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Chapter 47: Epilogue
Open. The bloody door.
Gabriel Doyle gritted his teeth as he pounded for the fourth time on the heavy wooden door, feeling the sun on the back of his neck. He was hot. He was a little light-headed. And most every bugger else in Rio appeared to have decided that this was the best time to have a bloody nap, if buses and numbers on the streets were any sort of indication.
Or he’d just wandered into the wrong part of town and absolutely had no idea how to handle the public transport system. That was quite possible.
Either way, it meant that he was a whole lot more irritable, and that the person he wanted to talk to was probably asleep.
‘Hey! I’m not going to stand here all day, you know!’ he snapped at last, voice echoing off the near walls of the narrow street.
He wasn’t sure where he was. He’d only got in via Portkey that morning at Brazil’s magical government establishment, and had spent most of the time since stumbling around with a poor translation spell and a hunt for a sandwich. But the directions said that this was the house of one C.S. Whitaker, and he hadn’t come halfway across the globe to be defeated by a door.
If he’d been paying more attention, he would have had to have conceded that it was a lovely city. It was hard to be opposed to the gleaming sun as it dazzled across a deep blue sea, a city that was very notably foreign and exotic, and under more pleasant circumstances it might have been a holiday.
But he wasn’t here for entertainment. He was sweating from the walk up the hill, in between houses that looked more like huts moulded out of concrete, dodging the locals who vacillated between ignoring him as a tourist and peering suspiciously at him as he walked into the areas where tourists didn’t go, jabbering away in Portugese and leaving him understanding basic words but ultimately with little to no comprehension.
Finally, the door opened a crack, and he found his gaze drawn down to meet the eye level of the person who peered out. It was hard to notice details with them shrouded in the gloom and blocked by the door, but he knew at least that they were male, wild of hair and nervous of countenance.
‘I didn’t ask for you to stand here all day,’ was the slightly reedy but rather irritated response. ‘What do you want?’
‘…Mister Whitaker?’ With a start, Gabriel realised he had no idea what his target looked like. ‘My name is Gabriel Doyle, sir, I’ve sent several letters your way…’
‘I don’t talk to reporters.’
Whitaker made to shut the door, but he’d anticipated this, at least, anticipated reluctance on the man’s part, and his foot was in the way before it could close. ‘I’m not a reporter. I just want to talk to you. I read your book.’
‘Lots of people read my book. I don’t do interviews, divinations… charity events, I don’t open supermarkets, and I live here so I will be left alone.’ Pressure was exerted on Gabriel’s foot as Whitaker grunted against the door, but he was younger and stronger and it didn’t budge.
‘Left alone. So you don’t have to act on the things that you see, bear the burden of responsibility of being both a seer and one who thinks you can change it?’ Gabriel gritted his teeth, as much against the sun still bearing down on him as the effort. He put his shoulder to the door, grimacing. ‘The visions, the screams of those who suffer, those who experience tragedy, and so you hide away because you know you can’t stop them all, even if you knew how – and even if you could, do you have the right?’
The door swung open abruptly and Gabriel almost fell over as he staggered in. Struggling to keep his footing, he found himself in a darkened room with rather meagre furnishings – the sort of place to live he expected of some poor local family, not the writer of an acclaimed treatise on Divination.
Blinking to adjust his eyes to the darkness, he peered at Whitaker. Now with a better view, he was surprised to see the seer wasn’t much older than him, probably not yet even thirty. They must put dust on any book over an inch thick at Hogwarts; he can’t have written it that long ago. Small and scrawny, wild-haired and wild-eyed, he was glaring at him with intense dislike and suspicion.
‘What the hell would you know about any of that?’ Whitaker hissed, approaching him sharply with enough anger that, despite his greater size, Gabriel took a step back.
‘B-because I’ve seen it,’ he said, grimacing at his nervousness. ‘The knowledge of what’s coming. The uncertainty of if you can change it. If you should. And how… fate? Destiny? Something. There’ll be something to stop you meddling.’
There was a long pause, then Whitaker grunted and kicked the door shut, casting them into near-complete blackness before he tramped across the room, reaching up to grab the heavy curtains that blocked the window and throw them open.
Again, Gabriel found himself blinking as the light changed in the room, and he lifted a hand to squint against the sun’s rays storming in. There was a view, just about, if he peered through the gaps in the buildings, of the sea, far away. It rippled invitingly, and for a moment he wished he’d gone to the beach instead.
‘You’re a seer,’ Whitaker said flatly, turning to face him. With better light, he didn’t look like he’d slept – or, perhaps, washed – in a while.
‘I did write to you,’ Gabriel said reproachfully.
‘I don’t take letters.’ Whitaker waved a hand dismissively. ‘It’s always someone bothering me. Drink?’
‘It’s mid-afternoon… sure.’ Gabriel blinked, and before he knew it he had a glass of what looked and smelled like cheap whiskey in his hand. The room was a mess, but Whitaker obviously knew his way to the bottle on the coffee table.
He tried to not think too hard about how clean the glass was. The whiskey was probably bad enough to outright kill any germs anyway.
‘So you got visions you don’t know what to do with and you came to me.’ Whitaker threw his own drink back in one big gulp. ‘Enterprising of you. Most just go to whatever shitty diviner they can find on Diagon Alley. The most excitable try the centaurs.’
‘I did,’ Gabriel choked, having made the mistake of taking a sip of his drink. ‘I… didn’t like what they had to say.’
Whitaker paused, moving to stand in front of him abruptly. ‘So you think I’ll just say nicer things to you, boy, hm, things that you like? About how the world is kind and fluffy and you don’t have to see things you don’t like? That you haven’t just been given a portal in your mind to the globe’s suffering?’
‘No!’ It was hard to be emphatic when his eyes were watering with burning cheap whiskey in his throat. ‘I saw something I had to change, and then I read your book…’
‘I can’t tell you how to change it.’ Whitaker waved a hand dismissively, wandering towards the window. ‘It’s almost impossible – trust me.’
‘I changed it.’
Whitaker did stop then, and turned sharply on the spot. There was a moment’s silence as he moved across to fill his glass, then he looked up at Gabriel with renewed interest.
‘You changed it.’ He tilted his head as Gabriel nodded slowly. ‘How? Didn’t things get in the way? Circumstances oppose you? The temporal arcana build up with such a ferocious tension at your efforts to act according to knowledge you shouldn’t have that you almost passed out?’
‘I did pass out.’ Gabriel grimaced. That had been one hell of a headache. At least the sip of whiskey took that memory away. ‘I didn’t interfere directly. I knew where it was going to happen, well enough to put something there that could help. It did. It worked.’
Whitaker didn’t react for a long moment. Then he threw his whiskey down his throat again, and grinned broadly. ‘Fuck fate.’
Gabriel nodded nervously. ‘Fuck fate.’ Another sip of his drink to punctuate it. That one he did regret, making a face.
‘You’re not seeing the future. Forget what the centaurs say, forget what the seers say… the future is not guaranteed. It is only likely.’ Whitaker waggled a finger, putting his tumbler down on the table, which was already marked with many rings. ‘At least, what you and I see. Perhaps they all see something different. Or they’re just… pretentious with their prophecy, and their portents… And yes… I suppose if they do see the same as us, then they’re right. Most of the time, it is what will happen unless somebody interferes with the plan.’ His grin broadened, sparkling in the gloom. ‘“Somebody” here being a little shit like you or me.’
‘What do you mean, the future is only likely?’ Gabriel frowned.
‘You and I aren’t seeing some great cataclysmic event that is inevitable, Dobbs.’ Gabriel didn’t bother to correct the other man as Whitaker began to pace, finally with a spark in his otherwise dull eyes. ‘We’re seeing… situations that are a culmination of a variety of events. The pressure of a thousand threads weaving together with what one would think to be inevitability. That is why we can see them. When time comes together that sharply, with that much import, those of us who are sensitive to its magical pattern will likely get a flash of it.’ Whitaker gestured vaguely, then continued in almost an afterthought. ‘Oh, what you’re seeing will happen, of course. Just not necessarily in this reality.’
Gabriel blinked. ‘Come again?’
Whitaker sighed heavily, as if he was dealing with an idiot schoolboy. If Gabriel didn’t need him so badly, he’d be bristling right now – he’d just got out of being an idiot schoolboy. ‘There’s so much import, so much arcane temporal pressure, simply because there are so many possible variables, so many possible conclusions. Each chain of events vying for domination, for its preferred outcome. What we see is just a mathematical conclusion. The heaviest, the strongest wins. And it’s prophecy because, most of the time, it’s the case.’
‘That doesn’t explain you blathering about reality.’ By now, Gabriel figured he could probably get away with such statements. Whitaker was only half-listening to him as it was.
‘Parallel universes, boy!’
Now he was beginning to see why Whitaker had been dismissed as a crackpot by the rest of the divining academic world.
‘There’s so much import that it has to happen somewhere! The tension doesn’t just give us visions, it creates whole new realities where these other possibilities exist! Oh, not fully fledged worlds, more shadows, echoes of this one, of this so-called “preferred timeline”. Pansies in London think that this means if we change it we’ll fuck with the fabric of reality, but the world’s stronger than that.’ Whitaker gave a devilish grin so broad and irreverent that Gabriel wondered quite strongly whether he’d given much thought to his off-hand dismissal of the possibility of ending the world.
‘That’s… alright. Okay. Then what about changing it?’ He could accept alternate realities. This was not a new theory to him, though the specifics did elude him. But he didn’t care about other worlds. He was more worried about this one.
‘You said you passed out,’ Whitaker said. ‘That’s a natural result of the tensions within the arcane energies you’re connected to lashing out at you. It also has the by-product of fate telling you to sit down and shut up. Fucker that it is. You going to finish that?’ Gabriel didn’t argue as Whitaker plucked the half-empty glass from his hand and chugged merrily on what was left.
‘When you’re changing events, you’re just pushing what could be into what is. And it’s cheating, because you’re not meant to know the variables enough to introduce a new equation, but the world can take it. You just can’t do it willy-nilly. Giving the tools to other people to change it, that’s… that’s smart. That means it’s still in the hands of those who can’t see the numbers. It’s safer.’ Whitaker nodded enthusiastically.
Gabriel looked down at his feet. Then he thought he saw a cockroach out of the corner of his eye scuttling across the room and looked back up sharply. ‘There’s a war going on back home,’ he said quietly. ‘I can see things before they happen. I need to learn how to control this – what I see, or at least understand it better, and… and learn how to change it, or make sure it does happen…’
‘So you came to me.’ Whitaker wiped his nose, sniffing. His gaze came across to the window, the clumped houses and, somewhere out there, the deep blue sea, wide and endless and inviting. ‘I didn’t have someone to tell me how to figure it out. I wanted to change things, boy, I really did, but I had to figure it out myself, and now I’m sitting in Rio drinking cheap whiskey…’
‘Then teach me.’ Gabriel took a sharp step forward. ‘I can take your lessons. Take what you knew. Put it to the good use you wanted to – I know you wanted to put it to good use, I read your book.’
‘Teach you.’ Whitaker drew a deep breath, hesitating before he glanced over at Gabriel. ‘Teach you so you can help people. So you can understand it all better. So you know what to change as well as how.’
The room was small, but it seemed much larger as the seer padded across towards him, then extended his hand. ‘It’s a deal, Mister Doyle.’
Gabriel’s shoulders sagged with relief, tension flowing out of him. Not just the tension of this conversation, or even the tension of the morning trying to find Whitaker, but tension that had been there since he’d passed out in a Defence lesson, or perhaps before then… but now he had a guide. Now he could find a way. Now he could get an answer.
But before he could reach out to clasp Whitaker’s hand, he felt a sharp, familiar sense of searing pain in his forehead, a flurrying array of images, sensations and sheer awareness pounding through him, and the next thing he knew he was on his back, with Whitaker’s sallow face filling his vision unwelcomely.
This time he was grateful for the whiskey handed to him.
‘Was that a vision? Looks like it usually feels when it happens to me. Funny to see it from the other perspective.’ Whitaker cheerfully reached to pluck the now-empty glass from Gabriel’s shaking hands. ‘What did you see? Looked like a good ‘un.’
Gabriel blinked, colour only slowly seeping back into the world. His vision wasn’t yet stable, as was normal after a blinding shot of the future like that. But slowly he could see the faded brown of the curtain, and the mild breeze creeping through the window brought with it not only cool air but also the hint of a scent of sea breeze. It was enough to make him feel just about alive, again.
When he could speak, his voice was hoarse – from the exertion as much as the whiskey. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said, then stopped as he realised a sore throat was making him melodramatic, and he looked at the crazy alcoholic hermit who had been driven to such a state by the same gift as he had.
His lips set. ‘But I know what’s coming next. And I know what I have to do.’
A/N: This epilogue was written a while ago. It was just a question of whether it would be written as an epilogue, or as a prologue. To what, you might ask? Yes, this is just an entirely gratuitous piece of self-promotion and general hyping.
So... coming soon...
Falls the Shadow. The Deathly Hallows sequel to 'Shade to Shade'. Coming to you in December... perhaps approximately after a period of time which would match a chance to edit things written in NaNoWriMo...
Enjoy this teaser in the meantime.