Magda took a deep breath and tried not to shoot a glare at her son. It wasn’t his fault. Khait had simply done what Lidia asked. Unfortunately, Khait was now on the couch again, with Abigail all but hovering over him protectively. He’d need more recovery time before he could zap the two extras back where he’d gotten them. “Look, I understand this has to be something of a shock.”
“I don’t…” The young man, Jim Gordon, shook his head. “Really care much for France.” He glanced back at where Lidia was fussing over Coraline, then turned back to Magda. “Who are you people, again?”
“It’s really none of your business.” Matthias glared at him, arms folded.
She exhaled, then sent Matthias a look before flicking her eyes at Daniel. Daniel stepped forward, putting a hand on Matthias’s arm. That stopped him from glaring, at least. Michaels still looked ready to shoot someone. Magda smiled at Jim. “We are friends of the Wu family.”
“They are?” Coraline looked up at her mother.
“They are.” Lidia kept her hand on Coraline’s shoulder. She glanced at Magda before looking back at her daughter. “They are here trying to help Adam.”
Coraline’s eyes went wide, and her face visibly paled. Her voice wavered. “Adam’s here? He’s…” Her chin trembled.
“He warned us the Cabal was coming after you. Coraline, has anyone tried to hurt you recently?” Lidia brushed her daughter’s hair back.
“Some guys attacked us, but Lykos smooshed them.” Coraline shook her head. “They were wusses.”
The young woman, Adele, stepped forward, and took Jim’s hand. “They seem like they are friends of the family.” Her voice was gentle.
It took a moment before Jim nodded. “So it seems.”
“Where’s Adam?” Coraline swallowed. “Mom, where’s Adam?”
“We’re working on that.” Magda stepped forward. “We’ve got a way to get him to safety, Coraline, we just needed —”
“Adam’s not…” Coraline glanced at her. “What do you mean Adam’s not safe?”
“The Cabal has him, but these people are going to get him back, sweetie.” Lidia pulled Coraline into a hug. “They are going to keep you safe as well.”
“Uncle Ryuu said —”
“Dragons say a lot of things.” Lidia’s voice sounded furious. “But apparently their word doesn’t mean shit.” A flash of something crossed Jim’s face at her words. “Coraline, as soon as Khait recovers he’ll take you someplace safe.”
“We’ll return you two then as well.” Magda nodded to Jim and Adele.
“From the sound of things, you people are greatly increasing the level of danger Coraline is in.” Adele shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere until I am sure she’s safe.” She looked down at where she was holding Jim’s hand, then up at him. “And neither is Jim.”
“Look, miss…” Michaels shook his head. “We don’t know either of you, and that means —”
“You’ll help my brother.” Coraline pulled away from Lidia and turned toward Jim and Adele. “Won’t you?” She wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “You owe me. Please. My brother…” Her voice broke. “Please.”
Jim nodded. “If that is what you ask, I will see it done.”
Coraline jerked her arm out of her mother’s grip to throw her arms around Jim. “Thank you.”
“Though I would appreciate it…” Jim patted Coraline’s back. “If someone would be kind enough to tell me what the fuck is going on here?”
“Not happy about this.” Matthias sighed. “We don’t know these people.”
“Well, to be fair…” Abigail shrugged. “It wasn’t that long ago you didn’t know us.” She glanced at where Adele and Jim were talking quietly. “They seem nice enough, and Coraline definitely seems to like them.”
“She’s just a little kid.” Stephan shook his head.
“Hey.” Laura folded her arms.
“You’re…” Stephan glanced at her, then sent a beseeching look at Michaels.
“Don’t look at me.” Michaels stepped back. “You’re on your own with that one.” Then he exhaled. “Erilon, want to chime in here?”
“I’m running very low right now, Pet. They appear to be genuinely concerned for Coraline’s well-being, but I can’t get more than the surface at the moment.”
“We can have Khait wipe their minds of this and put them back where we found them.” Magda nodded.
“If I may…” Professor Kravitz spoke up. “You can also do that after telling them what is going on and seeing if there is any input they can add. They were entrusted with Coraline, and that would seem to suggest they are more competent or knowledgeable than they appear.”
“Khait?” Bridget looked down at him.
“Several someones are going to need to get naked.” Khait yawned. “Remember, I’m splitting the meal with Erilon right now.”
“Okay, I did not need to think about that.” Michaels ran a hand down his face.
“Alright.” Magda straightened. “Let’s sit these folks down and give them the overview.”
Adele glanced at Jim and couldn’t help but feel a bit of concern. He was half bent over, laughing. The big man, Matthias, was starting to look hostile again. “You actually robbed the Cabal’s stronghold.” Jim ran a hand down his face. “That’s, uh…”
“Okay, go back to the part where he…” Adele pointed at Khait. “Is he a demon or a genie?”
“He’s an incubus under the curse of the djinn.” Bridget nodded.
“Controlled by a talisman, just like Coraline’s brother?” Jim sat up. “Adam?”
“Exactly.” Magda said the word through gritted teeth.
“And your plan is to…” Jim leaned back, then put an arm around Adele. “Blackmail Merlin with stolen…” He frowned, then sighed. “There is absolutely no way Merlin lets you walk into his stronghold and make off with anything of significant value to him.”
“He was kind of occupied.” Magda folded her arms.
“Look, unless you people have an apocalypse in your back pocket, there is no way you can manage to distract Merlin that much.” Jim shook his head. “You do understand what he is, yes?”
“A friend of ours kept him busy.” Magda shook her head.
“So, your friend had an apocalypse in his back pocket.” Jim rolled his eyes. “Coraline asked me to help Adam. Kindly give me something I can work with here.”
“I’m getting a little sick of your attitude.” Matthias’s eyes were starting to turn gold again.
Magda held up a hand, preventing the big man from moving forward. “Look, Mr. Gordon. This really…” She shrugged. “What the hell, we’re going to have Khait erase your memories anyway. What do you know about Gabriel?”
“About —” Jim turned to look at her.
“As in, Archangel Gabriel.” Magda raised an eyebrow at Jim. “Ring a bell?”
“Blows a horn, if I recall correctly. Left Hand of…” Jim trailed off. Then he tilted his head to the left, frowned, and tilted it to the right. “That would…” He leaned back a little. “Are you implying —”
“He’s here. On earth. In a mortal shell. He’s the one keeping Merlin distracted, but he’s not back yet and…” Magda sighed. “So, you’ve heard of him.”
“I have.” Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.
Immediately, Matthias grabbed his wrist. “I don’t think so.”
Jim glanced at Adele, raising an eyebrow. She exhaled, then gave a tiny shake of her head. Jim sighed, but relinquished the phone. “I suppose he could, in fact, keep Merlin occupied.” He tilted his head again. “Ryuu was protecting the Wu family, but this Adam is a prisoner of Merlin, implying that…” He made a scoffing sound before giving a small head shake. “That Ryuu is a fucking idiot.”
“I…” Magda opened her mouth, then closed it again. “Under the circumstances I can’t exactly argue with that assessment.”
“Unfortunately, Merlin isn’t, which means…” Jim shrugged. “Since France isn’t currently on fire, he found some way to neutralize and imprison Gabriel. My guess is he used the crystal to —”
“Crystal?” Magda blinked.
“Merlin, Nimue, Arthurian mythos…” Jim waved a hand. “The myth gets it backward on who exactly ended up trapped. That wouldn’t hold the likes of Gabriel forever, mind, but a couple hundred years will probably be sufficient for Merlin’s purposes.”
“This crystal…” Magda leaned forward. “Could you help with it?”
“Anyone with a decent sledgehammer could. Fragmenting the matrix will release the energies inside.” Jim nodded. “Getting to it, of course, will likely be a different matter. As I mentioned, Merlin isn’t stupid which…” He glanced at Adele. “Which means if those were Cabal goons, he didn’t send them.”
“But it does mean he’s distracted enough that he didn’t catch the order before it was sent.” Adele nodded.
“What do you think?” Stephan glanced at Laura. “I mean, he’s been useful so far. Do we tell him about Adam?”
“I’d rather wait until Khait is back up.” Laura started shaking her head.
“I can handle the memory thing.” Khait spoke up.
“Already?” Stephan blinked.
“We are surrounded by about a hundred grad students.” Khait shrugged. “Frankly, I’m amazed they get any schoolwork done at all.”
“Please don’t make me think about that.” Tomer winced. Then he looked over his shoulder. “I’m growing concerned about retaliation.”
“As am I.” Erilon’s voice sounded a little stronger than it had earlier.
Magda nodded. “I think it’s best we relocate, at least a few miles away from the kids.”
“There are some rocky outcroppings about a dozen miles that way.” Tomer pointed. “A small creek for water. It should make a good campsite. Close enough that we can call you if we need, but far enough away that…” He trailed off, then gave a small shake of his head. “Please keep safe.”
“Thank you, Tomer.” Magda smiled. “For everything.”
Matthias glanced at where Coraline was crying, occasionally glaring at her mother. The girl looked both hurt and betrayed to learn Adam wasn’t actually her biological brother. He focused his eyes on where Jim was leaning back on one of the rocky outcroppings. The young man was frowning thoughtfully, occasionally giving small shakes of his head. Adele sat with Coraline, and her presence seemed to comfort the girl. “Got anything to add?” Matthias walked over toward Jim and glared down at him.
“I feel as though you intend for me to interpret your presence as a threat.” Jim shrugged. “Merlin isn’t direct. Most of the dragons will follow his lead however, and not simply because he is the most powerful. It is in their best interest to preserve the status quo. Thus, the files are likely a threat to them as well.”
“Mom and Ryuu are old friends, and he hired us to get Adam away from the Cabal.”
“Ryuu prefers to err on the side of kindness and diplomacy. Were he a stronger man, history may have played out in an entirely different fashion.” Jim looked up at the sky.
“We’ll have Khait erase your memories, then put you —”
“I can’t allow him to do that.” Jim shook his head.
“Well…” Matthias shrugged. “You’re not exactly going to have a choice in the matter. I —”
“Matthias.” Daniel’s voice sounded frantic. He was pointing at the sky.
He turned, and saw several shapes moving toward them. “Black helicopters are really never good.” He started toward the van with their gear.
“Do you have anything that is actually going to do any good here?” Jim followed, grabbing one of the beers off the table as he did so and taking a long drink.
“Might be able to get a shot.” Michaels was already there, picking up a rifle.
“Those things are going to be armored.” Matthias sighed as he picked up the other rifle. He tried not to give Jim an annoyed look as he followed them back over to the others.
“Can you shoot them down with those?” Daniel raised an eyebrow, giving them a hopeful look.
Jim took another drink from the beer. “No, they can’t.”
“If we get lucky, we can.” Michaels began loading the rifle. “Everybody get under cover.”
“That includes you.” Matthias glared at Jim.
“Coraline…” Jim shrugged. “Are you feeling threatened?” He raised an eyebrow at where Coraline was standing behind a protective Lidia.
To his surprise, Coraline leaned out from behind her mother and broke into a wide smile. “Yeah.” She nodded as she grinned up at Jim. “I think I am.”
“Alright then.” Jim took another drink from the bottle and handed it to Daniel. Then he crouched slightly.
“What —” Matthias nearly dropped the rifle when Jim abruptly leapt off the ground and took to the air, moving toward the first of the helicopters as though he’d been fired out of a cannon.
“Yes.” Coraline pumped her fist as the helicopter exploded. “Ha, take that!” She jumped up and down.
The second helicopter suddenly jerked to the side, then spun in a circle before smashing into the third, knocking it out of the sky. Fire and twisted chunks of metal rained down, leaving only smoke in the air.
Jim hit the ground a few feet from them, his coat fluttering as he landed easily. He adjusted the collar as he casually strode back toward them. Then he took the beer back from the staring Daniel and drained the bottle.
“That was awesome.” Coraline threw her hands up in the air. She grabbed the arm of a laughing Adele. “Did you see that? That was great.”
“Oh.” Khait was staring at Jim, and all the blood had drained from the demon’s face. “Shit.”