“…was able to control the route between Asia and Europe, as well as the passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euxinos Pontus. Don’t you think?”
It would seem that only a moment had passed since Casey’s journey into Other Memory began. Camille had not noticed her absence.
Falco had. There was a disapproving glint in his eye.
“Um,” Casey replied uncertainly to Camille, while blushing scarlet under Falco’s stern gaze. “The, ah, Euxinos….” As Usi’s presence dissolved from her mind like a fading dream, her ability to think began to rally back into working order. She gave Camille a soft, abashed laugh to go with the blush. “Mr. Falco always says if I spent more time studying I might actually learn something. I’m afraid I expended pretty much my entire knowledge of the late Roman Empire with that one comment about Byzantine religious art. It sounds very interesting, though.” She smiled sheepishly at the girl, then darted a guiltily apologetic glance at Falco.
His eyes softened, but she heard his voice in her mind. :: Dangerous. ::
Casey was definitely learning that. Caught awkwardly between her instinct for privacy and her need for guidance, she reluctantly resolved to discuss the results of her impulsive experiment with Falco before trying it again.
“Well, Byzantium isn’t for everyone.” Camille laughed. “I know I must seem terribly bookish. It’s just that history… particularly ancient Rome and the Byzantines seem so…alive!”
That drew an arched eyebrow from Falco.
Determinedly avoiding her mentor’s eyes this time, Casey did her best to look enthused. “Yes, it was a really…vibrant, colorful society, wasn’t it? You don’t seem bookish to me, at least not in a bad way. You have a real feel for history, you make it all sound so interesting.”
“Thanks,” Camille smiled, accepting the compliment. “I hope my professors feel the same way when I get around to writing my thesis.”
“I’m sure it’ll be great,” Casey smiled. “You seem very knowledgeable.”
Dinners were ordered and eaten. Camille was good company. Casey could easily see that despite the huge differences in family background, they might easily become friends. The girl had a timeless charm about her. Casey suspected she’d never met a stranger. No wonder Falco was so protective.
After much time, the party rose to take their leave. The dogs rose, stretched. Falco headed to the front to pay the tab.
Camille leaned over and whispered, “He really likes you. Be sweet to him. He doesn’t let new people in very often.”
“I, um, really like Mr. Falco,” Casey murmured back with a slightly flustered smile. “He’s been incredibly helpful to me…a real life-saver sometimes. He’s a great mentor.” She probably could have come up with a more graceful and easy response, but Camille’s choice of words had thrown her off her stride a little. She hadn’t quite recovered yet from her very educational meeting with the long-ago silversmith, and the idea of being sweet to Falco conjured an unbidden image of her in her mentor’s arms, kissing him the way she’d kissed Usi. Casey went hot at the thought, then cold with dismay at the possibility of Falco seeing it in her mind.
Camille provided a somewhat knowing smile, “I see.”
Casey covered her discomfiture by turning to Pana with a friendly scratch behind the ears, and a generally enthusiastic petting. “You’re a good girl, aren’t you? Good dog, Pana.” Pana delighted in the attention, her head pushing against Casey’s hand.
“Alright then,” Falco said returning, tucking his wallet into his jacket. “I guess this is goodbye.”
Camille tippy-toed up and kissed Falco on the cheek, squeezing him. “Next week?”
“See you then.”
“Call if you need anything.”
She provided a soft whistle to her two dogs and moved out onto the sidewalk, “Bye, Casey! Good to meet you!”
“It was nice meeting you too,” Casey said, and meant it.
Falco palmed his car keys and moved to the car. At last his eyes met Casey’s. “Want to talk about it?”
She grimaced slightly. “Erg. Not really, but I guess I should.” She sighed, trying hard not to look as uncomfortable as she felt. “I was just trying…I wanted to get into his head, like this morning. So I could talk to Camille about the Roman Empire and not sound completely clueless. I didn’t expect….” She trailed off again, looking more uncomfortable by the second. “How much of that did you see?”
“Only enough to know you were in over your head.” He turned over the engine, then regarded Casey. “Your memories have the ability to become flesh. Through you. To access them independently… you could be overwhelmed. And be lost forever. Your grandfather is ally in the realm of other memory. He will anchor you. He will protect you. Be careful, Casey.”
She mulled that over in silence for a few minutes. Finally she said slowly, “You mean, Usi was trying to…possess me? Take over my body for himself?”
“He likely didn’t understand that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to touch life. Through you, he could live again.”
“But that would have been the end result, though,” she mused, shivering a little as the narrowness of her escape sank in.
“Yes, your essence would have been lost to his will. Essentially, you’d have changed positions. He would be dominant. And you would be lost to me forever.”
It was a chilling thought. Wandering that dark hall for eternity, with only long-dead shadows for company. The use and strength of her body taken by Usi, and she reduced to helpless observer, powerless to live out her own rightful life.
The stakes were very high in this new world Falco had introduced her to. She needed to start being more careful, less impulsive. There were more ways to lose her life in Austin — and more varieties and degrees of death — than she’d ever imagined before yesterday. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know the visits to the realm of other memory don’t take up any ‘real time’.” She glanced curiously at Falco. “Do they? When I…came back…I got the impression that no time had passed at the restaurant. Could I stay for, say, an hour in that realm, without missing anything in the real world?” No…she’d lost about four hours of real time during the brief chat with her grandfather earlier. There must be some other factor at work.
“Time does move differently in Other Memory. You were fortunate — as a novice, you are not in control. You could easily have lost a week. We will work on your ability to control this aspect.”
She nodded. “Okay. Good.” She frowned thoughtfully. “So from now on if I want to talk to him or any of my other ancestors, I should go to Grandpa first, and have him with me when I go talk to the others?”
“Alright, I won’t try it on my own again,” she promised. “At least until I’m stronger at it. Do you have a Prima Voce?
“Will I always need one, or will I eventually be able to navigate that realm on my own?”
“Your reliance on the Prima Voce will diminish as your skills grow, but throughout your life he will remain a valued resource.” Falco steered the car back onto the street.
Casey stared out her window into the night, thinking about how complicated everything had become in the past 24 hours. Vampires, ghouls, werewolves, Other Memory, the People. And Falco. Even with her head turned away she could feel his presence there beside her, radiating power and reassurance. He was the only reason she was still alive; the only reason she’d found the courage to even go outside today, knowing what she did now about Austin’s secrets. And she suspected that what she knew now was only the tiniest fraction of what this city was concealing. Without looking away from the dark street she asked softly, “Where are we going?”
“We’re here,” he said pulling into an alley. He directed the dogs, “Stay with the car. Shout if there’s trouble.” He moved beneath the fire-escape, beckoning Casey to follow.
She stepped out of the car, looked around the alley uncertainly, then hastily joined Falco. This looked like just the sort of place one was likely to come across unsavory nocturnal types.
Falco reached up, the ladder descending to meet his hand. He climbed up to the stairs and then moved to the rooftop.
Casey followed carefully, trying to climb as quietly and deftly as the dark form above her. The night really wasn’t her natural element, at least not yet.
They were atop a three story building, Falco leading her to the far side. Across the street, she saw another building consumed in flames. Shadowy figures — more than fifty of them — stood about watching and laughing.
Her wide-eyed gaze moved from the fierce blaze down to the people on the street. No…not people. Vampires. And more of those blood-tainted servants — ‘ghouls’ was the word that popped up from the new filing cabinet in her head — that Falco had described earlier.
“Damn,” Falco sighed.
“What was it?” Reflected flames leaped in her eyes as she stared at the destruction. “Why are they burning it?”
“It was the stronghold of an ally. Potentially a powerful ally. They are making an example of him and his people.” He scowled. “They’ve just made our work harder.”
Casey suddenly looked closer at the conflagration, then around at the surrounding streets. “I know this place. We were down there last night, weren’t we?”
“To bring your friend home…Mr. Houseman.”
Concern filled her face. “Do you think he was in there?” Had Mr. Houseman survived one inferno only to perish in another? “Do you think they killed him?”
“I’m sure he’s got more suffering and humiliation to endure,” Falco answered with a grim tone, “But the true death is not far away for him.”
The true death…it had the ring of a well-used phrase, but it was one Casey hadn’t heard before. Although, given all the many ways there were to die in this city, she wouldn’t be surprised if each had its own special name. She looked up questioningly at her mentor…
His jaw set, she could see anger boiling behind his eyes.
Chagrined, she set her curiosity aside for the moment. Falco had just lost — or was about to lose — a friend and ally, and it had struck him deeply; now wasn’t the time for idle questions. She reached hesitantly up to lay a comforting hand on his arm. “Maybe there’s still time to save him?”
“No…” He sighed, “His time is over. New allies must be cultivated. Weaker, less reliable allies for sure.” He took a last, long glance at the fire and turned. “Come.” He walked back to the firescape. “Let’s get back.”
She turned to follow him. “Where? Back home?”
“To the car. We have a meeting.”