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Aiden must have guessed such questions would have been running through my mind. “Anna and Kyle are okay, Sofia. They’re in Aviary right now. Arron brought Ian there too. But they will be returned unharmed. They are just assisting the Guardians with some testing.”

Aviary? Guardians? Testing? I had no idea what he was talking about, but none of it put me at ease for my friends’ safety.

His face betrayed realization that he’d implicated himself in a longer and more complicated discussion than he had intended. “But all that, my dear, is a topic for another day. We need to get you better first.”

“How long before I can leave this bed?”

“Immediately,” the nurse said. “Take a look, you’re all healed.”

The blisters and all traces of my wound had vanished. I shivered internally as I recalled my trip to the witch in The Cells who, in exchange for some more dried bread, had carved the wound into my body and covered my skin with blisters as soon as we had returned from our… expedition.

“Where did you go, Sofia?” Derek must have been burning to ask.

“I-I don’t know, Derek.” I felt myself frown. “The last thing I remember was you leaving me in the bedroom. I was upset that you were refusing to bring me to see everyone here at Headquarters… I probably ran outside into the daylight. I suppose I worked myself up into a state and didn’t know what I was doing. But I think that what we can learn from this is: don’t make me upset again and I won’t go anywhere.”

Disappointment shrouded his eyes. He knew this wasn’t his Sofia he was talking to. He wanted me back. I wanted me back.

“How did you get back to the cabin?” he pressed.

How did I get there?

The truthful answer was that I didn’t know myself. After creating my wound, the witch had put me into unconsciousness and after that I remembered nothing. I guessed that Liana and her submarines must have had something to do with my journey.

“Again, I don’t remember anything. My guess is that some humans from the local village spotted me and brought me there.”

Derek was about to interrogate me further, but Aiden came to the Elder’s rescue and interrupted him. “There’ll be time for more questions later, Derek. Sofia has been through an ordeal and, although her body is looking better now, she clearly still needs some mental rest.”

“Rest is exactly what I need. Thank you.” I put my arms around my father’s neck and kissed his cheek. Then I turned to speak to the nurse. “Where will I sleep?”

“What? With me in my quarters, of course.” Derek didn’t even give the woman a chance to answer. “I’m not letting you leave my sight after having you slip from my grasp twice already.”

“No, D-Derek,” I stuttered. “I c-can’t sleep anywhere near you. I don’t want to risk doing more harm to you than I’ve done already.” I placed a hand underneath his shirt and traced my fingers over the scars I’d created on his torso. Then cold tears started to fall from my eyes. “P-please, I can’t sleep anywhere near you.”

Again my loving father came to the aid of the Elder. He gathered me in his arms and said, “Derek’s not going to make you stay with him if you don’t want that, honey. You can sleep wherever you want.”

“No, she can’t!” Derek hissed. “Aiden, are you mad? I am not going to let her out of my sight. Especially not during the long hours of the night. That’s when she’s most vulnerable! She needs supervision.”

Aiden placed a hand on Derek’s shoulder. “As long as she’s within the boundaries of Headquarters, she’ll be fine. I’ll have security positioned at all exits to the main building during the day so she won’t be able to go out into the sunlight, and around the outskirts of the entire grounds at night so she won’t leave the campus even once it’s dark. There was nothing stopping her leaving that little hut. You’re forgetting that it’s different here at Headquarters.”

“I still don’t trust…” Derek began, but Aiden cut him off.

“And,” Aiden said in a low voice, “you know very well that there are other reasons why it’s better that Sofia is kept away from everybody… why it’s better that as few people as possible realize that she’s back here.”

At that, Derek remained silent. Then Aiden turned to me once again. “You can stay in whatever apartment you want while you’re here, okay, darling?”

“Thank you, Dad,” I piped up, giving him a cuddle. “I’d like to be in the quietest part of the building. I just feel that I need time alone to recover. I can move in with Derek when I’m ready.”

Derek scowled, but he decided not to argue with Aiden in front of me. I was sure that a heated discussion would take place between the two men as soon as they were alone.

I hoped that Derek was now beyond taking my words and behavior seriously. I hoped that he simply accepted that I was deranged and needed some kind of psychiatric doctor. Or do I dare hope that he might have guessed by now that I’ve been possessed?

As the nurse guided me out of bed and set me on my feet, I felt relieved that this time, the Elder had decided to keep me apart from Derek. But a darker question entered my thoughts. The Elder had never had any qualms about hurting my husband before. Indeed, the Elder had willfully made me inflict suffering on him and I had felt the Elder shiver with pleasure.


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