Epilogue

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The Ragstone Medical Centre in London has the appearance of an office building from the street: ordinary, boring. Inside, it's a hospital with the same swing doors and incandescent lights, the same old magazines, the same hand sanitizers, and the same uncomfortable plastic chairs as any other hospital. The difference is that all the doctors and nurses wear military insignia, and some of the personnel carry tasers.

I flicked through an entertainment mag and looked at TV listings while I waited for someone to call me. It took me five minutes to realise that the magazine was three months old.

I spotted an afternoon paper and picked that up instead. Yesterday's edition. One day after the attack on London: The lead story was about the bomb that had blown a hole in the roof of the Royal Courts of Justice. The police said the bomb was thought to be the work of one man who was now in custody. No-one had been harmed. The suspect was mentally unstable and not part of any political organisation.

Page four had a story about a small fire at the Palace of Westminster. This was due to a wiring fault and had no connection to the bombing.

The news made no mention of the helicopter wreckage, or of the city falling asleep. No-one talked about Horseshoe or Éven or the Noble Fleet coursing through the London sky. Admiral Winstanley was not mentioned or interviewed. If any of the buildings were an inch out of place, no-one noticed.

One lone madman had set off a bomb, and that was the end of it. The whole thing would be forgotten in a week. The world remained as ignorant of Horseshoe and the fey as I had been two weeks ago.

The rest of the newspaper was business as usual. Politics, crime, technology. Funny animals and pregnant celebrities. This was the rest of the world, untouched by magic.

I threw the paper away.

Tiana Cavendish stood at the reception desk looking small, grey, and old. But she was upright and walking, and that was a relief. I had heard that she survived, but I hadn't seen her since that night.

She smiled at me and waved, and I got up to talk to her.

"How are you, Ben?"

"I'm fine. Tired. I've been staying at a safe house while they set up extra protections at our place in Hastings. How are you? They said you were alive, but I didn't know..."

"Fighting that boy took a lot out of me. I'm weaker than I was, but that may mean I don't have to leave London, so it could work in my favour. You're here to visit, I take it?"

I nodded. "You?"

"Checking out, actually. They had me under observation." She leaned in closer. "Between you and me, I don't think it was solely for my health. There will be fallout from all of this. You can't stir the pot like Éven did and have everything go back to normal. I think the Admiral thinks I'm a potential agitator."

"That's not fair. If it weren't for you, we would have lost."

"Fair has nothing to do with it. It's about order," said Tiana. "I'm only sorry I couldn't do more. I'm sorry you had to face him on your own. You were very brave."

"I wasn't brave, I was terrified," I said.

"That's how I know you were brave. You're going to be good at this, Ben."

"Sure," I said. "A good soldier."

Tiana tutted.

"No. Not a good soldier. A good man. You don't just do what you're told; you do what you think is right. That means this Barren King—whoever he is, wherever he is—should be at least as afraid of you as you are of him."

One of the doctors stepped up beside us. "Mr Frazer? You can go in now. He's awake."

"I'll let you go," said Tiana. She held out her arms and we hugged. "Give your mother my regards. Tell her I would love to have you all over for dinner."

We parted, and she turned to go.

"Tiana, can I ask you a question?"

Tiana looked back. "Of course. Anything."

"Éven said that my dad made me the eighth nail. He said Dad was descended from Dr Dee's conspirators."

Tiana nodded. "That makes sense."

"You had Dr Dee's map in your attic, and you had the horseshoe that showed where the nails were. You said you had a hunch that I was the eighth nail, so..."

"Yes, dear?"

"Are you one of the descendants? Did you know my dad?"

She smiled.

"I've seen the patterns that surround you," said Tiana. "All the threads go somewhere, Ben. It will all make sense in the end."

She walked away.

* * *

I was nervous to go in. I wasn't sure how he would look. I knew the surgery had been successful, but I had no idea how bad the injuries were.

I pushed open the door. He was sitting up in bed looking out of the courtyard window. The TV was on, but he wasn't watching. I thought he might have gone back to sleep, but he turned to look at me.

"There he is," said Danny. "The world's most special agent. Have they given you a uniform yet?"

He sounded tired. He looked terrible.

"Should you be talking?" I asked. "Shouldn't you rest your big mouth?"

Danny snorted. He picked up the remote and switched off the television. "You know better than that. The doctor says I'll be off duty for at least two months, but I'm not taking that. Not while you're out there playing hero."

"It's not a race, Danny."

"See, that's your problem. Defeatist attitude. Now that I know what's out there—magic and witches and, I don't know, dragons and trolls—there's no way I want to be stuck here in bed. We've got a job to do, Ben. We've got a war to win."

"It's not that simple," I said. "And we don't say trolls."

"It is that simple, Ben. We've both got the bruises to prove it."

The door opened, and Mum came in carrying two cups of tea in Styrofoam cups.

"There you both are," she said. "Look at the pair of you. Do you know how proud I am of you?"

Mum set the teas down on a cabinet and leaned down to kiss Danny on the forehead. There was only one chair in the room, but Mum sat on the edge of Danny's bed and insisted I take it.

"How are you feeling, Dan?" asked Mum.

"I got shot," he said, and he grinned like he'd won a prize.

"Never again," said Mum. "That goes for both of you. If you're going to fight these bastards, you'd better win."

"Mum!"

"We did win," said Danny. "Ben won. We'll make a man out of him yet."

Danny yawned.

"Are you tired?" I asked. "Do you want us to go?"

Danny smiled and gently shook his head. "Stay," he said. "Tell me a story. I want to know everything about this weasel who shot me. Tell me from the start."

I rolled my eyes, but I knew he deserved to hear it.

So, I told my brother a story.

I told him about Éven and Selkie and Kain.

I told him about the Admiral and Grace and Keele.

I told him about Hari and Abigail and Tiana.

But I couldn't tell him the truth.

I couldn't tell him that I didn't hate the man who almost killed us both.

So, I told my brother a fairy tale instead.

The End.

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