Cole asked Delaney to meet him at a sushi place near the beach in Newport, saying she'd never be able to find his house. That seemed a little odd, and she wondered if his house hidden far off in the outskirts of the city, or if he just had that little faith in her map skills. Either way, after the long drive out from Drake's Hollow, she's hungry, and a sushi place seems like the perfect place to meet.
She joins him at his table, maintaining a cool smile and a casual air, hiding her nervousness. He's the boss, and he called her here, alone. She can't think of any work related reason he'd want to meet her without Jack and Ian, and if it's not the job that brings her her, well, she can only think of one other thing he might want from her, and Delaney just isn't sure she wants that kind of relationship with him. She'd already made that mistake with Ian, and keeping him in line has been more trouble than it was worth. An affair with Cole would not be so easily managed, and though it would get her far ahed of the game very fast, she can't see how she'd be able to keep Jack. And she wants to keep Jack, she's very clear on that, at least. But if Cole asks, and she refuses...? Would he just drop her?
"I want to talk about your technique," Cole starts, and Delaney is reassured by his businesslike attitude, and by the reminder that she does have something Cole can't get from just anyone. Her uncle's potions, which she's managed to use without revealing the secret to Jack or Ian, give her an edge over every potential thief out there. And Cole has to be smart enough to recognize that her skills as a thief would outweigh any sexual desire he might express, if he should go that route. "You have an extraordinary ability to simply disappear while on the job. Security cameras can't catch you, you bypass alarms without triggering them. You're in and out like, well, a ghost," he finishes.
"I'm very good at what I do," she says confidently.
"Yes, but so was Wicked John, and yet you've completely replaced him as the leader of your team. You're so invisible and so quick, he's become more of hindrance than help to you, hasn't he?"
Delaney perks up at this, seeing a way to permanently rid herself of that problem. "Ian isn't totally useless," she says with a laugh, not wanting to appear too eager to throw her teammate under the bus.
"Look, Ghost, I'm going to be very direct here," Cole says, "You dodged me before when I asked what you know about your town's history. But it's obvious you're using magic. And I can sense you're...my kind. The fairies are naturally suspicious of me, so I can't get anything out of them. So, I'm asking you, where did you learn your skills? Who is mentoring you? And why are you all in hiding?"
"I...I have no idea what you're talking about," Delaney admits, "I don't use magic. My uncle, he's a chemist, or whatever, and he makes these potions...that's what I'm using." She feels suddenly deflated and even replaceable, now, her own skills no better than Ian's without the aid of Farrell's potions.
Cole frowns, not sure if this is the truth at last or another dodge. People like himself will usually come up with anything rather than admit to using magic.
"And I suppose you don't know why a MorcuCorp operative is tailing you?" Cole asks, recognizing the woman leaning casually against a nearby partition.
"What's MorcuCorp?" Delaney asks.
"My guess is they're what you're hiding from," Cole surmises. Either she's sticking very hard to her cover, or she really is as innocent as she pretends.
"Hiding?" Delaney asks, "From that guy? The redhead?"
"No, he's some schmuck she's lured in as cover. The blonde is the MorcuCorp operative," Cole says, "Well, it's time we shake her off us."
"You see this?" Cole asks as he stands and suddenly starts to glow, "This is magic. Now, stay close. We're going to my place."
And just like that, they're standing in his living room. As far as Delaney could tell, there were no potions involved.
"How did you do that?" Delaney asks.
"You really don't know," Cole finally accepts her unfeigned ignorance, "Potions can be useful, but they can also be an encumbrance. There are not many people in this world with the ability to call on this kind of magic, but you are one of those few, Delaney. I sensed it as soon as met you, and I thought you'd already been awakened to that."
"I don't have any magic," Delaney bites her lip, wondering how much she should says, even after witnessing his own display, "My cousin Shadow casts spells. He runs a magic shop in town, but I don't know anything about that. He gets it from his mother."
"Right, the witch Tansy mentioned. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm no witch, Delaney, and neither are you. We share a very different heritage. We're dragons."
"You've lost me," Delaney says.
"I know that feeling," Cole admits, "And I know what it's like to be you, driven by an inner fire you can't explain, making bad decisions that destroy your relationships. Let me tell you a story, about this snake here," Cole gestures toward the gold cobra statuette on display in front of them, "My father was a thief once, albeit not a very good one. He was very in love with my mother, and decided he would woo her with a very special gift for her birthday. She was very fond of snakes. We had them all over the house growing up. So, my father got the idea that he'd steal this beauty from a museum for her."
"Wow," Delaney says, "That's love."
Cole laughs, "My father was crazy about my mother. But, as I said, not a very good thief. He had the job planned out, but he ran into my mother a few hours before he was to carry it out. So, on a romantic whim, he invited her to do the job with him. And her presence distracted him, he tripped an alarm and they got caught, and thrown in jail. After my mother beat up the arresting officer."
"Seriously?" Delaney laughs, "But, if they got caught, how did you get this snake?"
"My father paid a better thief to acquire it for him. He gave up the criminal life before I was born."
"So, the point of this story is that to be a great thief, you have to give up on love and lead a solitary life? That's why you're alone?"
"Not at all," Cole answers, "My father was never going to be a great thief, it just wasn't in him. My mother was very lucky to have my father. She was a dragon, you see, and had all the personality issues that come with the territory. My father put himself in the line of her fire, and was devoted enough to her to take it stride. That's a rare thing to find, and I haven't yet been so lucky; I've burned through every relationship I've been in. But that's not the point of the story, either. It's about knowing who you are. My father became a thief because that's what his father did. But it wasn't what he was, and he realized it early enough to get out before it ruined everything he had. I grew up not knowing my mother was a dragon, we all just thought she was incredibly hot-tempered and ornery. I grew up not knowing who I was, not understanding the fire that drove me, and it made me miserable. It wasn't until I discovered who I was and learned how to control, and use, the gifts that come with being a dragon, that I was able to get some handle on myself. And even now, after all these, it's still a struggle. I see you going through the same thing, Delaney, and I want to help you awaken your inner dragon."
"That's an interesting story," Delaney says, "But, I'm not a dragon. I'm not even sure what you mean by that."
"You are a dragon, even if you don't realize or understand it. And it has control of you, it drives you. If you let it run free, it could destroy you, but if you master it, master yourself, there's nothing you can't do. Take some time to think about that, about your life as you've lived it, and we'll talk more tomorrow."
He shows to her to a guest room, one of many in his mansion by the beach.
Her life as she's lived it...Delaney thinks she knows what Cole was getting at, her urge to rebel, to do what was forbidden. And her own inability to stop herself when her urges would take her too far, she realizes in a flash of understanding. Cole spoke of burning through his relationships...she's been lucky, so far, that Jack hasn't learned what she did with Ian, that he's stuck with her, put himself, as Cole had described his father's relationship with his mother, in the line of her fire. This whole dragon thing is a bit over her head, but maybe Cole does have something to teach her.
"So, when you say you're a dragon, that I'm a dragon...that's just a metaphor, right?" Delaney asks when they sit on the patio for breakfast.
"No, I mean that quite literally. Though, the art of transformation is something I still have yet to learn. The old dragon, my grandfather, can be a little stingy with his lessons. I only got what I did from him because he needed a favor from me. So, we're stuck in these human forms. But we are dragons."
"How am I a dragon? And doesn't that make my sister a dragon, too? She's nothing like me. She's, you know, a good girl. Smart, obeys the rules, happily married..."
"Your ancestry goes very far back, I'd imagine. There aren't that many dragons who have mated with humans. There aren't that many dragons left at all. And the dragon doesn't manifest in everyone born of dragon ancestry. It can lie dormant in a line for generations. When it does show itself, it normally manifests in a somewhat troubled personality. But there's great power that comes with being a dragon, even without being able to transform. The magic you saw me perform at the restaurant...no one there saw that, no one will even remember we were there at all, not even the MorcuCorp operative who was spying on you."
"You can teach me to do that?" Delaney asks, very interested.
"You'll teach yourself," Cole says, "It comes with fully awakening the dragon that lies dormant inside you. That's what I'll be teaching you. The rest is up to you."
For the human's living in Drake's Hollow, the arboretum houses rare species of small trees requiring a specialized environment.
For a fairy like Tansy Sunbright, it's a portal to another world, a place that exists only in the mind of her father, Auberon Nightshroud, a land he calls the Fae, open to any of his kind.
Most fairies dwell in the Fae exclusively, avoiding the human dominated mortal realm that they once called home. There, Tansy seeks and finds her half-sister, Evenfall.
"He paid us a visit," Tansy says, sitting on the grass beside Evie.
"It's funny how of all the many thousands of 'hes' that you might be referring to, fae, human or...otherwise...I know exactly who you are referring to. Even stranger that you bear him more animosity than I."
"He broke your heart, Evie!" Tansy says sharply, "How could I forgive him?"
"My heart..." Evenfall says, dropping off as she stares off into some distant past, much as their father does whenever she tries to talk to him. Tansy gives her an exasperated nudge to bring her attention back to the present. "My heart," Evie continues, "is perfectly fine. Unbroken."
Tansy rolls her eyes, "I wasn't being literal."
"I know," Evie says, "I had a human mother, after all. But you, Tansy, you think and speak so much like them! How old are you, now?"
Tansy frowns, hating when the elders bring up her age. And they're all elders compared to her, only her own two sons being remotely close to her in age. "Just over a century, now," she reminds her sister.
"What did Rory want of you?" Evenfall asks, bringing the subject back around.
"His business. He wants to use the wards we've laid to protect his criminal concerns."
"That seems harmless enough," Evie says.
"I don't understand how you can be so..." Tansy fumbles for a word.
"I've lived with dragons," Evenfall reminds her sister, "If you'd ever loved a dragon, you'd understand. If I can forgive him, so should you, sister. At the very least, leave him be. His business is no concern of yours, nor will it interfere with your task."
"You don't remember anything after you sent me that text from the restaurant?" Geoffrey asks.
"I don't even remember sending you the text," Peridot says, frowning. This kind of failure is unacceptable, and she knows it.
"The text came from you. Only you have that number to contact me. And it was written in your code," Geoffrey says, "You don't remember following the Brannon girl to the restaurant?"
"I...no," Peridot admits, "I remember being on a job, but it's...blurry. Like a dream. I was in the sushi place, talking to some guy. I saw...something...I knew it was important, I had to tell you. But...no, it's gone."
"The text you sent said she was with Bowman," Geoffrey muses, "That's not a good sign."
"I failed you," Peridot says, standing up to pace nervously around his office, "I lost the girl."
Normally, Geoffrey comes down hard on those who have failed him. But Peridot is his best agent, unfaltering in her loyalty. "This is my failure," he admits, taking blame as easily as he takes credit, "I didn't know I was sending you in against a dragon, and didn't prepare you against the wards he can throw."
"Dragon wards," Geoffrey continues, walking over to the ancient dragon tooth trophy taken by one of his illustrious Landgraab ancestors, "I should have picked up on this much sooner. That kind of magic would explain why we haven't been able to find Brannon since he destroyed the Meadow Glen facility. They must be hiding out in a protected area, one not too far from here, apparently. To get to them, we'll need to get to someone who knows the place well enough to get past the wards."
"Bowman?" Peridot suggests.
"No, he'd recognize you. Well, your face, anyway," Peridot is a clone, and had never been in personal contact with Bowman, but her predecessors had. And that is of course how he knew to cast the wards to get him and the Brannon girl away from his agent. "But he has extensive connections throughout the area, and if he's dealing with the Branon girl, he must have business in their town. Sooner or later one of his underlings will have to travel in and out of the area. Find one of them, and subordinate him, and we're in."
"I won't fail you," Peridot promises, with a tone that says she has something to prove. Well, of course she does, Geoffrey thinks, remembering the history of failure presented by her predecessors. They were made to be the perfect operatives, but each had in her own way fallen on the job. Peridot knows that, and it's a legacy she's striven to overcome.
"I trust you," Geoffrey says, smiling just slightly. Being a clone himself, he knows only too well the burden the carry, to be better than their genetic material, to be different than the model they were copied from. Pearl, the first of her kind, was the reason they lost the Brannon genes in the first place. Her emotional attachment to her child was her downfall. With her successor, Teal, they tried stronger conditioning. She was loyal to the end, but lacked the capacity for independent thinking that Pearl had. With Peridot, Geoffrey changed their indoctrination tactics entirely, and saw he raised and indoctrinated the same way he had been. And so far, it seems to have worked. Raised like a Landgraab, she strives to be a Landgraab, using Geoffrey himself as her model in everything she does, even down to the way she dresses. "You are my right hand, Peridot. You are my eyes and ears." It's a bit of an exaggeration, but he can see by her smile of pride that it's what she needs.
Jack shows up at the Brannon house early on Saturday morning.
"Dad!" Jace greets him with a big hug. "Mom came home this morning. She upstairs, waiting for you. You're still going to take me fishing, right?"
"You know it," Jack promises, his smile hiding his surprise and dismay at the news, "Let me go see your Mom for a few minutes, then we'll go."
She's in the shower when he gets up to her room, so Jack waits, steeling himself to say what he has to say.
"There you are," she says with a smile, coming out of the bathroom, "Cole wants---"
"Did you sleep with him?" Jack asks, cutting her off.
"What?" Delaney asks, surprised by his interruption, and his tone.
"I asked if you slept with Cole," he says, obviously meaning business.
Well, Delaney knows where the suspicion came from, she'd had her doubts about Cole's intentions, too. "No I didn't sleep with Cole," she says confidently, glad she doesn't have to lie about it. "He told me--" she carries on, trying to move the conversation along.
But Jack isn't finished, "But you did sleep with Ian," he accuses.
"Jack," Delaney sighs, "Whatever Ian told you..."
"Stop bullshitting me, Laney! I know when Ian's lying, and I know this is the truth. You slept with him. While I was sitting in jail, you fucked my partner."
"It was just the once," Delaney says feebly, knowing how shitty and lame an excuse that is.
"Once is enough, Laney!" Jack shouts, then pulls his voice back down so the whole house doesn't hear their argument, "Why? Why would you cheat on me?"
"Jack, it was a mistake," she pleads, "A really stupid mistake. It didn't mean anything, You're the one I love."
"How am I supposed to believe anything you say?" Jack asks, pulling her hand away as she tries to caress him.
Delaney moves in more forcefully this time, pressing her lips against his. "Jack," she whispers, "Don't do this. Don't destroy us over this." He's never been able to resist her, she can fix this, she knows it. For a moment, as he holds her in his arms, responds to her kiss, it seems to be working.
"You're the one that destroyed us," Jack growls, pulling away from her.
"Jack, please, let me explain," Delaney pleads, hoping for one last chance.
"You don't need to explain," Jack says, walking away, "I know who you are. And I just need some time away from this, from you. To figure out why I love you, and how to live without you."
So, those who have read my Roman legacy might recognize the story Cole/Rory Bowman tells Delaney. If you haven't read it, here's some history that might put stuff in context: Rory Bowman was a spare in the fifth generation of the Roman legacy, the grandson of Aymeri, a dragon who had married the third generation heir. (The family changed their name to Bowman after the incident Cole tells Delaney, as his parents were on the run from the law). SP put Rory into the criminal career as soon as he moved out, It also put him through two bad marriages that ended in divorce. In the 6th generation, my heir rolled the Adventurer career and came up against MorcuCorp, who had targeted her for her dragon ancestry. They kidnapped her to do genetic experiments on her, and her great-grandfather Aymeri reappeared at this point to help her husband, himself a Landgraab clone who'd escaped MorcuCorp's clutches, rescue her. Rory became involved in this and one other mission Aymeri was involved in during this generation. And while I was focused on my heir, naturally, I did kind of imagine that Rory's new found connection to his grandfather would lead to some important self-discoveries on his part. Which are now finding their way into this legacy.
And, just to clear up how Rory is still alive and young...that's one of the perks of awakening your inner dragon.
And I guess I should explain some history on the Landgraab clones while I'm at it. In the third generation of my Roman legacy, Harris Landgraab, a born in game Sim, is the political rival of my heir. Obsessed with himself and his own perfection and making himself immortal, he has himself cloned. And from then on, MorcuCorp, which is run by Landgraabs, makes new Harris Landgraab clones to run the company. Geoffrey is one of these clones. (He's not the SV Geoffrey Landgraab, to be clear).
From histhoughts about the three Pearl clones he's experienced in his lifetime, Geoffrey is pretty clearly a long-lived individual. Could he be the same Geoffrey Landgraab from my Roman legacy? Maybe. They were obsessed with immortality, after all.