Two months had passed. It could be said life became normal, yet it really had not. In some ways it had of course become better, but there lingered concern in other categories. Rachel had not yet been able to return to the Resurrection Era. Her magic as a Cultivator kept fluctuating in ways that meant her hourglass simply did not work, and she became neither Activated nor Deactivated in the process despite her Seed appearing to be mostly thawed. Clara did not dare try to send her personally for fear the fluctuation might make things dangerous to her and Aldan equally. It very, very plausibly meant that the Paradoxal Pivot still lingered in play, and that some choice still needed to be made by someone in order to end it. The fact that Clara had literally never seen or heard of anything like this happening before—two Pivots right on top of each other—definitely did not make anyone feel better in any fashion.
October crept up while no one was looking, and the weather had cooled enough to be considered autumn in the city of Lux. Without the threat of a war, Shana resumed her early morning jogs around her city without someone trying to dog her heels. She endured the protectiveness because she loved them, but it did get trying quite often. To appease them on her solo runs, she tried to take a route that would send her past at least a few of the Cultivator-Commander pairs' homes.
She had paused outside Tyson and Kellie's home to stretch her legs when she heard the sound of squealing brakes that usually implied a carriage had lost control. Her skin crawled. Some sounds she just could not tolerate where carriages were concerned.
Inside the house, Tyson had just finished packing his lunch for the day to head for the university where he now taught hexball. Kellie had already left for her medical classes. He heard the squealing brakes as well, though he did not initially pay it much heed. It did happen, after all. It was when he felt a rather horrific sensation of some sort, almost as if time-space itself had fluttered, that he paused. Unease churned. He did not have Sight, but he did feel fluctuations of events that could change the proper flow. Borderline Sensing, to be honest.
He stepped into the doorway and spied Shana standing in the street. That looked odd. A second look told him that there were now tire tracks on his lawn, and a carriage sitting askew just off his property, and he scowled. "What the weighted hell happened?"
Shana heard him, and she shot an annoyed look his direction. "Someone lost control and came across the lines up into the pedestrian space and then your yard. I barely dodged. They're just sitting there trying to get reoriented, I think." She started to walk back toward the lawn. "It's a wonder I can go near these things at all."
The carriage, which had been so motionless, suddenly started up. Rather than shoot forward as if to escape, it came backward. Deliberately. Neither Shana nor Tyson had a single chance to react for the gesture was so utterly foreign, they could never had predicted it. Sheer terror froze Shana for just the moment long enough needed.
The sound of the bumper striking her would forever be burned into Tyson's memories. That . . . terrible sound of bones crunching, and skin splitting. She flew backward more than a bit, and landed violently where she did not move again. Black blood began to gather and spread underneath her in a horrifying stain. Tyson stopped breathing for a moment and then scrambled toward her. "Shana!" he shouted.
She was breathing, he found, but barely. He looked up sharply at the sound of the carriage rushing away, and pure fury welled. He shoved it away as he saw neighbors emerging from their houses. "Call a paramedic!" he shouted. "Hurry!" He caught Shana's hand in his and held on tightly, his stomach churning with sick nausea. "Don't let go!" he whispered fiercely. "You have to get through this!" Too much damage. There was too much damage for even Siobhan to handle, let alone Kellie. They would need a whole new miracle for this.
* * * * *
Edgar had been in the middle of drying dishes when he suddenly a pain inside his chest that was so sharp and violent that he physically jerked. The plate fell onto the floor and shattered. Siobhan did not bother to try to catch the plate. She grabbed her lover's arms and staggered as she tried to keep him on his feet when he would have collapsed to the ground. "Edgar? What's wrong? You're scaring me!"
"Shana." He braced a hand against the counter and pressed his other hard to his chest. "Call Rocky. Something's wrong. She's hurt." His voice shook. "Badly. It feels like she's being torn out of me."
Siobhan did not question him. She leapt for where her PPS sat on the table and snatched it up. "Rocky Toulume!" she ordered. It connected immediately, but it kept clicking and clicking and clicking and clicking, and each progressive click made her terror rise hotter until tears blurred her eyes. It finally got answered, and she demanded, "What has happened?!"
"Shana was in an accident." Rocky's voice sounded thin with fear and pain and a far cry from its natural eternal cheer. "She was hit by a carriage. She's in the hospital right now." His voice broke. "She's in critical condition, Siobhan. It's . . . it's too much for even you. I don't know what we're going to do. The doctors . . ."
"We're on our way!" She closed the phone. "Let's go. I'll tell you what he told me when we're in the carriage." It was just as well that Edgar never drove any EC; he would have been in no condition right then anyway.
Edgar barely heard her. All of his willpower had focused on holding that dim presence inside him. Though they still did not understand how the two sets of siblings shared bonds that held aspects of both sorts of soul mate, they all knew they did. He concentrated fiercely on binding his sister to him—he would never let her go—and he knew from the familiar blue and white lights he could see that her two actual soul mates did the same.
They got to the hospital waiting room close behind their friends. Just about everyone else had been packed into the room, including those would have normally found it hard to get away from work like Michael. The investigator actually wore his work clothes, so he may have come right from the station. He instantly got to his feet to leave Virginia's side and crossed to take Edgar from Siobhan. "I've got him," he told her.
That freed her to go to where her brother sat slumped in a chair with his face in his hands. Sam sat right beside him, holding on tight, and Siobhan took the other chair to help hold on as well. "Rocky?" she asked softly. No response came, which did not shock her. He would be fighting hard to hold onto his soul mate. A glance at Alexandria found the same expression on her face as on Rocky's; she seemed only barely aware of Diaz staying close. Siobhan felt her stomach quiver. She had never seen tears on Alexandria's face before. She never wanted to see it again.
On a long breath, she looked again around the room to see everyone looked varying levels of shaken or shattered. Even Virginia. Siobhan squared her shoulders and straightened. Someone had to be strong. "Alright," she said quietly, but firmly, "let's shake this. We won't lose her. We can't. The hospital just has to get her to a point where either I or Kellie can step in. She has to survive, right? Because of the future Era."
Rachel, who had been sitting in a chair by herself between Clara and Aldan, suddenly hunched into herself more. Siobhan looked at her for a moment and then walked over to crouch before her. "Rachel?" she asked gently. "Did you know this would happen?"
"No," Rachel whispered. "I promise I didn't." She took a long breath. "It was only this morning that I woke up and remembered the Commanders being in the Resurrection Era when I arrived." She tried to smile. "It feels like they were always there. I can almost convince myself that I came here knowing they would be there and I just didn't say anything."
"A sign of a good Apprentice," Siobhan told her. She ruffled Rachel's hair affectionately and then straightened. "Alright," she said briskly. "Someone talk to me. What happened? How did Shana get hit by a carriage? That sounds so . . . so unlikely." And disturbingly karmic, but she kept that to herself. No one answered her, so she looked at Rocky directly. "Rocky. Were you there?"
"No," Tyson spoke up from where he sat against the wall. Kellie sat on her knees beside him, and there was a blanket around his shoulders. The shivers he could not seem to fight underscored why. "I . . . I was. She was outside my house. On her jog. I couldn't . . . I couldn't protect her."
"Ty." Sam looked over. "No one will blame you. You are barely Sensing, you don't have Sight. If her soul mates didn't sense danger to her, how could you? And . . ." he looked at Michael, "I'm not sure this is . . . a normal situation anyway."
Siobhan frowned at him and then at Michael. "You were there?"
"No," Michael responded as calmly as he could, "but I was one of the first to report to the scene." He laced his fingers tighter with Edgar's as his prince's hand shook slightly.
Her stomach quivered. "Mike?" she whispered. "Why would you report to a carriage accident if you investigate terrible crime?"
Michael took a long breath. "Honey. I'm sorry. Based on Tyson's account and what we've already gotten from the scene . . . it looks like someone deliberately tried to murder Shana. It wasn't an accident."
"Murder?!" The word was little more than a squeak, but Juliet was too shocked to feel embarrassed at losing her composure. "No! That's impossible! No one would want to hurt Shana!"
A doctor stepped into the doorway suddenly and drew all eyes. He looked around the room sharply and then narrowed onto Edgar. "Are you blood related to Shana Chivanti?" At the nod, he said swiftly, "Can you donate blood? We have to get some transfusions into her if we want to save her, but her blood is nothing that we've seen before. It doesn't even match her original records from childhood. Are you both Protean?"
"We are more Protean than anyone else you'll meet," Edgar said as calmly as he could, "but Shana is exceptionally special. I . . . I don't have black blood. Very dark red blood that can look black, yes, but not actually black. I don't know if I can help. I'll try, though."
Kelli got to her feet. "Me too," she said instantly. "Tyson and I will try as well. We also have potentially similar blood."
A statement that did not surprise any of their friends. Shana's blood had turned black because of being an Apex; those of the strongest Light and Dark cores had that power literally infuse their blood. Shana and Siobhan who were Apexes and controlled Light and Dark like a physical element had had their blood turn entirely black or white. Edgar and Rocky had the next most powerful Dark and Light cores beside their sisters, but they had not gone all the way black or white. A hint of red still clung to the either very pale or very dark color.
Kellie and Tyson had strong Dark cores, to be certain, but not strong enough to change their blood color. On the other hand, they held the Metal Flower Element, and Kellie was a healer on top of it. Metal tended to be the element that ran closest to Dark, so they had the best odds other than Edgar. Kellie, being a healer, might even be able to briefly alter her own blood's properties to make it a better fit. She had never tried such a thing, but damned if she wouldn't figure it out for her beloved queen!
All three followed the doctor down the hall to the donation space. Each gave a brief amount to test with, and then accepted the sugary snacks that a nurse handed them. As Kellie nibbled a cookie, she asked Edgar, "Is Octavia on her way?"
"She's already here," he admitted. "She was on duty looking after some children when Shana was admitted. Mom will do everything she can to visit on any break she has. It's rattled her too. It's too . . . it's too much like . . ."
"I know." Kellie strove to lighten the mood as best she could. "I guess this means we better make you four," she did not need to clarify who, "start donating blood on the regular for future emergencies. The one thing we healers cannot do is replace blood. Maybe someday we'll find that supposed Gray core who would have gray blood. They could donate to anyone. Then we'll all feel safer."
Edgar managed to smile. "I think it'll be easier to just build up a ration."
The nurse returned briefly and found a smile. "We were in luck. The first test of her blood to yours implies her body should not reject it. The highest compatibility was between Kellie, though, so we're going to use just hers for the moment and leave the others in reserve. We don't want to take too much from Kellie at one time, so hopefully we can have the reserve donations stretch the time for Kellie to recover."
Kellie nodded, but she knew damned well that healers actually operated on different physical rules than most. Because she healed by taking in injuries, her body had a high ability for self-recovery. She could have given blood every hour without a single ill effect—and she damned well would if it would save Shana.
"Let's get you back to the lobby," the nurse said after she had taken the full first amount from Kellie.
"Wait, can we see her?" Tyson asked quickly. "Please? I just . . ."
Since the nurse knew he had been at the scene, she nodded. "Alright. Come with me. Kellie? Edgar?"
"Not Edgar," Kellie interjected. She looked at him when he moved as if to protest. "You will only suffer seeing her in this condition. Return to Michael and Siobhan. Be strong, Edgar. You have to stay strong, because you staying strong may be critical to Shana's recovery." He, as much as Alexandria and Rocky, had to stay strong so they could continue to bind Shana to them and not let her go.
Edgar reluctantly returned to the waiting room, and Kellie and Tyson followed the nurse through the intensive care area toward Shana's room. Kellie had seen plenty of terrible things in her medical studies, but the floor still dipped under her feet as she saw Shana. Pale, motionless, barely breathing. Machines to monitor everything about her, only their soft sounds implying she still lived at all.
Tyson felt sick. Why hadn't he stopped this? He moved to Shana's side and sat down in the chair before gently reaching out to cover her hand with his.
Kellie sat down in the chair on the other side of the bed and took Shana's other hand. The moment she did, she sensed something both odd and alarming. Power. Shana's power moved hotly through her body in a way it should not. Rachel was no longer the only one in fluctuation. Shana had entered a similar state, somehow. It felt a little as if she was fighting. But what?
The nurse left the room, and Tyson said in a low voice, "I will kill whoever did this."
"Take a ticket," Chance's very soft voice said from the doorway.
Kellie jolted slightly even as Tyson swore softly. "Quit doing that," Tyson muttered at his friend. He glanced to the shadows where the voice had come from; he could just make out Chance's figure there. He felt no surprise at his presence, just his sudden voice. "We might need you," he said. "You're a backup to any of us, and we may need you."
Chance nodded slightly in acknowledgment, and his blue eyes, for just a moment, nearly turned black as he looked at Shana. Like having differently colored blood, only the strongest cores could have their eyes change color to match their core when their temper flared. Chance actually ran a relatively close third to Shana and Edgar for sheer Dark. Only the flecks of Light that gave him his Shadow element kept him from matching them more closely.
Tyson glanced back to Shana again, and temper of his own churned anew. "It was so damned deliberate. Mike better be prepared to investigate another murder if I find that bastard driving the carriage."
"That is the Defenders' privilege," Kellie told her fiancé coolly. "She belongs to us even before she belongs to the Commanders, Ty. I love you to distraction, but I stand firm on this. If the Commanders kill the bastard, then it'll be quick. I want him to suffer."
Those of Daffodil could very often be a little on the 'eye-for-an-eye' side of the fence, which certainly had its uses. Chance saw Tyson struggling with his instinct to avenge Shana and his instinct to abide by Kellie's request, and said, "Let it go. Don't pick a fight with her when you've still only just recently found her."
"Love advice from Rubeo Chance?" Tyson muttered, unwillingly amused. "The world is ending."
Kellie bit her lower lip to hide a smile as Chance glared at Tyson. The Shadow user seemed to sense something suddenly, however, and he looked at the door. He instantly dissolved into the shadows where he became unseen and incapable of being sensed. A nurse walked into the room moments only moments later.
As she was recording Shana's signs, Kellie reached out again to take her queen's hand. The nurse paused, then said softly, "Let go of her hand for a moment." Kellie did so, and the nurse frowned thoughtfully. "Interesting. Her lifesigns are quite strong, but the minute you touched her, she regulated better." She paused. "Wait." She began flipping through screens on the PCM kept at one side of the room. "I think . . . this is familiar. For her."
"It is," Kellie spoke up. "I wasn't there before, but I know what you're referencing. Shana is very special. She knows when the ones she loves most are near. When she was a child, and hurt from that other accident, she got better as long as Siobhan and Rocky Toulume were near her. They're here now. In the waiting room. Rocky is her fiancé; Siobhan is her combination adopted sister and soon sister-in-law." She nodded firmly. "If you want Shana to survive, then you need to at least get Rocky in here. He has the deepest connection to her, one of not just the soul and heart, but the body as well."
Patients in that area of intensive care could usually only have two visitors at a time. However, Shana was the adopted daughter of one of the hospital's favorite nurses, and she had suffered so terribly. The hospital had never lost one of their own, and the current nurse on duty had no intentions of starting there. She nodded briefly. "I'll go get him."
It still shook her a little when she brought Rocky to Shana's side. The instant he took Tyson's spot and curled his hand around Shana's, it was as if every one of her vital signs instantly steadied and calmed. Her weakened heartbeat became strong and sure. It matched records of what happened before, so the nurse just made a new note in the file and then closed it. Magic did not exist only for the Cultivators. It could be found in some quieter places, too. She lightly touched Kellie's shoulder. "Come with me. We should be able to get a second amount of blood from you perfectly safely, just in case."
Kellie followed the nurse out of the room and left Rocky and Tyson together. There was a long silence, and then Tyson walked over to Rocky and bent to hug him. Rocky let out a long breath. "I needed that."
Tyson briefly tightened his grip and then let go. "It's going to haunt me for the rest of my life that I could not protect her, my prince. I'm so sorry."
Rocky knew telling him to move past it would have no effect. Tyson would always carry the guilt. He was a Commander, and a Caretaker on top of it, and to not protect someone he had sworn to defend would be devastating. To divert the subject and desperately try to lighten the mood, he said only, "I should have known you'd be compatible. In fact, I am almost surprised your blood isn't black."
"Is that an insult?" his friend asked dryly.
"As we both know, those of Dark power tend to be . . . hmm."
"Blind to the obvious, impossible, and maddening?" came Chance's voice from the shadows.
"I resent that on Shana and Edgar's behalf," Tyson muttered. "And you’re one to talk anyway." He huffed out a quick breath and then looked back to Rocky. "What are your orders? What do you want us to do in this situation? Either we Commanders or Chance. We all will do anything."
Rocky brought Shana's hand to his cheek and wished fiercely for her to wake and smile at him. "Work with Michael's half of the team. He intends to run two investigations at once. One official, and the other at Edgar's order. There are places that he can't go, and some places that the other Protea Commanders cannot go. The Delphinium Commanders may not be so limited. Join forces and do whatever it takes. Chance will stand by for whatever you need. He has gifts of particular use, especially now."
"As you command," came Chance's soft voice, then his presence simply seemed to fade away.
Tyson nodded. "Indeed. Whatever you need of us, Rocky, we will give. We love Shana almost as much as the Defenders do." He lightly ran a hand down Rocky's hair in support and then left the room to go meet with Sam, Uwe, and Diaz. They had work to do.
She heard his laughter echoing in her ears and her heart, branding her, marking her. The nightmares were constant, consuming, filling her soul with dread. They manipulated her and forced her to remember things she would sooner forget. She watched the world stain red and bleed away. She would have screamed if she'd had a voice, but her body was under attack from the outside. So she did what she had done for ages, what she had always done when she had been confronted with nightmares.