Part Four

    On the third day, Schuldich was called before the Cabinet again. It was a breathless telekinetic that came to inform him of his summons, and the light in his eye told Schuldich he hadn’t delivered the news to just the German teenager. The telekinetic waited beside his bed for Schuldich to get up, curiosity clear in his thoughts as he wondered what the three could want the Talent for. Schuldich lifted his foot, planting his boot against the younger boy and pushing him aside so he could get up. He slid out of bed and started down the hall, the second-rank teenager following close behind him. Schuldich ignored him part of the way, acknowledging the stares in the hall. Yes, the news had definitely made it further than Schuldich’s ear. It had probably been broadcasted the entire way down the hall, and if Schuldich hadn’t been napping he might have heard it before the telekinetic physically arrived.

    Finally he turned around and gave the younger child a pointed look. “Do you need something?” he asked.

    “I’m escorting you,” came the simple response. Wide green eyes stared up at him, trying to look innocent and failing. He was too fresh of a student. His shields were pathetic. It was a wonder his path rankmates hadn’t torn him to shreds yet. If they wouldn’t, Schuldich wouldn’t mind doing them the favor. He toyed with the idea before deciding that destroying a student on the way to see the Cabinet was not the best entrance to the Chambers. Instead he tilted his head to one side, arching an eyebrow at the child. “What?”

    “Move along, rugrat,” Schuldich said, flicking his fingers in dismissal. “Go back to your exercises.”

    The younger boy opened his mouth to protest, and Schuldich let a warning lace through his aura. The boy closed his mouth, considering this, and finally nodded and dropped back to sulk. Schuldich just barely kept himself from rolling his eyes and continued on his way. He yawned, raking a hand through his hair as he made his way down the hall. He hoped these Cabinet visits weren’t going to become a habit… He wondered what they could want him for this time. It either had to do with a new Inquisitions assignment or that damned Nightmare, whom Schuldich had been valiantly trying to forget these last few days.

    He rather hoped it didn’t have to do with the Irishman.

    The door opened before him and he found himself inside the Chambers once more. He was greatly relieved that the white-child was nowhere in sight. The only one in the room besides the Cabinet was a familiar man- the man from the library. Oracle, Schuldich remembered. Odd that it was easier to remember than any other name he’d heard here. Then again, the man was hard to forget when he had such shields. Schuldich was beckoned forward by the Second and came up alongside the other foreigner, sparing him just a glance before pointing his gaze at the Second’s desk.

    “Sirs,” he greeted.

    Amalthia gestured to the older Talent. “You’ve already met the Oracle.” The Cabinet was good at that, Schuldich decided- stating things simply but meaning them to be a question requiring more than a yes or no answer.

    “I’ve seen him around lately,” Schuldich answered, blue eyes flicking towards the man once more. The Oracle had his hands in his pockets, standing so that he was facing the German. His expression was bland, his eyes calm as he studied Schuldich. He was dressed up again, the telempath noted. Schuldich turned his gaze back to the desk, feeling the way the older man’s eyes remained on him. “We’ve spoken once.”

    “You have jumped to Inquisition rank,” the First said, “skipping two levels to do so. Your gifts stand on a level equal to those older than you, which is why we decided you could pass unnecessary classes and go ahead.” Were they changing their minds? Schuldich tried to keep his face politely blank. “Recently your Circuit was interrupted because of the Nightmare you brought back to Rosenkreuz.”

    It surprised him that they mentioned the Nightmare with the Oracle was right there after he had been warned to keep it a secret from everyone else. Schuldich wondered again what rank the man held. He felt a frown pull at his lips and couldn’t hide it. He knew they weren’t likely to take it as disapproval, so he kept his face upturned where they could see the expression. The First was studying him, a slight front on his face. “Generally telepaths spend a year in circuits, running three routes. You have not even completed your first, but we have been requested to consider you for other positions.”

    At that, the First fell quiet for a long moment. “Sirs?” Schuldich pressed, wanting to know what this was leading to. It was something to do with this man, he was sure of it, but if the man had “requested” something of the Cabinet…Schuldich didn’t care about asking favors from his teachers; even though they were offended he would still ask. He didn’t think he’d ever have the balls to ask the Cabinet to do something for him. He wasn’t suicidal, after all.

    “I am currently the field leader for an assassination team,” the foreigner said, answering when the Cabinet remained silent. Schuldich turned to face him, folding his arms over his chest and putting the Oracle under serious scrutiny. Why would an assassin wear such clothes? “It’s a clean up group of sorts, for the time being at least. My telepath was killed and I came to Rosenkreuz to find a replacement.”

    Schuldich blinked, considering the other man’s words. First, the man led a team of assassins. To lead Talents, he had to be a Talent himself, but which one Schuldich didn’t know and couldn’t read from him. Second, to have a team of Talents, he must have some big work. One Talent, trained well and with the right gift, would be more than enough to kill people. To have several Talents, they were either working with important people or they were taking apart entire organizations. Third, assassination teams were above the Inquisition. Fourth…the Oracle was implying that Schuldich had been chosen for the spot.

    Schuldich arched a brow at him, inwardly liking the idea but presenting a skeptical face to the other man. “Is that right?” he asked, not really a question. The other man waited in silence; all eyes were on Schuldich. Schuldich knew they weren’t waiting for his decision. If the man had had the gall to ask the Cabinet for him and the Cabinet had called Schuldich to the Chambers, the decision had already been made.

    He was jumping rank again, skipping out the last two Inquisition circuits. Wait until the others heard about this…They’d shit their pants in fury, especially Harriet. The idea was looking better and better. Schuldich felt his mouth curve into a slow smirk. “Am I to keep calling you Oracle, then?” he wanted to know. His words told the Cabinet and his new leader that he had accepted the decision and would not fight it. He doubted they were surprised; anyone would be thrilled to get out of Inquisition duty early. The fact that they had let him jump rank a second time surprised him, though. It meant they had more faith in his gift than he’d thought if they were letting him go, because once he stepped forward it meant he was eligible for any of the world teams Rosenkreuz owned.

    “Crawford will do,” the Oracle answered. It wasn’t his first name, but Schuldich didn’t care. The man had come back to Rosenkreuz and specifically asked for Schuldich, pulling him out of the boring Inquisition routes. The telempath decided that for that, he would call the man whatever he asked to be called.

    “Good luck,” came the Third’s dry comment. It was both a farewell and a warning to Schuldich. He acknowledged the warning with a slight nod of his head. If this man was important enough to ask the Cabinet for something, he supposed he would have to watch his step a bit around him. The man was someone that the Cabinet obviously favored, so getting in trouble with him would probably be unwise. He would have to poke around to figure out where the lines lay without crossing them. He didn’t have it in him to obey like a good little subordinate, but he’d give the other man a couple days to get used to him before figuring out how far he could push.

    Crawford turned to go with just a nod to dismiss himself from the Cabinet. Schuldich followed after him, a delighted grin dancing on his mouth as they left the Chambers. There was a small crowd down the hall, waiting a safe distance from the Chamber doors. They watched him as he passed, studying his expression and realizing he hadn’t been in trouble at all. They seemed a bit surprised by this, and heavily confused by the obvious glee in his expression. He leered at them as he passed, offering them a rude gesture before turning his blue eyes back on his new superior.

    They walked in silence, and Schuldich busied himself with getting used to the feel of the cool shields around the other’s mind. He didn’t know what he would think of them in the long run, but he decided now that they had an interesting feel to them. He had never felt such shields before; they intrigued him. The older man must have a strong mind if he had such permanent braces up against his thoughts. It made him wonder if his gift would ever get strong enough to see through them, or if they would forever be out of reach.

    Eventually the two reached the stairs that led to the west wing of the second floor. The east wing and its stairwell were on the opposite side of the building and housed the students’ bedrooms. The first floor was for the library and classrooms. The dining hall and the professors’ bedrooms were in separate buildings. This wing, like the professors’ buildings, was off-limits with severe consequences. It housed the field teams while they were at Rosenkreuz, and no students were allowed to disturb them. Schuldich was glad that there were a few students around as Crawford led him up the stairwell. It meant they were watching Schuldich go that way, and within the hour everyone would know that Schuldich had been relocated and promoted a second time.

    Some days, it was so fucking good to be him.

    Crawford had a key card that opened the door at the top of the stairs. “You’ll get your own key,” he said as they stepped through. The door closed behind Schuldich and he moved to one side so he could see past Crawford down the hall. “It has to be programmed to your gift and touch so it will only work for you.”

    “Mm,” Schuldich answered, too busy investigating to care about things like key cards. The hall was wide and well lit. Doors lined the walls, spaced far apart and labeled with different names. Schuldich recognized some of them; he had heard them mentioned by professors in passing. They were the names of the teams. Crawford started down the hall and Schuldich followed, eyes scanning the names. Most of them were new to him, and he was surprised at the sheer number of them.

    At the other end of the hall there was a second stairwell. Beside it, an open door let Schuldich see a small lounge area. There were some people in there, and Schuldich could hear the sounds of a television. Crawford gestured to the room as he started up the stairs. “Every floor has laundry facilities and a den. Eating facilities are on the third floor.”

    “No wonder the students have nothing,” Schuldich commented as he started up the stairs. The stark, small rooms on the other side of the building were a far cry from this. The students didn’t have lounges or televisions. “Rosenkreuz is spending all of their money on you.”

    “We bring them the money that keeps them running,” was Crawford’s easy answer. “If luxury is the price, they’re willing to pay it. I don’t think you know half of what these teams are responsible for or how many pies Rosenkreuz has its fingers in through us.”

    Schuldich thought about making a smart comeback at such an easy accusation but decided against it. It would be useless; he was pretty sure the other man was right. Instead he followed Crawford to the next floor. Their room was just three down from the stairwell, and Schuldich studied the label on it. ‘Nacht,’ it read, and he decided he liked the sound of that. Crawford opened the door easily, as it was unlocked. Schuldich wondered about that, wondered if there was any sort of trust between the teams that they would leave their rooms open. He decided to ask later. They stopped just inside the doorway, and Crawford tapped the sign on the door, cool light brown eyes studying Schuldich. The German looked from the name back to Crawford.

    “This is your team now. There are three of us including yourself. Your other partner is the shape-shifter Aeris. We are leaving tonight to head out to America. We only stopped here to pick up a replacement; our presence is required overseas as soon as possible.”

    Schuldich had never been to America; Ireland was the furthest he’d been from Rosenkreuz so far. “America?” he asked.

    A ghost of a smile was his answer, and Crawford moved into the room. Schuldich hesitated a moment longer, letting his eyes trace the name on the door once more before following. He closed the door behind him and found himself in a small hall. There was a door straight ahead and one to either side of it; those two side doors were open. Crawford was out of sight, so Schuldich glanced through both doorways to find him. They were bedrooms, one room with two beds and the other with just one. There was an open door in the second room leading to a bathroom, and Schuldich was pleased at the idea of private bathing facilities- private as in he would just have to share it with two others rather than all of Rosenkreuz’s male students.

    There was a blonde lady in the larger bedroom, perched on the end of her bed. Her hair hung to her shoulders and curled up at the tips, and gray eyes studied Schuldich with mild interest as he stepped into the room. Crawford was standing beside her and Schuldich decided that she must be Aeris. Shiny lips quirked into a small smile as she gave him a once-over. Painted nails tucked her hair behind her ear and she glanced up at Crawford before giving her chin a light jerk in Schuldich’s. “He’s kind of small, isn’t he?” She sounded amused.

    “He’ll grow,” came the smooth response.

    “I suppose he will.” She rose to her feet and he was a bit put out that she was many inches taller than him. The heels she was wearing didn’t help; he felt short even on the other side of the room. She crossed the room to him on long legs, her pants hugging her legs almost as tight as her shirt hugged her chest. It was laced shut in the front and Schuldich wondered for a moment how she’d managed to get the strings tied; the shirt must have been a size too small. Her smile widened and he knew that she knew he was studying her. He didn’t care about being caught. If she didn’t want him to look she wouldn’t be wearing a shirt like that. Blue eyes lifted to meet her gaze and she stopped before him. “How old are you?” she wanted to know.

    “Sixteen,” he answered.

    That surprised her. She had to know that he was younger than her, but he guessed she didn’t expect it to be by that much. It made him wonder how old his teammates were. “My.” She looked back at Crawford, her smile fading into a light frown. Crawford’s expression was smooth. She sighed, looking back at Schuldich and tapping her chin with a finger. “Well, you must be something if you made us come all the way here.”

    He arched an eyebrow at her. “Where else would you go for a telepath?” he wanted to know.

    Her smile was warm, but there was an amused glint in her eyes. “Well, we would have kept our other one,” was her answer. “Keep that in mind, kiddo.” With that, she patted him on the head.

    He scowled at her for the gesture. “I’m neither a child nor a dog,” he informed her, “so keep your hands to yourself.”

    She wasn’t impressed and looked back towards Crawford. “All right, I can handle it. Give me a few hours.” With that and a final parting smile towards Schuldich, she slipped out of the room and down the hall. Schuldich watched her go before stepping further into the room. Blue eyes searched the bedroom, taking in his new ‘home’ even as his thoughts remained on the changeling. She had too warm of a smile to be on a killing team, but that glint in her eye had been a bit too sharp. Despite her appearance, there was definitely a killer underneath.

    “Where’s she going?” he asked.

    “You’re not traveling with us dressed like that,” Crawford answered, lifting a briefcase to the bed Aeris had abandoned and opening it. “She’s gone to get you a new wardrobe.” When Schuldich opened his mouth to comment, Crawford interrupted him. “She knows what’s suitable wear for someone in your position and for the places we’re going to go. It’s quicker if just one person goes on a shopping trip and you need to stay here to acquaint yourself with the team and the job we’re about to do.” He pulled a file out of his briefcase and gave it a light toss. It landed neatly on the second bed. “That’s the papers on the company we will be visiting. Familiarize yourself with it. Our flight is at eleven tonight and is fourteen hours long. Sleep on the plane, because we will be going to work shortly after landing.”

    Schuldich crawled onto the bed, dragging the file with him and seating himself against the headboard. He crossed his legs Indian style, setting the folder in his lap. Before he flipped it open to start going through the papers, he looked over at Crawford with a slight frown on his face. The other man was heading for the door. “What did she mean about your other telepath?” he wanted to know. “You said in the Chambers that he had been killed.”

    Crawford paused in the doorway and looked back at Schuldich. Blue and brown caught and held, and Schuldich could see cool amusement in those eyes. “Apparently it could have been prevented,” came the light response.

    Schuldich blinked. “You’re a precognitive,” he realized. He should have known, with a nickname like ‘Oracle,’ and he wanted to kick himself both for taking this long to figure it out and for saying it out loud. It just told the other man that he hadn’t had a clue until this point. He knew it amused the other man by the way the corner of his mouth twitched. “You let your teammate die.”

    Crawford said nothing, merely moving from one bedroom to the other. Schuldich stared after him, the file forgotten. There was too much to think about to start going through it immediately. So much had happened in just a handful of minutes. He lowered his eyes to the folder in his lap, fingers moving over the surface slowly as he thought. A couple of days ago, he had been part of the Inquisition. Now he had jumped ranks to be part of a real field team, a position that everyone in Rosenkreuz was fighting for. As numerous as the doors in the halls were in this wing, there were many students who never made it onto field teams. They either died or were placed in other branches of Rosenkreuz, which, while these positions were generally important, few wanted. The teams always seemed more exciting; they were the gold at the end of the rainbow and everyone wanted a spot on one.

    Now Schuldich was on one at the age of sixteen, when nineteen was generally the age telepaths were taken into consideration. At nineteen they were fresh back from their Inquisition circuits and ready to move on to real work. Schuldich had been cut loose from his remaining two rounds because this precognitive, this Oracle, had stepped into the Chambers and specifically asked the Cabinet for him. He had let his other telepath die- he had seen it coming and had let it happen. And Aeris said that Schuldich had made them come all the way back here. Crawford had already had a telepath, but he let him die so he could request Schuldich personally.

    Schuldich wasn’t sure whether he should gloat over his own skills or wonder what the hell he had just gotten into. He was as wary as he was excited. Crawford may have a soft laugh and calm eyes, but he was a field leader and he had no problems asking the Cabinet to tweak the rules so Schuldich could advance to team status. He had let his other telepath die and, while there was a chance the Cabinet didn’t know the death could have been avoided, there was still the chance that they did know. Crawford had acted without fear of the consequences, because he knew the Cabinet trusted his judgment.

    “This could be interesting,” he told himself, feeling a smirk curve his lips. He wasn’t sure where this path was going to take him, but he knew that it was bringing him out of Rosenkreuz. Crawford had made the Cabinet bend the rules for him so for now he would listen and do what he was told. He wouldn’t trust the man, no, because trust was not something Rosenkreuz taught its students. But he would listen and accept that Crawford was his leader, which was more than he ever did for Harriet.

    With a quiet laugh, he opened the file with eager fingers. This was the real work that Rosenkreuz was training its students to take…They taught politics and warfare, because as far as the students knew, those were the two main branches the teams split into. Either they were to work with the organizations that had ties to the school or they were to kill people, and Schuldich had decided that it would be boring to get stuck with a business-oriented team. He was part of an assassin team now. He didn’t know for how long; Crawford had said “for the time being”- not in regards to Schuldich’s presence but the nature of the group itself. Schuldich wondered what would come next. He wondered what this would be like, to be part of a real team, doing real work instead of hunting down and acquiring Talents. He plucked the clip off the papers in his lap and set it aside, skimming the front page of the report.

    America, huh…?


    Schuldich was told not to bother trying on the clothes Aeris brought back for him a handful of hours later. She assured them that they would fit, saying that she had borrowed his body to try them on. He did go through them, however, to see if he had any fierce objections to what she’d bought. He supposed he didn’t have much room to complain, however, not when he’d worn a school uniform for years and then moved on to the plain colors of the Inquisition. These were the first real clothes he’d been given in five years, and they definitely had some variety to them. He had everything from slacks to jeans, sweaters to tees, and a few dress shirts to go with the slacks. He went through them carefully, holding them up as he considered what it was like to have real clothes of his own. In the end he decided it didn’t matter that he hadn’t picked them out himself, because they were still his.

    She’d also brought him back a suitcase and whatever else she thought was necessary, so that the whole bed was covered in goodies for him. He had the time of his life going through the things. Even out with his previous team he hadn’t bought anything for himself, not only because he didn’t have money- which alone wouldn’t have stopped a telepath- but also because it would just be more to carry on the constant move as an Inquisition telempath. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with so many possessions after having close to nothing for five years, and while he knew the other two were watching him with tolerant amusement from the doorway he ignored them. There were undergarments, brushes, ties to keep his hair out of his way, a small mirror, sleeping wear… He fingered through everything, holding each item up so that he could examine it.

    When he was finished he packed it all up into his suitcase, which was the perfect size to hold everything. He considered the suitcase, enjoying the feeling of having things. It helped cement into place the reality of his new position, and he liked it. Finally he turned away from the suitcase to face the older two. Aeris nodded, turning away. “Now that that’s settled, I’m starving.” She headed towards the door and Crawford followed behind her. Schuldich realized that he was hungry as well and left the room after them.

    There were others on the third floor as well, other teams here between assignments gathering to have dinner. They glanced up at Nacht’s entrance, some nodding in acknowledgement, others just studying Schuldich before returning to their food. Aeris and Crawford ignored everyone, and Schuldich would have followed suit if he wasn’t investigating what people were eating. After being in a circuit for four months and able to eat anything he wanted, the past three days of Rosenkreuz’s dry meals had been almost painful. But these people looked like they were eating real food.

    They came up to a buffet table, and Schuldich helped himself to everything that looked good. The three found themselves a table and ate in silence for the better part of the meal. It was an easy silence, Schuldich noted with mild surprise, not the sullen and hostile quiet that had cloaked his other team so often. Crawford and Aeris were used to each other. He wondered how long the two had been on the same team and how they could continue trusting each other after they had let their other teammate kick the bucket. Either way, any bit of trust in a team would make this group easier to adjust to than his last team had been. He only had to gain one’s approval and the other would follow the first.

    “We’ll have to open you a bank account,” Aeris said as they were tidying their plates. She wiped her hands off on her napkin and reached for her glass. Schuldich considered her in silence, not sure what he would need such a thing for. She smiled at him through her cup, taking a sip before explaining. “You’re going to start getting a paycheck soon.”

    Schuldich wasn’t sure what he’d use the money for, but he didn’t argue. He just nodded and stuffed the last two bites of his roll in his mouth. As he brushed his hand across his lips to scrub free any clinging crumbs, he picked up on a faint stirring in the other minds and looked over his shoulder. This room was full of decent shields, though Crawford’s was the strongest. It would take some work to get through a good number of these but they wouldn’t be impossible. On the whole, their emotions were easier to read than their thoughts, and the collective weary anticipation was what caught his attention.

    Across the room, someone else had just entered. He had a head of red hair, shaggy and wild around his skull. He started towards the buffet table and halfway across the room spotted Nacht. He paused, eyeing the group, and then changed courses to head towards their table. Schuldich saw a cold smile curve Aeris’s lips before she hid it in her cup. Crawford ignored the approaching man entirely, setting his silverware on his plate and putting his balled up napkin on top. Schuldich looked from one to the other, brushing against the approaching Talent’s mind to see what sort of gift he held. He was a telepath…Decent shields, perhaps as strong as Schuldich’s own, with a gift ranking somewhere around the same level.

    The man stopped right beside Schuldich’s chair, and the teenager glanced up at him to find himself being glared at. He offered a cold smirk and indifferent blue eyes as a return greeting, letting his empathy ripple across the other’s mind. There was a bitter sort of anger lacing around, along with the sting of loss. His bright green eyes turned on Crawford then, who finally lifted his gaze to acknowledge the new arrival. The cool amusement was gone from his gaze, replaced by cold indifference.

    “You’ve already replaced him,” was the telepath’s sharp greeting. He pointed at Schuldich, who batted his hand away.

    Green eyes bounced to him at the swat, and Schuldich arched a brow at the older man. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you it’s rude to point?” he asked lazily, deciding that he didn’t have to guard his tongue. He severely doubted this was anyone his new team worried about offending, judging by the looks on their faces. “Do it again and I’ll break every finger on that hand.”

    “Would you?” the man asked, sneering at him before turning back to Crawford. “You’ve replaced him already, and you put a child in his slot.”

    They were talking about the former telepath of Nacht, and Schuldich wondered who the man had been that would cause such a stir within this man. He searched the telepath’s aura again, testing the emotions. A closer look at the loss showed him it was personal. Not a lover, but kin. A brother. Schuldich drew back, satisfied with the answer. He couldn’t say he regretted the other man’s death; he didn’t care that it was hurting this man. He was rather pleased Crawford had let the other one die, considering where he found himself now, and this one should have figured out a long time ago that it was stupid to care for anyone, family or not.

    “Your brother was incompetent, Owen,” was Crawford’s simple answer as he picked up his cup, causing the telepath to suck in air in a sharp gasp at such an accusation “Otherwise, he would have survived. If he was any bit the telepath that he claimed to be, he would not have made a mistake.” He started rising to his feet, but Owen reached out and slapped his hand, knocking his glass away to shatter on the ground. The second Owen’s hand made contact with the cup Crawford’s free hand made contact with the telepath’s face, fist knocking the other man several feet back. The sound of flesh hitting flesh was lovely and familiar, and Schuldich’s smirk widened. It was a very good hit, with a lot of power behind it.

    Owen snarled and started around the table. Aeris rose from her spot in a lithe movement. Crawford was between her and the furious telepath, but that wouldn’t stop her if the telepath did anything else. Owen hesitated, considering this, apparently wondering if he could take on two of them. Fighting one of Nacht meant fighting all of Nacht, and Schuldich thought about it as well as his blue eyes studied his new teammates. It was strange, very different from his years at Rosenkreuz where everyone was everyone’s enemy and from his previous team as well, where only rules kept them from slaughtering each other.

    Owen turned to Schuldich then, derisive eyes sweeping his small frame. Schuldich pushed his chair back from the table, turning it sideways and lifting his legs to prop his boots on the table. They stared each other down, furious green to cold blue, a snarl to an amused smirk. Owen gestured at Schuldich, disgust clear in his expression. “And this is what you put in his place…A bratling, a child. My brother was a strong telepath and you’ve picked this thing to replace him. You scorn his memory and his position in your team.”

    Schuldich decided with quite a bit of annoyance that he was going to be underestimated the rest of his life. “I can’t help it if the team needed an upgrade,” he said, coldly amused expression showing none of his irritation. He even managed to keep his voice bland and he stretched his arms in front of him, studying his fingernails. He hadn’t had the chance to go one on one with a telepath his ranking, as the only other ones he’d been around had been on his Inquisition team and off limits. He was curious what it would be like and he lifted his eyes to Owen’s once more, letting the other man see the challenge in them.

    “I wouldn’t engage him unless you want to be beaten by a sixteen year old in front of eight teams,” was Crawford’s calm advice. He gathered up his plate, leaving the broken glass on the floor, and half-turned to head to the conveyer belt for dirty dishes. “We don’t have the time to wait on you. Nacht is moving out tonight. Go lick your wounds elsewhere and stop harassing my team.”

    “If you’re such a great precognitive, then you should have seen his death coming!” Owen snarled, turning towards Crawford once more. Schuldich realized with a bit of disappointment that that meant there would be no fight- this time, at least. Aeris was gathering up her own dishes and Schuldich followed suit, pushing his chair under the table with his foot.

    “Huh,” was Crawford’s soft response. “Must have blinked and missed it.”

    Owen sent a venomous look after the dark haired man as the Oracle started towards the belt. Aeris followed behind. Schuldich had to pass Owen to join them and he passed close enough that their shoulders brushed. Green and blue met one last time, a scowl and a smirk. No fight this time…But the hate in Owen’s gaze insured that there would be a next time, and Schuldich was pleased. With a laugh, Schuldich continued on his way. The three dropped off their dishes and headed towards the dining hall doors, ignoring Owen as they passed him again. He snarled a curse after them in a foreign tongue; Schuldich recognized it to be Irish.

    He felt justified in deciding that very few good things came off of that island.


    Schuldich had slept part of the flight away, staying awake until their plane connected in Frankfurt and falling asleep as they started out of Germany towards the United States. He didn’t sleep the entire trip away, however, as to do so would be to sleep longer than he had at one time in the last five years. He got eight hours of rest in and upon waking realized that there were still several hours left to go. A movie was playing on the little screens but he had no earphones and it had started some time ago. Instead he cracked open his window shade, peeking out the bottom to stare out. It was pitch black outside even though his watch told him it was eight in the morning in Austria. He’d have to reset the thing once they landed.

    Crawford and Aeris were both still sleeping, and Schuldich wondered if they were used to such long plane rides. He wondered where they’d been before and what kind of things they’d done, and if in time he would adjust to this as well. As it was, he had been awake from his sleep for just a handful of minutes and he was bored. His longest plane ride so far had been from Ireland to Austria, and that had been less than three hours. If he did the math, he had about five left to go now. As soon as he counted them up he regretted it and he slouched in his seat, scowling at the chair in front of him.

    “You should go back to sleep,” came a voice beside him, and he glanced at Crawford. The precognitive’s eyes were still closed, and with those shields up it had been impossible for Schuldich to tell that he was awake.

    “I’ve been sleeping,” Schuldich answered, flicking his hair out of his face. His dry response made him pause. He’d given the same answer to Whitey a few weeks ago. An image of those yellow eyes glowing red danced in his mind and he frowned, studying the chair in front of him. “The Cabinet told you about Whitey.” Crawford’s eyes slid open and he turned his head slightly, meeting Schuldich’s expectant stare. “They told you that he was a Nightmare.”

    “They did,” was the easy answer.

    Schuldich frowned at him. “They don’t teach about Nightmares in our classes.”

    “They’ve never seen a need to.” Crawford reached down, lifting a small bag from between his feet. One hand held it by the strap and the other pulled a small laptop computer out of it. The bag was dropped back to the ground and he pulled the small tray down off the chair in front of him, resting his computer on top of it. He waited for the computer to start booting up before speaking again. “They’re rare enough that there’s no point to teach anyone about them.”

    “But you know what one is.” Schuldich lowered his own tray just because it gave him something to do with his hands. Fingernails tapped on the plastic surface and he studied Crawford’s face. The plane was dark so the passengers could sleep, but the glow from the computer screen lit up his leader’s face so that Schuldich could see it.

    Crawford turned to his computer, fingers dancing over the keys. “No one knows everything about Nightmares,” he said. “Most of the files on them are stored away where only the Cabinet is allowed access to them. It’s been probably thirty years since they last had one to control and the time they had it was short, I hear.”

    “Now they have another one.” Jesus, did Schuldich have to actually put it in words or would Crawford just take the hint and tell him what he wanted to know? He wondered if the man was dense or purposefully being irritating and at length decided on the second. Either that or Crawford didn’t know enough to satisfy Schuldich’s curiosity so chose to keep what little he knew to himself. Whichever it was, Schuldich didn’t appreciate it. Anything would be better than nothing.

    “This isn’t the time to worry about it,” Crawford offered at last, and gestured towards the overhead television set. Schuldich looked up and realized that the movie was ending; it had been further along than he had thought it to be. “He isn’t your concern.”

    Schuldich reached out with his gift, finding a flight attendant and summoning her to bring him some headphones before the next movie could begin. “Lucky for him,” he muttered, “or I’d put a bullet in his one remaining eye.”

    The attendant appeared with a cheerful smile and perky “Here you go!” and vanished just as quickly back down the dark aisle. Schuldich plugged the headphones into his armrest and was assaulted by the sound of the movie’s ending music. He adjusted the volume to where he liked it and folded his arms over his chest, sending his leader a searching look before returning his attention to the screen. No, Whitey wasn’t his problem anymore. His time with the demon child was over and now that he had a team, he doubted he would be at Rosenkreuz often enough to ever cross paths with him again. He pushed thoughts of the Nightmare from his mind, allowing himself to be distracted by the movie that was beginning.

    After it came another one, and Aeris woke up in time to get her own headphones. Crawford sat between them, reading something off his laptop and occasionally adding things to the file, fingers flying over the keys in random bursts. The second movie was the last one, ending just thirty minutes from when they were to land. The headphones were collected and the attendants started to wake the passengers so they’d be fully coherent by the time they were to get off. The air was filled with yawns, the mental field with drowsy thoughts, and Schuldich poked his window shade up again to look out. He was happy to see the airport coming into view, as he was very ready to get off the plane. Crawford put his computer away and they put their trays up. The attendants came around to make sure everyone was buckled and retreated to their own seats as the pilot offered a “warm United States welcome” to the passengers over the loudspeakers.

    They landed soon enough and Schuldich used his gift to ensure that the team was the first off. His legs were relieved at being stretched out and he followed behind the older two Talents down the aisle, letting the people they passed spill out into the walkway behind them. His ass was asleep from sitting too long but he supposed it would wake up soon enough. They ignored the attendants’ cheerful goodbyes and headed from the concourse to the train that would take them to the terminal. Moving walkways lined the wall by the windows and Schuldich chose to ride one, letting it carry him faster than his teammates were walking. They did not call him back and he rode the belts all the way down to the stairwell. There he waited, and the three descended together to wait on the next train. It came shortly, a speaker system alerting them to its imminent arrival even as they could hear the noise it made coming down the track. Windows flew by them, slowing bit by bit until they found themselves before a set of sliding doors. Passengers exited the train, moving around them and babbling about their upcoming flights. Nacht entered the train, Schuldich leaning against the wall as his teammates held onto one of the aisle poles.

    The speakers offered up a warning before the doors slid closed once more and within a few minutes the train was moving. A glowing sign near the roof alerted them of what concourse they were approaching, scrawling the message in several languages, as the monotonous speaker voice announced it in English. Schuldich had been taught English at Rosenkreuz, but bled what he could from those around him to fill in the blanks, taking enough that he would sound like a native rather than a student.

    After the next concourse they reached the terminal. Their baggage came quickly and then they were out into a fresh morning. Schuldich’s mental clock reeled and he fixed his watch, eyeing the bright sky with a bit of distrust. He followed his teammates into the parking garage. Several rows back, a tall man rested against a black car. He straightened at their approach and offered the key to Crawford before heading away. Schuldich was put in the backseat with his suitcase; the other two could fit their luggage in the trunk and took the front seats.

    They stopped at a hotel first. The room had already been bought and Crawford just had to pick up the keys at the front desk. The three wheeled their luggage to the elevator and rose to the fifth floor. Their room was larger than the one back at Rosenkreuz, even larger than the one Schuldich’s Inquisition team had had in Ireland. There were two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a tiny kitchen, and a middle room. The German had to stand just inside the doorway and stare for a moment, startled by the luxurious surroundings. Aeris glanced back at him when he didn’t follow immediately and offered him an amused smile before following Crawford into one of the bedrooms.

    Schuldich could see into it, and there was only one bed. He blinked, looking from their two suitcases to the other, empty room. He studied the two as they got started unpacking. There was no hesitation in their movements; they knew exactly where they wanted everything to go. They’d been doing this for years, he realized, and he watched them for a few moments longer, considering the implications of them sleeping in the same room.

    Well, that explained the trust they shared between them. Schuldich coughed to hide an amused laugh and wandered into the second bedroom. Let them share a bed. It meant he could have a room to himself, and a private bathroom, too. Not bad…He took longer to unpack than they did, because he had never had so much stuff to take into consideration and he hadn’t had to move anything of his around save for two outfits in a bag and one on his body.

    When he was done the other two were in the den, standing in front of the window. One of them had drawn the curtains back and Schuldich joined them in staring out. Finally Crawford lifted his fingers to the window, tapping two against the glass to indicate one of the buildings. Schuldich could pick it out even if the angle he was looking out was different than Crawford’s; he could place the building by the picture he had seen in the file.

    “Let’s take her apart from the bottom up,” the Oracle said, and Schuldich grinned at the thought.

Part 5
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