“I can’t budge…” Ted sighed when Felipa just grinned at him. He stepped out of her way, then gave a small shake of his head as what looked like a skinny sixteen-year-old girl in flip-flops simply rolled the boulder out of the way. “Show off.” He smiled fondly before tossing her the second shovel.
It didn’t take long for him and Felipa, admittedly mostly Felipa, to get the large hole dug. “What am I…” Felipa trailed off when her shovel hit something metal. She tapped the shovel again, and there was another clink. “I think I got something, Teddy-bear.” She looked up at him.
He slid back into the hole, then began using his shovel to help clear the dirt from around the item. It looked like a metal cube, a foot and a half on all sides. He tried to lift it, then sighed and climbed back out of the hole to get out of Felipa’s way. It was heavy enough that he actually did have to help her with getting it all the way up, and they were both panting a little by the time it was done. “Do we open it?” He glanced at her.
“Uh…” Felipa poked the box with a finger, then wrinkled her nose. “Is it going to melt our face if we do?” She wiped some of the dirt off.
“I…” Ted frowned. “That’s a distressingly good question. Let’s get it into the car.”
“Oof.” Felipa was sweating nearly as much as he was by the time they got it into the trunk. “Teddy bear, you totally owe me a slushie for this.” She stepped back as he put the shovels in next to the box. “Like, the 64-ounce one.”
“We can stop on the way back.” Ted sighed. He just wished he knew what this thing was. Ted, it is very important right now that you not panic. He went still as he stared at the box, his eyes widening as his heart did it’s best to crawl out of his chest and flee.
“Teddy-bear?” Felipa gave him a concerned look. “Papi, you alright there?”
Slowly, he touched the sides of the box. The top then slid off easily at the slight push of his thumbs. “Oh.”
“Madre de Dios.” Felipa made the sign of the cross over herself.
Adele smiled as Jim’s fingers brushed through her hair and raised her chin to meet his kiss. “Think you can manage to prevent them from burning the place down?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“No promises.” She chuckled, then the sound died. “How bad are things going to get?”
It took a few moments for him to answer. “Perhaps you should join Natalya in —”
“No.” She shook her head. “You need me right here.” She smoothed the front of his shirt. “You’ve been fighting this alone too long.” Adele smiled. “Someone has to be here to keep you from giving in to the temptation to eat your new allies.”
“I…” When she just raised an eyebrow, Jim shrugged and rolled his eyes. “Fair point.” He kissed her again. “I’ll be back by ten PM.”
“How much of a window do I give you?” She caressed his cheek before stepping back.
“Implement the protocol at 10:01.” He shifted from Jim to Jormun, then nodded at her before vanishing.
She waited five seconds before pulling her phone out of her pocket and dialing. Greg’s voice answered on the second ring. “Adele.”
“How’s Yala?” She turned to look out the window.
“Things aren’t going as well as we’d like.” Greg exhaled. “But they are going a little better than we expected. Your end?”
“He just went to meet Zeke. He didn’t say it out loud, but I think he’s hoping Zeke can give him an edge or somehow science the shit out this.” Adele swallowed. “I have to say, I’m a little scared for him.”
“Yeah.” Greg sighed. “Me too, and not just because…” He was silent for a moment. “All he has to do is call, and we’ll be there. Remind him he’s got friends, alright?”
“I do.” She smiled. “Constantly.”
Daniel’s eyes went wide as Michaels yanked him back a moment before Matthias started to lunge at them. As abruptly as the change had taken him, Matthias returned to himself, eyes brown instead of gold. Matthias looked over his shoulder to see Stephan, his hand locked around Matthias’ arm. Daniel immediately started forward. “Michaels get them out of here.” Matthias was panting.
“Daniel, professor, go start getting the students clear.” Michaels gestured at them.
“But…” Daniel started shaking his head.
“Now.” Michaels barked the order and saw the professor grab Daniel’s arm. The young man stumbled a bit before going after the professor. “Erilon?” He raised an eyebrow at Stephan. “How long can you hold him?”
“Guess we’ll find out.” Stephan looked up at Matthias. “You with us?”
“Get them out.” Matthias gave a small shake of his head.
“Erilon.” Michaels started to take a step back, to get out of Stephan’s range. I’m here, pet. “Erilon, we’ve got a —” Oh shit. “Can you do anything?” He exhaled. “She said she can’t even try clearing your system unless Stephan turns his power off, and…”
“Soon as he does that I’m going to start…” Matthias swallowed. Then he looked at Michaels. “You’re packing, right?”
“Yes.” Michaels nodded. “Two.” He took the holster off his belt and offered it to Stephan.
“Hey now…” Stephan shook his head.
“Shut up and conserve your strength.” Matthias glared at him before turning his eyes back to Michaels. “Get Daniel clear. And if…” He nodded. “Take the shot.”
“Understood.” Michaels exhaled. He set the gun where Stephan could reach it.
“Erilon, get Jormun, maybe he can…” Stephan gave Matthias a pained look.
“He left about half an hour ago. Khait and Bridget took that Lykos get to get supplies. They are working on getting hold of anybody…” Michaels growled. “No, tell her…”
“Don’t get Mom here. If…” Matthias’s head came up, and for a moment, he looked very young. “Michaels…”
“Ten minutes.” Stephan’s voice was quiet.
“I’m good for at least ten minutes.” He looked up at Michaels. “Get the students clear.”
“Semper fi.” Michaels nodded before turning to go help the professor and Daniel.
She clenched her fists as she saw Adele hang up the phone. “There isn’t signal…” She gave Magda a sympathetic look. “It’s shielded, that’s why he went himself.”
“Bridget?” Magda looked around, searching for a reflective surface.
“I’m trying.” Erilon’s voice was weaker than usual. “I can boost Stephan a little, help him hang on longer, but his power blocks most of what I can give him.”
“I need —” She started forward, and Adele stepped into her path. “Get out of my —”
“Do not put him or you into that situation, Magda.” Adele’s voice was gentle.
“That’s my son out there…” She knew her eyes were golden.
“And Stephan.” Ash’s voice was soft behind her. She started to push past Adele, and he moved forward, catching her arm.
“Ash.” Magda glared at him.
“If he hurts you…” Ash shook his head. “He will see the monster in the mirror again.”
“Magda…” Ash reached up to touch her face. His eyes were wet. “He’s your son. You can’t pull the trigger.” When she started shaking her head, he raised his voice and to her surprise, actually shook her arm. “And you know this.”
“He’s my child.” Her vision blurred. “The only one I have left…”
He put his arms around her, pulling her close. She clung to him as she started to cry.
He could feel the were. It clawed at a wall inside him, screaming and beating at it. But the camp was clearing. “Can you take the sh—” He started to look at Stephan.
“Don’t ask me to do that.” Stephan’s voice was tight.
“Give me a couple —”
“Don’t make me tell your mother that…” Stephan swallowed. “Focus, Matthias.”
“I’m trying.” He closed his hands into fists. The camp was clearing. The students were in vehicles, leaving. He saw Daniel trying to pull his arm out of the professor’s grip, and winced. Then he saw Michaels solve the problem by simply clubbing Daniel on the back of the head and shoving him into the professor’s arms. “Thank you.”
“Kid is gonna be pissed at him for that.” Stephan went to his knees but kept his hand on Matthias.
“I didn’t see where she went.” Matthias exhaled. “The girl who brought the case. She’s the one who…” He watched Michaels checking the tents, making sure everyone was clear.
“They had someone on the inside this whole time.” Stephan nodded.
“I don’t have the energy to argue with you, Matthias. So, shut the fuck up.” Stephan glared up at him.
Matthias managed a small chuckle. “It’s weird, but uh…” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t have minded.”
“If Mom was dating you.” He glanced down at the other man. “I mean, when it comes to stepdads, you’d be a lot easier to explain.”
“Thanks.” Stephan took a deep breath. “I think.” He sighed. “But it’s not going to work. I’m not going to shoot Magda’s son.”
“Shut up.” Stephan looked up.
“Fuck you.” Matthias wiped at his eyes. “You really going to make me explain to her that I ate her best friend?”
“I…” Stephan made a frustrated sound. “Fuck.”
“Where…” He saw Michaels heading back toward them. “Clear?”
“She wasn’t with the others.” Michaels shook his head. “Stephan?”
“Still alright.” Stephan’s voice was starting to sound pained.
“He’s lying.” Matthias gave Michaels a hopeful look. “Erilon?”
“They are working on it. She’s trying to —” He glanced at Stephan.
“I can feel her.” Stephan nodded. “It’s weird.”
“Is it lessening?” Michaels raised an eyebrow at him.
“No.” Matthias shook his head. “I can feel…” He looked down. “That part of my mind is running instincts, primal, looking…” He closed his eyes, then opened them again. “You’re the bigger threat.”
“So you’ll come after me first?” Michaels raised an eyebrow. “That’s actually good. How fast do you run when —”
“Faster than you.” Matthias sighed.
“There is a motorcycle over by the stand of trees there.” Michaels pointed. “Can you focus it all on me?”
“If he…” Matthias nodded. “Yeah. I think I can.”
“Right. Erilon can track me. That’ll buy us some more time.”
“Keep the fuck away from populated —”
“I don’t care what Laura says…” Michaels stalked toward the trees. “I am not that fucking stupid.”
“Alright.” Stephan smiled. “We’ve got a plan.” He took a deep breath. “Sort of.”
“I hope to hell he’s good on a motorcycle, or this will be a really bad —” The sound of a gunshot cut him off. His eyes widened as Michaels staggered, the bullet having caught him in the leg. He fell to his knees. “No…” Michaels went for his gun as the woman stepped out and fired again. The second bullet caught Michaels high in the shoulder, sending him to the ground. “You bitch.” Matthias roared the word, then started to reach for the gun Michaels had left.
“Don’t move.” Stephan’s voice was pained. “I can’t hold it if you…”
“Fuck.” Matthias saw the woman wave at them before walking over and grabbing Michaels by the arm. She dragged his limp form toward the trees. “Oh fuck.” He lifted his head. “Erilon!”