Paradigms Lost — Chapter 35

Chapter 35: A Test of Trust

“Good evening, Master Jason.” Morgan said, opening the door.

“Evening, Morgan.” I answered, glancing around. There were still lots of pieces of clutter around from the work that was being done on the house. “Verne around?”

“He and Master Kafan are in the library at the moment, sir.”

I opened my mouth to ask who “Master Kafan” was, then remembered Verne calling Tai Lee Xiang “Raiakafan.” “Thanks, Morgan.”

“Your coats, sir, Lady Sylvia?”

Though impatient, I didn’t show any sign of our concern. Neither did Syl; we both knew that if it was a werewolf, any hint that we suspected it could be fatal.

The library was much neater than the other areas. I remembered that Verne pushed the contractors to finish that room first and to clean it up each day; he valued the library more than just about any other room, except naturally whatever room it was that he slept in during the day. Verne and Tai were sitting together, bent over what looked like an atlas, with other books scattered about the table. Both looked up as we entered.

“Jason!” Verne rose. “I did not expect you. And Lady Sylvie.” He took her hand and bowed deeply over it.

I felt slightly jealous as Syl developed a slight blush and thanked Verne for his courtesy. She used to be scared stiff of Verne, but that seemed to be a thing of the past now.

Tai nodded to me and stood up at a gesture from Verne. “Tai, please meet my good friend Sylvia Stake,” Verne said.

We’d hoped for a setup like this. As he reached out, his attention focused on Syl, I pulled my hand out of my pocket and flung what was in my hand at him.

Neither of us saw everything that happened; from Syl’s point of view Tai suddenly disappeared. I, on the other hand, saw a blur move toward me and felt myself lifted into the air and slammed into a wall so hard that breath left me with an explosive whoosh and red haze fogged my vision. I struggled feebly, trying to force some air back into my lungs.

The pressure on my windpipe vanished suddenly as my attacker was yanked backwards. “Raiakafan! Jason! What is the meaning of this?” Verne demanded.

“I saw him move quickly; the characteristics of his motion strongly implied an attack.” Tai’s voice was level, cold, and flat, almost like a machine rather than a living being. “I therefore moved to neutralize him.”

“No one ‘neutralizes’ a member of my household or my friends.” Verne stated flatly. “As to Jason’s action, I am sure he will explain himself… immediately.” The last word carried a considerable coldness with it.

“Urrg …” I gurgled, then managed to gasp, pulling precious air back into my system. “Sorry… Verne.” I studied Tai carefully. Yes… I could see traces of the stuff. It had definitely hit him. Hell, he’d charged straight into it. Obviously he didn’t realize what kind of an attack it had been, if it had actually been an attack. “In a way, Tai was correct. Under the right circumstances, what I was doing would have been an attack. A lethal one.”

Verne’s eyes narrowed, fortunately showing more puzzlement than anger; we’d been through enough that he knew that I’d never do anything like this without damned good reason. “And just what circumstances would that have been?”

Syl answered. “If Tai had been a werewolf, he’d be dead now.”

Tai blinked, brushing away the silver dust I’d thrown in his face.

Verne’s expression softened in comprehension. “Ahh. Of course. You could hardly be blamed for such a suspicion, Jason. Without knowing the extent of my senses, you had no way of knowing that I knew this was the real Raiakafan, no matter what his outward seeming. And he has confirmed it in other ways since then.”

“According to what you told me,” I said, “a werewolf could foil even your senses.”

“True,” Verne admitted. “But there are other things that mere duplication of the soul and body cannot achieve, such as the memories that would have to be derived from… well, from someone supposedly dead a very, very long time ago. You still seem unsure, Jason. Please, tell me what troubles you.”

Without a word, I pulled out a printed copy of the pictures and articles I’d located and handed it to Verne, who read them in silence, then studied the picture and Tai carefully. Finally he handed them back.

“As we expected, Raiakafan,” he said. “I am of the opinion that we must tell them everything.”

That dead-black gaze returned; I saw Syl shrink back from it and it took some effort not to do so myself. “Are we sure?”

Verne waited until the strange young man was looking at him, and then answered. “Jason has risked his life to protect me. He has rekindled the Faith that was lost. And the Lady Sylvia is his best companion, a Mistress of Crystal, and born with the Sight. If I cannot trust them, then I cannot trust you, and if you cannot trust them, then I am not who you believe.” His words were very strange, half-explanation, half-ritual, spoken in a measured, formal manner that sent a shiver up my spine; that alien accent had returned again.

Tai studied me again, less ice in that gaze than before. Finally he nodded. “As you wish, Father.”

Verne relaxed, and so did we. The last thing any of us wanted was a real conflict. Whatever was going on here, it was obvious that Raiakafan — Tai — whatever his name was had some real problems in his life, and they might be coming after Verne too.

“Morgan!” Verne called. “Send in refreshments for everyone.” He turned to us. “Make yourselves comfortable, Jason, Lady Sylvie. This will be a long and difficult story, but a necessary one, for I see no other way around it but that I — that both Raiakafan and I — will need your help to solve the difficulties that face us.” Morgan came in, bearing a tray of drinks, and went out to return a moment later with two trays of hors d’oeuvres. Verne took a sip of his usual and frowned faintly. “How to begin, though…?”

“How about using the White King’s approach?” I suggested. “Start at the beginning. Go on to the end. And then stop.”

Syl and Verne chuckled at that; Kafan (I’d decided to use Verne’s name for him) just looked puzzled. Verne smiled sadly, his eyes distant. “Ahh. The beginning. But it’s always hard to mark the beginning, is it not? For whatever beginning you choose, there is always a cause that predates it. But it is true that for most great things there is a point at which you can say, ‘Here. At this point, all that went before was different.’ Perhaps I should start there …”

“No, Father! It is too dangerous — for them.”

Verne sighed. “It would be too dangerous not to tell them, Raiakafan. Jason works best with maximum information. But you are correct, as well.” He turned to us. “Before I proceed… Jason, Sylvia, I must impress upon you these facts.

“First, that much of what I am going to tell you contradicts that which is supposedly scientific fact.

“Second, that these contradictions — though they be on a titanic, global scale — were nonetheless designed; that it was intended by certain parties that the information I possess would never again be known to a living soul. My own existence is due as much to blind luck as it is to my own skill and power.

“Third, once you have been told these things, you become a potential target for the forces that would keep these things secret… and so will anyone to whom you reveal these things. And the forces behind this are of such magnitude as to give even Virigar pause, so powerful that the mightiest nations of this world are as nothing to them.” He gazed solemnly at us. “So think carefully; do you still wish to involve yourselves in these matters? I will think no less of you either way, I assure you. But once I speak, there is no going back. Ever. Even my ability to hide memories will not save you; they will never believe a memory completely gone when they can ensure it by killing the one with the memory.”

Verne’s deadly serious warning made me hesitate. He had only been this concerned when Virigar had come, and at that time there was no doubt that all the Great Wolf’s forces were directed towards him. Now, he was speaking of forces that didn’t even know he existed and yet were so fearsome as to warrant the most frightening warning he could give me. Not a reassuring thought.

I remembered the time he’d suddenly stopped a conversation. “The subject we discussed once before. Who you were, where you came from… the fact you’re not, exactly, a vampire… that’s part of it?”

“It is,” he said.

Syl replied first. “I want to hear the truth, Verne. I believe we were meant to hear it. If not, I would not be here.”

I nodded. “I didn’t think I’d be able to make friends with a vampire and not get into trouble sometimes. Might as well know what’s really going on. Seriously, Verne… if you have troubles on that scale, you’re going to need all the help you can get someday.”

Kafan studied us for a moment, and then smiled very slightly. “They are strong friends, Father.”

“They are indeed.” Verne leaned back in his red-cushioned chair. Light the color of blood flashed from his ring as he folded his hands. “Then, my friends, I start… or no. Raiakafan, would you begin? For what I must tell them is not only the more dangerous part, but the one that is less immediate. Your story is immediate. Mine is important to explain why even your story is insufficient.”

Kafan nodded. Turning to us, he began.