Danny's First Lesson

"I'm telling this," Tanith said, "just as it was told to me by the one who came before me, as he was told it in his turn and so on and so on, going back to a time before written history began and all knowledge was passed on by word and by memory. Here," she took his resisting hands in hers. She was stronger than he expected,strong enough that his brief effort to snatch them back was as fruitless as if he was a small child trying to fight an adult's strength.He gave up, feeling warmth and tingling in his palms where she held him, her fingers curled loosely.He thought of saying something, but her voice had a sing-song quality that made him feel that he was in a dream, or that he was floating, weightless, with only her grip to anchor him.

"What I know will be what you know," she said. "My burden will be your burden. My duty yours, my pain, my path, my reason will all be yours."

"My duty," he said, and something seemed to have taken his mouth for its own, his tongue too. He hadn't meant to speak. "My duty," he repeated in a wondering tone that wasn't like his at all.

"We are Chosen," Tanith said. "Who chose us no one knows or ever will know. We only know that we are Chosen, that each generation someone is born to take up the burden we've carried down the years, to walk the path. That line must never be broken. Never. We recognize each other, as I recognized you and as you, when the time comes, will recognize the one who will come after you. I felt it when you were born, I knew and I was waiting."

With every word she spoke Danny felt himself sink deeper and deeper into warmth and light. It enveloped him, grew around him, strands of fluffy clouds in his head, heat like a weight, a comfortable bed with a heavy cover, wrapping him, spinning him deeper and deeper until all he could see were her two strange eyes staring into his. He struggled against it, pulled and pulled at the weights that were trying to smother him, fighting against the tides of comfort and well-being. There was no give, he flung himself at the weight, an insect batting its head on glass, pushed and heaved, until growing anger finally snapped the threads and he was back in himself, solid in his own body, sweat prickling his forehead and dampening his shirt. His legs were numb as if he'd sat without moving for hours.

"I know who chose me," he said. "You chose! Do I have a choice?"

"You always have a choice," Tanith told him. He'd thought she might be dismayed that he'd managed to break free of whatever spell she'd woven, shocked and disturbed, but her face was impassive and her eyes were merely sad and she still held his hands.He drew away from her, his palms clammy.

"Your path, what is that? Your duty? Why?"

"To prepare the way," she said.

"The way for what?"

"Not for what, for who. We are here to prepare the way, Danny. A path, stone by stone laid down by our many lives. We guard the way and we wait and we prepare. That is our duty. This is your duty. And it's close now, very close. It may even be in your time."


"The breaking of the world, the fall. Things are moving forward, gathering speed. We're living in strange days."

"You're mad," Danny said. "You're touched!" His words seemed to have no power to hurt her, but he felt guilty all the same. But what did she know? He had to find Scout, find Sal. Strange days. If he had a duty it was to people he knew, to friends, not to a madwoman holed up in a junk shop.

"Danny," she said.

"No, I'm sorry. I'm going. What you're selling I'm not buying." Politeness was an effort, he just wanted to get out. She tried to take his hand again but he smacked at her reaching fingers. "No, you crazy old witch! You let me go!"

And then she did let go. The world folded itself up, the walls trembled and she was snatched away from him and he from her. He saw her fly away from him, felt a thing like a giant hand scoop him up and press him backwards. Only then did the boom of the explosion hit his ears like scorching fists and everything was flame and agony and a growing inky blackness that swamped him and held him for a long, long while.










The End

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