Wildvine Series, Book 8: Heirs 2 covers

Wildvine Series, Book 8: Heirs by Michelle Levigne

In multiple worlds, universes and dimensions of reality, there are tales of Hub Worlds, where many different realms can meet and intersect. Some travel between worlds through the power of the mind and Talents born into the blood, while others are chosen through vision and prophecy and step between worlds with the power of talismans. None can go to the others’ worlds, except when they meet in a Hub World.

 

Wildvine County, somewhere in the United States, is that pivotal point where the travelers from multiple worlds and universes meet…

Wildvine Series, Book 8: Heirs Kindle VersionTwo Wildvine Series novellas in one volume, including:

Heirs Apparent: The people of Rehdonna are no safer on Earth than they were on their homeworld. The Future of Man is determined to get their hands on the children of Bree Kirstan-Reed and Daniel Harland and use them in their quest to rule the world of the future. When an attempted kidnapping goes horribly wrong, Bree and Aravin, and Daniel and Wren trust their children to Jori Lawrence, sending them through the doorway of Old Solar’s Shoppe. Unfortunately, even in the Midworld, guarded by magic, there are other enemies waiting to attack…and other children in danger.

Filar: Having graduated from college early, Johnny Harland isn’t quite ready to settle into his duties as heir of the Felin-ru Clan. When his grandmother suggests a journey as a time of transition into adulthood, to “prove” himself, Johnny eagerly accepts the idea and sets off on a cross-country journey. His quest for personal understanding leads to finding a homeless boy named Clayton D’Arnot, who is Johnny’s “filar” or spirit-brother. Clayton has seen more and proven himself stronger than Johnny can even imagine. As he earns his filar’s friendship and trust, the two forge a bond of partnership that will help them lead the exiles into the future, and resolve the war for the safety of Rehdonna.  Author Page

GENRE: (Urban Fantasy/fantasy)    ISBN: 978-1-925574-80-7    ASIN: B08BZXSJDH    Word Count: 93, 990

Wildvine Series, Book 8: Heirs print cover

 

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Two Novellas:

Heirs Apparent

and

Filar

 

Chapter 1

 

Spring 1991

“Johnny, take Jimmy with you.”

Wren spoke with that tired sigh that was more effective than scolding for getting her children to obey. Especially her recalcitrant fourteen-year-old eldest son. Lady Delyania constantly remarked how much Johnny was like his father and uncle, and gave sympathy more than advice. She always reminded Johnny that his duty, above that to the Felin-ru clan, was to obey his parents. Wren appreciated that, and loved her mother-in-law dearly because the woman was not critical. Right at that moment, she felt a little resentment because Lady Delyania was in Rehdonna and she was here with her family at the massive house Bree had inherited from Dr. Gregory in Lyndvale, and Johnny was being, quite frankly, a snot.

Johnny looked at her with his father’s green eyes and flattened his lips into a thin line and gave the merest sideways glance at Jimmy Reed, three years younger and enough like him in looks and temperament to be his brother, not his cousin. On his part, Jimmy wouldn’t even look at his cousin, who had headed for the woods behind the Reed house with a canteen and his brand-new compass and the shadowy company of two felin-ru.

“Jimmy, go with Johnny,” Bree said. “Warn him away from that mud-hole of yours–in plenty of time not to fall into it.”

“Mud hole?” Wren decided maybe it was better not to know.

“Jimmy is convinced the Tobrizz have managed to get here and are lurking in the woods. He’s set up several traps for them. Unfortunately, I think Ari taught him how.” Bree brushed her dark hair back from her face and set about re-tying the scarf that held it out of her way. “Go on,” she said, when her son and nephew just stood there. “The two of you are going to have to learn to get along someday for the good of the clan, so you might as well start now.” She settled down in her lawn chair, lowering herself slowly by leaning on the armrest. A tiny gasp escaped her just before she reached the cushion.

“Are you all right?” Wren got up and held out a hand, visibly restraining herself from touching her sister-in-law’s seven-month-pregnant stomach to monitor her and the baby.

“Just the heat.” Bree turned her hazel eyes on both boys, commanding with a look. Johnny turned and stalked across the deep, shadowed back yard to the forest and ravine beyond it. Jimmy watched his cousin a moment, then looked to his mother.

“Mama?” His voice threatened to break a little. “I’d rather stay and help you.”

“Aunt Wren is here, chiya.” Bree’s stern look brightened. “Go on. Johnny doesn’t know everything, and it’s better if he learns it easily, instead of covered with mud or buried under one of your avalanches.”

That earned a grin from her son. He took to his heels and streaked across the lawn, with a swiftness that reminded both watching women of the felin-ru who guarded their children constantly these days.

“Those boys are going to be the death of us,” Wren murmured. “Why do they hate each other so much?”

“I don’t think it’s hate.” Bree reached for her glass of ice water. “I think they’re both strong-willed and want to be the leaders. They don’t like competition, and they don’t know what to do with it. Remember when they just adored each other?”

“You couldn’t separate them at the end of a visit.” She chuckled and nodded. “What happened to our adorable little boys? They’re turning into bratty teenagers.”

“Maybe it’s a mercy Daniel and Aravin were separated as boys. Rehdonna probably couldn’t have survived the battles.” That earned laughter from her sister-in-law.

The echoes reached the two boys, who stood ten feet apart, hiding in the shadows of the trees ringing the yard, looking back at their mothers.

“At least they had a chance to grow up before they had to handle their antipathy,” Wren agreed. “I suppose it’s perfectly normal. If our children can be described as normal.”

“Normal for our worlds and circumstances. Normal for themselves. We want them to be themselves, don’t we?” Again, more laughter.

“What’s antipathy?” Johnny grumbled.

“Like hate.”

“Figures you’d know.”

“I don’t think I hate you,” Jimmy said, choosing to ignore the faint insult. Johnny’s only response was a grunt. The younger boy watched his mother a few moments longer, then sighed and gestured down the barely visible trail into the woods.

The property backed up to the trailing edge of the Silver Mountains park system. Jimmy envied his older cousin because he spent so much time in Rehdonna, but he knew Johnny envied him the freedom to roam the forest. That evened things out, somewhat.

The boys trotted down the trail for a few minutes, into the ravine, across the trickle of stream left over from the two-foot-deep torrent that tumbled through it during spring thaw and rains. As they started up the other side, Jimmy stopped at a flat ledge of stone he used as a marker point and looked back once more at the yard where their mothers waited.

“What’s wrong now?” Johnny sighed.

“It’s not the Tobrizz, you know. The Taksearhe are too careful to monitor the barriers.” He waited until he caught a faint echo of voices and judged from the sound that his mother was all right. “The FOM is getting nosy again.”

“Huh.” He turned and headed up the trail without Jimmy.

“It’s true. Why do you think we all got pulled out of school and now we’re getting our lessons at home? I heard my Dad talking to yours, and he said you almost took the same test they tried to give me.”

“What else did you hear?” Johnny frowned when Jimmy didn’t answer, but instead beckoned for him to follow around an outcropping of scorching rock sticking out of the hillside. His frown changed to an interested grin when the outcropping gave way to a shadowed cave mouth. “This is great,” he admitted without any grudging, when he crawled deep enough into the cave to see the bench made of boards, and the cache of cookies, bottled water, and some slightly shriveled apples Jimmy brought from a plastic crate.

“There’s an echo.” Jimmy gestured with a jerk of his chin back across the ravine. “Mama and Dad don’t realize because they don’t come out this way. I listen to them talk sometimes, when I know they don’t want to tell me something. If we’re not careful, our mothers will hear us talking, too.”

“Smart.” He took a big bite of cookie and let out another sigh. “You are definitely smarter than me. But I don’t hate you, either.”

“Thanks.”

“What about the Future of Man trying to test us?”

“We had a substitute teacher three weeks ago, and he gave us a bunch of tests to take and he got mad at me when I asked why we had to take it. He said that just because I was a Reed, that didn’t mean I knew everything or I could boss people around. See, I knew right there something was wrong, because we didn’t have name tags on our clothes or our desks, and Mrs. Avramowitz let us rearrange our desks and she didn’t make a new seating chart yet. How did this bozo know my last name? And the way he said it gave me that creepy feeling Aunt Jori always says we should listen to.”

“So you told your dad and he found out the substitute was an FOM jerk and all of us got pulled out of school?”

“Worse.” He leaned across the gap in the narrow cave and lowered his voice. “I told Celia on the way home from school and she had the exact same tests. She took an extra one, and the substitute in her class got mad because she didn’t get all the extras back. Who ever heard of a teacher caring if extra test papers get thrown out or something?”

“Wait a minute.” Johnny raised a hand, signaling him to pause. “Celia had a substitute who gave her the same test, on the same day? She’s four years younger than you. Bad news,” he said, giving vent to a whistle.

“Bad news,” his cousin agreed. “So we ran home and told Dad and he got people together and he found out that Loryn’s teacher got a substitute and every single kid who belongs to our clan got a substitute and we all got tests.”

“So that’s why my folks came running and pulled us out of school and Great-Gramps has been making tons of phone calls to all his political friends.”

“The Future of Man is after us kids now, instead of bugging our parents.” Jimmy hunched in on himself a little. “What if they try to kidnap my mother just before she has the baby, to take the baby away?”

“Nobody can hurt Aunt Bree. She’s a Taksearhe. She can go to other worlds just by thinking about them.”

“There’s lots of ways to catch even Taksearhe. And most of those ways can hurt my mother and the baby.”

“It’s okay, Jimmy.” Johnny squeezed his cousin’s shoulder and shook him a little. “I’ll help guard Aunt Bree. I promise.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out his brand-new pocket knife. “I’ll even swear in blood and everything.”

Jimmy was suitably impressed. When the older boy made tiny slits in their index fingers to mingle their blood, Jimmy wanted to let more drops fall, to see what the blood would do when it touched rock or dirt or the styptic plants that grew in the opening of the cave mouth. Johnny talked him out of it–probably in retribution because Jimmy wouldn’t let him cut their wrists for the vow. Their fragile new friendship was salvaged when Jimmy showed his cousin how to crush the leaves of the plants to seal their cuts. Their mothers would notice if they spattered any blood on themselves, and eventually maternal questions would worm the secret of the cave and their vow out of both boys. The less visible signs of their work, the less chance their mothers would interfere. What good was a blood vow, after all, if their mothers and fathers all knew about it before day’s end?

 Jimmy was only half-right about the reason for the meeting between the various leaders among the exiles from Rehdonna. The combined leaders of the Taksearhe and Felin-ru and Montainor clans were nearing the end of a lengthy negotiation process that would salvage an institution near and dear to their hearts. Lyndvale University, like other public higher education facilities across the country, had gone up for sale because the state government could not pay the bills to run the physical campus, let alone pay salaries. It wasn’t just the budget crunch that came from dropping enrollment and loss of out-of-state higher tuition fees, thanks to the illnesses ravaging the country in waves. Too many bad administrations in a row, combined with fancy bookkeeping that borrowed from Peter, at interest, to pay Paul while income went down and scholarship grants went up, had combined to bankrupt the state’s budget years ago. The facilities at Lyndvale had important sentimental and research value for the exiles, with Daniel and Bree at the head of them all. The exiles planned to use their vast resources to buy the university, keep it going as a private foundation, and use it to enlarge their holdings in the town of Lyndvale.

Jimmy, who listened and understood far more than even his doting parents imagined–and that was a great deal–estimated that between his family and other high clan leaders, they owned nearly eighty percent of the homes and apartments and nearly seventy percent of the businesses in Lyndvale. If they wanted, they could someday close off the town and make their security perfect. If this latest attempt by the Future of Man to evaluate the next generation was any indication, they would need all the security they could get.

“Have you heard the off-main news reports?” Daniel said that evening while he and Aravin stood over the serving table at dinner.

The easiest way for the combined Reed-Harland families to handle mealtime was to set up a picnic buffet in the backyard whenever possible. It freed the children to be as messy as they wanted and let the adults have serious conversations without worrying too much about younger ears and minds picking up everything.

Jimmy sat on the grass leaning against the back of his mother’s pillow-lined chair. He could hear everything without anyone knowing he was there, and he was close enough to help Bree if she needed anything. Johnny was fine enough company, now that they had somewhat of a truce, but he was busy with learning a marble game Grandma Delyania had sent to the children. Jimmy’s sister, Celia, kept to a corner with their cousin Annie, defending their baby dolls from Annie’s twin, Brock. Loryn, Aunt Khyber’s daughter, sat by Johnny, alternately reading, eating her dinner very slowly, or watching Johnny try to decipher the game. Adult conversation was much more interesting.

“Which ones?” Aravin asked, frowning at the pea salad he scooped up. Jimmy wondered about that, because it was one of his father’s favorites.

“Health.” Daniel glanced over his shoulder at their wives, who were looking at them and waiting for the conversation to continue.

Jimmy still couldn’t figure out how they did it. Somehow, one couple could be talking about something grave or exciting, and the other couple suddenly knew what was going on, even from across the room or in another building. He asked several times. His mother told him he would understand when he grew up, and his father said he had to wait for his tandeer to arrive. Jimmy understood the concept of tandeer and filar; a spirit-brother sounded much more fun than being mind-and-soul bonded with some girl he had never met before. Though, he supposed if the girl was like his mother or Aunt Wren, he could put up with it. They were smart and they didn’t let things make them scream or get sick and they didn’t cry about anything silly.

“More odd diseases cropping up. Too many, and too fast, and too similar to be all those mutations they keep warning about,” his uncle continued. “And here’s the frightening part–they seem to be limited to specific ethnic groups or geno-types. Nothing the doctors come up with has any effect. It’s like trying to treat cancer with penicillin.”

“Remember when we were little, they used to warn us that we had to use up the entire prescription, not stop taking it when we felt better?” Bree mused. The chair creaked a little as she sat forward. “People just didn’t listen. They didn’t realize that there were bacteria and viruses still alive in their systems that hadn’t been killed yet. When they didn’t finish the run of the medicine, it trained the diseases to be stronger and made them immune, so to speak.”

“These aren’t just penicillin-resistant bugs anymore, are they?” Wren said. Her voice was soft, the way it went when she was working on healing someone. It made Jimmy shiver a little. He liked his aunt very much, but it made him feel a little queer inside to know she could touch his hand and see inside his blood and know what made him feel sick. It made pretending to be sick and stay home from school very hard to do in their house, according to Johnny.

Why anybody would want to stay home from school, Jimmy couldn’t figure out. He liked to learn. He liked getting all his tests perfect and being allowed to study special subjects the others in his class couldn’t. He had liked it even more when his parents pulled him and Celia out of the public school and started their own classes. Jimmy bounced around to dozens of different subjects, studying anything he wanted, and no one told him he had to slow down and wait for the others his own age to catch up with him. That was part of why they didn’t get along sometimes, according to Johnny, but Jimmy didn’t understand that part, either. His cousin was very smart; just in different ways.

“We have to do something about the FOM,” Aravin said. He sat down on the ground next to Bree’s chair.

“We have to prove they’re the ones creating all the mutated bugs moving across the country, first,” Daniel countered. “Yes, we’re rich. We’re getting stronger, more able to protect our own every year, but that doesn’t make us vigilantes for the rest of the country.”

“How about the rest of the world?” Wren said. “Sooner or later, the futurists are going to get tired of trying to twist this country’s political agenda and health system to suit their breeding plans, and they’re going to reach out to the rest of the world.”

“Who says they already aren’t?” Bree countered. “There are outbreaks of disease that can be explained by famine and crowded conditions, poverty and filth and drought, but what if those conditions are manipulated? What if the FOM is already ridding out the genetic stock they don’t want? What if these diseases are tailored to destroy certain genetic types?”

“What can we do about it?” Daniel said. “Yes, we see the danger, and we’re slowly convincing other people to see what we do, and to try to prepare and protect. But the FOM has had two generations to prepare. We have our children to protect. We have a whole other world to rid of the Tobrizz, as well as protect ourselves in this world.”

“We dig in and grow stronger, my sons,” Lady Delyania said, appearing in the doorway to the house. She smiled serenely, as always, and came down the steps holding baby Tomas. Khyber and her husband, Jarod followed with those bemused smiles they always seemed to wear just after Jarod came back from a scouting mission or Khyber was able to go back to Rehdonna for a visit.

Aunt Khyber and Uncle Jarod were tandeer, and according to his mother, that made up for the fact they weren’t able to spend much time together. Khyber was busy with her writing and research and using her contacts in New York and the government to get information and settle more immigrants from Rehdonna. Jarod, a former park ranger, was a guerilla leader in Rehdonna.

“Perhaps not this generation,” she continued. She settled down in the chair facing Bree and Wren and cradled the baby boy on her lap. “Perhaps this one will lead. Or perhaps Jo’am.”

Jimmy froze. He hated it when his Rehdonnayan name was used in this world. It always meant something solemn was being discussed. His parents never called him Jo’am when they were disciplining him. They called him James Allen Reed, on both sides of the barrier between worlds, when he had done something wrong.

“What would you like to do most, Jo’am, when you are grown up?” his grandmother continued.

“Jimmy?” Bree turned, looking over her shoulder. “What are you doing eating back there?” She laughed a little, and turned enough to touch his shoulder. “Come out, will you?”

“Eavesdropping,” Aravin said, but he was smiling too. He beckoned, and Jimmy settled down next to his father. “How do you think I learned so much of your work, Mother, when I was so young? I listened at doors and learned to hide in the bushes under your office window. I thought there was nothing in the world so wonderful as adult problems and how my mother handled them.”

“With your father’s constant help, by D’hune’s grace.” Delyania sighed and her smile faded. Jimmy felt guilty for a moment, even though he had done nothing to bring up the subject. His grandfather, Jokam, had died of a lingering illness two years ago. They had almost lost Delyania to her sorrow and the shock of their broken bond, even though they had all been prepared for the death. The boy wondered sometimes why anyone wanted to find their tandeer bond. It seemed all problems and mysteries and nothing fun at all about it.

Tomas started crying. Khyber took her son and settled down with him, and in only a few moments the little boy was laughing.

“What would you like to be and do, Jo’am?” Delyania repeated.

“Study things,” was his instant reply.

“What things?” She smiled, but her voice was serious.

“Everything, Abehla. I want to find out why things do what they do–and maybe find out how the FOM is making all the diseases that are hurting people. And lots of things.”

“A research scientist,” Daniel said with a grin. “Doc will be delighted.”

“We’ll certainly have the facilities, once this deal comes through,” Jarod said. He tweaked his son’s little foot, making Tomas squeal with laughter.

“Oh, lovely.” Bree rested her hand on Jimmy’s tangled black curls. “You remember something, Jimmy. Lyndvale University is not your private playground even though we’ll own it soon. In fact, the fewer people who know who you are, the better for you.”

“Safer, you mean,” the boy said. He tried to keep his face solemn, but inside his heart raced, threatening to burst from his chest.

They hadn’t said no! They had acted and talked as if it was perfectly natural for him to study at Lyndvale even though he was only eleven. With Dr. Harland to guide him, Jimmy could study everything, learn everything he wanted. He could do things and change things and help people. He had picked the mutating diseases because that was what the adults had just been talking about–but why not? Why couldn’t he learn about genetics and how to fight diseases and stop the FOM from controlling the future?

 “He’s finally asleep,” Bree reported as she came back into the living room. All the children were in their beds and the adults had convened indoors. “I’ve never seen him so excited about anything before. He even ignored Johnny’s teasing, and that’s a miracle in itself.”

“I’ll have a talk with Johnny,” Daniel began.

“No, don’t. Those two have to learn to get along sometime. They might as well learn to be friends now instead of later when the fate of Rehdonna rests on them.”

“What was it about this time?” Wren said with a sigh.

“Girls,” Aravin said, grinning. “It seems Loryn is spending too much time with Jimmy to be healthy, and Jimmy is too nice to her.”

“Oh, no…” Khyber shook her head. “She’s too young for hormones!”

“I don’t think it is,” Bree said, almost in a whisper. “They’re very good friends. They’ve never fought. And just this morning… you were upstairs with Tomas, but Loryn was looking for you and she fell on those wretched switchback stairs and before she could start crying, Jimmy came running and helped her get up.”

“You think they’re tandeer?” Jarod shook his head. He sat down next to Khyber and slid an arm around her shoulders. “What do you think?”

“I have no way of knowing,” his wife said slowly. “I could ask Twist-feather, but she hardly ever listens to me anymore. I get this impression that I’m just too old for her tastes now,” she added with a snort of disgust.

The others responded with chuckles and grins. No one said anything, though Bree thought she saw some smart remarks waiting to burst from Daniel’s lips. He still grumbled about how Khyber had managed to keep Twist-feather a secret from him while she was helping Dr. Harland rehabilitate him after his childhood accident.

“I’d be interested to know how long this new interest of his lasts,” Delyania said slowly. “I remember how you were so passionate about so many wonderful causes, when you were a boy, Aravin. Then, when something more pressing came up, you followed it just as eagerly.”

“Mother…” Aravin sighed and leaned his head on Bree’s shoulder in mock weariness and defeat, making the others in the room laugh. “Jimmy is far more serious and steady than I was at his age.”

“He doesn’t have a twin yanking his mind into other worlds half the time, you mean,” Daniel said.

“Possibly.” Brothers exchanged grins. Then Aravin grew thoughtful. “Do we do him good or harm, to guide him so early into such a…”

“Responsible track of study?” Bree supplied. “He’s always loved visiting Doc in his lab. I swear he knows more about Cryptos and Antos than we do. He does love research and finding out how things work. I remember how worried I was when he was just learning to talk, and he wasn’t pestering me with ten thousand ‘why’ questions every day.”

“He learned early to find out for himself,” Delyania said, nodding. “Call Dr. Harland and ask him if he is willing to take on a special pupil.”

“Wait.” Wren stared at a spot in the air, a few feet above the pale green carpeting. “Are we only doing this to keep the boys from fighting over Rehdonna someday?”

“What?” Daniel started to laugh, then his eyes widened as he visibly caught where his wife’s mind aimed. “If Jimmy is busy with science, he won’t have time to learn to be the leader the next generation needs.”

“Johnny is the heir,” Aravin said. “I have known that since he first stepped foot in Rehdonna. The felin-ru have been especially attracted to him, just as Twist-feather has always been attracted to especially gifted children. I am more than happy that my son be his right hand, and that the boys are led in different directions so they never even think of becoming rivals.”

“So be it,” Delyania said, nodding. She raised her hands in silent invocation, then spread them, palms up, making all those in the room witness to what had been decided, just as if she sat with her advisors in the clan house’s council hall.

“Well,” Wren said, after a moment of solemn silence marked the moment, “we have Rehdonna and our boys settled. What do we do about Lyndvale and Willowood?”

“Lyndvale, I understand, but Willowood?” Khyber said, just a hint of laughter in her voice.

“It is close to our hearts, just like Lyndvale,” Delyania said, nodding. “We must protect Old Solar’s and the doorway, just as we protect our kin in Logon and here in Lyndvale.”

“Being a private school, Willowood has a little more control over its health regulations and who gets in,” Daniel began.

“That might not do much good,” Jarod offered. “I mean, usually viruses and things like that are killed off by the extremes in temperature, right?”

“Not anymore,” Wren murmured, shaking her head. Her eyes had taken on that distant look of deep thoughts. “Someone proposed that colder climates are healthier because germs die in cold, but people are so profligate with heating everything and keeping themselves at almost hothouse temperatures at home, the diseases are surviving. The toxins building up in the environment are helping, too. Winter doesn’t kill and tropical temperatures in summer don’t seem to make a difference, either.”

“That’s what I was starting to talk about at dinner,” Daniel said. “Besides the diseases that seem tailor-made, there are the problems with travel. Lyndvale dying as a school is just the tip of the iceberg. People have built up immunities to the various bugs that are resident in their climates–but people who move around a lot are vulnerable. Health statistics are showing that people who are transferred from one section of the country to another have higher rates of hospitalization. They aren’t resistant to viruses and bacteria that the long-time residents are immune to.”

“That could keep people from traveling much,” Aravin murmured. He and his twin locked gazes, which Bree knew meant they were sharing thoughts. “How better to control the population than by making people afraid to travel, to move to another state or country? Keep them as stationery as possible. If they are easier to observe like lab rats, they are easier to control and breed or kill off.”

“What about Rehdonna?” Bree said. “What if we transmit diseases to Rehdonna that nobody worries about here, but which our people aren’t immune to? Remember how the Indian nations were decimated by smallpox-infected blankets handed out by the Indian agents? It’s been done in dozens of countries through history, genocide to push aside a culture or race that is inconvenient for the people who want to take over.”

“Quarantine.” Wren glanced at Delyania and her mother-in-law nodded. “When people transfer from here to Rehdonna, they must go directly to a healer house to be scanned by the strongest healers for diseases, then quarantined to see if anything is incubating in them.”

“It would be best if our healers and scientists are given samples of every Earth-native disease, so they know what to fight against,” Delyania added.

“Jimmy had better hurry up and get his medical degree, hadn’t he?” Khyber said brightly, a false smile on her face.

“How soon before the governments start demanding health checks at national borders, maybe at state borders?” Daniel said.

“We are already under siege,” Aravin said, nodding slowly as he met his twin’s eyes again. “We must live even more like unwelcome aliens, even as we dig in and make our fortress stronger.”

“That’s not enough,” Wren said, shaking her head. “How can we stay healthy if the whole world is falling into disease and death around us?”

“That is the true way to live, my children,” Delyania said, raising her voice. “First, we make sure our walls are strong, our food is pure, and our defenses are more than ready. Then we reach out to the people around us and help them to be strong. It is our duty to D’hune, and it is common sense.”