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.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “I can arrange a teacher, if you would like.”
“You may call me Ryuu.”
“Then you can call me Coraline.” She nodded. “I, uh…” She took a deep breath. “Can I 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.”