By Amanda Corlies
A distant voice was calling to him. It was a voice Alex could never ignore, as much as he wanted to burrow back into the soft comforting warmth of sleep. He felt his body begin to stir as fingers brushed gently up and down his spine. Coming awake in stages, he smiled into Sharon’s hair and murmured his appreciation. He was about to find her mouth with his own when her voice brought him fully out of his sleepy haze.
“Wakey, wakey. Time to get up. I just heard Nic heading downstairs.” Sharon gave his ass a light squeeze.
Cracking an eye open, Alex was momentarily confused. Nic? Where the hell was he? He lifted his head off of Sharon’s shoulder and looked around. Oh, his old room. They’d stayed late visiting with Uncle Nic again and spent the night. He looked at the clock. Only seven.
“Ugh,” he dropped his head back onto Sharon’s shoulder. We’ve only been asleep for three hours.
“Yes, well, you’re the one who suggested the poker game,” Sharon chuckled. “You need to move so I can get up.” She started shoving at the half of his body that was draped comfortably across her.
Alex groaned and rolled onto his back. He watched as Sharon climbed over to get off the bed, which had always lived in the corner of his room. Her hair was a riot of blond curls, her eyes were sleep heavy, and her face was lightly flushed. He felt his heart do a hard flip in his chest as he watched her shrug into her robe. Gods she was sexy as hell, and he loved her so freaking much.
“No time.” She sent him a knowing smile and walked into the hallway.
His girlfriend was no fool. Sharon left the bathroom and went directly down to the kitchen before he could implement his plan to drag her back under the covers for some morning wake up. This left him no choice but to get the fuck out of bed and get dressed. Stretching, he dragged himself upright. He and Nic were supposed to be at the new Armor office in Wildwood by eight.
He was showered, dressed, and standing in his dad’s kitchen drinking coffee fifteen minutes later. It was nice to be back at the old homestead. He smiled as he took in his two dads sitting at the kitchen table reading their papers and sipping their lattes. Sharon sat between them all sleep rumpled and nibbling on a croissant.
Nic was standing staring out into the back yard. His tall frame nearly took up one half of the sliding glass doors. He kept scrubbing his hand over his spikes of brown hair and his blue eyes held that far off sheen. Alex wondered what had his uncle looking so serious this morning, but it was way too early to get into it. Instead, he kept on sipping his hot, bitter brew, and letting it coax him toward the living.
“Well, gentleman,” Sharon broke the silence. “I promised Mom I would be by this morning. So, I’m going to catch a quick shower and take off.” Sharon scooted back from the table and got up, kissing each of the men in the room in turn. Her unspoken questions were plain on her face when she got to Alex.
“I’ll call you when Nic and I get done house hunting this afternoon,” Alex answered. He was glad he didn’t have to tell a complete lie in front of his dads. He and Nic did plan to look at properties for Nic’s family this afternoon, after their meeting with Rory.
See, I told you it would feel better to keep as much truth in your story as possible. Sharon smiled and stood on her tiptoes for a kiss. Alex happily obliged her. “Okay, see you when you get home,” she said aloud.
Alex held the swinging door open and watched her terry cloth covered hips sway until she disappeared from view. Turning, he found both of his dads and Nic grinning at him. He shrugged. What could he say? He had it bad and he was okay with that.
“A Frenchman never wastes an opportunity to admire a work of art,” Nic teased.
“Exactamente,” Leon chuckled. “And like his father, Alex admires au derriére, oui?”
“We’d better go or we’ll be late for our first appointment.” Alex set his cup in the sink. He was too tired to rise to the bait.
“I wish we could come with you,” Charlie groused. It was a work day for both of his fathers. They had staff meetings and end of semester grading left to do. “Maybe your realtor could schedule a few tours for next Saturday.” He looked hopeful.
“I’ll be sure to ask.” Nic smiled.
“Have Alex take you to OTP. The pizza, c'était très bon,” Leon called out to Nic as he left the room. “Your uncle, he sucks for the Italian’s food.”
Laughing, Alex said, “I think you mean he’s a sucker for Italian food.” He crossed and kissed both of his dads’ cheeks. “See you later.”
A short fifteen minute drive and Alex was parallel parking on Wildwood Avenue in front of the new satellite Gaea office that had just opened. Nic had been quiet the whole way. His energy seemed to grow tenser by the minute. Alex got a strange feeling that whatever was bothering Nic had to do with him. Should he ask? They might be family, but they’d only known each other for five months. He wasn’t sure they knew each other well enough for that kind of a talk, yet.
Once he got out of the car, Alex shoved his hands into his pockets and opted for silence as he led Nic into the building toward the back toward Rory’s new office.
He tapped lightly on Rory’s door.
“Come on in, Alex.”
When Alex opened the door, Rory was already out of his chair and rounding his desk to greet them. He clapped Alex on the shoulder, but Alex wasn’t expecting the greeting Rory gave Nic. The two men embraced for a long time without speaking. Eventually, they gave a manly clap to each other’s backs, then stepped off.
“I’m glad you made it back safe,” Rory mumbled. The two of them looked at each other for a few more minutes. It seemed as if a lot was passing silently between them.
Nic cleared his throat and nodded, then stood at attention, giving the Armor salute Alex had expected.
“Nicholas Peltier, formerly of Unit Thirteen, reporting for duty, Sir,” Nic barked.
Giving him a proud look, Rory returned the salute quickly. “At ease. Welcome to Armor Team Five.”
Nic smiled and immediately dropped the formality.
Alex didn’t know what to say. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall behind him. If he stayed out of their line of sight, maybe they would forget he was present and let more information slide. So far, Nic had only told him what he’d offered on his last visit about blowing his cover, being reassigned, and moving to Wildwood. Alex was still unclear on this Unit 13 bunch and how they fit into the picture, and he had no idea Nic had been one of them. It wasn’t as if Alex’d had much time to ask questions, though.
Nic had stayed only one night last trip, then he’d left on some top secret, and evidently dangerous, mission over the past week. The mission had kept Nic totally out of touch and caused him to miss graduation. And ever since the guy got back, he suddenly seemed closed up tighter than an oil drum.
“Did you retrieve the item?” Rory asked.
Nic nodded his head but said nothing. A muscle in his jaw started jumping.
“Good, let’s have Alex take a look.”
French began to pour out of Nic. He was speaking rapidly, and even Alex was having a hard time keeping up, though Rory didn’t seem to have any trouble. He switched to French fluidly and the two men began to argue, their voices steadily rising in volume. Apparently, they had no problems telling each other what they thought. Alex had flashes of some of the W13 meetings and smiled. Apparently, Unit 13 was a pretty tight knit bunch. He found himself trying not to laugh.
After a few minutes, Alex’s smile fell away as he began to get a handle on what they were arguing about.
“Hey!” he barked out.
Both Nic and Rory stopped suddenly and turned his way. The two men blinked, wearing identical blank expressions.
Alex frowned. “I am not a child! I just helped take down Demetrius and an entire freaking army. I will not be coddled, Uncle Nic! Whatever Rory is asking that I do, I’m all in. I agreed to train as an Armor, and Rory is my commanding officer. I may have asked you to be my mentor, but I won’t allow you to stand in my way.” His heart was hammering and his face felt hot.
Scrubbing a hand over his scalp, Nic looked torn. He took a deep breath and dropped his hand to his side. “Pardon. This is more difficult than I suspected, involving my brother’s son, knowing I put your whole family at risk, just when I finally have you and my brother back in my life.” He lifted his eyes to Alex. “It will take some getting used to, oui?”
Alex nodded, silently accepting his uncle’s apology. He understood the man’s concerns, but he would not go back to being kept out of the loop. Not when it came to the safety of Wildwood and his family. Never again.
“So why am I here?” Alex deliberately turned his attention to Rory.
“Mom,” Sharon called out. “Anybody home?” The house was way too quiet. She wondered where everyone was.
Putting out her Gaea feelers, she realized Tabby was over at the Broussard Center with Tommy and Adam. If she had to take a bet, Sharon was pretty sure they would all be in the center’s gaming room. They had taken to teaching Adam everything they knew about video games, which was a lot. Sharon hoped the poor kid liked gaming as much as his aura indicated.
Nobody did computer geeks like her younger sibs. Well, except maybe Darien. And Rowan. And Reese. And Alchemy. And now Riley, too, since he could make the machines pretty much do what he wanted them to. Sharon chuckled. Maybe it was a Gaea thing. Did Gaeas have some extra ability to finagle technology?
This was not helping find her mother. Sharon shook herself and sent out her Gaea feelers searching for Marjorie. She found a complete blank. Sharon’s heart began to race. She got a really bad feeling. Realizing there was one of those strange empty zones in her father’s office, Sharon ran for his door, throwing it open. At first, she didn’t see anyone, but then, she caught sight of her father’s robe behind his desk.
For a minute, Sharon was afraid to walk forward. Wouldn’t she know if her mother were dead? This definitely felt more like masking. Sadness passed over her as Sharon realized she could now tell the difference without a single doubt. Holding a hand over her chest, she forced herself move. Marjorie sat on the floor, with her husband’s robe clutched in her hands. She was ghostly pale, and she curled over herself, hugging her knees, her cheek pressed against the fabric.
“Mom,” Sharon spoke softly, not wanting to startle her. She sat down on the floor next to her mother. Marjorie’s aura had swirls of darkness. “You scared me. What are you doing?”
Marjorie lifted her head, her eyes focusing in on Sharon after a long pause. “What?”
“What are you doing in here?”
“It’s almost gone. Robert’s smell. I can’t find it. I thought maybe it would be in here. But it isn’t.” She squeezed her eyes closed and pressed her cheek back to her bent knees, burying her face in the robe.
This was heading nowhere good. Sharon put her arm around her mother’s bent back and pulled her close, sharing healing energy for a while. Sharon needed to figure out how to shake her mom out of this downward spiral. Finally, an idea struck.
Taking out her phone, she texted Tabby.
Can you handle the boys until later this afternoon? Need to take Mom somewhere.
U got it.
Sharon smiled at her sister’s immediate reply. Tab had been so great through all of this.
Getting up, she took her mom’s hand and tugged. “Come on. There’s somewhere I need to take you.” When her mom tried to bring the robe, Sharon found herself in a brief tug of war. “Just leave it here, please. I promise it will be here when we get back.”
“Fine,” Marjorie dropped it into a chair at last. She gave a childish huff and marched out. Sharon got her busy getting dressed and clean up and went to make arrangements.
After a few quick calls, including one to Hazel, and one to Dr. Reid, Sharon walked her mother to the Grove clearing and handed the documents she’d just printed to the waiting Portalkeeper.
Marjorie didn’t seem concerned with where they were going or why. For the most part, she just went along passively. Yet, another thing that was worrying Sharon.
A few minutes later, they were walking hand in hand along the beach of Annodox island. The humming energy of the island surrounded them, and Marjorie’s aura was starting to get some of its color back.
“It’s beautiful here,” her mother commented. She was looking out across the sparkling, turquoise water. “Did you know this is where Robert and I had our honeymoon?”
Great. Sharon hadn’t known that. She was relieved when she saw the villa come into view ahead. “No, I didn’t know.” Weird that she’d never known where her parents honeymooned. It was hard not to wonder if this was another one of those memories that had been tampered with. It seemed a strange detail to be missing from her mind. Telling herself not to go there, Sharon explained, “That’s not actually why I brought you here.”
“Oh,” Marjorie said. “Why did you bring me?”
“Marjorie!” Pierre called out as he came jogging down the beach toward them. He looked relaxed and he was finally putting on some weight again. “I’m so glad you could come.” He folded Marjorie into a long hug. Sharon heard him murmuring things into her mother’s ear. Marjorie stood holding him and talking softly for some time. Sharon had no idea what they were saying. The wind and the surf obscured the words.
Pierre turned to Sharon eventually and gave her a warm embrace, too. She felt her heart expand like a balloon. How it felt to have Pierre and Ben back in her life was something so amazing she didn’t have words.
“Sorry about the last minute notice.”
“You’re family’s welcome here any time. Come.” Pierre led them both toward the villa. “Ben will be so glad you’re here. I’ve been keeping him informed about everything in Wildwood. I can sense his worry, even if he still isn’t able to express it. And I know in my heart he wanted to be at your graduation more than anything.” Pierre brushed a kiss onto Sharon’s forehead. “Go on in. Ben will love to hear your voices. I’ve been enjoying the sun this afternoon.” Pierre turned to walk back the way they’d just come.
Taking a deep breath before entering Ben’s room, Sharon braced herself. It never got any easier to see him lying in the bed so still and pale. She immediately began giving him a dose of healing energy as she crossed the room. She usually sat and read to him, but today, she was going to do things a little different. She stepped up to his bedside and indicated the other side to her mother.
“Have a seat.” Sharon said. “Hello, Ben. I brought Mom to see you. I’m just going to give her the scoop.” She kissed the back of his hand, then looked at her mother. “Judging by Ben’s aura, he’s in there somewhere, fighting his way back. He’s officially in a coma, but I know it’s more than that. He’s resting, getting stronger, and I can feel his determination to get better in my soul.”
Sharon watched her mother take in this news as she stepped up to the other side of the bed to take Ben’s hand. “I know you’re sad, Mom, and you don’t know how to handle the pain of Dad’s death. I get that you feel lost. Ben was caged and tortured daily for over a year. He’s lived through physical and psychological pain the likes of which none of us can even fathom. But, he wants to live so badly, that he’s still fighting.”
Tears slipped silently down her mother’s cheeks, but she nodded to indicate she understood.
“You have to keep fighting, too. I could say you need to do it for me, or that you have kids who love you and depend on you, and that’s all true, but that’s not enough of a reason. You have to want to live for yourself.”
Letting out a quiet sob, Marjorie brought Ben’s limp hand up to her lips and brushed a kiss on the back of it. She wiped tears away with her other hand. She didn’t seem able to look at Sharon. Her aura said she felt ashamed.
“This is not about shame, Mom. That’s not why I’m telling you this. It’s about understanding how important living your life to the fullest is. Nobody can show you that better than Pierre and Ben. I want you to stay here and visit with Ben awhile. He likes to hear the sound of our voices. Tell him whatever you want. I promise, your secrets are safe with him, and he’s listening. Don’t treat him with kid gloves. He would hate that. Just tell him whatever you want to share. Pierre and I will probably be sitting out on the patio. I need some advice from him, okay?”
Marjorie nodded her head and sniffled.
Leaning over to kiss Ben’s forehead Sharon spoke to him. “I know you were at graduation in spirit, so proud of us all. I felt it. I did a little dance for Alex on the stage when I got my diploma. It was you who gave me the idea. I figured you would appreciate that. When you come back to us, I’ll show you. Right now, Mom really needs to talk to you. I’ll come back another day to finish reading the new Kingsolver book. I can’t wait to find out what happens.” Sharon kissed each of his cheeks. She nodded to her mother, then went in search of Pierre.
Stepping out onto the deck, she found Pierre in his usual spot watching the birds. He seemed even more enthralled with nature since his return. Sharon knew it was because he’d been cooped up in a windowless cave for so long. He cherished his freedom rather than wallowing in his past and his grief.
“I’m hoping Mom can learn something from the two of you today.” Sharon explained as she walked up and snuggled close to Pierre. He lifted his arm for her automatically and draped it over her shoulder. Pierre had always been ready to hold her and give her comfort whenever she needed it. “Ben’s aura is continuing to improve. I can tell he’s fighting to come back.” Sharon said, glad she could offer a little bit of hope to this man who was the father of her heart.
“I know. Thank you for being so adamantly hopeful. It helps us both.” Pierre kissed her cheek. “Anything we can do for you or your family, you always have it. You know that. How are you holding up?”
“Not great.” Sharon admitted. She slumped onto one of the loungers and rested her head in her hands for a second. Looking up, she said, “I don’t know what to do, Pierre. Mom is practically non-functional and Scott is refusing to help much. Dad left the company to all of us equally with the stipulation that Scott was to take over as CEO. But, he won’t step in until after he graduates next year. He’s pushing for an interim from the board, and he wants me to do it. But, I had plans, you know. And none of that even takes into account the sibs, and Adam. I can’t just abandon them if Mom…” Sharon let it all come pouring out.
Pierre listened quietly as she explained all of her confusion and frustration. He sat beside her, but stayed quiet a long time after she finally stopped rambling. Once she began to feel the soothing energy of the island and Pierre enough to relax, he spoke. “Have you talked to Alex? Gone over your options together?”
“Sort of. Well, no. I mean. We’ve been so busy and all.” Sharon suddenly felt lame for coming to Pierre before talking to Alex.
“This isn’t chastisement. It’s advice. It’s best to share these things with your partner. Talk them through. Think about all of your options together and then come to a decision as a team. I promise, you will feel better once you ask for his help.”
“He’s going to be so disappointed if I say we can’t go to France,” Sharon kicked at a pebble under her feet, watching it skip away.
“Is he? Or are you projecting your feelings onto him?” Pierre smiled down at her, a knowing look in his eyes.
A sudden realization hit her. Shaking her head, Sharon said, “You always know. Why am I surprised? Okay, yes. I’ll be hugely disappointed. I’ve been dreaming of this. I need to get away from there so bad.” Sharon waved a hand in the general direction of the Blind and Wildwood. “I don’t want to be stuck there forever.”
“Ah, the immediacy of youth. I wish I could take some of that back.” Pierre chuckled. “Will it be so bad to have to delay your plans for a few months, maybe a year? It’s not forever.”
Of course, he was absolutely right. Now, she felt hugely disappointed in herself that she hadn’t seen this on her own. Maybe her father’s death was keeping her less functional than she thought.
“It’s not unusual to have difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly in times like these.” Pierre brushed a hand over her hair. “Don’t beat yourself up. Here’s what you should ask yourself. Will you be happy if, in two weeks, you move to France knowing you’re leaving your family behind.” When Sharon opened her mouth to speak, Pierre raised a hand to stop her. “Don’t answer. Think about it carefully. If you can find happiness then by all means, go with my blessing. Seize all the happiness you can find in life. The gods know you deserve it. But, if the answer is no, you owe it to yourself, and your family, to see this through and wait until the timing is right.”
And just like that, Sharon knew what she had to do, and she felt pretty okay with it.
Alex watched his Uncle Nic remove a small wooden box from the pocket of his jacket. He laid it on Rory’s desk. Rory opened the lid. Alex immediately felt the power of the object flood the room. It was a small metal disc similar to the one Kaz had been given by his grandfather last year. It had ancient symbols on it, but the symbols were different from the ones on Kaz’s disc. Alex’s hands itched to touch it. He shoved them into his pockets and forced himself to wait.
“It was right where our mole said it would be, in the house on Guam,” Nic gave his report. “The most difficult part was getting past all the eyes on the place. I took photos of all the players present.” Nic reached into his pocket and handed Rory a flash drive.
Rory nodded and tucked the drive into his pocket.
Nic continued, “Two were Interpol. Several of Jiro’s men were there. Two are known Yakuza. And one team I haven’t run across before. I searched for data on them and got nothing.” Nic began to pace back and forth as he talked. “We were able to keep all of them running in circles while we took down the security system on Demetrius’ house. The cases housing his collection were much harder to crack. There were several other notable pieces, each with individual security, though none felt as powerful as this one. Sadly, I was unable to get the rest out before Jiro and his pet Time Gaea arrived. We were forced to leave. When we returned, they had cleaned the place out.”
“Okay, let’s hope this one is what we think.” Rory pointed to the disc. “Alex, I’d like you to take a reading off of it. We need to know a location, what it was created for, and how it works.”
Alex nodded. He started to reach for the piece, but Nic grabbed his wrist to stop him.
Giving him a stern look, Nic shook his head. “You do not yet know if this is a trap.”
“What do you mean a trap?” Alex was confused. Was this some kind of Armor test?
“There are Gaeas who can set traps using objects of power. This was in one of Demetrius’ home. Are you going to handle it without looking it over thoroughly first?” Nic was frowning.
“Okay.” Alex wondered how a little object like this could be a trap, but he wasn’t going to argue. “I’ll proceed with caution.” He tucked his hands back into his pockets and opened his sight, taking a good, hard look at the object. “It has energy, but it doesn’t look like Fred’s at all, or Jiro’s for that matter. And I don’t get any darkness or bad feelings off of it.” Alex looked back up at Rory and Nic. “Good enough?”
Both men nodded their heads, though Nic still looked reluctant.
“As an extra precaution, I’ll do one better. Give me a minute.” Alex took a seat in the nearby chair. He opened his connection to Sharon, realizing she was far away. Probably at Pierre and Ben’s again. Still, he could feel her. Need to do a reading on an object.
Maybe you should tap the Thirteen line? I’m on Annodox. Sharon’s voice sounded as if it were talking softly in his ear.
The connection’s fine. Don’t want to bother the others unless I need to. I’m not worried, so there’s no reason for you to be. Just being cautious at Nic’s request, Alex assured her.
Okay. Sharon obviously took him at his word, and he felt their connection open all the way.
There was a moment of wonder as Alex realized they were half a world apart and it didn’t seem to matter. Sweet! Thanks.
“Okay, ready.” Alex opened his sight again and reached for the metal disc. As soon as he touched the object, he was transported into the mind of its maker. He was instantly looking at hands working to carve what he suddenly knew were Polynesian symbols into the disc’s design. The hands, however, did not look the part of a Polynesian. Wondering about the man’s appearance, Alex felt a shift, and it seems as if her were standing outside the man’s body, watching him bend over a work table. The man looked Caucasian and he was wearing a blue and red uniform of some kind. Now that he’d used his power to trace the objects energy back to the source, he began to tap into the mind of the maker.
Where are we? Alex asked the man. The setting looked tropical and they were under some kind of grass hut lean-to. It only took a moment for Alex to have his answer. “I’m on the Big Island of Hawaii, on the grounds of King Kamahamea the Great’s home,” Alex relayed what he was learning to Nic and Rory.
Who are you and what year is this? Alex asked. An immediate answer formed in his mind. He began to ask more questions and relay his answers.
“So, apparently, it’s 1779, and I’m tapping the mind of a Commander James Cook of the Royal Navy. He’s carving the Polynesian symbols into this.” Alex held up the disc.
“Why?” Rory wanted to know.
Alex thought the question and relayed the answer. “He and the king were trying to hide Gaea artifacts and the existence of a hidden Blind called the Honu Crossing.”
“But, that makes no sense. Historically, Cook is the one credited with discovering and naming the islands after some Earl named Sandwich or something.” Nic sounded confused.
The Commander’s thoughts came at Alex quickly when he tried to ask about the subject. He couldn’t figure out all of it. “His thoughts are jumbled like he’s anxious. There’s been trouble with the natives as well as the Navy.” Alex held up a hand in a silent request for quiet so he could concentrate on listening. “Oh, wow! He’s an undercover Armor and a Water Gaea. Something about being double crossed by several greedy crew members and some natives. He’s in a rush to get this disc done.”
“Huh. A Water Gaea? I bet Cook would be pissed to know the history books gave him a rep for seriously fucking up the environment out there,” Rory mumbled.
“He must not have been a very good undercover agent. He made the history books,” Nic said.
“Unless he purposely set himself up as the bumbling idiot. If he was double crossed, he might have had to deflect.” Rory sounded like he was thinking out loud.
“Ah, yes. Take the heat off one hand by waving the other around. It is a possibility,” Nic said.
“Hey! Trying to concentrate here.” Alex couldn’t hear what Cook was thinking with the peanut gallery yapping.
“Sorry. Find out what the disc is for and how it works.” Nic’s voice sounded serious.
Alex quelled the urge to growl, “No shit, Sherlock.” Instead, he began nudging Cook to tell him about the disc.
“He’s helping hide Gaea artifacts to keep the Navy from getting hands on them…” Alex began to explain. The disc turned out to be another key. It opened a hidden section of a cave near the Honu Crossing. Alex found out how to work the key and the door, and Cook even gave up the precise longitude and latitude coordinates which Alex relayed to Rory.
The sound of Rory’s fingers furiously clicking at his computer keyboard brought Alex back to the room with a start. He briefly felt like he was going to be sick. One moment, he’d been standing in the humid tropics, and the next, he was back in his chair looking at Rory’s plain wooden desk. Alex waited for his head to stop swimming, then placed the disc back in the box and closed the lid. As soon as the disc was shut inside the specially-made box, its Gaea energy shut off, and Alex could fully focus on the present again.
Rory appeared to be looking up the coordinates he’d been given on his computer map. He let out a low whistle. Alex stood and had to catch himself on the desk. He moved a bit more slowly around to look over Rory’s shoulder. The pinpoint on the map was just northeast of Hilo. Rory zoomed in using the satellite until Alex was looking at a stretch of black sand beach with sheer black cliffs.
“Isn’t that the same tube that was being used by smugglers last year?” Rory said.
Nic nodded and pulled out his cell. Alex watched his uncle scroll through his contacts and hit the button for a man named Maika Waoila. He held the phone to his ear and waited.
“Maika? Nic. I think we just found your missing drugs, my friend.” Nic walked out into the hallway to continue his conversation.
“What’s going on?” Alex was starting to feel frustrated.
“This disc opens a hidden storage area in the back of a known drug smuggling cave, or rather a lava tube, as they call them in Hawaii.” Rory wore a look that said he was gearing up to hunt prey. “Last year, Maika Waiola asked Nic and I for help in an investigation out in Hilo. He was trying to link several drug related deaths and one abduction to some of Demetrius’ men.
We were able to catch the smugglers, and recover some of the drugs, but we didn’t find enough to prove it was anything other than a local operation. Maika has always maintained that Demetrius somehow removed or stashed the drugs. It would seem he might be right, since Fred owned this key. I wonder what, if anything, we’ll find hidden in Hilo.”
“So what are we waiting for,” Alex said. “Let’s go have a look.”
Surprisingly, Rory nodded his agreement. Alex had expected to get an argument. Instead, Rory pointed at the box. “Bring that.” Then, Rory stepped over to a closet and punched a bunch of numbers into a keypad. He placed his palm on a flat screen. After a quick scan, the light on the screen blinked green. Rory opened the closet door and began retrieving weapons from several racks.
Nic returned to the room. He didn’t seem surprised to find Rory stashing a shit ton of metal on his person. Alex felt a little light as he watched. All he was carrying were his daggers and the new long knife he’d just purchased. He looked at Nic’s long coat and wondered what his uncle was carrying. “I have got to get more weapons,” Alex grumbled.
Everything okay? Sharon’s voice startled him. He’d grown so accustomed to their connection, he hadn’t remembered to close it off.
Yep. Looks like we’re taking a little trip to Hawaii.
Man, I miss all the fun. I can’t believe Commander Cook was a Gaea. I wonder if the king was one, too.
Hey, I have no idea what time I’ll be home, now. Can you cover with the dads if need be?
Done. Be safe, babe.
Alex cut their connection and followed the two men to the Grove. They were solemnly quiet, and Alex wondered if the two of them could communicate through a t-path or something. Maybe, they just didn’t have the burning need to talk. He had a million questions, but he wasn’t going to break what felt like some kind of stealth-mode ninja badass vibe.
Rory showed his ID to the Portalkeeper who was already at the Blind waiting. There was no paperwork exchanged, they simply stepped into the Blind and stepped out on the long stretch of beach Alex had seen on satellite. The water glittered in the moonlight. Alex realized it was still the middle of the night local time. They were at one end of a long stretch of moonlit beach, where a cliff rose up, it’s sheer black rocks towering over them.
A tall man came walking down the beach. Alex could feel that he was a Gaea. Neither Rory nor Nic looked worried, so Alex waited. The closer the man got, the bigger he seemed. This guy was huge. He was Polynesian looking, with dark dreads, dark skin, and a goatee. He wore casual surfer wear.
“Aloha.” The man smiled down at all three of them.
Nic gave him a quick embrace. “Aloha. Great to see you, Maika.”
Rory and the man shook hands.
“This is my nephew, Alex,” Nic introduced him.
“Nice to meet you.” Alex’s hand was engulfed in a huge brown palm. The man’s energy was sparking. Opening his sight to read his energy, Alex realized the guy was a Water Gaea. He had a thick rope of energy connected to the surf and it was getting bigger and brighter by the second. A surge came off of him and the waves nearby seemed to calm and move more slowly.
“We need to hurry. Surf’s coming in, and I can only slow it so much. We don’t want to be stuck in the tube for hours.” He turned and led them to a small strip of sand at the edge of the cliff that would probably soon be completely covered by water. It wasn’t that much of a hike to the mouth of a large round hole in the cliffside. The sand was packed tight and it seemed the whole place was a yawning chasm of pitch black.
Suddenly, Alex heard a breaker switch flip and lights winked on down both sides of the tube, casting a dim and murky glow to the interior.
“This way.” Maika led the way at a fast clip, which meant Alex had to jog to keep up. There was nothing left in the place. Apparently, the Armors had cleaned it out and made sure it had stayed that way. After what seemed like a long hike, they came to the far end of the tube.
Alex looked around. He began searching high on the walls for a small mark. It had been designed to blend into the rocks. Retrieving the disc from his pocket, Alex looked at one of the symbols on it, making sure he remembered the shape correctly. It took him a few minutes to locate it on the wall.
“There,” Alex pointed. “See that curvature in the rock.” He stepped closer to the men, showing them the disc. “It’s this symbol, only left unfinished to blend into the rock face. You follow it’s curve down the wall and feel for the groove.” Alex ran his hand along the wall until he found it, hidden in a crevice in the rock face. He slid the disc into place on the groove until it sat snugly in place. Then, he called the Balance and sent out a pulse. The wall gave a groan and a large cracking sound echoed through the cavern. It was suddenly apparent that a section of the rocks was actually a door that would come loose. It took all of them and a whole lot of groaning and sweat to pull it open. Obviously, it hadn’t been used in a while.
Nic produced a high power flashlight from his coat, and shone it around the hidden room. There were dozens of crates stacked not too far from the door. Maika was strapping on a headlamp he’d been carrying in his pocket as they walked over to the crates. Finding a crow bar leaned nearby, the big man used it to pry off one of the crate lids. Inside, were Styrofoam cases stacked neatly in rows, each containing twenty vials of Bleu.
“Well, looky here, Maika. You were right all along.” Rory held up one of the vials. “I’ll be damned.”
“Feels a little hollow now that the man himself is dead,” Maika said.
“Yes, well, I would have liked to link him to this, but the world is a better place without him,” Nic stated.
Alex took the flashlight from Nic and turned it around the room again. Hoping there would be something other than a bunch of crates with drugs inside, sadly, there was no hidden treasure to be found. Demetrius or someone else had already plundered it.
“My guess is Demetrius figured these could keep until the area wasn’t so hot, and he could retrieve them later.” Maika was saying.
“Or turn them over to us in another of his magnanimous discoveries,” Rory added.
“Who cares? The question is how are we going to get all of this out of here,” Alex was starting to feel a little claustrophobic at the idea of getting stuck in here with these three, now that the promise of discovering cool Gaea artifacts was off the table.
After a brief discussion, they opted to lock the drugs back into hiding until Maika could bring the local Armor Team with vehicles back at high tide for extraction.
Alex wasn’t sure if he should feel relieved or disappointed when they were very quickly back on the beach near the Blind waiting for the Portalkeeper to arrive. Apparently, he wasn’t even going to get a chance to look around.
“So what now, my friend?” Nic was asking Maika.
The big man shrugged. Alex noticed he’d been quiet on the hike back out of the tube. “I been chasing those drugs for two years. And you three walk in and hand me a key. That kind of blows, you know.” His laugh didn’t hold any humor. “I guess once I get the stash out of there, I’m done. Maybe I’ll consider early retirement.”
“Here’s a thought,” Rory said. “We have a whole bunch of players seriously interested in Demetrius’ property now that he’s gone. I’m guessing at least some of those objects Jiro got his hands on in Guam are going to open a whole lot of other storage areas like this one. Armor Team Five could use some help tracking them down.”
The Blind swirled open and the Portalkeeper bowed in formal greeting.
“I’ll give it some thought,” Maika stepped closer to give each of them, including Alex, a one armed hug and a clap on the back. “Mahalo, Alex.”
Alex knew it meant thank you. He handed Maika the box with the disc inside. “You’re welcome. Take care.” He stepped into the portal beside Rory.
Nic lifted a hand to wave and followed Alex into the portal. Within seconds they were standing in the Grove once more.
He was left with a strange disoriented feeling, Alex followed Nic and Rory back out onto Wildwood Avenue. They both seemed lost in thought once more. Or were they t-pathing? He still wasn’t sure. Looking at his cell phone, he realized it was only twelve o’clock. Weird.
When they reached the Armor office Rory turned to them both. “I’ve got calls to make and thinking to do. I’ll call you, Nic, when I’m ready to talk strategy.” Rory turned to Alex. “You did good today. Thanks. You’re both off duty until training tomorrow.” With that he walked into the office.
“How are we supposed to follow treasure hunting after breakfast?” Alex asked.
Nic smiled and clapped a hand on his shoulder and began steering Alex toward OTP. “House hunting after lunch.”