Part Five

    If I expected things to have changed while I napped, I am immensely disappointed.

    I am not sure how long I slept, but the rest seems to have helped some even if it failed to restore my missing vision. The pain from Hoffmann's visit has faded to a dull throb and I do not feel as frayed as I did earlier over my situation. I'm still not happy with it and I still have a headache, but I feel more in control.

    I push myself upright in bed and move the sheets out of the way before offering up an "I didn't hear you knock" to the room.

    There's a quiet snort from the corner and footsteps start my way as Malachi moves towards the bed. I could feel someone's eyes on me; spend enough time with Rosenkreuz and it is a little too easy to pick up on the sensation of being watched. Life outside of school here consists of a kill or be killed attitude where the students tear each other to pieces mentally and emotionally. It's a far different sort of sensation to be watched out of idle interest or blatant rudeness and to be stalked. At least I have that to rely on, I suppose, when my eyes can't tell me that someone is there.

    "We have a lot to finish going over," Malachi tells me. "Tomorrow's prescient will be taking you around the school in general. It is my job to show you around the Prophets' Hall and to show you to the Council's Tower. You will spend most of your time either here or there until your classes begin, so you need to know your way around."

    "Of course," I murmur in response, and I slide off the bed to get to my feet.

    "Find the door," he tells me when I am steady, and I tilt my head towards his voice before wondering how he expects me to do such a thing. He says nothing over my hesitation, giving me time to think, and I try to imagine the room as he showed it to me earlier. I think over his explanation of the layout but I'm not sure how helpful it's going to be at first glance. At last I reach behind me, finding the mattress, and I follow it up the bed to find my pillow. This helps me place the night stand off to the side of the bed and I linger there with my hand on it. Even if I can remember the number of steps from this point of the bed to the door, the turns and the feel of walls and my dresser under my hand blur the memory and I feel extremely disoriented all of a sudden.

    I look past that, building the room in my mind again, ignoring what I remember from going around it and focusing on just his words. I place me in it and him by the foot of the bed and at last start forward. For a small room, it is almost impressive how confusing it has become all of a sudden, but I have no energy to be impressed or amused by this revelation.

    I concentrate on my steps this time, trying to find a stride I am comfortable with that I can make permanent. I have to make larger steps than I am ready to because I will not be able to change my numbers after tomorrow and I do not want to be stuck with small steps that appear tentative for the rest of my life at Rosenkreuz. It takes six to find the far wall and I reach out to my left, feeling the texture of the wall change as my hand slides across the door. I have found the door, but not the doorknob, and it takes four tries before I can finally place it.

    Malachi makes an amused sound behind me. "The knobs always seem to be the trickiest things for precognitives to find," he says. "Doorknobs and light switches."

    "And what might a blind precognitive need with a light switch?" I ask, looking back in his general direction as he starts towards me.

    "For starters, you need your classroom to be lit. You're not going to make a good impression on your students if they come in after you and find you sitting in a dark room, nor will it help if they're there first and you don't notice the lights are off when you enter. They are not allowed to turn the lights on themselves, after all."

    I think this over for a moment, closing my fingers tightly around the knob before moving my other hand along the wall in search of the switch. Malachi is right; it is almost impossible to find. He laughs at me as I slide my hand around and at last takes my wrist and plants my hand on top of it. "Rosenkreuz modified this school many years ago when they realized they were making it hard for their blind precogs," he tells me. "The light switches and knobs on every door and wall are all at identical heights as each other. In the outside world, things aren't going to be so considerate for you, so maybe you can twist that gift into something useful enough to tell you when you're going to miss. This light switch in here is for you to practice with only; there is not an overhead light installed in your room."

    I move my hand from the switch to the knob when he lets go of me, judging the angle between them, and try to memorize where my hands are in relation to my body. I think of how bent my arms are as I move my hand back in the direction of the light switch and at last nod when I think I understand.

    "Let's go," Malachi tells me, so I open the door. "The first thing I am going to show you is the shower. I have your things already there waiting." He gives my lower back a small push and I step out into the hall, moving forward enough into it that I think he can step out of my room as well. The door clicks as he closes it for me and I feel his arm brush against mine as he moves past me. "The other precogs have been cleared out of here. We found them other places to be so they would not interfere with this. Likewise, if another happens to go blind while you are here, you will follow them in making yourself scarce."

    "I wasn't aware they taught precognitives such consideration."

    "How can Hoffmann stand you?" Malachi wonders, and I give him just a calm look in response. "Count until I say stop."

    I move down the hall with him at my side and he matches his stride with mine so the second set of footsteps won't confuse me. I try to use the same steps I used in my room but it's hard to tell the difference. I make it to thirty-six before we stop and there's an open doorway to my right that we go through. My footsteps echo oddly off the tiles and it takes some time before I think I can even begin to imagine what the shower room looks like. This one was built with blind Talents in mind; none of the other prescients are allowed to use it for any reason. It is set up differently than the other shower halls I have seen and it takes three times around the room before I think I can get my bearings. It helps that there are ridges carved into the wall; I can feel and count them with my fingers and find my way around.

    The ridges are different sizes depending on what they're leading to, and in some places there are multiple tracks above and below each other. The indented circles indicate the showers and lead around a corner to where three stalls are. The protruding bumps lead to the sinks, and the vertical lines, just shallow enough to feel as a hand goes skimming across them, leads to the toilets. They all get closer together as the distance gets shorter until they're one long line.

    Malachi waits while I shower, and showering is an adventure in and of itself. There are dispensers in the shower stalls for soap and shampoo, with one to one side of the shower head and the second to the other side. Showering blind is strange and even though I know it's not true, I feel less clean for not being able to see what's going on.

    The shower is short and afterwards I rifle through the clothes Malachi has waiting for me, using my fingers to try and find which side is the front. A blind precog's uniform is black from top to bottom with two white stripes running from shoulder to cuff and hip to hem. The buttons help me figure out which way to slip it on and it fits me exactly, custom made for my lean form. Fingers find my shoulders, searching for the patch with my number; this patch declares to everyone my ranking. I find hard thread that I think must be it and it takes me a moment to be able to feel the eight in the jumble.

    "Naa, Crawford…"

    Schuldich is in my head again. My fingernails slide along my number as I watch him, and I wonder how this youth could be so important to me that he would be so frequently in my thoughts. I am not inclined to feel any goodwill towards the ragtag telepath. For one, Rosenkreuz beats goodwill out of their students at a young age, and for two, he's the reason I lost my vision. There's something about him that force me from one rank to the other.

    He's leaning against a wall, pressed against it chest and cheek, blue eyes closed. They slide open, staring in my direction, and his lips curve into a brief, bitter smile. One hand lifts from the metal in a silent wave and he turns away from me.

    I force him from my thoughts, not interested in seeing him. Instead I gather up my towel and sleeping pants as best I can, making an attempt at folding the towel and pants to carry back to where Malachi is waiting. I hear his chair creak as he rises and he leads the way back to my room to drop the things off, letting me follow behind him blindly.

    I count the steps and make it back just fine; the trouble comes when I have to find the doorknob again. Even though I thought I could remember where my hand had to be, the knob isn't there. Malachi makes an amused sound off to my right, watching me search.

    "Your gift," he reminds me. "Start using that gift. You didn't gain ranking for nothing. If you don't have your eyes anymore, learn to see with something else."

    "I am not a specific instance precognitive," I send back, fingers finding the knob. I don't bother to turn it; as soon as I touch it I realize that it's locked. "Where is the key?"

    He sighs. "You're blind," he mutters, "in more ways than one. If you can see that there's no use in trying the knob, you can see that you can find the door. It's not a matter of asking yourself 'Where is it?' so that your gift can answer you; it's a matter of seeing things how you wish them to be."

    "It is easy for those with sight to mock those without."

    "A few days ago you'd be a hypocrite."

    "I don't care. A few days ago I could see." I hold my hand out in a demand and he turns the key over to me. I unlock the door but take my time doing it, wondering if he's right.

    "You might as well get used to it," Malachi tells me. "You're going to be blind the rest of your life."

    "No," I answer him. "This is only temporary."

    "Does that make you an optimist or an idealist?"

    I offer him a grim smile as I push open the door, and in that moment I can see the room like he wants me to. I know how to walk to get where I need to be and I carry my things in that direction, setting my clothes down on my bed without reach out first to check that I am right. I hear the soft thump of cloth against the quilt and tell myself not to take any satisfaction in it. Malachi is right about one thing; I am going to have to start seeing how far my gift will let me go now that it is a higher level. But he's wrong if he thinks I'm going to take blindness sitting down. I refuse.

    "If you wish me to see the future how I believe it should be, then this is what I will see," I tell him, turning to face him. I reach out and fingers touch the cool wood of my bedpost. "If my mother said blindness wouldn't work then she knew what I know now. I am not going to be blind forever."

    "Precognitives that go blind cannot regain their vision. Even if you could, you'd risk shutting off your gift entirely. The Council would forbid you to try; the strain on your mind would kill you. Just come to terms with it. You are blind, Oracle. You were destined for this."

    I laugh at him. I cannot help it. "Do not speak to me of destiny. I was your student- once. But I am a precognitive, as you are. The future is what we see in it; we have these gifts so that we can twist it to our liking. I will twist it how I wish until it rips if I must, but I will not sit back and let my gift dictate the rest of my life. The precognitive controls the visions; the visions do not control the precognitive."

    "You have gone mad," Malachi decides, sounding disgusted. "I knew you to be smarter than this." There's the scuff of his shoe against the floor. "I will leave you to your delusions, then. I suggest you memorize the Prophets' Hall. Your guide will be by tomorrow."

    "You are not taking me to the Tower?"

    "Not when you're being foolish, no. I will let Orion deal with you."

    With that, he leaves, and the door is closed loudly behind him. I listen to his footsteps in the hall and lower myself to sit on the bed, fingers tightening on the bedpost. I tilt my head in that direction, trying to get my eyes to focus on the wood and see it for what it is. But in the darkness of my vision is just orange and blue, and I can see Schuldich leaning against that wall again, and I wonder…

    Why would someone offer a precognitive a silent greeting like that, unless the prescient could see it?


    Two days later finds me in meetings with the other professors. There are thirty-nine of us in all, seated at rectangular tables on three different levels. The head professor, one of Elizabeth's subordinates, is standing in the center going over a list of schedule changes and the like. I hear papers rustling around the room as teachers take notes and there's the occasional murmur from one instructor to the other. Louder than those whispers are the snide remarks the telepaths are broadcasting to everyone except the speaker.

    It is a strange sensation to be sitting here as a professor. I was a student here at Rosenkreuz before I was moved to China; all I know of it is from a student's hateful viewpoint. I have never seen this side of it before and it is an odd feeling to be a part of the staff I once hated so much. Coupled with my time away from the school, I'm finally able to see those instructors as Talents. Bitter Talents, perhaps, because few of them became professors willingly, but Talents nonetheless.

    There are arguments over curriculum and joint lessons, rude comments and warnings regarding specific students, and general nastiness from the two telepaths. It has been years since I had any real contact with a telepath's powers, and I am not sure what to make of this blatant use of such gifts.

    The telepaths are probably the most bitter of the teachers present, and I suppose it's for good reason. They, like myself, were just pulled back from their stations within the past few days. Months ago the Council wouldn't approve letting one leave his post to check on the orphan in Germany, but now they've drawn two back here. Rumor has it that they're here for Chizuru's experiments. I am sure there is truth to that, but I am privy to the real reason. The Council expects to get a new telepath to train and so wish to have telepaths on hand. They need the pair to readjust to being around so many Talented minds before Schuldich shows up here.

    I wonder if they know that?

    Either way, being around the telepaths reminds me that my blindness isn't such a terrible thing. Nothing I go through is close to what the telepaths suffer in their rarity. Rosenkreuz keeps an eye on everything they do to the point that they track how often they go to bathroom in a day while they're in training.

    I seem to be the only one present harboring any sort of goodwill towards them. In response to the telepaths' arguments and running commentary there are a flurry of snarled responses from teachers around the room, sent out for the telepaths to hear and rebound to the rest of the room. The director keeps on talking, oblivious to the mental chaos, and I wonder if the teachers are any better and more mature than the students they are forced to teach. In the end I decide there is not much of a gap between them besides the authority one group has to completely annihilate the other mentally and emotionally.

    "We have with us four new instructors that will be starting in this upcoming term," the director says. "Herr Ruiz and Herr Heusinkveld, telepaths ranked five and six, will be supervising classes and mental progress with us for a year."

    /And making sure everyone's shields are locked nice and tight,/ comes the drawl from one.

    /Professors and students are replaceable; we telepaths are not,/ is the amused agreement from the other. /The Council says we can break a mind once in a while if the strain gets to be too much./

    /Hey, look at this. The bat thinks this is amusing./ There's a creak of a chair off to my side and I realize in that moment that the telepath is referring to me. It's disorienting to realize that one of the telepaths has been sitting this close to me the entire time. He's not in the chair beside mine but he's close, and I can feel the weight of his stare. That's when I realize that my lips have quirked into a coldly amused smile.

    /Nice shields,/ the other says, and I feel a brush of power against my mind as he tests my shields. /Kind of tempting to rip right through them. Aren't you happy that the rules require we leave the blind precogs alone?/

    ~Am I to be afraid of you?~ I want to know, letting the thought slip past my shields. There's an echo to it that makes me think they're letting the others hear this. On the floor the headmaster is introducing the third new teacher. I ignore him in favor of the telepaths.

    /I suppose you can be cocky just because the rules protect you. It's easy for you to look down on others when it's people higher than you that ensure your protection./

    My smile widens. ~It is easy for you to talk now about breaking other minds when yours will give out in less than two years.~

    There's a startled moment of silence after that; the telepaths weren't expecting such a response and they're not sure how to react in the face of it. They don't know whether to laugh it off, labeling it as an attempt on my part to make them nervous, or to be worried that it's the truth. Someone laughs off to my other side. /You fuck,/ comes the response at last, from one of the telepaths, and the edge to the voice makes me think it's directed just at me. /You think you can just spout out shit like that when you want to?/

    "The fourth instructor joining us will be Herr Crawford, rank eight precognitive."

    I stand at the sound of my name, stay on my feet for just a few moments, and then sit again. The headmaster continues on and I lean back in my chair slightly, gazing down my right towards the pissed off telepath. ~You, like the rest of us, live at the beck and call of the Council. When they come to you, you will do as they ask, as you always have. I am sure you are glad to know that your death will be from doing their bidding rather than a slow move on the field. It will be an honorable death, of course, and we will all mourn you terribly. At least the two of you will go down together.~

    /Shut your fucking mouth,/ comes the heated response. Paper crumples; in my mind I can see hands clenching into fists around today's itinerary.

    ~That's considered damaging school property,~ I inform him. ~It could be written down as an offense.~ There's a sizzle against my shields; the mental picture of me strewn across the ground in gruesome, bloody bits is slammed up against my mind. I feel the hit and let it bounce off, considering the image I've been handed with that cold smile still on my lips. ~Artistic,~ I decide.

    "Meeting adjourned," comes the call from the floor, and chairs scrape against the floor all over the place as teachers rise to go. But despite the creaking of the chairs, there are no footsteps, and it takes me a while to realize why. I've stood but the people between the telepath and myself haven't, and I can feel the man stepping into my personal space. He is warm against me, pressed against me, and I can feel his breath on my face.

    /There are ways to kill precognitives without the Council knowing it wasn't a natural cause./

    ~A pity that you don't know them,~ I answer, and I reach up to plant my hand against his chest. He catches my wrist, fingers tightening to the point that I'm pretty sure the skin will bruise. ~I suggest you let go before I make you let go.~

    I see him start to move before he's even let go of my wrist, and I don't give him the chance to act. My free hand comes up and my fist catches him full in the face. I feel bone give way under my fist and there's the warmth of blood across my knuckles as he is thrown back. Someone laughs, and then there's a heavy pressure against me as a telekinetic decides to break up the fight. None of them can do anything about the mental screaming, though, and I stand there in silence as the telepath tries to shred my shields. His companion is hissing at him to stop it, reminding him that blind prescients are on the off-limits list. I decide that one of them, at least, has common sense, but the other is too furious to be thinking clearly.

    "Councilman Nikolai cannot get through those shields," I inform him. "You certainly will not."

    That doesn't stop him from trying and I can hear him snarling curses both mentally and out loud. In the end there's a thud and his touch falls away. It takes a few moments to decide that the telekinetics decided to cut the fight short.

    "Good show," someone says, clapping a hand to my shoulder as they slip past. I don't answer and instead turn back to my table, gathering up my papers.

    The scornful amusement the teachers would have felt for me a few weeks ago if I'd been demoted to instructor status are gone; instead they are vaguely respectful of my blind level eight ranking. The scorn and antagonizing would have been a headache to deal with but I don't appreciate the reasons behind their easy acceptance of my new place amongst them. They know that I am not really here to teach. I am here because it keeps me close to the Council where I can report my visions easily. Teaching will just give me something to do.

    "Crawford," someone says, and I recognize the voice to be my precognitive guide Orion, the woman who showed me around Rosenkreuz's grounds. I tilt my head towards her voice and her hand touches my elbow. "The classrooms have been assigned."

    "I'd ask the telepaths to make a mental note," comes an amused, unfamiliar voice from a higher dais. "Worse than messing with a blind precognitive is messing with a blind precognitive who also happens to be Herr Hoffmann's whore."

    He doesn't mean the slur literally; or rather, he doesn't intend for it to be literal. My head knows that none of these people know what Hoffmann has done, but that doesn't stop me from reacting inwardly at the reference. While I hadn't thought I'd seen the extent of Hoffmann's cruel humor, such a thing hadn't been anywhere on the list of things I thought possible with him. I have not seen him since that day and I do not regret his absence in the slightest.

    My gift is Rosenkreuz's and my life is theirs to control, but that was not something I had ever figured on being required to give up.

    "Herr Hoffmann's?" the conscious telepath echoes, sounding amused. "Seems you won't live much longer than us, then."

    "We all have our roles to play and our purposes to serve," I answer calmly. "I wish you a lot of headaches to accompany yours and of the two of us, my wishes are more likely to be granted than yours."

    "So share a little," he says, moving up alongside me, and he takes hold of my shoulder. I feel his breath on my cheek and his hair against my face and there's a smile in his voice. "Tell us why Herr Hoffmann ordered us back here, because you must be the one behind such a move if you're his prescient."

    "You are here to do the only things telepaths know how to do: destroy others and then themselves. If you do not mind, I have a classroom to inspect."

    "Oh, yes." He lets go of me, mockery clear in his voice. "Don't let us interfere with you and your living walking cane. Carry on, precogs, and much hate to all of you."

    "It's mutual," Orion assures him, and a slight tightening of her fingers tells me it's time to go. We leave the room without any further trouble and she lets go of me once we're in the hall. We move together to the room that is to be my classroom and I know before we reach it how many steps there are going to be. I find the light switch on the first try, a result of several dozen practices with the switch in my own room, and I stand just a few feet inside the doorway as I stare blindly at the rows of desks I know must be there.

    "Your desk is in the middle of the room," Orion tells me from the doorway, and I hold my right arm out to my side as I start forward. It's ten steps to find it and I consider that, testing the width of it so I'll be able to find my chair.

    "Is there a board?" I ask.

    "It came with the room. You're not likely to use it."

    "Not likely," I answer dryly. "How many desks?"

    "Thirty-six, and thirty-five names on the role sheet."

    I just nod in response. The class isn't going to be a difficult one. As I haven't had the time to be trained to be an instructor, my job will be a general overview of the precognition gift and its evolutionary stages. It's something I can lecture about from what I remember of my own years at Rosenkreuz. Outside of that class I'm to schedule private meeting hours with half of my students to help teach them to interpret their visions. Apparently there were already several teachers taking care of that, but one was moved to help the combat prescient lessons so there would be room for me to work. After all, a level eight interpretation is better than what they have to offer, and I have no experience in fighting outside of what Rosenkreuz taught me. I was part of a political team, not a demolitions group.

    "I would recommend you utilize your gift for this, Oracle," Orion says. "Several of the blind precogs have had problems with their classes. They were strong enough to go blind but not strong enough to handle thirty-five blooming Talents and the hate that all students have towards Rosenkreuz."

    "They're not telepaths," I return. "Anything is better than a telepath and far easier to tolerate."

    "Such a grudge," Orion observes. "It makes one wonder what they said to you today- or rather, what you've seen them doing in the future."

    I give a quiet snort at that, fingers dancing over my desk. "It isn't that pair that fueled the prejudice against them."

    "Black black black black black…" Schuldich's hoarse voice whispers in the back of my mind, and while I think he is mumbling about the darkness of the Council's chambers, it fits with my blindness all too well. Past that I can see flickers of what I saw in that meeting room today, of those two telepaths bent over Schuldich's prone form, of those two dead. I don't know exactly how they're connected but I know Hoffmann's nephew is going to be the cause of their death.

    Maybe he has his good points.

    Not likely.

    Orion doesn't press it, and I incline my head to her. "I will find my way back to the Hall by myself."

    "If you prefer it," she answers, and I hear her shoes tap against the floor as she leaves.

    There's the murmur of female voices in the hall and I pull my chair out, seating myself in it just as my new guest arrives. "I would have thought you've have work to be doing," I offer up, my tone in no way inviting.

    Chizuru doesn't answer me, but I hear her heels click against the metal floor as she heads my way. She invites herself to sit on the corner of my desk and I know she's waiting for me to prove myself by identifying her by name, but I have no interest in pushing for further conversation. Instead I busy myself with inspecting my desk, finding and testing the drawers. My patience is better than hers and at last she speaks.

    "Elizabeth just told me."

    "I'm sure you are relieved to be kept up to date."

    She sighs a little at that, exasperated by my cool response. "Are you doing all right?" she asks, but she's not stupid enough to wait long on an answer to that inane question. "I was in Italy collecting samples, so she waited until I was back. I would think you had a guide or something. I thought that was how these things worked. Was she it?" I hear her nails click as she flicks her fingers.

    "Orion brought me here, and I am capable of getting myself back," I answer.

    "Mm." She says nothing else for a long time. I rise from my spot, seeing her touch coming and easily brushing aside the hand that reaches for my face. I can imagine the frown on her face at my dismissal and she reached out insistently, curling her fingers in the material of my shirt sleeve. "Why do you always ignore me?" she demands quietly, and for the first time in a while she doesn't sound like she's whining. "Why do you always push me away?"

    "Your persistence has never been amusing, Chizuru."

    "Aoi," she insists, grabbing at my collar instead. I take hold of her wrist and push her hand away, but she refuses to let go. "Damn it, just call me-" She cuts herself off abruptly; I feel her fingers go slack for a moment before tightening, and I wonder why she's decided to shut up. "Oh," she says at last. "Oh."

    Fingers brush along my throat for just a moment and then she jerks her hand back as if she was burned. I reach up, already knowing I'm not going to like what I find, and my own fingers brush against sore skin. A press against it and I realize it's an injury. Just a moment more and I remember where it's from. I can feel my expression close off and I fix the button her grab undid, feeling the way the collar sits over the bruised and broken flesh. There's very little satisfaction in the realization that it's been hidden; after all, Chizuru's just seen it.

    In my mind I remember teeth biting down on flesh hard enough to break the skin, remember the fierce rip of power that felt like it was tearing everything apart.

    "She said… that Herr Hoffmann was furious with you," Chizuru breathes. "She said that she'd never seen him that mad in years."

    "You jump to conclusions quickly," I tell her.

    "I have the right to," she returns. "Don't you think I know everything I can about you? I'd know if there was someone, and I know *you* well enough that I know you wouldn't let anyone do this to you unless you didn't have a choice."

    "This is not a topic for conversation."

    She doesn't answer, and I move around her towards the door. She doesn't move until I've reached the doorway and then I hear her shoes click against the ground as she slides off of her perch. She follows after me slowly and I know she's going to follow me back to the Hall. That doesn't mean I have to acknowledge her, and she doesn't press for it. I lose track of her when I step outside onto the dirt grounds of Rosenkreuz; that's when her footsteps go silent. I know she's still there, though. I can feel her gaze on my back.

    She doesn't follow me inside, and I think that it has nothing to do with the fact that the lock system on the door keeps her out. I don't look back as the door shuts behind me, and it isn't until I am back in my room that I lift my hand back to my throat and press my fingers against injured flesh.

    There's a part of me that wishes I could see it, and a stronger part that says perhaps it's best that I can't.

    I sit down on my bed, lacing my fingers in my lap, and force thoughts of Hoffmann from my mind. Instead I devote the next hour to trying to force my eyes to see again, as I have tried for days now.

    All I can see is Schuldich, and I make a mental note to rig the future so that he dies a messy death in Rosenkreuz.

Part 6
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