Mr Tiny was the last person in the world ¨C in all of time! ¨C that I wanted to see. I argued with Evanna hotly, wanting to know why I should present myself to him, or what it could achieve. I hated and feared the meddler more than ever now that I knew so much about him.
"I want to be on the opposite side of the world to wherever he is!" I cried. "Or in another universe, if possible!"
"I understand," Evanna said, "but we must go to him regardless."
"Is he forcing you to do this?" I asked. "Is he the one who ordered me fished out of the Lake? Is he making you take me to him, so that he can mess my life up all over again?"
"You will find out when you meet him," Evanna said coolly, and since I didn't really have any option but to follow her lead ¨C she could have had me tossed back into the Lake if I disobeyed ¨C eventually, and with much angry muttering, I reluctantly followed after her as she set off into the arid wilderness.
As we left the warmth of the fire, the dragon flapped its wings and took to the skies. I watched it join the throng of dragons far above me, then lost track of it. When I looked back at Evanna, I saw that she was still staring up at the sky. "I wish we could have gone for a flight," she said, sounding curiously sad.
"On the dragon?" I asked.
"Yes. It has always been a wish of mine to fly on a dragon."
"I could call it back," I suggested.
She shook her head quickly. "This isn't the time for it," she said. "And there are too many of them. The others would see us on its back and attack. I don't think you would be able to control so many, not without more practice. And while I can mask us from them down here, I couldn't up there."
As we continued to walk, I looked around and backwards, and my gaze settled on the Little People standing motionless by the Lake. "Why are that lot here?" I asked.
"This is the age in which our father fishes for the souls of the dead to create his Little People," Evanna said, without looking back or slowing. "He could take them from any time, but it's easier this way, when there is nobody to interfere. He leaves a small band of his helpers here, to fish when he gives the order." She glanced at me. "He could have rescued you much earlier. In the present, only two years have passed. He had the power to remove you from the Lake then, but he wanted to punish you. Your sacrifice threw his plans into disarray. He hates you for that, even though you are his son. That's why he sent me forward to this point in time to help you. In this future, your soul has suffered for countless generations. He wanted you to feel the pain of near-eternal imprisonment, and perhaps even go mad from it, so that you couldn't be saved."
"Nice," I grunted sarcastically. Then my eyes narrowed. "If that's the way he feels, why rescue me at all?"
"That will soon become clear," Evanna said.
We walked a long way from the Lake. The air was turning cold around us as the sun dipped. Evanna was looking for a specific spot, pausing every few seconds to examine the ground, then moving on. Finally she found what she was searching for. She came to a halt, knelt and breathed softly on the dusty earth. There was a rumbling sound, then the ground split at our feet and the mouth of a tunnel opened up. I could only see a few metres down it, but I sensed danger.
"Don't tell me we have to go down there," I muttered.
"This is the way to our father's stronghold," she said.
"It's dark," I stalled.
"I will provide light," she promised, and I saw that both her hands were glowing softly, casting a dim white light a few metres ahead of her. She looked at me seriously. "Stay by my side down there. Don't stray."
"Will Mr Tiny get me if I do?" I asked.
"Believe it or not, there are worse monsters than our father," she said. "We will be passing some of them. If they get their hands on you, your millennia of torment in the Lake of Souls will seem like a pleasant hour spent on a beach."
I doubted that, but the threat was strong enough to ensure I kept within a hair's breadth of the witch as she started down the tunnel. It sloped at a fairly constant thirty-degree angle. The floor and walls were smooth and made of what looked like solid rock. But there were shapes moving within the rock, twisted, inhuman, elongated shapes, all shadows, claws, teeth and tendrils. The walls bulged outwards as we passed ¨C the things trapped within were reaching for us. But none could break through.
"What are they?" I croaked, sweating from fear as much as the dry heat of the tunnel.
"Creatures of universal chaos," Evanna answered. "I told you about them before ¨C they're the monsters I spoke of. They are kin to our father, though he is not as powerful as them. They are imprisoned by a series of temporal and spatial laws ¨C the laws of the universe which our father and I live by. If we ever break the laws, these creatures will be freed. They will turn the universe into a hell of their own making. All will fall beneath them. They'll invade every time zone and torture every mortal being ever born ¨C for ever."
"That's why you were angry when you found out I was Mr Tiny's son," I said. "You thought he'd broken the laws."
"Yes. I was wrong, but it was a close-run thing. I doubt if even he was sure of his plan's success. When he gave birth to Hibernius and me, we knew of the laws, and we obeyed them. If he was wrong about you ¨C if he'd given you more power than he meant to ¨C you could have unknowingly broken the laws and brought about the ruin of everything we know and love." She looked back at me and grinned. "I bet you never guessed you were that important to the world!"
"No," I said sickly. "And I never wanted to be."
"Don't worry," she said, her smile softening. "You took yourself out of the firing line when you let Steve kill you. You did what Hibernius and I never thought possible ¨C you changed what seemed an inevitable future."
"You mean I prevented the coming of the Lord of the Shadows?" I asked eagerly. "That's why I let him kill me. It was the only way I could see to stop it. I didn't want to be a monster. I couldn't bear the thought of destroying the world. Mr Tiny said one of us had to be the Lord of the Shadows. But I thought, if both of us were dead..."
"You thought right," Evanna said. "Our father had edged the world to a point where there were only two futures. When you killed Steve and sacrificed yourself, it opened up dozens of possible futures again. I could not have done it ¨C I would have broken the laws if I'd interfered ¨C but as a human, you were able to."
"So what's happened since I died?" I asked. "You said two years have passed. Did the vampires defeat the vampaneze and win the War of the Scars?"
"No," Evanna said, pursing her lips. "The war still rages. But an end is within sight ¨C an end very much not to our father's liking. Persuasive leaders are pushing for peace, Vancha and Harkat Mulds on the side of the vampires, Gannen Harst for the vampaneze. They are debating a treaty, discussing the guidelines by which both sides can live as one. Others fight against them ¨C there are many in both clans who do not wish for peace ¨C but the voices of reason are winning out."
"Then it worked!" I gasped. "If the vampires and vampaneze make peace, the world will be saved!"
"Perhaps," Evanna hummed. "It's not as clear-cut as that. Under Steve, the vampaneze made contact with human political and military leaders. They promised them long lives and power in exchange for their help. They wanted to create nuclear and chemical warfare, with the aim of bringing the world and its survivors under their direct control. That could still happen."
"Then we've got to stop it!" I shouted. "We can't let-"
"Easy," Evanna hushed me. "We are trying to prevent it. That's why I am here. I cannot meddle too deeply in the affairs of mankind, but I can do more now than before, and your actions have convinced me that I should interfere. Hibernius and I always stayed neutral. We did not get involved in the affairs of mortals. Hibernius wished to, but I argued against it, afraid we might break the laws and free the monsters." She sighed. "I was wrong. It's necessary to take risks every now and then. Our father took a risk in his attempt to wreak havoc ¨C and I must now take one in an attempt to secure peace."
"What are you talking about?" I frowned.
"Mankind has been evolving," she said. "It has a destiny of its own, a growth towards something wonderful, which our father is intent on ruining. He used the vampires and vampaneze to throw mankind off course, to reduce the cities of the world to rubble, to drag humans back into the dark ages, so that he could control them again. But his plan failed. The clans of the night now seek to reunite and live separately from mankind, hidden, doing no harm, as they did in the past.
"Because the vampires and vampaneze have become part of the present, our father cannot unmake them. He could return to the past and create another race to combat them, but that would be difficult and time-consuming. Time, for once, is against him. If he cannot pide the clans within the next year or so, it is unlikely that he will be able to bring about the downfall of mankind which he craved. He might ¨C and no doubt will ¨C plot afresh in the future, and seek some other way to break them, but for the time being the world will be safe."
Evanna paused. Her hands were directed towards her face, illuminating her features. I'd never seen her look so thoughtful. "Do you remember the story of how I was created?" she asked.
"Of course," I said. "A vampire ¨C Corza Jarn ¨C wanted vampires to be able to have children. He pursued Mr Tiny until he agreed to grant him his wish, and by mixing Corza Jarn's blood with a pregnant she-wolf, and using his magic on her, he fathered you and Mr Tall."
"That was not his only reason for creating us," Evanna said, "but it was an important one. I can bear a vampire or a vampaneze's children, and they in turn could have children of their own. But any children of mine will be different from their fathers. They will have some of my powers ¨C not all ¨C and they'll be able to live by day. Sunlight won't kill them."
She looked at me intently. "A new breed of creature, an advanced race of vampire or vampaneze. If I gave birth to such children now, it would drive the clans apart. The warmongers of both sides would use the children to stir up new visions and violence. For instance, if I had a child by a vampire father, those vampires opposed to peace would hail the child as a saviour, and say he was sent to help them wipe out the vampaneze. Even if the wiser vampires prevailed, and talked down the troublemakers, the vampaneze would be afraid of the child and suspicious of the vampire clan's long-term plans. How could they discuss peace terms, knowing they were now inferior to vampires, for ever at risk?
"The War of the Scars promises to end because both sides see that it might go on for ever. When the Lord of the Vampaneze and the vampire hunters were active, everybody knew the war would have a destined end. Now that Steve and you are dead, it might never finish, and neither vampires nor vampaneze want that. So they're willing to talk about peace.
"But my children could change everything. With the renewed promise of victory ¨C either for the vampires or vampaneze, depending on which I chose to be the fathers of my young ¨C the war would continue. As my children grew ¨C and they'd grow quickly, since they'd be creatures of a certain amount of magic ¨C they'd be raised on hatred and fear. In time they'd become warriors and lead their clan to victory over the other ¨C and our father's plan would fall back into place, a little later than anticipated, but otherwise intact."
"Then you mustn't have them!" I exclaimed. "Mr Tiny can't make you, can he?"
"Not directly," she said. "He has threatened and bribed me ever since the night you and Steve died. But he does not have the power to force me to give birth."
"Then it's OK." I smiled weakly. "You won't have any children, and that will be that."
"Oh, but I will," Evanna said, and lowered her hands so that they shone on her stomach. "In fact, I'm pregnant already."
" What ?" I exploded. "But you just said-"
"But if you-"
"Darren!" she snapped. "I. Know."
"Then why do it?" I cried.
Evanna stopped to explain. As soon as she paused, the shapes in the walls began to press closer towards us, hissing and snarling, claws and tendrils extending, stretching the fabric of the rock. Evanna spotted this and strode forward again, speaking as she walked.
"I asked Desmond to free your spirit. Guilt drove you to the Lake of Souls, and would have kept you there eternally ¨C there is no natural escape from that Lake of the damned. But rescue is possible. Souls can be fished out. Knowing that you were my half-brother, I felt honour-bound to free you."
"What about Steve?" I asked. "He was your half-brother too."
"Steve deserves his imprisonment." Her eyes were hard. "I feel pity for him, since he was to some extent a victim of our father's meddling. But Steve's evil was primarily of his own making. He chose his path and now must suffer the consequences. But you tried to do good. It wasn't fair that you should rot in the Lake of Souls, so I pleaded with our father to help." She chuckled. "Needless to say, he refused.
"He came to me a few months ago," she continued. "He realized his plans were unravelling and he saw me as his only solution. He'd spent most of the time since your death trying to convince me to have children, with no more success than I'd had trying to get him to free you. But this time he took a fresh approach. He said we could help each other. If I had a child, he'd free your soul."
"You agreed to that?" I roared. "You sold out the world just to help me?"
"Of course not," she grunted.
"But you said you were pregnant."
"I am." She looked back at me and smiled shyly. "My first thought was to reject our father's offer. But then I saw a way to use it to our advantage. There is still no guarantee of a peaceful settlement between the vampires and vampaneze. It looks promising but is by no means certain. If talks break down, the war could continue, and that would play into our father's hands. He would have time to go back to the past and create a new leader, one who could pick up where Steve left off.
"I was thinking of this when Desmond put his suggestion to me. I recalled the way you tricked him, and wondered what you would do in my situation. Then, in a flash, I saw it.
"I accepted his proposal but told him I wasn't sure whether I wanted a vampire's child or a vampaneze's. He said it didn't matter. I asked if I could choose. He said yes. So I spent some time with Gannen Harst, then with Vancha March. When I returned to our father, I told him I had chosen and was pregnant. He was so delighted, he didn't even complain when I refused to reveal who the father was ¨C he just quickly arranged to send me here to free you, so that we could move forward without any further distractions."
She stopped talking and rubbed her stomach with her hands. She was still smiling that strange shy smile.
"So whose is it?" I asked. I didn't see what difference it made but I was curious to know the answer.
"Both," she said. "I am having twins ¨C one by Vancha, one by Gannen."
"A vampire child and a vampaneze child!" I cried, excited.
"More than that," Evanna said. "I have allowed the three blood lines to mix. Each child is one third vampire, one third vampaneze, and one third me. That's how I've tricked him. He thought any baby of mine would pide the clans, but instead they will pull them closer together. My children, when they are ready, will breed with other vampires and vampaneze, to give birth to a new, multi-race clan. All pisions will be erased and finally forgotten.
"We're going to create peace, Darren, in spite of our father. That's what you taught me ¨C we don't have to accept destiny, or Des Tiny. We can create our own future, all of us. We have the power to rule our lives ¨C we just have to make the choice to use it. You chose when you sacrificed your life. Now I've chosen too ¨C by giving life. Only time will tell what our choices lead to, but I'm sure that whatever future we help usher in, it has to be better than the one our father planned."
"Amen to that!" I muttered, then followed her silently down the tunnel, thinking of the future and all the surprises and twists it might hold. My head was buzzing with thoughts and ideas. I was having to take on board so much, so quickly, that I felt overwhelmed by it all, not sure what to make of everything. But there was one thing I was absolutely sure of ¨C when Mr Tiny found out about Evanna's babies, he'd all but explode with anger!
Thinking of that, and the nasty little meddler's face when he heard the news, I burst out laughing. Evanna laughed too, and the laughter stayed with us for ages, following us down the tunnel like a flock of chuckling birds, acting almost like a protective spell against the banks of walled-in, ever-moving, ever-reaching monsters.