15.

In the dining room, everyone looked at everyone else in confusion—everyone except Gabriel. The young man stood, squaring his shoulders as if preparing to face a judge or an executioner. He faced the door and waited. The others watched from their seats, still and uncertain.

The waiter stepped aside, admitting the “remaining member of the party” to the room, then moved off and silently closed the door behind him.

The man who entered was neither large nor particularly impressive looking—he appeared to be in his late forties, slightly built and dressed in an expensive, conservative suit. His Chinese features showed an expression that was absolutely impossible to read. Only his eyes, dark and ageless, gave any indication that he might be more than he seemed. He ignored everyone else in the room, fixing his eyes on Gabriel. He bowed, and when he spoke his voice was soft and melodious. “Good evening, young one. I hope I have not—interrupted anything.”

Gabriel returned the bow—it was subtly different, and anyone familiar with Chinese culture would have recognized it as the bow of a younger man to an elder. “We are honored by your—unexpected visit, sir,” he replied. The words had the tone of a ritual.

The older man made no moved to sit or to acknowledge the others. “You are no doubt aware of the purpose of my visit.”

Gabriel nodded once. “I am.”

Behind them, the others watched the exchange silently. Sean started to speak but Kestrel touched his arm and shook her head.

“It is true, then,” said the older man. “My suspicions were strong. Your—involvement here has all but confirmed them.”

Gabriel’s gaze was respectful but unwavering. “Yes, sir. It is true.”

The man nodded. “I hope you will forgive my unorthodox methods of earlier today. I assure you that I and my servants were careful to maintain the utmost discretion.”

“Then no one else knows?” Gabriel asked.

The man shook his head. “No. Not yet.” For the first time his eyes moved from Gabriel to settle for a moment on Sean. “You are aware of what must be done, are you not? At this point our law leaves us little discretion in the matter.”

“Yes.” Gabriel took a deep breath. “Yes, I am aware of it.”

Sean was looking back and forth between Gabriel and the older man, growing increasingly agitated as they calmly discussed his fate. Was this man another dragon? Was he going to kill him? Was his father simply going to allow it? His mind raced, fighting the impulse to leap up and make a break for the door. If the man was a dragon, then there were two of them in the room, not to mention the fact that he didn’t know where the others stood on the matter. He sighed softly and settled back, but his muscles and his awareness remained on edge.

The older man’s expression still had not changed. “These are new days, young one. There has not been a test of this law since before the last Sleep.”

Gabriel did not answer. He continued to watch the man with a mixture of respect and resolve. “What is to occur?” he asked.

“The Council will be called, of course. Again, there is little room for discretion. It has been so since the law was made.”

Again Gabriel nodded. “Of course,” he said softly.

“Transportation is waiting outside. You will accompany me. You and the boy.”

Sean stiffened. “Wait a minute,” he said, unable to hold his silence any longer. “Go where? Don’t I get a choice?”

The older man ignored him. Gabriel’s only reaction was that his posture slumped infinitesimally, something that only Kestrel and perhaps the Chinese man noticed.

“Where?” Gabriel asked.

“The location has not yet been determined.” The man looked around the room briefly. “If you wish, I will wait outside for you while you finish your meal.”

Gabriel shook his head. “That is not necessary,” he said softly. “I am ready when Sean is.”

Sean stood. “Hold on,” he said angrily. “I’m not going anywhere. Aren’t you even going to ask me?”

Gabriel turned to face him. Sean was surprised to see that he looked every bit as young as his human appearance suggested he was. “There is no choice, Sean,” he said. His voice was tired and resigned. “We must go. We will have our chance to plead our case before the Council, but we cannot refuse.”

Before Sean could say anything, Kestrel stood. “If that’s so, then I’m going too,” she declared. “I’m every bit as much involved in this as Gabriel and Sean are.”

Ocelot stood as well, and after a moment so did Winterhawk. “As are we,” the mage said.

Ocelot nodded. “Yeah. We were all in on this pretty much from the start. We deserve the chance to speak up for the kid.” It was hard to tell whether he was talking about Sean or Gabriel—or perhaps both.

“Out of the question,” the Chinese man said. “It is not permitted for those not of our people to attend Council.”

“It is not against the law,” Gabriel told him softly. “Merely against custom. There is precedent for it, and as you said, these are new times.”

The Chinese man’s gaze flickered angrily for a moment, but he nodded briefly. “As you wish, young one,” he said. “If your friends accept the will of the Council then you can request that they be allowed to attend. It is not my decision to make, as you know.”

Gabriel nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

The older man bowed. “Come, then. There is much that must be prepared.” He looked at Sean and then back at Gabriel. “Perhaps your youth will persuade the Council to be merciful. I truly hope it will be so.” Gracefully he stepped aside and nodded toward the door.

Gabriel turned back to the others. “Are you sure you wish to accompany us?” he asked. “I won’t refuse your request, but this is likely to be a long and difficult process.” He gave them a ghost of his old smile. “Dragons never decide anything quickly.”

“We’re going, Gabriel,” Kestrel said. Her tone was gentle but her eyes were resolute. She put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “It’ll be okay.”

Gabriel nodded and turned to Sean. “I am sorry, Sean,” he said. “I wish it could have been another way. Still, though, perhaps it is best that this be taken care of in an expected way. There are those among our people who would not have handled it as—diplomatically—as Shaozu has.”

“But—” Sean whispered, “they want to kill me, don’t they?”

“The decision will be up to the Council,” Gabriel said softly, so his voice did not carry to the waiting Shaozu. “But I will tell you this, and you have my word on it: I will fight to the limits of my ability to see to it that you remain safe. If that means I am forced to accept a harsher punishment to spare you, then so be it.”

Sean’s eyes widened. “You—you would do that for me? You’ve only just met me tonight. How do you know I’m worth it?”

“You are my son,” Gabriel said, in the tone of that’s all that needs to be said. “Come, now. We will face the council and we will plead our case there. I am young, but I am not without allies. We shall see what happens.” Turning, he drew himself to his full height and faced Shaozu. “We are ready, sir.”

A flicker of something—was it approval?—flashed across the older man’s face. He inclined his head. “Then come.”



They left the restaurant, trooping out looking like a bunch of friends who had gotten together for a late dinner, although no one who looked too closely at their faces would have believed it was a pleasant one. Outside, a long black Mitsubishi Obsidian waited for them, its engine already running. Sean got in with the others and settled into the butter-soft leather upholstery. The Chinese man, Shaozu, did not get in with them. “I have instructed my driver to take you to the airport,” he said. “A private jet awaits there. We will not see each other again until the Council convenes.” He gave Gabriel an odd look, half compassionate, half stern. “I wish that this were not necessary, but I trust in your honor that you will not make any attempts to—delay the proceedings.”

Gabriel bowed his head and shook it. “No, sir. I accept what is to come. We will do as you request.”

Shaozu bowed, took a final glance at Sean, and moved off into the night. The driver closed the limo’s door and after a moment the big car glided soundlessly into the flow of traffic.

“Well,” Ocelot said, letting his breath out, “that was fun.”

Nobody answered him. Sean, settled between Winterhawk and Kestrel, looked around the inside of the limo. Everything in it spoke of luxury, from the real wood trim to the plush carpet to the smell of good leather. He supposed that dragons wouldn’t go for anything less than top of the line. Dragons! He was still having trouble getting his mind around that, so he forced it away for now. He’d have time to think about it later, when he was alone—if he lived that long. “So...” he ventured, “What exactly is this Council?”

Gabriel faced him from across the limo’s U-shaped bench seat. He looked a little shellshocked himself. “It is something that has only been called once before in this Age,”he said. “It is a meeting of all the Great Dragons of the world, and only occurs in cases of great import.”

“And they’re calling it for us?” Sean demanded. He tilted his head. “No offense or anything, but—are you that important a dragon?”

Gabriel shook his head. “No. I am in truth a rather unimportant dragon. I am young and have been in this world only somewhat longer than you have. It is not what I am that concerns them, but what I have done.”

“What we have done,” Kestrel put in.

Sean looked back and forth between them. “Are you telling me that this is the first time anybody’s done this? It’s that important? Why should they care whether dragons have kids with humans? You said it’s not even easy, so it can’t happen that often, can it?”

“It is that important,” Gabriel told him. “The law is very clear on the matter. The reason for it comes from a time very long ago, when mistakes were made and steps were taken to prevent them from happening again. The last time a dragon was found to have created dragonkin, he was banished from our society—forbidden from ever having contact with dragonkind again.”

Sean’s eyes widened. “But—aren’t dragons immortal?”

Gabriel nodded and did not look up. “In some ways it would be kinder to simply put the guilty party to death.”

Kestrel reached over and put a gentle hand on his knee.

Sean took a deep breath. He didn’t know what to say. It was all so confusing. All his life he had been attracted to dragons—to their beauty, their power, the concept of super-intelligent beings with near-limitless magical and physical abilities—and now here in the space of less than an evening he had found out the impossible: that one of those creatures was his own father, that he was half-dragon himself. As unsettling as the whole thing had been, he was finding that he liked this young man. Even more, he was finding that he trusted him. He didn’t want to be the cause of an immortal being’s banishment from his society—but on the other side, none of this was his fault. He hadn’t exactly had a say in the matter. “Will they—listen to us?” he asked hesitantly. “It’s not an automatic thing, is it? You know, like in some places if you commit a murder you get executed?”

Gabriel brought his gaze back up to meet Sean’s. “No. It isn’t automatic. The Council is wise, and as I said I am not without allies among the dragons.”

Sean almost didn’t want to ask the question, but he couldn’t help it: “What...what about me?” He paused. “You told me about how you might be punished, but what will they do to me? Do they always kill the...dragon-kin?” The word sounded strange on his lips.

Again the young man shook his head. “No, not always. As I said, there is very little precedent for this, but in the most recent of the well-known cases, the dragon-kin accompanied the banished dragon back to his lair. In that case there were more than one. They set up a settlement nearby and founded a dynasty that ended up being fairly powerful in its day.”

Sean nodded slowly. “But—that was a long time ago, right?”

“Yes. It would be difficult to do the same sort of thing now.”

Maya, apparently sensing Sean’s growing unease, left Winterhawk’s lap and moved over to curl up on Sean’s. She tilted her head up at him, her wise green eyes searching his comfortingly. Sean was surprised at how heavy she was. He gently ruffled the fur on the back of her neck, glad to have something else to concentrate on for awhile. “Does she travel with you all the time?” he asked Winterhawk.

“Only when she wants to,” the mage told her wryly. “No one makes Maya do anything she doesn’t want to do.”

Sean nodded, still stroking Maya. “Well,” he said at last, looking across at Ocelot, “I guess I see what you mean now.”

“About what?”

“You said you’d explain everything to me and that it would all make sense once I had the whole story.”

“You mean it makes sense now?” Kestrel asked with a little smile.

“Well—no. But at least now I know who all the players are.” He looked around. “I—uh—do know all the players now, right? I’m not gonna find out I’ve got an Awakened tree for an uncle or anything?”

Even despite the seriousness of the situation, Gabriel had to chuckle at that. “No, Sean,” he assured him. “You have no Awakened trees in your lineage.” He glanced at Kestrel. “Unless there’s something you haven’t told me.”

She laughed too, her green eyes twinkling. “Nope. Although I do sometimes wonder about my Aunt Chloe.”

Sean smiled and settled back in his seat. For a few moments, he decided, he’d let himself relax. He didn’t think he was going to get another chance for awhile.



The limo took them to a small airport, where a little jet was fueled up and waiting for them. The driver ushered them out of the car and into the plane, but did not board it himself. The plane took off shortly afterward.

“I wonder where we’re going,” Ocelot said, looking around the little craft’s posh interior. Someone had spared no expense to make them comfortable. He looked at Gabriel. “Any idea?”

Gabriel shook his head. “No. The only other Council meeting held in this Age was in astral space, so this is a departure. ”

“I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see, then,” Winterhawk said, settling back into his seat. Maya had once again installed herself on his lap. Shortly after that, both of them were asleep.

It was very late and the lights in the plane had been dimmed for their comfort; it wasn’t long before Kestrel dropped off, and even Ocelot, who was fighting it by trying to read a magazine on a little glowing datapad, eventually succumbed, his head leaned against one of the windows.

Sean didn’t think he’d ever sleep again. He sat next to another window, staring out at the black nothingness and finally letting the awe and amazement and confusion and fear of the past few days—particularly the past few hours—catch up with him.

He still didn’t quite believe it, of course. He was still expecting that any time now he was going to wake up in his bed in Bainbridge (or at least his rumpled bedroll at Crank’s place, listening to Jay snore on the other side of the room) and discover that he was still the same old Sean: an eighteen-year-old kid who’d just lost the only parents he’d ever known and was trying as best he could to sort out his life.

Was it possible that Gabriel and the others had been lying to him? After all, nobody had actually proven any of this to him. Anyone could claim to be a dragon. Maybe they just hired a young model to play the part and this whole thing was just an elaborate plan to—

—to what, though? That was the part that didn’t make sense. What would anyone gain by convincing him that he was half dragon? If Ocelot was really his father as it said on the birth certificate, what possible reason would he have for going to this level of hassle to convince him otherwise? And besides, Kestrel readily admitted to being his mother. He glanced at her across the aisle, at her spiked blonde hair and her trim figure: the two of them were even built similarly. Both were tall and slim and athletic, and he could see his own features in her straight, ever-so-slightly-turned-up nose and her strong chin. He wondered how she had felt when she’d found out she was pregnant with a dragon’s child. It wasn’t exactly the sort of thing you could talk about with your friends. He remembered when one of Mom’s—of Kristi Hunter’s—friends’ oldest daughter got pregnant, and how everyone had fawned over her, excited about the upcoming event. Kestrel would have had none of that. He wondered if she’d have wanted it.

He knew he was avoiding the most important thing, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to face it head on. He leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes, and let his mind skip over his body, trying to see if he could find anyplace where he felt—different. If he truly was half-dragon—half Great Dragon from what Gabriel had said—shouldn’t he at least feel something? He didn’t. He was a little tired, his muscles ached slightly, he was a bit hungry because he hadn’t eaten much at the restaurant (he suddenly realized the irony of the restaurant’s name—the Golden Dragon—and wondered which of his new friends had chosen the venue), but that was all. No thrum of latent magical ability, no rush of increased intelligence, no great insight into the mysteries of the universe. He just felt like the same old Sean. Even his strange intermittent sixth sense seemed to have deserted him. He wondered if that had been an artifact of his dragon heritage or just perhaps the vestiges of a tiny bit of magical talent that hadn’t been strong enough to break fully free.

“You should try to get some sleep,” a quiet voice said from his other side. He turned away from the window to see Gabriel standing there, watching him with a look of gentle concern.

Sean shrugged. “I’m not tired. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping for awhile.”

Gabriel indicated the seat next to him. “Do you mind?”

“No, go ahead.” Sean shook his head and waved him to the seat. “You can’t sleep either, huh?”

“I don’t require sleep as often as a human does, even in this form,” Gabriel told him. “I thought you might like to talk a bit while the others are resting.”

Again Sean shrugged. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“If you have questions, I will do my best to answer them. Or if you’d prefer to be left alone—”

Sean realized that was the last thing he wanted right now. “No, no. It’s okay. My thoughts aren’t very good company right now.” He paused, then looked at Gabriel with concern. “You can’t—you know—read my mind, can you?”

The young man smiled a little. “I can—but I would never do so without your permission.”

“So you aren’t now.” Sean’s voice held relief. It was bad enough that he had to live with his whirling thoughts. He didn’t want to share them, unfiltered, with anyone else.

“No.”

Sean nodded. He looked at nothing for a few moments, the only sound the low rumble-whine of the jet’s engines, and then turned back to Gabriel. “What do you do?”

Gabriel tilted his head. “I don’t understand.”

“I mean—what do you do when you’re not chasing down long-lost kids? Do you—I don’t know—hang out in your lair sitting on a big pile of treasure? Do you run a corporation like Lofwyr? Would I ever have heard of you on the news or anything?”

Gabriel chuckled. “I don’t sit on treasure in my lair. That went out thousands of years ago.”

“But you do have a lair?”

He nodded. “And a rather sizeable treasure. But a significant portion of it is invested these days.”

Sean thought about that for a moment and nodded. “I guess it doesn’t make sense for a dragon to have a job, does it?”

“In some cases, no. But I do have one.”

That surprised him. “You do?”

Gabriel nodded. “I have for years now, although I changed it shortly after you were born.”

Sean smiled a bit. “Okay, so what do you do? Don’t tell me—you star in sims. You know, the kind girls like where everybody ends up kissing and crying all over the place.”

Gabriel laughed at that, but softly so as not to wake the others. “No. Although Kestrel used to tease me years ago that I should model underwear.” He paused a moment as if reminiscing, then shook his head. “Before you were born, I used to work with Kestrel. Do you know what a ‘fixer’ is?”

Sean’s eyes widened. “You mean like with shadowrunners?” Then he nodded. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. It explains how you know all these shadowrunner types.” Another pause. “How did you come to do that? It seems a little weird for a dragon.”

“That is a story I’ll tell you some other time,” Gabriel said. “It’s a bit long. The short version is that Kestrel was a shadowrunner and she saved my life shortly after my Awakening. We became friends and, since I had little experience with the world at the time, I used the job as a way to help me understand this new Age.”

Sean nodded. That seemed reasonable to him. “So what do you do now? It sounds like you’re not a fixer anymore.”

“No. These days I work with the Draco Foundation.”

“You do?” Sean stared at him. The Draco Foundation and its scientific arm, the Dunkelzahn Institute of Magical Research, were huge organizations dedicated to all sorts of things from medical research to the study of magical phenomena to undoubtedly numerous things too secret to divulge to the general public. He leaned forward, intrigued. “What do you do there?”

“I’m sort of a—freelance operative,” Gabriel told him. “Although that isn’t quite correct because I’m not on their payroll. I’m in charge of a small organization that investigates odd and usually dangerous magical occurrences.”

“A secret organization?” Sean was becoming even more intrigued.

“Not specifically, no. It’s not well publicized because there is no reason to alarm the public with some of the things we do, but anyone who wanted to do a bit of looking around could find us.”

“Does Mo—does Kestrel work with you there?”

“Yes.” He indicated the front part of the plane with a head movement. “So does Winterhawk, but only occasionally. He does freelance work for us out of London.”

“So he’s not a shadowrunner anymore.”

“Not for years. I won’t tell you what else he does, because it’s not my place to do so. He’ll tell you if he wants to.”

Sean nodded. That was fine with him. He looked around at the sleeping figures and then back at Gabriel. “Can I ask one more question? Maybe it’s none of my business and you can tell me so, but I’m just curious.”

“Of course.” Gabriel’s bright violet eyes were gently encouraging; even though the rest of him looked barely older than Sean, his eyes gave him an ageless quality that made Sean believe a little more that he might indeed be what he claimed to be.

Sean took a deep breath. “Ocelot and Winterhawk and Mom—how do they all look so young? I mean, if the birth certificate I found can be believed, they should all be at least close to fifty, but they don’t look anywhere near that. I know people can get age-retarding drugs and surgery and that sort of thing, but it doesn’t make sense that all three of them would have gone for it. Or does it?”

Gabriel shook his head. “No. It was something that happened long ago—again, shortly after you were born. It was a gift I gave them in gratitude for something they did for me. Again I don’t want to go into detail right now, but it is a form of powerful dragon magic that retains their youth. Their lifespans will not significantly exceed those of normal humans—perhaps twenty or thirty percent longer—but the spell holds off the effects of aging until well into the final years of life.”

“You—can do that?” Sean stared at him. “You can make people live longer? Not age?”

Gabriel looked sober. “It is not something undertaken lightly,” he warned. “There are risks involved. But I owed them all a great deal and felt that this would be a way for me to begin to repay them.”

Sean looked around at the others. “Can you—do it for me too?” he asked hesitantly. “I mean—if we get out of this?”

Gabriel’s smile was gentle. “If we get out of this, Sean,” he said softly, “I won’t need to.”

“What does that mean?”

“After the spell I’ve put on you has been released and you regain your dragonkin abilities, you will age much more slowly than a human. Once you reach full adulthood you will essentially remain a young adult for an extremely long time before you even begin to age.”

Sean could only stare at him. “You’re kidding.”

Gabriel shook his head. “Not at all. The lifespan of a dragonkin is significantly longer than that of a human.”

“So—you’re saying I could live for hundreds of years and not age?” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Yes.”

Sean nodded slowly. This was all so amazing, and getting more amazing by the minute. But still, even with all that, there was something big hanging over his head—so big that it overshadowed everything else. “Do you think they’re going to let us go?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know, Sean.” Gabriel’s reply was equally quiet.

“Do you think we have a chance? Tell me if you don’t. Please. I’d rather know.”

Gabriel sighed. “There is always a chance. I will do everything I can to make sure that you are spared this.”

“But what about you?”

“It was my fault the situation occurred. I should have known better. If there is any punishment to be borne, I will bear it. You have no fault here. I hope I can make them see that.”

Sean looked down at his lap. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what was coming, what it would be like, or what, if anything, he could do to affect it. He felt like a child again, forced to play along with something he didn’t understand. “We’ll do it,” he said with bravado he didn’t feel.

Gabriel nodded. “We will do our best,” he agreed. “That is all we can do.” He smiled and gripped Sean gently on the shoulder. “You’d best try to get some rest,” he said, rising. “I suspect that it will be awhile before you have the chance again.”

“I will.” Sean looked up at him. After a moment he said, “You know this is all pretty hard to believe, don’t you?” He chuckled, more a nervous laugh than anything else. “It’s not every day you find out your mom’s a shadowrunner and your dad is a dragon underwear model.”

Gabriel sighed, laughing silently and shaking his head. “Go to sleep, Sean.”


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