Once the car had stopped, they got out and walked. Once they couldn’t walk anymore – feet blistered and stomach on less than empty – they found a house.
“Must be a holiday home,” Dustin said, flicking on lights and looking around. “Hasn’t been touched in months.”
Shanna said nothing, even when he put a fresh glass of water out in front of her. It wasn’t until she’d finished sipping from the glass that she gained the courage to speak up.
“What if Q can’t find us? What if they do?”
“Why would they? As far as they know, you’re no longer a Seer. You’re useless to them. Q will have a way to track us down.”
“So why bother to run all this way?”
Dustin sighed, his voice faint as he stuck his head inside a cupboard and looked around. “Just in case.” He pulled out a can of peaches and gave it a shake, the viscous liquid inside making strange noises.
Shanna pulled her knees to her chest and hugged them, tight enough that her chest hurt, and stayed like that as Dustin fell asleep across from her, curled up on a sofa.
The spiral of her thoughts grew dark and when she heard the crunch of gravel outside she crossed to the door and yanked it open, well aware that she could be facing down an enemy. Dustin startled awake with a curse as Shanna stood shivering, glaring at the figure leaning against a car.
“You found us, then.”
“Took me a while.” Even in the half light under the moon, Q’s posture read tense. Shanna felt the internal panic and crushed it down until it was nothing but a solid weight. If Q had been close, he would have seen the light go out of her eyes.
He held her gaze. Somehow she sensed that he welcomed her blame. “I didn’t account for the landslide. After the explosion everyone was flung to the ground. Ayr hit his head on one of the rocks. He’s in hospital.”
Shanna nodded. “Okay,” she said, and Dustin looked at her sharply. She didn’t need to ask anymore, because Q’s tone had said it all. “And the council?”
“Two vampires down, but Menna walked away.” He spat the name.
“Can we Turn him?” Dustin crossed his arms against the chill. Q noticed and jutted his chin towards the car, and they shut the door behind them.
“The virus will kill him.” Shanna tried to sound dispassionate. All of her visions and none of them had shown this? Somehow it made her feel worse, that she could be so easily blindsided by death.
“The virus is already there. Activating it might help some of the healing process.” Q turned on the engine and blasted the heat, doing a neat U turn to get them back on the road. “It wouldn’t be enough.”
“You’ve looked ahead?”
Q stared dead ahead. “There’s no good outcome, Shanna.”
“Can’t your contacts do something? Your mate the Blood Warlock?”
“I burned that favour for Shanna.”
“No, Shanna. Why are you accepting this so easily? Q might not have thought of the solution yet. What about Cissy? She started learning healing magic last time she was back in Wales.”
“She’s halfway across the world.”
“So then bring her back.”
“There’s only so much healing magic can do, Dustin! I’ve been through all of this. I don’t want my nephew to die – I’ve failed my brother enough. But there’s no favours I can call in that will work.”
“You didn’t fail anyone,” Shanna said, staring down at the scab on her palm. “I did. I looked away from Menna when the landslide happened.”
“And your reactions would have got everyone out alive. It was just the bad luck of a rock being in the wrong place.”
“I thought you said there was no such thing as bad luck,” Dustin grumbled.
“I changed my mind when -” Q stopped, choked back the words he was about to say, and snapped his jaw shut. Two pairs of eyes stared at him expectantly. He exhaled, his nostrils flaring, and the car jumped up in speed.
“We need some good luck,” he said.
Shanna exchanged a look with Dustin in the mirror as the jeep swung down a narrow dirt road. “Where are we going?” she asked, tightening her fingers on the seat as they bounced around.
“To try and get some.”
They ended up deep in a forest. Shanna’s instincts told her it was an ancient one, no evidence of plantations or even human interference, and the smell of earth began to unravel the weight in her stomach.
“I’m operating off-piste here,” Q said from the side of his mouth. “Which means I’m basically blind. Just play along.”
“What are we doing?” Dustin hissed in Shanna’s ear, dogging her steps and keeping a keen eye on their backs.
“Shush,” Q said, before clearing his throat. “I’m going to feel silly if this doesn’t work, so keep your mouths shut.” He cupped his hands to his mouth. “I’m in need of luck and willing to trade. Will you come out and talk to me?”
Shanna eyed the trees around them. She almost made a joke about Ents but swallowed it down.
“Oh, good,” Q said, and she turned around at Dustin’s sharp intake of breath to see a woman sitting on a rock. “I wasn’t sure that would work.”
“When the heir knocks, it’s only polite to answer,” the woman said, smiling mysteriously. “Any enemy of the Council is a friend of ours.”
“My reputation proceeds me,” Q preened.
“Indeed. We were hoping you would come. We’ve been looking to make a trade with you, too.”
Shanna raised an eyebrow as her mentor was so obviously caught on the back foot. He studied her with open curiosity before waving her on.
“You’ve recently had a vision of how you defeat them, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” Q said. “Parts of the plan, anyway.”
“In a generation’s time, my clan will be under the sway of the Council. The wolf pack near makes agreements with them.” She swung her legs as if she was waist deep in water. “You’ll take one of our own for your war, thus protecting my line from the dangers here, and give us credit in the victory.” She looked coy. “If you are victorious.”
“This sounds too good to be true,” Q suggested, tilting his head to the side. Shanna realised that if she unfocused her eyes, she could see bright outlines of wings behind the woman. The fae. She bit down on her gasp of surprise.
“Some luck is a small price,” the woman said, her eyes dazzling. “And the standing this would give my remaining clan is no small thing. Bargains with the fae don’t have to be as hard as you humans make it out to be.”
“Then I’ll happily accept. Is it rude to ask for your name?”
“Your human tongue could never pronounce its true power, so there’s no insult to speak of. I am Maiden Vernalroue. My daughter will come to you when it is time.” She held out a hand and a glowing jar materialised. “Luck works miracles, but even miracles have their limits. Your boy will survive, and will be present. Anything more, I cannot promise.”
“It is still kind of you,” Q said, reaching out to pluck the jar from her hand. “I thank – oh.” The woman had disappeared into the air, and Q blinked at the space she left. “Certainly went better than my previous encounter with the fae.”
“Too explicit to detail for an underage menace like yourself. C’mon, this will only work if we get there in time.”
“Are we just going to gloss over the fact that we saw a faerie?!” Shanna blurted out, some minutes later, as Q went barrelling down dark roads.
“It was pretty cool,” Dustin admitted.
“The Fae are something humans get wrong in the myths. Or at least… each clan have different traits and qualities that have been amassed as one in the legends. Why are you so surprised? Werewolves and vampires exist.”
“And witches,” Dustin added. “You’ve even met Cissy.”
“Yeah but – fae are like… other-worldly! And why did she call you the heir?”
“No idea,” Q said. “But I can’t wait to find out.” He took a corner too fast and Shanna clutched the jar to her chest. It was warm against her hands.
“How did you know they’d be there?”
“God, what is this, twenty questions? It’s an ancient forest, largely untouched by humans. Where else would they be?”
“Are they really that common?”
“Sure, they just don’t often show themselves to humans unless there’s good reason. Like gifts to be had or trades to be made.” He waited a beat. “I have no idea what I’ve got myself into, but hopefully her daughter isn’t going to be some screaming changeling infant. Shit, I better tell Danni to lock the doors of our nursery. She’s going to kill me…”
“How long until we get to the hospital?” Dustin asked, cutting through Q’s rambling.
Shanna checked the dashboard. “Forty minutes.”
“Make that thirty,” Q said, as the engine whined.
The hospital was an ugly, old building covered head to toe with harling that had greyed over time. Shanna shivered as soon as they’d stepped in, the searing smell of cleanliness and waiting souls catching in the back of her throat. Q strode right through and led them through the maze of departments to where her family sat around a bed. Law looked as if someone had reduced him to greyscale, no colour to his skin and eyes only a faint blue that failed to liven up his face. Quinn had curled up on a chair and stared glumly at her brother’s sleeping face, while Isabelle stood stiffly behind him. Cara sat sobbing by his head, fingers shaking as they stroked his shaved head.
“We might have a shot,” Q said as soon as he burst into the room. All eyes turned to him and he snatched up the jar from Shanna without pausing for niceties. “I’ve got some luck. It might give us a miracle.” He waved his hands in a shooing motion but it was Kian who pulled Cara out of the way. His namesake leaned over Ayr’s prone form and unscrewed the lid.
“Now we wait.”
The questions came all at once. Shanna could barely separate them, but somehow Q managed.
“Luck from a fae friend. Yes, really. She said it will help him recover and be present but more she couldn’t guarantee. It was the only shot we had and I took it.” He paused and waited for more questions, but none came. Not even Law thought to question the presence of the fae, though Shanna was desperate to. She caught Q’s gaze and nodded to the door. Anything to keep her from looking at Ayr’s vulnerable body.
Q and Dustin stepped back into the hall. “Have you Seen more about stopping the council?”
“A bit,” Q nodded. “Some things are still to fall into place.”
Shanna narrowed her eyes. She knew Q well enough to know when he was being cagey. “What can we do?”
He was already shaking his head, anticipating the question. That was nothing to do with being able to See the future; that was just how well he knew her by this point.
“Your parts are done. I’m serious. I’m not putting you at risk again, and putting the family back on the Council’s radar. You return to your life.” He could see twin faces of suspicion and sighed. “The next part is for the next generation. Not the Star Trek show.” He rolled his eyes when his quip failed to launch any groans. “Your children. You’ll know more as it becomes relevant. Putting too much information out there is a bad idea. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.”
“I spent years hiding you,” he reminded her, sternly. “Training you was a happy bonus and one that would have kept you safe on various paths. I can’t spend my time doing that anymore, Shanna. I have to put things in place and be there for my own children.” He glanced back over at the door which held Ayr. “I’ll watch from afar for a while.”
“Wait-“ Shanna spluttered.
“You’re leaving?” Dustin sounded just as shocked.
“Like I said. Things to do, people to defeat and to monologue at. I’ll keep an eye on your futures and I’ll be back around before you know it.”
Shanna reached out and pulled her uncle into her hug, which surprised her as much as it did him. “I’ll miss you,” she admitted into his chest.
She felt him snort. “I’ll miss you too, squirt, promise.”
The problem with head wounds was that even with all the technological advances and brain mapping and doctor’s jargon, there were times when they just had to admit they didn’t know exactly which part did what. It was a complex machine and this was where the usual metaphor to a computer failed: no one knew how to build one from scratch, so potential progress was just a best guess and a warning not to hope.
The first time Ayr opened his eyes, Shanna audibly gasped. They struggled to focus on anything and held none of his usual cheer, but the fact that they were open was in itself a miracle (to the doctors, at least).
They marked their time in the firsts, after that. The first time Ayr spoke, and then the first time he spoke coherently. The first time he sat up and the first time he held a conversation. The first time he’d given them a whole sentence without one garbled word was a cause for celebration, though he often struggled to recall words. The doctors called it anomic aphasia, which to Shanna sounded scary. However, Ayr could understand what people said to him, and could respond with sentences that took a few jumps in logic to take in. What was worse was his mobility; his already reduced coordination took another hit, and a combination of muscle weakness and loss of balance left him reliant on mobility aids, or the family around him.
But when they took him home, Shanna realised she could stop holding her breath. The fae had given them more than she’d dreamed of, and although the miracle only went so far, it meant the world to her.
And yet as her siblings returned to their life (albeit a new normal), Shanna found it increasingly difficult to fit in. The harder she tried to find her place, the more she realised how out of place she was. The space for her had closed up years ago, and now she was an awkward intruder. Ayr’s energy was swallowed by learning how to use wheelchairs and mobility tools, and in turn he was swallowed by the gaping maw of depression. The birth of his child helped anchor him, but Shanna knew things would never be the same again.
Shanna’s niece was called Korra, which Ayr had finally wheedled his partner into. Shanna used her presence as an excuse to drift further onto the sidelines.
When Mia grudgingly admitted that she’d been hit with broodiness earlier than expected, Shanna pointed out how full the house was, and quietly began to convince Law to let her move out at sixteen.
“I’m going to go to the agricultural college,” Shanna shrugged. “And live with Dustin, who is seventeen.”
“Good God,” Law had mumbled in response. “You don’t need my permission, I know, but my previous conditions still remain.”
“Therapy,” Shanna agreed, rolling her eyes. “Consider it done, weekly.”
“And I need to talk to Dustin,” Law added.
“Not a problem,” she smiled.
“I have an adult job and I pay taxes,” Dustin shrugged, frowning at a spot of dirt on his bowl and deciding he didn’t care enough to wash it again. “Why are you here?”
“I’m going to move here and Law needs to talk to you about it.”
Dustin froze, blinked, and looked over his shoulder. “What the fuck, idiot?!” he blurted in Spanish. “He’s going to think we’re, you know -” he moved a spoon between them, “and threaten to garrote me or something.”
“Are you scared?” Shanna teased.
“Yes, because while you couldn’t land a punch on me that would actually bruise, your uncle could smash my jaw in before I could blink. Vampire or not.” He waited a beat. “Are you serious about living here?”
Dustin let out a long groan. “No! Really? You don’t want to live with me, Shanna, can’t you just pretend?”
“We lived with each other before,” she reminded him. She missed those times deeply. “I don’t want to be at home. Plus you live near the college,” she added.
Dustin wrinkled his nose. “Fine, but you have to pay rent.”
Shanna hid a smile behind her hand. Dustin could have easily put up a fight, but he hadn’t, and she knew why. After a lifetime of living in crowded prisons and houses, he had been going mad with the emptiness of a flat. She knew from the number of texts her phone blew up with each night.
“Not a problem,” she promised again.
Shanna used Mia’s announcement of her pregnancy as a way to mention she was moving out. It was met with a lack of resistance, which she told herself was because the space was tight and not because they wanted it this way. Despite being desperate to move out, it made her heart lurch to think that they wanted her to go too.
“You’ve got to… say they’re Dova,” Ayr pitched in, saving the conversation from Shanna’s admission.
“After your D&D character?” Quinn asked, already shaking his head.
“Hey, his, um, what is it when their life is remembered?” He glanced around for help, and Cara squeezed his hand and murmured something into his ear. “Yeah, his legacy needs to go on. You can’t say no to your – to me.”
“You’re the worst,” Quinn tutted. Mia only grinned.
“I have always liked the name.”
“Done! Dova. Kor-ra and Dova. Now I kids the – name the rest of the kids, I mean.”
“Absolutely not,” Isabelle said, already scowling. “You can try pulling the brain damage card, but I’ve got my reply right here.” She swung her finger out towards him.
“Shan, in ten years clock – um… time – when Law, uh finally lets Dustin with you, let me call your… um… little you.”
“He is not going to get with me!” Shanna spluttered, feeling her cheeks flood.
Ayr laughed until his face turned red. Cara sighed at the sound of the baby monitor picking up crying. “Duty calls. Try not to let him bully you too much.”
Shanna counted the days until she moved out, and then she counted the days she lived with Dustin. At day sixty three, Mia gave birth, and Dova was welcomed into the world. Then at day two hundred and one, Isabelle and Kian moved out down the road and began to try for a family of their own. Shanna thought they were all ridiculously young, barely brushing twenty two, but after a while she considered that maybe they’d just grown up quickly and knew how easily life could be snatched from them. She never thought of herself as someone having children, even when her heart ached with the pain of Isabelle’s miscarriage, even when it soared as she played with her young niece and nephew, already thick as thieves.
And then, on day a thousand, she discovered she was pregnant.
“Shit,” she said, staring at herself in the mirror. “Shit, shit, shit. How the hell did I get here?” She thought back to the stolen moments between them, of lingering glances and thoughtful pauses, of puzzle pieces fitting together as they chilled every evening, watching TV or sparring, and as she had done many times, tried to pinpoint when exactly they’d fallen together.
Maybe it was long before she’d even moved in.
What began as the invite to the college ceilidh ended with a slow dance at Isabelle’s wedding. What had started as careful punches ended with wrestling and tickling matches. Where there had been distance they now pulled each other close, and Shanna had long since given up trying to pretend nothing had happened between them.
It had. On her seventeenth birthday she’d been jokingly offered a kiss, and she’d taken it seriously, and then she’d asked for more. She’d explored the marks on his skin with her gentle fingertips and felt humbled at the level of trust he had gifted to her. By her eighteenth birthday she knew every inch of him, familiar in his companionship in a way she’d never felt before, had whispered promises of forevers and rings, and then on her nineteenth he’d seriously offered her one.
“Maybe I should have said yes,” she sighed, but what did something like marriage mean for love? It had been a nice gesture, but she’d suspected at the time it had been only for her, and she wasn’t interested in taking it. Too young, she’d thought. Not for her, she’d thought. She’d forgotten the wistful way Isabelle had looked at Kian, resplendent in her dress, and how Cara and Ayr had cried. She’d tried to be like Mia, derisive of the traditions, but in her heart she wanted.
It wasn’t until Q knocked on her door that she got the advice she had been looking for.
Q gave her a look. He wasn’t fooled, because he’d never been. “Oh ye of little faith,” he said, sweeping in. “Why do you think, other than to offer my congratulations?”
Shanna scowled and followed him to the sofa, but he was speaking before she could think of what she needed to say.
“It’s not about being as good as Echo and Lukas. It’s not about moving on with a replacement family. It’s about you, forging your life, your path. Not taking cues from the ghosts of the past or even the Mia’s of the present. You need to be true to yourself, and to do that, you need to know who you are. You can’t do that by being the thing that you think people want you to be.”
Shanna glared at him. “Psychologist now, are you?”
“I’m insulted that you think I wasn’t one before. You’re just scared. Trust me, anyone expecting a child is scared.”
“You’ve come back after three and a half years to give me that pearl?” she snapped. “Thanks. You can go now.”
“I’m trying to give you a good reason to have your son that isn’t just the fact that he’s instrumental in my plans.” Q scratched at his beard and looked shameless. “But he is. If that helps to convince you.”
“He is?” she murmured, looking down at her flat stomach.
“And you’re going to be a great mother.”
“I don’t feel old enough,” she admitted. “I don’t… I don’t think I can do it.”
“You can,” Q corrected, gently. “I’ve Seen that you can. But if you can’t, then that’s your choice too. I hear Law’s been pioneering test tube babies, or whatever, so, you could always chuck him in there.”
“Q!” Shanna gasped, before snorting. “You’re terrible.”
“Terribly funny,” he corrected.
“All kids are different, but he’s a good one.”
“What’s he like?” Shanna asked, staring down at her stomach.
“Shan, if I got down a rabbit hole telling you what all the future kids of this branch of family are like, I’ll never stop.” Q rubbed a hand over his hair. With a pang, Shanna realised she would soon look older than him.
“Wait,” she said, as something suddenly occurred to her. “How does all the half-vampire stuff work with the kids? Like – are they like us? Or fully human? Or…” She trailed off at Q’s guilty look.
“You know how I said I knew how we defeat the council?”
“I had to do something to the kids for it to work.”
-chanting- one more chapter one more chapter one more chapter
Anyway, thanks to Louise for creating Keely Maidenroue, whose mother we have met here and who is Keely with a few tweaks, lmao. In the original version, it was thought that Ayr had died in the explosion/fire. There was actually a fantastic (if I do say so myself) cliffhanger where he later saves his daughter at the end of generation four, all vamp’d up. Buuuuut there were so. many. plotholes. And although I want to make it clear that the stakes (hah) are now high, this legacy is one of hope and I felt killing Ayr off was too many deaths too soon.
So I was trying to figure out how to resolve this issue. Then when I was nailing down Keely’s magic it hit me. And it has nicely tied in with our next chapter where we shall explore some of Q’s Seeing powers and how they work.
Finally, I don’t personally know anyone who suffers from what Ayr does. I’ve tried to do my research and watch youtube videos for the speech pattern etc, but I hope I’ve treated the topic well. If you have any thoughts on that, don’t hesitate to let me know.