Part Four

    Hoffmann remains after everyone else has left. I listen to the shoes as they leave, and the empath closes the door behind them before starting back for the bed. A chair scratches against the ground as he drags one closer to the bed and he seats himself heavily in it. I keep my eyes closed as he approaches, as it is too dangerous to leave them open. It wouldn't matter to Hoffmann that I couldn't see him to not meet his gaze; if I accidentally lock eyes with him I know it'll be the same as any other time before.

    A warm hand reaches out to touch my face. Fingers curve around my chin and tilt my head towards him. "Aim your gaze to the right, Oracle," he tells me, because he is sitting to my left. "I want you to open them."

    I do as he tells me to and he considers me in silence. I wonder if he expected to see anything different in my eyes now that I can't see, and then I wonder if there is indeed something to mark the change. When he releases me, I let my eyes close again, and the chair creaks as he shifts in it. He props his shoes up on the bed and folds his arm over his chest, and I imagine he is raising an eyebrow at me from his perch. "I suppose you have a lot to tell me," he says, "if I got that reaction out of you earlier. We had to keep Borin here without you to oversee the search, and now that you're blind, he's going to have to go on his own. I haven't sent him yet because I wanted to hear what you had to say."

    I think over the telepath that caused my blindness, considering the visions that overloaded my mind. It seems like so little in exchange for losing so much. I can't see what about what I saw was enough to trigger the change in my gift. Hoffmann gives a laugh, amused at whatever he is picking up in me, and I hear the mockery in his voice. "Don't be so resentful, Oracle. You were lucky to make it to a seven with your eyes intact. How many level sevens do we have, and how many can see?"

    It might be a rhetorical question, but I cannot risk it. "There are twelve level sevens, Herr Hoffmann, and eight are blind." I am no longer a level seven, but that thought is overshadowed by the fact that I reached an eight by losing my eyesight. "I do not wish the Council to think that I am ungrateful for the evolution of my gift, sir."

    "The Council thinks a lot about you," Hoffmann says in response. "They've been thinking and talking and arguing about you ever since Seraphim died. Malachi says he explained the matter of her death to you."

    "He said that she died looking into my future, Herr Hoffmann."

    The chair creaks; his fingers tighten on my chin and I feel his power hiss across my skin in a sharp, painful rake. I feel myself tense on the bed in response to the heat and I feel Hoffmann's breath on my face. "They do not trust you," he murmurs. "They do not trust you because she saw something that killed her. I have been watching over you for four years now; I've had my gift in and out of you enough times that I was willing to argue for you in front of them. I vouched for you, Oracle. I did, when they might have just asked no questions and terminated you."

    The pain spikes hot, twisting through every nerve ending, and I feel the muscles in my throat lock up. "You know what I would do to you if you ever gave me a reason to regret that," he says. "It matters not to me that you're a level eight now, one of two. If you ever gave me a reason to doubt you I'd kill you and I'd make it slow. No one makes a fool of me."

    "Herr Hoffmann," I manage to get out, but it's twisted funny because I can't get my jaws to unlock.

    "Your blindness gives the Council an excuse to pull you out of China. When I leave here I am placing a call to that telekinetic partner of yours. Your things will be packed up and shipped here. Malachi opened a room for you in the Prophets' Hall."

    He draws his power back, but not completely, and there is still an icy hum rolling over my skin as he lets go of my face. "But enough about that. I want to know what you saw in that child so I can decide what to do about Borin. Talk to me, Oracle, Tell me that you have good news for me."

    It takes a few moments to organize my thoughts but he is willing to give me the time. I turn over everything I saw and everything I suspect about his character, putting the pieces in place into something coherent. At last I tilt my head towards Hoffmann, careful to keep my eyes closed.

    "Rosenkreuz is going to acquire a new telepath, Herr Hoffmann," I tell him, "but not yet."

    "Explain," he says, and I can hear the frown in his voice.

    "He is his mother's son," I say. "She survived madness for over seven years; she is the one who raised him and who put his shields in place. A Rosenkreuz telepath killed his mother and a Rosenkreuz empath killed his father and tried to kill him. He has been living on his own for years. When he turns to Rosenkreuz, he must turn of his own free will. He cannot be plucked up and moved here or he will break first. He must reach the point where he is willing to give up anything for our cause or he will die when he is here. It will take time, Herr Hoffmann, and a lot of work. If it were my place to make a suggestion, I would say that Borin should be transferred to Schrei so that he is close enough to make frequent approaches."

    Silence follows that for several minutes and I know Hoffmann isn't pleased by what I have to say. I decide to continue, offering him a little more. "He is very strong, Herr Hoffmann. He remembers you and he will fight you with everything he has."

    "Only for so long," is Hoffmann's amused response, and I know he is talking about his gift. In my mind I see that bruised face twisting as Schuldich spits blood in his uncle's eyes, and I look away from Hoffmann. He knows me well enough by now to know that the gesture is my way of telling him he's wrong without saying anything at all. It was something we had to learn, a way for him to fix things without me risking my position and health by defying him. "Oh?" he presses.

    "He will fight you, Herr Hoffmann," I tell him. "Bleeding, broken, and screaming. He will fight you. If the timing is not perfect and if the induction isn't of his own free will, he will kill himself under your control. If the timing is right, he will fight, but he will lose, and Rosenkreuz will have a new telepath to train."

    "Mmm," Hoffmann hums, and I can imagine the lazy smile he must be wearing. "I do so love having new toys to break in."

    I give him a moment to think that over, allowing him some time to daydream about the blood and pain that is to come. "Herr Hoffmann?" I say at last. He doesn't answer; I wonder if he has given me an absent little gesture to continue, too distracted by his thoughts to remember I cannot see it. I give him just a few seconds more before pressing on. "He knows my name. I did not give it to him."

    "Curious, but it can be explained," Hoffmann muses. "Since you will not be returning to China, I suppose you will be here whenever we finally manage to drag him in. Malachi cannot see him, so there might come a time when we need you to check on him again. I will keep that in mind. Can you give me any sort of a date to look for?"

    I think on that, turning everything over in my mind. I watch the background of the images, looking for some sort of marker, but I don't have to look long. It's not something I spot, but just a bit of certainty. "Rosenkreuz will celebrate the formation of a new Council before it accepts him," I say.

    "Months, then." The empath sighs and the chair shifts as he stands up. My first thought is that he is leaving, but the bed sags under his weight as he sits, and I feel weight and warmth on my other side as he props himself up with a hand there. He considers me for a bit and I let him, knowing better than to question anything he does. At last he gives an amused little snort. "Seems like you and I will be seeing more of each other," he says, "though there will be less for you to report to me when the Council has you teaching little clairvoyant-wannabes how to read the future. Pity about the eyesight. I rather liked you able-bodied."

    "I did not mean for it to happen, Herr Hoffmann."

    "No, I suppose you didn't," is his amused response. "So bitter you are about it, too. It is so few and far between that you react to anything; sometimes I think you would have made a much better empath than a precognitive. You steadily train yourself to feel next to nothing and I have been watching for years as you carefully shut yourself down. And I… I have the power to break down all of your training in a heartbeat and rip out whatever I want."

    There's a smile in his voice; that cold little smile that I can picture a little too perfectly. "You've always been my favorite," he decides. "That which you hide away from everyone else is left to only me. No one else can touch what I can touch. It's as if you keep it reserved, hidden away in a spot for my own private amusements. How do you feel about that?"

    I'm not sure I like the track this conversation is taking, but there's really only one answer to give. "Whatever you wish me to feel about it, Herr Hoffmann." It sounds insolent but I can't think of a better way to word it. His fingers twist in my hair almost tight enough to rip the locks free and he pushes my head into my pillow. I feel his breath on his face and his power in my veins and it is all I can do to keep my fingers relaxed against the sheets as his empathy rips down my spine. I cannot see him but I can feel him right there, practically laying on top of me. His clothes hang loose enough on him that they're brushing against my own and I can feel his gaze raking over my face by the way the heat moves over my cheeks.

    "Does it break your heart?" he taunts me. "I will be replacing you soon, if what you say is correct. If that boy steps through this door I will have someone else to devote my time and energies to. I will be trying to forget you, a precognitive who went blind with his power. For years I've watched and worked with you; for years you've been the perfect little errand boy. And now I will be losing you. I suppose you'll be wanting a farewell present, then?"

    Yes is a lie and no isn't an acceptable answer, so I struggle for a moment and settle for a neutral "Herr Hoffmann…"

    I hear a quiet laugh. "Open your eyes, Oracle, and look at me. I want to see your eyes."

    His kiss hurts.

    His touch hurts far worse.


    Malachi comes to visit me some time later. I'm not sure about the passage of time; I do not know what day it is or whether it is morning or evening. I was unconscious before Hoffmann made it to the door after his visit and I think I woke briefly when Ikida was checking on me, but I'm not sure about the hours in between each. I see that the other prescient is coming before the door opens to admit him, and he comes to a stop beside the bed to consider me. He says nothing, so I say nothing, and the silence stretches between us. It is tense but not uncomfortable, and at last he reaches forward to yank the bed sheets back.

    "Your room is waiting on you. Give me your hands or you'll fall."

    My first thought is that the warning has to do with maneuvering without my eye sight. That notion is scratched when I try to sit up and every muscle in my body screams a frantic protest. I hiss air through clenched teeth and my fingers tighten on the sheets beneath me in an instinctive reaction. Malachi says nothing, waiting until I am ready to risk a second try. It takes me a long minute before I can convince my fingers to loosen their death grip and I lift my hands into the air. The older precognitive takes them and helps tug me up to a sitting position, and he leaves me there for a moment to fight nausea and pain. Plastic rustles and he only has one hand for me when he returns.

    It is hard to get to my feet, even with him to help me, and as soon as I am upright I feel my stomach give a sharp lurch. Something metal is pressed into my hands and I recognize the round shape as the trash bin just as I throw up into it. Malachi waits quietly until I'm done and then takes it away, setting it back down neatly for someone else to empty. A glass of water is offered next to help wash away the acrid taste of stomach acid and I drain it.

    "What a sight you are," he says as he takes the cup away. "I am going to guess you told him something he was not happy to hear."

    "He asked me about the German telepath," I answer, and he takes my elbow in my hand to guide me across the room. I do not like it at all; it's disorienting to have to walk when I cannot see where I'm going. I can't shake the feeling that he's going to walk me into a wall just for the fun of it, and not being able to see makes my sense of balance seem out of whack. Malachi has years of experience working with Seraphim, luckily, and he lets me move with careful steps that are made even slower from Hoffmann's lingering power.

    "Schuldich," Malachi says, and I murmur an affirmative.

    "He has potential," I tell the prescient. "Rosenkreuz will have to work to acquire him but he will be worth it."

    "There is no such thing as working to get a Talent," Malachi returns. "We have the power and the right to uproot whomever we wish to do with whatever we like."

    "Not this one," I argue easily. "He is a telepath. Telepaths are a dying breed and until Chizuru's team learns to breed power, they cannot risk losing the ones within their sights. He has survived with cracked shields for years. He could be what they are looking for, but he will kill himself if they bring him here early."

    "A few tweaks of an empath's gift and it will rule out any suicidal tendencies."

    "It will rule out the desire for such a thing, and perhaps instill a terror over it, but an empath cannot rewrite a mind to change how it thinks. I have seen it as such."

    The old man gives a snort. "And now with your promotion we will be forced to listen to your insufferable prophecies," he mutters. "I suppose you are quite pleased with yourself for reaching your mother's level."

    "I would rather see where I am going," I return, "and leave the power for someone else. My ranking was sufficient for my work in China."

    "And your new ranking is more than sufficient for whatever you will be doing here," he answers. "No doubt about it that you will be installed as a professor. I wish you many migraines and a lot of hate. Children are despicable creatures, particularly those who fancy themselves experts at powers they have only recently learned they have."

    "I did not know you harbored such animosity towards me, professor," is my light response.

    "If your power wasn't what it was and your mother wasn't who she was, I would have never noticed you. You never spoke in class and you sat in the back. I figured you were daydreaming half of the time; turns out you had four times the greater gift than your classmates and twice the maturity… And at least that the arrogance. You haven't lost the arrogance."

    "I am a precognitive, sir. It is my right."

    "A word to the wise: teachers do not like uppity students, even if the arrogance is practiced in silence. The trick to being a successful teacher at Rosenkreuz is to leave all firearms in the bedroom and not in the classroom."

    "The trick is to be able to see your student in order to shoot him."

    "Your mother was right. You're not well suited for blindness. She often said that it wouldn't work."

    "I do not suppose she mentioned a cure."

    "A cure?" Malachi gives a derisive snort. "It's a mental thing, Oracle. You know that. The mind chooses which sight it would prefer to use and it loses the other. Even though you cannot see, you are technically not blind. You are looking around you right now and seeing it, but your mind refuses to process the information. It is irreversible. You have to have one or the other and once you open your mind to your gift, it is not possible to close it again. Many a precognitive has tried and I have no doubt that you will as well, but it cannot be done. The mind is open; only death will close it again and as long as it is open, you are blind. Stairs."

    I find the railing with a hand and follow behind him down the stairwell. He keeps a hold on my wrist to guide me down but every step makes me think I'm going to judge the distance wrong and fall. There are only four steps in the medical ward and those are the ones leading down from the main door to Rosenkreuz property. I can feel a light breeze washing across me and in the distance I can hear someone shouting at a group about their exercises. Dirt crunches beneath my feet as I follow Malachi back to the Prophet's Hall and I think on his words about my blindness. I think about what's around me, a sight that has been familiar to me all my life, and try to imagine it clearly enough in my mind that my eyes will accept it and start working again.

    I have succeeded only in giving myself a migraine by the time we reach the Hall, and the fresh pain on top of Hoffmann's work just succeeds in souring my mood. "Your room is on the first floor," Malachi says as he lets us into the building. We stop just inside the door. "All of the blind precognitives are on the first floor until we trust them enough to let them take the stairs every day. The Council will give you a few weeks to adjust to your new situation and become comfortable with moving around and then will work on assigning you a new position. There is a prescient who will be leading you around tomorrow to help you mark out paths; as well as you thought you knew this place, you're wrong. The paths became familiar too long ago for you to be able to rely on the memories; you forgot how many steps and how far the distances in favor for visual markers. You will have this one tour only and then will be left to learn it on your own."

    "I understand."

    One tour to learn the whole of Rosenkreuz…? I am going to spend the next few weeks wandering around lost.

    "Start here," Malachi says. "Count."

    He takes me down the hall and I count the steps as we go, and I reach thirty-seven before we stop. He turns me to the right and takes a few steps forward before planting my hand on a door. "This is yours. Go back to the door."

    I hesitate, then turn away from him. Turning is dizzying because I'm not sure if I've turned enough or too far. He snaps at my back in a command and I start forward, counting the steps back the way we came and wondering if I'm even walking in a straight line. I keep an arm out in front of me as I go and even though I tell myself to walk faster, I cannot get rid of the certainty that I'm going to trip and fall without my eyesight to guide me. I reach the door in forty-four and it throws me for a moment before I decide that the length of my stride must have been different this time.

    "Come back," Malachi orders me, and I use a hand against the door to help turn myself back in his direction. I remember watching blind precognitives learn how to survive in Rosenkreuz and silently reassuring myself that I would never be in their position. It is against Rosenkreuz rules to harass a blind prescient, as it is supposed to be an honor to trade one sight for the other. Precognitives start losing their eyesight at level six depending on the strength of their mind; most never make it to seven and so six is considered to be powerful enough that it overloads a great deal of minds. Rosenkreuz has a tendency to kill off the blind level sixes, however. Precognitives are in abundance and once they're blind, it's hard to find places outside of the school where they could work. There are a few stationed in other countries and overseas, but it is easiest to just stick with those that can see and take care of themselves. It's a different story for level sevens and the occasional eight, as the power difference between them is enough that it's worth it to keep them close by.

    It is forty-one steps back to Malachi and I decide I'm going to have to do something about regulating my stride if I want to get anywhere. Malachi must have been counting with me because he gives me a small lecture about it as soon as I'm back beside him. He opens my bedroom door and guides me in, and I follow him around silently as he teaches me the layout of my room. It is a very simple place with enough space to not trip over things. The closet is full when he shows it to me and I remember the black uniforms the blind prescients wear to stand out and alert all others to their ranking.

    I am not meant to be wearing such things.

    Malachi waits by the door as I work my way around the room a second and third time on my own, watching until he is satisfied that I can find things easily. At last he tells me to stop and I hear an aggravated sigh as he approaches me. I cannot think of anything I was doing wrong so turn a frown on him as he comes to a stop. I am warned by a flicker of foresight just before his hands touch me; it is all that keeps me from leaning back in surprise.

    I feel the warmth on my face just before I feel his fingers; something hot and sluggish is creeping out of the corners of my eyes. "You're bleeding again," he says. "You shouldn't be bleeding anymore; it happens when the mind breaks levels and that's it."

    "Why does it bleed?" I ask.

    "It happens to all blind precogs; the brain is put under such a strain that when it shuts down physical vision, it pops a few capillaries in the hurry to keep the mind from overloading." He wipes it away and lets his hand fall free. "Your suitcase is on the bed; someone thought to move it here while you were unconscious. It is almost noon now but I would suggest you get some sleep before going around the room again yourself. You've been given the rest of the day to finish recovering from expanding your mind and I figure you're going to need the hours to get over Hoffmann's disfavor. The alarm has already been set for tomorrow morning. I will come and get you when you wake in a few hours."

    "Don't you have a job of your own to do?" I ask him.

    "Remember that the Council is very interested in you these days," Malachi says. "Before they had reason to worry about whether or not they could trust you, as Hoffmann was recommending you to take his spot as one of the Five. But your blindness rules such a promotion out, so now they are wondering what sort of trouble to expect from you. You are my job, at the moment; I am here looking for triggers to explain your future to them."

    "If you come across anything interesting, perhaps you'll be considerate enough to share."

    Malachi gives an aggrieved sigh. "You've always been a bitch to read, Crawford, and you know that. Seraphim was the only one that could keep track of you and she amused herself peeking into your future whenever she thought the Council wasn't looking. I only know because she used to mutter to you when she was a little too far in." There's a rustle of cloth as he moves. "That is why the Council wanted every precognitive to keep half an eye out for you when they weren't assigned to other projects. No one's turned up anything."

    "I shall start leaving my organizer out, then," I say, "with all of the appropriate days marked for my coming insubordination."

    "We'd appreciate it," comes his sarcastic response, and I feel my lips quirk into a brief, half-hearted smile. "Now go to sleep, if you can even get in bed. I have other matters to attend to."

    "And a report to file with the Council," I add, and he says nothing to confirm or deny it. He turns and leaves; I listen to the door close behind him and I can hear his shoes in the hall. I ignore his order to rest for the moment and instead lift my hands to where I should be able to see them, holding them up near my face. I wave them, trying to stare through the darkness to see the movement. I want to see something, anything. I don't care if it comes in shades of gray; anything would be better than this pitch black.

    "Black black black black black…" Schuldich's hoarse whisper echoes in my thoughts.

    I shake my hands harder, trying to shove away the sight of his bright orange color of his hair in favor of seeing what's in front of me in the here and now. I don't give a damn about what's to come. I want to know what color these walls are painted and what sort of sheets are on this bed. I want to see my suitcase where it sits on the mattress. I want something because I refuse to accept nothing at all.

    I try for half an hour and succeed only in giving myself a worse headache. That coupled with my unpleasant encounter with Hoffmann is enough that I almost throw up again. Instead I lurch forward, grabbing at my bed. I almost miss; I keep myself from falling through sheer luck alone. Fingers clench in the sheets and I give them a vicious yank, ripping them off the bed. There's a loud crash as my suitcase goes falling off the other side and I throw my blankets across the room. The mattress is shoved and it slides off the bedsprings on the other side, and the ensuing wave of dizziness is so sharp that I have to sit down hard on the ground.

    I press the side of my hand to my mouth, tasting bile and Hoffmann, and no matter how hard I scrub, I cannot get the memory of either to go away.

Part 5
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