Shadow heir, p.1
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       Shadow Heir, p.1

         Part #4 of Dark Swan series by Richelle Mead
 
Shadow Heir
Page 1

  Chapter 1

  I’m sure Ohio’s a perfectly nice place, once you get to know it. For me, right now, it was akin to one of the inner circles of Hell.

  “How,” I demanded, “can the air possibly contain this much moisture? It’s like going swimming. ”

  My sister, walking beside me in the late-afternoon sun, grinned. “Use your magic to push it off you. ”

  “Too much work. It just keeps coming back,” I grumbled. Jasmine, like me, had been raised in the dry heat of Arizona, so I couldn’t understand why she didn’t have the same revulsion I did to the monsoon conditions of high summer in the Midwest. We both wielded weather magic, but hers was focused primarily on water, so maybe that explained her blasé attitude. Maybe it was just the resilience of youth, seeing as she was about ten years younger than me. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because she wasn’t nearly five months pregnant and hauling around an extra ten pounds or so of offspring who seemed intent on overheating me, sucking my resources, and pretty much slowing down every goddamned thing I did.

  It was also possible hormones were making me a little irritable.

  “We’re almost there,” said a polite voice on the other side of me. That was Pagiel. He was the son of Ysabel, one of the bitchiest gentry women I knew—and she didn’t even have excess hormones as an excuse. Pagiel hadn’t inherited his mother’s personality, thankfully, and possessed a knack for crossing between the Otherworld and the human world that rivaled mine and Jasmine’s. He was roughly the same age as her, and the fact that I had to have a teenage escort to get me to my doctor’s appointments only added insult to the many injuries I’d endured these last few months.

  A block ahead, the Hudson Women’s Health Clinic stood among its carefully pruned pear trees and neat rows of geraniums. The business was right on the line of the commercial and residential zones of the city and tried to give the appearance that it was part of the latter. It wasn’t the pretty landscaping that made me keep coming back to this sauna, walking half a mile each time between the Otherworldly gate and the clinic. It wasn’t even the medical care, which was fine as far as I could tell. Really, when it came down to it, this place’s biggest appeal was that so far, no one had tried to kill me here.

  That cursed wet heat had me dripping with sweat by the time we reached the building. I was used to sweating in the desert, but something about this climate just made me feel sticky and gross. Fortunately, a wave of air-conditioning hit us as we walked through the door. As glorious as it was for me, it was a miracle for Pagiel. I always liked seeing his face when he felt that first blast. He’d grown up in the Otherworld, where fairy—or gentry, the term I preferred—magic could work wonders. He wouldn’t blink an eye at magical feats that would make a human gape. But this? Cold air produced by a machine? It blew his mind every time. No pun intended.

  “Eugenie,” said the receptionist. She was middle-aged and plump, with a kindly, hometown air about her. “Back with your family I see. ”

  We’d taken to passing Pagiel off as our brother, for simplicity’s sake. Really, though, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine us all being related. Jasmine’s hair was strawberry blond, mine a light red, and Pagiel’s a true auburn. We could have done advertising for the National Redhead Solidarity Group, if such a thing existed. No one at the clinic ever seemed to think it was weird that I brought my teenage siblings along, so maybe that was normal around here.

  We took seats in the waiting room, and I saw Pagiel shift uncomfortably in his jeans. I hid a smile and pretended not to notice. He thought human clothes were crude and ugly, but Jasmine and I had insisted he wear them if he wanted to be part of my obstetric security detail. Normally, the gentry favored silks and velvet in their clothing, with flourishes like puffy sleeves and cloaks. Maybe he could have gotten away with that on the West Coast but not here in middle America.

  Both he and Jasmine stayed behind when the nurse came to get me. Jasmine used to go in with me, but after an embarrassing incident when Pagiel had tried to attack someone with a Milli Vanilli ringtone, we’d decided it was best if he wasn’t left alone. Although, I admit, it was hard to fault his actions.

  I went to see an ultrasound tech first. As the mother-to-be of twins, I was knocked into a high-risk category and had to have more ultrasounds than someone with a “normal” pregnancy would. The tech situated me on the table and slathered gel on my stomach before touching it with her paddle. And just like that, all my crankiness, all my sarcasm—all the feelings I’d so haughtily walked in with—vanished.

  And were replaced with terror.

  There they were, the things that I’d risked my life—and the fate of the world—for. To be fair, the images still didn’t look like much to me. They were only sketchy black-and-white shapes, though with each visit, they became increasingly more babylike. I supposed this was a marked improvement, since for a while there, I was certain I’d be giving birth to aliens and nothing human or gentry at all.

  “Ah, there’s your son,” said the tech, gesturing to the left side of the screen. “I was pretty sure we’d be able to spot him this time. ”

  My breath caught. My son. As she moved the paddle to get a better angle, his profile flashed into stark relief, small arms and legs and a rounded head that looked very human. This tiny creature, whose beating heart was also clearly visible, hardly seemed like a conqueror of worlds. He seemed very small and very vulnerable, and I wondered not for the first time if I’d made a mistake in continuing this pregnancy. Had I been tricked? Had I been taken in by this innocent façade? Was I even now nurturing the man who prophecy said would try to enslave humanity?

  As though sensing my thoughts, his sister stirred on the other side of the screen. She had been a large driving force in my decision to keep this pregnancy. If I’d terminated it in an attempt to save the world from my son, I would’ve been responsible for ending her life. I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t do that to him, even. It didn’t matter what the prophecy said. They both deserved a chance to live their lives, free of what destiny had allegedly dictated for them.

  Now, if only I could convince all the people who were trying to kill me of that.

  “Everything looks great,” the tech told me. She put the paddle away, and the screen went black, shrouding my children in shadows once more. “Perfectly normal. ”

  Normal? Hardly.

  Yet, when I was ushered into an exam room to speak to the doctor, her opinion was the same. Normal, normal, normal. Sure, twins required extra watching, but otherwise, everyone seemed convinced I was the model of a perfect pregnancy. None of them had any idea, not even the tiniest clue, of the daily struggle I went through. None of them knew that when I looked at my stomach, I was tormented with the image of violence done in my name and the fate of two worlds hanging in the balance.

  “Do you feel them move yet?” the doctor asked me. “It’s around that time. ”

  Images of Alien came to mind. “No, I don’t think so. How will I know?”

  “Well, it’ll be pretty obvious in later pregnancy. This early, you start to feel fluttering sensations. Some people say it’s like a fish swimming around. You’ll know when it happens. Don’t worry—they won’t be trying to kick their way out. Not at first. ”

  I shuddered, not sure how I felt about that. Despite the changes in my body, it was still easy to regard this as some physical ailment. It was only the ultrasound that reminded me there were actually people living inside me. I wasn’t sure I was ready to also start feeling them squirm around.

  The doctor glanced at her clipboard. “Honestly, everything looks great,” she said, echoing the ultrasound tech.

  “I’m tired all the time,” I countered. “And I keep getting short of br
eath. And I’m having trouble bending. I mean, I can still do it, but it’s not easy. ”

  “That’s all normal. ”

  “Not for me. ” I used to banish ghosts and beat up monsters for a living.

  She shrugged. “You have two people growing inside of you. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. ”

  “But I have a lot of things to do. My lifestyle’s pretty, um, active. ”

  She remained unmoved. “Then you’re going to have to adapt. ”

  Despite my whining, I was sent off with a clean bill of health and instructions to book my next appointment. In the lobby, I found Jasmine and Pagiel exactly where I’d left them. She was leafing through a copy of People and trying to explain to him both the definition and appeal of reality T V.

  Maybe the office didn’t bat an eye at my “siblings” because I simply had too many other weird habits. Like, for example, I always paid for each visit in cash. When you tacked on things like ultrasounds, blood work, and other medical testing, the final price tag was pretty high. I always felt like I was one step away from pulling out a Mafia-style suitcase filled with hundred-dollar bills. There was no alternative, however. I couldn’t do anything that would allow my enemies to track me. Medical insurance claims would create a paper trail, as would even paying with a check or credit card. For the majority of gentry, none of that was a concern. Most were like Pagiel and could barely grasp the idea of banks or the postal system, let alone using them to track me. Unfortunately, my enemies in the Otherworld had very good connections here among humans, those who knew our systems inside and out. It was because of them I was in Ohio in the first place. Tucson had been compromised.

  Another woman, far more pregnant than me, was just entering the office as the receptionist printed my receipt. A gust of wind swept in behind her, and she had to fight to catch the door and make it close. Pagiel, though inept at technology, had been trained in the gentry ways of chivalry and jumped up to help her.

  “Thanks,” she told him. She flashed the rest of us a cheery smile. “I can’t believe how fast the weather turned on us. A cold front came out of nowhere. ”

 
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