He smiled gently. “Hi sunbeam,” he said. His little pet name for me. I had always been his sunbeam. My father’s little ray of sunshine, he always said, bringing a spot of brightness into his life every day when he came home from work.
My throat was dry. I was confused. It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be. I shook my head. “But you’re dead!” I shouted.
He stepped closer to me and reached out his hand. “No, sunbeam, I’m not,” he said sadly. He looked like my dad, alright, receding hairline, sandy brown hair, warm brown eyes. He sounded like my dad, too. It was impossible, it had to be. My father lay torn to pieces in a grave.
I scrambled to my feet and stepped backwards. “But I… I saw you, I buried you!” My voice cracked. “That was you!” This was just too much, it had to be some joke Lewis was playing on me, messing with my head, finding someone to impersonate my father.
He shook his head somberly. “No, sunbeam. That was the real Jon Maddox, it wasn’t me.” He reached a hand out to me again. “You’re my baby girl, I love you, I wouldn’t abandon you.” I choked back a sob, confused, not knowing what to believe.
“Daniel, we’ve got to go!” shouted Lewis from the helicopter. “Grab her!”
The man wearing my father’s skin took another step toward me. He even smelled like my dad. “This is just a trick!” I shouted. “You’re just shifting shapes!” I shook my head in denial.
“No, sunbeam,” he said. “Do you remember when you were five and I taught you to ride a bike? You fell down and skinned your knee, and you cried and cried and swore you would never ride a bike again. I told you that you can’t let the bike win, that you needed to show it who was boss, and you marched right over and spanked your bike for misbehaving.” He smiled at me, my father’s smile, sweet and full of love.
I covered my mouth with my hands, not wanting to believe it, but finding myself believing it. Who else but my father would know that? He had laughed and taken me to Baskin Robbins for a double chocolate fudge sundae after that. I took another step backwards. This wasn’t right, it couldn’t be.
He stepped toward me, holding out his hand again. “Come with me, sunbeam. I’ll protect you.” He reached out and took my hand.
I have to admit I hesitated. I looked into his familiar, beloved eyes, and for a split second I wanted it to be true, and I wanted my father back. Then I turned my gaze and looked at Lewis peering out of the helicopter, a fierce and frantic expression on his face. I yanked my hand away. “No!” I screamed. “I won’t be Lewis’ guinea pig! I won’t be one of you, and I won’t let you take me!” I shoved my father away from me.
The door behind me swung open and I found myself surrounded by Frank and Myrrh, showering sparkles of menacing red fairy dust as they spun circles.
“Daniel, just forget about her, let’s go!” Lewis shouted, beckoning my dad.
My dad, the man Marshall Lewis called Daniel, turned around and ran back to the helicopter. The fairies flew after him, but he was faster. He jumped in the cockpit, and the helicopter took off. I, however, just sunk to the ground, trembling in shock. I couldn’t move, I could barely breathe. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to rage. I wanted to just go home and go to sleep and pretend this day had never happened. My father was alive? My father was alive! And he had abandoned me, left someone else in his place, and let someone kill my mother, leaving me alone to grieve for both of their losses. What kind of a monster does that? What kind of a monster had given birth to me, and raised me, and loved me, but it had all been a lie?
While I was sitting there wallowing in self-pity and confusion, and the fairies were chasing the helicopter, which was swiftly outdistancing them, Andreas came barreling through the door. He saw me, and rushed over to me, picking me up and crushing me in his arms. “I thought I’d lost you for certain!” he whispered fervently, showering my face with kisses. “Don’t ever do that again!” He wrapped me in his arms and just held me, fierce and strong. I clung to him, safe in the embrace of his overbearing presence. I let out a long, dry wail, fighting back tears. There wasn’t time to cry. He pulled away and peered into my eyes. “Are you ok?”
I nodded my head mutely and miserably.
Aislinn rushed through the doorway, firing a gun behind her down the stairwell. “I hate to break up the reunion, guys,” she shouted over her shoulder, “but we gotta get out of here!” She slammed the door, and ran towards us.
Frank and Myrrh flew back, spinning circles around our heads, chattering excitedly about “explosives.”
“What?” I shrieked, trying to get them to slow down.
Frank landed right on my nose and stared into my eyes. “The building’s gonna go BOOM!” he said, very slowly, overemphasizing each word, and shaking his tiny hands for emphasis.
With a curse, Andreas grabbed Aislinn’s hand, and teleported us all down to the ground. We were standing at the edge of the building, in the middle of a clearing, in the middle of a scrubby forest, near the edge of San Diego. We ran towards the tree line, aiming for the glowing lights of the city off in the distance, putting as much distance as possible between us and the cinderblock bunker laboratory of Marshall Lewis’. People were rushing out of the building, running away towards a parking lot full of cars trying to escape. We’d traveled about a hundred yards through the brush when the building finally blew. The shockwave knocked us all to the ground and tossed the flying fairies up into the trees. A wave of grey dust settled over us, and my ears rang.
Aislinn handed me a cup of steaming coffee. I took it gratefully. I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Andreas had teleported us back to Felix’s penthouse. I had taken a shower, washing off the dust and grime of the explosion, and the horrid smell of the cinderblock building. My hip was incredibly sore, and bore a large bruise and needle mark, boasting of the place Marshall Lewis had drilled into my very marrow, violating me while I was unconscious. My adrenaline had worn off, and I was stiff and sore all over. I watched, mystified, as the bruise slowly faded, and the puncture mark disappeared. My aches and pains seemed but a distant memory by the time I was done with my shower, and changed back into my cashmere sweater dress again.
Once clean, at least physically, although I felt soiled in other ways, I had come downstairs to join everyone else, and nurse my confusion and sorrows in a cup of coffee. I sat on one of the white couches, tired, exhausted, and numb.
“The house was a trap,” Aislinn said, breaking the silence.
I nodded my head. “He knew I was there,” I whispered. I looked up at her. “I was invisible, and he knew I was there! He had goggles and everything.”
Andreas sat down next to me and squeezed my knee. “Five of them attacked me in the stairwell,” he said. “By the time I got upstairs, you were already gone. I couldn’t track you.” His voice cracked. “All that damn gold… I could feel you, but I couldn’t find you. I knew you were scared, and angry, but mostly unharmed, thank the stars.”
I furrowed my brows. “How did you find me then? I was counting on you being able to track me. I was trying to emote so hard, so you could feel me.”
Frank bobbed up and down. “Weknew, weknew! You’re a friend of the fairies, we can always find you!” He zoomed around the room, unable to contain himself.
Andreas nodded his head. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t know what we would have done. Once they located you, it was only a matter of breaking into the building and tracking you down.”
I looked at him with surprise. “Andreas, that building neutralized your abilities, you could have been killed!” I shook my head. Crazy angel, running in headfirst, not thinking about the consequences. It was so unlike him, and so like, well, me. Maybe I was starting to rub off on him a tad.
He shrugged. “Gold only deters teleportation. Besides, it was worth the risk. I couldn’t let them harm you. Plus, I had backup, and we didn’t go in unarmed,” he pointed out. “Unlike you, I do know how to take care of myself,” he teased. “We can’t figure out how he got you out of the house, though,” he mused.
“I was watching the entire time,” Aislinn added. “No one else came in, and none of them walked past a single security camera on the way out. It was as if everyone just – vanished!”
I nodded. I thought I had figured out that little piece of the puzzle. “He has an angel,” I told them.
Andreas jumped up in alarm. “They have an angel prisoner? No wonder the building was laced with gold.”
I grimaced. “It gets worse. Marshall Lewis is a full-fledged megalomaniac bent on creating some genetically engineered therianthrope master race, and he wants me to contribute. He wants to recreate what happened to me.” I looked up at Andreas, wide eyed with concern and worry. “He even became me.” I shuddered. “He told me that every time they’ve tried it, the therianthrope has died. The evil man is sacrificing his own people to do it! If he manages to succeed…” I sighed. “Can you imagine a whole race of people like him who can do what I do?” I felt positively sick at the thought.
Andreas actually smirked. “That will never happen. Trust me.”
Was he daft? Did he hear nothing of what I just said? Or was he just in denial? “But they have an angel!” I shouted.
He nodded. “I heard you. But even with all their science and their knowledge, they could never reproduce you, no matter how much they try,” he said loftily. I swear he actually seemed a little proud of what he had done to me. Damned angel!
I was confused. He knew it, too. He grinned at me. “Allow us angels some of our secrets, will you?” He sat down next to me again and took my hand. “Rhiannon, there is magic involved in a save that the skin-walkers could never understand or control, and a save can never be forced. No matter how much they try to force an angel to do it, they will reap only death, not life.” Andreas smiled and ruffled my hair. “Plus, well, you’re kind of a freak accident.”
I punched him in the arm, feeling a little more like myself finally. “I got that.” I felt better knowing Lewis couldn’t force a save. If Andreas was confident he couldn’t reproduce the events that led up to my alteration, then I was going to be to. That still left the mystery of my father, though. I was troubled, thinking about it.
“Something else is bothering you,” he said sternly, raising an eyebrow. “What else happened?”
I let out a big, long sigh, and buried my face in my hands. “Outside of being poked and prodded? He took my blood. He took a bone marrow sample, for Christ’s sake! He hung me from the ceiling in a cell. He transformed into me in front of my own eyes.” I looked at Andreas from between my fingers. “If it weren’t for Lucas’ blood I would never have been able to break out of it,” I said softly, trying not to stir up any old wounds. Andreas just calmly nodded, but I saw a muscle in his jaw twitch. “I fought off three of them. I think I broke one of their necks.” Did I just kill someone? Shouldn’t I feel guilty about that? I was conflicted. I knew I should feel that way, but I didn’t, I honestly didn’t. The soldier would just have killed me, after all. It was a kill or be killed situation in that control room. “And then… and then…” my words choked in my throat, I couldn’t finish. Tears filled my eyes. I angrily wiped them away, as thoughts of my father flooded my brain, the man who loved me, I had thought; the man who abandoned his family, who let his daughter think he was dead, who let his own wife, my mother, die needlessly.
Andreas touched my shoulder, and I looked at him through my tear-filled eyes. “Rhiannon, I can’t read your mind, I don’t know what’s going on, you have to tell me,” he ordered softly.
I nodded. I swallowed. I wiped my eyes again and composed myself. “My father is alive,” I whispered, turning my eyes towards the floor.
“What?” he gasped, drawing back.
I took a deep breath. “I’ve thought about it a lot. It wasn’t an impersonator.” I looked up. “It was him. He knew things only my father could have known. I just don’t understand how he could… could…” I choked back a sob, angrily swiping tears off my cheeks again.
“Oh Rhiannon,” Aislinn said softly, “Family can be the cruelest lot of all sometimes. Take my word for it, the ones you love can cut sharper than any knife.”
I smiled bleakly at her. “Thanks.”
Andreas looked at Aislinn. “We have to find Lewis and stop him.”
“And my father,” I added. “But don’t worry, Lewis will find me. He always does,” I said bitterly.
Aislinn nodded her head in concern. “Blast, I should have realized. He’s probably got some sort of tracking device in you. How else would he always seem to know where you are, and how else would he have known you were in his house?”
I looked sharply at her. “You think? Good god. I could have had it my entire life for all I know! He said they’ve been watching me my whole life.” I was horrified. I had never felt more violated. To find out that my entire life was some sort of lie, or even worse, some sort of secret science experiment? That was… beyond evil. Andreas wrapped an arm around my shoulder to comfort me.
“What’s our next move?” Andreas asked.
“Get that tracking device out of Rhiannon, of course,” snorted Aislinn. “I can get my hands on the right equipment, no problem.”
I shook my head. “No time right now. I think I have a plan, though.”
Myrrh clapped her hands. “Oh goody! Iloveplans! Whatsyour plan? Tellmetellme!”
I smiled. “I haven’t figured it all out just yet. I want to have a little chat with Lewis and my father, but on my terms this time,” I said darkly. “But first, it’s time to pay the piper.” I looked at Andreas grimly. “Our one week is up, isn’t it?”
He grimaced and wrung his hands. “There has to be another way, Rhiannon. Given the circumstances, surely they would be understanding.”
Aislinn laughed sharply. “The Atlantean council? Understanding? Surely you jest! There isn’t a more high-handed organization on the face of the planet!” I gathered there was no love lost between Aislinn and the council.
I decided to put my foot down about this, though. Andreas had dug himself a deep enough hole on my account, I wasn’t going to let him dig it any deeper. “I’m not going to let you get into further trouble because of me, Andreas!” I protested. “Besides, we need to tell them about the skin-walkers. Believe me, I am not about to let her or her damned angel council dictate the course of my future for me. We have a few options, remember? The demon listed three, and I aim to find a forth,” I said tight lipped, crossing my arms.
“Rotting toad stools,” muttered Aislinn with an exasperated groan. “I’m coming with you.”
“Metoo, metoo!” cried Frank, diving into my hair. Myrrh joined him, as well, refusing to budge.
Andreas let out a long-suffering sigh. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
I smiled at him. “Nope, I’m winging it. But I’m sick to death of people trying to capture me, or blow me up, or tell me what to do.” I folded my arms across my chest. “Besides, just yesterday you were saying how we needed to go talk to the council about the skin-walkers before going after Lewis. Why the sudden change of heart?” I eyed him shrewdly.
He groaned and rolled his eyes. “Because we haven’t come up with that fourth option yet! But you’re right. We’ll go talk to the council.”