------------ten : The curtain calls my name – I'm not afraid – And I know you may not miss me, but I am not ashamed of the choice I made.

   Technically, it was Schuldich's fault Jonas fucked Crawford again. The Council returned to Japan from a brief check-in at Rosenkreuz, and Crawford was waiting to give them his report. Ahmed wanted an update on Schuldich's health, and Crawford obediently passed along Ikida's assessment. Jonas lost interest in the conversation the second Schuldich's name came up, but Crawford effectively secured it: not through what he said, but from what was behind it. The apathy surrounding Schuldich was something Jonas had needed from Crawford for years.

    As soon as the Councilmen parted for the night, Jonas went in search of his wayward precognitive. He couldn't hurt Crawford, not with only a few weeks left until the end, but he could spend the entire night reminding Crawford which German was the important one.

    It'd been almost a year since he'd last pushed Crawford down, and eight years since their first encounter in Rosenkreuz's medical wards. Jonas felt the years with every kiss he laid on Crawford's skin, with Crawford's every ragged breath.

    Afterwards, watching Crawford get sick into the bedside trash can, he wondered what Estet's ceremony would mean for them. Where was Schwarz's role in Estet's new world?

    He proposed the question to Crawford when the precognitive could finally breathe again, and Crawford took a minute to consider it. Finally Crawford set the trash can aside and eased onto his back. "They will soon have no further need of us, Mister Hoffmann."

    It wasn't the answer Jonas expected. "Even gods need an Oracle's advice."

    "In a few weeks, I will be standing in the Council's chambers once more," Crawford said.

    Jonas' stomach gave a fierce, hungry twist. He leaned over Crawford, propping a hand to the mattress at Crawford's side for balance. "You're coming home."

    "Yes, Mister Hoffmann." Crawford glanced his way, careful to avoid his eyes, and added, "Alone."

    Jonas sucked in a short breath at that. "And Schwarz?"

    There was a long pause before Crawford said, "I see nothing of Schwarz past the ceremony." Before Jonas could react, Crawford continued, "I assume they are no longer relevant to myself and the Council's future."

    Jonas stared down at him for an endless minute, struggling with that. Crawford's visions had centered around Schuldich for the better part of a decade. Thinking they would soon be separated for good was at once impossible and glorious.

    "He's served his purpose," Jonas concluded. "Your gift chose him because he could get us this far. Once the ceremony is complete, you will not need him anymore."

    Crawford said nothing to that, but Jonas didn't notice.

    In three weeks, the Elders would have their immortality, and the Council would have its Eyes. Crawford would finally take his place as the Council's counsel and lord of the Prophets' Hall. Once Crawford stepped foot on Rosenkreuz ground again, Jonas would make sure he never left it. Crawford would never see Schuldich again. As soon as Jonas was sure Crawford's shields could handle it, he would have Schuldich killed.

    "I am the only Jonas who matters," he said, a quiet warning and reminder in one. "Do not forget that."

    Crawford didn't understand. Maybe he would one day, if his gift turned over those words enough times. Jonas didn't care if he figured out, and he didn't bother explaining. He glanced at the clock, checking how much time he had until dawn, and made the most of the hours they had left together.


    The Elders' ceremonial tower was built along a rocky, sandy coastline. The Council had stopped by to check on it a few times, accepting reports from Prometheus or meeting with the Elders, but they never lingered long. There was a fanaticism in Estet's ranks that was difficult to ignore, and the Council had no patience for desperate devotion not turned their way. The Elders invited them to watch the ceremony, but the Councilmen were content to sit it out. Schwarz's presence was required, however, so the team moved into the tower for the next thirty-six hours.

    The Council called their people to dinner the night before the ceremony. Prometheus brought her construction team of pyrokinetics and telekinetics, and Crawford brought Schwarz. The Councilmen and Five were the only ones relaxed enough to taste the food they were eating; the rest of the psychics dined in tense silence. Jonas attributed part of that discomfort to Mosuli, who made his dinner out of one of the pyrokinetics. The rest was due to the overwhelming rank present at the table.

    The Council were the first to leave, and the teams saw them off in the parking lot. Before getting into the car, Jonas passed Crawford and Prometheus the Council's hotel phone numbers.

    The driver took the Councilmen back to their hotel. They stood for a moment outside the elevators, considering each other and the changes tomorrow would bring. There was nothing to say and nothing else to do but wait for it to come. They knew that, so eventually they turned away and split up to their rooms for the night.

    Jonas stood at his window, staring at the city without seeing it. His gift was miles away with Schwarz. Schuldich was a ball of angry nerves and hateful fright, likely due to his brush with Jonas. Nagi was more tense than calm, but burning with resolve. Farfarello radiated cold distrust and bloodlust. Crawford was Crawford, an unmoving stone in his team's midst.

    Jonas felt it when the team started fighting. Schuldich's emotions sparked sharp and bright, and Crawford responded with impatient disapproval. Schuldich's mini-breakdown tore a hole through Nagi's confidence, and Farfarello's mood blackened. Whatever Crawford was saying or doing, it had an odd effect on Schuldich. The telepath twisted with desperate determination and need. Crawford flickered with interest, quickly crushed.

    Jonas knew what that interest meant, and he refused to allow it. He reached across the city, digging empathic fingers deep into Crawford in both a warning and a summons. Crawford needed no help in interpreting it, and he slipped free of the tower not even a minute later.

    Jonas had the door open for him when he arrived, but he used Crawford's body to slam it closed again. Getting Crawford out of his jacket and shirt took only moments, but Jonas stilled when he saw the sheath on Crawford's forearm.

    "You are not the type for blades," he said.

    "Tomorrow is a very big day for us," Crawford said, undoing its straps. He flexed his fingers, adjusting to the loss of the knife's weight. Jonas wondered how long he'd been wearing it. Long enough for him to be sure of it, because Crawford did not do things halfway, but he hadn't had it three weeks ago. "I felt it prudent to be armed."

    "You're expecting trouble," Jonas said.

    "Nothing Schwarz cannot handle, Mister Hoffmann."

    "You are sure," Jonas pressed.

    Crawford's gaze slid to Jonas' forehead, the closest he would ever get to meeting the empath's stare head-on without permission. Jonas looked past his smooth expression to the hardness underneath: the dark, grim determination. Jonas was not reassured, because Crawford lacked that certainty Jonas had only ever felt from him. He knew in an instant that Crawford hadn't seen anything with regards to tomorrow's outcome. Crawford saw his future with the Council, but there was a blank patch between now and then that neither side could afford.

    "Failure does not sit well with me, Councilman," Crawford said. "We have come too far to falter now."

    "That is an understatement," Jonas warned him. "Why haven't you seen anything?"

    "Mister Hoffmann," Crawford said quietly, "I am out of line, but I respectfully ask you to trust me."

    "That is out of line," Jonas said flatly. "You—"

    Crawford kissed him, and Jonas forgot what he was saying. For a moment, he was too startled to react. He went cold with shock, then hot with outrage, and his emotions flat-lined in the middle to leave him floundering for the first time in his life. Crawford had obediently responded to Jonas' kisses in the past, but he'd never initiated one of his own. That he did now was a calculated move, meant to quiet Jonas and distract him from the lapse in his gift. It was bold enough to be insubordination, except this was Crawford. Jonas refused to believe Crawford capable of such a thing, refused to believe that Crawford would try so blatantly to manipulate him.

    Jonas was a Councilman; Crawford was a Five. Jonas was the master, and Crawford his powerful, obedient pawn. The line between them was not negotiable, and for Crawford to forget that was unforgivable.

    Unforgivable and infuriating, but even as Jonas slammed Crawford harder against the door, even as his power ripped across Crawford's nerves in icy rage, his mouth hummed with the remembered heat of Crawford's mouth. It was different, kissing Crawford and being kissed by Crawford. Jonas hadn't expected that.

    "You forget your place, Oracle," he said.

    Crawford inclined his head in silent acceptance and apology. That wasn't good enough. Jonas' fingers twitched with the need to rip Crawford's sorry out of his skin. He'd leave Crawford a broken, bleeding mess who would never again forget the world of difference between their powers and ranks. He wanted it so badly he could taste it. His control creaked, then broke, and when it did, it was Jonas Hoffmann, not the Soul Shaker, who won.

    He reached out with every intent to tear Crawford's skin off his face. His hands found Crawford's hair instead, and he dragged the precognitive into a bruising kiss. Jonas would punish him later. In a few days, Crawford would be back at Rosenkreuz for good, and Jonas would have all the time in the world to remind him his proper place. Just this once, though—

    When he broke the kiss to breathe, Crawford asked, "Councilman, if I may?"

    His answer was an indistinct growl against Crawford's lips, but Crawford still understood. A heartbeat later his hands were on Jonas' face and the precognitive was kissing him again. The first had been short, meant to distract Jonas and shut him up. This one lingered with the intent of taking the empath completely apart. Jonas hadn't taught Crawford to kiss like this, which meant he'd learned it with Schuldich. That thought was almost enough to make it repulsive, except there was nothing repulsive about what Crawford's mouth was doing. Jonas felt distinctly lightheaded by the time Crawford's mouth made it to his throat.

    How they made it to the bed, Jonas didn't know and didn't care. The only important thing was pushing Crawford down onto the mattress, was the neat surety of Crawford's fingers undoing the buttons of Jonas' shirt. Crawford's fingers were hot against Jonas' bare flesh, hot like Crawford's core was beneath that determined icy exterior. Jonas' skin crawled a little at the unfamiliar weight of another's hands on him, but it as pleasurable as it was uncomfortable, so he allowed it.

    It was the first time—the only time—he would fuck Crawford without his power getting in the way.

    He'd never forgive Crawford for driving him to this, never forgive himself for giving in, but in these moments, it was worth it.

    It was morning before Jonas remembered the holes in Crawford's gift, and by then, it was too late.


    Jonas felt it when the first Elder died, but he didn't believe it. He cast his gift out, seizing on Estet and Schwarz. Schuldich's vicious glee and Farfarello's murderous satisfaction should have been warning enough, but Jonas still wasn't expecting the second Elder's death. He knifed his empathy outward, seeking Crawford. The precognitive felt Jonas' power and recognized the demand in it. His only answer was icy disregard.

    Jonas summoned the rest of the Councilmen with a flash of heat and met them in the hallway. They were angry when they joined him, since they were not peons to be called upon. One look at his white face and they held their tongues until they reached the car.

    Prometheus had moved her team out of the tower for the ceremony. There was no need for her people to be present when Schwarz was on hand. Crawford was more than enough to ensure the ceremony's success, or so they'd all assumed. Jonas called Prometheus and mobilized her team with a few sharp words. They'd make it to the tower before the Council would. Hopefully they would have answers by the time the Council arrived.

    The rest of Estet's people were falling quickly, cut down in huge swaths. The Councilmen were all keyed into Jonas' gift, so they felt it when the third and last Elder died. His burst of furious betrayal, coupled with Schwarz's reactions, painted an unbelievable picture. Jonas shot a quick look at Mosuli, refusing to accept what his gift was telling him, but the other Councilmen were as stunned as he was.

    Jean was the first to get his wits back, and he screamed, "Kill them!"

    Jonas pressed his lips into a hard line and shook his head. He couldn't speak; he didn't know what to say.

    If Jonas wouldn't act, Mosuli would. The African snarled something foreign and leaned past Jonas to look out the window. They could see the tower from here, and that was all Mosuli needed. The telekinetic grabbed the tower's foundations and gave them a brutal wrench, shoving the tower out to sea. The building broke apart as it fell. Chunks of stone went tumbling end over end, colliding and shattering to smaller hunks midair. There were only eight men left inside, Schwarz and four dead minds, and they flashed white with alarm as the floor gave out beneath them. Jonas couldn't see them past the rest of the debris, but he knew all eight of them hit the ocean alive.

    Prometheus' team reached the shore before Schwarz even broke the surface again. The pyrokinetic Five hung back, knowing better than to make herself a target before she knew what was going on.

    She expected Schwarz to submit quietly to her team. So did the Council, despite what had just happened. Schwarz had other ideas. They met their welcome party with violence.

    "This isn't possible," Ahmed said numbly.


    It was an unfamiliar emotion, an ugly, sick heat that started low in Jonas' stomach. He hadn't felt this since he'd first listened to Seraphim's tapes and found out the truth of his sister's insanity. Even then, it hadn't hit this hard, because Jonas had always known Seraphim to be a manipulative bitch. This was different. This was Crawford. This was Crawford. His precog, his Five, whom Seraphim had vouched for—

    "You must trust him. Trust him like they trust me."

    —whom she'd died for. They'd asked her if they would regret promoting Crawford. She'd died rather than answer the question.

    Betrayed again—by mother and son.

    Nausea and rage were lava in his veins, making it impossible to see straight.


    He didn't recognize his own voice; his voice shouldn't twist like that. The hatred was almost a tangible thing, fierce enough to cut his colleagues. For once they didn't notice or care that he couldn't keep his gift to themselves.

    "Schuldich did this."

    It was the only explanation that made sense.

    Jean locked eyes with him across the car and gave the order Jonas had waited for his entire life:

    "Kill him."

    Ahmed put a hand out and shot a look around the car. "The Oracle returns to Rosenkreuz with us."

    "We have heard all of Seraphim's tapes," Jean spat. "There is nothing left that can save him."

    "We have to know," Ahmed said. "Why is Seraphim's son doing this? We must know!"

    "We will dig our answers out of his skin," Jean said in violent promise.

    He looked at Jonas, daring the empath to argue. Jonas looked away.

    A short cliff separated the Councilmen from the beach where Schwarz had come ashore. Prometheus was facing Schwarz on her own when they parked. She burned with regret and pain, then just plain burned as she incinerated herself. It was over in seconds, leaving a startled Schwarz behind. The four men had only seconds to recover before the Council reached the cliff's edge.

    The Elders were gone. Their dreams of immortality died with them, as did the majority of Rosenkreuz's funding and support. Rosenkreuz could survive without them, but it would take massive changes and several years. When they finally recovered, the world would be theirs, and they wouldn't have to share with self-made gods. The practical part of Jonas' mind thought Estet's unexpected demise the greatest thing Rosenkreuz could hope for.

    His more immediate attention was focused solely on Schuldich, the telepath who'd blinded the Council's Eyes, whom they'd been forced to forgive and tolerate for almost ten years. Eight months ago they'd allowed his murder of an instructor and kept their mouths shut when he confronted them over it. They'd signed off on his relationship with Crawford when they should have vetoed it. Schuldich hated Rosenkreuz, yet they'd let him live at the center of Crawford's visions.

    Now they were out of reasons to protect him. The leash that kept Jonas from Schuldich's throat was finally gone.

    "For some reason, I'm pleased by all this," he said.

    His words were the trigger that broke the Councilmen's nerves. Mosuli tore the beach apart between them, forcing Schwarz's weakened telekinetic to defend his teammates.

    Schwarz's so-called Prodigy never had a chance. It took Mosuli twenty-two seconds to completely break through his shielding and his small body. Mosuli punched a hole through Nagi with his power and cast the telekinetic into the tide to bleed out. Schwarz's reactions were intense: sharp surprise from Farfarello, horror from Schuldich, and ice from Crawford. Farfarello was the first to move, and he foolishly tried to take Mosuli head-on. Mosuli crushed Farfarello to the beach at his feet and sent Crawford and Schuldich sprawling.

    "Is this what you wanted to accomplish?" Jonas asked. "Your deaths at our hands? I never pegged you for a suicidal unit."

    Mosuli turned to Farfarello, ready to pry his body off his bones, but a gunshot stopped them all in their tracks. Jean flashed surprise and denial, then nothing at all. Jonas twisted around to watch as the pyrokinetic crumpled dead to the ground. Jonas looked past him to a white-faced Ikida.

    Mosuli gave a jerk of his hand, sending the doctor flying, and Farfarello took advantage of his distraction. He was off the beach and piggybacking Mosuli in an instant. His knives were almost faster than he was and he drove them deep into the telekinetic's stomach. Mosuli lashed out with his gift, but Farfarello refused to be dislodged. He tilted his head in to speak at Mosuli's ear, but his eye was on Jonas when he spoke.

    "You need not be audience for this."

    And Farfarello's mind woke up, snarling outward with a power that had never been there before. It seared over Jonas' shields—empathy, at a level Jonas had never felt before. Jonas couldn't react, and Mosuli couldn't react fast enough. A bolt of Farfarello's power cut the telekinetic clean in two. The Irishman fell with Mosuli to the sand and didn't get back up again. He was still alive, just too injured to stand. Mosuli, on the other hand…

    With Mosuli down, Jonas could see Crawford again. The precognitive stood tall and calm further down the beach, closer to Ahmed than to Jonas. Crawford felt it when Jonas' gaze found him, and he responded with a slow, cold smile.

    "You are mad if you think you can trust him. If he killed Nikolai to get his sight back, what will he do to you for what you're doing to him?"

    Jonas opened his mouth, but Schuldich beat him to speaking.

    "That," the telepath said, hateful and snotty. "That is what we want."

    Jonas whirled on him, livid. "You impudent little shit!"

    His gift cut gouges into down Schuldich's face and chest. He saw skin tear and blood fly, but his gift registered no pain from Schuldich. The telepath advanced toward Jonas, gun out for a shot. Jonas forced his power into Schuldich's hand, focusing on his knuckles. A hard burst broke the bones in Schuldich's hand, causing him to drop the gun, but still Schuldich felt no pain. The telepath considered his hand for a moment, as surprised as Jonas was, and then lifted his gaze to meet Jonas'.

    Jonas flicked a quick look at Farfarello, who was watching him with a hooded golden eye, and looked back at Schuldich. Schuldich's lips curved into a chilling smirk before he threw himself at the Soul Shaker. Jonas met him halfway.

    They spun in a vicious circle, landing as many blows as they could. Empathy kept both Germans from registering any of the pain, but Jonas' strikes were deadly. Every time his fist landed on Schuldich's skin, he left bruised flesh and broken bones behind. Jonas buried both fists in Schuldich's stomach hard enough to double the telepath over.

    "I'm not going to kill you today," he promised in a vicious whisper. "I'll take you back with me, and you'll be mine again. You'll be an example to everyone, but this time there will be no one to fix you. You'll die, but only when I want you to."

    Fear and hatred gave Schuldich an extra burst of speed, and Jonas couldn't dodge the fist that came for his face. "I'll die one day, but when I say so—not before!"

    Jonas kicked him, sending him sprawling. Schuldich tried to get back up, but his first attempt failed. The telepath hesitated, momentarily surprised by how much damage his body had taken. Jonas took advantage of his distraction to look toward Ahmed. The teleporter was still battling it out with Crawford, but it was obvious the fight would end soon. Ahmed's teleportation gave him a speed Crawford couldn't keep up with.

    Schuldich moved in his peripheral vision. Jonas looked down to see Schuldich had found his gun again.


    Jonas started to reach out, but the beach erupted between them, throwing sand into his face hard enough to cut his skin open. He lurched back, instinctively closing his eyes and snarling hatred at whomever was playing interference.

    The sharp retort of a gun was deafening.

    Jonas felt like he'd been punched in the throat. The force of it sent him stumbling back several feet. By the time he found his balance again, the sand wall had fallen out from between the Germans. Schuldich was staring at Jonas, green eyes wide with shock, mouth half-open in disbelief. Further down the beach, Ahmed twisted around to check on his remaining colleague, and Crawford took the opening with a fluid twist. The knife Jonas had fingered just yesterday was out in a heartbeat, and it cut a vicious line across Ahmed's throat.

    The world tilted around Jonas, and he lifted numb fingertips to his neck. Heat pulsed down his fingers. When he looked at his hand, it was covered in blood. He could taste it bubbling up in what was left of his throat. It licked at his tongue and coated his teeth.

    Crawford, he tried to say, but he couldn't speak. Blood spilled out from between his lips and dribbled down his chin. Crawford wasn't looking at him. He knew what was happening, knew how this fight was ending, but he didn't care enough to look. He was content to watch Ahmed bleed out on the beach at his feet.

    Jonas looked at Schuldich again, who was struggling to his feet despite a broken leg and shattered body.

    "Now you've done what my mother asked of you," Schuldich said quietly.


    "Now you've made me happy. She's on my side today."

    Seraphim, you lied

    Schuldich lifted the gun again.

    You lied and

    she died


    Jonas heard the pop when Schuldich pulled the trigger, and then—


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