Stone and Fire: Chapter 40

He strode into the room and narrowed his eyes at his brother.  Liam’s face took on a resigned expression, and he sighed.  Jurgen just nodded.

Then he punched his brother in the face.  Liam staggered backward, landing on the rug in front of the fire.  “You fucking promised.”  Jurgen stared down at him.  “You son of …”  He pointed.  “You promised.”

“I did.”  Liam wiped at the blood on his face.

“Then why the fuck did Mother say whoever brought a keystone back to Darodelf first?”  He shook his head.  When Liam didn’t respond, Jurgen reached down, caught him by the front of the tunic, and hauled him back to his feet.  “You had me bring it to Diantha…”  He glared.  “In.  Darodelf.”

“Yes.”  Liam looked down, then wiped at his face again.

“You promised.”  Jurgen shook him.

“Yes, Jurgen, I did.”  Liam’s head came up, and his eyes locked onto Jurgen’s.  Jurgen took a startled step back as he felt a chill go down his spine.  “But nothing in that promise stops me from trying everything I can to save you both.”  His eyes seemed to glow.  “You’re my brothers, Jurgen.”

Jurgen let his hands fall to his sides.  He clenched his fists and took a few deep breaths before looking up at his brother again.  “I don’t intend to stand meekly by while someone kills me.  What happens?”

“Phillip waits in ambush.”  Liam picked up a potion that had been sitting on the mantle and took a drink.  “Rutger has no interest in killing Rien, but Phillip would rather not risk Rien complicating things if he can help it.  If you don’t show for the ambush…”

“He goes after Rien instead.”  Jurgen nodded.  Then he squared his shoulders.  “Only Rien won’t be forewarned and prepared.”  He walked over, grabbed a map off the table, and shoved it into Liam’s chest.  “You know where Phillip will be, so…”  He saw pain in his brother’s eyes, and sighed.  “And you thought of that already.”

“I walked the web a thousand times.  I called upon Wendel and his knights, and Solsthriem broke apart into civil war.  I hired mercenaries.  I tried to handle it myself.”  Liam looked away, resting his head on the mantle.  His voice broke on the words.  “I can’t watch you die again, Jurgen.”

“Hey…”  He caught Liam’s arm, then pulled him into a hug.  “What happens next isn’t your choice, Liam.  Whatever Mikaere believes, you are not a god.”  He felt Liam shake, and tightened his arms.  “For almost thirty years, I’ve had faith in you, my brother.  Have faith in me.”

“I do.”  Liam nodded.

“Look out for Rien.”  He patted Liam’s back, then managed a small smile.  “I hate admitting this, but uh…”  He shrugged.  “He needs all the help he can get.”

“I have…”  Liam drew back, then nodded.  “I’ll make sure Jochem gets him some of the help he needs.”

“If we don’t see each other again, I…”  Jurgen smiled, then patted Liam’s cheek.  “I’ll be down at the water’s edge, with drinks, and we will sail upon the storm.”

(more…)

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 39

“He’s doing fine, Liam.”  Jurgen folded his arms and glared.  “He’s been reading up on irrigation and even talked with her about an aqueduct.”

“On the holding that provides his supply of ale.”  Liam sighed.  “I’d hoped…”

“You’d hoped what, Liam?”  Jurgen exhaled.  “That Rien would snap his fingers and solve all our problems?”  He shook his head.  “You’re not stupid.”

“I could argue that point.”  Liam leaned on the stone wall, staring out the window at where Rien was practicing in the combat circle.  His voice sounded a little grudging when he spoke again.  “He inherited his father’s fighting ability, at least.”

“You think that’s impressive?”  Jurgen laughed.  “A couple days ago he took out three of those guys blindfolded.”

Liam blinked before turning toward him.  “Rien fights blindfolded?”

“Sure does.”  Jurgen grinned.  “I’ve been teaching him.  He’s better than I am now.”

“Since when do you fight blindfolded?”  Liam raised an eyebrow.

“Since I saw you do it.”  Jurgen patted his brother’s shoulder.  “Figured if you could learn to do it, couldn’t be that hard.”

“You learned…”  Liam gave him a strange look.  “You learned how to fight while blindfolded?”

“And it was a pain in the ass.”  Jurgen nodded.  “I went through Wendel’s entire library, couldn’t find a single book on the technique.  Pretty much had to make it up myself.”  He twitched a shoulder.  “Where’d you learn it?”

“Jurgen…”  Liam stared at him for a moment.  “I have Asrael’s Sight.”

“I…”  Jurgen trailed off.  “You weren’t fighting me without being able to see?”  Liam gave a tiny shake of his head.  “You were watching the entire fight in your mind?”  Liam gave a small nod.  “You were cheating?”  Liam’s lips twitched.  Jurgen took a deep breath.  “I’m going to give you a five second head start, and then I’m tossing you in the…”  He didn’t finish getting the words out before Liam turned and broke into a run.

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 38

He jumped down the last of the stairs, landing with a loud thump.  Just to be sure, he reached up and set the lantern swinging, making it rattle.  He also kicked a barrel and counted to thirty in his head.  Then, and only then, did he open the door to Mikaere’s chamber.  The young man was sitting up in the bed, the blanket mostly to the side covering a lump that was moving slightly with each breath.  “I’m heading ashore to discuss the new sails.”  And Adaeze hadn’t permitted him to go ashore without Mikaere’s blades since Diantha had told her about the assassination attempts.

“Yes, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere slid out of the bed and reached for his leggings.  The lump beneath the blankets moved just a little.

“I’ll meet you on deck.”  He tried not to look at the blanket.  “I’m going to go look for my sister.”  Liam turned and headed back the way he’d come.  He stopped when he got to the deck, then began counting in his head.

A minute later, Ama came up the stairs behind him.  She was dressed, though her hair was still tousled as messy.  “We just going to keep pretending —” He shot her a glare, and she snickered.  “You know, it’s going to be hilarious when Mbali —”

“Stop talking.”  Liam folded his arms but couldn’t quite stop himself from wincing.

Ama just laughed.

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 37

She stared a moment at the willowy, dark-skinned young woman.  The girl was taller than the Ilael, with long legs that had leaped the gap between the longboat and the dock with ease.  The girl grinned, and Diantha laughed softly.  “Mbali.”

“Chieftess Valyk.’  She turned to catch hold of the rope, so the boat could be tied to the dock.  Her eyes danced as she turned again.  “Mine aunt, we come bringing trade.

“You…”  Diantha gave a small shake of her head.  Mbali was taller than her own daughters.  Tears threatened.  “You grew up.”  She exhaled.  “You weren’t supposed to do that.”  She opened her arms.

Mbali stepped inside to return the hug.  Then she gave Diantha an apologetic look.  “I sail on The Wayward Dolphin.  Mama and Papa —”

“Sailed south for a moot.”  Diantha nodded.  “I got the letter.  We have barrels of ice peppers and a selection of carved rubies.”

“We have salt.”  Mbali jerked her head at the ship.

“Oh, I could kiss your father.”  Diantha laughed softly.  “We sent Clan Gorit running with their tails between their legs, but their little stampede did result in our stores getting swamped.”

“Papa made sure we have enough to resupply you.”  Mbali handed over the manifest.  “We also brought silk, glass from Sahit, and a cage of songbirds for the twins.”

“Is the Wayward Dolphin your ship then?”  Diantha took the manifest from her and handed over the parchment Torin had prepared.  A quick scan of the manifest showed there was once again no need to doubt Liam.  Everything was exactly as she would have requested.

“I’ll not be fifteen for a moon yet.”  Mbali shook her head.  “I sail with Captain Tendai, under the flag of Admiral Uduak.”  Mbali leaned forward.  “But the Captain is letting me handle a lot of the trading so…”  Her smile was eager.

“Soon.”  Diantha offered the manifest back.  “I want everything, but you knew that already.”

“Your offer is fair…”  Mbali handed the list back.  “But you knew that already.”  She tucked the list into her pouch, then took a deep breath and looked up at Diantha with a huge smile.

Diantha blinked, then put her hands over her mouth as her own face broke into a smile.  She’d been waiting for this news every time she heard from Liam or his family.  They knew a son was coming, but Liam had refused to peek ahead to tell them when the boy would arrive.  “When?”

“Papa said if we continue the run as requested, we’ll make it to the islands in time.”  Mbali spread her hands.  “They are going to name him Enu, after Mama’s brother.”

“Enu.”  Diantha had heard the story from Jurgen.  “It’s a good name.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 36

Adaeze stretched, then glanced at her daughter.  Mbali was giggling.  “What?”

Mbali put a hand to her own forehead, then moved her hand to touch Adaeze’s forehead, then moved it back.  “I’m taller than you.”

“You don’t have to keep reminding me of that.”  Adaeze shook her head as Mbali started dancing her way across the deck.  She sent a mock glare up at her husband, then pointed at Mbali.  “Your fault.”  He was staring off the side of the ship, his gaze distant.  “Liam?”  She walked over and put her hand on his arm, making him jump.  “Liam, what’s wrong?”

“I…”  He gave a small shake of his head as the far away look left his eyes.  “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”  She stared, feeling a chill go down her spin.  “Liam?”

“Your grandmother is dead.”  He met her eyes.  “My queen.”

“Oh.”  She stared at him, taking a few deep breaths.  Then she turned to the helm.  “Set course for the islands.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 35

Petrus gave a gleeful shout before forming himself into a ball and splashing into the water with the other children.  Ama began splashing him as soon as he surfaced, and Petrus laughed as he retaliated.  Jurgen laughed, then glanced at where Adaeze was sitting.  “You know, I thought Liam’s ability to hold his breath was impressive.”  He glanced at the water.  “Aren’t you…”

“Wait.”  Adaeze shook her head.

He was squirming by the time Mbali finally surfaced, shooting out of the water almost the full length of her body and catching hold of one of the ropes to start pulling herself back onto the ship.  He couldn’t quite stop himself from giving a relieved chuckle.  “Aren’t you worried about those shark things?”

Adaeze rolled her eyes at him before giving a pointed look to where Liam was over on one of the small rocky outcroppings with Zuri and Mikaere, collecting something.  “No.”  She smiled at where Petrus and the other kids were moving onto the sandbar, whooping and hollering.  “Most Ilael vessels do not have so many children.  The risk is too great, so they grow up on the islands.”  She smiled.  “But there is no place in the world safer than the vessel upon which my husband sails.”

“I wish…”  He stopped himself before wishing aloud that he could have brought his other two brothers.  He sighed.  “I wish.”

“I know.”  Adaeze watched Mbali dive back into the water.  “I would like to send Mbali back with you.  To learn horses and mountains.  To learn that even though it is the sea to which we will return, we too take life from the land.”  She exhaled.  “And perhaps to learn from Diantha how to fight.”

Jurgen laughed, then looked out at the sandbar again.  Ama was showing Petrus how to spear fish.  “One day.”

“One day.”  Adaeze nodded.

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 34

“No.”  Adaeze shook her head.

“Adaeze…”  Liam gave her a pleading look.

“You’re not going alone.”  She folded her arms.  “Efua and Mikaere will —”

She cut off as he dropped to his knees in front of her, then bowed forward until his forehead touched the top of her foot.  “Please.”

Her eyes closed, and she swallowed.  Then she nodded.  “Go.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 33

“Feel the air against your skin.”  Jurgen swung the quarterstaff near Rien.  “Trust your ears.”

Rien stuck his tongue partially out of his mouth as he screwed his face up in concentration behind the blindfold.  When Jurgen aimed the next blow, slowed, at him, Rien suddenly swung his own staff up.  It hit Jurgen’s staff, though the angle wasn’t quite sufficient to completely deflect the blow.  Still, it brought a smile to Jurgen’s face.  “I got it.”  Rien ripped the blindfold off.  “I hit it.”

“Good job.”

The sound of activity from the hall drew his attention, and a moment later Rutger came bursting through the door.  “Rien, Rien.”  Rutger grabbed his little brother’s hand.  “Come see what I got.”

Jurgen watched Rutger drag Rien out of the room, then gave a small shake of his head.  “Hello, little brother.  I missed you too.”  He tossed the quarterstaves into the corner, then followed the boys out.  A whoop of glee from Rien had him quicken his pace, and he emerged into daylight to see two stallions, both nearly golden in color save for their black socks.  “Well now…”  He glanced at where Liam was standing, then frowned at his brother’s expression.  “Liam?”  He put a hand on Liam’s shoulder.  “Everything alright?”

Liam opened his mouth, then closed it again.  “The horses are twins.  Such a birthing is considered sacred.”  He turned back to look at where Rutger was stroking the nose of one of the stallions, while the other butted up against him for a share of the attention.  “A gift for a prince.”  He exhaled.  “I hope he understands the magnitude of what he was given.”

“Things aren’t alright, are they?”  He folded his arms.  “You’re back sooner than I expected.”

“Diantha’s with child.”  Liam looked back at him.

“Yeah, she…”  The smile died on his face.  “Liam.”  He started shaking his head.  “No.”

“They’ll not survive the birthing, Jurgen.  Efua can…”  Liam sighed.  “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.”  Jurgen looked away.  “Me too.”

(more…)

Archeology 101: Chapter 5

“Okay…”  Bridget took several deep breaths.  Then she took several more.  Then she got a drink of water, drank it, and took several more deep breaths.  Only then did she turn to look at Khait.  “Let’s set a few more ground rules.”

“Sharks.”  Abigail was sitting on the couch, staring at the wall as though shell-shocked.

“I am uncertain —”  Khait started shaking his head.

“One…”  Bridget held up a hand to stop him from talking.  “Street lights.  Do not alter them in any way.”

“Yes, mistress.”  He nodded.

“Two…”  She took a deep breath.  “When I say I wish someone would go away, it is a rhetorical statement.  Do…”  She exhaled.  “Not teleport them anywhere.  Especially not anywhere they may be endangered.”

“Even if they attempt to take liberties with your person?”  Khait raised an eyebrow.

“He grabbed my ass.”  She shook her head.  “That’s the kind of thing you punch someone for.  Teleporting them to the arctic circle is not okay.”  She hesitated a moment, then sighed.  “Even if it was a little bit funny.”  She shook her head.  “It’s still not okay.”

“I…”  Khait shrugged.  “Yes, mistress.”

“Three.  Do not change my grades.”

“You wanted an A.”

“Bridget, don’t you think your priorities are a little —”

“I will get to it, Abigail.”  Bridget sighed.  “I wanted an A.  But it’s my responsibility to get one.  I don’t learn anything when you go in and change my grades.  Don’t do it.”  She glanced at Abigail.  “Don’t change Abigail’s either.”

“Bitch.”

“Yes, mistress.”

“Four…”  Bridget stood there a moment, trying to put the words together properly.  Then she just started shaking her head.  “Why the hell did you put sharks in the swimming pool?  It’s a shark.  Swimming pool.  People swim in pools so they don’t have to worry about sharks.  If they wanted to swim with sharks here is an ocean like twenty miles that way —”  She pointed.

“It is that way.”  Khait pointed in a different direction.

“Irrelevant!  You don’t put sharks in pools!”  She stared at him.  “Why did you put the sharks in the pool?”

“The little girl wanted to see them.  She gave me ice cream.”

“You…”  Bridget blinked.  “What?”

“Ice cream.  It is a frozen dairy thing with sugar and —”

“I know what ice cream is!”

“Oh.”  Khait nodded.  “She was too small to go in the cage to see sharks, and it made her very sad.  She likes sharks.”

“So you put sharks in the pool so a little girl could see them.”  Bridget ran a hand down her face.

“She gave me ice cream.”  Khait nodded.

“That is simultaneously one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen…”  Abigail was trying not to laugh.  “And the worse nightmare I’ve ever experienced.”

“No sharks in pools.”  Bridget felt her own lips trying to twitch into a smile.

“Yes, mistress.”

“You know, you could have gone with smaller sharks.”  Abigail leaned back.  “Like nurse sharks or something.  That way she could have touched them.”

“Abigail…”  Bridget all but growled her friend’s name.

“Those wouldn’t have eaten her stepfather.”  Khait shrugged.  “Bull sharks are —”

“Wait.”  Bridget held up a hand.  “What’s this about eating a stepfather?”

“Khait…”  Abigail was staring at him in horror.  “Did the sharks actually eat someone?”

“Well, no.”  Khait frowned.

“Okay, good.”

“He got out of the pool too fast.  I had to get a tiger.”

“What?”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

“It’s dangerous.”  Liam shook his head.

“You said I would serve you, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere looked up at him.  “I cannot serve you if you leave me here.”

“You are serving me.  You are watching out for my family.”  Liam folded his arms.

“I can understand the trade language now, and I’ve beaten Chidike three times now in duels.”  Mikaere lifted his chin stubbornly.  “I can help.”

“Mikaere, if you…”  Liam leaned on the ship’s railing.  “If you come with me to the Wildlands, you’d have to pretend to be my slave.”

“I am your —”

“No.”  He raised his voice, then almost regretted it as he saw the wounded look in Mikaere’s eyes.  Liam exhaled.  “Mikaere, you are not my slave.”

“Aihuroa, my life is —”

“Mikaere, I…”  He looked up, and saw Uduak giving him a sympathetic smile.  He’d once been convinced he was her slave.  Except Uduak had…  “You’re not my slave, Mikaere.  You are part of my family.”  The younger man’s eyes went wide, then started to shine with unshed tears.  “And you’re right.  You came to the Ilael because of me.”  He squared his shoulders.  “Next time I go ashore…”  He smiled.  “You may come with me.”

Mikaere’s face broke into a wide smile.  “Don’t worry, Aihuroa.  I’m sure Captain Adaeze will let you go ashore again.”  He scampered off, pausing to help one of the crew tie down a line.

Liam looked up as Uduak approached. “I have a feeling I just became a grandmother again.”

“He’s too old to be my son.”  Liam laughed, then let it die away.  “I admit, when I go to the Wildlands and see Jurgen with Rutger and Rien, I…”  He shook his head.  “Have absolutely no idea how Jurgen manages to put up with little brothers.”

“Little sisters are better.”  Ama’s voice came from behind him, and a moment later she was climbing onto his back.  He shifted so she could settle herself more comfortably.  He felt the slight spark of her power as it brushed up against his, and saw the hint of a smile that revealed she felt it too.  “The storm is going to be big.”

“If we alter our heading a few degrees we can ride it out along the edge.”  Liam nodded.

“Be more fun to go through.”  She smiled at the clouds.  “They are singing.”  She snuggled into him as he shifted so she was sitting on his hip.  “Listen.”

He closed his eyes, tracing his mind along the edge of her fledgling gift.  Her head rested on his shoulder, and he knew her eyes were closed as well as she leaned into his focus.  “They are.”  He nodded.  He started to open his mouth, then closed it before tracing the edge again.

In his arms, Ama tensed slightly.  With their powers linked, he knew she’d seen the same thing he had.  “I could try.”  She lifted her head.  “I could try.”

“I know.”  He drew her further down the line, and heard her let out a small whimper.  Then he let the vision fall away.  “We can come around the other side.  It won’t save the ship, but it will save the crew.”

“I’ll get stronger.”  He opened his eyes to meet her darker ones, and saw the determination inside.  “I will.”

“I know.”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “And I will help you.”

(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 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 5

Lidia stepped back, took a look, fussed with the drape again, then stepped back and took another look.  Then she exhaled and made herself stop messing with it.  Like it or not, it was finished.  She took a deep breath, and stepped further back to get a look at the whole.  “My dear girl…”  The voice behind her made her turn.  Mr. Ishi was looking around with a smile on his face.  “You’ve done marvelous work.”

She smiled.  “Really?”  She shifted from foot to foot.  “You don’t think it’s a little cheesy?”

“Darling, this is Las Vegas.”  Mr. Ishi laughed.

“Good point.”  She turned to look at the chair.  It was fashioned to look like a tree stump, with part of the tree remaining and spreading out into branches over the walls and along the book shelves, with fake leaves interspersed with actual plants.  “I’m just worried it’s creeping into Limburger territory.”

“I don’t think it goes beyond a nice cheddar.”  He turned to the gentleman standing next to him.  “What do you think?”

“Could use more nymphs.”  The other man’s voice was surprisingly rich and deep, with an accent that sounded Welsh.  “Are these original Beatrix Potters’?”  He gestured at the artwork.

The grove was the transition point from the small children’s art museum into a play area, and once she’d learned Mr. Ishi was willing to let her have her way on the design, she’d gone with a full on fairy-tale theme.  “Four of them.”  She indicated the work.  “There are more in the museum itself, but I thought the rabbits suited better here.”

“I saw the museum.  Excellent taste for most of it.”  He made a grumbling sound.  “Could have done without that garish St. George one by the window.”

“Oh, get over it already.”  Mr. Ishi rolled his eyes at his companion.  “Mrs. Wu, this is Mr. Emrys, an old friend of mine.  With your permission, I would like to introduce him and a few other friends to Coraline.  There is a small matter she may be able to assist with.”

When Mr. Ishi gave her a slight reassuring nod, she smiled.  “She should be here in the next half hour or so.  She’s been helping.”  Coraline’s control of her powers had improved over the past year, and the braided climbing roses around the museum’s entrance had been her work.  Twenty years of growth in a few minutes.  Lidia gave a small frown.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Emrys.  I think I’ve heard your name before but at the moment I can’t recall where.”

“Quite alright.  Many get the name wrong anyway.”  He extended his hand, but when she offered her own instead of shaking it he kissed the back.  “Myrddin Emrys.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.  I…”  She stopped.  Then she stared at him as realization dawned, and she glanced at Mr. Ishi.  He nodded, a bit of mischief in his eyes.  She looked back at the man in front of her.  He was tall, with brilliant blue eyes and black hair threaded with silver.  Like Mr. Ishi, he wore an elegant tailored suit that was just a little old-fashioned.  “Old friend…”

“Yes.”

“You’re Merlin.”  She stared, her mouth falling open.  “You’re Merlin.”

He turned, and gave Mr. Ishi a look that was more than a little bit smug.  Mr. Ishi rolled his eyes.  “We are in the West.  Come to Japan, and see which of us is recognized.”

“I told you, you should have kept the name Jin.  It suited you far better.”  Mr. Emrys turned back to Lidia.  “Thank you for allowing us to speak with your daughter.”

(more…)

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.”

(more…)

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…)