She ran a hand over the black feathers, then smiled. A moment later her eyes widened. “Does this mean you are going to start molting?” Khait glared at her. Bridget shrugged. “Hey, I don’t know how this stuff works.” She grinned. “But if you do, dibs on the feathers.”
“Abigail already called dibs.” Khait shook his head.
“Of course she did.” Bridget sighed. Then she withdrew her hand, and his wings folded back and vanished. “Are you alright, Khait?”
“I…” Khait slowly nodded. “I think I am.”
“Good.” She exhaled. “It’s kind of nice not having the ring on, anymore. Guess you don’t need me to —” She gasped when he grabbed her and pulled her into a tight hug. “Khait?”
“Thank you, Bridget.” He spoke into her ear. “For…” He laughed a little. “Being you and putting up with me.” He kissed her ear. “You’re my best friend, and I still need you. I still need you to boss me around, tell me when I’m being an idiot, remind me of the scale of bad, and to…” He chuckled. “Be you.”
“Well…” She laughed as she returned the hug. “If you put it that…” She took a deep breath as she gave a small shake of her head, then glared up at him. “Khait, get your hands off my ass.”
“Sorry.” His smile was anything but apologetic.
“So, what now?” Michaels sat down next to Matthias. The table was round. Considering what they might be going up against, he found that vaguely ironic. “What do we know?”
“Ryuu took the students and other civilians back to the states on a private plane.” Jormun looked around the table. The Wus had all gone with Professor Kravitz and the students. Ahit had gone with them, but Stasya remained. The Russian woman hovered a little protectively over Adam. Iggy was still present, looking around the table a little bit wide-eyed. Bridget had declined to go back with the students, citing that losing the ring’s protection in no way stopped her from helping Adele battle paperwork. Abigail had simply flat out refused to leave Khait’s side.
“I know what he stashed Gabriel in.” Adam leaned forward. “It’s some kind of crystal thing. But I have no idea where he might have moved it to.”
“Considering how my fight with him went…” Jormun frowned. “I believe keeping Gabriel contained is requiring a lot of effort from Merlin. I figured I’d be able to keep him off of you all long enough for…” Jormun leaned back. “But I never considered the idea that he’d run and go to ground.”
“He may have some concern that if the others realize he’s weakened…” Adele chewed her lower lip. “There are some old grudges in play.”
“How long until you are back up to full strength?” Michaels looked across the table at Jormun.
“I’ve recovered from my wounds, but full strength will take a few more days.” Jormun shook his head.
“You should learn how to recover ambient lust.” Khait grinned at him. “It’s useful.”
“I’m going to have to call in a cleaning service for the eastern wing. The brownies refused to go back in when they saw the condoms on the light fixtures.” Jormun sighed.
“Uh…” Laura blinked. “Brownies, like, little fairy things?” She shook her head. “You have brownies and you use them for housekeeping?”
“Keeps them out of trouble.” Jormun shrugged. “Most of the time.”
“If we could…” Michaels sighed.
“Yes, back to business.” Jormun picked up the paper in front of him. “My people are still looking at the list Adam provided. We’ve eliminated many of the locations as possibilities. Merlin would not leave such a crystal in an area he did not have total control, and he certainly wouldn’t risk it within or near my territory.”
“What about the others?” Matthias leaned forward.
“It would be a risk on his part, but perhaps a calculated one.” Jormun looked over the list. “Isis’s territory is not stable, and that is partially Merlin’s fault. That eliminated a good portion of North Africa and the Middle East. He shares territory with Tia in the US, but she’s got a bit of a grudge and the west coast is hers, as is most of Canada.” He frowned. “Mei and Bharat would refrain from taking sides in such a conflict. They would not act against a stronghold defending the crystal if it was in their territory, but neither would they interfere if we came in force against it. Placing the crystal in most of mainland Asia would therefore not hold any strategic advantage for Merlin.”
“What about in Ryuu’s territory?” Magda raised an eyebrow.
“Ryuu may be reluctant to act directly, but if Merlin put such a stronghold in his territory he wouldn’t have to. And Ryuu…” Jormun glanced at Adam before looking up at Magda. “He has skin in the game. He’d rather take his chances with Merlin than risk conflict with the Horsemen. And Merlin would likewise prefer to avoid open conflict with Ryuu.”
“South America?” Michaels put his arm on the table.
“A calculated risk. Pachua would be willing to keep a Horseman imprisoned and he may leap at the chance to acquire more power for himself. Even if it’s just Merlin’s good will.” Jormun sighed. “And he’s an asshole who is still annoyed we don’t let him demand human sacrifices anymore.”
“How is his relationship with you?” Matthias tilted his head.
“We definitely do not exchange Christmas cards.” Jormun exhaled. “And unlike Merlin, Pachua would be willing to risk the consequences of killing me if he thought he had the chance.”
“And Africa?” Abigail leaned back.
“It’s not in Africa.” Jormun shook his head.
“How can you be sure?” Abigail blinked.
“Gabriel hasn’t joined us at this table.” Jormun shrugged. “Either it’s still in Europe, or Merlin is considering unleashing Pachua.” He sighed. “Let’s hope it’s in Europe. Tangling with Pachua always gets messy.”
“What about that thing Teddy got?” Iggy frowned. When they looked at him, he shrugged. “The thing he and Felipa dug up?”
“What…” Michaels frowned at him. He’d sent a couple texts to keep Ted in the loop, but… “What thing are you talking about?”
“Uh…” Iggy cringed back a little. “Maybe it was a secret?”
“Iggy?” Jormun raised an eyebrow. “What thing?”
Ted patted Felipa’s shoulder. Don’t be afraid, it’s alright. They are friends. He blinked, then turned around to go look for Father Williams. He made it two steps before he heard Sister Doris and Felipa both shriek. He whirled around to see Felipa in werewolf form, Sister Doris holding the chalice she’d been polishing like it was a baseball bat, and a room full of people. He exhaled, then put a hand on Felipa’s arm. “It’s alright, Felipa…” He recognized some of the group.
“Hey, Filly, is all good.” Iggy held up his hands.
Sister Doris glanced at Felipa and made another squeaking sound. Then she lowered the chalice and glanced at Ted. “Uh…”
Michaels sighed. “Sorry, Ted. I tried to call, but uh…” He shrugged.
“I had to put my phone on the charger.” Ted nodded. “So, uh…” He looked around. “Maybe we should head into one of the basement meeting rooms.” He nodded at where Felipa had resumed her human form. “Felipa, mind getting the Padre?”
“Sure, Teddy-bear.” Felipa nodded before skirting the group and heading out of the room. There were several in the group he didn’t recognize. A red-haired man the size of Matthias stood next to a young woman, with his hand on the small of her back. The demon, Khait, no longer had his wings visible, and he stood next to a dark-skinned woman he was reasonably sure was Abigail. Another young woman stood a couple feet from them, and a burly man stood next to a young man that was wearing a metal collar of some kind. Iggy stood next to an oriental looking young man that looked vaguely familiar.
“Teddy-bear?” Laura started to grin.
“Ted, uh…” Magda shrugged. “Maybe we should wait for Father Williams before we start do formal introductions, but…” She gestured. “Ted, Sister Doris, Team France. Team France, Ted and Sister Doris.”
“Does anybody besides me here even speak French?” The young man next to Iggy raised an eyebrow.
“I actually am French.” Magda glanced at him.
“French language sloppy. All vowels.” The burly man shook his head. “Just tongue waggling.”
“I see.” Ted took a deep breath. “And…” He sighed. “Let’s go downstairs. I have something I need to show you.”
“Tell me…” Adele stared at the box. “Just tell me that’s not the Ark of the Covenant.”
“It’s not the Ark of the Covenant.” Jim nodded.
“It’s one of the seals.” He glanced at her.
“Oh, that is just…” Adele exhaled. “So much worse.”
“How…” Jim turned to look at Ted. “How did you find, let alone recover one —” He frowned. “Who are you?”
“Oh.” Ted blinked, then held out his hand. “I’m Theodore Mullins.”
Jim accepted his handshake. “Jormun Wotan.”
“I’ve…” Ted tilted his head. “Heard the name…” He glanced at Magda.
“He’s a dragon, Ted.” Magda nodded.
“Oh.” Ted swallowed. He let go of Jormun’s hand, then rubbed the back of his neck, then turned toward Michaels. “I feel like I’ve been left out of some loops.”
“Wait…” Michaels rubbed the back of his neck. “Nobody filled Ted in about…” He glanced at Jormun.
“You were supposed to be filling him in.” Laura glared.
“I got shot.” Michaels glared back.
“You got shot?” Ted’s eyes widened.
“Ted, what’s the last intel you have?” Magda shook her head.
“A text message from Iggy saying he was in France and not to worry, but since it contained no other information…” Ted glared at Iggy. “I’ve been worrying.” Ted folded his arms. “When did we get a dragon?”
“We have a drag…” A priest stepped into the room, blinked, and paled. “Jormun.”
“Giovanni.” Jim narrowed his eyes as he started to draw himself to his full height.
“Hang on…” Adele immediately made a time out sign. “I know that look. You’re not eating anybody until I know what is going on here.” He glanced at her. “Nobody.” He glared but stepped back and folded his arms. “Father, uh…”
“Giovanni?” Stasya was staring at the priest, her eyes wide.
Adam glanced at her, then at Father Williams. “Isn’t he…”
“When…” Ted took a deep breath before raising his voice. “Did we acquire a dragon?”
“Okay…” Magda looked around the room. Everyone was sitting and was at least pretending to be calm, though the tension in the room was thick enough to trip the unwary. “Ted, we successfully rescued Adam…” She pointed at Adam, who gave Ted an awkward sort of wave. “With the help of Jormun, who both owed a favor to Adam’s little sister and doesn’t like Merlin any more than we do.” She pointed at Jormun. “These are the folks Jormun brought in to help. Lykos, Christophe, and Adele.” She pointed to each in turn. “And since you didn’t actually get a chance to formally meet them before, these are Khait, Abigail and Bridget.” She shrugged. “Everyone, this is Ted, Father Williams, and Sister Doris. Someone else is going to have to introduce the uh…” She glanced at the small group of Mexican teenagers near the door of the room.
“Ignacio, Felipa, Javier, Pedro, Luis, and Miguel.” Sister Doris spoke up, pointing at each in turn. Then she gave an awkward shrug before glancing at Stasya. “Uh, I didn’t catch her —”
“Stasya.” Stasya nodded to Sister Doris.
“Alright.” Magda took a deep breath. “I know there are some histories in this room, but I want to remind everybody that we are all allies and whatever minor grudges may exist, they are pretty minor in comparison to…” She pointed at the silver box sitting on the table. “Ted, care to explain where you got an apocalyptic seal.”
“Well, uh…” Ted rubbed the back of his neck. “Gabriel told me where to find it and sent Felipa and I to dig it up.”
“When?” Matthias blinked.
“Well, uh…” Ted shrugged. “A day or so before Khait appeared and grabbed Iggy.”
“Time out.” Adele made the gesture again. “Because by my count, that was after Khait teleported us to France, which means…”
“Which meant Gabriel was already locked away. He left instructions for you?” Jormun turned toward Ted.
“No, uh…” Ted shifted awkwardly. “He um…” Ted swallowed. “He’s sort of been sending me messages, though, uh…” He gave a small shake of his head. “I really would have appreciated more than two seconds of warning before all of you showed up.”
“Gabriel is sealed into Merlin’s crystal.” Jormun shook his head. “And you are no witch. I don’t see how you could be in contact with him? Any bond would have to be incredibly profound for —”
“They are dating.” Adam leaned back in his chair.
“They…” Jormun made a slight choking sound.
“Wait…” Khait’s eyes nearly fell out of his head.
“What?” Sister Doris’s voice was flat.
Several people turned to glare at Adam, who blinked. “Uh…” He looked around the room. “I take it that wasn’t common knowledge?” When Laura shook her head at him, he winced. “Sorry.”
“You have just broken my mind.” Khait’s grin nearly split his face in two.
“Way to go, Teddy-bear.” Abigail laughed.
“I’m going to need a minute to process this information.” Sister Doris started shaking her head.
“I agree.” Jormum ran a hand down his face.