For Disclaimer see Chapter 1
I enter my haven via the sewer entrance, still clad in the cloak I retrieved from the emergency cache. Leaving my own clothes with Callum was deliberate. I don't expect to ever wear them again.
My gaze travels through my haven, falling upon the unfinished paintings that now will remain so, the alchemical equipment that will, hopefully, fall in worthy hands. My affairs are far from in order; I have to hope that Julian will grant me a little time to remedy this, and to attend to Clan business. No, more than just a little time will be required, I realize. I'll have to recommend my successor – Frederick -; I'll have to pass on pertinent information, grant access to my computer files, and those are only the most immediate things necessary to make the transition go smoothly.
Suddenly, a wave of some raw emotion rolls over me; I close my eyes against its battering as I realize that I don't want to perish. Final Death is justly deserved, but still... I want to see the house finished, to see Callum happy, to spend more time with him...
Time. After centuries of unlife, just when I finally found happiness, my time has suddenly run out.
With a growl, I tear myself away, away from my haven and from my thoughts. My mind a careful blank, I pick my way through the mansion and into Julian's study.
He's sitting behind his desk, the way he did hundreds of times before when I came to see him to talk about Kindred business, or to share a glass of wine and his company. Another thing that will never happen again -
No. Don't think.
"Julian. I present myself to you for punishment." My voice sounds flat to my own ears, which is strange considering the turmoil in my heart.
He looks up. His eyes widen slightly, probably at my unusual attire, but he doesn't comment on it. "For what reason?" he asks, sounding less surprised than I expected.
"I killed a mortal."
Again, remarkably little reaction. "Did I know him?"
"Indeed, you did. You do. Callum McKay."
"Callum. I see." Is it because he always suspected something like this might happen? That I'd turn into something that can't be trusted? "Where is he now?" he asks as if inquiring about the weather.
I'd feel better if he showed his anger, his disappointment. He must be disappointed, surely. Why doesn't he at least shout at me? "In the hospital. He has revived. Nevertheless, I killed him."
"I presume he’s well." He smiles as if at some private joke.
I stare at him. He's smiling. "Yes," I answer his question stiffly. He really thinks it's funny that I did my level best to kill the man I love.
"You killed him," he goes on. "Like I did…"
"It is hardly the same thing," I grate out. "I killed him while feeding on him. I didn’t stop in time."
"This has never happened to you before."
Now, he's beginning to understand. I'm changing, Julian. I'm turning into the Beast. "Not for a very long time. With your permission I’ll go to the Prison of Light immediately."
He looks at me with an expression I've seen so often before – he's reached a decision. "Yes, you will go there. But not at once." Leaving me wondering what he's up to, he rises and comes to me. "Daedalus, what on earth has gotten into you?"
I frown. For a dressing-down, that sounded very half-hearted. I've seen Julian and the tongue-lashings he's capable of. This was hardly a slap to the back of my hand. "I lost control. It is inexcusable."
"Right. As I recall, Callum can have that effect... So, you were overwhelmed by the Beast."
"Yes," I force out, still wondering where he's going with this. Surely, the matter is clear enough.
"Pity." He stares at me, but his expression still is not as stern as the occasion seems to demand.
Once more, I can only stare at him in silence.
"I understand the existence of the Beast in us as a challenge, not as something to flee from," Julian begins.
"I am not fleeing. I'm merely assuming responsibility."
"That you will. Now, this will be your punishment: You will spend three days and nights in the prison of light."
It actually takes me a second to process the fact that he's not sentencing me to Final Death. "Why are you being so lenient?"
He steps up to me. "There are two reasons for this. The city needs you. And I need you, too."
Speechless, I stare at him. True, we've always been honest about the things that pertain to us, about our relationship and the complicated tangle of debts, real or imagined, behind it. But I never would have expected Julian to go so far as to cite our friendship as a reason to spare me a fate I justly deserve.
I'm the enforcer of this city. I, more than anyone else, must abide by the Prince's laws. I'm the last Kindred who should be shown lenience, because I wield the Prince's sword. If I'm not checked, the law is in danger.
And yet, there is at least one authority higher than mine. If Julian deems me worthy of continued existence, who am I to gainsay him?
Trying not to look too closely at the motivations at work here, I accustom myself to the fact that I'm going to survive this night after all. And strangely, the first thought I have is that Callum, and Frederick, will be pleased.
"Thank you, Julian," I say gratefully. "I am in your debt."
He returns my regard with the steadfast manner I've come to know from him. "Not by a long shot." Then, reminding me that even though I'm not going to be facing the daylight, this is not yet over, he adds with a smile, "Off you go."
And, gathering the cloak around me, I incline my head to the man who now owns my existence, even though he doesn't realize it, and I head towards the Prison of Light.
It will certainly take a while for me to truly believe that I deserve this mercy.
"How is he?" Marcos asks casually while fiddling with the wine bottle. He behaves as if he is the host and I the guest, and for the moment, I enjoy being served. I am sitting on my sofa, watching him move through my office, holding the glasses and the bottle. He puts them on the table in front of me, sits down next to me and pours the wine into the glasses. I lean back and stretch and look around, realizing that it has indeed been a long time since I’ve been sitting here without any special task, a long time since I’ve had the chance to just be. Marcos might officially be my patient, but we both know that he isn’t any more. I go as far as to regard him as my friend, and I feel honoured and welcome at the same time that he allows me to do so. Whatever our relationship might be, he can make people feel comfortable by just being there.
Meanwhile, Daniel sits at my desk, deeply involved in painting some complicated hieroglyph pattern. He had asked if he could join us the next time we met, and I didn’t find any excuse not to comply with his request, for I can’t keep any secrets from him, at least not the ones concerning his future. Now, hearing Marcos ask the question, he looks up.
How is he? I feel that I am being scrutinized by two utterly different pairs of eyes, and yet, they share one interest: The fate of our mutual friend, Daedalus. I have to disappoint them, though. "I don’t know. The only thing Julian told me is, that he is being punished but won’t die in the process."
At that, Marcos gives a slight nod. I take it he knows enough about the multifarious forms of punishment for immortals or un-dead or whatever and doesn’t need any further comment. Daniel, though, won’t be as easily fobbed off. "But you have to inquire, Callum. You must know how he’s doing."
I feel guilty. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind. But unlike other instances, I am quite cowardly in this one, so I reply truthfully: "I’m just not sure if it’s my concern when the Prince of the City has ordered someone to be punished, you know. Like, maybe he doesn’t want to see me, maybe they won’t even tell me where he is. All I know is, he won’t be back before Friday. But I do hope he’ll be back then."
Daniel doesn’t lower his glance, and if he goes on like that he will see the opposite wall through me in a second or two. "You must."
"I know." I suppress yet another sigh, then feel Marcos’ hand on my shoulder. Great Gods, it’s good to feel this one warm hand. The slight squeeze is enough to stabilize me in my momentary depression upsurge, and I force a smile. "I’ll try. Maybe I’ll find something in his Haven. Or someone…"
This seems to comfort Daniel somewhat, and he turns to work on his painting again. Marcos answers my smile and lifts his glass. "Take your own time, boy. Nobody forces you to go there at once. Have a glass of wine, then go. Gia sou."
Calmed by his kind voice and gesture, I cheer back and drink my wine, but I can’t relax much longer. Now that it’s been said, I will have to go to Daedalus, find out what’s happening to him, before I find peace.
On entering the gate-house, I can sense somebody’s presence. Maybe my Daedalus is home, after all, and his punishment has been postponed or similar. I approach the steps that lead to the cellar, and, following the inexplicable urge to say something silly, shout: "Honey, are you home?"
Instead of an answer, I hear a drawer being shut. That can’t be Daedalus. He would have answered immediately. Or would he? I shout again: "Anybody there?" And when I hear the rustle of soft soles, I add: "Is it you, Freddy?"
Finally, Frederick’s head appears at the bottom of the steps, and his voice rasps: "Oh, hey Doc."
I bend over the railing. "Can I come down?"
"Dunno. Can you?"
"Funny." Taking this as a yes, I go down the stairs. "Where’s the master of the house?"
Frederick looks at me as if I’ve asked about something secret, then mumbles: "He’s… uhm…not here. Won’t be for some time, either."
This worries me. "But he’ll be back?" I think of what Julian told me.
"Sure. In three nights."
"So…" I smile with relief. "The number three always bears mystery…"
"Dunno. Does it?" Oh yes, one of those special looks Freddy can give me, this one especially dumb, as if he didn’t grasp the meaning of my words. I am convinced, though, that he did, but if he still wants to play this game with me, I’ll happily play along.
I smile at him. "I bet it does. It’s his punishment, I suppose."
"And you are here to look after his things, huh?" I inquire sharply, trying to provoke him just a little bit.
"I am his second." And he starts fidgeting, just the way I hoped he would. "I’m supposed to… stand in."
Encouraged, I dare a bit more, grinning. "In any regard?"
"Sure. Only I’m not sure you’d like that. Or the boss…"
And again, Frederick is just too cool for me. I give up. "Just kidding. But, in fact, I do like you, Freddy."
"Cool," he rasps, and the look he gives me could almost be called warm. "Hey, wanna glass of wine?"
"Sure, thanks." Why not another one? I had planned on getting drunk tonight, anyway. "Can I see him?"
"Why not? Everybody else does."
I hadn’t reckoned on something like that. So, he is somewhere where everybody can see him, probably some kind of pillory! The thought of it alone makes me feel sick, and I couldn’t bear seeing him in this state. I gulp down the bile that tried to crawl up and manage to say: "Nearby, I presume."
"Yep." Frederick opens a wine bottle he has found somewhere and pours a glass for me, then takes a coke bottle from his rucksack.
I try to distract myself from the ghastly image of my Daedalus sitting or standing in some kind of stocks, being watched and yelled at by the others. I concentrate on Freddy and his coke. "I have to bear this in mind… To keep an amount of coke in the fridge once we’ve moved to the new house." Yes, the house. Our house.
Freddy looks from the coke to my glass. "Hey, you’d rather wanna coke? I can share, you know."
This makes me smile again. "No, thanks. I meant, for the guests. For you."
The little Nosferatu looks at me from his big black eyes, the meaning of my words slowly sinking in. "I’m a guest? Cool!"
"You will be, my dear." Of course he will be. And we will have a lot of guests. In our house. Of course.
While I feel tears rising, I watch a joyful Freddy taking a swig of coke, then sneezing heartily. "Gonna be the work force first, though."
It is as if he can read my mind. I turn away from him so that I can blink away my tears, and as my eyes clear somewhat again, I detect the drawings of the house and garden on Daedalus’ desk. "I see. I didn’t realize that his planning went that far already." The fact that he didn’t throw them away leaves at least a small chance for us to proceed, after all.
"You should see the drawings for the sewer access," Freddy puts in. "That’s complicated."
"From the house? Wow." It’s all I can do to not get a hysterical fit right here and now.
Frederick seems to ignore this, though. "Well… We gotta get in and out somehow."
"You know, it sounds strange, but that makes me feel rather… well-guarded, indeed," I form my last thoughts into words, and the short inner hysteria turns into utter joy. He will protect me. And I will do the same for him. And everything will be fine. I realize that I have to sit down.
Freddy grins as if he knows exactly what is going on. I am so stirred at that the tears come up on cue. There, his grin fades, and he looks concerned. "Hey, what’s the matter?"
"Nothing," I lie.
"He’s gonna be out again before you know it." His rasping voice sounds comforting, but the content won’t calm me down, though.
"Sure," I lie again. "It’s just… a bit much, all that… I’m sorry, I can’t tell you – before you ask."
Frederick looks at me and frowns, which makes his face look even more alien-like. "I only wanted to ask you if you want a hug."
"That a yes?"
"Aye." I take him in my arms, as if it’s the most natural thing to do. Then I feel that the feelings are finally overwhelming me, and in spite of all that lovvie-huggie stuff I don’t want to cry in front of him, though. "I’ve gotta go."
Frederick lets go at once. "Sure thing, Doc."
I would like to turn and say thank you, but I know my voice would carry the sadness that has taken control of me, and I don’t want him to react to that. So, instead of saying good-bye I simply run up the stairs and hurry to my car. I could go to Julian. He would understand. What is more, he might be going through similar stages of emotion. But I can’t talk to him now. It’s as if the whole world has gone a-tumble, I can hardly see the street, my eyes burning, yet the tears won’t come. And I simply go on and on, driving into the night, until I realize that I’ve not taken the way to the hospital, nor to the house, but I’m driving to Chao-dai’s mansion once more.
Strange enough, the old man is waiting for me by the entrance. But I don’t want to think about what he is going to say, I stop the car and drag my weary body out and stumble towards him. This time he doesn’t make fun of me, but he puts his arm around me instead and guides me into the hall. All the others are there, too, and after all this, I think, funny, it’s such a big hall, and yet it reminds me so much of my grandmother’s place, the fireplace, the benches, the old wooden table. And I feel I’m home again, no need to restrain myself any more, and finally I let go.
I stand motionless, staring into the eyes of a Brujah come to humiliate me.
The Prison of Light is a marvellous invention. Its walls are invisible, intangible, and yet a Kindred can't leave unless the strong sunlight generators in the ceiling are turned off. No bars, which means the prisoner is exposed to the sight of all who come to gloat. The resulting humiliation is as much – if not more – punishment than the imprisonment itself. It's common practice to not only gloat, but throw rotting produce at the prisoner until he, or she, and the entire cell are turned into a stinking garbage heap.
So far, nothing like that has happened, which is strange. The crime I've committed is indisputable, and I still hold that I deserve Final Death. Therefore, I'm meeting the stares of everyone who came here instead of withdrawing into the comfort and seclusion of meditation. This is supposed to be a punishment, however light, and I will not evade any scornful stares, words, or leguminous projectiles, if they come. Which, strangely, they haven't.
Even my current visitor is curiously silent. If anything, he's sporting an expression of inner turmoil, I might even go so far as to call it bad conscience. No derisions, no taunts, just a silent staring. After a moment, the Brujah turns to go without having uttered a single word, and I am left alone again.
Of course, my chief accuser has yet to make an appearance.
I don't doubt that Julian would let Callum come here, if my love chose to visit me here. The Masquerade is meaningless in his case, so there's no reason to keep knowledge of this place from Callum. And if I'm ever to face him again without shame, I need absolution from him. I killed him. He's the one who has to first comprehend the severity of my crime, and then to forgive me based on that. No matter that he may have provoked me, and no matter even that he may have wished to die a temporary death in this manner.
I need to explain. The fight of Man against Beast taking place in every Kindred's soul is something he has to understand if he wants to spend time with me and share my existence. He has to understand that, and why I need to be punished, and to be forgiven eventually. But he's the only one who can do that for me.
Julian's decree has been imprisonment for three days and nights. But I'll stay here until Callum has truly forgiven me.
After my little nervous breakdown, I am slowly recovering by the fireplace at Chao-dai’s main hall, surrounded by a handful of little monks, who are watching me full of concern, caring for me with kind words and hot chocolate. They had caught me before I fell, guided me to the next armchair, comforted me through the fit until it was over. It must be long after midnight now, and I feel tired. But as long as we’re here, I am not inclined to make any move to go elsewhere; I feel so protected, so very well cared for.
A soft deep voice wakes me up from my musings, and it is the master himself speaking to me. "So,” Chao-dai says. “Maybe now you’ll get it through that thick Scottish skull of yours that you can’t avoid doing what needs to be done. Believe me, putting your head in the sand will only get you kicked in the ass. I’ll expect you for our first training session. Tomorrow." And with a smirk that, strangely enough, pulls the corners of his mouth down instead of up, he adds, "At dawn."
"What do you mean?" I ask. "And why am I here? I don’t understand. What do you have to do with me?"
Chao-dai smiles that enigmatic smile of his. "I've done nothing,” he says. “Well, actually I did a whole slew of things, but none of them concern you. All joking aside, you are very important: to us, to Daniel Jackson, to the vampires. You have some rare abilities that make you special, and as much as I'd like to take the credit for them, you did it all by yourself."
Totally confused now, I stare at him, but before I can say anything he continues.
"Yes, Callum McKay, you are not mistaken. What you saw in the boy, what you saw in Marcos and me, is correct. This is what has to be done. Daniel is the one to be protected, the lynchpin round which everything resolves. But you are the one in charge, the centre, the eye of the hurricane, to go on waxing lyrical for a bit.
But before you start to preen about being special, there's a catch. Of course, there always is one. You are important, so you need to act the part. And just now, you didn't. You screwed up. You fucked up royally. And I think you know what I'm talking about. This, simply put, is how it is: the world needs Daniel Jackson, Daniel Jackson needs you, and you need Daedalus. So of course, what did you go and do? Endanger Daedalus. Dominoes. Click, click, click, click, boom. End of world. And all for a little fuck. You should be ashamed of yourself!"
I look at him, eyes wide open, trying to make sense of what he said. Slowly, the parts of this strange jigsaw fall in place, one by one, and after finishing the processing of circumstances, as much as I manage at this time of day, I grow aware of what a brat I am. My face suddenly feeling hot, I jump up from my chair, and I would probably have left the room, had Chao-dai not raised his hand to stop me.
"Before you run too fast and fall flat on your face, McKay, a word from the wise one: Don't run with scissors. Think twice before you act. Your previous method of conversation isn’t wrong, but there’s more to it now. I guess you now have an inkling of what's at stake here. Play your role well. Now go."
Driven by a guilty conscience, I hurry back to Julian’s place. Like the times before, his butler sees me to the office, and lucky enough, I find Julian at his desk. He looks up with an astounded expression. "Callum. I didn’t expect you to come."
"Neither did I," I answer dully. "But I had to come. I must see Daedalus, and if possible, at once."
Julian gets up from his chair, walks up to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. "Of course. I see. In that case I’ll show you the way." He walks a few steps in front of me, then adds, talking over his shoulder, "Has Frederick told you about the prison of light?"
I catch up with him. "No, he hasn’t. Is that where he has to stay for three nights?"
Julian nods. "It is on my premises. Just follow me."
We walk in unison without any further exchange until we come to what looks like garden pavilion at first glance. At second, though, it is a small fortress, with a secured door opening to a staircase that leads into a cellar. The second door, also secured by a complicated code, opens to a long corridor, at the end of which is a single cell. Julian remains standing by this door and gestures me to go on. Before I come closer, I recognize that this cell must be secured by something else than bars, and knowing who is sitting inside, I hesitate approaching it.
Had the idea of a pillory been bad enough, the real image is like a kind of nightmare I’m stepping into. So, that’s what the Prison of Light looks like: a bare cell, not even a bench or a stool, raw grey walls that talk of despair, a stench of rotten garbage in the air, and the front walls missing, so that there is no privacy. Instead of the walls, there have been installed light lines in the floor and ceiling that radiate a bluish light reminding me of tanning booths, and I realize, great gods, this is the light that can kill them. My Daedalus is standing there upright as ever, lit by this strange light, his chin high, his stare steady. I could be proud of him, if I saw him like this under different circumstances. Now, though, I only feel a pang of guilt.
He stares at me as if he doesn’t know me, first, then suddenly he seems to recognize me, and his gaze softens.
I must have slipped into a state of light meditation despite myself, and when I come to my full senses, Callum stands before me. For a moment, I can't speak. Relief and shame fill my heart in equal measure. So. This is the moment when I face my accuser, and, hopefully, my absolver. "Callum." My voice is steady and clear despite hours of non-use.
His manner, however, is not that of someone come to rake me over the coals. Instead, he appears shy and subdued. "Hey, hi," he says, sighing a little. "Nice little cell." Unlike mine, his voice is hoarse, and he stops to clear his throat.
Feeling the need to put him at ease, I fall back on the commonplace. "It is good to see you." Which is not only small talk, but patently true.
"Yuh, same here." His voice is still hoarse, and I can't help but notice that he's shaking a little.
"Are you all right?" I ask, concerned. Maybe he's still feeling some after-effect. Maybe he couldn't completely recover from my attempt to kill him after all.
I smile tightly. He doesn't have to tell me anything, of course. Maybe I've forfeited that right on top of everything else. With a sinking feeling, I realize that I may have destroyed more than I thought. He may have survived my attempt to kill him, but maybe his trust in me has not. He's seen my inner Beast now. This may be the end of us...
"I... I came here to see you, yunno," his soft voice interrupts my thoughts.
I look at him bleakly. "Yes." Go ahead, I add silently. Go ahead and tell me that it's over. It's no less than I deserve.
But his words, when they come, are not what I expected. "To tell you… that I… kinda miss you… If that makes any difference to you."
Despite the relief I feel, it's time now to bring it out in the open. He must be made to understand. "Callum. There is something I must explain to you. I don’t know if I can find the words. Do you know why I am here?"
"Yuh, sure. I know. I fucked things up."
How can he think that? "I am here because of my crime," I say stiffly. "If it were your fault, you would be punished, not me."
He nods. "I know. You fucked things up, too. But it is my fault, at least partly, and I guess I’m a lucky guy that I don’t fall under Julian’s jurisdiction."
"You’re a lucky guy because you could survive what I did to you. And because I did what I did to you, I am now in the prison of light. Do you understand?" It's vital that he does. As long as he blames himself, he can't truly absolve me. He'd need me to absolve him, too, and I'm not sure I'm entitled to do that.
"Yes, yes, I do," Callum says quickly. "Julian told me you’ll stay here for three days and nights. But I’ve been talking to someone else, too…"
"Anyone I know?"
At that, he grows nervous. "Yuh, kinda."
I look at him, waiting.
"Chao-dai," he finally admits.
"I see.” Thinking back to my own encounter with the mysterious immortal, I realize how remiss I've been in my duties. A name, a place of residence – that's all I have on Chao-dai. No information on how he earns his livelihood nor on the aliases he might have used before. And only speculation regarding his age. Shaking my head slightly at myself, I resolve to remedy that at the first opportunity. “And what did he tell you?"
"That I was right. That it was indeed my fault, too. Not entirely, but I have my share. It’s because of him that I’m here."
"Then I am grateful to him." I abandon this line of reasoning and resolve to come clear. "We can discuss who’s at fault for as long as we please, the fact remains that I have committed the greater crime. Callum, I ask your forgiveness."
Callum looks at me, and then he steps through the line of artificial sunlight into my cell, easily crossing a barrier that would harm me severely if I attempted the same thing. And then, my transcender puts his arms around me, giving me back my right to exist with a gesture and a few simple words. "Of course I forgive you."
He kisses me, and I can feel the lifting of a weight whose full impact I realize only now that it's gone. The tension drains out of me like water. I put my own arms around him and bury my face in his shoulder.
"If I could, I’d stay here with you," he says softly. "But I can’t, because of the children. What is more, it would be a bit childish, I guess."
I can feel myself smiling. It's a good feeling. "It would also defeat the point of this imprisonment."
"But I had to give my word that I won’t provoke you again. Never ever."
I close my eyes in relief. So, both of us will walk away from this experience a little wiser, and stronger for having lived through it. That's all one can possibly ask of oneself. "I would like to give you my word that I would never let myself…"
He doesn't let me finish. "No, don’t. That’s also childish. We both know that. I’ve seen what you are now. And I love that part of you, too. I just do."
I stare at him. Where does he take this strength from? It took me many decades to even begin to accept that the Beast was now a part of me, and I didn't have to fear for my own existence because of it. Callum not only doesn't fear me, he likes me and the Beast in me.
Maybe, one night I'll be able to do the same thing. It would bring me one step closer to final redemption, and maybe even to Golconda. Maybe, with Callum's help, I, too, can find that strength.
I had my first sword fighting lesson today, and there is not one muscle in my body I cannot feel now. After four hours of sleep, I drag myself out of bed, dress after a quick shower and go to look after Daniel. He was the one most worried about Daedalus yesterday, and he shall be the first to learn about the good news. After our conversation last night, my heart is singing with merriment and new hope that my future with Daedalus won’t stay a dream. These things are meant to try us - and give the foundation of our friendship a new storey.
Well, now I am coming to see wonder-boy Daniel in a completely new light. Or will I? Upon entering his room, I see the same little boy in front of me, maybe just a bit more weighed down by the virtual burden others will make him carry. Feeling the tiredness of nights and nights without enough sleep deep in my bones, I had hoped to sit down by his side, but no, he runs into my arms before I can even close the door behind me.
"Have you seen Daedalus? How is he? When will he come back?"
I smile weakly at this gunfire of questions, and answer: "Soon, Daniel. Real soon."
"But is he okay?" Daniel looks at me with open concern.
A child’s imagination can reach much further than reality ever achieves, and I can’t afford having him fall back into anything close to a depression. Hence, I refrain from explaining the details, but instead I embrace him silently. "Yes, he is. Very much so."
"That’s good," he says in his inimitable precocious yet non-arrogant way. "I was a little worried." Next thing, his big intelligent eyes scrutinize me over the rim of his glasses. "And how are you? You look pale."
I force another smile, thanking him in my thoughts for being such an astute observer. "I’m fine, Danny. I might be pale, but I can’t be killed that easily." My own words remind me of what I am, and what is more, of what Chao-dai told me. I must be going great guns, no matter how I feel. The fate of the world may depend on it. The thought makes me grin. "Don’t you worry, little man. Everything’s gonna be all right." Danny frowns. I try to distract him. "What are you working on lately?"
Talking about his ‘work’ always brings him back in line. After a little thinking, he says: "Uhm… Chao-dai brought me a book on Sumerian cuneiform. I’m trying to learn it. But it’s… quite difficult."
"Cuneiform. Sumerian. I see."
"Was spoken by the Sumerians, and the Assyrians used the same alphabet. When you can read this language, you can understand all the Semitic languages. That and ancient Egyptian, and you are set."
I close my eyes and sigh. Listening to Daniel’s babbling again, I realize that what Chao-dai told me was probably right; or at least, close to the truth. This boy could be saving the world, merely by boring alien attackers to death. I also realize that I’m being highly unjust and that my musings are probably due to my lack of sleep, and I present an especially warm smile for this one. "That’s… really fascinating, Daniel."
The boy scrutinizes me. "Yes I know I’m boring you again. But it really is fascinating. You know, the…"
And so on and so forth. I’m listening to him, feigning interest. But what interests me more is, if Daniel will ever be a child. Suddenly, I have an idea. I hold up my hands to stop Daniel from rattling on. "Hey, Daniel. Could you hold your thought for a moment?"
"All of them."
He pouts. "Oh. Okay."
I jump up, clapping my hands together. "Come on, Danny, we’re going for a walk."
He looks at me in surprise, but gets up from his chair, too. "Okay."
I hurry to fetch his and my jacket, then take him by the hand and lead him out of the hospital. I know a huge playground nearby, where they have a pirate ship and a cable slide. Some other children are playing there, too. When we approach the site, I see the look in Daniel’s eyes and squat down in front of him. "Daniel, listen to me now. You do what I tell you, and everything’s gonna be just fine. Okay?"
He smiles his precocious smile again. "Depends on what you tell me."
"Yes, that’s true," I answer, laughing. "But you know something? I know you well enough to guess that you’re feeling a bit self-conscious right now. Could that be the case?"
I have come to know this boy enough to be able to translate his language into mine, too. When he says he’s fine, it always means trouble. And this is what I answer to, ignoring the original meaning of the words. "Right. That’s why I thought of a bit of… coaching."
"I’m not very good at sports."
"Sure. But you’re good at talking."
He looks at me suspiciously, and I am sure he won’t be lured anywhere, once he’s on the right track. That’s why I come out with it. "Talking involves playing roles."
"That’s right." Daniel’s apprehensiveness turns into awe. "I never thought about it that way. You’re really clever, Callum."
Smiling at his jovial way of putting it, I salute. "Thank you very much, sir. So. What I wish you to do is the following… You will play the role of an eight year old boy now. Behave dumb and silly. Be a rogue. Play with the other dimwits."
"That doesn’t sound like much fun." Daniel’s hopes go obviously down again.
I go on talking, trying to make a big mystery of my plans. "But it will be, Daniel, if you keep one thing in mind…"
"What’s that?" Ah. His interest is awakened again. Genuine scientist, if you ask me.
"It’s the magical key to all your future enterprises…" I can literally hear the drumroll.
"The scientific approach," I exclaim. "Just imagine, you’re learning from the basal objects. You will be able to collect data while applying them at the same time." I wiggle my eyebrows dramatically, at the same time feeling a slightly bad conscience for talking like this about other children. Anyway, what harm could ever be done to this boy, it was done a long time ago.
"You want me to research small children?"
"Uh, yes," I reply, and detecting the first signs of doubt in his little face, I add "… and to try to intermingle with them as inconspicuously as possible."
"But I am a small child."
Now I straighten up and play my last trump card. "Right. Have a go then, small child." When I see the look in his eyes, I can’t suppress a grin.
Daniel shows that he knows he’s been taken in, but he can’t figure out exactly how I did it. Reluctantly, he goes to the other children, trying to imitate them first, then forgetting about his resolution and finally coming to be just the little boy he is. Watching them play, I feel an almost fatherly pride. But Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel if he did not manage to make all the other children play by his rules, one after another, and they all end up playing archaeologists in the sandpit.
When I approach them at last, because it is high time to go back to the hospital and look after the other little patients, Daniel retorts without even looking up at me: "This is a very delicate part of the extraction process of the mummy right now. We can’t go home now, it’s impossible. Dr Smith, please explain this to him."
On cue, the plump little boy addressed as ‘Dr Smith’ says, "But mom said I can stay till noon, its only ten now."
I smile at them, then try to look really serious and retort solemnly, "Emergency call for Dr Jackson."
This makes Daniel look up. "Emergency? Urgent artefacts need translating." He looks at ‘Dr Smith' and glumly states, "I’m sorry, Dr Smith, I have to go now."
On our way home, I grin and softly pat Daniel on the back. "Urgent breakfast needs to be eaten, young man."
He stops in his tracks and looks up in surprise. "I gave up the mummy for eating? That won’t work a second time."
"Right, I know," I answer. "But it worked nicely for the others, and I helped you save face. What is more, if it takes you longer than an hour next time, I’ll just come there, play your father and carry you away." In spite of the fact that I would really do that, I wink as if I just made a joke.
Daniel, though, seems to take it seriously. "An hour and a half."
"You’ve been living in the Near East for too long, Daniel," I reply, urging him to go on.
"I know." He speaks with a foreign accent now. "An hour and a half. I have ten small children and a sick wife."
"Yeah, sure. And I’m the ghost from the bottle. That’s what you call authority." Under different circumstances, I would have thought it funny to go on playing, but I have spent enough time with him, and even if it hurts me, I must make it clear that I am still in charge. Daniel mutters something under his breath, but although the words are – as far as I can tell – Egyptian, I gather their meaning easily and retort: "And don’t start that anti-patronizing mutter, Daniel Jackson."
He pouts, looking up at me while hopping alongside. "An hour and a half."
At that, I only laugh and kindly slap the back of his head.
"That a yes?"
"Shut up, Daniel."
"Okay, but can I have baklava for breakfast?"
"No bargaining, little man. Next date for bargaining will be tomorrow, same time."
He makes me laugh again, and I’m feeling really good right now. The rattle goes on until ‘Dr Jackson’ is shut up by a huge portion of corn flakes, while I hurry to tend to the other little souls.
It's the first night of my new life following my stay in the Prison of Light, so I've resolved to spend most of it at the place where this new life will take place – Callum's house.
Even though I've been here several times before, I'm again struck with how beautiful the house is, and I can quite understand Callum's infatuation with it. To be honest, I'm a little in love with it myself. But somehow, I've never before looked at it as a place where I'll be spending most of my nights and even my days. Never before have I considered making my haven in a normal mortal house, above ground. Caves, underground caverns, crypts, tunnels, sewers, even an underwater cave at one time have been what I called home. The basement of Julian's gatehouse is actually the closest I ever came to this, but that's still a basement, and my resting place is still underground.
Where will I rest? In the basement? Or on the first floor? Maybe even in the same room my Callum will sleep in, barricaded against the daylight? In a secret chamber somewhere?
It will be fun to decide on all that. Which room is going to be the living room? Where will Callum put his books, or I mine? I'd like to claim a part of the basement for storing my more horrific paintings, and for my alchemical experiments. Callum can have the attic all to himself if he wants to. There's so many rooms in this house that we'll be hard put to come up with uses for each of them.
I can't wait.
The lady who lived here last hasn't quite left yet, or, more accurately, her imprint has not yet faded. I can still scent her in the air, and I know that if I touched that lone picture over there on the wall, I'd see the last moment she touched it. A picture on the wall? Slowly, I walk over to it. It's a print of a building in Europe, probably a vacation memento, and someone must have forgotten it.
Steeling myself, I reach out and unhook it, doing my best to ignore the images that assail me. It's not my place. The knowledge doesn't belong to me. Holding the picture in my hands, I walk to a large cardboard box Callum must have brought here to collect the forgotten bric-a-brac, and I gently lay the picture inside.
"We'll take good care of your house," I say slowly, addressing her memory as much as the still very real traces of her I can sense. With a slight inclination of my head, I close the box.
But now it's time to become the architect. Armed with pencil and notebook, I slowly pick my way through the empty corridors and rooms once more, this time noting structural damage and estimating the amount of building materials I'll need. Most of that will of course go into the construction of the sewer access. The access tunnel will be more than a hundred yards in length, and I have a feeling that Frederick won't like me very much when I tell him that.
Oh well. He likes Callum. He'll grumble, but he'll do it. If he's clever, and I know that he is, he'll rope his brood-brother Skip into helping him, and then Gary will turn up too just to keep an eye on his childer. Between them, they'll be finished with the tunnel before I've managed to re-plant the garden.
Speaking of the garden... I step outside to take another look around. The last time I was here, I was rudely interrupted by the sound of Callum fighting for his life. Tonight, it's peaceful. The Gods have decided to grace me with clear skies and a waxing gibbous moon as I slowly walk through the overgrown yard. Closing my eyes, I enjoy the pale light on my face for a moment, grateful to be able to experience it once more, in spite of the crime I committed. In time, I may even come to remember what happened between Callum and me without feeling guilt. Say, a few centuries from now.
Weeds and small trees have taken over since the last time the garden was tended, but I can still discern the original design. A few cultivated plants and even some herbs have held out against the assault of untamed nature, their sweet scents soothing and beckoning. Removing my jacket and laying it over the branches of an evergreen, I roll up the sleeves of my shirt and kneel down in order to free a lavender from its encroaching neighbors, the moonlight warm on my back and casting everything in sharp relief.
While I free the plant, I look up now and then to stare at the garden, trying to see past its present state and imagining what it will look like when I'm finished with its design. I'll leave a few of the young trees, and the walkway will have to veer off to one side in order to lead past the ornamental pond I can practically see over there. Oh yes, and lots of roses over here, surrounding a sundial. Does Callum like sundials? I'll refrain from planting a labyrinth, even though I like the irony and the area is almost large enough to hold one, provided it's circular and small. But maybe a statue of a minotaur over there, with its hands holding a pot with a bonsai redwood in it, two symbols of contained power combined...
I haven't sculpted in so long that this idea instantly makes me want to return to my haven to begin. I even rise to my feet, brushing off the dirt on my hands and my pants, but then I stop myself, smiling a little. Surely the sculpting of figurines can wait until I've finished planting.
But while I'm up, I might as well have a look at this small rise next to that crop of opportunistic conifers. It looks artificial to me, and as I reach the top, I can see that it probably was indeed heaped up here in order to afford a better view over the Golden Gate. I'll clear it, and elevate it a little more, and then we'll have a bench and a small cast-iron table on top so we can drink wine and watch the ships as they move in and out. Maybe a Baobab tree to cast some shade if I can find one.
Several hours later, the sky is beginning to lighten, and my notebook is full of sketches and lists and my head full of dozens of more ideas that I'll put on paper when I return to my haven. A few dozen bushes and one or two young trees have been uprooted; my clothes are dirty and my talons have actually lost a bit of edge from being used as gardening utensils, and I haven't felt this happy in a long time.