"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2 & 3. We Meet Daniel Valentine...

     2.  We Meet Daniel Valentine...

     With his back pressed into the cold marble, Daniel waited in the shadowed niche for the head librarian to finish his work. Deacon had been overseeing the Library of Souls for centuries, and his routine seldom varied.
     On an unimaginable scale, the Library of Souls contained the knowledge of all human experience; every thought, word and deed throughout time was recorded in each individual's book.  Daniel’s eyes wandered upward, following the tall, marble columns that held floor upon floor as they rose until the topmost were swallowed in the mists.
     Catching movement from the corner of his eye, Daniel lowered his gaze from the lofty heights and focused on the large, circular counter in the middle of the room. Standing outside the waist-high circle, Deacon was carefully wiping a large stack of crystal cards with a soft cloth as he walked slowly around the counter, gently inserting each sparkling card into a slot.  Daniel knew they acted as the earthly equivalent of a library card:  A person wanting to view their book, took a card, pressed their thumb against the small crystal screen, and the precise location of the book—floor, aisle, shelf—appeared.  The card was then inserted back into a slot, and the book made its way from the stacks into the person’s hand.  It was a flawless system.  One that made Daniel move restlessly, his nerves dancing with unease.  He wanted this over with, one way or the other.
     Just when he thought Deacon was finished, a woman appeared and hesitantly stood at the entrance, her head tipped back as she read the words carved into the marble over the high, wide arch, a look of awe and trepidation on her face:  ~ All That Is ~ Has Been ~ Will Be ~ 

Daniel slumped. He knew from experience that Deacon loved nothing more than showing a new visitor how the Library worked.   When he turned to welcome the woman, Daniel silently slid down the wall and sat on the floor.  Resting against the cool marble, he pulled his legs up, and dangled his wrists over his bent knees.  Closing his eyes, melding deeper into the shadows, the deep drone of Deacon’s voice and the quiet, nervous questions from the woman drifted into the background as his mind raced.
Gods, he didn’t have time for this delay. He’d planned the theft precisely for the moment there wasn’t a librarian on duty. His stomach clenched at what he was about to do. If he were caught, there was no telling what would happen to him—though he still wasn’t sure he could actually steal the book in the first place.  The one immutable rule of the Library was that only the soul belonging to the book could retrieve it.  Cantrell, however, had assured him it was possible and had supposedly given him the means to do it.
The Cantrells. His fists bunched, knuckles white as he pictured the man, and that fateful night. Oh, how he wanted to wipe the sanctimonious sneer off the bastard’s face. And after cramming those too-white teeth down his throat, Daniel would do the same to that arrogant prick he called his son. He hung his head, breathed deep, flexed the stiffness from his fingers, but the anger refused to let go.  He was fucked no matter how things went down, and couldn’t help thinking that maybe it really was true that the road to Hell was paved with good intentions.
How had it come to this—this very moment in time—and being blackmailed into attempting something so spectacularly stupid it boggled the mind?


Daniel’s origins were mysterious.  He’d been left on the doorstep of the Holy Innocents Children’s Home on a dark, storm-tossed San Francisco night. Sister Mary Anthony kept saying she heard a baby crying, though the other sisters said it was just the wind. It was Sister Mary Margaret who finally went to the door and found the poor baby, soaked through his thin blanket, shivering with cold and screaming with hunger and outrage.
The entire household went into action to help the poor lost lamb. Even Mother Superior helped by heating towels in the oven to quickly warm the near-frozen babe.  Much later, washed, warm, fed and asleep next to the large kitchen stove, the ten sisters of the Holy Order of the Blessed Virgin, circled the crib and marveled at the baby's black hair and long limbs, the deep indent in his chin, and though now his eyes were closed, they had been a mesmerizing shade of dark green with amber flecks, very unusual for a newborn.  Sister Mary Agnes murmured, “He’ll be breaking hearts, this one will.” The other nine nodded solemnly in agreement.
Searching for a name, the sisters debated the merits of several saints, then decided on one that seemed to fit.  As they contemplated a surname, the clock struck midnight, and Sister Mary Margaret said, “It’s now St. Valentine’s Day, sisters.” They looked at her, then at Daniel. Mother Superior murmured, “Daniel Valentine. It’s good. And surely being named for two saints will give him a better chance then he’s had so far.”
When he was seven, and another boy who had been close to him was adopted, Daniel locked himself in the attic and decided never to come out again. While the sisters scoured the house, the grounds, the neighborhood, searching frantically for their missing child, Daniel went on his first flight.
Tired, hungry, exhausted from crying, feeling lost and alone, Daniel rolled into a ball on the attic floor and fell into a deep slumber. When he awoke, he found himself flying, surrounded by a multitude of ribbons in more colors than he had ever imagined.  Exuberant, he stretched out his arms like Superman and zoomed between them, and when he occasionally brushed against a strand, a picture would burst into his mind, sometimes making sense, often not. It would be many years before he understood what that meant.
But on that day of his first journey, he just laughed and flew, until hearing a bellow, he looked down, and realized there was a cold, deep darkness below that made him anxious and fearful. Faltering, he lost altitude, and creatures with red eyes and long claws reached up for him. Screaming in terror, he would have fallen into their grasp, but a tall, strong man swooped out of the mists, gathered him close and flew him away from the growling, hissing nightmares.
 [**There was a glitch somehow, somewhere, and Part 3 vanished off the blog.  I have rewritten and reposted it here though for continuity I had to attach it to Part 2, which makes this section very long to read.  Hopefully, dear reader, you won't fall asleep before you reach the end.**]

3.  We Meet Daniel Valentine...continued
Settling on a bench that seemed to float in the air, the man asked Daniel his name, then told the boy he was called Taurin. After solemnly shaking hands, Taurin told Daniel he must never go away from the light, or fly over the darkness again. Still frightened, Daniel nodded, then quietly asked, "Is this a dream?"

    "In a way," the man replied. His eyes searched Daniel's, then he said softly, "You must be very special to be able to sit here, talking to me." He smiled at Daniel's confusion, patting him gently on the leg. "It's a rare gift, boy, but never mind that now. When you're older, things will make more sense." Taurin leaned closer. "Until then, remember to stay away from the dark."

    Daniel opened his mouth to ask another question, but suddenly cried out at a sharp, painful tug in his belly. "Daniel, see that bright silver cord?" Taurin pointed to the shining band that emerged from Daniel’s abdomen. Noticing it for the first time, he yelled, frantic to wrench it out.

    "NO!" the man shouted, slapping the boy's hands away. Another tug and Daniel moaned, clutching his stomach.

    "What is it?" he cried. "Take it out!"

    Taurin knelt in front of him and calmly murmured, "Listen to me carefully." When their eyes met, he said, "That silver cord is the life line that connects you to your sleeping body." He smiled at the slight frown on the boy's face. "Look around, see all the other colored ribbons?"

    Daniel raised his head and watched the shifting rise and fall of myriad glowing threads…and abruptly made the connection in his mind. Wide-eyed, he said, "Those are people? Dreaming?"

    Taurin nodded. "Some are dreaming, others are being born, or coming home." He brushed a lock of hair off Daniel's forehead. "To go home, all you need to do is think it, and you'll be there." Taurin stood, "Someone is trying to wake you. They must be very worried. You need to go." He hesitated for a moment, not sure how much the boy would understand. "Next time you come here, you must be more careful, and you shouldn't come at all unless you have a safe place to sleep undisturbed. Can you do that?"

    Daniel looked up at the tall, imposing man. In a small, uncertain voice, he said, "I don’t know. I live with ten sisters."

    The man raised a brow, a small smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. "That’s a lot of sisters. Maybe you should wait to go traveling until you’re a bit older. Sisters can be very nosy."

    Before another word could be exchanged, Daniel felt the strongest pull yet and was jerked off the bench to his knees. "I want to go home," he cried. Closing his eyes, arms wrapped tight around his waist, he repeated the words, over and over.

    At the sound of several familiar voices, Daniel slowly opened his eyes. He was back in the attic, and all the sisters, including Mother Superior, surrounded him on the floor in various stages of panic. "By all the saints in Heaven, lad, what happened?" she demanded. "We couldn’t wake you, then you started writhing and moaning. We thought you were dying!"

    Daniel didn’t know what to say, or how to explain where he’d been, what he’d seen. Instinctively, he knew not to tell a room full of nuns that he’d been flying through another world with a mysterious silver ribbon attached to his belly. Confused, scared, too young yet to what had just happened to him, Daniel did the only thing a small boy could do under the circumstances. He burst into loud, wrenching sobs.

    Much later, after being tucked warmly into bed with a tray of soup, toast, and a dish of Sister Mary Raphael’s apple crumble, Sister Mary Margaret came quietly into his room and sat on the edge of the bed. Of all the nuns, she was the closest to him, the one he secretly thought of as his mother. There was no lying to her.

    "What really happened, my boy?"

    So, he told her everything, even the scary parts with the cold darkness and the bad creatures with red eyes and sharp claws. He answered her as best he could when she questioned him in depth about the man who had helped him. Then they sat in silence for a time, Sister Mary staring off into the distance with a frown of concentration, while Daniel scraped the last of the apples out of his bowl. Finally, she slapped both hands down on her knees and stood with a rustle of long black skirts. Leaning over to kiss Daniel’s brow, she admonished, "No more flying off until I've had some time to think this through, Daniel." She lifted the tray off his lap, and he scooted under the bed covers, yawning widely.

    "I’ll try." He looked up at her. "But I don’t know how I did it, so I don’t know how not to do it." He yawned again, then murmured, "But I’ll try." Sister Mary watched him for the few moments it took for him to fall asleep, thoughts racing through her mind. There must be a way to protect her wee boy, and by all that was holy, she would find it.

    The years passed. Daniel went from a precocious child, to an inquisitive youngster, growing into an intelligent if unruly teenager. Sister Mary Margaret, true to her word, found books and articles on astral projection, soul travel, spirit journeys. She kept Daniel's secret, deciding early on that whatever this strange talent was, there had to be a purpose behind it. God works in mysterious ways, after all.

    Over time, through trial and error, and his insatiable curiosity, Daniel developed a broad knowledge and understanding of the Ethereal; he learned how to protect himself, learned who and what to avoid, he even spent time with Taurin, who taught him many things.

    It was on one of his journeys, when he was seventeen and accidentally got entangled in another life thread for a few moments, that he discovered he could actually see into a person’s mind with absolute clarity. Shocked, he drew back sharply, but not before gathering that a valuable artifact was going to be stolen from a museum exhibition. The thread dissolved before Daniel could get more details, and though he searched vigilantly over the next several nights for the thief’s distinctive thread, he didn’t find it.

    When headlines screamed of the theft a few months later, he made a decision that would change the course of his life. Recognizing his inexperience, Daniel spent the next ten years learning, experimenting, honing and refining his skills. He became adept at identifying the meaning behind specific colored bands: Greed had a nasty twinge of pea soup awash in pond scum; murder was a black, undulating band of sticky tar; thievery was greasy red, streaked with a diseased feverish yellow.

    And then, for the next eight, Daniel Valentine became the thief who stole from thieves.

    He took a singular delight in stealing what had been stolen, particularly when so often the crimes were committed by the wealthy, or at their instigation. Like a phantom Robin Hood, he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Anonymously, he funded charities, helped the needy, and often gave to the Holy Order of the Blessed Virgin for his sisters. He was comfortable with his choices, and whether that meant he was justifying his actions, or kidding himself that he was any better than the people he stole from, he didn't really care. What he did care about was messing with the well-heeled criminals, and making a difference for the less fortunate. Because no matter what anyone else thought, his intentions were good—

    His head snapped back as if he’d been struck, bringing him out of his reverie. Intentions were worthless now. Heart racing with a bitter fury, Daniel stared out of the shadows with glittering eyes as he envisioned the whole structure of his life, his purpose, collapsing at his feet, because everything had changed when he’d been snared by the Cantrells.

    With no sign of Deacon, Daniel slowly got to his feet. He was running out of time, with options few on the ground. He had to get this over with, one way or the other.

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