Robert laughed as the dry grass tickled his feet. Grace was making spitting noises and merrily punching him in the face. His life had taken an unexpected turn. His little daughter Grace was a total joy. He had believed that he was far too old to father a child, so had Mary, for that matter, and now, at nine months in, his fatherhood was making him younger by the day.
Mary was packing up the picnic, looking every bit as beautiful as she had when he had first seen her face seven years ago.
‘Did you bring a book down with you?’ she asked him, her brown hair reflecting sunlight into his eyes. Grace, who was propped up in Robert’s arms, gave him another whack in the face, and giggled at her mother as she was bounced up into the air.
‘No, I don’t think so baby.’ said Robert, readjusting his grip on the little toddler.
‘Oh, okay then,’ said Mary, ‘I was sure you did. Never mind.’ She zipped up the blue sports bag and rolled up the big blanket, placing it on top. ‘All yours. Get your shoes on.’ She said, and took Grace off him. They had left the pram in the car, so had to walk back carrying the baby. She was getting restless, and would probably have a nap soon.
Robert slipped his shoes on and picked up the picnic stuff, hopping to catch up with Mary, who had already started off across the grass.
Robert had been totally reliant on Mary for over a year. She had taken him in and nursed him back to health, and for the first four months or so he hadn’t even been able to speak properly. It had been his glowing eyes that had held her trust.
Mary still had some remnants of her power, but Richard and Lynette had developed their own protective abilities, so had stopped needing Mary and Robert to stay around. Lynette and Richard had befriended them quite easily after the events at the hospital, and Robert had helped the younger couple to understand and develop their powers once they became apparent.
Robert remained host to Ixat even now, and was able to commune with him telepathically. In time Robert had become able to bring Mary in to his mind, and she had met the peculiar group of individuals that held a connection to him and Ixat.
She had also met Ixat.
At first, she had been very uncomfortable with this side of Robert’s abilities, taking much more pleasure in his ability to take her flying. It was a bit odd reverting to the use of the car after spending so long flying everywhere.
Robert was unable to travel in the car, because of Ixat, but Mary refused to let him take Grace into the air. They strapped the baby into her baby seat and had a little kiss.
‘Drive carefully, I’ll be right above you, okay?’ said Robert.
‘Okay, Hubbie. You be careful too, right?’
‘I will.’ he said, with a wink, and turned himself invisible.
‘Ooh! You bugger!’ she said, and gave him a slap on the arm. She couldn’t see him, obviously, but she still had a pretty good aim.
‘Ow!’ he said ’Be careful. I love you.’ His body shimmered into visibility slightly as the tentacles of light extruded from him. There were more of them now, and they were all stronger and more complex; a residual effect of playing host to Ixat.
He stroked his wife on the cheek, and lifted himself into the air , placing four of the light tentacles on the ground for extra stability. Mary double-checked Grace and got into the silver car, blowing Robert a kiss through the sunroof.
It was only a fifteen minute drive from the park to their house, twenty minutes, at Mary’s driving speed. Robert kept himself about ten feet above the car and slightly behind, so that he could see into the back seat where Grace was sat. Her car seat sat her facing the back window, and even though he was bending light around himself to make his body invisible, the little toddler was grinning inanely at him.
Robert supposed that his daughter could see him because she had inherited something of the power that both he and Mary commanded. Mary had refused to let him search her mind, and she displayed no other evidence of power, but then again neither did Thomas, unless he was in trouble.
Robert had tried to study Thomas’ power over the last seven years, and while he had a far better command of his own abilities and was a lot stronger, he still had no idea what they actually were.
Ixat’s mind rested in his own, but was kept separate, exhibiting nothing near the level of control the spirit being had had over Arinder. Robert regularly convened with the others in his mind, but none of them had known much about the power they had wielded either.
These days he troubled himself less about it; too busy with his work and his new family. He had the power, with its upsides and its downsides, and it appeared to be here to stay.
Robert still held in the back of his mind his connection to Thomas, who was now aged seven, and was waiting for the child to develop some form of the power that his parents had. Robert did not have as much regular contact with Lynette and Richard as he used to, because they were younger and their son was older. Thomas was now in primary school, and would start at the secondary school at which Robert now taught, in just over four years.
Robert was able to sense the power welled inside the young boy, and knew somehow that the boy still had a role to play in his own life. In a way Robert resented the obligation, because he had his own family to look after, but he also realised that a lot of the power he wielded was given to him on the understanding that he would use it for that purpose. As long as he had the power, he could protect his own, and no matter what happened, they would come first.
At the school, Robert taught integrated science and technology at various levels, his qualifications and background making it easy for him to gain employment in his field. In fact, the school had been surprised as to quite why he would want to take on the job in the first place. His investments and book royalties still earned him a respectable income, but he needed to bump it up to buy a house with Mary.
Robert still had his boat in Norfolk, and he and Mary had regularly stayed there before they were married. He also still had a house in London, but was planning to sell it. At the moment it was being let to a family, and Robert had told the agent to let him know when they decided to leave. He could wait until then to sell; he didn’t want to turf a family out into the street.
Mary and Robert had bought a house on the south coast of cornwall that overlooked an estuary. It was a big four bedroom place with a huge landscaped garden, a far cry from the house Robert had grown up in. Mary was reaching the end of her year long maternity leave next week, and Robert didn’t want her to have to go back to work. So he worked, and she stayed at home, and it was a wonderful situation he had gotten himself into. Mary was now thirty-nine, and Robert had just turned sixty-one.
Neither of them had expected to have a baby. Robert didn’t even think he was capable of it. He was now in his sixties, but looked as though he was in his early forties. They both agreed that this was something to do with the power. Mary looked young too, younger than she should, and people often mistook them for father and daughter.
Robert was so happy, it was like being given a second life. His happiness was only marred by one single thought. When he met Mary, it was in the wake of a man’s death. A man that he had only gotten to know as a ghost inside his own mind. Arinder had died at the direction of Ixat, and now that Robert held Ixat inside him, how long would it be before Robert had to put his own life at risk?
The older Thomas got, and the more stories he heard from Lynette and Richard about the boy’s power being summoned, the more fear he felt that his new life would be taken away from him.
He glided home comfortably, following the car through the winding country roads, and was at the car door to open it as Mary pulled up.
When they got in to the house, Mary checked the telephone for messages and Robert took Grace into the nursery. The toddler had fallen asleep in the car and Robert laid her down in the cot carefully. He tucked a cotton blanket around her and Mary came into the room behind him. Her soft features were set with worry, and she was staring at him, holding the phone to her ear.
‘What is it?’ asked Robert, stepping forward and brushing his wife’s short blonde hair out of her eyes.
‘Its Lynette, she wants you to go over. She says Thomas caused an accident.’
‘What kind of accident?’
‘I don’t know. You should ring them back and find out I suppose. I don’t see why they need you. They’re capable of looking after him themselves.’
‘Well, apparently not this time. Was anyone hurt?’
‘It doesn’t say, but she sounds like she’s crying. You take the phone. Just remember that you have got me and Grace to think about now, Daddy.’ She handed him the phone and went out of the room. Robert felt terrible. Mary knew the situation, but she was right, Thomas was their son, not his, and Richard and Lynette did have an advantage over most parents.
Robert phoned them. The phone rang three times and was answered by a male voice;
‘Hi, is that Richard?
‘Yes, oh, alright there Rob?’
‘Yeah, we got a message from Lynette about Thomas, is he okay? What is it?’
‘Yeah. His power flared up in town today, it overturned a car and smashed up a shop.’
‘What?’ Robert was shocked. The boy’s power had done odd things in the past, but nothing so extraordinary as this. ‘Is anyone hurt?’
‘Only the driver. Look, Lynette shouldn’t have called you. Its okay. We all knew that something like this would happen eventually. No one knows it was Thomas, and I want to keep it that way alright?’ Richard actually sounded angry.
‘Of course, of course. I only rang because we got that message. Is Thomas okay? Does he understand what happened?’ Robert was concerned about this. Someone had been hurt.
‘He does understand, and he feels very bad about it. Lyn is with him now.’
‘Okay, do you need our help with anything?’
‘Is there anything you think you can do?’ Richard still sounded angry, but Robert had known him long enough to tell when he was scared.
‘Possibly,’ said Robert, ‘and there is no-one more qualified to try. I’ll have a think and ring you tomorrow. Okay?’
‘Okay.’ Richard sighed heavily. ‘Okay. I hope you can think of something.’
‘Okay.’ said Robert.
‘How’s the baby?’ asked Richard, his tone a bit happier.
‘She’s good, she’s asleep at the moment.’
‘Ah, cute. Thanks Rob.’ They ended the call and Robert went back to Mary. She was in the kitchen reading the paper. She had a half eaten apple in one hand, and a cup of tea in the other.
‘Made you a coffee,’ She said, ‘was that Richard?’
‘Yeah.’ Robert explained the conversation and pulled the sport section out of the paper. The sun was streaming in through the French doors, and bathed Mary in light.
‘What are you going to do?’ She asked him.
‘I’ll teach him how to control his power, like I did with his parents.’
‘Do you know how?’ asked Mary.
‘No, but I worked out my own power in time, didn‘t I? I‘m confident that I can do the same for Thomas.’
‘It has been needed for quite a while, in my view.’ She said. ‘He’s growing up, and he needs to learn to control himself, like everyone does.’ Mary leant over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Robert had taught Richard and Lynette how to control their powers, but Thomas' power was different. It had an intelligence all of its own, like theirs, but far more developed. It was strong, and Robert did not want to be the one to interfere with it, in case it came to see him as a threat. Why should he put himself at such risk?
He owed it to Arinder, who had died to save the child, and by virtue of his prior involvement, he owed it to everyone around him, including his family. Thomas' power could not be allowed to get out of control, and Robert really was the only one who could help him.
- - - -
The next day, Robert, Mary and Grace went to visit Richard, Lynette and Thomas at their home in Truro. Mary and Lynette took Grace out into the town to look at baby things, Mary not comfortable with the baby being around Thomas. It was sad really, but deep down, Robert agreed. He did not want his daughter put at risk either.
Lynette answered the door and stepped out straight past Robert to meet Mary.
‘Come on then.’ She said to Mary, and they wandered out of the garden and off down the road, with Lynette making silly noises to an excited Grace.
Robert waved them away, blowing a kiss to Mary, who winked back at him. He entered the house and hesitated. There was a guttural growl sounding from the ground directly behind the door. Robert’s eyes instantly flicked to white, and revealed before him was the sight of a larger than life African Lion, paused to pounce, like an alley cat.
Its tail was waving above it, almost scraping the ceiling, and its shoulders brushed the hallway walls on both sides. The animal was bristling with tension, and Robert understood why Lynette took Mary and the baby away so quickly. He wished that she had thought to warn him though. He supposed that she didn’t want to panic Mary. If Robert had known that they had an oversized Lion in the hallway, he wouldn’t have allowed his wife or his daughter anywhere near the house.
Robert knew that this creature was just a manifestation, but that did not make it any less intimidating. He formed a strong energy shield with the arms of his aura, knowing of course that if this Lion decided to strike at him, it would slice the shield away like paper.
He walked forward, his eyes glowing white, watching the cat’s own eyes gleam back at him. The Lion backed away and licked its lips, its huge teeth glistening with saliva. Robert tried to bear the creature down, fear causing him to sweat and tremble. Every bone in his body was screaming at him to run away, but he was engaged with this creature now, and had to settle the contact.
Robert stood straight. He was not here to harm anyone, he was here to help. He held the thought strongly at the front of his mind, concentrating hard on it. It fought against horrible images of rendered flesh and spurting blood. He couldn’t help imagine what this animal could do to his body if it wanted to. It was sickening.
His heart pumping in his throat, he walked forward at a steady pace until he was nearly touching the creature, at a convenient biting distance, and it stood up, noticeably relaxing. Thomas’ power was psychic, but had learnt to exercise a great deal of caution. Robert had passed its test.
The Lion’s hair had settled where it had been prickled on its back, and a look of passive nonchalance passed unmistakeably over its face. Like any cat, It treated Robert as though he was beneath its sphere of concern, and it padded off into the depths of the house on its massive paws.
Where the Lion had been crouched, there were very faint claw marks, where the thick carpet was already trying to regain its shape against the thin depressions. Robert’s heart skipped a beat or two with relief andhe slumped to the floor, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his arm.
Too old, he thought. Far too old.
‘Rob?’ came a voice from the top of the stairs. It was Richard. ‘I didn’t hear you come in. You look ill man, you alright?’
Robert got up off the floor. ‘There was a lion there,’ he pointed to the floor, he was pretty short of breath, and Richard came down the stairs to him.
‘A lion?’ Richard closed his eyes and sighed. ‘Thomas. He’s upstairs. He’s really upset Rob, I don’t know what to do.’
‘Okay, Shall we go up? I don’t want to spend much more time around that Lion if I can help it.’
- - - -
Thomas was sat in his bedroom on a blue plastic chair, playing with a toy spaceship. fHe didn’t look upset to Robert, but then Robert didn’t really know a lot about young children. The curtains were drawn, giving the small room a blue watery feel.
‘’Ello Rob,’ said Thomas, ‘the Lion didn’t get you then?’ The boy was smiling, but he could now see something strange in the boy’s face. Fear. The little boy was scared.
‘No, I am pretty friendly with Lions, as it happens.’ he replied, and sat down on the boy’s bed.
‘We told Rob what happened Tom,’ said Richard, ‘he’s come to see if we can help you.’
‘What do you think you can do? You can’t control it.’ said Thomas.
‘No you’re right, I can’t.’ said Robert, ‘but I think that you can.’
‘How can I? It just does what it wants and it hurts people. I don’t want to hurt people.’
‘Of course you don’t. And it only hurts people it thinks are trying to hurt you. Just like the Srith and the winds. You don’t mind when it stops them do you?’
‘No, but they scare me.’ He paused. ‘People don’t scare me.’ The young boy was pouting, and sounded quite miserable. There were tears in his eyes. Robert stood, but stayed where he was as the boy’s father came forward to comfort him.
Richard looked imploringly at Robert, ’What are you going to do for him?’
‘Its simple enough, Thomas is going to train the Lion.’ It was Robert’s belief that the different animals and forces that manifested when Thomas was under threat, existed as some kind of interface between Thomas' growing mind and the core of the power itself. He was sure that whatever it was that directed the power had an intelligence of its own, that took charge when given simple instructions. In much the same way that a human’s vital organs and blood flow were governed by the brain independently of thought, Thomas' power gave him an easily recognisable sensory stimulus that enabled it to be better understood by the boy and helped it to better interpret the young boy’s thoughts as well.
It was a shaky theory, based on no experimentation, but Robert had enough of an understanding of his own power to know that the halos and fluxing tentacles of light he used to direct it were a simple way for his mind to understand and manipulate his power’s complex functions.
He fully believed that his power could be turned to any use that he could conceive of, but his intrinsic perception of it probably limited its uses somewhat. It took a lot of time, thought and experimentation for him to develop a new power, and it was the same for the refinement of his existing ones.
If the physical manifestations of Thomas' power were a similar kind of connection, then there was no reason that the boy could not take control in a similar way. Robert’s main reservation was that Thomas' power tended to act with a level of autonomy that neither his, Mary’s, Richard’s or Lynette’s seemed to. Robert wanted the boy to be in control, but did not want to remove the power’s ability to activate itself, in case he put the child in danger.
‘Can you call the Lion up here Thomas?’ asked Robert, though he was reluctant to face the huge beast again.
‘Yes, I can do that.’ said the boy, and he stood up. He closed his eyes, and Robert could see the white glow behind his eyelids as his mind interacted with the power. The Lion did not trot in through the door, as Robert had expected, but just appeared in the room with them in an instant. It had been sat licking the back of its paw, and looked up only to communicate to Robert the lack of importance it awarded him.
‘Is that easy to do?’ asked Robert.
‘No, I’ve never done it before. It normally comes on its own, but it knew that it scared you so it wanted to stay away.’ The boy was very matter of fact, and it surprised Robert that a child so young could be so articulate.
‘Where was the Lion?’ asked Robert.
‘It wasn’t anywhere. It was inside, in here.’ The boy pointed at his chest.
‘I didn’t know he could summon it up at will. How long has he been able to do that for?’ Robert asked Richard. If he could do that, then gaining some control would be that much easier.
‘Like he said, that was the first time.’ Said Richard. ’How come you haven’t ever done it before?’ Richard asked his son. ’I didn’t know you could do that.’
‘I didn’t know either. I’ve never tried before. Is it alright?’ said the boy. His eyes were glowing brilliantly white.
Both the men laughed. ’Yes Thomas its fine.’ Said Robert. ’Its fine. We’ve got some work ahead of us but I think that you’ll be the boss in no time. Can you send him away again?’
‘Yes, I think so.’ The boy sat back down again and his eyes began to lose their thick white glow. The Lion faded away and the glow in Thomas' eyes subsided. His shiny black hair was standing up slightly, and he was flushed red with effort.
‘Are you okay?’ asked Robert. The boy said he was and Richard suggested they sit out in garden and have a drink. It seemed like a good idea. Thomas played a bit of football with his father and seemed to have forgotten his feelings about the car accident.
It was looking very promising, but Robert did not know how much control the boy would have when actually under threat.
It was fairly common for him to be set upon by strange creatures or freak bursts of flame or water. Every time it happened his power stepped in smoothly and dealt with it, but when it came to the different kind of threat posed by people, and the material world around him, the power was unpredictable, as though it did not understand what was required of it. It seemed to panic, and overcompensated with violent and destructive force.
It was this unpredictable force that he had to teach Thomas to control.
It would take time, with Robert teaching him slowly and methodically about different elements of his power and how he believed they worked, so that he could give clearer instructions to whatever creature the power had manifested at the time.
Robert believed that simply by increasing the quality and frequency of plain communication between the boy and the power, it would enable the power to use Thomas' own cognitive skills to better judge the level of force, and indeed the type of response necessary for the situation.
The power’s main function was to keep Thomas safe, and Robert wanted to ensure that it understood that it had other options available to it, such as rescuing Thomas and carrying him from danger, instead of simply lashing out to neutralise a threat. He was certain that this communicative process would eventually lead to Thomas having a proper command of the power, able to instruct it and control it at will.
Thomas proved to be very receptive for his age, and only grew frustrated when overly tired. Robert visited Thomas regularly, thinking up exercises that his parents could help him with. The powers that Richard and Lynette had use of were a sophisticated extension of Thomas' own power, and Robert suspected that they would fade as Thomas gained more control.
The more progress Robert made with Thomas, the calmer he felt in general, and it helped him in his own life to know that he was doing something constructive to keep his family safe. His trust in Thomas grew as the boy grew older, and he came to appreciate that no-one had as deep an understanding of the enigma as Thomas himself.
It was upon realising this that Robert thought he should try something more in-depth. He had so far only been skirting the tip of the iceberg, and with Richard and Lynette’s permission, Robert wanted to go into Thomas' mind.
Thomas was eleven years old, and Robert was confident enough in his own abilities to know that he wasn’t going to bring any harm to the boy.
In fact the only person at risk would be Robert himself.
The two parents did not like the idea, and forbade it. Robert did not try to talk them into it. It was possible that Robert could help Thomas without entering his mind, but it would take longer, and Robert would have no way to properly gauge the level of control Thomas really had.
Robert’s own daughter needed more and more of his time, and in truth he would rather have been spending it with her. Mary was still reluctant to allow Grace anywhere near the boy, despite Robert’s progress, so he visited Thomas, Lynette and Richard alone.
They had worked well together thus far, but Thomas would soon be starting secondary school, and Robert wanted him to have a much better grip on the power before puberty took its toll. Robert worked in a school. It was an intense atmosphere, of high emotion, and fraught with conflict.
There would be no way Thomas could live his life without conflict, but would the work Robert had been able to do with him be enough to stop him lashing out?
It had to be.
He hoped it was.