“You’re Giovanni?” Adam looked the priest over. Despite the man’s white hair, he didn’t look that old. If the stories were accurate, he had to be at least seventy-five. The idea that this priest could be the same man in those stories, however, seemed absurd. A thought wormed its way into his head. The men sent after Daniel had all been hospitalized with hypothermia.
“I take it you’ve heard of me?” Father Williams raised an eyebrow. Then he sighed. “I was.” He gave a small shake of his head. “Once.” His eyes went to where the nun was examining the wings of a bemused Khait. “And you are Adam.”
“I…” Adam swallowed. “Yeah, I guess I’m the last person with a right to question you.”
“You have more right to question me than most, Adam.” Father Williams inclined his head. “The things I did were of my own free will. Foolish, stupid, vindictive, and petty…” He shrugged. “But free.”
“They said it took a team of thirty men to kill you.” Adam gave the man another look. “And that included a pack. Only two survivors.”
“What good is a cover story…” Father Williams nodded. “If there are none left to tell it?” He exhaled, then glanced up as another figure joined them.
Adam felt a slight chill as he saw Jormun giving Father Williams a considering look. “He’s one of the good guys.”
“You’ve known him thirty seconds.” Jormun glanced at Adam. “And you’re defending him?”
“The Cabal gets into your head.” Adam sighed, then shook his head. “Not everything they asked me to do was against my will. I mean…” He rubbed his neck. “I took out a group of human traffickers, a couple rings of drug smugglers, this crazy black-market organ and animal smuggling guy up in Nebraska, and —”
“A moment.” Jormun frowned, holding up his hand. He glanced at Adele, then pointed at Adam. “Xue?”
“Yeah.” Adam nodded. “That was the name.” He smiled. “Stole a bunch of his specimens. Isabel, Felipa’s sister, is taking care of them for me.”
“You stole his specimens?” Adele tilted her head as she started to smile.
“Yeah. My favorite is this blue-ringed octopus. He’s pretty friendly, kind of like having a pet cat, only —” He cut off as Adele started snickering. “What?”
Adele elbowed Jormun in the side. “He’s got a pet octopus.” She leaned her head on Jormun’s shoulder. “What did you name it?”
“Why…” He gave a small shake of his head, then shrugged. “Isabel calls him Gato. That’s Spanish for…” He trailed off as Adele started laughing so hard Jormun had to support her to keep her from falling. “I’m missing a joke here.”
“It’s nowhere near as funny as she thinks it is.” Jormun just sighed.
“It’s Spanish for cat.” Adele buried her face in his arm. “He named his octopus cat.”
“I was coming over here to have a serious conversation.” Jormun looked down at the giggling Adele.
“Right.” Adele snickered again, then coughed. She snickered again, then composed her face. Her lips twitched a little as she nodded. “Serious away.”
“I…” Jormun sighed. He started to turn toward Father Williams, then just shook his head before turning back to look at the rest of the room. Then he gave a slight shake of his head before turning back to Father Williams. “If my understanding of Catholicism is correct…” He folded his arms. “You’ve been celibate for around forty years.” He shrugged. “That’s worse than anything I could do to you.”
Father Williams rolled his eyes, then just shook his head and remained quiet. Adam snickered. “Father, I think that’s one of the most profane silences I’ve ever heard.”
“I know, right?” Adele chuckled.
“Uh…” Sister Doris frowned at Jormun. “I may be missing something in your analysis, but uh…” She shook her head. “Aren’t you kind of forgetting two entire continents?” She tilted her head. “And the arctic circle?”
“She’s got a point.” Michaels nodded. “You forgot about Australia.”
“Australia is Ryuu’s territory.” Jormun shrugged.
“Wait…” Laura raised her hand. “He’s a Japanese dragon, bases himself in Las Vegas, and controls Australia?” She closed her eyes for a moment. “How did that happen?”
“It’s a very long and…” Jormun sighed. “Incredibly boring story.”
“Does this mean we aren’t going to Australia?” Ash looked up from where he was coloring in on a map.
“Something of a relief, actually.” Matthias frowned at the handgun Iggy handed him, removing the clip and wrinkling his nose at it. “Kangaroos are nowhere near as easy to hunt as they should be.”
“I liked Australia.” Ash shook his head. “The rock formations are pretty.”
“You’ve…” Stephan blinked. “You’ve been to Australia?”
“Twice.” Ash picked up a different crayon. “My great-aunt lives there.”
“If we could focus?” Magda looked over Ash’s shoulder. “Ryuu may base in Vegas but Nevada is still Tia’s territory.” Ash nodded before switching crayons again and coloring Nevada yellow. He’d chosen green for Jormun, and the results weren’t particularly appealing. He controlled Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, and Denmark. Thus far, there was no other green on the map. Merlin’s territory was red. Most of Europe, parts of North Africa, most of the south and midwestern United States, a chunk of Russia, and Brazil. There were a few other spots of red here and there as well. She raised an eyebrow when she noted a spot of green near Australia. “You control Tonga?”
“No.” Jormun frowned.
“Uh…” Christophe winced. “You kind of do.”
“I told you to call that off.” Jormun narrowed his eyes.
“They didn’t use the sub.” Adele shook her head. “Zeke replaced the king with a robot.”
“Prime minister, actually.” Christophe shrugged. “Won the election in a landslide.” When Jormun stared at him, Christophe winced again. “It was in the report.”
“I decided it was in your best interest to stop reading your reports.” Jormun ran a hand down his face.
“Yeah, that…” Christophe nodded. “That’s fair.”
“Okay, so, Gabriel won’t be in Australia.” Magda looked down at the map again. “That does leave the poles.”
“Those are mine.” Jormun folded his arms.
“You got screwed on territory.” Iggy accepted the gun back from Matthias. “Does like, anyone even live in those spots? It’s all penguins.”
“It’s not bad territory.” Laura shook her head at Iggy. “I mean, the Alps are beautiful.”
“And in Switzerland.” Adam smiled at her.
“Wait…” Laura leaned in to look at the map. “Doesn’t he have —”
“Switzerland.” Ash touched a spot on the map. “Sweden.” He touched the other spot.
“Oh, two different countries.” Laura nodded.
“Americans.” Jormun sighed. When Iggy gave him a slightly indignant look, Jormun rolled his eyes. “And Mexicans.” He glanced over his shoulder as Lykos entered. “Defenses?”
“Stone is strong.” Lykos shook his head. “But is church. Open. Many come and go. Defenses complicated.” He frowned. “If too complicated…” He shrugged.
“True.” Jormun frowned at the map Ash had finished coloring.
“If too complicated…” Michaels raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“This isn’t his territory.” Magda sighed. “If he starts in with too much magic here, Tia Mat will intervene.”
“I thought…” Stephan glanced at Adam. “I thought she was an ally of Ryuu.”
“And generally, she is.” Jormun frowned. “That doesn’t mean she wants us going to war in her territory.”
“Taking everyone back to your territory might not be the best idea.” Ted’s voice made her turn. He was leaning on the wall near the door. “Pachua or even Merlin would hesitate to enter another’s territory to get to you, but on your own land they wouldn’t be risking the ire of anyone else.”
“Perhaps we should go to Australia.” Jormun glanced at the map.
“No.” Ted shook his head. “No, you’re staying here.”
“I’m not sure Tia having that is really a good thing either.” Magda glanced at the box. “I’m nervous enough having that in her territory.”
“This isn’t her territory.” Michaels stood.
“She controls the Pacific Coast from Mex —” Christophe glanced at him.
“He’s right.” Ash nodded. “This isn’t her territory.”
“It —” Adele frowned.
“She may control most of the west.” Ted straightened. “But this city…” He took a deep breath. “Belongs to Gabriel.” He smiled. “As do we.”
“Alright.” Michaels came up the stairs. Rather than deal with the comings and goings and trying to defend the church, they’d relocated to Ted’s place. Through the glass door, he could see a few of the others. Anna was sitting on a chair, still glaring at her brother. She hadn’t taken the news that she’d missed an encounter with a unicorn well. Her first encounter with Jormun had resulted in the dragon simply raising an eyebrow at her and telling her to stop trying to read his mind. After a moment, he’d told her not to try reading the minds of Lykos or Khait either. “I’m not sure the TSA bought the story, but we’ll see.”
“The airports won’t be a problem.” An unfamiliar voice came from the vicinity of the kitchen, and he turned to see a good looking blond man entering.
“Oh, Tobias, good.” Jormun smiled. “Where are you?”
“Amsterdam.” Tobias gestured at a large box sitting near the wall. “Brought everything on the list, plus a combat model. Zeke’s scan reveals six hotspots. He’s confident it’s not false positives but has no way of noting which particular crystal will be the right one.”
“Send the locations to Stephan.” Jormun gestured at door. “I asked Ted to clear space in a closet. Before you put it into standby, I want voice authorization for Michaels here as well as Magda and Bridget.”
“Right.” Tobias turned toward Michaels. “Say something.”
“What kind of something?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“That’ll work.” Tobias tilted his head slightly. “Voiceprint authorized. What level?”
“Full.” Jormun nodded.
Tobias blinked. “Full?” He glanced at Michaels, then back at Jormun. “Jormun, this model is equipped with —”
“Full.” Jormun nodded again. “Michaels here is the sidekick of one of the Horsemen.”
“Full authorization accepted.” Tobias gave Michaels a considering look, then tilted his head again and rolled his eyes. “Zeke wants to know if he can have your brain when you die.”
“Uh…” Michaels glanced at Jormun, who just shrugged. “Sure?”
“Got voice prints for Magda and Bridget already.” Tobias nodded. “I’ll go standby.”
“Hang on, I think I’m missing…” Michaels shook his head. “Standby?”
“Tobias isn’t here. He’s in Amsterdam with Zeke.” Jormun chuckled. “As much as you can say he is in one location, anyway.”
“He’s…” Michaels’s eyes went wide, and he took a step back as Tobias touched something under his jaw. His head suddenly shifted, revealing circuitry and what looked for all the world like a targeting computer. “The fuck?”
The thing in front of him clicked, and a moment later looked again like an ordinary human man. “Combat model, mark four. Zeke thought you could use a backup line of defense. I’m driving right now, but you, Magda, and Bridget now have authorization for autonomous mode.” He shrugged, then rapped knuckles against his skull to create a ringing sound. “Titanium but try not to scratch the paint unless necessary. I like to look pretty when I make things explode.” He grinned before walking into the closet. A moment later, the thing went completely still, all animation and life vanishing from its face.
Jormun closed the closet door. “That never really stops being freaky.”
“Says the fucking dragon.” Michaels exhaled. “Uh, did you really just give me full control of a murder-bot?”
“Did you really just tell a mad scientist he can have your brain after you die?” Jormun raised an eyebrow at him.
“Well…” Michaels blinked, then swallowed. “Oops?”
“Obviously this Zeke fellow prefers unused specimens.”
“Oh, hush you.” Michaels glared in a random direct, then pointed at the closet door. “That’s Tobias?”
“Tobias is…” Jormun sighed. “Complicated.”
“He’s an artificial intelligence?” Michaels turned away from the closet to face Jormun.
“No. He’s a man. Or was.” Jormun gestured for Michaels to follow him to the patio. “He’s monitoring the airline computers. If any of the Cabal try that method of transport, we’ll know before they land.”
Stephan glanced at Stasya as she touched the branch of the apple tree. Her fingers then went to the necklace she wore before she sighed. “He liked cyser.” Adam’s voice drew his attention to the other side of the tree. Adam shrugged when he caught Stephan looking at him. “Patrick. He liked mead. One of the first things he taught me, aside from some curse words in French. Cyser is a type of mead, made with apple juice.” Adam exhaled, sending a gust of white breath toward the tree. “So, uh…” He swallowed. “Whoever picked the tree chose well.”
“Ash.” Stephan smiled at Adam before putting a hand on Ash’s shoulder. “Ash picked the tree.”
“Woof.” Ash nodded.
“Thank you.” Stasya’s voice was a little ragged. “For this. He was…” She nodded. “Good man.”
“It’s a bit late in the year and all…” He gave a small shrug. “But we got apples off of it. Magda made jam and…” He rubbed the back of his neck. Ash gave him an awkward look. “Okay, that sounded much better in my head.”
“No.” Stasya shook her head before patting Stephan’s shoulder. “Is good thought. Sharing meal with friends and family.”
“It’s awkward, uncomfortable, little weird…” Adam nodded before wiping at his eyes. “Any chance you’ve got animal crackers?”
“Yeah we…” He glanced at where Stasya started laughing, then looked back at Adam. Adam had a smile dancing on his own face, but his eyes were still wet. “Uh…”
“Animal crackers.” Stasya snickered. “Need dinosaur ones.”
“Not sure about…” He tilted his head. It was good to see them laughing.
Ash smiled himself. “We’ve got dinosaur shaped cookie cutters?”
“Oh, and gingerbread women?” Adam grinned.
Stasya snorted, leaning on Stephan a little for support. “Lesbian gingerwomen.”
“And a dildosaur.” Adam grinned before reaching out and putting his hand on the tree as if patting someone on the back. “We won’t forget the dildosaur.”
“Four in Europe, two in South America.” Magda looked over the map. “Khait, don’t suppose you could port in, take a peek, then come back and get us?”
“Not that far away, especially not without knowing the area.” Khait shook his head. “And Merlin knows I’m working with you. He will likely have defenses.”
“I’m not happy about our own defenses.” Matthias sighed. “We caught the ones that came by air last time.”
“To be fair, the Cabal is a bit down on manpower after that.” Adam shrugged. “Gabriel took out two elite squads, plus Stasya and I are on your side this time.”
“Considering you were the ones that actually got a win against us…” Matthias nodded to Adam. “I’m not unhappy about that.”
“Except last time, operation was planned by idiot.” Stasya folded her arms.
“I…” Adam glanced at her, then shrugged. “She does actually have a point there. Wren and Sima were in charge of that fiasco.”
“And you were already turning on her.” Matthias nodded to him. Back then, he’d thought Adam had been bragging when he’d claimed to have killed an alpha. The last few days had shown that if anything, Adam had been understating the matter. “We also had Gabriel.” He glanced at Jormun. “No offense.”
“Absolutely none taken.” Jormun smiled. “I’ve called in a few additional forces, but I simply don’t have the manpower to rival the Cabal, even after the losses they’ve incurred. Their elite tend to remain mobile, in the field, which means we’ve taken out very few of the truly dangerous ones. They have a couple hundred werewolves, including several more alphas, at their command, as well as plenty of other witches and monsters. I also have no idea the number of vampires under their control, but sadly, thralls are an easily renewed resource.”
“Finding Gabriel is one thing.” Erilon’s voice echoed around them. “If Merlin is holding him, getting him out is going to be tricky.”
“One problem at a time.” Jormun leaned on the table. “Alright, let’s figure out which of —”
“He’s there.” Ted put a finger down on the map, just under a location in Italy.
Matthias took a second look, then sighed. No, not Italy. “Great.” He ran a hand down his face. “We’re storming the Vatican.”
“We…” Iggy stared at the map. “Are all going to hell.”