My palms were sweating as Andreas rang Ariel’s doorbell. We had teleported directly to her front porch. I wasn’t ready to do this, was I? Malcolm the sneaky butler opened the door, and silently gestured for us to enter. He equally silently led us down the hall to the very same sitting room we were in last time Andreas and I were here.
Frank and Myrrh slipped out of my purse as soon as Malcolm closed the door behind us, and began flying around the room investigating. “Don’t take anything!” Andreas ordered them sternly.
That took the wind right out of Frankincense’s wings. He fluttered down to my shoulder dejectedly. “Overgrown spoilsport,” he muttered. I stifled a grin. Myrrh landed on my other shoulder, and for once the two fairies were unusually still and quiet.
I looked over at Aislinn. She seemed very uncomfortable, like she was standing in the last place on earth she wanted to be. “You didn’t have to come,” I told her.
She tossed her head, and forced a smile onto her face. “Nonsense! I am here to play witness. Don’t expect the council to simply take your word for it.” She folded her arms across her chest and gave Andreas a haughty look. “Contrary to your experiences, Rhiannon, most Atlanteans are rather inflexible and intolerant, so stuck in their own intractable ways that they are unwilling to accept change.”
“That’s enough,” Andreas said hotly. “You,” he said, pointing at Aislinn, “Will keep your opinions to yourself. If the council needs you to testify as a witness, you shall, but otherwise, you will not deride them while we are here, or so help me I’ll take you to the top of the Empire State Building and leave you there!”
Aislinn looked at me as if to say “see what I mean?” To Andreas she just muttered, “Fine.”
Ariel came gliding in through the door, wearing a long pale blue gown that matched her pale blue glow. She looked around at the gathered company, and frowned at me. “I am displeased to see fairies in my house.” Ok, she wasn’t frowning at me, she was frowning at my shoulders. She stared at Frank carefully. “If anything is missing, I will clip your wings,” she said in a tone that brokered no argument.
Frank’s wings fluttered nervously. “Yes ma’am,” he squeaked.
Ariel turned her gaze, sweeping it past Aislinn, Andreas and myself, taking in our appearances very carefully. “It appears you’ve had a bit of an… interesting week.” She touched her hair absently, reminding me of my own horrid blonde locks, and Andreas’ black ones. “If you wish to freshen up and eat prior to the council convenes, we have one hour,” she said solicitously.
We gratefully followed the butler Malcolm, who appeared silently at Ariel’s shoulder, to guest quarters. I was seen to the same suite we had slept in a week ago. Aislinn and Andreas were let into two suites on opposite sides of mine.
Although I was technically clean, I took another shower in the claw-foot club just to wake me up again. The blisteringly hot water was refreshing. By the time I stepped out and redressed, I was wide awake again. I applied a touch of makeup in the mirror, and ran a comb through my hair. I vowed that, as soon as I got home again, if I got home again, I was going to rush right out and buy myself a box of brown hair dye and fix the mess on my head.
There was a knock at my door. I ran over and opened it, letting Andreas in. His hair was damp, and he smelled of lavender soap. Somewhere he had gotten a change of clothes, too, and he once more bore his standard uniform of jeans, tee-shirt, and cowboy boots. He looked worried. “Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider this?”
I stepped back to the mirror in the bathroom, yanking my brush through my hair furiously. “And do what? Live in hiding? Be on the run?” I set my brush on the counter and sighed, looking at him through the mirror. “I can’t do that Andreas, anymore than you.”
He wrapped an arm across my chest and kissed the top of my head. “Everything will be alright, Rhiannon. The council isn’t a bad lot. They just want to protect their own, and the secrecy of otherkin.” He spun me around, and held my face in my hands. “I just fear it may be at the expense of you.” He kissed me then, crushing me against him, a kiss borne out of desperation. I kissed him back, wrapping my hands around the back of his head, not wanting the connection to end. With the tumult my life had been since I met him, he was a strong anchor, one that I urgently clung to.
A knock at the door interrupted us, and he let me go with a sigh. Malcolm waited on the other side, with Aislinn and the fairies behind him. “It is time,” he said, with a curt bow.
I laced my fingers through Andreas’, and we followed Malcolm back to the sitting room, where Ariel stood waiting. She held her hands out. “Come, we must go.” We joined hands, creating a circle in the center of the room. The fairies landed on my shoulders, and she teleported us off to see the council.
We reappeared in a marble-ensconced octagonal waiting room. Six walls bore torches, illuminating the room with the flicker of fire. There were no windows, no sense of direction. I had no idea where we were. Long marble benches lined the walls beneath the torches. One wall held a set of wide double doors, carved out of oak, with intricate ivy vines etched delicately over the entire surface. The eighth wall opened into a flight of spiral stairs that descended into parts unknown.
My stomach flip-flopped nervously. I looked up at Andreas. He squeezed my hand for reassurance.
Ariel turned towards us. “You two come with me. The rest of you,” she said, gesturing to Aislinn and the fairies, “Will wait here in the foyer. If your testimony is needed, we will send for you.” Ariel opened the heavy oak doors, stepping inside. Frank and Myrrh flew over to Aislinn. Andreas and I walked behind Ariel, hand in hand, into the council chamber.
The inner sanctum of the council chamber was marble, smooth as glass. A wide, curving oak table, shaped like a shoe horn faced us. Six angels, three female, three male, sat at it, imposing and stern. I shivered. Ariel walked around and joined them on the end. Andreas led me to the center, and the curved table bowed around us, surrounding us on both sides and in front with the Atlantean Council members.
I suddenly felt very small. I shivered.
The man in the center of the table stood up and spoke. I presumed him to be the speaker of the council. He was ageless, tall and slender, with a pointy nose and sliver-blonde hair that fell in waves down to his shoulders. “I call Andreas Spyridon to face charges of attempting a save without proper authorization,” he intoned with great formality. He pointed a long finger at Andreas. “How plead you?”
Andreas cleared his throat. “Guilty, sir.” I turned in shock, about to protest, but he yanked me back into place, and hushed me to silence. Guilty? He couldn’t plead guilty! He had done nothing wrong, had he? He saved my life!
The man in the center nodded his head. “Let us hear the evidence!” he boomed, and sat down.
Ariel stood up, presenting the evidence against Andreas. She did so without any emotional inflection, as if she were analyzing a stranger. It was eerie and cold. “Thank you, Saphiel,” she said, nodding her head towards the speaker of the council. “Rhiannon Maddox, please step forward,” she ordered. Andreas practically shoved me, and I stumbled gracelessly forward, alone, with all seven pairs of eyes scrutinizing me closely. I shifted on my feet uncomfortably, clasping my hands in front of me. “Rhiannon Maddox was saved by Andreas Spyridon eleven nights past. Andreas is a wielder of wild magic.” A soft murmur amongst the council members broke out. “As we all know, wild magic is not appropriate for a save. Because of its unpredictable nature, it irrevocably altered Rhiannon Maddox, and he unintentionally forged a blood link with her.” She paused, while the council began to talk.
“With a human?” the man on the end opposite Ariel said. “It isn’t possible.”
Ariel nodded. “We are all aware of this, Ramiel.” She stepped down from the table and faced the council directly, standing in front of me. “Problem: an immortal’s life is linked to a mortal. Problem: an immortal broke the law. Problem: a mortal was exposed and altered permanently.” She nodded her head, and stepped back to her seat.
Saphiel, the speaker of the council, stood up again. “What does Andreas Spyridon have to say for himself?” he asked.
Andreas stepped forward next to me again, and took my hand, and looked at me. I had never seen him look more serious than he did right then. “This mortal,” he said softly, not taking his eyes off of mine, “Was willing to sacrifice her own life to save mine.” He turned back to the council. “I felt compelled to save her. There was no time. I took the risk. I am willing to pay for it now.” He bowed his head. I dropped my jaw in shock. These people were ready and willing to pass judgment on Andreas, and he was ready and willing to let them, and no one seemed to care a whit what I had to say about it. I might as well not even have been there! I was starting to get annoyed. Maybe Aislinn was right in her opinion about the council.
“And what of the mortal?” asked Ramiel, the man on the end, to Ariel. “How has this affected her?”
“Some of Andreas’ abilities have been imprinted onto her, and she is now capable of absorbing the abilities of whomever she is around without control. Plus, she is still human, and therefore mortal, and when she dies our ranks will be thinned by one, which is unacceptable,” she said tightly.
“Agreed,” mused Ramiel.
I had had enough of their high-handed dealings. “Hey, wait a minute,” I shouted, stepping forward angrily. “I might be mortal, but I’m not entirely human, there is more going on than you guys realize, if you would only let us explain!” Andreas grabbed my hand and pulled me back sharply.
“Silence, mortal!” the angel next to Ariel boomed. “Who are you to interrupt us?”
I yanked my hand away from Andreas furiously and turned back to the council, incensed. “My mother was a human and my father was a therianthrope, and I’m something you’ve never seen before, and how dare you to tell me to be silent! I have a right to be heard!” I thundered crossly, stomping my foot on the smooth marble floor.
Angelic pandemonium erupted at that point, and it took a few minutes before everyone calmed down enough to talk again. Shouting came in from all directions, I couldn’t keep it all straight. “Impossible!” shouted one. “She’s lying!” shouted another. Everyone started talking simultaneously, jumping out of their chairs, waving their arms.
Finally Saphiel took control. “Enough!” he bellowed, slamming a fist down on the table. Sparks showed outwards, catching the council members’ attention at last. They all sat down slowly but tensely.
Saphiel peered down his nose at me. “You have our attention, woman. What, in the name of Elysium, are you trying to tell us?”
I swallowed nervously. Andreas took my hand again. “I’m trying to tell you that the skin-walkers are alive and real.”
“Mayhap I should have asked this of you before I brought you here,” Ariel mused. “Please illuminate us, what exactly have you two been up to this past week?” she asked curiously.
I started, in a halting nervous voice. Now that I actually had their attention, my nerves came back, overpowering my anger. I started at the very beginning, with Ariel’s own revelation that I wasn’t completely human. I told the council how we had gone to investigate the scene of my parents’ murder, and how we had learned a vampire had been responsible, and the suspicions we had developed regarding the crime scene. I told them how we had been followed, and the confrontation we had underneath the bridge, including the discovery of the address in Chicago. I told them about our trip to the empty warehouse that used to be a laboratory, and about the explosion and the subsequent fire in the hotel. I told them how Aislinn had discovered that Marshall Lewis and TerraGen Industries were responsible for the lab, and how I had linked all the files we had stolen back to Lewis, as well. I told them, leaving Kat’s name out of it, how we had discovered that the people in those files were more than just human. I told them that I came to the conclusion that they were therianthropes, and that I was, as well, and how this was confirmed by the rakshasa Nikumbha. Lastly, I told them about our trip to San Diego and what had transpired there, and about my conversation with Marshall Lewis himself, and discovery that my father was alive.
“He’s mad,” I said to them in conclusion, shaking my head. “He’s manipulating genetics to improve his race, creating what I can only guess to be his idea of a master race. He wanted to turn me into just another genetic weapon in his arsenal. Imagine if you will an army of shape-shifting therianthropes who can absorb everyone’s abilities. A therianthrope with the power of an angel and a demon and a fairy, all rolled into one little package,” I finally finished with a whisper.
Silence reigned over the council for a moment. Ariel was the first to speak. “Your story is fantastic. But I admit it makes sense. I’m surprised I didn’t see this when I first examined you.”
“With all due respect,” Andreas said, speaking up for the first time since I started my tale, “We all thought therianthropes were extinct. You wouldn’t have thought of it.”
“You make a good point,” Saphiel said thoughtfully. He looked around at his fellow council members. “Please step outside. We need to discuss these matters.”
Andreas bowed, and escorted me out the double doors. He closed the doors, and I sunk to a bench, my courage finally leaving me. My knees were trembling and my hands were shaking. He sat next to me. “You did good,” he assured me.
Frank flew over. “Whathappened?” he demanded imperiously. We filled the fairies and Aislinn in on what they had missed. As soon as we had finished, Aislinn was called into the council chamber.
“Good luck,” I whispered to her.
There was nothing for us to do but wait. “What’s going to happen now?” I asked Andreas.
He shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. You’ve definitely thrown them for a loop. But I promise I won’t let them lock you up or take you away.” He took my hand comfortingly in his.
“But I’m the daughter of their ancient enemy,” I whispered. Suddenly I was extremely uncertain. Maybe telling them who I truly was hadn’t been such a good idea.
“That doesn’t make you one of them,” Andreas pointed out.
We waited patiently. After Aislinn returned, the fairies went in to speak. Andreas told me that it was highly unusual, fairies voices were seldom given credence. I took it as a good sign.
“Where is this place?” I asked him softly. With no windows, and no point of reference, we could have been anywhere on the planet.
“Atlantis, of course,” he shrugged.
I gaped at him. Yeah, I knew the angels were also known as Atlanteans, but that place didn’t exist anymore, right? “Atlantis blew up and sunk thousands of years ago!” I accused.
He just smiled. “Do you believe everything you read? Quit thinking you know everything, silly girl,” he teased. “Plato was a wise man, but he was just a man.” He left his explanation as cryptic as that and refused to discuss it any further.
I had never seen Frank and Myrrh look more proud than I did the moment they flew out of the council chamber right then. Frank gushed on about how important people had asked him questions and listened to his answers. He practically preened with pride.
Finally, after what was probably an hour at least, one of the council members opened the door and ushered Andreas and I back inside. “Thank you, Elemiah,” Andreas told him as we walked back to the center of the council chamber again.
I looked expectantly at Saphiel, reigning supreme from the center of the table. He stood up. “Andreas Spyridon,” he began, “You stand before us accused of violating law by practicing an unauthorized save, and by exposing us to a human. Due to the revelations you have brought forth to us, and due to the fact that no apparent exposure to humans actually took place, you are free to go.”
I let out a sigh of relief, and I could practically feel the tension flow out of Andreas, as well. “Thank you,” he said, bowing his head respectfully.
Saphiel then turned his penetrating gaze to me. “Rhiannon Maddox. You have been forced to carry a burden no one should ever have to bear. At first we were inclined to let you choose between confinement or transfiguration, but given the circumstances we will withhold that decision for the time being.” He paused. I let out a breath I didn’t even know I had been holding, trembling with relief. “As you are half human and half… therianthrope,” he said distastefully, “and altered by wild magic, we do not know what your full potential is, and we are loathe to alter you further until it is known.” He cleared his throat. “Therefore, it is our decree that Andreas Spyridon shall remain responsible for you. As his life is tied to yours, it is only fitting. In gratitude for services rendered, you are free to go.” Saphiel smiled at me. “We will see you here again in six months’ time.” He sat back down, having made his declaration.
I was confused. Was that it? “Wait a minute,” I asked. “What about the therianthropes? What are you going to do about them?”
Saphiel looked at me as if I was a confused child. “Why, watch and wait, of course. We are grateful to you for bringing this revelation to light. Now that we are aware of their existence, we shall watch and wait until we can ascertain what their true motive is. You are dismissed.” He nodded his head.
Andreas took my arm and forcefully dragged me out of the council chamber before I had a chance to protest, slamming the door behind him as we left. “What the hell!” I shouted at him as soon as we were back in the foyer. “They’re going to watch?” I shrieked. “Wait?”
He tried to shush me. I was having none of it. “I bring news to them that the therianthropes still exist and are plotting dangerous things, and all they want to do is watch and wait?” I couldn’t believe it!
Aislinn actually laughed. “How very typical,” she said sarcastically. “Welcome to the Atlantean Council, Rhiannon,” she said. “They’re famous for watching and waiting.”
“That is enough, you two!” snapped Andreas. “If you’re going to make snide comments, do it when we’re not right at their front door!” He grabbed both of our hands, and teleported us back to Felix’s penthouse.
I fumed as soon as we arrived. “After all of that, I can’t believe they aren’t going to do more.”
“What would you have them do, Rhiannon?” Andreas asked, tossing his hands up in the air. “Declare war? Mount an anti-therianthrope pogrom? Saphiel has a point! Until we know exactly what their agenda is, what is there to do? They’ve made no move against us, and we aren’t going to hunt them down unprovoked, it isn’t our way,” he said exasperatedly.
I flounced down onto one of the couches. “Why do you have to be so… so damned proper all the time?” I grumbled. “I don’t like this, Andreas, not one bit. Somebody’s got to do something.”
He let out a little strangled laugh. “What are you going to do about it? Mount a full-blown attack all by yourself? Admit it, Rhiannon, you’re in way over your head, this thing is bigger than you or I combined.” He sat down next to me. “We’ve done what we can for now. Besides, they let you go! They let me go,” he said softly. “Isn’t that enough for now?”
I looked up at him and sighed. “Yes.” The impact of the reprieve hadn’t really sunk in, but the more I thought about it, the lighter I felt. Andreas was free, I was free. We had found our fourth option. The rest of it could wait until later. I smiled at him, and he kissed me.
“Get a room you two,” snorted Aislinn.
I laughed, feeling light-hearted for the first time in days. “Can you get this tracking device out of me first?” I grinned at her.
She made a mocking bow. “Your wish is my command.” She led me into her computer office area again, and started rummaging through a cupboard. “I think I have just the thing here,” she said, her voice muffled by the cupboard. “Aha!” She said triumphantly, standing up and pulling out some sort of strange hand-held scanner.
She led me upstairs and had me lay down on the bed. She plugged the device in. “This part won’t hurt a bit,” she murmured. Andreas sat on the edge of the bed near my head. She slowly passed the scanner over me. There was nothing on my front. “Flip over,” she commanded. I did, burying my face in a pillow. She passed the scanner over the rest of my skin, and paused, when it began beeping incessantly over my lower back.
She palpated it with her finger. “There it is,” she murmured, resting her fingers right on the hump where my rear began. “Now this part…” she said, pulling my skirt up, “It’s definitely going to hurt. Hold her down, Andreas,” she ordered.
“Hey!” I protested, trying to pull my skirt down again over my underwear, hoping for some semblance of modesty.
Aislinn slapped my hands away. “Would you quit fidgeting? Do you want this out, or do you not?”
“Fine,” I grumbled, and pulled my hands away. She was right. This was no time for modesty, unless I wanted Lewis to continue to be able to track me down at every turn.
Andreas climbed on me, and straddled my back, pinning me underneath him. Aislinn straddled my legs, securing them underneath her. “Just in case you decide to kick,” she told me. She slowly began to slice my flesh open. And oh, it hurt! I cried out, and writhed, but Andreas and Aislinn held me fast. It was over very quickly, though, and I felt the stinging pain fade as the wound swiftly closed and healed, thanks to my accelerated immune system. She washed me with a wet rag, and pulled my dress down in place.
They both climbed off, and I sat up, rubbing the sore spot
“Here you go!” she said with a bright grin, dropping a tiny bloody metallic cylinder in my hand.
I eyed it curiously. “So this is the culprit,” I whispered.
“You want me to destroy it?” she asked with a gleam in her eyes.
I thought about that. “No. I have a better idea.” I grinned at her and Andreas. “They track me with this, right? So wherever it is, so am I, as far as they’re concerned.”
Andreas nodded his head. “I see what you’re getting at. Where do you want me to stick this thing?” he asked with a shrewd smile.
I laughed. “How about a deep dark cave, or Antarctica? Someplace that would be very difficult for them to get to.”
He grinned. “I think I know just the place.”
“Good!” I exclaimed. “And then tomorrow, we’re taking down Marshall Lewis. Screw the watch and wait. I have a plan.” I smiled broadly, and then outlined to both of them exactly what I wanted to do.