When Ajax stepped through the portal to return to the Tower, he kept his head down and his hands in his pockets, with the vague idea of acting like he was exactly where he was supposed to be and always had been.
“—they don’t show up soon, Jehane, we—” said Jake. He looked at Ajax as soon as he appeared. “The truants return.” He was standing with a crowd of people, including Natalie and Jehane. Some of them had guns, which surprised Ajax enough that he stopped dead.
“I’m not truant, Dad,” protested Seth, dodging around Ajax easily. “I was the opposite of truant.”
Jake gave his son a dark look. “I’ll talk to you later, Seth. For now, you’re heading out with the team looking for Malachi. Keep the Awakened off the Prowlers. As for you, Ajax—”
“Ajax was useful, Dad,” said Seth, in an impression of Natalie at her most earnest. “As useful as Elian, at least.” He threw an easy grin at Elian. “No offense, man.”
“None taken,” said Elian. “Guy saved my life. Can’t grudge that.”
“It’s okay,” said Ajax. “How much trouble can I be in? What are they going to do, ground me?” He ran a cool gaze over Jake. “I don’t think I’m going to be beaten.”
Jake gave him a wry look but before he could answer, another man spoke. “Aren’t you the kid wanted for murder?” He was a lean older man with a weathered face and a big gun just visible under his jacket. “I can think of three disciplinary measures that would discommode you a mite just off the top of my head. Don’t push Jake just because he’s a nice guy. A lot of the rest of us aren’t.” The man positioned a floppy brown hat on his head and winked at Ajax before strolling over to another portal.
Ajax paused. Then he said, “Right.” He addressed Jake. “Sir, I just want you to know that what I absolutely dread is a firm scolding. That’s the worst. It’s even worse than kittens.”
Jake’s mouth twitched, but all he said was, “Later. I have to talk to Linc,” and turned to have a final conversation with the guy with the big gun, who was apparently the leader of the hunting party. Ajax took the opportunity to join Natalie, Jehane and Seth.
“You probably should sit this one out, big guy,” said Seth. “Endure your kittens.”
“I know. You guys are going after the guy who made the Cambion?”
“That’s the idea,” said Natalie. She frowned, her hazel eyes darkening. “They’re so sure.”
“Well, I’m sure that Cambion killed Leo. Broke things with my— Anyhow, so if this is the guy who’s responsible for that, you get him.”
Jehane sighed, never looking up from the spot on her shoes she was fixedly staring at. Ajax had never seen her this withdrawn.
“We’ll get him,” said Linc, strolling over. “With his Cambion destroyed, his most powerful supernatural ally has been removed. That’s going to help out a lot. He’ll be dangerous, but nothing we can’t handle if we’re smart and coordinated.” He raised his voice. “It’d be nice if we could take him down without killing him. We’d all feel better about that. But we can’t wait for that possibility to present itself. If we do, people will die. Keep that in mind if you end up facing him, and don’t hesitate.”
There was a chorus of agreement from most of the people gathered. Linc nodded, and raised his hand. When the portal opened, he put one hand on Jehane’s shoulder. “Come along now, little one. You’re going to help your friends stay safe.” He nodded at Natalie and Seth to precede him through the portal, then steered Jehane through.
Another Prowler went to step through, and the image flickered. Then dust billowed out of the shimmering image. The Prowler hesitated, and the image collapsed down to a point and vanished.
“I’ve lost my lock on the Vancouver gate,” announced Kentigern. “Something’s happened on the other side.”
“Oh hell,” said Jake, suddenly pale. He pointed at one of the Prowlers. “Our closest agent is in Seattle. Get through any American portal and call him. Tell him to open a portal immediately. The rest of you, as soon as the Seattle portal opens, get through and drive to Vancouver. No, I don’t care how you get a car!” The Prowlers were clearly used to reacting to a crisis, because after only a few seconds of shock, they scattered through the hall. The other Seneschals were slower, but after a moment, they too moved off in different directions. Jake remained, staring intently at the broken portal his children had vanished through.
Ajax’s fists clenched. “What’s going on?”
Elian stood beside him, as pale as Jake. “I don’t know. The mechanisms that generate the signal must have been damaged.”
“Don’t they have latchkeys? Can’t they use those?” Ajax stared at the mirrored portal frame. His own helpless, useless reflection stared back at him.
“Are they even alive? What did that plume of dust mean?” asked Elian in response.
Kentigern announced, “No incoming latchkey signals detected.” His voice was edged, the first sign of stress Ajax had detected in the entity.
Ajax ran his hands through his hair. “Could it be coincidence? Sunspots or something?”
Elian hugged his elbows. “Mighty big coincidence, or else the Echthros was waiting for them, to cut them off. Like a trap or something.”
“That’s what I thought it meant,” said Ajax.
Jake said grimly, “It means that if we didn’t know this was coming, there’s a lot more we can’t predict coming, too. This guy is far too organized to be an ordinary Echthros. Oh, my kids…”