My head was between my knees amid the utter pandemonium. Matthew's hand kept my attention glued to the pattern in the worn Oriental rug under my feet. In the background Marcus was tel ing Sarah that if she approached me, his father would likely rip her head off.
"It's a vampire thing," Marcus said soothingly. "We're very protective of our spouses."
"When were they married?" asked Sarah, slightly dazed.
Miriam's efforts to calm Em were far less soothing. "We cal it shielding," her bel -like soprano chimed. "Ever seen a hawk with its prey? That's what Matthew's doing."
"But Diana's not his prey, is she? He's not going to . . . to bite her?" Em glanced at my neck.
"I shouldn't think so," Miriam said slowly, considering the question. "He's not hungry, and she's not bleeding. The danger is minimal."
"Knock it off, Miriam," said Marcus. "There's nothing to worry about, Emily."
"I can sit up now," I mumbled.
"Don't move. The blood flow to your head isn't back to normal yet." Matthew tried not to growl at me but couldn't manage it.
Sarah made a strangled sound, her suspicions that Matthew was constantly monitoring my blood supply now confirmed.
"Do you think he'd let me walk past Diana to get her test results?" Miriam asked Marcus.
"That depends on how pissed off he is. If you'd blindsided my wife that way, I'd poleax you and then eat you for breakfast. I'd sit tight if I were you."
Miriam's chair scraped against the floor. "I'l risk it." She darted past.
"Damn," Sarah breathed.
"She's unusual y quick," Marcus reassured her, "even for a vampire."
Matthew maneuvered me into a sitting position. Even that gentle movement made my head feel like it was exploding and set the room whirling. I closed my eyes momentarily, and when I opened them again, Matthew's were looking back, ful of concern.
"Al right, mon coeur?"
"A little overwhelmed."
Matthew's fingers circled my wrist to take my pulse.
"I'm sorry, Matthew," Marcus murmured. "I had no idea Miriam would behave like this."
"You should be sorry," his father said flatly, without looking up. "Start explaining what this visit is about- quickly." The vein throbbed in Matthew's forehead.
"Miriam-" Marcus began.
"I didn't ask Miriam. I'm asking you," his father snapped.
"What's going on, Diana?" my aunt asked, looking wild.
Marcus stil had his arm around her shoulders.
"Miriam thinks the alchemical picture is about me and Matthew," I said cautiously. "About the stage in the making of the philosopher's stone cal ed conjunctio, or marriage.
The next step is conceptio. "
"Conceptio?" Sarah asked. "Does that mean what I think it does?"
"Probably. It's Latin-for conception," Matthew explained.
Sarah's eyes widened. "As in children?"
But my mind was elsewhere, flipping through the pictures in Ashmole 782.
"Conceptio was missing, too." I reached for Matthew.
"Someone has it, just like we have conjunctio."
Miriam glided into the room with impeccable timing, carrying a sheaf of papers. "Who do I give these to?"
After she'd gotten a look from Matthew that I hoped never to see again, Miriam's face went from white to pearl gray.
She hastily handed him the reports.
"You've brought the wrong results, Miriam. These belong to a male," said Matthew, impatiently scanning the first two pages.
"The results do belong to Diana," Marcus said. "She's a chimera, Matthew."
"What's that?" Em asked. A chimera was a mythological beast that combined the body parts of a lioness, a dragon, and a goat. I looked down, half expecting to glimpse a tail between my legs.
"A person with cel s that possess two or more different genetic profiles." Matthew was staring in disbelief at the first page.
"That's impossible." My heart gave a loud thump.
Matthew circled me with his arms, holding the test results on the table in front of us.
"It's rare, but not impossible," he said grimly, his eyes moving over the gray bars.
"My guess is VTS," Miriam said, ignoring Marcus's warning frown. "Those results came from her hair. There were strands of it on the quilt we took to the Old Lodge."
"Vanishing twin syndrome," Marcus explained, turning to Sarah. "Did Rebecca have problems early in her pregnancy? Any bleeding or concerns about miscarriage?"
Sarah shook her head. "No. I don't think so. But they weren't here-Stephen and Rebecca were in Africa. They didn't come back to the States until the end of her first trimester."
Nobody had ever told me I was conceived in Africa.
"Rebecca wouldn't have known there was anything wrong." Matthew shook his head, his mouth pressed into a hard, firm line. "VTS happens before most women know they're pregnant."
"So I was a twin, and Mom miscarried my sibling?"
"Your brother," Matthew said, pointing to the test results with his free hand. "Your twin was male. In cases like yours, the viable fetus absorbs the blood and tissues of the other.
It happens quite early, and in most cases there's no evidence of the vanished twin. Does Diana's hair indicate she might possess powers that didn't show up in her other DNA results?"
"A few-timewalking, shape-shifting, divination," his son replied. "Diana ful y absorbed most of them."
"My brother was supposed to be the timewalker, not me,"
I said slowly.
A trail of phosphorescent smudges marked my grandmother's progress as she drifted into the room, touched me lightly on the shoulder, and sat at the far end of the table.
"He would have had the genetic predisposition to control witchfire, too," Marcus said, nodding. "We found only the fire marker in the hair sample-no other traces of elemental magic."
"And you don't think my mother knew about my brother?" I ran my fingertip along the bars of gray, black, and white.
"Oh, she knew." Miriam sounded confident. "You were born on the goddess's feast day. She named you Diana."
"So?" I shivered, pushing aside the memory of riding through the forest in sandals and a tunic, along with the strange feeling of holding a bow and arrow that accompanied witchfire.
"The goddess of the moon had a twin-Apol o. ' This Lion maketh the Sun so soon, / To be joined to his sister, the Moon.'" Miriam's eyes gleamed as she recited the alchemical poem. She was up to something.
"You know 'The Hunting of the Green Lion.'"
"I know the next verses, too: ' By way of a wedding, a wondrous thing, / This Lion should cause them to beget a king. '"
"What is she talking about?" Sarah asked testily.
When Miriam tried to answer, Matthew shook his head.
The vampire fel silent.
"The sun king and moon queen-philosophical sulfur and mercury-married and conceived a child," I told Sarah. "In alchemical imagery the resulting child is a hermaphrodite, to symbolize a mixed chemical substance."
"In other words, Matthew," Miriam interjected tartly, "Ashmole 782 is not just about origins, nor is it just about evolution and extinction. It's about reproduction."
I scowled. "Nonsense."
"You may think it's nonsense, Diana, but it's clear to me.
Vampires and witches may be able to have children together after al . So might other mixed partners." Miriam sat back in her chair triumphantly, silently inviting Matthew to explode.
"But vampires can't reproduce biological y," Em said.
"They've never been able to. And different species can't mix like that."
"Species change, adapting to new circumstances," said Marcus. "The instinct to survive through reproduction is a powerful one-certainly powerful enough to cause genetic changes."
Sarah frowned. "You make it sound like we're going extinct."
"We might be." Matthew pushed the test results into the center of the table along with the notes and the page from Ashmole 782. "Witches are having fewer children and possess diminishing powers. Vampires are finding it harder to take a warmblood through the process of rebirth.
And the daemons are more unstable than ever."
"I stil don't see why that would al ow vampires and witches to share children," Em said. "And if there is a change, why should it begin with Diana and Matthew?"
"Miriam began to wonder while watching them in the library," Marcus explained.
"We've seen vampires exhibit protective behavior before when they want to shield their prey or a mate. But at some point other instincts-to hunt, to feed-overwhelm the urge to protect. Matthew's protective instincts toward Diana just got stronger," said Miriam. "Then he started a vampire's equivalent of flashing his plumage, swooping and diving in the air to attract attention away from her."
"That's about protecting future children," Marcus told his father. "Nothing else makes a predator go to those lengths."
"Emily's right. Vampires and witches are too different.
Diana and I can't have children," Matthew said sharply, meeting Marcus's eyes.
"We don't know that. Not absolutely. Look at the spadefoot toad." Marcus rested his elbows on the table's surface, weaving his fingers together with a loud crack of his knuckles.
"The spadefoot toad?" Sarah picked up the picture of the chemical wedding, her fingers crumpling the edge. "Wait a minute. Is Diana the lion, the toad, or the queen in this picture?"
"She's the queen. Maybe the unicorn, too." Marcus gently pried the page from my aunt's fingers and went back to amphibians. "In certain situations, the female spadefoot toad wil mate with a different-though not completely unrelated-species of toad. Her offspring benefit from new traits, like faster development, that help them survive."
"Vampires and witches are not spadefoot toads, Marcus," Matthew said coldly. "And not al of the changes that result are positive."
"Why are you so resistant?" Miriam asked impatiently.
"Cross-species breeding is the next evolutionary step."
"Genetic supercombinations-like those that would occur if a witch and a vampire were to have children-lead to accelerated evolutionary developments. Al species take such leaps. It's your own findings we're reporting back to you, Matthew," said Marcus apologetical y.