Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 6

“Do we have any resources?”  Natalya paced back and forth.

“No.”  Adele rubbed the back of her neck.

“Do we have anyplace nearby we can get resources?”

“No.”  Greg leaned into the couch, letting his head fall back.

“Is there anyone we could call that could get us resources?”

“No.”  Adele shook her head.

“Is there anyone we could call that would even believe us?”

“No.”  Greg stared up at the ceiling.

“Right.”  Natalya continued pacing.  “Okay, so, hurdle number one.  Getting into where the creature is without being caught.”  She ticked off points on her fingers.  “Hurdle number two: convincing the creature to come with us quietly and quickly, without alerting anyone.”

“What are the odds that collar doesn’t have some kind of tracking device in it?”  Greg sat up.

“Pretty much non-existent.”  Adele sighed.

“Hurdle number three…”  Natalya glared at them.  “Finding a vehicle we can transport the creature and Adele in —”

“We steal that van.”  Adele reached into her pocket and held up a set of keys.  “I mean, that’s not what I intended when I asked for these, but in retrospect…”

“Hurdle number four…”  Natalya took a deep breath.  “We are in Nebraska.”

“In retrospect him putting this facility in Nebraska was rather clever of him.”  Adele sighed.

“Right.”  Greg sat up and looked at Natalya.  “What’s the plan, then?”

Natalya blinked.  She glanced at Adele, who was also looking at her expectantly.  “Uh…”  She swallowed.  “Why am I the mastermind here?”

“You’re in charge?”  Adele shrugged.

“Greg’s older.”  She pointed at him.

“Nat, do you remember about seven years ago you told me I should stop buying Nestle brand chocolate because they were anti-environmentalist and exploited children?”

“Yes?”

“Do you remember what I said?”

“Something about prying your kit-kat bars from your cold dead fingers?”  She frowned.

“How’d that work out for me?”  Greg raised an eyebrow.

“I…”  Natalya stared at him for a moment, then shrugged.  “Poorly.”

(more…)

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Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 3

“Sir…”

Xue turned toward his secretary.  She was holding a piece of paper, and staring at it with a slightly awe-struck expression.  “Yes, my dear?”

“I think you need to take a look at this.”  She held the paper out to him.

He took it from her, then turned it around to look at the photograph.  His eyes widened.  “Where…”

“One of the grants you sponsor.”  She gestured toward the other stack of papers.  “They’ve dismissed the photograph as fraudulent and canceled the researcher’s funding, but…”  Her eyes went to the tank.  “Sir…”

“Find the researcher.”  He looked down at the image.  The fins were similar, as were the eyes, the shape of the features, the gills…  He smiled.  “Offer whatever it takes to get them here as soon as possible.”

(more…)

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 1

A tentacle shot out of the dark water, wrapping around Viktor’s leg and yanking him off his feet.  Her hand grabbed for his, and she heard him scream as his wrist slipped through her fingers.  Behind him, the water was boiling and frothing as something writhed beneath the surface.  She lunged, trying again to grab her brother before he was dragged beneath the surface.  She screamed his name and then —

“Natalya.  Natalya.”  Someone was shaking her.  Her eyes snapped open.  A moment later, a light came on, and she closed them again against the sudden brightness.  “Natalya?”

She forced herself to take some deep breaths, then slowly sat up.  “I’m alright.”  She exhaled.  “I’m alright.”

Greg nodded, then gently rubbed her back.  “I’ll make some coffee.”  He rose and stepped around Adele.

Adele wheeled herself all the way into the room.  “Sorry, sugar.”  Adele came over and patted her hand.  “I heard you yelling but I couldn’t get into my chair and…”

“Why are you apologizing for…”  She glanced down at herself, then promptly grabbed the covers and yanked them up to hide her breasts.  “Shit.”

“It’s not the first time he’s seen you topless.”  Adele shrugged.  From the kitchen, a few banging sounds could be heard.

“Six years old and playing in the sprinklers doesn’t count.”  Natalya sighed.  She could tell her face was crimson.  “I’m going to buy some pajamas.”  She stuck her tongue out at Adele.  “Just not old lady ones like yours.”

“Hey…”  Adele pointed at her nightshirt.  “Don’t knock Minnie Mouse.”  She guided the wheelchair back, then turned it toward the door.  “I’m going to go rescue Greg from the coffee machine.”

“I’ll be there in a minute to start breakfast.”  Natalya sighed.  “After I commit seppuku from humiliation.”

(more…)

Escapade – Chapter 7, The End

The guy in charge of the most recent band of jerks took a shot at Gabriel.  Laura snickered at the expression on the guy’s face when Gabriel just gave him an annoyed look.  “Uh…”  The jerk shook his head.  “Get the professor.”  Then he made the mistake of charging at Gabriel.

Two of the other men rushed toward her and professor Kravitz.  Adam didn’t take a different form, just twisted and grabbed one by the neck before using him as leverage to kick the other in the face.  Both men dropped, and Adam landed on his feet.  Only then did he shift, turning from a slender young man into a massive grizzly bear.

Laura blinked when she realized he’d done that to provide her and Kravitz with cover from the still armed men.  Fortunately, the guys with the guns had a much more pressing concern.  Gabriel tossed the leader into one of the others, sending both of them crashing to the ground.  You called Gabriel in?  Actually Michaels did.  He didn’t fall for the ‘nobody would believe this’ ploy.  Wait, how long has Gabriel been in San Francisco?  He got here around four AM and has been following you ever since.  And you didn’t tell me?  He was staying back so as not to spook Adam.  Oh.  Yeah, that was probably smart.

With Gabriel coming out to play, the fight lasted only a few moments.  Gabriel even helpfully stacked the semi-conscious thugs into a neat pile before turning back toward them.  Adam resumed human form, and gave Gabriel a wary look.  “So, when they said you smacked Matthias with a tree…”

“We were serious.”  Laura nodded

“Uh…”  Kravitz was staring.

“Oh.”  She stepped forward.  “Professor Kravitz, this is Gabriel.  He beats up bad guys.  Gabriel, this is Professor Kravitz.  He teaches history.”  Then she glanced.  “Gabriel, this is Adam.  He changes shape.  Adam, this is Gabriel.  He juggles cars.”

“The park did close to foot traffic twenty minutes ago.”  Gabriel jerked his head toward the path.

“Right.”  She gestured at Adam and the professor.  “Come on.”

(more…)

Escapade: Chapter 6

Part of her wanted to reach out and put a hand on his shoulder, but given the circumstances touching him was probably a bad idea.  Adam leaned against the wall, bent over with his elbows on his knees.  He gave a small shake of his head before looking up at Laura.  “I’d have died for her.”

“I…”

“I’d have died for her, and it was because…”  He straightened.  “When I shift, change forms, every single bone in my body breaks.  I can feel my teeth being smashed into another shape.  I told her it felt like being put through a wood-chipper, begged her not to…”  He shook his head.  “And she still couldn’t wait to try the spell out.”  He wiped a hand across his eyes.  “And I still loved her after that.”  He punched the wall.  “I killed for her.”

Her stepfather had broken her arm once.  She could remember exactly how bad it had hurt.  Adam changed form in the blink of an eye, shifting from creature to creature in his fight with the werewolf.  And she’d thought Michaels was tough.  “I wish I knew what to say.”

“Let’s get that damn…”  He took a deep breath.  “Let’s get the information and make sure she never gets her hands on it.  She’s fucked things up enough with the power she already has.”

They moved deeper into the tunnels.  Thralls ahead.  “Erilon thinks this is the place.”  Two.  “Two thralls.”

“Right.  Stay here.”  He nodded to her.

“Adam?”  She caught his arm.  When he raised an eyebrow, she hesitated.  “You don’t have to do this.  I can call in Gabriel or someone and…”  She exhaled.  “You don’t have to hurt anyone.”

His smile was warm.  “It’s alright, Laura.”  He shook his head.  “To be a thrall, you’ve got to get in with the vampires willingly.”  He checked his gun.  “Taking out the trash doesn’t bother me.”

(more…)

Escapade: Chapter 5

He picked the phone up and set it back down again three times before finally dialing the number.  She answered on the third ring.  “You’re checking up on me.”

“I am simply calling to ask how the tour went.”  Michaels glared in the general direction of San Francisco.  Liar.  You’re calling to check up.  Rather than sit around and worry about her, he’d taken Diana up on her offer to have a nice quiet week at her uncle’s cabin.

“Liar.”  Laura snickered.

There was background noise.  Way more background noise than should be present in a quiet hotel room.  “What are you up to?”

“I ran into an assassin and we kidnapped me an academic adviser and drove him out of the city so we could find some magical paraphernalia that used to belong to Merlin’s girlfriend Nimue.”

“Uh-huh.”  He rubbed his forehead and hit the speaker phone button.

“Except we ran into werewolves but that’s okay because my new partner can turn into a gorilla and he just beat the shit out of the alpha and took over the pack.

“Did he now?”  He sat down next to Diana and rolled his eyes.

“And it was awesome.  Only, it turns out that the werewolves were just after the same artifacts we were and somebody else stole them first, so I went to a history lecture and it was actually pretty interesting.  While I was doing that we learned there was a vampire tailing the professor, so we kidnapped him again and stuck him in a five-star hotel suite.”

“I see.”  He saw Diana cover her mouth and try not to giggle.

“So now I’m just kicking back doing karaoke with a hit man while we wait for the vampires’ base to open.”

“Right.”  He nodded.  “You’ll be back at your hotel by midnight, right?”

“Hell no.  The five-star place has a jacuzzi on the balcony and I am so gonna try that thing out.”

“Midnight.”  He narrowed his eyes.

“We probably won’t even be done killing vampires until like one AM.  You and Diana enjoy the cabin and make kissy faces at each other.”  Or better yet, get the handcuffs out again.

Diana laughed.  “I really hope she’s majoring in creative writing.”

“Yeah…”  Michaels stared at the phone for a second.  Then he dialed again.  What are you doing?

The phone was answered on the second ring, but it was Ted’s voice on the other end.  “Michaels, is something wrong?.”

“Yep.”  He exhaled.  “I’m going to need you to tell Gabe to get to San Francisco.”  Hey, I’ve got the situation under control!  And he was the Queen of fucking Sheba.  “Laura’s found herself some trouble.”

(more…)

Escapade: Chapter 4

He raised an eyebrow when Laura stopped the car still some distance from the university.  Kravitz shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  He really couldn’t blame the guy for being disturbed.  “Um, Adam…”  Laura turned around to look at him.  “What do we do now?”

“About…?”  He raised an eyebrow.

“Once they learn the files are encrypted they are totally going to come after him again, so we can’t exactly just take him back and drop him off.”  She glanced at Kravitz.  “I mean, unless you’ve got a good place to hide?”

“I teach a class that starts in an hour.”  Kravitz sighed.

“Yeah, you should call in a sub or a TA or something cause um…”

“He’s a professor, Laura.  He’s been gone long enough already that questions are going to be asked.”  Adam leaned forward.  “We didn’t exactly give him time to say he was going out.”

“Well, that’s why I’m asking you.”  She waved a hand.  “You’re like, the professional here.”

“Two options.  One, we stash him somewhere —”

“Do I get any input on —”  Kravitz frowned.

“No.”  Laura shook her head at him.  “Option two?”

“We stay with him.  Shadow him.  That’s got complications.”  He nodded to her.  “You stand out in a crowd, and I can be ordered to bring him in.”

“There is Erilon.”  Laura shrugged.

“Who is —”  Kravitz looked from Adam to her and back again.

“She’s a demon.  The one you saw in the mirror.”  Adam leaned back.

“A…”  Kravitz’s eyes widened and he went pale again.

“You know, you could have broken that to him a little nicer.”  Laura glared.  “I mean —”  She cut off when her phone rang, then glanced at it and picked it up.  “Hey Daniel, how is things?”  She listened for a second.  “Nah, I’m in Berkeley right now.”  She listened.  “Well, at first I was just touring colleges then I sort of ended up kidnapping a professor and now we are doing some Indiana Jones shit to find some missing artifacts.”  She listened for a moment, then glared at the phone.  “I am not.  We really did kidnap a professor.”  She held the phone out to Kravitz.  “Tell him we kidnapped you.”

“Oh for the love of…”  Adam banged his head on the back of the chair.

“Ugh.”  Laura put the phone back to her ear.  “Oh, we means Adam.”  She nodded.  “Yeah, that Adam.”  She shook her head.  “Nah, if they find out he’s helping me shit will hit the fan so we are playing it low key right now.”  She glared.  “Kidnapping a professor is too low key.”  She wrinkled her nose.  “I don’t need you to call Michaels.  Daniel…  Daniel…  Daniel if you call Michaels I am going to have Erilon do Monty Python scenes in your head every single time you and Matthias have sex…  Yes, that is fighting dirty so don’t call Michaels…  Ha, Anna wishes she were that good…  We’ve got this.  Adam has a plan.”

“I do?”  Adam blinked.

She just nodded to him, and he sighed.  “Yeah, we’re good.  But hey, we might need Stephan at some point so maybe keep your phone around…  Yeah, you too.  Bye.”  She hung up the phone, then looked up at Adam.  “So, you had a plan?”

Adam sighed, then glanced at Kravitz.  “I am so, so sorry.”

(more…)

Escapade: Chapter 3

“Professor Kravitz?”  Laura raised an eyebrow.  The man behind the desk looked to be in his forties, with hair just starting to go gray.  His glasses were fashionable rather than spectacles, and he wore a simple t-shirt and jeans rather than what she expected from a history professor.

“Can I help you?”  He smiled, then looked from Adam to her.  “I’m fairly sure I would recall you if you were one of my students.”

“I’m here touring to decide if Berkeley is the school for me.”

“And you’ve an interest in archeology and history, then?”  His smile warmed. “How delightful, though I’ll warn you it’s not quite like Indiana Jones makes it out to be.”

“Oh god, I hope not.  Running from giant boulders 101 sounds like a really tough class.”  Laura grinned.  “But since my name actually is Lara Croft…”  Or so it said on her IDs.

Professor Kravitz laughed.  “Well then.  As I just had a meeting cancel, I’ve a few free minutes.”  He glanced at Adam.  “I didn’t catch your name.”

“I’m Adam Wu.”  Adam glanced at her, then looked back at Professor Kravitz.

“And you’re also interested in history?”

“She’s the prospective student.”  He jerked his head at her.  “I’m just…”

“He’s a hit man.”  Laura shrugged.  “Professional assassin.  It’s pretty boring, so he’s killing time hanging out with me.  So, your focus is European history?  Excalibur and shit?”  She waved at the artwork hanging on his office wall.  Help me out here?  Right.  Try this.  “I read your screed on all the things wrong with that King Arthur movie with Clive Owen that suggested he was a Roman officer.  I didn’t catch that the swords were held together by screws until I read that, and then it was like all I could see every time the camera focused on a weapon.”

“That might have been a forgivable error if they hadn’t also had trebuchets and stirrups.”  The professor nodded.

“Oh, and the whole landing north of the wall instead of, you know, sailing around it?  Though that’s just bad writing rather than an anachronism.”  Laura nodded.  She caught the rather bemused look Adam was giving her.  “But what I’d really like to ask you about is Merlin and Nimue.”

“I fear there is little historical basis for any of the Merlin myths, though I admit the folklore regarding the character is incredible.  Some of the earliest —”

“Specifically, the Landau expedition.”  Adam’s voice was quiet.  The professor’s head immediately came up, and he stared at Adam.  Adam shifted his position just slightly.  “You worked for Professor Landau’s son, didn’t you, Mr. Adler?”

“I was trying to be subtle.”  Laura glared at him.

“You told him I was a professional assassin.”  Adam glared back.

“I think you are mistaken.”  Professor Kravitz started shaking his head.

“No, he really is a hit man.”  Laura shrugged before turning her full gaze back to the professor.  “The Cabal knows where you are, Professor.  I’m not part of them.  I can help you.”

“I don’t have what you are after.”  His smile had vanished, replaced by no small amount of fear.  “The artifacts were destroyed.”

“We know.”  Laura nodded.  “But they want the files.”

“They burned —”

“You scanned them all.”  Adam clasped his hands behind his back.  “You’re an archaeologist and historian.  You wouldn’t have disposed of that data.”

“This is insanity.”  The professor swallowed.  “People were murdered because some cult believed…”  He shook his head again.  “It’s insanity.  You realize they actually think werewolves and vampires are real?”

“They are real.”  Laura shrugged.  “I got captured by vampires once and a couple good friends are werewolves.”  Maybe she’d leave out that she was regularly possessed by a succubus.  That sort of thing does seem ripe for misunderstanding.  She glanced at Adam.  “Hey, come to think of it, what even are you?”

“Can we…”  Adam sighed.

“That’s it.”  The professor glared.  “I’m calling —”

“Oh, don’t do that.  It would get awkward.”  Erilon’s form rose in the mirror on the back of his office door.  “And I think you’ll find things are both more and less insane than you previously believed.  Also, they weren’t joking about Adam being a hit man.  Please don’t give him a reason to hurt you or anyone else.”

(more…)

Escapade: Chapter 2

Though her boys had been teaching her some moves, Laura let Erilon guide her movements.  Her opponent stood no chance against the demoness.  The big man hit the ground as she made his knee and elbow both bend in ways nature had never intended.  Then she turned to note the young man had no trouble putting his own opponent down.  Be careful.  There is something strange about him.  I cannot get a read.  Right.  “Come on.”  She jerked her head before moving toward the next gallery.

Once they’d put some distance between themselves and the fight, she caught his arm.  “How did you know my name?  Who are you?”

“A palindrome.”

“What?”  She blinked.

“Madam…”  He gave her an elaborate bow.  “I’m Adam.”

“That…”  She stared at him before giggling.  “That was terrible.”  Laura, he’s Adam.  “Oh, shit, you’re Adam!”  Immediately she dragged him into the gallery garden before taking another look at him.  He didn’t exactly look intimidating, certainly not like the kind of guy who could shoot four professional killers before any of them got their weapons out.  Hell, he looked like a cute kid not much older than her.  Not much bigger, either.  He’d have been dwarfed by her boys, except maybe for Ted.  Then again, he had just put a man half again his size on the ground with practiced ease.  He feels strange.  Empty.  “So, you’re the guy who rescued Ash.”

“To be fair…”  Adam shrugged.  “I’m also the guy who kidnapped him.”

“Right.”  She frowned, then narrowed her eyes.  “Why are you following me?”

“I wasn’t.”  Adam chuckled.  “I was on my way to get some dinner, and you uh…”  He flicked one of her blue braids.  “Kind of stand out in a crowd.”

“There is no way you just randomly run into me in San Francisco.”  Laura shook her head.  “It would be hard enough to believe just in a city this size, but since I’ve only been in this city a few hours…”  She glared.  “Tell me why you’re following me.”

“You’re cute when you’re trying to be threatening.”  He smirked.  “I take it you’ve got Erilon calling in backup?”

How did he know about you?  How did he know about me?  “How did you know about her?”  She poked him in the chest.  “Ash couldn’t talk when Sima was around so he didn’t tell you.”  She folded her arms.  “Does the Cabal know?”

“Do you have her calling in backup?”  He glanced at the archway they’d come through.  “Cause I’d really prefer not to have to hurt any of your friends.”

“Pfft.  They’d take you apart.”  She caught his arm again when he started to move away.  “I’m not done questioning you yet.  Does the Cabal know about Erilon?”

“No.  I didn’t tell them.”  He glanced down at where her hand was around his arm.  “Let go.”  His eyes narrowed just a little.  “Now.”

Laura released his arm.  “You didn’t tell them.  How’d you learn?”  She made a growling sound.  “You were spying on us.”

“Yep.”  And he had the nerve to not even look apologetic.

“What are you doing in San Francisco?”  What else do we know about him?  Well, for starters, he’s wearing Armani and he’s got three guns concealed on him.  One of them is loaded with silver.  But even getting a surface read on him is taking effort.  If you weren’t looking at him, I wouldn’t be able to see him at all.  How is that possible?  It’s not.  Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

“Killing people.”  He shrugged.  “Mostly bad ones.  You?”

“You just confessed to spying on us and you’re asking me for information?”

“You asked me first.”  He waved a hand.  “Fair play and all.”  He sighed, then glanced at the gallery.  “They are closing.  You’ve got a safe place to stay?”

“I…”  Slowly she nodded.  “Yeah.  I do.”

“I’ll walk you to the cab stop.”  He gestured toward the street.

(more…)

Escapade: Chapter 1

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

Michaels and Gabriel both ducked reflexively before looking at Ted.  Ted chuckled.  “I think she found the —”

“I’m perfect!”  Laura came flying through the door waving a sheet of paper.  She shoved the paper into Micheals’ chest.  “Perfect perfect perfect perfect perfect.”  She spun around in a ballet twirl before throwing herself into Gabriel’s arms in a swoon.  He caught her, rolling his eyes as he did so.  “I’m perfect!”  She grinned up at him.

“Holy shit.”  Michaels looked down at the paper.  “She’s uh…”  He chuckled.  “Not kidding.”

“I could use a little context.”  Gabriel raised an eyebrow.

“SATs.”  Laura straightened.  “Perfect score.  1600, bitches.”

Which means our little girl is going to college, Erilon’s voice echoed around them.

“Wait.”  Laura blinked.  “What?”

“Pretty much any college she wants.”  Michaels nodded.

“But uh…”  Laura shifted her weight.  “College costs um…”

“You let me worry about the costs.”  Ted immediately shook his head.

Pfft.  Give me five minutes and it won’t cost you anything.

“We want to keep things legal, Erilon.”  Ted sighed.

It’ll be legal.  Ish.

“No.  Totally legal.”  Michaels folded his arms.  “I don’t want any problems cropping up during her presidential campaign.”

Oooh, running one of those sounds like fun.

“Let’s start small.”  Laura grinned.  “I’m gonna be mayor of this place first.”

“I’m…”  Gabriel exhaled.  “A little scared.”

(more…)

The Signal: Chapter 3

The man leaning quietly on the side of the building stood only a little over five feet tall.  He looked Japanese, old enough to have some steel in his black hair, and was impeccably dressed.  How the hell had he managed to sneak up on her?  Stasya aimed her handgun at his face.  “Who are you?”

“At the moment, a friendly party.”  He shrugged.  “Shoot me, and that will change rapidly.”

“How did you find us?  I covered tracks.”  She shook her head.

“Oh, you did.  A very good job, in fact.  I was actually impressed.”  He straightened.  “But I marked you at that little church fair a while back.”  He turned to look at Sean.  “Mr. Wu, the circumstances regarding the western division are extremely complicated.  I believe it would be best if your family remained apart from those affairs.”

“My son is —”  Sean glared.

“An extraordinary individual.  The apple has fallen rather far from the tree.”  The newcomer smiled, ignoring the fact she was still pointing her gun at him.  “Steps have already been taken regarding Adam’s wellbeing.  It is in his best interest if you remain far from harm’s way.”

“Who —”

“As it happens, Mr. Wu, I am almost always in need of talented accountants.  I would like to offer you a job.”

“Who the hell even are you?”  Sean shook his head.

“Someone who can ensure the safety of your family, Mr. Wu.  Madam Petrov is extremely talented at what she does, and I have no doubt she will do all she can to keep them safe.  She may even be successful.  I would certainly give her better odds than most.”  He smiled.  “I, however, can make it a guarantee.”

“If you don’t tell me who you are right now I’m going to ask her to shoot you.”  Sean glared.

“My name is Ryuu Ishi.”  He met Stasya’s eyes as he said his name.

The gun nearly fell out of her hand.  She stared.  “Bozhe moi.”

“Oh, not quite that.”  He shook his head.  He held her eyes with his.  “I am offering them gainful employment in my service, you as well, with all the…”  He smiled again.  “Benefits and protections that come attached.”

“Ms. Stasya?”

“You should take offer, Mr. Wu.”  She lowered the gun.

#

Coraline looked up at the mysterious man.  He gave her a warm smile.  Her parents were still discussing taking him up on his offer, but the simple fact he clearly intimidated Stasya made her a little concerned.  “Who are you?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“In truth, my dear girl, the concern is not so much who I am…”  He shrugged.  “But what I am.”

“Alright.”  She nodded.  “What are you?”

He held out his hand, and light suddenly seemed to coalesce above it.  A heartbeat later, the toy horse she’d forgotten in their flight from home materialized, dropping into his hand.  He offered it to her.  “Powerful.”

She took the horse from him gingerly.  Then she looked down at it.  “James found this at a rummage sale and I wanted it, but I didn’t have enough money.  He bought it for me with his money, then had Adam repaint it before giving it to me for my birthday.”  She ran her fingers over the little carousel horse.

“Your brothers love you very much.”

“James is dead.”

“That doesn’t change that he loves you.”  Mr. Ishi smiled.

“Mr. Ishi…”  Coraline looked over to see her father.  He took a deep breath.  “I need to know what your offer entails.”

“Naturally.”  Mr. Ishi nodded.  “I will relocate your family to Las Vegas, and take care of all associated expenses.  There are three bookkeeping positions open, all of which pay fair wages.  I will not ask anything unethical or unseemly of you.  Even if you choose to leave my employ, as long as you remain in Las Vegas you will have some measure of protection.  There are also job openings for your wife.”  He glanced at her mother.  “Should the public schools not interest you, I can also make arrangements at one of the private academies for Coraline.”

“I beg pardon, Mr. Ishi…”  Lidia swallowed.  “But your offer sounds too good to be true.”  She shook her head.  “If you can do all this, can’t you help Adam?”

“Yes.”  Stasya nodded.  “Could you —”

“I have…”  Mr. Ishi’s voice was soft.  “Made arrangements in that regard.  It is best, however, for Adam’s own personal safety that I not take a direct interest.  However, given his gifts and the true nature of his parentage being kept secret, it would not surprise any that I sought to acquire his sister.  The Cabal itself had similar inclinations.”

“And just what…”  Sean’s eyes narrowed.  “Exactly is your interest?”

Something flickered across Mr. Ishi’s eyes.  “Has Stasya told you what I am?”

“She said you’re a powerful man.”  Sean glanced at Stasya.  “Frankly, though, I’m not sure how much I believe what I’ve been told lately.”

“Perhaps it would be better…”  Mr. Ishi stepped off the patio.  “If I showed you.”  His form suddenly seemed to glimmer.  There was a flash of gold and silver as his shape changed, growing long and serpentine as his flesh changed from skin to scales.  Her mother’s legs went out from under her and she sat heavily on the ground, and her father staggered before catching himself on a railing.  Even Stasya was not immune.  Coraline watched raptly as the man vanished, and a dragon took his place.  The massive head lowered, eyes glowing with silvery light.  “Tell me, Mr. Wu…”  The voice rumbled with ancient thunder.  “Do you believe now?”

#

He couldn’t make his mouth work.  Or his legs.  Or his hands.  Stars appeared before his eyes and he realized he’d actually forgotten to breath.  He drew a ragged breath, then another.  The dragon shifted, once again becoming the dapper little oriental man.  Mr. Ishi raised an amused eyebrow in his direction.  “I…”  Sean swallowed.  “You’re a dragon.”

“I am.”  He smiled.

“You’re a dragon.”  Coraline was staring.  “You’re an actual…”  She blinked.  “You didn’t have wings.  Can you fly?  Can you breathe fire?  Can you —”  She cut herself off.

“Yes.  And yes.”  Mr. Ishi smiled, then winked at her.  “And yes.”  He looked back up at Sean.  “I can also protect your family, Mr. Wu.”

“I guess…”  Sean looked at his wife.  She was still pale, but she nodded.  He looked back at the dragon.  “You’ve got yourself an accountant.”

“Marvelous.”  Mr. Ishi turned toward Stasya.  “I could also use talented individuals in my security team, Madam Petrov.  My offer extends to you as well.”

“I…”  She took a deep breath.  “I accept.”

“Excellent.”  He smiled.  “You’ll find a jet waiting for you down there…”  He pointed at the town in the distance.  “At the local airport.  The pilot’s name is Reginald.  Do wipe your feet before you get inside.  He is ever so fussy about keeping it immaculate.”  Mr. Ishi bowed.

And then, just like that, he was gone.  Sean stared at the spot he’d been only a moment before.  “A dragon…”  He swallowed.  “Just hired me to do bookkeeping.”

“A dragon…”  Lidia slowly got to her feet.  “Has taken an interest in our son.”

“Perhaps it is best…”  Stasya nodded.  “We learn the nature of said interest.”

“Agreed.”  Sean glanced at the house.  “Alright, everyone get your stuff.  We’ve uh…”  He rubbed his neck.  “Got a plane to catch.”

#

Lidia stared.  The house was lovely.  Mr. Ishi had kept his word thus far.  Their belongings had arrived two days ago, carefully and meticulously packed.  They’d accepted the mover’s aid in getting the heavier furniture where they wanted it, but she’d declined their help with the rest.  She’d been uncomfortable at first with the nature of both the offer and their benefactor himself.

The items that held her gaze had changed that.  Every year, on their birthdays, she’d had her children stand against a different door frame and marked their heights.  When her own mother had died, James had ridden on his bike nearly twenty miles to the house she’d grown up in and had stolen one of her mother’s old rosebushes for her.  The mouldings with their carved marks and the carefully potted rosebush sat in the corner.  Monsters wouldn’t have understood.  “Thank you.”

“I hope that means the accommodations are to your satisfaction?”  Mr. Ishi raised an eyebrow.

“You’ve…”  She nodded.  “I know you must have had your own reasons, but I do appreciate all you’ve done.”

He nodded to the backyard, where Coraline was making friends with the two dalmatians owned by their new neighbors.  “It does an old soul good to see children smiling.  I fear I do not have the opportunity as often as I would like.”

“Next week I’ll take her to look at schools.  Let her settle in a bit first.”  She sighed.  “Let us all settle in a bit first.”

“Ah, that reminds me.”  He produced a couple folders from, as near as she could tell, thin air, and set them on the table.  “I believe I mentioned private schools?”

“You…”  She blinked.  She’d discounted those at first, but then again, with the money Adam had sent, they could afford to send Coraline to the best school available.

“There are two I would recommend.  Coraline, however, may prefer this one.”  He moved one of the folders closer to her.  “They have a focus on art and music, as well as a thriving drama program.  And…”  He opened the folder.  “Their science department actually maintains a small zoo.”

“Well now…”  She laughed a little, then it faded.  “Adam would want her in a place like this.”

“He is a strong young man.  Stronger than I gave him credit for, and clever.”  He nodded to her.

“You’re…”  She hesitated.  “You came to us because you are looking out for him.”  She met his eyes.  “Why?”

“I fear the answer to that question, Mrs. Wu, would greatly increase the danger to all of —”

“He’s my son, Mr. Ishi.”  She folded her arms.  “Do you have children?”

“I…”  Something flickered across his features.  “Yes.”

Her stomach dropped as realization came to her.  “Adam’s father.  Haru.  He…”

“It would be best, Mrs. Wu, if you discontinued this line of reasoning.”  His voice was gentle rather than threatening.  “For Adam’s sake.”

The memory of the man’s true form filled her eyes for a moment, then she nodded.  “Do they have horses?”  She swallowed past the lump in her throat.  “Coraline has always wanted to learn how to ride.”

#

Her condo was a simple one-bedroom apartment on the second floor.  She could see the Wu family residence from the balcony.  The complex had a pool and a gymnasium, and Coraline had already stated her intention of coming over to visit for the express purpose of using the former.  The Wu’s were in their backyard now, apparently trying to decide how they wanted to set up their patio furniture.

Even after unpacking, the place was still virtually empty.  She put Patrick’s things in the hall closet.  It was silly, but she couldn’t bear disposing of them.  She’d left his rifle for Adam, but Patrick’s extra handguns were in the drawer beside her bed.  Lidia had brought her a painting the day after their belongings had arrived.  It was a simple landscape, but she recognized the signature of the artist.  Adam’s work.  Lidia had followed it up by insisting she come to their Sunday family dinners as often as possible.  “You need troubleshooter.”

“There are occasionally troubles I would like to have shot.”  Mr. Ishi nodded.  “However, if you would prefer to remain local, arrangements can be made.”

“Just until they settle in, are comfortable.  I made promise to Adam.”  Stasya turned to face him.  “After that…”

“After that…”  He took a deep breath.  “Not all who fall afoul of groups like the cabal are lucky enough to find shelter with werewolves.  I could use someone to help me with…”  He smiled.  “Retrieval.”  Before she could speak, he held up his hand.  “Given that it is in Adam’s best interest that the Cabal not learn he spared your life, you would not be dealing with them.  There are other groups though, some just as dangerous.”

“I’m in.”  She nodded.

“Just like that?”  He raised an eyebrow.

“You know my background, Mr. Ishi.  You know why I joined Cabal.  I was fool.  Thought them different.  Thought them…”  She shook her head.  “They became monsters in their search for power.”  She smiled, a bit of bitterness in the expression.  “You were always a powerful monster.”

He laughed softly.  “That is, I suppose, one way to put it.”

“I am not good.  Neither are you.  I want to do good.  So, I think, do you.”  She shrugged.  “I think that is reason enough to work for you.  And there is work to do.”

“I have always admired Russian pragmatism.”  He inclined his head.  “Let me know when you are ready, Madam Petrov.  There is, indeed, work to be done.”

The Signal: Chapter 2

Adam’s message had been enough to compel their cooperation thus far, but that window had clearly closed.  Still, they were in the wind for now.  She’d sent Adam a text message letting him know they were safe before destroying that phone.  There was no longer a direct method of contact.  Patrick had trained Adam well.

“I don’t understand why you aren’t taking us to Adam.”  Lidia folded her arms.  “My son is alive and…”  She took a ragged breath.

“His instructions were to keep you safe.”  Stasya shook her head.

“He’s my son.”  Lidia squared her shoulder.  “We should be with him.”

“Yes.”  Stasya nodded.  “On that, we agree.”  She should be watching his back, fighting at his side.  “Is not possible.”  Wren had forced Adam to kill Patrick.  She’d seen the pain in his eyes when he’d come to her.  If Wren learned any of this…  “If we go to Adam, we put him in danger.  This I will not do.  If I take you to Adam, I put people he loves in danger.  This I will not do.”

“If I could just talk to him…”  Tears were visible on Lidia’s cheeks.  “You can’t understand…”

“I too, lost son.”  Stasya met her eyes.  “He was taken from me.  I tried to get him back, and found only corpse.”  She exhaled.  “I met Adam, and for a time, it was like having my son once more.  I do understand, Mrs. Wu.”

Slowly, Lidia nodded.  “Is he safe?”  She swallowed.  “Is he…”

“He is good man.  He is brave man.  He is strong man.”  She smiled.  “He is fighting good fight.”

“What happened?”  She turned at the sound of Sean’s voice.  Adam’s father looked like an older version of Adam, though with less delicate features.  “Who killed James?”

“That…”  Stasya sighed.  “Will be a hard story for you to believe.”  Adam had magic.  Strong magic.  The reason the Cabal had taken an interest in Coraline was because of the chance she had something similar.  It stood to reason that one or the other of Adam’s parents might have magic of their own.  “Or perhaps it will not be.”  She straightened.  “James was killed by a witch.”

“What?”  Coraline stared from where she was sitting on the side of the bed.

Stasya looked at Adam’s parents, then shrugged.  “You might want to sit down for this.”  She waited until they had complied, then took a deep breath.

Then she started telling them of the other world.

(more…)

The Signal: Chapter 1

Her hands shook a little as she started unwrapping the box.  Then she stopped, and took a few deep breaths.  For a moment, she almost tucked it away again.  Her eyes closed.  He’d bought this there in town, hiding the bag and actually blushing a little when she’d caught him at it.  Told her not to go peeking, that she’d spoil the surprise.

Slowly, she unwrapped the box.  A note slid out when she opened it, followed by a small black box.  With trembling fingers, she opened the note.

I know it’s early.  Maybe too early.  Maybe I’m an idiot.  But I’ve watched too many things go by, and I don’t want you to be one of them.  I don’t want this to be a fling, Stasya.  Just think about it, alright? 

Love,

Patrick.

Tears fell as she read it over and over again.  Then she folded it in half again, and gently put it back in the box.  It took her three tries to work up the nerve to open the small black box.

Inside was a necklace.  Silver with a green stone, delicately wrought on an intricate chain.  It was, quite possibly, the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.  Stasya fastened it around her neck, then tucked the little black box back into the larger box along with the carefully folded wrapping paper, and placed all of it back into her case.

One more deep breath, and then she squared her shoulders.  She had a job to do.  Stasya glanced one more time at the envelope sitting in the passenger seat, then she started the car.

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 16

Lykos tossed the last soldier into the room, then slammed the door.  It took only a heartbeat of concentration to seal the metal door into the metal frame.  “I want you to know, I did not kill anyone getting in here.”  He tilted his head.  “Except that doctor.  May have broken her skull.  A bit.”

“I, uh…”  Christophe nodded to him as he pulled the pants up over his hips.  They were too big for him, so he had to cinch the belt tight.  “Yeah, I’m okay with that.”  He smiled, then checked the gun before putting it back into its holster.  “You weren’t hurt, were you?”

“I got buried by avalanche.”  Lykos stared at him.

“Yeah, but were you hurt?”  Christophe raised an eyebrow at him.

“A.  Va.”  Lykos narrowed his eyes.  “Lanche.”  He shrugged.  “Then forest fire.  Also, got shot.”

“Yes…”  Christophe drawled the word.  “But were you hurt?”

“Well…”  Lykos shook his head.  “No.  Not really.  Annoyed.  They stole my guns.”

“You stole them first.”  Christophe gestured to a corridor, and Lykos started down it.  Christophe followed.

“Not point.”

“I’m glad you’re alright, Lykos.”  Christophe’s quiet voice made him turn, and he saw Christophe giving him a shy smile.  “I, uh…”  He rubbed his neck.  “I was scared for you.”

“Scared for me?”  Lykos ran his knuckles down Christophe’s cheek.  “You were one nearly got brain fried.”  He tapped Christophe’s nose.  “Come.  Which way go now?”

“I was kind of out of it when they brought me in here, but uh…”  Christophe pointed.  “These are all laid out similar —”  He cut off at the sound of footsteps heading their way.  “And since that is the way the reinforcements are coming from…”

“I may have to kill —”  Lykos started to put a hand on Christophe’s shoulder.  The alarm blared into life as all the lights in the area started blinking red.  “Christophe?”

“Yeah, that uh…”  Christophe shook his head.  “That’s not good.”

(more…)

Primitive: Chapter 15

“One would think at some point in the past few centuries you would have learned patience.”  Lykos growled at Jormun, who just rolled his eyes.  Jormun continued, ignoring the growling sound.  “Christophe has been moved back to the military base.  He is still sedated.”

He didn’t miss Jormun’s small frown.  “Why still sedated?  Is no need sedate Christophe.”

“Captain Guerin’s orders.  Christophe is to remain sedated until he can be transported to a secure medical facility.”  Jormun set his cell phone down.  “It is possible —”

“He called out warning to me.”  Lykos started pacing.  When Jormun raised an eyebrow, Lykos sighed.  “Twice.  Yelled warning before first shot, yelled when rocks fell.”

“Stockholm —

“He is mine.”  Lykos shook his head and gave Jormun a furious look.  “He said he would stay with me.”

“And Lima Syndrome.”  Jormun exhaled.  “You developed feelings for your hostage.”

“Is not like that.”  Lykos glared.

“Or perhaps you’ve just become sentimental in your old age.”  Jormun stood.  “Lykos, you need to put this behind you.  If you care about the boy, let him be.  Let him go home to his family and —”

“He knows.”  Lykos clenched his fists.  Then he met Jormun’s eyes.  “He knows his father killed innocent people.  Shot the deputies.  Murdered them.”  Lykos waved a hand.  “Send them after me then kill them for going after me.  Cannon fodder.”

“There are reasons for our rules, Lykos.  And one of those reasons is men like Guerin.”  Jormun sighed.  “Come.  It is time to —”

“No.”  Lykos shook his head.  Then he started for the door.

“Lykos.”  Jormun called after him.  “Lykos, where do you think you are going?”

“To get my Christophe.”  He grabbed the door handle and started to open it.  The door slammed shut again.  He turned toward Jormun.  “He is mine.”

“If you persist in this, Lykos…”  Jormun’s eyes narrowed.  “I may have to take measures.”

“Defending is allowed.”  Lykos glared.

Jormun sighed, then nodded.  “Exercise discretion.”  The door clicked open behind him.  “And good luck.”

(more…)