Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 19 – The End

Yalathanil lay back on the bed, Greg half atop him.  The dark brown locks of Greg’s hair tickled Yalathanil’s chest, and he smiled at the sensation.  “Are you asleep?”

“Yes.”  Greg’s voice answered him.

“I want to defy the rules.  To stay.”  Yalathanil took a deep breath.

“That would leave your people ruled by Saelethil, and uh…”  Greg rolled to lay next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.  “Pretty sure that won’t work out well for humans in general.”

“I know.”  Yalathanil sighed.  “I wish I could show you my kingdom.  The world beneath the waves, shielded from…”  He rested his cheek on Greg’s head.  “To show you the beauty of my world as you showed me the beauty of yours.”

“Twix bars and farmer’s markets.”  Greg ran a hand over his chest.  “I hadn’t even begun showing you the marvels of the surface.”  He gave a small laugh.  “I haven’t even gotten you drunk yet.”  The laughter died on his lips.  “I won’t forget you, Yala.”

“Perhaps…”  Yalathanil closed his eyes.  “There will come a time when my people can reach up to yours.  When that happens…”  He held Greg close.  “I will remember you.”

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 19 – The End

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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.”

Continue reading Escapade – Chapter 7, The End

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.”

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 6

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.”

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 5

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.”

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 4

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.”

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 3

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.

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 2

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.”

Continue reading Escapade: Chapter 1

The Signal: Chapter 4

Mr. Ishi had definitely made an impression on her mother.  For the first time since James had been murdered, Coraline was allowed to be off by herself.  For a short time, with a cell phone, and in a strictly limited range.  While her mother discussed taking a job in the casino’s small art museum, she was allowed to be in its arcade.  That the arcade itself was dragon-themed amused her just a little.

With freedom so new, it took her a bit of time to work up her nerve.  She took a few deep breaths before slipping out of the gaming area and toward the operations area of the hotel casino.  She got past the first level by stating she was there to see her mother, but the second level simply told her to take a seat and asked her for her mother’s name.  “Actually, I need to speak with Mr. Ishi.”

The receptionist gave her a look of amusement and skepticism.  “Right.”

“Look, just let him know Coraline Wu would like to speak to him and it might be important.”

After a moment, the receptionist rolled his eyes and got on the phone to pass the word back.  She sat there for a few minutes with him occasionally looking up from his work to smirk in her direction.  A tall, elegant looking black woman came out of the door behind the receptionist’s desk.  “Miss Wu?”

Something about the woman unnerved her just a little.  She had to take a deep breath before replying.  “Yes.”

“Mr. Ishi will see you now.”

It was all she could do not to poke her tongue out at the receptionist as she followed the woman back.  The look on his face was comical.  When the door closed behind her, however, she felt trepidation.  Rather than give in to the desire to turn and walk back the way she’d come, she looked at the hallway.  The walls were painted with Japanese style artwork, featuring elegantly rendered natural disasters of various sorts.  She’d expected to see more works depicting dragons.

His office was large and elegant, but oddly asymmetrical.  “Miss Wu.”  Mr. Ishi gave her a concerned look.  “Is everything alright?”

“I…”  She had to take a couple deep breaths.  When she glanced at the woman nervously, Mr. Ishi gestured and the woman inclined her head before turning to leave.  “I don’t know.”

“Please, sit.”  He indicated the chair across from him.  “Would you like something to drink?”

“No, I…”  She went to the chair.  “I think there is something you need to know.  I’m not sure if…”

“Miss Wu, I assure you whatever it is you tell me will go no further than this room without your permission.”  The smile he gave her was warm, and rather grandfatherly.

“That’s not…”  She reached into her purse and grabbed the item she’d brought with her, setting it on his desk.  He raised an eyebrow at the small pot and seedling.  “I’m just not sure if it’s going to work.  It doesn’t, not all the time, but…”  She put her hand around the pot, and concentrated.  Most of the time, it seemed to only work by accident, and with him watching she was sure it wouldn’t…  The seedling suddenly started growing, spurting up in height and spreading as though weeks were passing in seconds.  She took her hand away, then looked up at him as he stared down at the lavender plant on his desk.

“You’ve a gift, Miss Wu.”  He slowly nodded.  Then he rose and walked over to a small cupboard.  She blinked as he set a slice of cheesecake in front of her.  When she gave him a surprised look, he smiled again, gently.  “Magic uses your own energy.  I’ve never known any witch who would turn down food.”

“That Cabal wanted me because they thought I could do magic.”  She took a bite of the cheesecake, chewing and swallowing before continuing to speak.  “What happens if they find out I really can?”

“The woman who escorted you to my office…”  He sat back in his chair.  “Her name is Ahit.  And she is no more human than I am.  There are others here.  Some like you.  I even have a few werewolves and a vampire on staff.  They are all under my protection.  That does come with a few restrictions.  I expect you to be discrete with your usage of magic.  It is in the vested interest of all that our world remain less than visible to the world at large.  I also will expect you to refrain from using your powers to harm innocents.  As long as you meet those expectations…”  His eyes caught hold of hers.  “You will be safe.”

“I used to have this t-shirt.  Adam got it for me.  It showed a knight with smoke coming out of his armor, and said ‘do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you —’”

“Are crunchy, and go well with ketchup.”  He smiled.  “There are several variations on that theme for sale in my gift shops.”

A small laugh escaped her.  “I just, uh…”  She finished the cheesecake, then set the fork down.  “I thought it was something you needed to know.”

“You indicated your control remains a work in progress?”

Coraline modded.  “Sometimes nothing happens.  Sometimes parts of the plant grow at different rates, like the roots sort of explode but the leaves don’t come in, and uh…”  She winced.  “I’ve had some mishaps with fruit.”

“Mishaps?”

“Applesauce.”

“Ah.”  He nodded.  “I can arrange a teacher, if you would like.”

“Mr. Ishi…”

“You may call me Ryuu.”

“Then you can call me Coraline.”  She nodded.  “I, uh…”  She took a deep breath.  “Can I help?”

“Help?”

“I mean, if I could shoot fireballs or something I could go help Stasya kick all the asses.  But it seems like…”  She shook her head.  “I mean, Spiderman said it best.  With great power comes great responsibility.  I’m just not sure how great this power is.”

For a moment, he was silent.  Then he opened the laptop on his desk, and typed for a moment.  He turned the screen toward her.  “This plant here is known as dwarf wheat.  It is the creation of a man called Norman Borlaug.  And it is a creation on par with the invention of penicillin.  Without it, billions would have starved.  Entire cultures would have died out.  This single, humble plant, my dear girl, saved the world.”

“I…”  She stared at the image on the screen, then looked up at him.  “I want to help.”

Continue reading The Signal: Chapter 4

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 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.

Continue reading The Signal: Chapter 1

The Duchess: Chapter 13

“I won’t be part of this.”  Ruarc glared at the duchess.

“You’ll do as I tell you.”  She narrowed her eyes at him.

“I’ll not help you torture a man.”  He shook his head, noting that Jurgen was watching him.  With the guard present, there was little he could do to help the man at the moment.  And with the man’s companion still threatened, Jurgen wouldn’t come to his own defense.  He’d let Durante push him toward the pillory.  The man was willing to be tortured to save his friend.  That alone told him which side he should be on.  He turned, and walked away.

“Ruarc.”  Her voice came after him.  “There will be consequences for this.”

He ignored her, and continued up the stairs.  Ignoring her felt…  Freeing.  Ruarc took a deep breath, and headed back toward the dungeon.  The blond man was pacing his cell, his expression furious.  He glared when he saw Ruarc.  “If that man is harmed, I will see this castle and all its inhabitants wiped from the face of the world.”

“He’s feisty.”  One of the two crossbowmen chuckled.

The man in the cell also wasn’t afraid.  At least, not for himself.  Ruarc took a deep breath as he walked toward the nearest of the crossbow men.  Then he grabbed the man by the throat, spun him to catch the crossbow, and fired it into the second man.  The second man fell back, the bolt sticking out of his chest.  He screamed.  The first man tried to strike at Ruarc, and Ruarc shoved him into the wall and brought his other hand in to gain leverage.  Then he snapped the man’s neck.  He turned toward the screaming man, and finished him off with a sword thrust before bending down to retrieve the keys.

“You…”  Markus was staring at him.

Ruarc turned the key in the lock.  “They’ll have heard that.  Grab a weapon.”

Immediately, Markus obeyed.  Ruarc picked up a shield and tossed it to Markus before picking up another and strapping it to his own arm.  He exchanged a brief nod with the other man as a group of guards came to investigate, then moved in alongside Markus to attack.

Continue reading The Duchess: Chapter 13

Hunting: Chapter 22

Matthias carried the urn toward where the others were finishing up.  He glanced over at Ted.  “I appreciate this.”

Ted smiled.  “She was your friend.”  He looked over at where Ash was carrying the second urn.  “What do we know about —”

“He was Adam’s friend.”  Ash held the urn tightly.

“I meant birthday, things like that, Ash.  For the markers.”  Ted patted Ash’s shoulder.

“Patrick Delacroix.”  Stephan read off the screen of his tablet.  “Born July 7, 1971, in Graden, Texas.  Joined the Navy in 89.  Made it into the SEALS in 94.  Less than honorably discharged in 98.  No family.  Parents died in 91, younger brother died in 98.”

Michaels stepped away from where he and Gabriel had been digging.  “What was Rosa’s real name, anyway?”

“Emperatrix Consuela Rosenda-Orellana.”  Then they all turned to look at him, Matthias shrugged defensively.  “Don’t blame me.  I’m the one that started calling her Rosa.”

“Gonna need help spelling that.”  Laura looked up from where she was working on the markers.  “But I can draw a rose or something.”

He listened while Father Williams intoned a prayer, then poured the cremains into the first hole.  Ash did the same in the second hole.  Magda and Gabriel carried the trees up, and they solemnly planted them.  Matthias set the bricks down in a circle around Rosa’s tree, while Magda helped Ash do the same with Patrick’s.  Their mole, Adam, had asked that Patrick be treated with respect.  Since the man had rescued Ash, this seemed the least they could do.  The apple trees already had blossoms.  Daniel added some mulch around the bases.  Considering it was Rosa’s resting place, maybe he should…  He shook his head.

Anna giggled, and he turned to look at her.  She shrugged up at him.  “Wouldn’t that make the apples alcoholic?”

“Stop looking in my head.”  He shook his head at her fondly.

“Tequila wouldn’t damage the roots.  They aren’t set yet.”  When Matthias glanced at him, Father Williams shrugged.  “One doesn’t need to read minds to know what you were thinking.”

“Priests allowed margaritas?”  He raised an eyebrow.

“All things in moderation.”

“Except sex.”  Daniel grinned up at him.

“Except that, yes.”  Father Williams smiled.

“Right.”  Matthias chuckled.  “Well, Rosa was pretty clear on how she wanted her funeral to go, so, uh…”  He sighed, and gave Father Williams an apologetic look.  “Look, the naked lady pinata was absolutely her idea.”

“I believe you.”  He smiled.  “Though I shall take my leave before any sombreros or donkeys make their appearance.”

Continue reading Hunting: Chapter 22

Hunting: Chapter 19

Michaels sat on the tailgate of the truck, his face empty.  Laura was in his lap, crying softly as he held her.  Magda swallowed past the lump that has risen in her own throat.  Even knowing the man as short a time as she had, she knew something precious had been lost.  Not for the first time, she regretted coming to this city.  “He told Gabriel it was good to see him again.”  She turned at the sound of Daniel’s voice.  He looked like a lost little boy as he leaned on the tree next to Matthias.  When he saw her looking, he shrugged.  “Ryuu.  He knew.  How could he know?”

“I once asked Ryuu how old he was.”  Magda exhaled.  “He said the Cenozoic era was boring, but things picked up during the Cretaceous period.  I was never entirely sure if he was kidding.”

“We…”  Michaels stood, and set Laura down.  “Assholes still have Ash.  Let’s go find him.  Get me a likeness or something of Sima and I’ll start on the desk clerks at the hotels.  Someone will have seen her.”

“Michaels…”  Magda started to put a hand on his arm.

He pulled away, and shook his head.  Then he squared his shoulders.  “Someone needs help, and I’m still a fucking cop.  Gabriel and I swore to serve and protect.  Now let’s go get the rest of these fucks.”

“Semper Fi.” Matthias straightened.  “Let’s go.”

“Gabriel would help.”  Laura nodded, drawing herself up to her full height.  “Ash is in trouble.  Let’s save him.”

Magda nodded, then met Michaels’ eyes.  “Thank you.”  She put an arm around Laura as the girl hugged her.  “Thank you both.”

Continue reading Hunting: Chapter 19

Hunting: Chapter 18

Matthias snarled as he grabbed the smaller werewolf by the throat.  With his other hand, he grabbed the top of the beast’s snout and ripped, tearing the top half of the thing’s skull off.  He heard a shot, then turned to see the man taking aim at his back fall with a hole between his eyes.  A glance to the left showed Michaels reloading.  “I…”  Michaels shook his head before nodding to the corpse Matthias was still holding.  It was slowly changing back to human.  “Am going to have nightmares about that later.”

He tossed the corpse aside.  “Suck it up, buttercup.”

“Then again, my partner did kind of kick your ass, so…”  Michaels shrugged.

“He got lucky.”  Matthias tilted his head to first one side, then the other, then stared down at Michaels from full were form.  He felt a grudging respect for the fact that even after the previous events, Michaels didn’t flinch.

“He took out a vampire nest by himself.”

“Seriously?”  Matthias followed.

Michaels smirked.  “Well, I did shoot a few mooks.”

“Huh.”  Matthias glanced at where the sounds of fighting could be heard.  “Want to go shoot some more?”

“You’re buying after.”  Michaels started heading that way.

Continue reading Hunting: Chapter 18