Casey made her way back to the kitchen, put together a simple lunch of what was on hand, and settled in at the table with a platter of apricot chicken salad, grapes, melon, and pineapple. As hungry as she was, she barely tasted the food she was eating; her mind was buzzing with everything she’d had to absorb today.
Cerberus padded into the kitchen and lay on the floor next to her feet.
She gave the mastiff an absentminded but friendly nudge with one booted toe. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any surprises for me too, Cerberus?” she muttered humorously. “Go ahead, I can take it.”
The mastiff seemed to consider the question for a moment, but then was distracted by an itch on his tail. He set to chewing vigorously at it.
And then the licking…
Casey finished her lunch, smiling a little. At least one thing around here seemed to be just as it appeared.
When she’d finished she washed her plate and glass, then went back up to her loaned bedroom and began putting her things away.
Once she’d moved her clothing from the suitcases to the chest of drawers and the armoire, she sat on the edge of the bed, wondering if she should stay out of the way here until she was summoned again.
It only took a few minutes of that before boredom got the better of her. She decided to go see if there was anything comprehensible to read in the study.
She browsed about for a bit, finally settling on a thick manual involving the subject of Telekinesis.
It was a dense read and she only managed a few pages before dozing off…
She found herself standing in a bazaar. She was working a booth, selling wares constructed of silver. She knew intuitively that it was she herself who had crafted these exquisite items. Pitchers and cups, bowls and plates.
She caught an image of herself in a burnished platter. She was a man, lean and olive-complexioned. She was wearing a toga.
The bazaar was busy today, full of citizens and foreigners engaging in trade. She looked up and saw Roman Centurions visiting with shoppers. The weapons … their swords… she had seen their like.
A man examined the jewelry she sold…
…This man was familiar…
His eyes met hers…
…He was Falco!
She awakened with a start.
Staring blankly at the fireplace, Casey played the last moments of the dream–vision?–through her mind again. She’d been reliving the memories of some distant ancestor in ancient Rome…and then she’d seen Falco, essentially the same as she knew him now. Had that been a true memory? Had his path somehow crossed her family’s line before? Or was it only a dream inspired by everything she’d learned today? The latter seemed more likely, all things considered.
Still, the possibility that it was more than just a dream was too intriguing to dismiss without further investigation. She went in search of Falco, wanting to ask him what he thought about it.
Cerberus watched her exit the Library. As she left the room, she had a sense of deja vu seeing the sword Falco placed earlier on the wall. Its style was remarkably similar to that worn by the centurions. She remembered seeing other artifacts dating back to the same era, in another room. Falco couldn’t possibly be that old…could he?
Stepping into the hall, she noted via the reddening sun in the window that it was late in the afternoon. She’d dozed longer than she thought. She blushed, hoping her mentor hadn’t gotten the impression that she was a loafer. Just a lot to recover from today.
Falco was in the kitchen seated at the table there drinking a cup of coffee while reading the paper. He smiled politely at her.
“Hey,” she said by way of greeting, taking the seat across from him. “Sorry, I guess I fell asleep.” Her smile was a little apologetic.
“You’ve been busy today.” He sipped at his coffee.
“I’ll try to stay awake for my lessons from now on.” She hesitated. “I did have the strangest dream, though…I think.”
He glanced up.
“I was in ancient Rome or Greece, seeing it through the eyes of a silversmith selling his wares in a bazaar. And then some men came up to my booth, and one of them was…you.” She gave him a sideways glance. “Probably just everything we’ve talked about today getting to me.”
His eyes were locked with hers, his expression was… thoughtful. “Small world,” he said at last. “Other Memory is speaking to you… Your grandfather no doubt wants you to know that I am not as I seem.”
She returned his gaze almost involuntarily, fascinated by what he seemed to be saying. How old would he have to be…?
He looked away, considering. “It is true, I am not as I seem… It is true that my name is Brandon Falco, but I was born Camilus Milonius Falco, a citizen of Rome. I am 2100 years old.” His eyes were dark.
She stared at him without moving. 2100…? Put into actual numbers that way it was too staggering to really comprehend.
He then showed her his profile, “Not bad for 2100, eh?”
She shook her head mutely, then breathed, “But how…what…” She didn’t even know how to phrase the question. “How could you possibly be that old?”
He took her hand in his, and covered it with his other. Despite her preoccupation with his incredible disclosure, she felt a warm rush of pleasure at his touch.
His eyes glistened in the dimming light. “What I am about to tell you is dangerous for you to know, Casey.” His voice was soft, almost a whisper. “I won’t ever lie to you. Your trust in me must be absolute. I was hoping to wait… But I can’t have you doubting me. Not now. Not ever.”
She nodded, transfixed.
He looked down at her hand. His were warm and soft on hers, yet surged with incredible strength.
Her eyes involuntarily followed his gaze to her hand, enfolded in both of his. On an unnamed but irresistible impulse, she brought her other hand over to cover his. It was a gesture of trust, and acceptance of whatever he was about to tell her.
Some of his tension faded. “Those who know this secret are numbered in the dozens and they would die before revealing it. This,” he explained, “is a sacred trust…There are those among us who are not what they seem. They are human, but moreso. They are the potential unrealized in the vast sea of humanity made real. They are — I am — the Attuned.”
He released her hand and leaned back, “I was born the son of a wealthy tradesman in pre-Christ Rome. My ‘talents’ developed early on in my teen years.
A ripple of…fear? excitement?…touched Casey’s stomach. She felt as tightly strung as the highest wire on a piano. She didn’t breathe, didn’t move, simply focused on what he was saying.
“Fearful of how my abilities might be regarded by Roman society, father sent me abroad as his representative. This afforded me the opportunity to meet new people and explore their knowledge of the mind. In my journeys, I learned of the existence of fantastical creatures: Vampires, Werewolves and other beasts, ghosts, magi, and even faeries. A few of these extraordinary types were friendly and would talk, sharing knowledge. Others regarded me with open hostility.” He laughed, “It is was great fortune that I survived those encounters.”
“I bet,” she murmured, thinking of her sudden introduction to that hidden world last night.
“After father’s death, I inherited the family business. In my thirtieth year, I returned to Rome. My abilities well under control, I was able to integrate fully into Roman society.” He provided a wry smile, “My abilities were used to improve the family’s station. The house of Falco rose in prestige under my hands. Telepathy allowed me to read the minds of competitors providing the opportunity to act pre-emptively. Precognition afforded me time to respond early in an anticipation of advancing trends. House Falco attained great wealth under my guidance.
“I eventually married — Gaius, a lovely woman. I can still hear her laugh. Together we had four children.
“When my eldest son reached the appropriate age, I surrendered the reins of the family business. I returned full time to my studies. I became a favorite advisor to senators and emperors.
He paused, remembering.
“There is nothing of greater value or greater importance,” he says at last, “than family.”
She nodded at that.
“At the age of eighty-three, I had outlived my children and my wife.”
After 2000 years, she can still sense his pain.
He smiled, “I was surrounded by my grandchildren… and they loved me. I continued my research and training. I could feel that I was on the verge of same great discovery… it was right THERE!”
He looked to her.
“In my eighty-third year,” he said, “I became Attuned. The transition from what I was… to what I am… Despite my age, I was on fire with life! I was aware that I had only dimly lived before. Life, as I’d known it, was only a shadow of what life can truly be…
“In the blink of an eye,” he nodded, “I reverted from the form of an aged 83 year old man, to that of a man some fifty years younger.”
She let out a long, soft breath. “Attuned…” she finally whispered. “To what? What does it mean, exactly?”
“Attuned… to ourselves. I control every muscle, bone, organ… every cell of my body. I determine how I appear to the world. As long as my brain works… I work. Modern science tells us the average human utilizes something in the order of 10% of his brain. The Attuned exercise control over 100% of their minds. There is no resource physical or mental that is unavailable to us.”
She took a few moments to wrap her mind around what he was saying. It was breathtaking…terrifying and incredibly exciting at the same time. She wanted to know more about it, but again the words failed her. After floundering around for a minute searching for coherent questions to ask, she decided to start with the simple stuff. “How you appear to the world…does that mean you can change your appearance?”
He nodded, “I can appear younger or older. I can allow myself to gain weight… I can go to the extreme of adjusting my DNA, allowing me to change other characteristics. Yes, I can change my appearance.”
“Wow.” The word was inadequate, but it’s all she was capable of at the moment. Her mind was sifting through all the implications, all the possibilities. After a long, thoughtful silence she asked the one question topmost in her mind. “Is this…something that you could teach me, over time?”
“Casey,” he said softly with intense feeling, “I approached you because you are… like me. Though you are not yet Attuned… you have the potential. Rightly cultivated and trained, you can Become.”
Become. He said it like it was a state of being. She’d asked the question, but she hadn’t truly been prepared to hear that answer. He was offering her something close to immortality. Eternal youth, nearly infinite power. Her heart pounded in fierce exhilaration at the thought of it, even as her hands began to tremble on the tabletop.
“I want to learn,” she finally said, a little breathlessly. “I have to admit it’s a little scary…” The quivery feeling in her stomach was equal parts fear and excitement. “But I’ll learn whatever you want to teach me.”
He closed his eyes. “It is a difficult road you are stepping onto. There will be hardships ahead. And wonders beyond your imagining.”
“I know,” she said softly. “I’m not afraid. No, that’s not true, I am afraid, a little. I do want to learn, though.”
“I know you do.” He regarded her, “And since you now know this secret…”
“You might as well know mine,” a voice said from the doorway.