Around Caine, everyone seemed to hesitate all at once, and he took a moment to center his thoughts. The psychic forces in the room were unsettling even for him. Cross was a comforting presence at his side, but they had known each other so long that their minds had learned to mold against each other, giving when the other pushed, and pushing when the other was prepared to give. The others in the room were not as fortunate.
Rabbit was still lingering as close to Caine as he could without risking Sem inhaling his cigarette smoke, soothed by the natural harmony the Oracle provided. Unconsciously, he was using Caine as a buffer between himself, and Sasha and Surge. Surge, still standing away from everyone else in the room, had probably distanced himself for a number of reasons, one of which was sitting in Caine’s lap, but primary was the need not to clash against the Metamorph. Although they didn’t realize it, the two of them fulfilled the same function, but in opposite ways; they were bound to rub each other the wrong way.
Sasha, on the other hand, in his position at the far end of the table, could give even Caine a headache. His resonation frequency varied between broad and low, lapping against the mind like a tide, and frenetic and jagged, like an angry bumblebee experiencing a bad high. There was nothing he could do to contain it, either, because the Witness’s resonance was dictated by all component parts of the Witness, not just by the body they anchored to.
And then there was Julian, still loitering near Yoko, who had not moved from the doorway. The one Julian would clash the most with wasn’t present, and so many of the effects the other Shards had on each other were unnoticeable to him. Caine smiled to himself. The Healer was a lucky man.
Really, all of them were lucky, he supposed; the psychic jarring that ill-matched resonance caused was greatly decreased as the number of Shards in a location increased. And the presence of the Oracle tended to pull everyone in the direction of harmony, anyway.
Behind him, one of the Protectors of Antiquity shifted, and Caine looked over his shoulder as Nyr cleared his throat quietly. He looked at the man with placid eyes and wondered what it was like not to feel the mental vibrations of other people. It must be like traveling without a map to form relationships with people that weren’t dictated by the way their minds pushed against one another.
Nyr glanced around at the others, as though he wanted to be absolutely sure no one else was going to speak first, and then asked, “Why? Why would he try to end the world? He’ll be destroyed, too.”
Caine nodded. It was a good question, but not one he had an answer to. None of his visions had informed him about the specifics of their situation. He followed Nyr’s example and looked around at the rest of the people in the room, holding Sem’s hands in his and feeling the pressure from his son’s small fingers. Movement was important for Sem if he had nothing else to occupy him, and so Caine fidgeted uncharacteristically in his seat to keep the child’s attention. It was the only way to prevent him from trying to run wild around the kitchen, and it served he double purpose of keeping Caine awake.
Everyone was looking at him, and he met their eyes before offering a tired smile. “I have no idea what his motivation could be. I’ve only met Hiroki a handful of times, and all I know about him as a god is what I’ve Seen.”
“Could that help us?” Julian asked, shifting his weight until Yoko gave him a pointed look. With a sheepish quirk of his lips, he stepped away and sat down.
Caine shrugged, and spoke like a university textbook. “Maybe. The second son of the sun god Desar, who left the earth when his human wife died giving birth to his brother’s son, Hiroki was the god of innocence and latent power, with powers primarily having to do with darkness.”
Of course it was Jin who asked the obvious question that no one else was going to bring up: “Why was his wife having his brother’s kid?”
“Because my father raped her,” Yoko supplied, voice monotone, arms crossed over his chest. “It is unimportant under the circumstances.”
“You sure?” Sasha asked, putting his foot against the edge of the table and balancing his chair on two legs. “Seems to me it might matter.”
Yoko stared him down. “I fail to see how.”
Sasha met his gaze steadily, took a breath that wheezed slightly in his throat, and said, “You haven’t seen everything we’ve seen.”
Caine turned his full attention on Sasha, and blinked slowly. Very occasionally, he could catch glimmers of the host of people that made up the Witness; right now, they were all lined up as though on display, whispering to Sasha in voices he couldn’t hear.
“Will you tell us?” he asked, and Sasha smiled.
“We think he wants to take Tiny’s daddy’s place.” He smirked, cocking his head to better catch the words flashing around him. “Guy killed his own brother. Probably plans to kill Tiny, too, when he stops being useful.” His voice grew sharper, eyes narrowing as he looked over Yoko’s shoulder, though his smile remained frozen in place. “Coming here was probably the last errand he has planned for you.”
Yoko’s lip curled, showing unnaturally sharp canines. Golden eyes seemed to glow as he unfolded his arms, and despite his size, he was formidable. “You would do well to hold your tongue.”
Julian murmured something to Yoko that Caine didn’t catch, but Yoko seemed to subside, which only made Sasha laugh. Beside Caine, Cross gave the Witness another sharp look, and Caine put his hand on her thigh, squeezing reassuringly through the cloth of her skirt.
“We can’t get anything done if we fight,” he chided lightly, a small smile on his face. He turned his eyes on Sasha, his gaze commanding despite his serene expression, and the various components of the Witness stopped and met his gaze. “Can you tell us more? Can you give us evidence?”
Sasha regarded him with wary, dark eyes, hearing the ‘don’t speak if you can’t’ that Caine left unsaid. “We know a few things about gods and how gods work--” He faltered, distracted by something, and then continued, “All the Shards have to be used to call the god. When he arrives, our power is the first he takes before he starts destroying everything.”
“Sound like what you’ve been studying,” Cross said to Caine, as she uncrossed her legs and took Sem from him. Caine could feel Surge’s eyes on them, but didn’t look at him; they had important things to talk about, and then Surge could play with their son.
Caine nodded. “Do any of you know what a ziggurat is?”
Unsurprisingly, it was Yoko who answered. “It is a sort of solid pyramid, made of tiers.”
“Yes. And the top tier is where a god resides. Something along those lines.” Caine offered a sheepish smile and plucked one of the remaining cookies from the plate on the table, taking a bite and savoring the taste of sugar and cinnamon before continuing. “It’s so old world, there really aren’t many records left to verify it. But it’s something like that.”
“And what’s it got to do with us?” Rabbit asked, grinding his cigarette out on the metal countertop behind him. Caine was sure he could feel Riyad glaring past him, but Rabbit gave no indication if he was.
“The resonance of the seven Shards forms a sort of power ziggurat.” He mimed with his hands as he spoke. “On the base tier, you have the Metamorph and the Impulse, opposing power sources. One pulls energy from outside and one has a supply of it inside. Think of them as batteries that power the structure.”
He raised his hands, moving them closer together. “Then there’s the Healer and the Prodigy, both of whom can sense and control the environment. The Healer obviously deals with the internal environment while the Prodigy’s powers affect the external environment.”
He repeated the motion again, hands coming closer together. “Next are the Messenger and the Witness. These two have powers related to communication: the Messenger deals with the mind and thoughts and emotions, and the Witness deals with those things external to humans, which most can’t sense or recognize, but which are connected to us.”
Now his hands came together, level with his head. “And at the top, there’s the Oracle, who perceives objects in time. The Oracle coordinates the power of the other six Shards, bringing them into harmony to call down the god.”
“Ashe.” Julian crossed his arms over his chest, frowning. “He’s not really the type to do anything he doesn’t want to do.”
“If he is called, he must go,” Yoko said, and Julian glanced over his shoulder at him questioningly. Yoko raised one eyebrow just slightly. “Even the gods must obey what is written.”
Rabbit dropped back into the chair across from Caine, his jacket rustling against the fake wood. “I thought the Cataclysm was just the end of the world gone wrong. So obviously it doesn’t have to work this time, either.”
“Another Cataclysm would be the end of the world,” Cross said, stroking Sem’s hair as he dozed against her. Caine spared a smile for his son before looking around the room again.
“I think we can prevent it, though,” he said. “And the end of the world, too. You see, this has all happened before. The world works in cycles, and the same patterns recur in every lifetime and every age.” He glanced up and added, “After death, humans reincarnate. As themselves. And every life isn’t exactly the same over and over, but they tend to be similar. Souls tend to gravitate toward those they know. Which is why--”
He glanced around the room with a slight frown. “Which is why it’s so odd that we should all be here, in this place, at this time.”
“But we aren’t all here,” Sasha reminded in a singsong, now balancing his chair on only one leg. “The Prodigy is missing.”
“Yes. But it may be the Prodigy that’s the anomaly in the first place--the one of us who is in this time when he shouldn’t be.” He cast a glance at Rabbit, who met his gaze, and gave him an apologetic smile. “The more I think about it, the more I feel like I’ve been drawing the wrong conclusions. Anyway, we’ll need to find the Prodigy in order to prevent Hiroki from doing what he likes.”
“How?” Riyad asked. “We’ve never even been able to figure out what it is the Prodigy does.”
“Well he can communicate with the external environment,” Caine said, tapping his fingers against the tabletop, mind racing. “That could mean weather manipulation--”
“Which would explain a lot of things,” Rabbit muttered.
Caine smiled. “--it could also mean an ability to manipulate inorganic objects. If we consider the Healer to be a manipulator of life, then the Prodigy could be able to manipulate non-living things. This might manifest as a talent with machinery or something like that.”
“Regardless, we don’t know who or where he is, so it doesn’t help us much,” Julian pointed out, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.
“You’re right, it doesn’t.” Caine turned toward the terminal on the table in front of him and started to tap at the keyboard. “So I think we should plan assuming that he’ll show up when the time comes.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Caine didn’t glance up at Julian’s question, but he smiled tiredly and repeated what he had said to Riyad before: “Then it won’t matter much.”
He stopped typing and lifted the terminal to show the old picture that was displayed on the screen, turning it so that the others in the room could see.
“This is an illustration of a ziggurat from one of the books I’ve been looking at. If you can imagine the individual mental frequencies of the Shards in complementary pairs, it would match this structure. If we could--” He paused and swiveled in his seat to look at Surge, who was still standing away from the others. “Wait, Surge can you look this up for me? Is there a building that looks like this?”
Surge stepped forward, coming toward the table and leaning over to look at the image Caine had displayed on the terminal screen. A slight frown tugged at his lips, followed by a static hum that made Caine scoot his chair several inches away, wrinkling his nose at the faint smell of ozone. Surge stood frozen for several moments and his eyes reflected the data scrolling across the terminal screen in an unsettling away.
“Why do we need a building that looks like that?” Julian asked.
Caine offered him a smile and a shrug, more than willing to admit that he was playing this by ear as much as any of the others were. “It seems like if we’re going to call down a god, we ought to do it right.”
“Wait, won’t doing that just be doing what Hiroki wants?” Rabbit asked, brows knitting together in a scowl. “Isn’t it better to just avoid the whole thing?”
“It seems like Hiroki’s got this all figured out.” Caine ran a hand through his already mussed hair, unfazed in the face of Rabbit’s irritation. “The best chance we have of taking control of the situation is to make sure we’re involved.”
“There.” Surge straightened and pointed at the terminal screen, which displayed the three-dimensional schematic plans of a building. With a flickering motion if his eyes, Surge made the image rotate on the screen, zooming in on the top of the building.
Caine smiled; the building was topped by tiered pyramid with what looked like a decorative temple at its peak.
“It was completed four years ago,” Surge said. “As an addition to an existent building. It’s like you described--the layers are solid with no rooms inside, and the building on the top is supposed to be some kind of sanctuary.”
“Who designed it?” Sasha was smirking at his end of the table, already aware of the answer to the question.
“It’s, uh....” Caine began to type in commands to bring up the information, but Surge’s hand went out to stop him. He smiled and put his hands in his lap, allowing Surge to take over the hunt for information; it would be faster that way. He turned back to Sasha. “Why do you ask, anyway?”
“It’s a totally cosmetic change, right?” Sasha asked. “The city usually doesn’t allow that, so whoever built it must have had power or money, right?”
“Yeah.” Surge’s voice was grim. “He did.”
“Who was it?” Rabbit asked in a voice tinged with agitation. He was slumped in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest. For a dizzy moment, the image of another, very similar man was superimposed over him. Then Caine rubbed his eyes, the world snapped back into focus and he turned his face to Surge again.
“The Metraiel Research Group,” Surge said.
“That’s not a person,” Jin pointed out. “Who are you talking about?”
“Dr. Kouhei Tokoyo. My brother.” Yoko stood still in the doorway, face barely giving away any emotion he might have felt. “He drew up the plans and financed the construction. It was nominally a Cataclysm memorial—construction was started in an anniversary year.”
Caine smiled at Yoko and Surge nodded in confirmation.
“That’s not really why he built it,” Sasha said, looking beyond Yoko. He was unsettled, his predatory smirk gone, as he tilted his head to catch a faraway sound only he could hear.
“No,” Yoko concurred, inclining his head again.
“So he knew?” Julian’s voice was taut, uncomfortable despite himself at mention of Tokoyo.
“He knew,” Yoko repeated. “He had to have known what Hiroki was planning. That’s why he acted so urgently at the end of his life, and that is why Hiroki killed him.”
The room was silent for a moment as the weight of the situation made the air heavier, and under the table, Caine gripped his knees until his knuckles blanched, though he kept his expression carefully calm. His fingers caught on the rough denim of his jeans, and he focused on the texture, anchoring his mind to reality. The universe might be at stake, but everything he really cared about saving was in the chair next to him. For that reason alone, he wouldn’t allow himself to be stopped at this point.
So he smiled and looked around at the others in the room, offering them a share in his serenity. “I think we have enough information to start making a plan.”