"So let me get this straight." Shana was sitting propped up in her hospital bed, and her eyes narrowed slightly as she studied Diaz and Chance. "The board of trustees at Chivanti Corporation tried to murder me?"
"Seems like it," Diaz agreed cheerfully.
It had been three days since she had awoken, and she would be released from the hospital the following day. They had moved her into a private room from the intensive care area, and she had been enduring a steady stream of visitors ever since. It seemed as if everyone she had ever known had felt compelled to stop by. At least she had Octavia and Siobhan on 'bouncer' duty; visitors had to be vetted by the Toulume women before they got near Shana.
The news of the attempted murder had reached the periodicals despite Suri and Michael's best efforts. Lux's entire landmass had collectively rose up in arms, and so had Axium's. And then Vericity's, and Valerian Heights . . . the entire world had responded with particular fury over this incident.
Shana felt more than a tiny bit nonplussed to realize she had unknowingly reached that level of world-wide fame as a photographer. She could have understood it better if people knew she was High Queen of Protea, but they didn't. The world leaders knew she existed of course, but even they didn't know her casual identity!
Jean had left the day before to return to Vericity. She had been able to avoid the boat this time since Alexandria had personally volunteered to transport her there. If ever she wanted to visit again, she had only to contact any Cultivator and she would be picked up via transport. No need for her to be on a ship anytime she was needed when there were plenty of people with transport magic around.
Neither she, Shana, nor Rocky had mentioned Shanta's presence. All three questioned it, wondered why she had stepped in physically, but none of them were talking about it. They would find out eventually what had made this important enough for the Realm to make such an active and direct interference. It broke precedent, to be sure.
A nearly bone deep calm had begun to settle into Shana. Not so many terrible memories lingered in her eyes. People could actually use Nemesis' name or reference his wars and Shana would not enter a stress-induced panic. The same could not be said about Mania or Chaos, but that pain could be dealt with later when she had more fully recovered from this ordeal. When Rocky saw the right moment, he could call Jean.
Shana had been catching up on some of her back homework when Chance and Diaz had entered her room and announced that they knew for a fact who had tried to murder her. She wasn't precisely surprised. She had known it was a possibility from the moment she had put money in her trust fund. In a way, she had almost been testing the waters to see just how maniacal the trustees might be.
She had no desire to prosecute just yet, nor would she lift the stay on the Defenders that prevented them from exacting personal revenge. She had already had a lengthy discussion with Edgar and they had both agreed that waiting until after the takeover was best. They wanted the trustees to think they were safe until it was far too late. Their guardians were willing to accept that, but on the condition of compromise: until the dust settled, there would be at least one person shadowing the siblings at all times, be it a Cultivator or Commander. Siobhan and Rocky were, for the time being, considered part of the safety net, but if it seemed that they might be in danger as collateral, they would move from protector to protected.
Shana knew for a fact that a glance out the window would allow her to spot a Masked Sherry and Desiree, and she accepted that. Despite her need and vast ability to protect herself, she fully respected the Defenders even deeper need to ensure the safety of their queens and princes. Sure, she and Virginia had butted heads over it for millennia and likely would for millennia more, but she did accept it. She could even compromise as needed.
"So then it's official?" Rocky asked from where he sat beside the bed.
"Very. Mike is in the process of following the paper trail. We're rather lucky actually. It should take the official route just long enough to find evidence that Shana and Edgar will be able to take back the company. Chance offered to bring the information since he likes being useful, and I just decided to tag along." Diaz quirked an eyebrow slightly at Shana and seemingly ignored Chance glaring at him. "How was your near death experience?"
"I've had better," was the dry response. "And I guess I ought to apologize for worrying everyone. There really shouldn't have been any real danger here, or a choice for me to make. I realized millennia ago through a premonition that I would die in battle, so sure as dark hells no carriage will take me out passively. I would have rebounded from this just fine if I hadn't ended up in that stress-loop. Though I guess we can't complain with the outcome. I like not hurting, really. And defanging Nemesis entirely."
Diaz exchanged a quick look with Chance, and the latter said carefully, "So the choice was made? And is done? The Pivot should end, then?"
Shana and Rocky also exchanged a glance. He had still not really left her side, so they did not know what happened on the outside unless someone told them. "Yes," Shana said slowly. "Destiny offered me a choice by setting up this scenario—although she may well have set it up to help me heal—and the trustees acted early enough to put the future in flux, which brought Rachel back, and so on . . . do we have another problem?"
"It's more like a problem hasn't ended." Diaz winced. "Rachel is still in complete fluctuation."
Shana's brows shot up. "What?"
"Exactly what he said," Chance confirmed. "She hasn't Activated or Deactivated. Clara and Sam asked me to look at her, to see if perhaps I could notice anything since my time in limbo has given me borderline Sensing not unlike Tyson's." He shrugged. "I couldn't say what is wrong, but it still is."
Rocky began to frown. "So there was a Paradoxal Pivot that happened by having a Resurrection Era Cultivator be born in the Rebirth Era—which are far enough apart to make that a big deal—and Clara had the choice to be made as to how to handle things. Rachel, I think, sort of had a choice as well. They made them and that Pivot ended. The board of trustees set off another one in very short order that threw things out of alignment significantly, so Rachel came back to help. Which makes sense since her presence helped directly lead to finding the Commanders, in that whole 'future effects past' way so inherent to these things. It turned out Shana had the choice to be made, and she's made it, so that Pivot has ended. Rachel should settle, the fluctuation stop, and she can return with Aldan to the future. But . . ."
Very softly, Shana said, "There's a third Pivot." She rubbed her hands over her arms. "It was so very odd to have two in a row like that, but . . . I think there are three. We can't call it one long Pivot, not when there were distinct passages between them and different sorts of choices but . . . there's another. Maybe more than the future kingdoms rides on things."
"What else might there be?" Diaz asked.
"The future of the universe itself."
"No pressure," Rocky muttered.
Shana shook her head on a smile. "I think everything will work out fine. Whoever has the choice to be made will make the right one. We always do. Even if it doesn't always seem like it at the time. I think Destiny throws them at us as much because she likes a challenge as because she likes us to have some say in her plans."
Diaz's phone began to chime with a familiar sound, and he grinned. "That's Lex's tone. She's letting me know I'm late. She'll yell and stuff and then I'll get around her, and all will be well." He lifted a hand. "See you guys soon enough. Later, Chance." He lightly thumped Chance on the back as he went. In the time since they had cleared the air, they had become as close to best friends as one could call it where Chance was concerned.
Chance watched him go and then snorted. "You'll never see me acting like that over anyone." He lifted a hand a bit in farewell as well and headed out.
Rocky spotted the little smirk on Shana's lips, and his brows winged up. "Don't tell me you know he's wrong."
"Sometimes my premonitions are good ones. Ones I like. I had one about Chance. And I most definitely like it. He'll get his, and it will be spectacular." He tugged her into his arms, and she rested her head on his shoulder. Though her premonition about Chance was good, the other one beating in the back of her heart was not.
Rules bound the Realm of the Gods. Only those considered actual Goddesses or Guardians could reach out to interfere with the living, and even then they had limits. Shanta and Enaya had the fewest limits, and they had always meddled as they saw fit, but they had never physically come down to take action. That Pivot that had the universe riding on it might well have dragged the Realm into it just as deep as the future and present living realm. Something would surely happen very, very soon.
With a sigh, Shana rested one of her hands over Rocky's heart and let the beat soothe away her worries. She could worry about it later. She was ready to feel nothing but happiness for a while. It had been far too long since she had been unafraid to close her eyes and fall asleep. Even without his Light, she knew now she could be safe. There would be other pains to deal with eventually, if she could, but even if not, she would take what she had already been given.
The internal war had ended.