The Golden Dragon Restaurant was every bit as opulent from the inside as it was from the outside. Sean followed Ocelot through an antechamber carpeted in thick, dark red and flanked by two enormous tanks filled with large multicolored fish. The chamber was packed with people waiting for tables but Ocelot said something under his breath to the silk-clad hostess and she bowed, motioning for them to follow.

The interior of the restaurant was laid out in such a way that there were areas where table occupants could see others and areas where the tables and booths were set up so plants, fish tanks, and paper screens hid them from prying eyes. The music, barely audible over the low hum of conversation, was tranquil and serene, as were the movements of the waitstaff who, despite their languid appearance, moved quickly and appeared to be performing their duties most efficiently. All of this Sean took in as he continued to follow Ocelot and the hostess back past most of the tables. When the woman stopped they were standing before a wooden door carved with the restaurant’s twin-dragon motif. “Your party’s room is here, sir,” she told Ocelot. “The remainder of your group has not yet arrived, but I will bring them here when they do. Your waiter will be in shortly to take your appetizer and cocktail orders.”

“Thank you.” Ocelot motioned Sean forward and shoved the door open.

Inside was a beautifully decorated, small banquet room. Sean looked around, examining the walls painted with Chinese scenery, the lack of windows, the gentle smell of flowers in the air, and the small flowing fountain and pond in the corner of the room where shimmering koi swam under soft natural lamps. In the center of the room was a polished mahogany table surrounded by six chairs. Ocelot glanced at his chrono. “We’re a little early. Have a seat. They’ll be here soon. Trust me, nobody’s gonna be late for this.”

Sean did as instructed, taking one of the chairs facing the door. He could feel an odd sort of sensation in the room, almost like the walls were pressing very gently in on him, accompanied by a strange subliminal humming. He wondered what it was but didn’t ask.

As promised, the waiter showed up after less than two minutes. Ocelot declined the appetizers but ordered a beer; Sean asked for a glass of mineral water. He didn’t think his stomach was up to much more now. He kept glancing at the door, wanting someone to show up, wanting something to happen, but trying to keep his impatience under control. Ocelot sipped his beer silently and watched him.

There was a chrono on the wall and Sean stole looks at it to avoid being caught checking out his wrist every thirty seconds. When the time stood at five minutes before the scheduled time of the meet, the wooden door opened again. Sean was certain it was just the waiter coming back, but it wasn’t the waiter. Three people filed into the room and took seats around the table. Each one nodded a greeting at Ocelot and smiled at Sean, but they didn’t speak.

Sean’s eyes moved around the table quickly, examining each face in turn as the waiter came in behind them and took the newcomers’ orders. The first, sitting next to Ocelot, was the only woman in the group. Tall, blond, purposeful-looking, green-eyed—she could be no one but Juliana Harvath. His mother. His real mother. Like Ocelot she looked younger than she should, given that her age on the birth certificate put her in her early fifties now. She was dressed in a simple black leather jacket over a white scoopneck T-shirt and matching black leather pants. She looked tanned and healthy and just a little bit dangerous.

Next to her was a man that Sean was pretty sure was the thin mage from his rescue force. Slim, sharp-featured, dark-haired, elegant, the man had bright blue cybereyes and a look of grim amusement. He wore a fine, loosely-cut suit with a wool overcoat he’d tossed over the back of an unused chair. In the crook of his left arm he held a large, very beautiful black longhaired cat with deep green eyes. The cat watched the proceedings with a look that suggested more than simple feline intelligence; in fact, when she noticed Sean looking at her she met his gaze and meowed softly.

The final occupant of the room was also male, and Sean wondered where he fit into the situation. Raven-haired and violet-eyed, the man looked barely older than Sean himself. Even Sean, who was avowedly heterosexual, couldn’t help but notice the young man’s astonishing beauty of face and form. He wore an expression of calm serenity, as if he would wait patiently as long as necessary for things to begin. He too was clad in a fine suit of exquisite tailoring.

The group exchanged pleasantries for a few moments while the waiter finished up and left; Sean tried to listen to all the conversations at once, but he only heard snippets: Ocelot asking the dark-haired mage about his home, family, and work (when Sean heard the man’s British-accented voice, he knew he had been right about his identity as the mage); the mage and the handsome young man chatting briefly about the weather in London vs. that in DeeCee; other snatches of talk that Sean couldn’t quite make out. He didn’t feel left out, oddly—the gathering reminded him very much of some he’d attended with his adoptive parents, visiting with people they hadn’t seen for awhile. He was content to sit back and watch them patiently until they were ready, realizing that they couldn’t say anything important with the waiter coming in and out.

And then, suddenly, the black cat was in front of him. He hadn’t even seen it move, but there it was, watching him with paws together and wide green eyes. “Mrrow?” the cat asked.

Sean smiled, looking across the table at the British man. “Can I pet him?”

“You’ll have to ask her,” the man said wryly. “She makes her own decisions, quite independent of me. Her name is Maya, by the way.”

Sean’s smile widened as he put out his hand and Maya nuzzled it. Her fur was wonderfully soft and luxuriant. He ran his hand across her back and was rewarded with a loud, rumbling purr.

“She likes you,” the Brit said. “That’s a good sign. She’s quite discriminating in her tastes.”

Sean nodded. “I think she does,” he agreed. He didn’t think too hard about why the man had brought a cat to a meet like this—he was happy to have someone there who seemed intent on lowering his apprehension level.

Finally the waiter brought them in a selection of delicious-looking dishes and departed, telling them that they could use the order-panel in the table if they needed anything else. As the door closed behind him, everyone looked at Sean.

Sean looked at everyone else. He wondered who was going to speak. He was surprised when it was the beautiful young man who spoke first.

“Welcome, Sean,” he said. His voice was soft but somehow carried without effort around the room. His smile was warm. “First, let me apologize for the manner in which things have occurred. I’m sure we can only imagine your confusion and frustration at what’s happened to you over the past few weeks, and especially after you finally located Ocelot. Well done, by the way. We all expected that you would find him at some point, but I think we were all surprised at how quickly things developed.”

Sean nodded a little numbly, looking into the young man’s bright violet eyes. “Uh...” he said slowly, “Before we go too far—it seems like you people all know who I am. Could I at least know your names?”

The young man smiled. “Forgive me. Of course.” He indicated people around the table as he continued. “You already know Ocelot. The lady next to him is Kestrel, or, as you’ve probably already determined, Juliana Harvath.”

“My mother.” Sean turned to get a good look at the woman. She smiled at him, her green eyes twinkling in her otherwise serious face, and nodded once.

The young man indicated the British mage. “This is Dr. Alastair Stone, or Winterhawk. Although he isn’t directly involved in the situation, he is a longtime friend to all of us and was present at the beginning, so of course he wanted to be here when you finally met your true parents. His companion, whom you’ve already met—” He smiled here: Maya was curled up on the table, purring under Sean’s stroking hand “—is Maya. She is a blackberry cat and an associate of Winterhawk’s.”

Again Sean nodded. Now things made a little more sense. He vaguely recalled something he’d heard on the news a few years ago about blackberry cats being given sentient-being status, like sasquatches. He glanced down at her and then back up.

“And my name,” the young man said, “is Gabriel.”

Sean looked at him, back at Ocelot, and then back at him. “And how do you fit into this?” He took a deep breath. “You’re not my brother, are you?” That would be even stranger, to find that he not only had different parents, but that he had an older sibling who looked like a sim star.

“No.” Gabriel shook his head. The small smile didn’t leave his face. “I am not your brother. Do you mind if I start at the beginning? You are going to hear some things tonight that are going to stretch your beliefs to the breaking point, but I assure you they are all true and will be proven.”

Sean looked around. The others were beginning to fill up their plates like nothing was wrong here, although they were all watching him. “I don’t get it,” he said. He looked back at Gabriel. “No offense or anything—but why are you telling the story? Shouldn’t Mom or Dad be telling it?”

“It’s okay, Sean,” Kestrel said, speaking for the first time. “Believe me—Gabriel knows the story better than any of us do.” She reached across the table and touched Sean’s hand briefly; hers was warm and felt good on his, which was cold.

Sean looked at Ocelot, who also nodded. “Okay,” Sean said, leaning back in his chair. “I guess it doesn’t matter who tells me—just somebody tell me, okay?”

Gabriel nodded. His smile faded, but the sense of amusement didn’t leave his eyes. He drew a deep breath as if gathering himself, and then looked at Sean. “Everything started, as you might expect, almost nineteen years ago,” he began. “Your mother and a group of friends were involved at the time in a series of highly dangerous adventures involving the metaplanes.” He paused. “You do know about the metaplanes?”

Sean nodded. “Yeah. The places where only initiated mages can go.”

“Yes.” Pause again. “During the course of these adventures, your mother and your father, who were dear friends but not romantically involved—made what some might call an error in judgment.”

Kestrel smiled. “Some might,” she agreed, smiling a little slyly.

Sean looked back and forth between Kestrel and Ocelot. They weren’t looking at each other. Ocelot was eating and Kestrel was watching Gabriel.

“As a result of this...error in judgment...” Gabriel continued, “your mother discovered that she was expecting a child.”

“So I was a mistake,” Sean said. That didn’t surprise him, but the realization still made him more bitter than he’d expected it to.

Gabriel didn’t address that. “When your mother found she was pregnant, she told your father, unsure of how he would react. As she had been taking precautions against this sort of thing, she was understandably upset and unsure about how to proceed. She was not entirely certain who the father was.”

Kestrel grinned. “I got around a bit in those days. When I told—your father—about the baby, I was telling him as a friend. I had no idea he’d turn out to be your father. He was as shocked as I was to find out.”

Sean looked back and forth between Ocelot, Gabriel, and Kestrel. Maya had gotten up and returned to Winterhawk’s side, where she was now primly nibbling on a plate of raw fish the mage had prepared for her. “So...” he said slowly, “I still don’t understand. If you didn’t want me, why didn’t you just—”

“Have an abortion?” Kestrel asked. At Sean’s nod, she shrugged. “It surprised me too. I’d always figured that was what I’d do if anything ever went wrong that way. But once I learned I was pregnant, I just—couldn’t do it. I figured the kid deserved a chance.”

“I guess I’m grateful for that, anyway,” Sean said wryly.

Gabriel picked up the story again. “The difficult part was that there were—certain considerations that had to be taken into account. The pregnancy was highly unusual and the child could be in great danger if anyone were to find out about his existence. Precautions had to be taken to ensure that the pregnancy and birth were kept absolutely secret, and that the child was raised by someone else—someone who knew nothing of the circumstances of his birth.”

Sean’s eyes darted between them again and he held up his hands. “Wait a minute. You’re losing me again. Okay, I know that both Mom and Dad were shadowrunners. That they had enemies who might try to use me against them if they found out about me. But this sounds like a drekload more trouble than even something like this should be worth. Did you two have that many dangerous enemies who would come after me if they knew?”

“Yes,” Gabriel said. “That is exactly what could have occurred.” He leaned forward a bit. “Sean...this is the time where your trust is going to be stretched. Now that you have the background, I can tell you the part that has been carefully withheld from you—so carefully that even now you have no inkling of its existence.” His violet eyes were very serious as he met and held Sean’s gaze. “Sean—Kestrel is indeed your mother. But Ocelot is not your father.”

Sean stared. For a few seconds that was all he did, as his brain processed that bit of information and made sure he’d heard it correctly. “Not—my—” he whispered. “Then—who is?”

Gabriel nodded once. “I am, Sean,” he said gently.

It was like someone had suddenly put up a wall of electricity between Sean’s ears and his brain. He sat there, eyes wide open, and said nothing. Gabriel and the others were still watching him, waiting for some reaction. Finally, he pounded both fists on the table and glared at the group angrily. “No!” he cried. “No, this can’t be happening. Damn it, will everybody just stop fragging with my head?” He glared at Gabriel. “You’re my father? That’s crazy! You barely look old enough to be out of high school! Next thing you’ll tell me is that you all went through some kind of time-travel field and had me before you were born or something!” He stood up so explosively that his chair toppled behind him. “You know—maybe I’m just better off not knowing. Maybe I’d just be better off if I went back to Bainbridge and went to college and tried to forget that this whole thing happened. Maybe I’ll just do that!” He turned abruptly toward the door.

“Sean. Please sit down.” Gabriel’s soft voice held nothing but concern, but somehow it still had the quality of a request bordering on a command. “There is more that you must know. And remember, I did warn you it would be difficult to believe.”

Sean stood there for a moment, poised between returning to his chair and heading out the door intent on losing himself in the crowd before they could catch him and drag him back in. Finally he sighed loudly and dropped back into the chair. “Go ahead,” he said wearily. “I don’t think you can shock me anymore.”

“Don’t be too sure,” Winterhawk murmured, earning him a brief glare from Kestrel.

Gabriel ignored them, his attention fully on Sean. “After it was verified that I was in fact your father, it became even more imperative—for reasons that I will tell you shortly—that no one find out about your existence. We examined many possibilites and plans of action, discarding each for one reason or another, until we finally came upon the idea of asking Ocelot to claim paternity. That way, if anyone examined things too closely, they would be traced back to your mother and Ocelot—just as you did with the birth certificate you found—rather than back to me.”

Sean frowned. “But what’s the big deal about you? You must be older than you look because otherwise you couldn’t be my father, but what was the problem with anyone finding out?” His frown deepened. “Wait. You weren’t underage when you—” That would explain a lot, but not very pleasantly. If Kestrel had a taste for young boys and something had gone wrong—

“No, Sean,” Gabriel said, shaking his head. “That isn’t what happened. Not at all.”

Sean took a deep breath. “Okay. So let me get this straight. Somehow, you’re my father, not Ocelot, but as far as anybody else is concerned—even me—Ocelot is my dad. Nobody wanted anybody to find out about you, again for some reason you don’t want to tell me yet. So what I don’t get is, why tell me now? Why not just let me go on believing that Ocelot’s my dad? That could solve a lot of problems, right?”

“It could,” Gabriel agreed. “But it isn’t possible for three reasons.”

“And those are?” Sean leaned forward, his arms across the table, his hands balled into loose fists.

“The first and at the moment the least imperative of the three is that it would not be fair to you. There are things you have a right to know, things that will have bearing on your life from now on. The second is that at some point in your life you will undoubtedly have a DNA scan and find out at least some of the truth, which would probably be a worse shock to you than this—not to mention potentially much more awkward. But the third reason is why it’s necessary to tell you now, with little preparation, instead of waiting as I had hoped until you were a bit older.”

Suddenly Sean had one of his strange flashes of insight. “This has something to do with the guy who kidnapped me, doesn’t it?”

Gabriel didn’t seem surprised that he’d caught on. He nodded. “Yes.”

“So—this guy knows something about me?”

“I suspect that he does.”

“He knows you’re my father? Is this guy some enemy of yours? Is that it?”

Pause. “Not...specifically. I believe he has suspected that I am your father. He is not an enemy of mine per se, but rather—he has issues with the circumstances of your birth.”

Sean leaned forward a little more, eyes narrowing. “Tell me. Just spit it out, will you please? All this mystery is really starting to get to me.”

Gabriel wasn’t, however, going to be rushed. His expression grew more serious. “Sean, tell me—have you ever felt...wrong? Had feelings you couldn’t explain, insights you couldn’t understand? Odd dreams? Have you ever felt—” For a moment, he seemed to be searching for the right words “—as if you were a stranger in your own body? As if there were something more out there, and if you could only reach it, things would be right again?”

Sean stared at him. Gabriel’s words had instantly brought back a flood of memories. He was thinking about his certainty that he should have been a physical adept despite testing mundane. About the strange dreams and the feelings he sometimes got that alerted him to danger before it happened. About his revulsion at the thought of having any cyberware installed in his body. About his restlessness, his inability to completely fit in with the other kids from Bainbridge. Gabriel’s words had brought it all back as if he had switched on a trid screen in Sean’s mind. “Yeah...” he whispered. He was surprised to find his hands were shaking.

The young man’s violet eyes were sober. He paused for a long time, looking at Sean but not speaking. He appeared to be trying to figure out the best way to say something. “Sean...” he said at last, “there are things you should know about your birth. About what you are. But you must promise me that you will listen and try to keep an open mind. After I’ve told you everything you can do what you like. But until then, will you promise me you will remain here and listen?”

Sean’s body felt like it wasn’t quite his. There was a strange electric hum in his head as he studied Gabriel’s face. Something big was about to happen, he knew it. But did he want it to happen? Would it be better if he just got out now while he could? He heard himself speaking as if floating above his body. “Yeah...I promise. I’ll listen.”

Gabriel nodded and he smiled a little. “Good. I know this isn’t going to be easy for you. I’m sorry to draw out the suspense—that isn’t my intent at all. I’m afraid to simply—drop this on you after all these years.”

Sean took a long deep breath. “Just...drop it,” he said. His voice sounded a little strangled in his throat. “It’ll be easier that way, I think.” He wondered what kind of terrible truth this odd, beautiful young man was about to reveal. His hands involuntarily gripped the edge of the table. Around him, he could sense that the attention of the others, even Maya, was upon him.

Again there was a pause. “Sean—” Gabriel’s voice was very soft now. “The reason it was necessary to keep you a secret from the world is because your very existence is against the laws of my people.”

Sean blinked, frowned. That wasn’t what he’d expected. What was this guy, a member of some kind of weirdo religious cult that punished anybody who took up with people who weren’t part of the club? “Your—people?”

“I’m not human, Sean.”


Gabriel, in answer, reached out his hand toward Sean. Very slowly and gently, the small golden dragon pendant Althea had given him what seemed like years ago rose and hovered about an inch above his chest. Gabriel’s smile was equally gentle, with a faraway quality that suggested he had a great deal on his mind. “You got the species right...” he murmured, “although you were off on the specific type.”

“The eye color’s wrong too,” Kestrel said in the same tone from across the table. It was a bittersweet tone, half amused, half sad. She reached over and covered one of his hands with hers, squeezing slightly.

Sean’s eyes darted back and forth between the two of them and then down to the pendant, which settled back down against his chest. An answer was poking at him, but his mind simply wouldn’t accept it. It was too crazy. It was—

“—you—you’re a—”

“A Great Western Dragon,” Gabriel said. “And you, difficult as it probably is for you to believe, are half-dragon. Dragon-kin.”

If Sean thought his brain wasn’t responding before, he realized he hadn’t even started. For several seconds he could only stare dumbly, his eyes wide, his mouth working but no sound coming out. But then—somewhere in the darkest reaches of his mind where he wasn’t even sure what went on—somewhere back there was the tiniest of little thoughts: ah, okay. That explains a lot.

But that part of his brain wasn’t strong enough yet to fight for primacy over the spinning thoughts and roiling emotions that were flying unchecked around Sean’s head. When he was finally able to sputter out coherent words, they ended up being: “But—Mom—?”

Kestrel squeezed his hand again. “No, Sean. Not me. I’m 100% boring mundane human.”

“So...I’m—” He looked around the table, where Ocelot, Winterhawk, and Maya had all become interested in their meals. He was grateful they weren’t all staring at him. “No...This can’t be true. This is all way too weird. Somebody’s playing a joke on me, right?” He looked around the room. “This is one of those trid shows where they play the joke and hide the camera, right?” His voice pitched a little higher and got a little louder. “Somebody’s gonna pop out with the camera any minute now, right?”

Gabriel shook his head. He was still looking serious. “I’m afraid not.”

“But—” Sean was grasping at straws now. “Dragons—and humans—they can’t—”

“Yes, they can,” Kestrel said.

Gabriel nodded. “It’s very rare and almost impossible without magical intervention. Your conception, shall we say, beat some very long odds.”

Breathe, Sean. Don’t forget to breathe. No matter how weird this is. “This is crazy,” he said at last. “I can’t be half dragon. This can’t be all there is to it.” He spread his arms. “I mean, look at me. I’m human. I look like a human. I tested mundane. Are you telling me that a human and a Great Dragon can have a kid and the kid just ends up normal?” He twisted the word so it almost sounded like an insult.

Gabriel bowed his head. After a moment, Kestrel spoke, taking up the story. “We—Gabriel—had to do it. We couldn’t risk anyone finding out about you. About what you were. It would have been too dangerous for you, growing up.”

Sean’s gaze fixed on her. “Do what?”

“A ritual was performed on you shortly after you were born,” Gabriel told him. “A ritual to lock away your innate abilities and magical potential—to make you look to any scrutiny short of another Great Dragon or the equivalent to be a normal, mundane human.”

Sean’s eyes widened. He was silent for several seconds, then said, “You mean—I had magical potential—and you—took it away?” His mind returned once again to all the hours he had spent fantasizing about having adept abilities or even magical powers, and how crushed he had been at the pronouncement that he had none. And this man was casually talking about removing them? Anger began to crease his smooth brow.

Gabriel quickly shook his head, raising his hands to forestall Sean’s growing anger. “No. Not took away. Locked away. What is locked can be unlocked. Now that you are an adult and after you are told all the consequences, I will perform the ritual to return you to your natural state.”

Sean stared at him. “You’re not kidding, are you?” he said very quietly. “This is all real. I’m...half dragon...and...I—I do have magic?” Slowly, very slowly, his sense of shock and confusion over what was being revealed to him was beginning to give way to a sense of wonder and eagerness. “I’ll be able to—”

Again Gabriel held up his hands. “You will have magic,” he confirmed. “After the ritual has been completed, I will help you to explore it if you like. But—”

“What kind of magic?” Sean asked.

Gabriel was looking serious. “Sean—I can’t answer that right now. The ritual to lock away your abilities was performed when you were only a few days old. There was no way to tell. We’ll have to wait and see. But please—you promised to hear me out. I will answer all your questions, I promise, but it is important that you hear this.”

Sean stopped in mid-breath and looked around the table. The others were watching him again, and they all looked as serious as Gabriel did. Even Maya. He nodded slowly. “Okay...I’m listening.”

Gabriel nodded. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “As I said before, your existence is against the laws of my people. From a time before the last Age of Magic, it has been against dragon law to create dragonkin.”

“So—what does that mean?” Sean leaned forward a little. “Are you and Mom in trouble for—for having me?” His worried gaze darted between them. He’d barely had the chance to get to know the people who had finally been identified as his true parents; he didn’t want to lose them again so quickly.

“Your mother is not, in any case,” Gabriel told him. “In any such exchange it is the dragon who is presumed at fault, and I take full responsibility for what happened.”

“The hell you do,” Kestrel murmured. She looked At Sean. “Despite what Gabriel says, we’re in this together.”

Sean didn’t answer. Instead, he waited.

Gabriel regarded him again after a brief glance at Kestrel—a glance full of gentle tenderness. “There is a danger to me should your existence come to light, but that isn’t what concerns me. As I said, I am willing to take whatever consequences would be decided—most likely banishment from dragon society. But the risk to you, Sean, could potentially be much more immediate and dangerous.”

Sean paused, thinking. “So—you think the guy who kidnapped me knows about—what I am? You think that’s why he kidnapped me?”

Gabriel nodded once, reluctantly. “I fear so. The ‘employer’ your captors spoke of could be any number of dragons who are known to frequent this area—I have my suspicions about his identity, but because I am not certain I will not divulge them.”

Kestrel tilted her head and looked at him. “Is he someone who might—hurt Sean?”

“If he is the one I suspect, no, he would not hurt Sean directly. But undoubtedly he would wish to inform others.”

“Wait a second,” Sean broke in a little angrily. “Are you telling me that I’m in real danger? That somebody—other dragons?—would want to hurt me, or even kill me, just because I was born?”

Gabriel bowed his head. “That is what I am telling you, yes,” he said. His tone was very soft and weary. “That is why I asked you to hear everything I had to say before you decided what you wanted to do. To leave now, with the knowledge you have but no way to defend yourself against potential threats—”

“So I can’t leave,” Sean said. He looked around the ornate dining room, which was beginning to take on the aspect of a prison instead of a pleasant meeting place. “You’re saying that if I leave this guy might come after me again.”

“I am saying,” Gabriel said, meeting Sean’s eyes once more, “that it would be best if you were to remain with me at least until I am able to perform the ritual to unlock your abilities and teach you how to use them. I cannot say that you will be truly safe then, but at least you will have the capacity to defend yourself.”

Once again Sean looked around the room—at Ocelot, Kestrel, Winterhawk, and Maya. “So—you guys were all in on this, right? You all knew.”

Winterhawk nodded, his expression sober and comforting. “We all knew,” he confirmed, “although we had varying degrees of involvement.”

“And you let me grow up without any idea—”

“Sean,” Kestrel said, touching his hand again. “We didn’t want to do it. We had to, for your own safety. And you have to admit, it worked. Nobody bothered you for eighteen years. If it hadn’t been for what happened to the Hunters, they might not have bothered you even after that.”

“So you were just planning to let me go through life without ever knowing?” He glared first at Kestrel and then at Gabriel.

The young man shook his head. “No. The plan had always been to tell you when you turned twenty-one. We didn’t expect that circumstances would require you to find out significantly sooner than that.”

Sean’s eyes widened as a thought occurred to him. “You don’t think this had anything to do with my—with the Hunters—?”

Again Gabriel shook his head. “No. I had some trusted people look into the crash that killed the Hunters. There was nothing suspicious about it. A tragic and unfortunate accident, but nothing more sinister than that.”

Sean nodded slowly. His brain was still a little numb—a lot numb—but the little seed of excitement that had begun growing earlier was getting larger. He would definitely have to give this some thought in the days that followed—and if this meant that he would have the magical abilities he had always dreamed of, then—

His fast-moving thoughts stopped abruptly as he got a look at Gabriel’s face. Suddenly the young man was looking more serious than he had been all evening—tired and sad and resigned all at once. “What’s—wrong?” Sean asked hesitantly.

Gabriel’s shifted his gaze to the door and back again without moving his head. “It has begun,” he said softly.

Winterhawk, Ocelot, and Kestrel exchanged confused glances. “What has—” Ocelot began.

At that point there was a soft knock on the door, which then opened to reveal the waiter. He bowed respectfully. “Forgive my interruption,” he said, “but the remaining member of your party has arrived.”

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