Part Seven

    The day begins as any other has for the past six months. My clock keeps me updated on the time at regular intervals as I dress and prepare myself for the day. My schedule is arranged in my head and I mentally tick off everything I'm going to be discussing today with my students. I make a mental note of who's not going to be there and why; apparently three will be out with injuries related to a test in another course. Unless the medic ward gives me notes to let me know that they're stretched out on beds with absolutely no way of coming to class, they will not appreciate the consequences of skipping.

    For all intents and purposes, the day will be a normal one, except that Herr Nikolai's monthly meeting with me is going to happen around lunch time. I will have to cancel the afternoon classes; I am not entirely sure what is going to happen after that meeting. I somehow doubt I'll be allowed to just walk back to my classrooms after Nikolai is dead.

    I still haven't worked out the particulars of how Nikolai dies. I am left with just what I have always had: the date and the fact that he dies because of me. I would like to know what I do that manages to kill Rosenkreuz's head telepath before I actually come face to face with him at noon.

    And people wonder why I was never willing to tell the Councilman the date…

    I stand at the foot of my bed, fingertips skimming lightly over the sheets, as I wrack my mind for answers I have never been able to find. I'm not feeling any more enlightened when my clock tells me it's time to go to my first class and I'm forced to push the issue aside in favor of more immediate concerns. It is a short walk to my class and I walk my students through the day's lecture. The last twenty minutes are devoted to questions and discussion, as usual. At least half of the instructors don't want to waste time with questions and instead just hammer how what the students are supposed to learn and leave. I distinctly remember my classes being structured as such, and I remember that Malachi's never were and what a difference that made. I have no problem talking with the students about things they're struggling with, as the whole point of Rosenkreuz is that it's supposed to teach these people.

    After six months, the questions are finally growing more interesting. No one wanted to talk in those first days, afraid of being harassed or ridiculed for what they wanted to know, and it took them weeks before they relaxed enough to start talking. Now, after six months of lectures and discussions, one girl is finally brave enough to bring up my blindness in my third class of the morning.

    "Herr Crawford?" she calls, and I wave my hand to give her permission to speak. There's a pause as she gathers up her nerves, and then she asks, "Is it very difficult not being able to see?"

    I can feel the atmosphere in the room change; no one expected her to say that and they're not sure how I'm going to react to such a question. There are other ways she could have worded it without it being so personal, and I wonder idly how long she has been trying to gather up the courage to ask such a thing. I doubt the question would be accepted by any of the other professors, brushed off to one side or answered with the generic and overused "It is an honor to lose my eyesight in Rosenkreuz's service" response.

    "I was out of place," she says a minute later while I am still debating the best manner in which to answer.

    "No," I tell her, and I consider it in silence for a few more moments. I hear chairs creak as some of the students lean forward, surprised that they'll get an answer and wondering what it will be. All prescients are concerned with this topic when the chances of losing one's sight are so great. No one ever expects that it'll happen to them but that "What if" is a niggling, ugly little thought. I remember my roommates discussing it back in our early days at Rosenkreuz, worrying over it obsessively while I ignored them. As it turns out, neither of them lost their sight and here I am today.

    In the end I decide to be truthful, even if I don't give them the full truth. I chalk it up to the fact that the girl who has asked is one of the strongest of the in-training precognitives. I suppose she has the right to be so worried.

    "Ask any blind prescient in Rosenkreuz and he will tell you that he is grateful to have lost it," I tell her, giving her the answer she must have been expecting. "He will ramble at length about the gift it is and the freedom he has attained in his visions. And perhaps he will be telling the truth," I say, and lift one shoulder in a small shrug. "More often than not it will be more Rosenkreuz propaganda, or something they have convinced themselves over time in order to accept such a situation. Despite the ranking and abilities, despite the years of training, blindness is something that none of see coming.

    "Warnings mean nothing once you hit that stage," I tell them. "Passing the black-clad precognitives in the halls and being recited the chances of going blind mean nothing. No matter what one's opinion of such a change is beforehand, the reality is still different. Do you think the precognitives are excited by this? They would have you believe they are, and they are setting you up by saying such things." Silence falls between us for a minute and I give a vague wave of my hand, blind eyes moving around the room as if I can take in their faces.

    "Rosenkreuz does not ask you to like blindness," I tell them. "It does not ask you to celebrate the day you lose your vision and realize you took the world for granted. They do not expect you to be pleased by such a thing. What they demand of you is that you recognize for what it is: a chance to reach further outside of yourself and see the world in a different way. It is up to you to choose not to mourn that you will never know what color your desk is," and I touch my fingertips to the smooth wood in front of me, "and instead realize that you have become privy to things that were unreachable before. It is a gift, whether or not it is appreciated."

    "You make it look easy," someone mutters in the back, and there's a nervous chuckle or two from those around him.

    I offer a thin smile in that direction. "It gets easier by the day," I tell him. "Blindness does not make one a cripple. It just teaches them a different way to see." The clock on my desk chimes and I pat my desk. "There will be no class tomorrow," I tell them. "Use the time instead to work on your interpretive journals. Your list of triggers will be due the day after. Dismissed."

    "Thank you, Herr Crawford," come the rote response, and chairs scrape against the floor as my students rise. I listen to their shoes against the floor, and one pair lingers behind after the rest have gone. Papers rustle slightly from directly in front of my desk and I turn my attention on the remaining student.


    "It's pale," she says, and it's the girl that asked me the question. "Pale wood, like… Like the tables in the cafeteria, if you remember what they look like. Not the students' tables, but the serving ones, like the one with the vegetables. Thank you for today's lesson, Herr Crawford." It all comes out in a rush and her shoes tap rapidly against the floor as she hurries for the door.

    She gasps; I listen to her stumble and she hits the wall or doorframe as she jerks to one side. "Herr Hoffmann," she greets, voice jerky and uncertain. "Please forgive me, I didn't-"

    Hoffmann interrupts her, voice lazily amused. "Precognitives are supposed to watch where they're going, not spend their time looking back over their shoulders."

    "Herr Hoffmann," is her miserable response.

    "Get out of here. I have business with your instructor."

    She manages a quick farewell and I hear her shoes slap against the hall as she takes off out of there as fast as possible. Silence descends between the Soul Shaker and myself for several moments before he starts towards me, and I push myself to my feet in greeting. "Herr Hoffmann."

    "I have to wonder what it is about you that they like so much," Hoffmann says, and I tilt my head to one side in incomprehension. Nails graze my face as he curls his fingers over my chin and he turns my head from side to side slowly, examining me. I keep my blind gaze pointed elsewhere, letting him do as he likes. "I must say that we haven't had a problem like this in at least twelve years now."

    "Is there a problem I should be looking into, Herr Hoffmann?"

    He laughs at me, drawing his hand back. "It is rare that students actually like their professors. A decent number respect them for what they can do and others still crave what the teachers have, but it's been twelve years since the like was anything real. You do realize that she's a little young for you."

    I attempt to put the pieces together. "Maribelle?" I ask, referring to the student that just left.

    "I pity those without empathy," Hoffmann mutters, sounding faintly disgusted by my ignorance. "I suppose her age doesn't matter; she is close enough and several of your peers have never stopped to think twice when it comes to their students. It is rather amusing that she's not hoping for extra credit through this fascination of hers, though."

    It takes me a few seconds more to make sense of what he's saying, and Hoffmann sighs when he feels it click into place. "Sometimes, Crawford, your idiocy tries my patience. At the moment, however, we are testing the Council's, so mine will have to wait. Herr Nikolai is calling for you. He's in a mood again, so Ahmed wanted me to fetch you. We don't want his gift near those mutated shields of yours when he's like this."

    …My shields.

    My *shields*.

    "I will cancel my afternoon classes, Herr Hoffmann," I tell him, but I hear the words from a distance as my mental sight finally seizes upon something and shreds it into pieces.

    Hoffmann turns away to lead the way to Tower and I follow after him, trusting my feet to take me there while I work my way through a suddenly overactive gift. His words are the trigger I have been watching and waiting for and I know that I don't have much time to get everything untangled and figured out.

    My shields have been in bad shape ever since my gift gained rank. These shields used to be the talk of Rosenkreuz. Talents' shields are part unconscious and part crafted will to protect the gifted mind; mine are entirely unconscious and always have been. I came to Rosenkreuz with shields too strong for my instructors to get through. Those who do break through are allowed that access- I know better than to try and keep them out.

    They changed for the first time the day I lost my sight; they morphed into something that's incomplete. Ikida guessed that my mind broke them out of necessity when it expanded, and ever since Hoffmann's had easier access and Nikolai has been able to hear me on odd occasions. I've tried to figure out a way to fix them but when they're not there on my command, I don't know how to fix them. I can't exactly break my shields to fix them again.

    I can't, but Nikolai can.

    The sheer level of insanity of this line of thinking is amazing, but I already know I'm going to do it, because today Nikolai dies.

    I take some idle comfort in the knowledge that I'll survive this encounter and won't be killed for instigating the death of a Council member; for once I am grateful for visions of Schuldich turning towards me, my name on his lips.

    That doesn't mean I have any proof that this will work, but as being executed isn't on the list of consequences, I suppose it is worth a try.

    The elevator takes us up to the Council's office and the door opens for us at a mental tug from Mosuli. Hoffmann waits just inside the door, expecting this visit to be as short and pointless as it always has been, but I continue forward until I'm halfway between the door and their table. "Councilmen," I say in greeting. "I have come as requested."

    Fingernails tap out an agitated beat on the tabletop and I decide it's Nikolai. I feel his gift press up against my mind, heavy and sharp. "The Council has a long list of projects to take care of," he says, and I can hear the scowl in his voice. "I want to know if it is worth it for me to get involved." Something slides against the table, and I recognize the sound as that of a heavy glass sliding across wood. The first several times I heard the noise in my blind state it confused me, but it is a familiar noise by now. "Malachi cannot see the when but he finally saw something this morning and said the Council would change soon. How soon is soon?"

    "Councilman, I must respectfully refuse such a question. There are consequences for knowledge such as this and I have seen what would happen to the Council if you were to find out."

    Those are the words I speak out loud. But in my thoughts, just loud enough that I know he will catch it, I add, ~He has no idea just how close it is, but he wouldn't believe me if I told him. Down to the seconds now, aren't we?~

    Glass shatters against the floor and I know Nikolai has heard me. "Councilman Chekov?" I query, as if I have no clue why he is reacting in such a way.

    In the next second his gift hits me, and it has never struck my mind as viciously as it does now. The mind that used to be rational years ago has long since lost the ability to regulate between sanity and madness, and it takes so very little these days to tip Nikolai from one extreme to the other. The force of his telepathy against my shields has me on my knees on the floor in a heartbeat and I think I would be throwing up if my stomach hadn't twisted itself into too much of a knot to attempt such a thing. My fingers dig into the floor as I struggle to remember how to breathe over the knifing pain, and it is almost more than I can handle to try and take what he is so relentlessly shredding and move it.

    Nikolai shatters my shields one layer at a time, and I don't fight him. I just grab the broken pieces and move them, feeling out the weak spots and laying them back down again. I hear voices raised in anger but I cannot make out the words; I finally manage to suck in a breath and I promptly lose it again as I choke on bile and blood.

    He's too close- any further and he'll kill us both-

    Abruptly he vanishes. One minute he is inside my head, filling every crevice as he searches for the explanation behind the thought he heard, and the next, he is gone completely. Someone hits me square on the back. I feel the pressure of it but there is no pain involved when my head is in such horrendous shape. The blood that was choking me is coughed out under the hit and I try to remember how to breathe. I'm dimly aware that my mouth is moving but that I cannot suck air in.

    "Fix them, Oracle," comes the flat command off to my side. "Fix them!"

    Hoffmann's power floods my mind in Nikolai's wake. There's a distant part of me that registers the fact that he's trying to squish the pain so that I can work on putting my mind back in order, but the rest of me just balks at the second invasion and shuts down.

    "Oracle-" I hear him start to say, and then there is nothing at all.


    I wake up in the medic ward and am completely unsurprised by this. Machines are beeping off to one side; I recognize the steadier one to be monitoring my heartbeat. The other two are less regular and I suppose they're keeping track of either the medicine in the IVs in my arm or some other important bodily functions. I stare up at the ceiling as I wait for the fogginess in my mind to clear. The sensation of being drugged is unfamiliar, but I suppose it is better than the pain of having my mind completely uprooted by an insane telepath. I think a lot of things would be better than that, in fact.

    I lift my arm from the bed, fingers finding the IVs in the other, and I slide them free. The machines start to whine and I reach out, flicking them off easily, before settling down again.

    The ceiling is gray.

    After six months of blindness, I decide I am glad that that is the first color I see again upon regaining my sight. I do not know what it would be like if I hadn't had the color and life of my visions to keep me company, but even now there seems to be far too much to take in. I push myself up on the bed, tugging the sheets to one side, and look around the room. My gaze travels over the various equipment and furniture and I feel my lips curve into a distinctly satisfied expression. It doesn't matter that things are blurry, a result of me having stopped wearing my glasses months ago.

    I can see.

    It is pretty much an accepted fact that precognitives who lose their sight lose it for good, regardless of the fact that it is just a mental setting that clicks them from one sight to the other instead of a physical deficiency. Blind prescients are blind until death, or so everyone says.

    I have no problems with breaking that rule.

    I lift my hand to where I can see it, taking in the color of my skin and the length of my fingers. Slowly I curl my fingers one at a time into a fist. It's such a simple thing but there's a pleasure to be found in it again, in getting back the vision that I once took for granted. I open my hand and make the fist again, and I hear an amused drawl at my ear.

    "It's a hand, Crawford."

    I don't bother to look up to see who spoke. The voice is Schuldich's, even if I don't know the when of it. He sounds different there than he has so far in the random things I hear from him. He sounds older, and I wonder just how long I am to be stuck with the telepath. When I left Rosenkreuz the last time almost a year ago, I remember realizing that Schuldich and I were tied together somehow, and that thought has only been reinforced through months of having to watch the telepath move in my mind. Now that I have my eyesight back, I'm slightly more willing to forgive him for his frequent intrusions into my gift.

    Either way, I instinctively know that whatever I just glimpsed is far enough ahead that I haven't lost my level eight ranking by rearranging my shields to better accommodate my gift,

    I slide off of the bed, not interested in lingering here any longer, and head for the door. I do not have to count the steps as I move or keep in mind where obstacles are; I can simply see the distance between myself and these other objects and move accordingly. It seems almost blissfully negligent to not have to worry about such things.

    The timing is perfect- there are no doctors in sight when I leave my room. I hear one on the phone and there are keys tapping in another direction, but none are where they can see me. I leave the ward without any interruptions and take the door that lets me out into the courtyard. There I pause, reminding myself what Rosenkreuz looks like from the outside. It isn't as if I could have forgotten, not after so many years here, but I did forget just how lifeless it appears to be.

    My first step is the Prophets' Hall, where I let myself into my room. I stand there against the door to take it in, noting the lack of color. "Black," I murmur, and I can hear Schuldich echoing it in my mind. The sheets, the curtains, the desk… Everything is black. I suppose it is appropriate, black for the darkness that clouds our eyes when we go blind. Colors would be unappreciated and black is associated with the Council.

    My glasses are in the drawer of the bedside table and I put them on, watching the world come into sharp focus. In the back of my closet I find my old clothes, wrapped in plastic so I could tell the difference between accepted and rejected wear. I tear the plastic off and take a familiar cream suit down from the hanger, going straight past the darker clothes to something that seems more appropriate for one who has regained his vision. I make a mental note to throw away all of the dark suits.

    I change from one suit to the other and only then do I think to check my clock and see what time- rather, what day- it is. The light coming through my window seems to be the wrong brightness for whatever time my internal clock is insisting it is.

    The date on the clock says I have lost a day. Nikolai died yesterday around noon, and now it is late afternoon the following day. I set the clock back down and leave my room. Hoffmann would have been made Council by now; I am sure the ceremony was yesterday evening. Eyesight or no, I am required to pay my respects to him today since I missed it yesterday. In the end I decide I'm going more because I can see than because of his new status, and I quiet such thoughts as inappropriate.

    Classes are still in session, and while I spot three others outside, they are nowhere near me and are too busy to pay attention to one lone man heading for the Tower. I press the button for the elevator. It takes a minute before it comes and I ride it alone to the Council's floor.

    The door is open for me; Hoffmann must have felt me drawing near and had the Council prepare themselves for a visit. I am not sure which seat Hoffmann will be in, so I keep my gaze pointed towards the floor a few feet in front of me as I enter the room. Ahmed and Jean were talking, but I hear their voices die out as I approach and the four take in what I am wearing. The silence is almost tense and I find it an interesting change. Idly I wonder how the Council is doing so far with their newest member. Regardless of the fact that they have always known Hoffmann would succeed Nikolai, I don't think they realized what they are getting into by giving the Soul Shaker a ranking equal to their own and the power to have a say in what the Council does. I wonder how long Hoffmann will give them before showing his teeth, and I suppose I should start taking bets on how quickly Hoffmann will usurp the majority of the Council's power.

    "Councilmen," I say as a greeting. "I have come to pay respects to Herr Hoffmann on his ascension to the Council's table. I am aware I missed the ceremony last night."

    "Something tells me you're wearing that suit for a reason," Ahmed says slowly.

    "It seems that Herr Nikolai's breaking of my shields managed to fix whatever broke when I changed rankings, Herr Ahmed. When I woke in the medical lab my vision had been restored."

    "That's impossible," Jean says with a snort, and I incline my head to him in silence because there's not really a safe way to answer such a remark without it being a lie or argument. "A precognitive who loses his sight cannot gain it back again."

    "I gave my students that lesson this morning, Councilman, and I was assured by Malachi that it was permanent."

    "How convenient for you," Ahmed says, eyeing me intently, "that you managed to gain your eyesight back where we lose one of our fellow Councilmen."

    Silence follows that cool accusation as the four consider that, and then Hoffmann starts laughing. I can see the others eye him out of my peripheral vision, and I can just imagine the wolfish smirk on Hoffmann's face. "That's incredible," he drawls. "What balls it must take to help orchestrate a death of the Council."

    "I saw it coming, Herr Hoffmann. I do not consider myself to have orchestrated it."

    "You had something to do with it," is Jean's acid response. "And for that I'd vote your death."

    "Oh, sit down," Hoffmann sends at him when he starts to rise. "You can't seriously be considering executing him. If he has managed to retain his level eight ranking even though he gained his eyesight back, then he's worth the aggravation of keeping him alive. Besides, the mere fact that he regained his eyesight puts him down in Rosenkreuz history."

    "That doesn't change the fact that he was behind Nikolai's death."

    "Nikolai died because he tried to break through the Oracle's shields," Mosuli speaks up, and in that moment, everything about the Council changes. The power hierarchy has just abruptly tilted and broken. Mosuli has decided to side with Hoffmann and I suppose I should have seen this coming, out of everything. Their sadist streaks run closest together and I'm sure they're going to have a grand time working together. I have a feeling Jean and Ahmed are going to be nursing that bitter sense of betrayal for a while, that Mosuli is going to so easily let Hoffmann have his way with the group. "He has tried it time and time again and we have been forced to stop him every time. He died because he wouldn't listen."

    Ahmed's too angry to react to that easy dismissal, but Jean isn't. "Just because he withheld the date-"

    "Nikolai was dying anyway," Mosuli says with a small shrug. "He was useless to us, too concerned with his own life and death to be able to work on any of our projects. It is better for us that we are gone. You are dismissed, Oracle. We have nothing more to say to you today."

    I bow to them, knowing that they're going to continue the argument in my wake, and leave. I can feel Hoffmann's power curling against my mind, sharp and pleased, and it follows me all the way to my room.

    So does Hoffmann, just a few hours later. I am still in my first floor room, as I do not think it would be wise to move and make it known to the school about my vision until after the Council has approved of it. I am working at my desk when he shows up and he doesn't have to knock; I see him coming just a few seconds before he arrives and know enough to have the door unlocked and open for him. He pushes me into my room with a hand to my chest and follows me in, closing the door behind him and twisting the lock into place.

    "How much of that did you see?" he asks.

    "The date, Herr Hoffmann, and that it would somehow be because of me."

    "And your sight?" he presses.

    "Your remark on my shields that morning was the last trigger to explain what I had to do to get my eyesight back. I didn't fight Herr Nikolai when he crashed into my mind."

    "The most likely outcome would have been your death."

    "I'm still seeing years down the road to my future, Herr Hoffmann," I tell him. "I thought it was perhaps worth the risk."

    He gives a quiet snort, moving around me, and stops behind me. His hands touch my sides and slide around to my front, and they burn through my suit to the skin underneath. The heat isn't imagined, and I feel the nerves of my abdomen flinching back under the weight of his power. "I suppose that means you want to go back to China. Such a thing would be nearly impossible after six months' absence, but there are other places that can make use of your talents if you're going to kick and scream about it."

    "If I had a choice, Herr Hoffmann, I would stay on here for a little longer," I tell him, blocking out the pain. He can feel me fighting it and just ups it a bit, tugging at the buttons on my jacket.

    "Oh?" he asks.

    "I can see that child in my future, Herr Hoffmann, the child in Germany. He and I are going to be important to each other; he's the reason I lost my vision in the first place."

    "So your mother saw your death because she saw you would cause Nikolai's and you lost your sight because of one bastard child in Germany. Your whole bloodline is screwed from the get go, Oracle, but if you want to stay here and wait it out, then that's your own grave to dig. How long until we have him?"

    "Next month," I assure him, and almost choke on the "Herr Hoffmann" at the spike of pain that knifes through my lungs.

    "Good enough," is his response, and it sounds rather bitter. "Good enough." A tight hand in my hair yanks my head back. "I suppose this is where I offer you gratitude?" he asks, mocking me. "Your greed for your eyesight killed a Councilman and I finally have been given what I'm due. In return I'll let you stay on here and the child will fall under your authority when I'm through with him. You can make of him whatever you wish."

    "I will make of him what Rosenkreuz needs, Herr Hoffmann."

    "I know you will. I know you will." He rakes his fingers through my hair in a mockery of a soothing gesture, and I can hear the vicious smirk in his voice. "And tomorrow morning you will be appointed as the missing Fifth. I'm sure you will appreciate working with Elizabeth and Adrian one on one. We have a lot of work to do to get Asia up to speed for what Rosenkreuz and Estet wants of it, but I suppose you will be able to start the work from here."

    "I will do my best, Herr Hoffmann."

    He just laughs. "I know," he assures me, "because you know what I would do to you if you ever gave me anything less."

    Idly I wonder if it could possibly be any worse than when I give him my best, but I know better than to say that.


    The next day there is a formal ceremony to recognize me as one of the Fifth. The whole school turns out for it as I know they did for the Council; the Council heirs are picked from the Five and the Five act as the Council's link to the school. If no one is particularly surprised that I have been chosen as Hoffmann's replacement and representative, they find excitement in the ceremony simply because I show up to it in a light colored suit with my vision intact.

    I threw away all of my dark suits this morning as I told myself I would yesterday. I've had enough of dark objects. After the ceremony I will be moving into a new room in the Prophets' Hall, though Hoffmann warned me that the medical ward will be wanting to look at my eyes to try and figure out how I've managed such a thing.

    Either way, I answer the call of my name by rising from my spot and starting down the aisle of the auditorium to the table at the front where the other four of the Five are waiting. The Council sits on seats on the stage, watching, and there's a possessive edge to Hoffmann's power as it burns my skin. I count up the days until Schuldich's arrival at Rosenkreuz, biding my time until that day. Hoffmann said he would lose interest in me when he receives a new toy to play with and I am quite content to let his attention switch to someone else after having to suffer it for six months.

    The Five stand as I reach them, acknowledging me as their equal, and I take the seat on the end beneath the banner of flags that marks the countries I will rule. We sit as one and the Council rises, reading off the names of all teams that will fall under my command. It is a rather lengthy list and I decide my work is cut out for me, particularly because I decided to keep my classes. Hoffmann makes a note of that decision since my students are present but I don't care enough to know what they think of such things.

    In the end, it is a short if formal ceremony, and then everyone is dismissed back to their business and the Five have brunch together before the medics can do anything. Elizabeth considers me over her plate of noodles and then shrugs. "I suppose it is good to have you," she says. "We had expected it to be you for so long, after all, and then your blindness made us wonder what unknown factor we'd have to be dealing with. Herr Hoffmann refused to pick a second favorite."

    "At least we know from past experience that we can deal with you," Miguel decides, refilling his glass.

    "Your faith in my abilities is astounding," I return dryly.

    "Our familiarity with your arrogance will do us well," Ricard says with a shrug. "But if Herr Hoffmann trusts you with the East, then so shall we. That's where the future is, anyway, though I suppose you know that already."

    "Asia is still years away," I tell them, "or at least, my involvement in it will be."

    "Keh. We wish you a lot of headaches between now and then," Miguel says, lifting one shoulder in a shrug before draining his glass. "You'll be inheriting Herr Hoffmann's office, as he will be getting a new one in the Tower. You'll have to go over the files there with them and I'm sure you'll have a grand time acquainting yourself with everything going on over there in the land of rice and chopsticks. Yours is the biggest group to control and Hoffmann hasn't been training you because of your eyesight."

    "I can handle it," I assure them easily, and Elizabeth offers me a wry little smile.

    "From anyone else, I would call that egotistical and an over-inflated self-confidence."

    "And from Crawford?" Adrian drawls.

    "It's still egotistical, but at least it's the truth." She lifts her cup and tilts it in a toast to the table. "Three cheers for Rosenkreuz, the four of the Council, and the Five. Let's make this year everything we can."

    It's an easy toast to drink to, and the rest of the meal passes with talk of Rosenkreuz's future.

Part 8
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