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With Riordan gone Tegan looked at her parents. They looked back at her, and it was easy to see the worry in their eyes. She hadn’t been careful enough. If she had been she never would have been found, but there was nothing she could do to change what had already happened. It was done. All she could do was accept it, while trying to work out what her next step was going to be, because the one thing she knew for certain was that the fae were not going to be happy about the existence of those who could walk the worlds. Everyone knew they hated not being in control. Anyone who knew anything about the Web of worlds was certain they were never going to be in control. They’d used magics they didn’t truly understand, and those magics were already changing on them.

“You could walk away.”

Tegan shook her head. “Riordan knows about us now. Even if I were to disappear he would know to look for another one of the walkers.” She sighed. “I need to be the one to deal with the problem I’ve created. He seems like he’s someone I could work with, at least.”

“Maybe he is, but what about the others?” Tegan’s mother looked at her. “It’s not just Riordan you’re going to have to deal with.”

“I know. Like I said this is my problem to deal with. I made my choices, and now I’m going to have to live with the repercussions.” Tegan ran her tongue over her dry lips. “He doesn’t know the whole truth about me. I didn’t tell him that William had disappeared, but that he’d died. He doesn’t know I’ve been going out looking for him. He thinks that was the first time, and it was an accident, because that seemed like the best thing to tell him. There may come a time when I have to tell him the whole truth, though. If I’m going to have him on my side then I need to be honest with him.”

“Leave.” Her father reached out to take her hand. “Tegan, that’s the best option you have right now. I don’t want you to have to go, but I also don’t want you to be under their control, and that’s what is going to happen. We all know it.”

“Father, if I run from this it’s going to be up to someone else to deal with the fae. As I was the one who made the mistake that led to me being found by Riordan I am the one who should deal with it. Leaving is cowardice.”

“No, it’s being sensible.” Their eyes met again. The worry had become true fear. “What if they take your ability from you?”

“Then the others will know not to try working with the fae. What happened to me will protect them.”

“I don’t want anything to happen to you. We’ve already lost William. Losing you…”

“You aren’t going to lose me. If I leave it will be a different matter, because I’m not going to be able to come back. They’ll be watching for me. At least this way something good might be able to come out of being found by Riordan.”

“My love, you are young, and you haven’t seen the callousness that the fae are truly capable of. We have. They left us on another continent, with next to nothing to survive. So many people died because of the choices they made. They created us for selfish reasons, which is why they don’t care. All they truly care about is themselves, and making sure they have the magic they need in order to live life the way they always had in the past.” Her father shook his head. “I want you to be safe from them. That’s all I ever wanted.”

“Riordan could be different to the others.” Some of the things he’d said, the true sorrow in his voice when he talked of the choice they had made, had changed the way she viewed him almost from the beginning. “I know what they did was wrong, and that he was a part of that, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give them a chance to make up for the choices they made before. That could end up being the biggest mistake I have ever made, or it could be the best decision I have ever made.” Tegan shrugged. “I’m not going to assume that he’s a bad person for making the choices he did.”

A long silence followed her words. Tegan knew her parents were never going to agree with her. They blamed the fae for almost everything, which was understandable. They wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the fae, but that didn’t mean they were all bad, and she already knew she wanted to give them a chance to prove they were something more than they seemed from the outside. Sighing, she turned away from her parents, to look out at the world they called home… a world that had chosen the fae, knowing the choices the fae would make.

‘You’re right.’ Athare’s voice had once made her jump, but that time was long past. ‘Riordan did what he had to do. That doesn’t make him a bad person, and he is going to do what he can to help you. It might not work out, but at least he’s going to try, and that’s more than some of them would have done.’

‘I know you warned me this could happen, but I didn’t think it ever would.’

‘That’s normal.’ Athare sounded like she was smiling. ‘You are the best person for this job, so I’m glad it’s you.’

‘Maybe you are. That doesn’t mean I’m pleased about what’s happened.’ Tegan did her best not to react physically, as her parents knew nothing about her connection to Athare, or even that Athare was sentient. Most people didn’t. Only some of the walkers had a connection to the worlds, and those who did were seen as different to those who didn’t. ‘I know I need to stay, and to deal with this as best I can.’

‘Riordan will protect you, no matter what happens when he speaks to the others. He, for now, is the only one who knows where you are, and he’ll keep it that way until he knows for certain you’re safe. If that doesn’t happen he will get you away from Athare.’

‘How likely it is this will go badly?’

‘From what’s happened before I think it’s very unlikely, but I have no way of knowing how the creators are going to react. They… creating you was simple enough. Learning to live with you is something very different, and it’s not something they have any experience with.’ Athare sighed. ‘They’ve done the best they can considering the circumstances, and I believe that finding out about you is going to change things for the best.’

‘What happens if I can’t stay here?’

‘Go to Kniroch. It’s the best place for you, and I’ll still be able to contact you.’

‘You’re sure of that.’

‘No doubts at all. I am the central world of the Web, and that gives me certain abilities the others don’t have.’

‘Good.’ Tegan breathed a mental sigh of relief. ‘I’ve got so used to you being there I don’t know what I’d do without you.’

‘Tegan, you are far more capable than you believe. The time will come when you’ll see that.’

Athare faded from her mind, leaving Tegan alone in her own mind once more. Slowly, her emotions more mixed than they had been for a long time, she turned to look at her parents. “I am making the right choice, both for me and for the others. This is what I need to do. You might not agree with that choice, but I do still need your support. Dealing with the fae isn’t going to be an easy thing to do.’

Nodding, her mother stepped forward. “We will support you as best we can, darling, but it might be best if you did protect yourself first. Doing this for the others… it’s admirable. Just don’t put them first when you should be focusing on looking after yourself.”

“I’m not, because I’m doing this so I can stay here, with the two of you. That, to me, is the most important thing, as I don’t think William is coming back.” Tegan knew so much more about travelling the worlds than she had done before, and what she knew told her it was incredibly unlikely she was ever going to see her brother again. He might as well be dead. “If I left without talking to the fae then I wouldn’t be able to come back.” She’d said that before, but she knew she needed to say it again, and try to get them to understand what it meant. “They’d be looking for me, because of what I did. Staying here keeps me safe.”
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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

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