I found myself in the middle of a stand of sycamore trees on a trail, in the middle of sunset on a blissfully warm spring night. Andreas stepped away, turning around to get his bearings. The red light glinted off of Andreas’ hair, setting his newly dark locks ablaze. It stunned me, to see him silhouetted in darkness with fiery hair. My breath caught in my throat watching him. He truly was beautiful. He turned abruptly and looked at me, and I knew instantly that he had felt what I had felt. He flashed a smile at me. I blushed.
The fairies jumped out of my pockets with excited chatter. “Weshouldfind our cousins, we should!” Frank exclaimed, doing a loop-de-loop, and glitter sprinkled off of him in a colorful swirl.
“Go find them and met us at Lewis’ home,” I whispered. “Aislinn, what’s the address?” I asked, unthinking.
Myrrh hovered in front of my nose and scoffed. “We don’t need an address. We can’t read maps anyway, but I can findyouanywhere!” She said, speeding up her words with uncontained excitement. “You’re a friendofthefairies! We’ll be there withthecavalry!” Brandishing her toothpick sword, she and Frank zoomed off and disappeared, a trail of glitter drifting to the ground the only thing to mark their path.
“This way,” Andreas instructed us, and took off on a trot down the trail through the brush towards what I hoped was the visitor’s center. Aislinn and I jogged after him. For once I was immensely grateful that I spent so much time running at the gym. I simultaneously cursed myself for not having gone in almost two weeks. It was an uneventful jog across the wilderness park. We left the sycamores behind, emerging into a rolling landscape of chaparral and sage scrub. The trail was well-beaten, and in broad daylight the landscape was probably lovely. In pending darkness it glowed with a soft iridescent green, quite possibly even more lovely than it was in daylight. I wondered if I would ever get used to plants glowing at me.
Finally, about twenty minutes later, the outline of a building emerged out of the darkness, and we huffed our way to the visitor’s center. I staggered to a stop, breathing hard, trying to catch my breath. Neither Andreas nor Aislinn seemed winded at all. Apparently I was the only one who huffed my way to the visitor’s center. Why didn’t I get that angelic trait? I wondered crossly, as my heart hammered in my chest and my lungs pumped air like bellows.
We made our way to the parking lot in front of the visitor’s center, and a taxi cab was sitting there waiting patiently. We let ourselves in. “Where to?” spoke the driver.
“The airport,” said Aislinn.
“But we just got here!” I whispered furtively to her. I was confused. Why would we head to the airport? We had just barely teleported here, and we were going to Marshall Lewis’ house, not meeting his plane, weren’t we?
“We need a rental car,” she replied softly. “Unless you happen to keep one lying about in San Diego, because I certainly don’t. I reserved one before we left.”
Well, I felt foolish. Naturally we wouldn’t be storming the castle riding on the back of a taxicab, although that particular vision did make me want to laugh.
The cab took off at a mad cap pace. We were on a very rural, secluded road in the middle of apparent wilderness. Aislinn wasn’t kidding when she said Andreas liked rural jump sites. The road emerged after a mile or two into a more suburban area. The flat ranch dwellings, stucco roofs, and palm trees were typical southern Californian, I thought. I wish I knew more about palm tree varieties. I identified California fan palms, and queen palms, and palmetto trees, but we were driving so fast they were hard to keep track of. I gave up trying when our cabbie pulled onto a freeway, heading west, racing well over the speed limit. We tore through the town at breakneck speeds, and I was amazed that our crazy cabbie didn’t get pulled over. Outside of billboards and the occasional flash of stucco and the smell of ocean, I didn’t get an opportunity to scope out the city much. I had never been here before, and was slightly disappointed. We were in a hurry, however, and on a mission, so there really wasn’t time to stop and smell the roses.
It only took us about fifteen minutes to drive all the way to the airport. I kept hoping to spot some of the ocean, but I was dismally disappointed that it didn’t appear until we pulled into the terminal. Aislinn directed the driver to drop us off near the rental cars. He happily obliged.
Aislinn had rented us a sensible black sport utility vehicle. We piled our backpacks in the back. Andreas looked at Aislinn gravely as she climbed into the driver’s seat. “In, out, and on our way,” he said curtly. She nodded in agreement. Andreas climbed into the back seat with me, and held my hand the entire trip.
“Off to La Jolla!” Aislinn said, flashing us a grin in the rear view mirror. She pulled out of the parking garage and we headed up the coast.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the beach in La Jolla,” I said wistfully. Rob grew up near there, and always had such fantastic things to say about La Jolla. He liked to surf, and always came back from visiting his family with a nice tan and tales of the beach.
“Have you been here before?” Andreas asked me as Aislinn tore down Mission Bay Drive.
I shook my head. “I don’t get out of Seattle much, despite what our cross-country jaunts this past week may imply.” I was an admitted workaholic. I preferred my greenhouse to just about anywhere. Why travel when I had my own personal Shangri La just five blocks from my house? I peered out the window. The pale stucco buildings hugged the coastline, stubbornly refusing to part to allow me more than a glimpse of the ocean, sparkling in the moonlight, until we emerged at the docks. Rows of recreational motor boats and sail boats lined the pier. The blue water of Mission Bay was ink black at night. We crossed a bridge onto an island in the middle of the bay. I got the impression that it was more of a recreational island than a residential one. There wasn’t a house in site, but the well-groomed landscape glowed green with life. Crossing another bridge, we emerged again back on the main land.
Aislinn seemed to know exactly where she was going, driving with a fast confidence. I, however, was extraordinarily lost, outside of having the ocean as a reference to west. “Come here often?” I asked her. “You sure seem to know your way around.”
She laughed and shook her head. “GPS,” she said, pointing to the GPS mounted on the dashboard.
I felt incredibly stupid at that, and shook my head. How that escaped my attention is beyond me. I was stupid, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was beginning to doubt this whole plan. I was out of my element and in over my head and felt like I was beating my head against a solid brick wall.
Andreas squeezed my hand and leaned over to whisper in my ear. “You aren’t.”
I gasped and turned to him. “What, are you reading minds now, too?” Emotions were one thing. I could accept that, however much I didn’t like it. My thoughts, however, were my own, and that is something I could never accept.
He laughed softly and shook his head. “No, but I can feel it,” he said quietly. “You are worried, you are scared, you feel overwhelmed, your angry, you’re frustrated, but you’re amazingly calm in the eye of the storm, and you’ve handled everything thrown at you in the past week with an incredible strength and acceptance. I just wanted you to know that you’re pretty exceptional. But don’t go doing anything stupid like dying on me, I couldn’t take it,” he finished with a smile.
I laughed, caught off guard by his unexpected flattery. I relaxed, feeling much better. He squeezed my hand in silent acknowledgement of my mood change. I smiled.
The rest of our road trip flew by. Aislinn guided us a little further north. We left the coast and drove inland, gaining elevation. She took us through neighborhood after neighborhood. The houses began to get larger, with larger lawns, and fancier fences, and I knew we were driving further upscale as we went. I started to get nervous, but focused on maintaining my calm like Grant had taught me. The view of the coastline got better and better as we climbed higher and higher. Finally, right as the main road curved sharply to the left, she took the exit going straight, into what the roadside sign said was the Mt. Soledad Park. What is it with these people and natural parks? I wondered. She rolled to a stop in the parking lot a few hundred feet up the road, into another apparent suburban wilderness.
My nervousness kicked back in, and this time I couldn’t quell it. Andreas opened his door and turned to me. “Rhi, you are going to be fine. At the first sign of trouble I want you to teleport back to Felix’s house, ok?” he said, eying me with concern and reassurance. I nodded my head.
We unloaded our bags from the back of the SUV. Aislinn pulled out some paper from one bag, and began unfolding it onto the parking lot pavement. It was an aerial map of the area, very detailed. She gestured for us to kneel down. “We’re about a half mile from his house,” she said quietly. “We are here,” she pointed to our parking lot on the map. “His house is here,” she said, pointing to a large complex that abutted a corner of the park. She unrolled a set of printouts of his estate layout and house. It looked rather large and formidable. I figured it must have covered at least a couple of acres, surrounded by fences. “I didn’t have time to hack into his system and find his security codes, so we’re going to be winging this old school style,” she told us, a gravely serious expression on her face. “If your fairy friends are true to their word, though, we shouldn’t have too much of a problem with the guards, and between them and me, we can probably handle the security system.”
“What’s our plan of attack?” Andreas asked. Plan of attack? I didn’t like the sound of that. Breaking and entering was one thing, attacking was another. But, I thought, bemusedly, isn’t that what we were here to do? Marshall Lewis was after me, and we were here to find out why. That might require more than just a little breaking and entering. That thought made me a little uncomfortable and more than a little nervous.
Aislinn pointed to a gate in the back fence abutting the park. “We’re coming in from the rear,” she said, flashing him a grin.
I heard the buzz of fairy wings. Frank zoomed into view, accompanied by a chattering gaggle of fairies, all darting about excitedly. It was chaos in miniature form for a minute until they finally settled down, landing on the ground in the center of the blue prints. Frank and Myrrh were both there, along with four other enthusiastic fairies, all chattering animatedly. I guessed there were two adults, a male and a female, and two younger ones of indeterminate age. Is there such a thing as fairy teenagers? One was male, and the other female. They all sparkled and shimmered. Fairies, frankly, were adorable, I decided. Everyone should have one.
“Rhiannon Maddox,” Frank said, with a formal bow, speaking unusually slowly, “May I introduce our cousins. This is Saffron,” he gestured to the woman, who curtsied with a giggle, fairy sprinkles showering off of her as she did. She had long black hair tied back with a silken ribbon, and wore midnight blue. “Her husband Foxglove,” Frank continued.
“Just Fox!” he piped up with a bounce. He looked a lot like Frank, actually. They could have been brothers instead of cousins.
“Ahem,” said Frank. “Don’t interruptme, toadflax!” he shouted rapidly, shoving him. “I’mmaking formalintroductions!” I smiled in amusement. Foxglove – Fox – stepped back, abashed. “This is their daughter Nutmeg.” Nutmeg waved enthusiastically. She was a petite little thing, even for fairies. “And this is their son Patchouli. Patch,” he added quickly, before Patch had a chance to interrupt like his father did and ruin Frank’s scene.
I cleared my throat. “It is very lovely to me you all,” I said, smiling at them.
“Patch and Nutmeg are going to guard the car,” Saffron said, giving them both a stern look. They both voiced serious objections, but she put her foot down, like a good mother. “Youtwo aretoo young!” she snapped. “You willstayhere where it’s safe and watchour backs!” They were unhappy, but they didn’t argue.
“Good,” said Aislinn. “Now that everybody’s here we can get started.” She passed out the small earbud walkie-talkies to Andreas and I. “Stick close to the fairies,” she said to me somberly. “They will help protect you.”
Andreas laughed in disbelief. “What can fairies possibly do?” His comment unnerved me a little. It seemed that there was some serious prejudice in the supernatural world against fairies, and that bothered me. Can’t we all just get along? There was enough discrimination in the human world, it saddened me to see it in the supernatural world.
I shouldn’t have worried, the fairies always seemed to be able to take care of themselves. Frank took flight, and hovered in midair, drawing his porcupine sword. “You angels,” he said snidely. “You just don’t get it, do you? This is what we were born for.” He looked down at the other fairies, and waved his sword in the air like a call to arms. “Let’s go pillage!” he shouted. With whoops and hollers, all the fairies jumped into the air, flying around in excited fairy pandemonium.
Aislinn began pulling out equipment from her bags. She set up what appeared to be a smaller, more portable version of the computer system at Felix’s house, and a tall antenna. I was impressed with its advanced state. It was too much equipment to carry, I noticed with disappointment. Was she staying behind? “Keep your radios on at all times. Andreas, I don’t want any grief from you about this, but you’re going to let the fairies take the lead until you’re inside,” she said tightly. He started to protest, but she shut him up with a glance. “Unless you know how to disable a security system, I suggest you pay attention,” she snapped. “Frankincense!” she shouted, getting the small man’s attention. He flitted down to her knee. “Your job is to patch me into the security system.” She handed him a small electronic device the size of a keychain, which he instantly shrunk and stuffed away into his seemingly bottomless pocket.“I can disable it once you do. Can you handle that?”
He gave her a smart salute. “Aye aye, captain!” He darted off to get the other fairies attention and calm them down. They all fluttered back to the ground to join us finally.
She smiled. “I’m going to be monitoring everything from here.” Patchouli and Nutmeg perked up visibly hearing that, knowing they were going to be having company, and probably thinking they could help protect the computer equipment and Aislinn, as well. “I’ll have complete access to his security system once the fairies patch me in, and I should be able to hack into his computers then, too. I’ll download as much information as I can. Lewis should be home any time now, if he’s not already there. Be careful. He has guards. They might be armed. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill standard B&E. Rhiannon, you port out of there at the first sign of trouble,” she ordered. I nodded my head. I didn’t need two people telling me to save myself if I needed saving, I got the message. “If one of you gets to Lewis, I’d recommend porting him with you. It would be far easier to have a little, uh, chat with him in circumstances of our control instead of his,” she said with a sweet smile beaming across her face. “Good luck,” she said.
If I thought I had been nervous before, I was wrong. Nervousness reached a whole new level as we dashed silently through the trees, making our way to Lewis’ back door. The fairies flitted silently along with us, all their excited chatter gone. Andreas was amazingly light on his feet, despite his tall frame. I was, as well. I gave silent thanks for my agile angelic bonus.
Andreas stopped us before we reached the gate. “Hold on,” he whispered. “I’m going to check out the gate.
“You can’t see that far,” I hissed. We were still surrounded by trees, blocking any view.
“I can’t, but the trees can,” he whispered. He closed his eyes and focusing on some distant unknown thing. He opened his eyes a moment later. “There’s only one guard at the gate,” he said softly.
“Marshall Lewis obviously isn’t expecting an invasion,” Aislinn said in our ears. “Keep your eyes out. The guard house is only twenty yards to the right of the back gate, there might be more inside.”
Having Aislinn watching the blueprints could be very useful, I realized. I hadn’t considered that. We began moving again, picking our way carefully until the back gate was in view. We crouched behind the bushes, unseen from the guard or the security camera. He spoke to Aislinn. “One guard in site. Can’t make out the guard house. Suggestions?”
“Put the fairies on it,” she said, snorting like she was surprised he hadn’t thought of it first. “The security system access is in the guard house anyway, how else do you expect to get inside?”
Andreas raised a doubting eyebrow, but motioned for Frank. “Can you check out the guard house?”
Frank saluted proudly. “Backina flash!” He gathered up the other three, and the spun around, and with a puff of glitter, disappeared. We just waited patiently, watching the bored guard at the gate. After a brief moment, I saw one of the fairies, I couldn’t make out which one, appear over the guard’s head, and shake their wings violently above him, dousing him liberally with fairy dust. He collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
I looked at Andreas with shock. I was beginning to see why Frank kept saying fairies were born for this. He, however, didn’t seem to be shocked. His expression was gravely serious. The fairy darted our way. It was Myrrh. “Come quickly!” she whispered, still spilling dust as she flew. “It only lasts for a few minutes!”
We got up and clambered down the short hill to the gate. Andreas looked at the security camera warily. “Hi guys,” Aislinn whispered. “I can see you! Wave for the camera.”
I let out a sigh of relief. The fairies had done it! I flashed Andreas a grin, and waved at the camera. Frank and Myrrh both flew down and tugged on my jumpsuit. “Comeon!” Frank said. “Wegotta hurry!”
“I’m opening the gate,” Aislinn said. With a pop, the magnetic lock released, and the gate easily swung inward with a slight push from Andreas. “I’ve got the cameras, you’re free,” she whispered. Aislinn, our electronic guardian angel, I thought with a grin. We slipped and side and closed it silently behind us, and sprinted furtively across the lawn, looking left and right for any spying eyes. The fairies flew right alongside us. “Head for the right side of the house,” Aislinn instructed. “There’s a side entrance there that looks like the most secluded point of entry.”
She guided, and we ran. No dogs barked, no owls hooted, no guards called out alarms, we were alone in the quiet dark night, flitting unseen across the lawn of Marshall Lewis. It was almost too easy. His house rose in front of us, a formidable rectangular white neoclassical building surrounded by graceful white pillars, out of place in the California landscape. We ducked in between two of the pillars, and found the small side door. I wiggled the handle. It was locked fast.
“Aislinn, can you pop this one, too?” I whispered.
She laughed. “No can do, girly girl. Sorry, this one’s an old fashioned lock, you’re on your own.”
Andreas rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath. He took my hand off the knob and replaced it with his own. “I hate doing this,” he said with a glare. He closed his eyes, and focused. The doorknob glowed, and with a faint click I heard the latch turn. He let go of it and sighed, rubbing his forehead.
I gasped. “That was so cool.” He was just full of surprises. What else could he do that I didn’t know about?
He shook his head. “Don’t even think about it, Rhiannon, there is no way I am teaching you that one.” He gripped the handle and turned it. The door popped open. We slipped inside and found ourselves in a hallway. A stairwell went off to the side, one floor going up, and one floor going down to an underground basement. The hallway stretched out in front of us, brightly lit with marbled floors and white wainscoting, and I felt instantly exposed in the light. No one was in sight, though, we were still safe. He turned to me. “We’re going to split up. You take Frank and Myrrh and check out the upstairs. I’ll scope this floor with the other two. We’ll meet back here and check out the basement together when we’re done,” he whispered. He kissed me swiftly. “Be safe, be silent, and don’t be seen!” Frankincense and Myrrh flew over and landed on my shoulders.
Frank, taking command of the fairies, said, “Split up, head out, guard and protect, and whatever you do, take all the booty you can handle!” He waved his sword around in the air with a flourish.
My nerves kicked up a gear as we headed to the stairwell. At the first sign of trouble I was going to teleport to Felix’s house. I focused on that thought, forcing my hands to quit trembling and my knees to quit shaking. Having the excitable fairies along for the ride up the stairs was a nice distraction, as well. We reached the top, and I paused. “Any security cameras on the top floor?” I whispered to Aislinn, hopefully. If there were, she would have an eye on it.
“The main hall is empty for now, but I’ve seen at least two maids wandering through,” she whispered. “I’m having trouble with his computer network,” she said with a sigh of frustration.
I nodded, and ducked my head around the corner. It was empty. Thank god. I stepped out hesitantly. Frank and Myrrh flew with confidence. Frank grabbed a vase off a pedestal and it vanished into wherever he managed to stick stuff. I still hadn’t figured that one out yet; his bottomless pocket I had come to call it. The wide hallway was lined with doorways, half of which stood open. I peeked around the corner of the first. It was a large bedroom, presently unoccupied. I darted inside to explore. A four poster bed stood against the wall beneath the wide windows. I rifled through the night stand drawers, but they only held bed linens. The bathroom was equally stocked.
I saw Myrrh direct Frank to pick a porcelain figurine up off one of the night stands. I smiled, but I didn’t stop him. I figured they deserved anything they got out of this little excursion. This was the house of the man who had been following me, who nearly blew me up, and nearly burned me down. Knick knacks were a small price for him to pay.
We headed into the hallway again, after Aislinn gave us an “all clear,” and crept across the hallway to the door on the opposite side. It was another empty bedroom, with nothing of value to anyone except the fairies, who pocketed a small brass sculpture. These had to be guest bedrooms, and Marshall Lewis probably didn’t keep very many guests, I figured, judging by the empty drawers and lack of lived-in feeling. I was disappointed.
“Rhiannon, hide!” hissed Aislinn in my ear. “The maid’s coming!” Panicked, I ran into the bathroom and closed the door. Where was there to hide? I crawled behind the claw footed bathtub and lay down on the floor, trying to make myself as small as possible. Anyone who opened the door and turned on the light would instantly see me. I hoped and prayed the maid wouldn’t do that.
Oh, I wanted to be invisible! I closed my eyes and concentrated as hard as I could on not being seen, while simultaneously concentrating on the numen, forging a link back to Felix’s house, just in case. The bathroom door opened. The light turned on. I was all set to teleport to Felix’s house, when, upon opening my eyes, I realized I couldn’t see my own nose in between them. I looked down at my hands, and lo and behold, I was invisible. So were the fairies. I was instantly relieved, and it was all I could do just to be quiet. I let go of my numen link with relief. I saw the feet of the maid. She rolled a mop bucket into the bathroom, utterly oblivious to my presence. I slowly, ever so slowly, stood up, as quietly as possible. I tiptoed quietly around her as she lifted the mop out of the bucket and began to swab the floor, and slipped out the door back into the bedroom.
She hadn’t seen me! No one had seen me! This was the perfect way to sleuth around undetected in the enemy’s house, I realized with a grin. I couldn’t see the fairies, but I felt one of them when they bumped into my chest. I heard a whispered “ow!” I couldn’t tell if it was Frank or Myrrh. I must be like a giant invisible moving wall to them.
“Sorry,” I whispered back. I slipped out of the room silently and down the hallway. I saw another vase disappear. I stifled a giggle.
“Rhiannon, where are you?” Aislinn asked in my ear. “What happened?”
“I’m invisible,” I whispered, sidling down to the next doorway.
Andreas spoke in my ear for the first time. “I think I might have underestimated the fairies usefulness. Remind me to apologize to Frank later.”
“I told you!” Aislinn laughed. “This is what they do best, after all.” I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to hear Andreas admit that. Baby steps towards tolerance. It was a good thing.
I slipped invisibly into the next room. I was getting the impression this floor was nothing but well-furnished bedrooms. Unoccupied bedrooms, at that. I gave the room a once-over, but like the others, it was empty. A wall clock vanished with a splash of sparkles. I smirked. The fairies were still with me. I slipped into the hallway again, heading towards the next room.
“Hey guys,” Aislinn’s voice came into my ear. “Lewis just got home. He’s heading upstairs with two other men, Rhiannon,” she whispered excitedly.
“I’m on my way,” Andreas whispered.
“Guys guys, I’m invisible! Relax!” I said. He was home and heading straight for me, what fantastic luck! I slipped out into the hallway, and waited, silently. I heard footsteps from the far end of the hallway, the opposite side of the house from where we had entered, and three men emerged from the stairwell. Two looked like body guards, both burly and buff in matching black suits and ties, and the third was a face I was familiar with courtesy of the internet: fit and trim, ruggedly handsome, in his late forties, cleanly shaven, wearing a finely cut navy blue suit, with salt and pepper hair. This was Marshall Lewis. He certainly didn’t appear to be menacing or anything. I stood there and stared at him. He walked a short way towards me, before turning into the first door on my right. The two guards went in the room with them.
I padded quietly down the hallway towards the door after them. “Rhi, where are you?” Aislinn softly said. “Whatever you do, don’t even think about going there, hold your position and wait for Andreas!” she demanded.
I took a few more steps. “I’m just going to peek,” I whispered back.
Andreas and Aislinn simultaneously swore in my ear. I ignored them. I was invisible, and I was just going to go spy, they wouldn’t even know I was there.
I continued treading silently down the hallway making a beeline right for that door. It was open, and I slipped inside. This was obviously Lewis’ bedroom, I decided, looking around. It was twice as big as the others, and sumptuously decorated in gold and silver. I didn’t see Lewis or his body guards, however, which stumped me. Where could they have gone?
While I was wondering that, the door behind me slammed close. I did not even realize I had stepped straight into a trap, until the trap had sprung. I spun around, concentrating on the numen, when one of Lewis’ bodyguards, who had been hiding behind the door waiting, jumped on me. He was wearing a funny pair of goggles, and my invisible state obviously wasn’t enough to confuse those goggles he had on. In panic, I tried shoving him off of me, mustering whatever residual vampire strength I had left thanks to Lucas, but he was strong, unnaturally strong. I couldn’t concentrate while struggling with him, and the energy link remained just beyond my reach.
“Rhiannon, what’s wrong?” Aislinn shouted in my ear. “Andreas, get your ass moving, I hear commotion!”
“Shit!” Andreas cursed. “She’s under attack!”
The bodyguard stabbed a needle in my neck, and I gasped, yanking his arm off of me. The room started spinning, and my head felt fuzzy, and then everything went blissfully black. How did they know? I thought as I sank into unconsciousness.