Gabriel had never appreciated the trips abroad with his father and the family company lawyers. He found the entire matter gruesomely tiring and extremely pretentious, but he knew his father had a reputation to maintain, and travelling abroad kept the dots connected and the lines hot between the houses of Darklighters. Officially there were 250 members of the family, but unofficially it was twice the size, if not more. Each branch had its houses and smaller clans, and the head of the branch controlled the houses and clans within, but it was indisputably Matthew’s final word, in any matter, that settled whatever conflicts had arisen needing to be taken care of, by the head of the family.
Needless to say, Matthew was a busy man, and Gabriel had to follow his footsteps twenty-four seven seeing that he had begun his apprenticeship as one of his father’s Agents. He would return in half a year to the Axis Academy, finish the basic course and then advance to the Agent course, which was tutored strictly by his father himself and a few selected mentors. The Agent course was one of the hardest programs. Not even the Special Forces in the military had training or education like they had. The basic course was hard enough, but the Agent course was nigh impassable. The most famous Agents were Matthew’s personal bodyguards, Mathieu Nathaniel from France and Shade Letoile of the Phoenix-Darklighter branch. Gabriel would without doubt advance to their level. He had attempted twice at passing the basic course, but each time he had been expelled because his aggression had cost one teacher his life and two others severe injuries. Matthew had given him one of the longest quarantines in the history of the academy, and it ended next year. Until then he had been placed by his father’s side to learn what he could as well, about the management of the family and of the family company.
It was a tiresome position, but he knew it was important if he wanted the slightest chance of advancing. He might have been born the heir of the family empire, but he was always rivalled by his cousins, Zacharias especially. Besides being Gabriel’s cousin, Zacharias was his father’s most trusted lawyer, the youngest even, as well. Zacharia’s two elder brothers, Patrick and Marek, were extremely well-educated physicists and engineers who also worked for the company. Their sister Rachel, on the other hand, was an environmentalist, freelance journalist and did everything in her power to oppose her uncle and his control of the family. Not that she succeeded, but she sure tried.
Normally, family members who tried opposing the head of the family were ostracized, but Rachel was the second in command after Gabriel in the young generation. If something should happen and Gabriel would be unable to become the heir of the family, Rachel was the one to take over, and because she was part of the Core – the members closest to the head of the family – she was too important to ostracize. Besides, her mother, Isobel, would transform into the Devil itself, if any of her children turned out to be outcasts and have the name Darklighter removed and replaced with Davis instead and be hunted by the Agents for the rest of their now short lives.
Having a Darklighter Agent on one’s tail meant a period of five to eight days left of your life. Few had managed to get away and hide. The longest a Davis had survived, was approximately 2 years. The present outcasts, who had been on the loose for the longest period of time were Cato and Angelo. They had tried to save their sister Nicola from the initiation rite, which was Matthew’s privilege when the younger girls and boys of the family came of age, thus opposing the traditions of the family. The following day of their rescue-attempt their bank accounts had been closed, their passports had been nullified and all their personal data destroyed. And then began the hunt. One or two Agents were put on the case. It was their job to eliminate all data about the outcasts. In some cases, they had acted too late and the Davises had been able to leave the country where their house resided, enabling secure escape. The Agents, who failed to follow a proper protocol and who lost a Davis of sight, were put back to ordinary paper work until they could advance again.
But if they succeeded in keeping the Davis within the borders, the game was set for a terrible hunt. The Agent was practically invisible. The Davis, on the other hand, was defenceless and unable to find shelter of any kind from the danger lurking close by. Each branch was safely monitored by three or four Agents and when one or more members of a branch were ostracized, they took up arms and began the hunt.
Gabriel looked around in the compartment of the airplane. They were somewhere over the Atlantic. A calm journey so far. As a matter of fact, he had no real clue as to why he did not like the trips. He knew he had to act modest and give off an impression on the houses they visited to keep the daughters interested. Not that he wanted to, but it was his job. They had to have the possibility of becoming the next lady of the family when he took over. It wasn’t that hard. His looks did it for him, but his heart lay somewhere else.
He glanced down at the silver ring. Only the Core knew. He knew Rachel or Deirdre were potential candidates for his official spouse when the time came, they were the only two of his cousins he held a vague sort of affection to, enough to father a child or two and to care for them and their mother, but no more than that.
He heard his father end a conversation with Zacharias, and he approached Gabriel’s seat where he settled down, leaned back and sighed heavily as he closed his eyes.
“Trouble?” Gabriel asked and put a calming hand upon his father’s. Matthew turned his head with one eye open to look at him before returning to his previous state.
“James is giving me a headache,” he answered and massaged his temples.
“You could’ve sent Isobel or Marcus instead…”
“No, I have to be there to take care of this myself, to make them stop their bickering,” Matthew replied sharply. Gabriel nodded understanding. “I’m tired of always hearing about their disputes. It’s once a month now. The Tarleys and Beauregards can’t seem to find one moment’s peace. The tiniest chance and they stir up the entire Mississippi.”
Gabriel shrugged. “Maybe they’ve got liable reasons,” he said. “You know how it is with immortality. Feuds can go on and on and practically never stop until one of them greets the sun.”
“Terry and Alex would rather be ostracized than greet the sun,” Matthew growled annoyed, but a kiss on his cheek from Gabriel erased some of the strain. Their fingers slipped in between each other.
“Don’t worry, father,” the young voice spoke clear as a ray of sun through stormy clouds. “Everything is going to be just fine. When you show up there won’t be any more of their childish prattling behind their backs and everything will return to normal. I can’t believe they force you to go through all this trouble to settle their affairs.” Gabriel looked away and out of the window. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”
Matthew laughed which caught Gabriel slightly off-guard. He looked inquiringly at his father whose laughter stilled and only his eyes showed amusement.
“And I can’t believe you’re troubling yourself with this for my sake,” Matthew said lovingly. Gabriel turned away his face but he could not help smiling.
“I’m just saying we could be at home now, instead of here,” he suggested and looked back at his father. They smiled at each other, no words needed.
“But now we’re here, and we have business to take care of, darling,” Matthew answered, the smile waning to a thin line. Gabriel nodded again.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said sighing heavily.