------------six : I will never believe in anything again

"There will come a day when someone will catch your Oracle's eye. When this happens, you must take heed. The darkness they bring will take Rosenkreuz and Estet to places it never would have dared to imagine. What your Oracle asks for, give, and take pains to keep them well. Forgive them their trespasses and they will give you the kingdom of heaven."

    One month later, Alessa's son was back in Rosenkreuz, and no one was happy to have him.

    The little rat—"Schuldich" on his files—was an insane wreck whose mind ate away at anyone within a five-hundred foot radius. Jonas had called two telepaths back to Rosenkreuz to deal with him, but neither of them could figure out how to put his head back together. However Alessa had made his shields, they'd been one-of-a-kind. The two often walked away from Schuldich mentally bruised and raw.

    Crawford had promised the Council Schuldich would be worth it. The four didn't see how such a thing was possible, but they kept their mouths shut. They couldn't argue, not after Crawford told them how frequently Schuldich appeared in his visions. Seraphim had warned them years ago that someone was going to blind Crawford's gift. The older three Councilmen were pleased that they'd finally seen that particular prophecy come to light. Jonas was furious to find out how much time Crawford spent on his useless nephew.

    At fifteen, Schuldich looked so much like his father Jonas could barely stand to look at him. His madness did nothing to help the illusion. Every time Jonas looked at him, he saw Enrique and Alessa, he saw that poker coming down over and over onto Alessa's screaming, bleeding body.

    Schuldich made things worse for himself. He remembered Jonas all too well, and his madness had only twisted old fear into panic. He lost control when Jonas was too close, and he broadcast Alessa's death at Jonas. If Jonas was going to hurt him, then he was going to hurt Jonas. It took him only three days to realize that that was what it took to fight back.

    And on the fourth day, Schuldich said something unforgivable. "She loved me more than she ever loved you," the child said, slurring over the words when his mouth was full of blood. He offered his uncle a wicked grin. It trembled on his lips, but Jonas could read the mockery in it. "She said that's why you stopped coming to see her. She knew you could feel it."

    "You are nothing but an assignment," Jonas said. "You meant nothing to her."

    Schuldich started laughing. "You hurt me," he gasped out. "She hated you."

    Jonas felt Schuldich's shattered gift flare up and knew Schuldich was about to prove it. He refused to wait for it. His power left Schuldich a screaming wreck on the floor, too lost in pain to get his gift together. Jonas stared down at him, but he took no pleasure in watching him writhe. He could taste Schuldich's blood on his tongue. Beneath it was bile and a years-old hurt he'd refused to linger over.

    He'd only made it out to see Alessa a couple times after her banishment. One of those times, she hadn't been home when he'd arrived. He'd felt her rushing across the city to meet him, but he'd still made it to the house before she did. Enrique and the child had been there, and the child had been stupid enough to introduce himself.

    Growing up, Alessa and Jonas had never fought. Maybe that was their fatal flaw, because neither of them had known how to fix what the child had broken between them that day. They'd spent an hour screaming at each other, Jonas all accusatory hate, Alessa refusing to take his side. It had always been the two of them. She'd always sided with him. He'd taken it as a personal betrayal that she would dare stand her ground in front of him, that she would choose her son over him.

    He'd never gone back to see her—while she was alive, anyway. The next time he'd visited Berlin, she'd been dead.

    There was a sharp rap at the window. Jonas dragged himself out of hated memories and looked toward the window. Ikida and Crawford were standing in the hallway: the former so he could tend to Schuldich when Jonas was through, the latter so Jonas could prove how useless Schuldich really was. At Crawford's side was Mosuli. Jonas hadn't even noticed his approach, too distracted by memories and Schuldich. He didn't know what it meant for Mosuli to be there, but he didn't care. He turned away and crouched beside Schuldich.

    "Get up," he said. Schuldich couldn't; his body was too wracked by pain to uncurl. "I said get the fuck up."

    Somehow Schuldich found a way to move. As soon as he was sitting, Jonas got right in his face. "You have no fucking clue what you're talking about," he said. "Don't think you can tell me how she felt. I'm the empath. I know just how much she hated you for taking her future away from her."

    Schuldich flinched and tried to look away, but Jonas caught his chin and forced him back. Before he could say anything else, Schuldich spat blood in his face.

    Jonas was going to kill him.

    Schuldich hit the ground again, screaming.

    There was a snap of reforming flesh, and Mosuli was suddenly standing in between Jonas and Schuldich. He grabbed Jonas by the hair to haul him to his feet. Mosuli planted a hand over Jonas' eyes before Jonas could look him in the face. Councilman or not, Mosuli knew better than to risk eye contact with Jonas right now.

    "Stay the fuck out of this," Jonas snarled, shoving Mosuli's hand away. At their feet, Schuldich was still screaming, and they could both smell burning flesh.

    "Let him go."

    "I will not!"

    "He cannot die here," Mosuli said, flat and angry. "Let him go or I will make you."

    Jonas grabbed at Mosuli's hand, trying to wrench it out of his hair. He was too angry to stop his power, and he felt it crackle against Mosuli's arm the second his fingers touched Mosuli's skin. He had only a split second to see the fury on Mosuli's face, and then everything went black.


    He woke up in the Council's chambers some time later, not entirely sure how he'd gotten there. The only thing he knew for sure was this: If it was the last thing Jonas did, he was going to break that stupid fucking child.

    The Council didn't approve. Jonas spent an entire week fighting them with his words and his gift. Tinkering with the Council was unheard-of, but Jonas didn't care anymore. He touched them as carefully as he could, an empathic breath of air here and there, too slowly for them to suspect him of manipulation. It took eight days before the Council decided they didn't care what Jonas did. Crawford had promised Schuldich would be useful, so they would wait for the child to prove himself, and it didn't matter what Jonas did in the meantime. Elizabeth and Chizuru could still use his blood for their genetics project, and Ikida and the telepaths were on hand to fix Schuldich.

    Eight days, and Schuldich was Jonas' private property. So long as Jonas didn't neglect his duties, he was free to do what he liked. And so he made time where he could, the same as he'd always made time for Crawford.

    Three months into Schuldich's stay at Rosenkreuz, Jonas finally went to see Crawford—only to fall asleep on his bed while Crawford was finishing up reports. Jonas woke up to find Ikida sitting by the bed and Crawford long gone. The doctor looked like he wanted to say something, but Jonas silenced him with a single glance. A mental search for Crawford found the Five asleep in his office, at the same desk Jonas had spent too many nights at.

    "Time?" Jonas asked.

    "Nine forty-two, Councilman," Ikida said. Jonas was too tired to even swear. Ikida watched as he painstakingly pushed himself up before starting, oh so cautiously, "Herr Hoffmann…"

    "No," Jonas said, and Ikida obediently fell quiet. Jonas sat on the edge of the bed and took a minute to shut down his exhaustion. Ikida knew what he was doing and didn't even try to hide his disapproval. Jonas almost sent him away, but he was distracted by his gift. It felt jagged and worn; it physically hurt to use it on himself. Jonas closed his eyes and sucked in a slow, deep breath through clenched teeth. Fatigue was being replaced by a pounding migraine he couldn't erase, and Jonas didn't think that was a better alternative.

    He'd never bruised his gift before. Jonas thought he shouldn't be surprised. He'd been using it on a near-constant basis these past couple months: first on Schuldich, then on himself.

    "Ikida," Jonas said, getting to his feet. "Stimulants."

    Ikida didn't want to tell him yes, but he had no choice. " Yes, Herr Hoffmann. I will bring them by the Tower."

    Jonas left him there and went back to the Tower alone. The rest of the Councilmen were already in the conference room, each working on his own things. Mosuli was the only one who looked up at Jonas' entrance, and he snorted as he turned back to his work.

    "You will die young," he said.

    Jonas ignored him and slid into his chair, and the day began like any other. Ikida came by with medicine as soon as he could get some from the pharmacists, and Jonas' headache slowly faded. That afternoon he was back in Schuldich's room, and the days continued in a similar fashion.

    Three months became four, then six, then seven, and then Jonas, already stretched for time, found himself pulled in yet another direction. The longer Jonas kept Schuldich, the more strained his relationship with Crawford became. Crawford, the perfect Oracle, the unsympathetic and unfeeling, was horrified by what Jonas was doing to Schuldich day-in and day-out. Jonas couldn't stand it, but he refused to stop what he was doing. He was equally powerless to change Crawford's mind. Seraphim had said Crawford and Schuldich were important to one another, which meant tampering with Crawford's unexpected reaction could undo everything Rosenkreuz was working for.

    The only thing he could do was make even more time to see Crawford. He slept less and less, using his gift and Ikida's stimulants to erase his tiredness. The Councilmen warned him that he was going to destroy himself if he kept it up, but Jonas wouldn't listen. He spent his days with the Councilmen, focused on Rosenkreuz and its future, his afternoons shredding Schuldich to bits, and his evenings dealing with Crawford.

    It never got easier, but he dealt with it. Then Schuldich ruined everything when he went comatose.


    Jonas was sleeping when the news came in. He didn't even remember falling asleep; the last thing he remembered was sitting down in the chambers with the Council. It was Crawford's approach that woke him, and he stared blearily at the ceiling. When he realized where he was and what had happened, he lifted his hand to consider his watch. He'd lost only a few minutes, but he hadn't meant to sleep at all. He dropped his hand back to the table.

    "Good of you to join us," Jean said nastily.

    Jonas ignored him. "Crawford is coming," he said, trying to sit up straighter. His body didn't want to listen to the request, so he gave in and let himself slouch. "He is in the elevators."

    The Councilmen weren't pleased to be interrupted, but they set aside their paperwork and waited. It didn't take long for Crawford to reach them, and he came with an absurd request: if the Council would grant him field team status, he would take Schuldich out of Rosenkreuz and fix him.

    The Council wasn't entirely sure what to make of his proposal. No Five had ever left Rosenkreuz for more than a few short days. To make one a team leader and send him out in the world on missions? It went past laughable to insane. They would have kicked him out on his ass if he was anyone else, but Crawford was Seraphim's son, and Schuldich was his rightful property.

    They heard Crawford out before sending him away. He hadn't even made it off the elevator on the ground floor before they were arguing amongst themselves. They fought about it for hours, weighing risks against the consequences of ignoring his request. Jonas listened to his colleagues argue, unable to add more than a few words here or there. After the first hour, it was all just white noise, and he didn't remember falling asleep again.

    Maybe that was the Council's deciding factor, above and beyond Seraphim's words. Schuldich wasn't the only one dying by being back in Rosenkreuz, and the Council wasn't ready to bury one of their own. When Jonas woke, it was thundering outside, and his colleagues had gotten the necessary paperwork together to recognize Crawford as a field leader.

    "This is ridiculous," Jonas said, scrubbing sleep out of his eyes.

    "Yes, it is," Jean said, but the look he sent Jonas said he wasn't talking about Crawford's new position.

    "Call him," Mosuli said.

    Another day, Jonas might have fought, might have had a lot more to say about this. Another day, maybe, without this violent year right behind him. Today he didn't have the energy to fight it and barely had the energy to care. He hated everything about Schuldich, and he was angry with Crawford for taking Schuldich's side. It would be dangerous to keep them at Rosenkreuz.

    He reached across the compound and raked his power over Crawford's skin in an unmistakable summons. Crawford came back to sign his papers, and after a moment's thought, named his new two-man team Schwarz. Jonas stared down at the glistening ink and thought about Seraphim.


    News of Crawford's assignment spread like wildfire through the school. Ikida fought the decision, but the Council turned him out without listening to his arguments. He came back later to ask for more time. The Council gave him six weeks to get Schuldich field-ready.

    The Five weren't pleased, either. The four had mocked Jonas for years regarding his obsession, but a year working alongside Crawford had turned their opinions completely around. They'd been won over by his accomplishments, drive, and unwavering confidence. Adrian still didn't like him, but he respected the precognitive, and that was more than enough. Now they were helping him prep to leave Rosenkreuz, and all they could think about was the dangers of putting a Five in the field.

    The Council understood the risks as well, so when Elizabeth offered one of her teams, they accepted. Manie was Europe's best unit, a three-Talent team based in Germany, and they were willing to train Crawford. The Five could cover Crawford's work for two weeks, but no longer, so Crawford packed his bags and left. He came back with Manie's glowing stamp of approval, as Jonas knew he would.


    At the end of six weeks, Schuldich was conscious but barely stable, and Crawford was ready to go. He'd reassigned his classes, trained one of Adrian's people to be the new headmaster, and caught up on all of his work. Jonas stood alone in the Council's chambers the day Schwarz officially checked out of Rosenkreuz, propped against the front of the Council's desk. He could feel Schuldich's panic and fear from here; even three-quarters mad, Schuldich knew exactly where Jonas was.

    And then they were gone, off Rosenkreuz grounds even if they were still clear in Jonas' range.

    Mosuli showed up a few moments later, likely sent by the others to make sure Jonas hadn't left the Tower to harass Crawford or Schuldich. Jonas half-expected the African to leave again, but Mosuli crossed the room and sat.

    Jonas looked over his shoulder at Mosuli. "I hate her," he said. Mosuli cocked his head in a question. "Seraphim."

    Mosuli gave a thick snort at that. "Who didn't?"

    Jonas considered that, then started laughing. He wasn't sure what was so funny; he didn't think anything was.

    "It is better that he is gone," Mosuli said when Jonas was too exhausted to laugh anymore.

    "I suppose," Jonas agreed, not sure he meant it.

    "Sleep. We have so much work to do."

    Jonas tipped his head back and stared up the ceiling. "Hm," he said. Silence stretched between them, and finally Jonas pushed away from the desk. He took the stairs down two floors to his room. His prescription bottle was sitting on his bedside. He threw it away.


    Without Crawford or Schuldich around to distract him, Jonas was free to dedicate all of his considerable energy to the school's future, and the next several years were good for Rosenkreuz. Their influence was expanding at a rapid-fire rate. The Council and Estet's Elders started to meet on a more frequent basis. In Rosenkreuz's early days, Estet had provided most of the funding for the school. These days, Estet was Rosenkreuz's largest client. They bought up teams and facilities as quickly as Rosenkreuz let them, and the alliance proved beneficial to both sides. The give-and-take was unequal, however, and neither side wanted to be seen as lesser than the other.

    The Elders tried only once to usurp the Council's authority. Jonas refused to allow it. When the Elders threatened to pull all their funding, Jonas laughed in their faces and called their bluff. The Elders had limited reach in Asia, Rosenkreuz's largest and most profitable sector. Jonas had sold them some work when he'd been a Five, but that had stopped the second Crawford became his high advisor. Crawford had reworked Asia to the point that they didn't need Estet's involvement. So long as Asia was theirs, Rosenkreuz didn't need to cater to Estet's whims. It would take time to get their footing back, but they could find a way to survive without Estet if the worst should happen.

    The Elders didn't believe him. They mocked and threatened, and they promised to punish Rosenkreuz for its defiance. The rest of the Councilmen might have believed them, but Jonas knew Asia's numbers backwards and forwards, and he wouldn't be swayed. It took him two days to convince the Council to trust him, and another week to send Estet's Elders packing.

    Estet pulled a quarter of their projects in retaliation. They succeeded only in proving Jonas right. The Council had warned the Five of Estet's demands, so when Estet dropped their funding, the Five were ready for it. Rosenkreuz lost a lot of money and work, but it kept ticking without missing a beat. Victorious, Rosenkreuz remained an autonomous organization.

    A year later, the Elders stopped sulking long enough to call on Rosenkreuz again. Reassured of their own authority, the Council was now free to pick and choose which projects of Estet's it took on. The Elders didn't like Rosenkreuz's arrogance, but the Council didn't care.

    The relationship between Estet and Rosenkreuz never fully recovered, but business was business, and there was money to be made.


    Three years later, Crawford called Jonas with Schuldich's codename: Mastermind.

    Jonas took that as a personal insult, at least until he reported it to the Councilmen. Jean choked on his coffee, and Ahmed sent Jonas a sharp look. It was Mosuli who told Jonas that Seraphim had spoke often about this so-called Mastermind. They couldn't remember the exact details, but they knew he'd been important.

    In his four years as Councilmen, Jonas had yet to go to the reading room. He'd never seen a reason to visit it before. Prescients were often the only ones who could make sense of their visions, and they liked nothing more than to be misleading in their interpretations. But if Crawford's visions were ninety percent Schuldich and even Seraphim had been watching the rat, Jonas wondered how much longer he could avoid Schuldich's destiny.

    Estet made the decision for him, in a way. The Elders wanted in on Asia. The Council had deterred them for a year now, but the Elders were persistent. They offered to do things Rosenkreuz's way by buying out the one team Estet couldn't win over: Crawford's.

    Jonas didn't know who had dared tell the Elders about Crawford, and he put every team on alert to find the snit. Two months later, they still didn't have an answer, and the Elders were still asking to meet Asia's Five. With each passing week, they offered more and more in exchange, until there was no way the Council could refuse.

    "How much do you trust your Five now?"

    A tense accusation, voiced a dozen different ways, and Jonas could see how uneasy Estet's interest was making his colleagues. Selling a team to Estet was one thing. Selling property, another. But a Five?

    "It wouldn't work any other way," Jonas said at length. "We don't know why Estet wants Asia. A Five is the only one we can trust to keep an eye on them. A Five is the only one we can trust completely to come back."

    Jean called the Elders to set up a meeting. Estet promised to be in Rosenkreuz the following day. The Council didn't feel reassured by how quickly the three cleared their schedule, but it was too late to cancel. Jonas called Crawford and ordered him on the next flight out. After he hung up, the four sat around the conference table for a few minutes, feeling like they were on the brink of something they could never take back. But Crawford had never spoken out against Estet, and neither had Seraphim, so there was nothing they could do.

    "I will be in the reading room," Jonas said.

    "About time," Jean said, and Jonas wondered at the cool mockery he picked up from the pyrokinetic. Jean was smiling. It was only the second time he'd ever seen Jean smile, and he knew immediately it was not a good sign. "I will go with you."

    "I do not need your assistance."

    "Perhaps," Jean said, "but the tape you are looking for is not in the reading room."

    Saying so, he got to his feet and preceded Jonas out of the room. Jean led him to Seraphim's quarters. Jonas hadn't bothered exploring her rooms, but Jean had obviously been here before. The last door opened into a small kitchenette. Jonas stood in the doorway and stared. Crates upon crates of alcohol were stacked wherever they would fit.

    Jean opened one of the cabinets. The only thing in it was a cassette tape. He picked it up and brought it to Jonas. "Seraphim was a semi-functioning alcoholic," he said, seeing the look on Jonas' face. "We allowed it because it distorted her thoughts. When she was drunk, the only questions she cared about where the ones we gave her."

    "More fool you," Jonas said as he took the tape. "She used her gift however she liked."

    "She knew better," Jean said, in a condescending tone that set Jonas' teeth on edge. He slipped past Jonas and started down the hall. He raised his voice so Jonas could still hear him. "You'll want to start with that one. The rest of Seraphim's tapes are marked in blue."

    Jonas didn't answer, and he didn't move until he heard the stairwell door close behind Jean. As he started to turn, he stopped and looked back at Seraphim's collection. Curiosity had him rummaging through the closest box. It had been years since he'd last had something to drink—not since he'd come to Rosenkreuz. When they'd still lived at home, Alessa had been almost as much an alcoholic as their parents were, and she'd made sure to share with him. Moving onto the street hadn't changed that, not when her telepathy could get her anything she wanted.

    And now Alessa was dead.

    He gave up looking and went upstairs. Malachi was in the reading room when Jonas arrived, and he was not at all happy to see the Soul Shaker. "Councilman," Malachi said. "I had not expected you."

    "This is the Council's property," Jonas said. "I am free to come and go as I like."

    "Yes, sir. It is just…" Malachi struggled for words, looking for a tactful way to put it. "Herr Hoffmann, it is with the greatest respect that I ask you to turn away. You will not like what you find in this room. The consequences of you hearing-"

    "Get out," Jonas said.

    Malachi hesitated for only a second, then inclined his head and started for the door. Jonas slammed it behind him and turned to face the room. Seraphim's tapes took up an entire shelf. He pulled them all out and carried them to the desk, where a tape player sat waiting for him. He checked the labels, but the numbers didn't tell him much about the contents. He considered the one Jean had given him, but its label was equally useless. "Nine", it said, as if that meant anything to him. He slid it into the player. The press of a button got it going, and Jonas adjusted the volume until he could hear.

    It had been years since Jonas had last heard Seraphim speak, but he hadn't forgotten her voice. The late Eyes had left silence at the start of her tape, only to go back and record a table of contents when the tape was full. Jonas listened to her tick off topics and corresponding start times. The first three meant little to him, but for the fourth, she said "The German siblings", and the fifth was "Alessa".

    Jonas noted the time and fast-forwarded, watching the numbers on the player scroll up. It didn't take long, and when he pushed play, there was only a second's pause before Seraphim started. She rattled off the date, and Jonas knew it to be the same day he and Alessa had come to Rosenkreuz. She detailed the manner in which they'd been brought in, then explained that the Council had asked her whether or not the two were worth keeping. She explained Rosenkreuz's hesitance to take on such old Talents, and noted that she'd advised the Council to accept them regardless.

    "Alessa's shields will not last," Seraphim said at the end. "She learned to shield on her own, and natural guards like that will not be enough when push comes to shove. We can and will teach her the proper techniques, but it is too late for her to change. Still," she mused, "we might as well make some use of her while we can."

    There was silence for a few moments, and then Seraphim started again. She noted the date, and Jonas' stomach clenched when he heard it. "The telepath Alessa was shot on the field today," Seraphim said. "She is currently interned at the medic ward, but her shields are in pieces. Dr. Ikida believes Nikolai is the only one who can repair her shields at this point. I confirmed that it is possible to save her, but I advised them not to bother."

    Jonas stopped breathing.

    "I am not interested in one faulty telepath," she explained. "I am only interested in her future son."

    "No," Jonas said, but the tape kept going.

    "She will be relocated to Germany tonight and left there until death. Grausigkeit's telepath will transfer to her residence, and given enough time, they will breed true. Her son must spend his formative years outside of Rosenkreuz. The combination of his mother's natural shielding and his father's Rosenkreuz techniques will be enough to save his mind in the long run. Neither of the parents will survive this assignment, but in the right hands, the child is a worthwhile trade."

    There was silence for a few seconds, and then Seraphim started detailing her next vision. Jonas reached out and turned the player off with numb fingers.

    She could have been saved.

    He was on his feet in an instant and heaving the desk over. Tapes scattered all over the floor and the player skidded across the ground. Jonas spun, grabbing his chair as he went and throwing it across the room. It hit one of the crowded bookshelves, and papers went everywhere.

    She could have been saved, but Seraphim had let her die.

    Jonas knotted his hands in his hair and screamed hateful obscenities until he went hoarse.


    Jonas was sitting in the middle of the floor when Mosuli came to check on him. The telekinetic studied him in silence for a few moments, then said, "Elizabeth requests an audience with the Council."

    "Elizabeth is touring her teams right now," Jonas said, and they both heard the rasp in his voice.

    "She has returned early and is waiting in the chambers."

    "I do not care. Fuck her."

    "She is raising a formal complaint against Crawford," Mosuli said.

    Jonas didn't answer, but he didn't have to. Mosuli knew that was enough to get his attention. Jonas got to his feet and stalked for the door.

    There was a small crowd waiting for them in the chambers. Jean and Ahmed were already seated. Elizabeth and another young woman were standing before the Council's desk. The rest of the Five were further back, but Jonas didn't know who had summoned them as witnesses.

    When Jonas walked in, the mood went from bad to worse. Elizabeth's subordinate blanched and swayed a little on her feet, and Jonas knew his gift was bleeding out of him. He didn't care, and he didn't try to draw it back. He raked a furious look across the gathered women before glowering at the rest of the Five.

    "What do you want?" he demanded as he sat.

    "Councilmen," Elizabeth started.

    "Without all of the fucking formalities," Jonas said. "Do not waste our time."

    Mosuli dug his fingers into Jonas' thigh under the table, but Jonas ignored the warning. Stronger than Mosuli's disapproval was Jean's cruel amusement. Jonas wanted to kill the Frenchman. One hit was all it would take; one focused hit to Jean's heart and maybe it would burst. Jonas wouldn't regret it. No one mocked him and got away with it.

    Elizabeth pointed at her subordinate. Now that she didn't have to mince her words, Jonas could hear the angry edge in her tone. "My teams know that I do not allow or forgive faggotry in my ranks, but Manie chose to disobey my rules. They went behind my back with their relationship and refused to report it. Cinder told me to my face that Crawford condoned it. Condoned lying to me! I will not believe such a thing. She sullies the Fives' integrity with such a claim."

    "Manie," Jean said flatly.

    The field leader bowed as deep as she could, afraid, but determined. "The rules say that I am to report relationships to the Five, Councilmen. Five Crawford took my report while training with us. He approved."

    "I am your Five!" Elizabeth yelled, turning on her. "You are my team and my responsibility!"

    "He approved," Cinder said, desperate. "We are Europe's best team because we are cohesive, because we trust each other on a level few other teams achieve. Their intimacy makes us stronger. Five Crawford saw that. He said Rosenkreuz needed more teams like ours. He said-"

    "He said," Elizabeth echoed acidly.

    "Please, his exact words—I remember them because I was so surprised," Cinder said, frantic to get everything out while she could. "He said, 'Rosenkreuz is nearing the crossroads, and the Council has charged me with the task of getting their Talents ready for the future. How I go about it is up to my discretion.' He said his word was good enough. I beg you: believe me. We have done no wrong."

    The Council said nothing immediately, weighing all sides of the issue. "An explanation, Hoffmann?" Jean asked.

    Jonas was in no mood to do Jean or his Five any favors. "I do not have to explain anything. I stand by Crawford's decision," he said. "Manie, you are free to go."

    Cinder froze. She'd hoped for the best, but she hadn't thought she'd get it. The relief that flooded her was almost nauseating in its intensity. She whispered hoarse words of gratitude and hurried for the back door. The look Elizabeth sent after her was venomous. She had her expression under control when she turned back on the Council, but her emotions were still running on an ugly high. "Herr Hoffmann, with all due respect, Manie is my team."

    "My decision is final," Jonas said. "Shut up and get out."

    Fury outrage disgust

    "Councilman," Elizabeth tried, turning on Jean instead.

    It was the last mistake she made.

    Jonas hit her with everything he had. He heard a thick squelch as her heart and lungs ruptured in her chest. Blood sprayed from her mouth as she collapsed to the ground. Jean radiated surprise and horror where he sat on the opposite end of the table from Jonas. At the back of the room, the Five stood white-faced and rigid with shock.

    "Not even the Five have the right to question the Council's decisions," Jonas said. "Get out."

    How Jean held his tongue, Jonas didn't know, but the pyrokinetic waited for the elevator doors to close before he blew up. Jonas let it go in one ear and out the other, refusing to listen to any of it. He didn't wait for Jean to finish and didn't raise his voice. "We cannot allow insubordination from our Fives," he said, though he wasn't sure Ahmed or Mosuli could hear him over Jean. "There was no other solution."

    "You had no right—" Jean started, furious.

    "She had no right," Mosuli interrupted with a careless shrug. "She tried to turn the Council on itself."

    "That had nothing to do with her and you know it!"

    "Maybe it was an extreme reaction," Ahmed allowed. "Even so."

    "You will not side with him!" Vicious, white-hot betrayal.

    Jonas knew that feeling well. He got to his feet, uninterested in the rest of the argument. Jean went for his throat, but Ahmed caught his arm and dragged him back. Jonas didn't bother to look back as he headed for the stairwell.

    After Seraphim died, the Council had only kept two of her possessions: her archived visions and her expensive alcohol. Jonas couldn't destroy the former, so he'd do as much damage to the latter as he could. It wouldn't hurt Seraphim, but he needed to break something. Jonas went straight for her kitchen and pried open the nearest box. He pulled the first bottle out by its handle and threw it at the far wall. It burst in a spray of glass and alcohol. Jonas picked up the next bottle and sent it after the first. The sound of shattering glass was just as satisfying the second time.

    He went through three boxes before the room stank too much for him to stay. He'd already opened the fourth box, so he brought it with him to the reading room.

    If he could, he'd set the entire room on fire with the alcohol as fuel. Even he didn't dare go so far, so instead he carted his stolen bottles across the room. He sat on the floor in the middle of Seraphim's scattered tapes. A quick check proved the player hadn't broken when it'd fallen, though the tape deck had popped open. Jonas stared down at the tape, struggling against the need to break it. In the end, he closed the deck, rewound, and listened to it all again.

    On his third time through it, he started drinking, and by the time Crawford showed up in Rosenkreuz a few hours later, Jonas was on his third bottle of vodka.

    Jonas couldn't feel his legs anymore, but the wall held still just long enough for him to get to his feet. He followed the wall around the room to the elevators and took the lift down to the bottom floor. His stomach thought that was the most terrible idea he'd had all day and he stumbled out into the lobby before he could get sick. He held onto the wall and sucked in careful, shallow breaths, and eventually his stomach calmed down again. He was feeling marginally better by the time Crawford stepped through the Tower's front doors.

    Did you know? Jonas wanted to ask. Did you know your mother let her die?

    He couldn't hurt Seraphim anymore, but he sure as fuck could hurt her son.


    Jonas had a headache, and Mosuli wasn't making it any better.

    The Elders were an hour and a half out from Rosenkreuz and Crawford wasn't waking up. Jonas wasn't sure what was wrong with Crawford, mostly because he remembered very little of what had happened after they'd gotten in the elevator together. Crawford didn't have any scratches on him, but he was so far under Jonas could barely feel him. Jonas wasn't sure if that was Crawford's fault or his own—he'd had so much to drink that he was still somewhat drunk.

    Intoxication was what made him unable to quiet the pounding in his skull. He blamed that migraine on Mosuli. At least the telekinetic wasn't yelling anymore. He'd shut up as soon as Ikida showed up. Ikida checked Crawford's vitals and tried a few things to get through to him, starting with simple shakes and ending with smelling salts. Nothing worked.

    "My advice is to let him wake on his own," Ikida said. "We could kill him if we wake him before he is ready."

    "Denied," Mosuli said. "The Elders will be here soon. Wake him up or I will kill you."

    Ikida looked to Jonas for help, but Jonas had nothing to say to him. The doctor turned back on Crawford, expression pinched with worry. Jonas studied Crawford's slack expression. He looked dead.

    "I have an idea, Councilmen," Ikida said at last. They stepped aside to let him out, and the slapping of his footsteps in the hall said he was running for the elevator. Mosuli sent Jonas a deadly look. He didn't have to say anything; Jonas could feel more than enough.

    Ikida was back in a few minutes with a case, and the shot he drew out of it got their attention. Jonas hadn't known shots came in that size. "Adrenaline," Ikida said, feeling Crawford's chest for a gap in his ribs. "Councilmen, if you are sure…"

    Mosuli beckoned for him to get on with it, and Ikida plunged the shot into Crawford's heart.

    Jonas felt Crawford's body react, and he seized hold of Crawford's consciousness with what little power he had left. Crawford's eyes were slow to open, and Jonas knew from the look in them that the lights weren't on upstairs.

    "Crawford," Ikida tried. "Crawford, can you hear me?"

    "We're taking him to the chambers," Mosuli said. "We're running out of time."

    "I will prepare a room for him in the ward," Ikida promised, moving out of the way as Mosuli floated Crawford out of the bed. Neither Councilman answered. Ikida took the elevators down, and the Councilmen took the stairs up. They were the first to arrive in the chambers. Requisitions had sent someone by earlier with more chairs, but that Talent was long-gone. Mosuli settled Crawford in one of the chairs and pushed Jonas down the table away from him. Only when Jonas sat did Mosuli pick his own place, and Jonas didn't miss the way Mosuli sat between him and Crawford. Mosuli's gift kept Crawford upright in his chair, and Jonas' gift kept him conscious.

    They had twenty minutes before Jean and Ahmed showed up. Jonas spent that time trying to put the previous night back together again. It came in bits and pieces, angry words and ultimatums and Mister Hoffmann and hate. Jonas remembered what he'd said to Crawford, and the words left a sour taste on his tongue. He hadn't been thinking last night, but he could think now, and he had to recognize the truth in his thoughtless words.

    The door opened behind them, but neither man noticed. "Jonas," Mosuli said, pointing at Crawford. The Oracle was blinking, struggling to focus and failing. His mind had finally caught up with his body.

    "He's fine," Jonas said distractedly. "Rather, he will be."

    "Why isn't he now?" Jean demanded, stalking over to see. Crawford slurred over a greeting and Jean turned a furious look on Jonas. "What did you do to him? The Elders will be here in less than an hour and your precog looks like he doesn't even know his own name."

    "You remember your name, don't you, Oracle?" Jonas asked.

    "Don't play around!" Jean yelled, slamming his hands down on the table. Fire lashed its way up his arms. Jonas wasn't impressed. He was too tired to be angry and far too tired to fight. "This is Estet, empath! We have been waiting for this too long to botch it now. We need one of the Five in Asia with them. How could you be so stupid as to risk that?"

    "Don't think you can call me to order when my subordinate is present," Jonas said.

    "Stop trying to move," Mosuli said irritably, and Jonas glanced at Crawford. "I'm the only thing keeping you upright."

    "Hoffmann," Ahmed started.

    "It's not quite that bad," Jonas lied. "Just close. But look. He's not scratched up or anything."

    Jean looked like he wanted to murder Jonas right there. "Hoffmann, I would like to speak with you in the hall."

    Jonas shrugged and got to his feet. Jean stomped out of there, and Jonas closed the door behind him. For a tense minute, neither man said anything. Jean didn't trust himself to speak yet, and Jonas was too busy sorting out his own thoughts. Jean finally turned on Jonas.

    "What the fuck were you thinking?" Jean asked in a voice that shook with anger. "We need him. How dare you let your stupid tantrums put our future at risk. How could you be so stupid? How could you be so selfish? If you can't-"

    Jonas was bored of the lecture already. "I am cutting Crawford off."

    Jean forgot what he was saying. The pyrokinetic stared hard at Jonas, trying to figure out what he meant by that. Jonas resisted the urge to rub at his aching head. His power was still wrapped around Crawford, and he didn't want to see what happened if he pulled out to deal with his own pain.

    "Cutting him off," Jean echoed when Jonas didn't elaborate on his own.

    "I told him he is Estet property until further notice."

    "He is a Five," Jean said. "You cannot cut him off. We need his reports."

    "He does not need us double-checking his work. He can run the sector without us."

    "I refuse to listen to this. You start down this road and where does it end?"

    "He is a Five and Seraphim's son," Jonas said. "He will never forget his place." Jean shook his head, but Jonas didn't let him argue. "I am not closing Asia. We will still receive reports from Alex and his units. It is only Crawford we are going to exclude."

    "He is a Five," Jean said again. "Maybe the Five mean nothing at all to you," and Jonas knew he was referring to Elizabeth, "but the Oracle is too important."

    "I know that," Jonas argued. "This is our chance to find out what Estet is up to. If Crawford is constantly reporting back to us, they will wonder what he says in such reports and where his loyalties really lie. They will not want to speak to him for fear it will work its way back to us. We'll give them Crawford as a goodwill token, and they will know we are trying to trust them. It will bring our organizations closer together and we will finally learn why Estet is so interested in Asia. If they have been trying for so long, it must be something big. We need to be in on that. You know that."

    Jean took his time thinking that through. "You," he said, pointing at Jonas, "do not say anything of the sort in front of the Elders today. When they leave, you will talk to Mosuli and Ahmed. I will not side with you; I will not side against you. You must convince them on your own."

    "I will," Jonas said.

    "And Hoffmann?" Jean asked, getting right in his face. "If you ever touch the Oracle again, so help me god—"

    He left the threat unfinished and pushed past Jonas to get the door. The two went back into the chambers and took their seats. No one said a word until the Elders arrived.

    The Elders were disappointed when they first saw Crawford. He was younger than they'd expected, and they felt like they'd been had. Regardless, they sat down across from him and spent the next two hours grilling him. How Crawford made it through the meeting, Jonas didn't know. He blamed it on arrogance or necessity. Whatever it was, Crawford gave no sign of the terrible state he was in. He remained calm and poised, with just the right amount of arrogance to pique the Elders' interest.

    By the end of the meeting, they were sold, with one small problem: they didn't like the fact that Schwarz was a two-man team. Crawford assured them that Schwarz was ready to expand and that he was already looking into a third teammate. It was the first the Council had heard of it, but none of the four said a word. Jonas decided Crawford was making it up as he went, giving the Elders the answer they wanted to hear.

    The Elders liked that, but they wanted it finalized before they would sign anything. The Council promised to make it a priority and walked the Elders out. As soon as the Elders' car had left Rosenkreuz grounds, the Council went back upstairs.

    Crawford was unconscious at the table. Jonas stared down at him, at a face that looked too young in sleep, at a body that was infinitely more fragile than its owner would ever admit. He stared down at Crawford and thought about last night, thought about the years that had brought them to this point, thought about letting Crawford go for some unknown length of time.

    He knew his faith in Crawford wasn't an ounce misplaced, and yet—

    He hadn't realized he'd gone too far, no matter what people had tried to tell him.

    "I can't change this," he'd said, furious and desperate and frustrated.

    If he couldn't change it, then he could get rid of it. The Council didn't need to know the real reason Jonas was sending Crawford away.

    "I will bring him to the ward," Jonas said, looking up at the Councilmen, "and then we need to talk."


    Crawford was unconscious for two days. When he finally woke, it took him less than twenty minutes to leave. The Council forbid Jonas to see him off, and Jonas didn't fight the decision. He sat alone in the Council's chambers long after Crawford's plane had taken off, long after Crawford had finally left his range. The tabletop before him was covered in personnel files, one for each field psychic in Europe. Europe and North America had always fallen under Jean's jurisdiction, but with Crawford on loan to Estet, Jonas had no Five of his own to watch. Since it was his fault Elizabeth was dead, the Council had tasked him with naming her successor. Jonas knew nothing about Europe and wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, but the Council didn't care.

    The elevator chime sounded at the far end of the hall, and Adrian stepped unbidden into the chambers. Jonas watched through hooded eyes as Adrian crossed the room. North America's Five stopped a safe distance from the desk and held up a sheet of paper.

    "Councilman," he said, "I have brought you Europe's last file."

    Jonas held out a hand in a demand. "I was told these files were complete."

    Adrian tipped his head in implicit apology as he handed Jonas the paper. "The Council requested we select the best of each division to present to Crawford. Her file was included in that packet." He paused a moment, then added, "He seemed particularly interested in her, but he would not say why."

    Jonas nodded. "Dismissed."

    He waited until Adrian was gone before setting the file in front of him. He glanced from the picture to the woman's stats. He read her history twice through, trying to see what Crawford had seen in her. There was definitely promise there. Prometheus was a bouncer. That solitary position meant he would not be disrupting team dynamics if he relocated her to Rosenkreuz. She was also a team coordinator for Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Nordic countries, which meant she had a fair bit of authority and a strong knowledge of a third of Europe's teams.

    "Fine, then," he said, to no one in particular, and he picked up the phone. Prometheus' contact number was at the top of her sheet. He punched it in, and she answered on the first ring. Her caller ID warned her where the call originated, though she wasn't sure which Councilman was on the line. Jonas didn't bother to clarify. "I want you on the first morning flight to Rosenkreuz," he said. "We are going to talk."

    "Yes, Councilman," she said, and he hung up on her.

    He stayed as he was for a while longer, but his thoughts were unwelcome company. He stood and started gathering up paperwork. He was almost done when Mosuli came looking for him.

    "Malachi is lost," Mosuli said. "Orion found him in the hallway of the Prophet's Hall."

    "He was fine a few hours ago," Jonas said.

    Mosuli shrugged, uncaring. "Precogs ask no one's permission to die. He was old."

    Jonas supposed that was true. "I hate precogs."

    "So you say," Mosuli said. "I've never met an empath who knew how to sulk." Jonas sent him a withering look. Mosuli wasn't intimidated. The telekinetic gave a short jerk of his chin. "You can watch me eat Malachi for dinner. It will make you feel better."

    "You know just what to say," Jonas drawled. Mosuli ignored the sarcasm in his voice and waited. Jonas raked burgundy hair out of his eyes and shoved away from the desk. "What the fuck. Why not?"

    They exited the Tower together, leaving Crawford and Schwarz behind them.

Part 7
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