Coming back from my late night ramblings, I meet Daedalus in the hall. The fact that he remains invisible or, as he calls it, "obfuscated," while walking through my ward, doesn’t cease to astound me. He once told me that he would have to apply certain "changes" to my colleagues in order to make them shut up – a fact that did indeed cause some concern on my side, hence although he assured me that no harm would be done, I talked him into leaving it as it is. So, he walks to and fro like a ghost, and all I can do is feel him. I assume that’s all I need to know, and I should worry about other things.
Sometimes, I realize, I don’t feel him at all. Cor, at least not until I feel his breath on, and his voice in, my ear, whispering, "Callum."
What a feeling, and just now having considered a life in unison… I can but try not to shout out loud, and channel the rest of it in a suppressed sigh.
He seems to be highly amused, and adds: "Your office?"
Now I am my calm self again (ridiculous thought, as it were), and try to play the secrecy game that seems so appropriate for a strange situation like this, and I look around with exaggerated care, tuning my tone of voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "Got the code, Marlow?"
While I wonder a moment or two whether Daedalus knows about those weird role playing games, he already comes up with the proper reply, and it sounds even better due to his never ceasing somber intonation: "Yes. One twenty-four bit, I believe."
I am delighted. It’s so nice to have someone to lark around with. But I can’t continue the game now, there are other things waiting for us to talk about; ludicrously important things. Therefore I turn, whispering to the air that I hope to be Daedalus, "I’d pat your bony backside, if I found it," and head for the office. This time I can feel him, for he is really close behind me. The door closes shortly after – presumably – both of us have entered, and without turning I remark: "Very impressive, my dear. You can pop outta the mists now."
On cue, he appears. How very impressive indeed. In order to show how cool I can be, too, I pretend not to be impressed. Instead I walk to the couch and sit down, patting the place by my side. Daedalus, never taking his eyes from me, follows my gesture, and sits down close to me, and like always he moves with a strange kind of weighty grace that utterly betrays his nimbleness. I wonder how he does it, he doesn’t even blink once, and wherever he moves, his eyes remain fixed on me like those of a chameleon.
This really is weird, and here it comes, the silly laughter, all by itself, trying to fight its way to the surface. All I can do not to let it show is to snuggle up into Daedalus’ arms, transforming the laugh into another deep sigh. Almost automatically, he puts his arms around me. I’m safe now. I’ll stay here forever. But I have to tell him about the house, hence I talk into his sleeve. "Guess where I’ve been."
I might be mistaken, but it seems as if he’s sniffing. And yet, I was right, because the next thing he says is, "You’ve been taking a long walk. You’ve been to the South-West."
"You’re right. Amazing."
Snuffle, snuffle. "The scents are still quite fresh."
"Scents, uh, Mr. Holmes?" Now I play the indignant.
Without taking up on his cue this time, Daedalus makes a show of sniffing at my neck, and the hairs on the back of it stand on end immediately. "Scents."
I love it when he does that. Our conversation has taken another turn now, and the atmosphere is whizzing with lust. And here’s the third sigh I can’t keep from escaping. I start wondering if I’ll turn into a hysterical Jessie if he goes on like that – or if it’s just the normal madness of the day. But – the house is waiting. "Do you wanna hear the rest of the story – or shall we postpone it?"
"The rest." His voice sounds more guttural than ever, I bet he can turn me into something small and begging, but at least I can keep it up now. Well, yes, everything. "Oh. Uh. Yes. Okay. Wow, man, you’re a philanderer. I did indeed go for a long long walk. And then… drum-roll, please… I found a house." There, that wasn’t so hard, Callum.
Daedalus seems to be in a similarly giddy mood, as he replies, "That’s amazing, considering we are in a city."
"Yuh, and such a riot, too," I chide him, grinning. "No, Daedie, I found the house."
I realize he has changed his attitude a bit during my last words, so I look up at him. His expression is somewhat incredulous. Now I remember. I called him ‘Daedie.’ "Sorry. May I call you that?"
He relaxes again. "You may call me whatever you like."
Ah. A through ball from the maestro. I gracefully give it a spin. "Really? Like, cutie pie? Or cuddly bear?"
He returns it as gracefully. "If you must."
"You’re sweet." And before he can retort something this time, I shut him up by kissing him, and then breathing in his ear: "The house. I’ve found it. It’s gonna be mine."
I can tell my Daedie is not only all ears now. "House." He resumes letting his lips work on my neck again, my… now… very sensitive neck… "Really. Your house."
"My house now." This is serious. Both – the house and the situation. And I know what has to come next. Following the first and in preparation for the latter, I move to sit on his lap. "Our house. Maybe..."
Daedie’s expression couldn’t be more perplexed now. I look at him as earnestly as the situation allows. "We’re a couple of love birds, dauntcha think?"
"I think so. Yes. I definitely do. And… well, I thought… I mean, the house needs a lot of rebuilding and whatnot but… I thought you could move in with me…"
Now it dawns on him. "You… want me to… live with you?"
"Uhm, yes," I repeat, grinning. "Or unlive. Or whatever it is you do. You know, it’s strange. Thinking about it. I never thought I’d find another one to share my life with, but then, you never know. And now I’ve met you, and I somewhat like you. No, delete that from the minutes. I love you." And while I say this, I know it’s true, although it sounds oh so trite.
Dear Daedie doesn't have those concerns, and I almost admire him for his openness and his ability to show his feelings apparently without feeling ridiculous at all. And he is deeply stirred now, I can see that. Of course he has to reply something adequate. And so he does. "I also love you, Callum. With all my heart."
Apart from feeling silly and overly squashy, I can’t keep those emotions down any longer, I just have to let them out. There they come again, the tears, the sobbing, all that shit. It doesn’t really help that Daedie closes his arms around me. After a while, he softly asks: "What is it?"
I put my thoughts into words. "It’s just... I was thinking of Johnny... He’d be so happy."
He must have something like a telepathic contact with me now, I can clearly feel him inside of my mind, and it comes like a great relief, because then I won’t have to talk about it. And yet, he asks me: "Will you tell me about him?"
"Yuh, of course," I reply obediently, trying to calm down. "You know, I do have a past. Quite a lot of it, actually."
"I know. I know a lot about you." And it sounds as if he has researched the remotest part of my life.
I rub the tears from my mug, trying to face the truth. "Of course you do. I always forget. You and Julian and your lot…" They must have checked on me even before I got the job, thinking of it now. "But you can’t know about Johnny. He died six years ago. He was the only one I’d ever wanted to live with."
"No, you don’t. After Johnny, there was only... Shit. Whoring around." I know I’m on the road to self-pity now, with hints of depression lurking behind the signposts, but I just let it go. "If Julian thinks bad of me, it’s only fair."
Daedie remains calm, as usual. "No, I don’t think so. These things happen." Behind his kind words, there’s yet something else, something he is thinking about, and I can but guess that it could have to do with Julian…
"I always forget how old and wise you are," I say, but that’s only part of what I want to say and I can’t get it out straight. I deeply admire his gracious and utterly patient way, I know I’ll never be that good, never in my life, and I am grateful that he is with me. I could listen to his voice for ages, and longer. I just wish I could answer as wisely. I can’t, though.
"Tell me about your Johnny."
Hesitantly, I tell him about Johnny; about the friends we shared, the wonderful community we were living in, those many years ago, back in London. I also tell him how they all started dying, and how I lost one by one until fifteen wonderful and formerly healthy guys were gone, how I wondered and felt guilty because due to a strange and bizarre vagary of fortune I stayed unaffected. I tell him about the time I spent at the hospital while Johnny was fading away from me, until my love was finally gone, too, and about the time afterwards, when I wished to die and instead finished my studies and left the country forever.
Most of it is drowned by more tears, and more, and can hardly manage to talk any more. When I am on the verge to a really serious fit, though, I suddenly hear Daedalus sing. It’s not what you could call normal singing, though, not at all. This voice is going through and through me, like a soft shower, like the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And the tears dry up by themselves. It is as if all sorrow is taken from me, all wounds are healing in one wonderful go, and swimming in this purple cloud, we start kissing, somehow manage undressing, and then he is inside me, filling me from the outside and the inside, and we’re rising, rising, never to go down again.
I heard people say that my "famous lap-dance" is something to look forward to. I never knew that this could take on a quite different colour, now that I come to again. Purple, for instance. And certainly only with one person on earth. At last, I say the words that come up first: "I’ll never leave you. Never."
In reply, Daedie hugs me even harder, as if he wants to merge my body in his, as if he hasn’t done it already. I feel so light now, and so unsettled at the same time. And I realize that I’m holding on like I could drown without him. I know I will drown without him. "Come spread the balm of silence on my tortured soul."
I need him. I love him.
I don’t know what it is about another’s suffering that draws me so. Pain, in all its forms, is like a siren’s song in my ears even as it cuts me like a knife, scorches me like sunlight. It makes me want to ease it with all that’s in me, until risk or danger to myself becomes inconsequential.
But now, finally, I’ve touched the source of Callum’s pain. His tears are drying on my skin, but his face is peaceful in sleep, and his mind is no longer troubled. I’m still holding him, touching every inch of his body I can reach, letting his body warm mine. My own soul feels light with the passing of his distress, as if, together with his, I’d erased my own pain.
Maybe that’s all there is to it. Unable to ease the pain of my own existence, I try to ease the pain of the world, or at least that of those close to me.
It’s ironic, then, that fate cast me in the role of Enforcer when all I apparently want to be is the world’s ugliest Samaritan.
"You’re still quite pretty," Marcos said to me. For the first time, I wonder if it can be true, if my own self-image could be so far removed from how others perceive me. Surely, Callum wouldn’t spend so much time, let alone consider moving in and spending a considerable portion of his life with someone whose sight repulsed him.
Or maybe love, with its famous ability to cloud sight and mind, merely allows him to see something other than the monster in me. It’s certainly more likely than me being "pretty".
I rest the side of my face against his head, feeling my lips stretch into a smile. "Let me be there for you," I whisper to him, even though he’s asleep and can’t hear me. "Let me watch over you."
Then I have to close my eyes against the sudden fear of losing this. Always, always the cursed fear following on the heels of every scrap of happiness. I know it’s destructive. I know it spoils everything. I can’t help it, can’t stop it. Desperately, I inhale Callum’s scent, trying to use it to calm myself even as my breath hisses through clenched teeth and my vision turns red with blood-tears.
He said he’d never leave me, I tell myself, but it’s useless. I know that this will end. One night, maybe soon, the time with him will end, and he’ll go and take his pain with him, leaving me behind alone with no one to watch over –
And I’m a pathetic fool. Rolling away from him, I wipe my eyes and lick the blood off the back of my hand, the taste grounding me instantly.
He's immortal, I remind myself. He invited me to share a home with him only a few hours ago. This is not the time for this kind of panic. It may be years, even decades, before he does leave me.
Actually, it is now time for me to leave, at least the hospital. Regretfully, I look down at my beautiful Callum. "I'll never leave you either," I say softy, "but now I must go."
There is a house I have to look at, and it's only an hour till dawn.
Waking up after a short night’s rest, but the best rest I must have had in my whole life, I realize again before opening my eyes that my un-dead lover has left me. I smile to myself about the never changing scurrility of the situation: the vampire lover leaving before dawn… And I can’t keep from softly stroking the sheet where he has been lying, reminding myself that it never was warm and thus can’t be any more now.
I’m in love. Consequently, it is a wonderful day. I get up and through my morning routine with that silly grin on my face that I can't even wipe off when I’m shaving, and I detect myself humming "Mull of Kintyre." I wonder why, as Argyll isn’t even close to my home, and yet this song seems so appropriate for the feeling of homeliness. Let us just leave it at that.
After a wonderful breakfast and an exciting pair of jeans (talking about the closeness not only to homeliness, but also to hysteria, often found in euphoria), I sit down in front of my desk (which, astoundingly enough, doesn’t hold any new wonders) and switch on the monitor. I lazily flip through the different images showing the different little rooms, more out of sheer laziness than of routine, for most of the time I prefer to walk through the ward before breakfast is over. There they are again, everything is fine, everybody is still munching their breakfast. Everybody but Daniel. I feel my pulse doubling at once. Daniel isn’t to be seen anywhere, as far as the camera angles can reach.
Forgetting about the rest of the rooms, I jump up and race to little Daniel’s room. As I feared, it is empty. He has never left his room before! Trying to calm down, I now start my morning round in quite a hurry, reassuring each of the children that I’ll be with them again, just wanted to say hello, yes I’ll be back soon, while the only thing I can think about is "I must find Daniel."
A dreadful thought is creeping over me. Can it be that Daedalus has taken the boy with him? That our last night together has awakened something animal in him he couldn’t suppress any longer, just as he once mentioned, and now he’s running wild? Looking into Mandy’s wide eyes, I remind myself that the Daedalus I am thinking about and up to some moments ago was in love with can’t be the one I’m thinking about. I must have lost it for a instant. There is, of course, another possibility, and I couldn’t decide if it’s less disturbing. I force a smile and utter some soothing words until Mandy resumes her breakfast, then take a deep breath before walking to Marcos’ quarters.
My heart makes another leap when I find the door unlocked. Before I enter, I try to keep it down and listen. I hear a soft murmuring from inside, definitely Daniel’s voice, and exhale with relief. Pulling myself together, I knock at the door. Two voices answer in unison: a high and a deep one. "Come in."
Entering the room, my eyes meet a most stirring scene: Marcos and Daniel are both sitting on the floor, shoulder by shoulder, with a tray in front of them. On the tray is a careful arrangement of corn flakes, currants, and muffins. Daniel looks up at me, flushed with enthusiasm. "Look, Callum, we’re re-enacting the battle of Issos." And before I can answer something, Marcos has raised his hand, keeping Daniel from getting involved in his game again. He says something to the boy in Greek, and although I don’t know the language, I can easily understand that it is some kind of chiding. To my utter amazement, the boy obeys at once. "Sorry, Callum. Good morning."
"And good morning from me, my dear Callum,” Marcos adds. “Please, do excuse the mess we’ve been making."
I return the greeting, gesturing to Marcos that I would like to talk to him in private. When Daniel picks up my intention, his expression changes to one of concern. That’s the last thing I need, therefore I kneel down in front of the battleground and smile at the boy. "Don’t worry. You can leave the tray as it is, and you can go on playing later. I just want to talk to Marcos for a couple of minutes, and you, my friend, should drink your cocoa before it’s cold."
Daniel glances at Marcos, and the Greek nods, throwing his head slightly back. Only then Daniel mutters some words of agreement and reluctantly leaves the room. I watch him close the door, then turn back towards Marcos. "Quite an impressive performance, Marcos." I hope my words sound as free of irony as they are intended.
They obviously do, as Marcos replies, "Nothing to wonder about, Callum. I’ve had many children in my life, and Daniel isn’t really difficult." He grins at me full of himself and (I notice, not without pride) very relaxed, adding: "What an extraordinary child."
"Yes, he is," I agree. "So, that would release me from my first question, doesn’t it."
"And what is your second?"
I watch him for a moment, lying there in front of me, still playing around with a fallen raisin. For a moment, I can clearly see him in quite another dress, an ancient one, as it seems, surrounded by others who look a bit like him, leaning over a map… I blink, and the image is gone.
"The second? Oh. Yes. Of course. About the boy... Well, it would be a bit easy to talk about the months to come, wouldn’t it?"
The warrior pops the currant into his mouth and sits up, stretching. "You mean if I would be willing to adopt him?" He suppresses a yawn, then adds: "Why, yes, I would be. That was your plot, yours and Daidalos’, wasn’t it?"
I grin sheepishly, lying: "We weren’t plotting anything. But now that I look at the two of you, it sounds like a splendid idea."
He repays me with his most charming smile, warming my heart without warning. "White lie. Doesn’t matter now. I presume you want to keep us for a little while before you let me take him back home?"
"Back home?" Now I am honestly confused. "Where?"
Laughing, he explains to me where he comes from. "Didn’t Daidalos tell you about it?"
"He didn’t mention this part of the information. Greece. Wow. Would that be the right place for Daniel?"
And now he opens his plot in front of me, telling me all about the plans he and Daniel have already made, for Daniel has been with him since shortly after dawn. They want to travel through most parts of Europe, then get back to where Marcos started his journey ten years ago, where he wants to try to make up with his wife again. And he promises to teach Daniel everything he knows. I can only guess that this is more than a boy can usually learn in a lifetime.
I am overwhelmed, it is so tempting to just say yes to everything Marcos explains to me, especially because it all sounds so well thought-out. And yet, I cannot allow this to happen, not right now, I am still in charge of both of them. I try to break it to him that I can’t decide for now, but will have to watch over them for at least another month, realizing only then that that’s exactly what Marcos said at the beginning of our talk.
Sometimes it’s bloody hard to be surrounded by un-dead, telepaths, immortals, and all that folk that know so damn much more than my humble self. Even more depressing is the next fact that they, i.e. Marcos, even know about this fact, and keep looking at you with an expression of mild sympathy.
Our little discussion ends with me allowing Daniel to pay Marcos another visit later in the day, but not without my supervision. This doesn’t seem to surprise either boy or warrior, hence I guess there won’t be any explanations needed in the near future.
Opening my eyes coincides with an abrupt return to full consciousness the way it has been for many centuries. The familiar sight, sound, scent, and feel of my haven surround me even as I become aware of the fact that it is late afternoon, one of my clan-mates is nearby, and a little off the coast, a deep-sea freighter is passing, the sub-sonic hum of its engines blending with the other sounds.
Sometimes, I long to once more experience the gradual awakening from real sleep mortals enjoy each morning, or the sense of mental disintegration upon falling asleep. There is something immensely comforting about the feeling of vulnerability associated with sleep, paradoxical though it sounds. It is something I sorely miss from my Warm days, and come to miss more and more as the centuries pass.
I stretch, straining muscles and tissues to move cold blood through undead veins in a travesty of human behavior. Stretching is not necessary for me, any more than breathing is, or yawning, but some part of my brain still enjoys this atavistic behavior. Unusually, today it awakens residual frissons of pleasure, sense-memories from last night, and I close my eyes, smiling foolishly.
The experience of sleep may be lost to me, but last night, with the help of my beloved Callum, I’ve gained another experience, a state of mind I’m not sure I ever knew.
It is a constant source of amazement to me that as Kindred, we’re still able to experience the pleasure of sex. After all, it’s not something that’s necessary to our survival. We can’t procreate in this way. Some of us, it’s true, completely lose the drive and the ability to function in this manner. Others don’t. Nor does it appear to be linked to bloodline or prior inclination as a mortal. Toreador, for the most part, sensual beings that they are, remain sexually able and active. For them, it’s part of the Masquerade. The other Clans are less consistent.
As for my own Clan, it appears that it’s mere lack of opportunity that prevents them from pursuing the pleasures of the flesh with mortals; they turn to each other instead. Until I met Callum, I kept away from the more racy parties my Clan enjoys from time to time. I’ve never felt drawn to my fellow Nosferatu, and I’ve never been desperate enough to set aside my preferences in favor of fleeting carnal satisfaction. Instead, I’ve loved mortals, unrequited and always from afar by necessity. The sating of the Hunger was the only pleasure I allowed myself, and even that must always be curtailed by the obligation to let the human live.
Until I met Callum.
My body certainly remembers how to feel sexual pleasure even after all this time, just as the part of my mind that remembers being alive still responds to that pleasure. Unnecessary and atavistic, yes. But oh so good.
It must be a combination of the drive to feed and the drive to procreate, I muse, comparing the sensation of holding someone close to drink from them, and holding them close to feel their body with mine as I did with Callum last night. I doubt I’ll ever find the words to describe the immense satisfaction I derive from completely submerging myself in his body and letting all the different primitive impulses grow in urgency and build up until their qualities all combine to form one all-encompassing need and I can’t tell anymore if I want to drink or to come, or both.
Last night, I discovered that simply by opening my mouth and letting my teeth rest against the skin of Callum’s neck while holding him, I could transform the ever-present Hunger into a different kind of hunger, which then oscillated back and forth all over, ever increasing until I could feel nothing but a kaleidoscope of need, and my eyes rolled back in my head, and I nearly blacked out with the intensity of it. I could feel my mind coming undone, similar to what I remember falling asleep to feel like, yet completely different in its nearly paralyzing pleasure, and with my last cognitive effort I rammed the talons of hands and feet into the bedding and my teeth into my own arm lest I injure Callum, and the taste of my blood was enough to bring me over.
Afterward, it took what seemed to me to be quite a long time for the numerous splinters of my consciousness to once more coalesce into something capable of higher brain functions – almost like waking up from real sleep. Vulnerable, for a time; abandoned to forces that overwhelmed my mind and to the mercy of my Callum, who, apparently, quite enjoys seeing me in that state.
It's fortunate that Kindred physiology allows me to just keep going.
With a feeling of lightness in my heart, I rise from my bed, and my glance meets my desk, now covered with sketches. As I approach, I give in to the smile waiting on my face.
Callum was right. It is a beautiful house. In spite of its sad condition, the core is sound. We'll have to repair the roof, put in new windows and doors, re-plaster the walls and completely redesign the garden. Also, the cellar will have to connect to the sewers for easy access – that alone is a major job requiring lots of digging and excavating. The raw construction of the sewer access will take several weeks, add to that another few nights for installing security measures. Interior decorating could then start in about two months' time.
I look down at my preliminary sketches, feeling positively buoyant with anticipation. I haven't been able to stretch my building and sculpting muscles in ages.
Also, I'll be building a house to share with my beloved Callum – as if I were a normal human man, living a normal human life.
I close my eyes and smile.
After another long day, I finally find the time to introduce myself to Chao-dai. Sean told me he does not have a telephone, a fact that is hard to believe in these modern times, but whether it might be true or not – I will have to go there to find out. I follow the driving instructions also provided by Sean, and leave San Francisco somewhere north. Then, after quite some time going, I at last come to the grounds that must contain the Chao-dai Miao-Yu Compound. I have been driving along a wall for a couple of minutes, and when I stop my car in front of an impressive gate, I realize that the garden, if you could call it that, must be a huge one.
The gate opens only a short moment after my arrival (I take it they have cameras installed), and because nobody has turned up yet, I drive inside. The drive is well-lit, but bordered by high shrubs, so that I can’t make out whatever might lie behind them. I shiver, and I don’t know if it’s the night air or the strangeness of the situation that chills me. Then the drive opens to the building I had seen from afar, and it looks even more impressive close up. Sean had also called it Chao-dai’s Manor House. To me, it looks more like a big monastery in a widespread area of which I can’t fathom the outer limits while it’s dark.
The impression of a monastery is confirmed when the front door opens and a monk-like person comes to stand in front of my car. The only thing that makes even this not so reassuring is the fact that the monk wears black. My brain catches up with my feelings once more, and in a flash I grow aware that this is a monastery where I am supposed to learn sword fighting, and this guy looks very much like he’s just jumped out of some Ninja movie, and the way he moves shows that he has a special personal relationship with every single muscle in his body. At least, he’s not bald. He is, in fact, kind of good looking, if but a bit sinister in the way he looks at me. And he doesn’t look Asiatic at all, more like a tall Roman. What a nose. I feel like I’m in a movie. Maybe not Ninja Turtles, but Robin Hood?
Before I can go on musing about the situation I’m in and the movies I’ve seen, he addresses me thus: "I am Chao-dai. You are Callum McKay. Welcome." His voice seems to reverberate from the monastery walls; the fragile state I’m in right now, it is just a bit too rich for my taste. And it’s not that he speaks with an accent, thinking about it; no, it’s more like the voice itself being accented by something… darker. He stands there, smiling at me, and then, just for a glimpse, I can see it: apart from the quickening, which has a full spectrum and sounds a bit like reverberating laughter, there is something about this guy, some kind of raw aura, huge and sinister, calling for respect even in a brat like me. Instinctively, I duck slightly, and the image is gone.
"You're a bright boy, Callum McKay," Chao-dai says, but he does not smile any more. "That's a start. But know that brightness isn’t everything."
I want to answer something smart, but he raises his hand imploringly, and all I can stutter is, "Good evening, Master Chao-dai."
It’s obviously the right thing to say, for the smile is back, with those sarcastically turned down corners of his mouth, and he motions me in. I follow him into the house, down a long passage and into a big room, something like a common room, I suppose. It is sparsely furnished, just like you would expect in a monastery, with a long dark wooden table and four dozens of chairs. Chao-dai takes a seat and gestures me to sit by his side. I feel warm now, and although I can see no one else but us, it is as if quite a lot of people are close by, watching us; but not like the Nosferatu use to do, more in a family-style fashion. I am the new one, and everybody is curious to catch a glimpse of me. Feeling a bit hesitant, I remain standing.
Now I wonder whether Chao-dai really is one of us, because I’ve never had this head-ache-like sensation I learned about when I met Marcos. It was rather the impression of a quickening slowly creeping up into my consciousness without hurting, yet also without stopping. Chao-dai seems to read my thoughts and inclines his head, explaining: "I'm not one of your average immortals. The Gods alone know how I let myself be talked into this, but I'm your teacher from now on, and I'm quite qualified. I know that Sean has not told you everything, for he has sworn an oath, and so will you, in due course."
Not without quite some nervousness, I hastily agree that I will give whatever oath is required, and Chao-dai accepts this, laughing. "Oh yes, clever boy, you are just dying to know all about me, like you do with everybody. But knowing about what or who I am will not mean knowing about me, rest assured, and don’t you dare think that your little mind will ever comprehend the complexity of our existence. Not until you have a few thousand years under your belt."
Again, I can only utter some polite words of agreement, and, man, the guy has a talent to stare people down. And he goes on with his sermon: "Now swear. Swear never to speak to anyone about what you’ll learn from me. Swear allegiance to me, and swear before the gods you believe in. And know that breaking your oath will end your existence."
All I can say is, "I swear." Then I wait a while until my breathing evens out again before adding, "Excuse me, Master Chao-dai, but what exactly is the secret I will have to keep?"
"Ah, clever boy, isn’t it what Sean told you more than once? That your curiosity will kill you one time? But, see this."
And out of a sudden, I am not alone any more. I am suddenly surrounded by others, all clad in black, sitting around the long table as if they’ve been sitting there all the time. I still don’t know how they do it, but they seem to enjoy this greatly, and they laugh, and only then I also see that most of them are hardly older than adolescents. Chao-dai seems to read my thoughts again, but this time I am wise enough not to comment on what I see.
And then the headache comes. It is only for a moment, but it is even stronger than that which Marcos had caused, and I plump down in one of the few free chairs before my legs turn to pudding. "How on earth do you do that?" I dare ask, and before his gold-green eyes meet mine, I know that here’s another question that will go unanswered.
Accompanied by some of monks (that’s how he calls them), the master himself shows me around the premises, chatting lightly, and finally takes me to the front door again. When he faces me to say good-bye, I can’t keep myself from bowing slightly, and he smiles at my effort. This gives me enough courage to finally ask him what he has in mind for me. He nods graciously and answers, "Clever boy, you have already learned a little bit about our ways, and up to now you’ve done quite well. Come round here again, and come as often as you can, and then, maybe, you will also learn how to hold a sword and how to use it. It will be hard work. It would be best for you to give up whatever little tasks you have and spend at least some weeks in staying and training with us."
I want to reply that this will be impossible, as things stand, with the ward and the house and Daedalus, not necessarily in that order, but I can’t say any of this, because he has obviously already anticipated that, too, declaring: "Yes, yes, everything is always sooo important, isn't it. There is nothing more important than your life, Callum McKay! Remember that, because once you come to realize it the hard way, it will be too late. It is your fate, clever boy, to stay alive, and when it comes to a fight, no one, not even the mightiest in this city, will be able to assist you. Come back and learn! Think about it!"
With this, he turns on his heel and disappears inside the house, pulling the door closed behind him. I sit down in my car, dumbfounded. The things I’ve seen… The things I’ve heard… In contrast to Marcos, this guy obviously used the time he’s been living to gather all the technical gadgets that can be found on earth, and to establish something quite close to a science fiction surrounding, betraying the eye, fading people in and out of one’s vision. I am no human being any longer, and if I can trust my eyes, or at least my inner eye, we are not even close to being human once we’ve grown older, like Chao-dai, who is definitely old, if not one of the oldest... And he will be my teacher now.
I can’t believe it. I will learn how to fight with a sword. I’ll have to drive here at least every other night or morning, and I promised him and I promised myself that I will. Looking back to the house, it doesn’t seem so uncanny any more, no, actually, it looks quite inviting. Maybe that’s what Sean meant when he said, they are harmonizing in a very special way. There is something intrinsically good about them all, apart from their uncanny abilities; something that tells me not to fear them, and to trust in Chao-dai.