Chapter 12


"So, where were we?"

Caine smiled wearily at Rabbit and nodded to show that he had heard the question. Rabbit didn't smile back. He crossed his arms over his chest while Caine settled into a comfortable position on his bed, but didn't prompt the other man again. He did not know Caine well, but the other man struck him as the sort of person who thought for a long time before he spoke and who moved slowly in order to give himself the time to do so. If he hadn't been so impatient to get an explanation, Rabbit might have found this refreshing after spending time with people who spoke without thinking, didn't say what they actually meant, or didn't say anything at all.

"We were talking about Shards," Caine said once he was settled.

Rabbit sat down quickly at the desk, facing his host. He would have liked to have met somewhere more neutral, but had to admit that a brothel was the place to go if one wanted privacy.

"We were talking about how I was supposed to be dead."

Caine took the correction in stride, giving Rabbit a slow, serene smile. "One conversation necessitates the other. To keep from being confused, we'll start from the beginning."

"Fine." Rabbit shifted his weight and quashed his impatience. Just because he was preoccupied with his own death didn't mean that everyone else was. Not that everyone else had his particular excuse to be. "In that case, what are we?"

Caine's eyelids drooped. "The old world civilizations we know of were preceded by several other, greater empires, stretching back to the beginning of beginnings. One of the ancient deities that ruled over that world, when she died, splintered into seven pieces. You and I are each one of them."

Rabbit sat in silence for a moment, watching Caine with hard eyes. Caine watched him back and waited for him to speak. Rabbit let him wait, digesting what he’d said. The first thing that struck him as odd wasn't the claim that there were civilizations that had existed before recorded time, but the implications the claim had made about the nature of gods.

"This...is a little hard to swallow." He spoke cautiously, as though he didn't want to offend.

"There's a lot in the world that's unexplainable. That doesn't make it less real." Caine shifted a bit, and opened his eyes wider, though not all the way. "Things happen the way they're meant to happen, Rabbit. If I know something, it isn't by chance."

Rabbit's gaze flicked to the window, showing a cityscape view. He had a feeling Caine had misunderstood what he had referred to, but his host's reply still addressed his concerns. The truth of Caine's words was something he had to accept, given his own experiences. He knew--and was reminded often--that he didn't fully grasp what it was Alan and Quinn did or how they did it, but that didn't change the fact that he could see that it was real and effective. In fact, he reflected, his inability to understand probably made what they did even more effective in regard to him.

But the base cause of his inability to see what they were capable of as reality stemmed from an inability to accept and believe in it at all. Alan had told him that, too, quoting some half-remembered line of prose from a time before he had become what he was: Life is not anything, but the mind makes it so.

He looked down at his hands, clenched and unclenched his fists several time, flexing his fingers and listening to his gloves creak. Alan hadn't been exhorting him to live in ignorance and denial; he'd been explaining that his mind's ability to accept or alter reality was only as powerful as he allowed it to be. He might not have proof of what Caine was saying, but he had no proof against it either, and so he couldn't dismiss it out of hand.

That didn't make it any easier to accept that everything that happened was supposed to happen, though. His own experiences made him want to reject that idea as much as they made him unable to reject that the unexplainable was still real. He ran both hands through his hair and let it fall back into his face before looking up at Caine again. The other man was looking at the ceiling as though giving him what measure of privacy he could during his internal struggle.

"Each Shard represents a part of the goddess's power," Caine said into the silence without looking at him. Rabbit felt an unnerving certainty that the man knew his train of thought and was trying to divert it. "And that power manifests in each of us differently. In me, it's pre- and post-cognition."

"And in me?"

"The Metamorph is--"

Rabbit squinted quizzically. "The what?"

"Metamorph," Caine repeated. "We each have a title, and that's yours. It refers to--"

"What's yours then?" he asked. What was this, some sort of secret club where everyone had to have a code name?

Caine sighed. "Oracle," he answered, like a teacher inundated with too many questions that were off topic. "There's the Oracle, Messenger, Witness, Impulse, Healer, Prodigy and Metamorph, in that order."

"Why is there an order?" Rabbit's brow furrowed. This was becoming more and more silly sounding, and somehow that silliness was exactly what was making him buy it. For this story to be as old as Caine had suggested it was, it would have picked up its own jargon, its own traditions over time.

Caine's serene mask slipped for a moment to reveal the twenty-something-year-old he actually was, or would have been without this power he claimed he had. The look he shot Rabbit was exasperated and clearly conveyed that he should stop asking question, spare them both the irritation, and just let the explanation continue uninterrupted.

"We resonate psychically," he explained, his expression smoothing out again. "The order, as well as our talents and our personalities, dictates resonance within the group. Not that it normally matters, because we aren't all normally incarnated in the same place and time--though we do generally reincarnate as the same person," he interrupted himself to add. "That is, some of us do."

He paused, but when Rabbit didn't speak immediately, he hurried on, as though he wanted to give Rabbit the opportunity to ask questions even if he didn’t really want him to do so. "Anyway, the Metamorph has no obvious talent the way the others do. Instead, he--or she, since it's not always the same person--essentially carries what was left over of the goddess's power when she splintered. That is to say, you're like a battery. Your power is inaccessible to you as far as I know, but it does find a way to manifest. You could say it leaks, actually."

"The tattoos, huh?"

Caine nodded. "Exactly."

Rabbit didn't answer immediately, looking at his hands again. It was as good an explanation as any, he supposed, for why the pictures had slowly been unfolding themselves across his skin since he was thirteen. It seemed pointless to be filled with a power he couldn’t tap, though.

He wondered vaguely what other ways the power might have leaked in other incarnations, and was glad that he was able to think of a number of more troublesome possibilities than tattoos.

"And the rest of it?"

He looked up to see Caine start. His host looked at him blankly for a moment, and Rabbit felt himself smirking at how quickly the other man had dozed off.

"The part about my death?" Rabbit prompted. "About how I'm supposed to be dead?"

"Oh...oh yes. I think I mentioned that the Shards are usually not all reincarnated in the same place, at the same time?" Rabbit nodded in confirmation, and Caine went on. "There are metaphysical consequences when divine or semi-divine beings come together geographically and temporally. I...am sketchy on what exactly they are, but it would seem that your death was intended to prevent such a thing from happening."

Rabbit raised an eyebrow. "So you're saying that all seven Shards are alive and in Solace? And I was supposed to die to keep that from being the case?"

Caine nodded solemnly.

"But what could possibly come of it?" he demanded. The first feelings of dissension were spreading through him like a virus. "I mean, it's not like there'll be another Cataclysm or anything--" Caine’s expression made him cut himself off.

"I think it's a distinct possibility, actually," the Oracle said, his face a dizzying mixture of apathy, weariness and pity.

Rabbit stared at him. That couldn't possibly be right. He opened his mouth to speak, faltered, and then tried again. "But you said that things happen the way they're supposed to happen."

Caine sighed and closed his eyes briefly. "I did say that. Which indicates that perhaps the world is due for another cataclysmic event. After all, the Cataclysm that began this era wasn't the first the earth has experienced. It's just the only one we, as a species, can remember anymore."

Rabbit clenched his teeth. The beginning of this conversation had been simple enough to accept in light of everything else he'd had to swallow in his lifetime, but this went well beyond the limit of what he was willing to accept. He could feel the defiance in him turning into anger at the idea that somehow he was personally responsible for throwing the universe out of balance. Forcing himself into a false calm, he met Caine's eyes.

His host smiled, though the expression seemed forced and did nothing to put Rabbit at ease. "This is all conjecture, Rabbit. And it would be a depressing topic to end this on. Do you have any other questions? Anything else you want to talk about before you go?"

Rabbit tried to think, but shook his head when he couldn't force his thoughts in any single direction. "Not right now. If I--"

"If you think of anything else, you have my number," Caine assured him. "I'm willing to tell you anything I can."

Rabbit nodded and stood. He felt Caine watch him gather his coat and scarf and smile at him as he took his leave, despite the fact that all Rabbit offered him in return was a muttered goodbye.