can just squash him, right?”
“If he took up his full aspect, yes, he would be a match for Merlin. But he stands alone, without…” Khait rubbed the back of his neck. “They are four. He is one. And he is wrapped in a mortal shell.” He leaned back, folding his arms. “I still have no idea how such a thing could happen.”
“Mortal shell.” Abigail put her hand on Khait’s shoulder. “You mean he’s got a body, like you do.”
“It has its benefits, certainly…” Khait put an arm around her waist, then slid his hand down to rest on her ass. “But it comes with vulnerabilities. To put it simply, Erilon can’t be punched in the face.”
“Unless she’s in my body.” Laura nodded.
“No, you can be punched in the face, assuming I allow such a thing to happen.” Erilon’s voice swirled around them. “But as long as I still have energy to leave your form, its destruction would not harm me.” Her voice hardened. “And I would avenge such a thing.”
“That’s…” Laura shrugged. “Actually kind of comforting.”
“Assuming Gabriel does not squash Merlin…” Khait exhaled. “The threat to give all his files to the other dragons is a formidable one. It should be sufficient blackmail to prevent him from sending the dragons after Adam, especially since Ryuu is in play as well.”
“Then we still have a plan.” Abigail nodded. Then she leaned over and kissed Khait’s cheek. “Still think this Wren person needs to get teleported into the sun.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Khait caught her chin and returned the kiss.
Gabriel turned off the car, then put a hand on Adam’s shoulder. Adam could feel himself shaking, just a little, but managed a nod. “I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, Adam.” Dammit, why did the bastard have to be so nice about this?
“If he makes me attack you, I…” Adam swallowed.
“I won’t hurt you.” Gabriel shook his head.
“That’s kind of not the part that worries me.” Adam took a deep breath. His body tensed a little, and his hand fumbled for the latch. “I need to take you to him now.”
The area they were in was wooded, but he saw no other buildings nearby. Gabriel’s eyes scanned the area. “Have you been here before?”
“No.” Adam shook his head. He could feel the pull on the talisman, and his feet moved of their own accord. He tried to stop himself, and it did no good at all. He shook his head in frustration and felt Gabriel’s hand on his shoulder. Adam took a deep breath and nodded. Then he let his feet take him forward.
They had entered the building before they saw anyone. Two heavily armed men went wide-eyed when they saw him walking a few paces behind Adam. “Why isn’t the prisoner restrained?” One glared at Adam.
“Uh…” Adam swallowed.
“Secure him.” The first guard gestured to the other while aiming a gun at Gabriel’s chest.
“Those are illegal here.” Gabriel nodded to the gun.
“Shut up.” The guard glared at him.
“Give me your wrists.” The second guard pulled out a set of handcuffs. Adam felt the power still holding him. As much as he wanted to help Gabriel now, he couldn’t. Gabriel, however, still looked calm. And he didn’t move in response to the guard’s words. “I said, give me your…”
“No.” Gabriel’s eyes glowed faintly as he raised his voice just a little. Both guards staggered backward several feet. Adam stared when he realized blood was trickling out of their noses and ears.
His mouth opened, and he was speaking before he realized it. The words weren’t his. “Gabriel is here as a guest, not a prisoner. Return to your duties.”
Jim kept his hand on Coraline’s shoulder as the girl worked her magic. His eyes flickered, and the girl’s eyes seemed to do the same. The girl had the right gift but lacked strength enough on her own. Adele swallowed, her eyes fixed on the scene. He was allowing a teenage girl to wield his power. A small prayer escaped her as she watched, and she fumbled for Christophe’s hand. He squeezed her fingers back, and his own gaze was locked on where Lykos knelt on the other side of the girl, his hands flat on the soil.
There was a surge of… Something. It made her bones tingle. Then, from the soil, she saw green emerge. Slowly, it rose up, forming into a small sapling. Coraline made a soft sound, then started to stagger. Jim caught Coraline before the girl could fall, then swung her up into his arms and carried her back over to where Adele and Christophe were waiting. Adele immediately held the straw of the smoothie to Coraline’s lips, and the girl took a huge gulp before smiling. “Mmm’okay.”
Jim set her down, gently, and smiled up at her. “Drink your smoothie.”
“Kay.” Coraline obediently took another drink. Adele sat down on one side of her, and Christophe sat on the other. He put his hand on her forehead before going to more modern methods of checking the girl’s vital signs. He caught Adele watching, and gave her a reassuring nod as he worked.
She turned her attention to the scene before her. Had she not seen Yala in action, something like this would have defied belief. Four beings, looking like women carved from various woods and cloaked in leaves, were moving around the sapling Coraline had just sprouted. Lykos’s face would have clued her in to the wonder of the moment had she not already known. The cranky dwarf’s eyes were actually wet as Jim helped him back to his feet. “She did it.”
“She did.” Jim guided him over and sat him next to Christophe. Then Jim started laughing. He caught hold of Adele, then spun her in a circle before planting a kiss on her lips. Then he glanced down at the grinning Coraline. “She did it.”
“You helped.” Coraline drained the smoothie. “A little.”
“The trees have a voice again.” Lykos smiled at the sapling.
“It still needs time to grow.” Jim nodded. “But yes.” He put his arm around her waist. “They do.” He jerked his head at the door. “We have done all we can. Come, let us leave the dryads to their work.”
Adele caught his hand as they started out of the room. He raised an eyebrow at her, and she smiled. “Thank you for letting me be part of this.”
“The shepherds will need ambassadors, in the days to come.” Jim caught her chin, then bent his head to kiss her. She was breathless when he pulled away again. “And I enjoy your company.”
“Bah.” Lykos glared over his shoulder at them. “You getting soft.”
“Remind me…” Jim sighed as he started walking again. “Why haven’t I killed him yet?”
Emrys nodded when they entered. “Gabriel, Adam, thank you for coming.” He gestured at the table behind him. “Tea?”
“Put the talisman down…” Gabriel met his eyes levelly. “And then we can talk.”
Behind him, Adam suddenly let out a slight breath and his body sagged for a moment. “I’ll release my hold on the boy.” Emrys shrugged. “But I think I’ll be hanging on to the talisman for the moment.” He moved to sit at the table. “It’s been a while.”
Gabriel walked over and took a seat across from him. He had to nod to Adam twice before Adam joined them, taking the seat right next to Gabriel. “It has.”
“Let’s get a few things out of the way.” Emrys folded his hands over his tea cup. “Has a seal broken?”
“From what I can tell…” Gabriel shrugged. “No.”
“Then I must ask.” Emrys’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you here?”
He smiled. “That’s what I was hoping you could tell me. You were attempting to gather artifacts of…” He shrugged. “Considerable power.”
“Leaving such things loose did not seem a wise course of action.” Emrys picked up his tea, then took a sip before setting it down again. “I’ll be honest, Gabriel.” He exhaled. “I cannot afford to have a loose cannon as powerful as yourself running around.” He leaned back. “So, I’ll be blunt. There is active volcanic activity in both the state of Washington and the particular area of France your friends are visiting. I’m willing to pay the weregild to Ryuu, given the circumstances.”
“Well now…” Gabriel raised his head. He moved the tea out from in front of him. “You moved to threats rather quickly.”
“Oh, let’s be real, Gabriel.” Emrys drained his tea cup and set it aside. “We both know bribery wouldn’t work.”
“We also both know that you failed to get the artifacts you desired.” Gabriel shrugged. “Meaning —”
“Meaning the little bastard next to you betrayed me.” Emrys glanced at Adam, who flinched. “Yes, young man, I’m aware of your extracurricular activities. And I intend to make myself a few new rugs.”
“Meaning that if Ryuu decides to turn on you, others will follow.” Gabriel hardened his voice. “And you lack the power to stand against your brethren.”
“Against all of them, perhaps.” Emrys shrugged. “But if I take the leash off Pachua, I think you’ll find they have far greater concerns.” He waved a hand. “It’s unfortunate that killing you would create more problems than it solves.” He looked down at his hand. The talisman sat in his palm. “Which means I am going to have to take other steps.”
Next to him, Adam started shaking his head. Gabriel touched his hand before meeting Emrys’s eyes. “You’ll not like how this ends, Emrys.”
“Ah, Gabriel.” Emrys sighed. He stood, then walked toward the other end of the room. Gabriel rose, gesturing for Adam to stay where he was, and followed. “A seal hasn’t broken. You are at a fraction of your power, and I am at the height of mine.” He smiled as he came to a stop at the massive crystal. “I do appreciate your cooperation in the matter. I—” He cut off when Gabriel laughed. A flicker of uncertainty crossed his face before he shook his head. “Pity we cannot be allies.”
“All flesh is grass.” Gabriel met his eyes. “Even yours.” He extended a hand and laid it on the crystal.
He stared, trying not to feel terrified. Gabriel had vanished. The crystal had burst into golden light the moment Gabriel had touched it, and then Gabriel had vanished. The crystal still shimmered, glowing as though there was a fire in its depths.
Leaving him alone.
With a dragon.
That knew he’d been working against the Cabal. Adam swallowed.
Emrys looked down at the talisman in his hand, then put it into his pocket before turning his gaze to Adam. “Come. Let’s get you back to Wren. She’s been missing you.”
Ash paced. The others were preparing for a raid he wouldn’t be going on. It hurt, a little, but the risk was too great. He shot another worried look at Stephan. His friend was on his feet again, or more accurately, on his computer. “Can I get you anything?” He shifted his weight from foot to foot.
“I’m fine.” Stephan shook his head. Then he frowned and looked up at Ash before smiling. “It’s alright. We are all kind of dealing with the adrenaline thing right now.”
“Yeah.” Ash exhaled. “But you’ll be able to do something.”
“Something. Hobble around after the fighter types and then stay where they put me.” Stephan leaned back. “They are giving Bridget and Abigail more to do than that.”
“I, uh…” Ash rubbed his neck. “Woof.”
“I know.” Stephan sighed. “I know.” He sat up a little. “Why don’t you go practice some forms? Work it out of your system a little?”
“Woof.” Ash nodded. He headed over to the tent with the cabinet where he and Gabriel stored the practice equipment and tried not to worry about his friend. If anyone could take care of himself, Gabriel could. He opened the cabinet, then frowned. Things had been moved around. In addition to the wooden practice swords, there was what looked like just a simple knife hilt. A note was taped to the bit of wood and metal. A note with his name on it.
He took the note, then opened it.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. Keep this with you.
The hilt was warm in his hand when he picked it up and seemed to hum against his fingers. Ash glanced at the note again, then slid the hilt into his pocket. The weight of it felt comforting. He took a deep breath, then picked up the practice blade before walking to the little area they’d set aside for practice. He took a deep breath, then started working the form Gabriel had showed him.