It was still dark as the hulking converted military transport lumbered its way up Slide Mountain, moving steadily but cautiously in the snowy, icy conditions of very early spring in the Catskills. "Almost there, Mr. Cranston," the driver reassured his passenger.
"Thank you," Lamont Cranston answered from the rear seat of the truck. He was quite certain his anxiousness was audible, but there was nothing to do but sit and wait. The truck couldn't possibly go any faster safely up the side of the mountain, even if it was imperative that Lamont reach his destination. The driver was a loyal agent from the valley below, rescued with most of the other residents of Frost Valley by The Shadow from a proposed mob takeover of the town almost ten years earlier, and the entire town was used to responding on a moment's notice to anything asked of them. So when a Shadow agent arrived in the dead of night and said he needed a ride up the side of an ice-covered slope, the only question was how big a transport did he want.
Lamont stared ahead at the road, trying desperately to pick out their destination in the dark fog--The Temple Of The Cobras, the Buddhist monastery of The Marpa Tulku and training ground for psychic adepts for 21 generations. It still amazed him that a building the size of two or three cathedrals could be completely unseen by anyone until its residents wanted it to be seen. It had been that way for a thousand years now, and Lamont had personally witnessed the awesome sight of the dark, heavy fog that surrounded The Temple sweeping away and the holy ground simply materializing from seemingly nowhere. Of course, most of its lifetime was in its former location on the Tibetan plateau, but for the past four years, the ancient art of projective telepathy was now ensconced in a dark stone structure three-quarters up the side of Slide Mountain in New York's Catskill Mountains. Like the agents in the valley below, The Marpa Tulku was also rescued from certain death by The Shadow four years ago--completing the circle begun in 1926, when The Tulku's guards abducted Tibetan opium lord Ying Ko from his palace at the foot of Mount Kailasa and brought him to face judgment and receive redemption. Marpa Tulku spent the next three weeks turning the angry, raging Ying Ko back into troubled American heir Lamont Cranston...and then the better part of the next year transforming him into the ultra-projective master of darkness known as The Shadow. It took almost 32 years, but Lamont was finally able to return the favor, rescuing Marpa Tulku from the clutches of a Chinese soldier intent on capturing his psychic powers for use by the Chinese army. The Tulku and his remaining surviving students--less than 100 of them had managed to escape from Tibet, just steps ahead of the Chinese army--were now in America, granted political asylum thanks to some hard work by Shadow agents throughout the U.S. government, and living in a temple built to their precise specifications thanks to the massive Cranston financial resources. Nearly four years later, The Temple Of The Cobras was finally returning to the role it had played for a millenium in Tibet...the guidance and training of gifted adepts to take on their various life missions, missions dictated by the strength and shape of their psychic powers. Among those adepts were Lamont's own family--son Monty and daughter Lane had spent weeks here sharpening their powers in preparation for taking on The Shadow's duties, and their spouses Anne Mulroney Cranston and David McAllister had come here to experience their own psychic awakenings and be trained by The Tulku to handle their newly blossomed gifts of projective telepathy and receptive clairvoyance, respectively. Marpa Tulku had seemingly been reborn in America, finally able for the first time in almost nine years to practice his religion and train his students without fear of discovery by the Chinese army which had taken over Tibet in 1950. But better still for both Lamont and The Tulku, the proximity of The Temple to Manhattan--less than two hours away by train and less than that by plane--had enabled the great teacher and his finest student to spend more time visiting than they could ever have dreamed of being able to do before, spending hours and days making up for the lost years they had been separated by time, distance, and missions.
Which made the voice Lamont had heard in his sleep all the more disturbing.
Asleep in his bed in Manhattan, Lamont had heard his former master calling to him in great pain, urging him to come quickly, jolting him wide awake. He'd been about to dismiss it as a dream, but when he heard the cries again moments later, he raced out the door and headed for the airport to fly his private plane to the Frost Valley airfield. Lamont desperately hoped this was not what he thought it was, but deep in his heart, he knew why Marpa Tulku was calling so anxiously...
...he was dying.
Lamont had first become aware about a month ago that The Tulku was seriously ill, during a visit to introduce The Tulku to the first Cranston grandchild, Monty and Annie's two-week-old son Lamont III. On that visit, The Tulku had been in obvious pain, though he made great efforts to hide it and refused to discuss it until Lamont confronted him in private. Prostate cancer, he'd told Lamont, cancer that had spread into the bones was sapping his strength and wracking his body with pain that was nearly impossible to overcome even with the tremendous power of tumo summonings. Death was near, he admitted, but he assured Lamont that Shao Ngawang, his natural successor and the reincarnation of Marpa Yeshi's twin brother, was ready to assume his role, ready to receive the dharma as 20 previous successors had before him. In any event, Lamont was not to worry, Marpa Tulku stated; whatever happened would be for the best, and would happen quietly, as it had for 21 generations. Lamont was very upset that his master had not seen fit to tell him the truth about his illness until it was too late to do anything about it, and the two men had parted on less than amicable terms, deciding for the sake of decorum to table the discussion until after the passing of the dharma.
So for The Tulku to cry out for him disturbed Lamont deeply, and he was anxious to reach The Temple to be by his master's side. He'd been calling for Marpa Tulku for almost two hours now, but only receiving fevered cries of pain in replies that were becoming less and less coherent. To realize that his master was in so much pain that he was not in control of his powerful psyche frightened Lamont...who knew all too well what that feeling was like.
"There it is," the driver indicated.
Lamont finally saw The Temple ahead of him, shrouded in darkness and fog. His heart skipped a beat as the transport pulled up to the front entrance. He grabbed the small satchel he'd packed and anxiously climbed out of the truck, tipped the driver, and hurried up to the front gates.
The young initiate who opened the door for him looked decidedly unnerved and greatly relieved at the same time. "Master Lamont," he greeted with great deference and a deep bow.
Rise, Lamont instructed, still uncomfortable with initiates bowing to him as if he were some great spiritual leader instead what he really was, a reformed rogue telepath. Hello, Zhen. It's good to see you. But I wish it weren't under these circumstances.
Zhen stood up again. "Thanks be that you are here. Marpa Tulku has been calling for you for hours. We have all been praying you had heard and were coming."
I know. I got here as quickly as I could. Where is he?
"In his chamber. Master Ngawang is with him."
Thanks. He doffed his shoes and left them by the door, then hurried down the temple's long, winding corridors, periodically calling for his master.
Lamont felt his heart skip another beat. That was the most coherent thought he'd heard from Marpa Tulku in a half-hour. Tulku, I'm here. I'll be at your door in about 30 seconds.
He felt the energies from his master waning, then they became clear again. Thank you...
You're more than welcome. Lamont turned down the hallway and stopped before a simple looking door at the end of the corridor. He started to knock.
It opened before he could, and the worried face of Shao Ngawang looked at him. The young monk bowed deeply. Thank the gods, his mind whispered.
Lamont took Ngawang's hands and pulled him to his feet. Please...there's no need for that, he urged. Especially not now.
Ngawang looked very nervous. So The Tulku says, at least. I wish I felt as ready as he says I am.
Lamont put a gentle hand on Ngawang's shoulder. It was quite easy to forget that the young Buddhist priest who would soon possess a thousand-year-old psyche was just an 18-year-old boy who had only made his projective breakthrough less than five years ago, mere months before the advancing Chinese army forced him and the other monks in The Temple Of The Cobras to flee Tibet. Ngawang was younger than either of Lamont's children, and the elder telepath couldn't help but feel paternal pride in and concern for the young man he'd gotten to know quite well over the past few years. I think it's safe to say you're more ready for this than you think. You're certainly more ready for this than I could ever dream of being. How is he?
Thankful that my prayers have been answered, Marpa Tulku's mind projected. Come in, Lamont.
Ngawang stepped aside and let Lamont into the room.
Lamont was, for a moment, taken aback. Marpa Tulku was lying on a pallet, looking weak, drawn, and in terrible pain. He'd lost an incredible amount of weight in just the four weeks since Lamont's last visit--he looked like a skin-covered skeleton, with the sunken eyes and vacant expression that were the gruesome hallmarks of a terminally ill cancer patient. The aroma of incense barely masked the stench of bodily waste, yet another sign of how desperately ill the man before him now was.
It was Ngawang's turn to comfort Lamont. He went into seclusion after you left. And he would not let anyone see him until he could do absolutely nothing for himself any more. Only then did he ask me to come to his side. That was two weeks ago, and he has declined steadily ever since. It has been very difficult on all of us. He looked shaken. I have not left his side since he called for me. And I have been debating whether or not to call you for the past week. But, as he always does, The Tulku knew what was best. And he knew that now was when he needed you most.
Lamont recovered his senses and nodded his thanks to Ngawang, then knelt at his teacher's bedside and bowed deeply.
The Tulku reached out and placed a hand under Lamont's chin. Look at me.
Lamont looked up.
The Tulku smiled. I had not realized I looked that bad, he gathered from the expression on Lamont's face.
Lamont smiled despite himself. You look like Hell. But it's good to see you again.
And you. A pause, as he fought off the pain and delirium that threatened once more to engulf his mind, then he took Lamont's hand. Thank you for coming. I was not certain you would.
Now Lamont laughed. You're kidding, right? How could I possibly stay away when you woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me you needed me?
The Tulku looked sad. We parted under most unpleasant terms a few weeks ago. You were very upset with me and thought I had given up on life. I was not certain if you were too angry to return.
Lamont frowned. Oh, God, did I handle that badly. He fought to keep his composure. I didn't mean to take that out on you. I was just completely unprepared for you telling me you had terminal cancer. He shook his head. How many times have I been up here the past few months? And you never said a word, not even a stray thought. And I never noticed you getting sicker. How long had you known before you finally told me?
Not quite six months. Another pause as another wave of pain washed over him. I had a pain in my back that would not go away. I meditated, prayed, and summoned tumos, but none of it did any good. When I began to... He looked embarrassed, then found the ability to continue. ...lose some of my bodily functions, I finally called Chopak.
Lamont took a moment to place the name. Your new healer.
The Tulku nodded. He had only been here nine months, and only two months into his mission. It was a difficult assignment to place on him so soon after his arrival. A wistful sigh. This temple has always been greatly blessed with the right adept arriving at the right time. My successor always arrives just when I need him to. When my students and I need a psychic stimulation to keep us fresh, a challenging student appears. And whenever we need a healer at this temple, the gods send an empath to take on the role. And Chopak arrived from India just when I needed him. It was he who first detected the tumor. He took me down to the valley to the hospital. He looked away. The doctors there could offer me no hope. It was then that I decided to return to The Temple and say nothing, to spend the rest of my days serving my students with every ounce of my remaining strength...to complete Ngawang's preparations to begin his true mission.
Lamont felt stunned. Why didn't you tell me? Tulku, some of the finest doctors in the world practice in Manhattan...they might have been able to help you before the cancer spread this far...
No. Chopak told me that he could feel the cancer draining my life away. And the doctors in Frost Valley told me that there were spots in my chest from the cancer in my lymph nodes. There was nothing that could have been done. Treatment would merely have delayed the inevitable. He winced as pain swept through his body, letting out a low moan.
Lamont put a hand on The Tulku's shoulder. Tulku?
The pain faded, and Marpa Tulku regained his composure. You know, it is so interesting. This is not the first time I have had cancer. I had blood cancer--what do you call it, leukemia?--in my nineteenth incarnation. I have had bone cancer several times--perhaps from cancer elsewhere spreading into my bones. I had lung cancer once--my fifth incarnation. But this is the first time I have ever had cancer of the prostate. Looking back, I realize I had the symptoms for months. But I was too proud to admit that an incarnation of Buddha could possibly be having problems with incontinence, so I did nothing about it. He let out a slight chuckle. Whenever I need a lesson in humility, the gods are always quick to provide it. And this was a lesson that I desperately needed to learn.
Lamont tried very hard to keep his emotions under control, but could no longer keep himself from questioning The Tulku's wisdom. I can't believe that. This isn't a lesson to be learned, it's a horrible disease. I refuse to believe that a merciful God tortures His people like this merely to teach them some sort of lesson.
You and I do not have the same concept of God, my friend. The Western, Judeo-Christian concept of God is of the loving father. But the Judeo-Christian scriptures are full of tales of good men suffering greatly at the hands of evil. It is part of the lot of humanity. And, even as powerful as my psyche is, it still inhabits a very human man with very human weaknesses. Now his mental voice was choked with emotions. Kasha was always so full of arrogance. And I let that part of my personality carry the day. After almost a thousand years, I still have so much to learn about achieving spiritual perfection. Perhaps someday I will achieve it...maybe even in the next generation. He looked at Ngawang and extended a hand to his young successor.
Ngawang came to his master's side, holding his hand, trying desperately to hold back his own emotions and prepare himself to receive the strength and power that the gods had given to The Marpa Tulku twenty-one generations earlier.
The Tulku fought through yet another wave of pain and smiled a paternal, loving smile at his young student. I am so grateful that the gods have chosen yet again to sent a successor to continue my mission. From the moment I first encountered you, Ngawang, I knew you were my brother. It has been an honor to be with you for these brief moments in time. Perhaps someday our souls will be joined forever, and we will spend eternity in nirvana with the Buddha himself. But until then, we have much work to do.
I know. Ngawang bowed his head gratefully. I always dreamed that I would someday be half the teacher you are, Tulku. I pray that I will someday be worthy of the great honor of succeeding you.
The Tulku smiled gently. It is so odd. Every successor says that. And every successor is always more than up to the task. He looked over at Lamont. Do you remember when Kasha told you he felt as if he was competing with you for my attention and falling woefully short by comparison?
Lamont nodded. Do I ever. It seems like so long ago.
I remember it. I remember it very clearly. Yet another lesson in humility I had to learn...that everyone has a unique mission, and one should never measure himself by the achievements of someone else's mission. He looked back at Ngawang. Ngawang, only in retrospect did I learn the truth about what I really needed to know to adequately be the dharma heir. I know how frightened you are right now. But it will all become clear to you soon enough...and you will spend years wondering how you could have been so preoccupied with fears that are so unimportant in the long run when there is so much more that you could have been learning instead. Believe me, that feeling is one with which I am well acquainted. I have had it twenty times so far. He looked at both men. The two of you will grow to depend heavily on each other. Ngawang, you will have to help Lamont as he continues to grow and mature psychically, and it will test everything you think you know about teaching adepts. I must admit that I have only recently come to understand how valuable Lamont has been in my own growth by forcing me to continue to learn, to refine my teaching skills, to adapt things I long believed were inalterable truths to the reality of a projective adept whose energies continue to broaden and deepen in ways I used to believe were impossible. As you push him, he will push you even farther. It is perhaps the greatest learning experience I have had in all of my generations. He took a deep breath to calm his emotions once more and ease the pain that was now threatening to overwhelm him. You are most fortunate, Ngawang, in that you will have the chance to interact with the next generation of Cranston adepts. He looked at Lamont. I always regret that I did not get the chance to see Monty and Lane through their awakenings. To watch them mature projectively, to be both their teacher and their father, must have been an even greater thrill for you than seeing your development as a young adept was for me. I hope and pray that they will send their children to me so that I might once more have the opportunity of challenging and being challenged by an awakening Cranston mind.
Lamont laughed. I can guarantee you'll get that opportunity if I have any say about it.
I suspect you will have many things to say about it. And your offspring will not always appreciate the sage advice when it is first given. But, as you slowly came to understand that I was not completely insane, so they will understand that their father does understand what he is talking about.
Lamont laughed even harder. Where were you when my kids were teenagers?
The Tulku gave a wise smile. With you always...in your mind, in your heart, and in your memories. As it shall always be. He gasped as the pain swept through him again, and he let out a cry of anguish.
Both Lamont and Ngawang looked frightened. Tulku? they asked almost simultaneously.
Marpa Tulku moaned louder, his mind crying almost as loudly as his voice, and his eyes were wild, empty of life, empty of sanity.
Ngawang gently stroked his master's hand with his thumb and wiped his forehead with a damp cloth, realizing that the end was near. A sense of anxiousness mixed oddly with a sense of calm, peace, serenity.
Lamont clutched The Tulku's hand, bowing his head and pressing his forehead to their joined hands, praying that the suffering would end. It was the single most anguishing sight he had ever experienced.
Suddenly, The Tulku's eyes cleared, and he turned to his two students. I need a moment with my brother.
Lamont understood. He gave his teacher's hand a squeeze, then moved back away from the bed and knelt quietly in a corner to pray.
Marpa Tulku and Ngawang locked gazes, their minds intertwining. There was no need for words, even psychic ones. Words would have been superfluous.
Marpa Tulku let go of his successor's hands just long enough to slide the large silver fire opal ring off his left index finger. The gesture had originally been part of a tradition of giving the ring to his finest student, normally the next Marpa Tulku, as the symbol of his mission of separating good from evil with the mystery, mysticism, and power that the gods had granted him almost a thousand years ago. But the twentieth, in following the tradition, had given it to a very different adept who was the finest student in the entire tradition of his mission...Lamont Cranston. Now, the ring was symbolic of a different tradition...the symbol of a life debt to The Shadow, a debt that every subsequent generation would gladly bear.
Ngawang trembled as his teacher slipped the ring onto his left index finger. The orange-red stone lit up as it touched his skin, its inner fire swirling and dancing as it responded to his life energies.
Marpa Tulku smiled proudly. Once more, the gods had allowed him to meet his reincarnated twin for a brief moment in time, allowing two souls who had been separated at birth by death to join once more. Then, he felt himself shaking as the pain swept over him once more.
Lamont felt a burst of energy knock him off his knees and drive him flat on his back. His senses overloaded as incredible sensory experiences filled the room. Bright lights...swirling colors...sounds of pain...sounds of sorrow...sounds of laughter...sounds of joy.
And then, nothing.
Lamont had no idea how much time had passed before the sensations faded. When the chaos in his mind finally quieted, he blinked and looked around the dark room.
The man in the bed was motionless, lifeless...dead. The boy at his side had fallen across his chest, also motionless. The room was eerily still.
Lamont got to his feet and started to move toward the bed.
Suddenly, Ngawang stirred, then opened his eyes and looked around. The expression on his face was that of a child in a place he'd never seen, with the wonder of discovery in his eyes and in his smile.
Ngawang? Lamont asked in a concerned voice. Then, he realized who he was talking to, and the same amazement that was on the face of the boy before him filled his own expression. Marpa Tulku?
The twenty-second Marpa Tulku looked up at his finest student and smiled warmly. Yes, Lamont. I am here.
Lamont felt his legs turn to water. He fell to his knees before the newest incarnation of the man who'd saved him from himself 37 years ago, anxious to pay him homage.
The Tulku put a hand under his chin. Look at me.
Lamont looked up.
The Tulku smiled broadly, his expression incredulous. I had not realized my eyes were so bad. This is the first time I have seen your face clearly in years.
Lamont couldn't help but smile. I'm not sure that's so good. I've got a lot of wrinkles nowadays.
Wrinkles are merely indications of where smiles have been through the years.
Lamont laughed out loud. And I just thought I was old.
An indulgent smile. You are a mere child, Lamont. Talk to me about feeling old when you too have a psyche that is entering its twenty-second generation.
This is remarkable. Lamont couldn't stop staring. This is just amazing. You really are him.
I am myself. That is who I always am. I merely change bodies every generation and take on a new aspect to my personality. But who I am inside never changes...no matter how many times I experience the passing of the dharma. He smiled again, the childlike amazement filling his expression. I feel so alive...oh, for the first time in months, I feel alive again... He quickly moved to the small altar in his chamber, then fell on his face before it and began pouring out his soul in grateful prayer.
Lamont felt himself shaking, and he crossed himself and offered a prayer of thanks for this unique opportunity to witness something so spiritual. There were no words to describe the excitement bubbling through his soul right now. His best friend's suffering was over, and his life had begun anew. What a remarkable, life-affirming moment, as joyous a moment now as the moments before had been painful.
Several minutes passed as both men poured out their hearts in prayer. Then, the two of them looked at each other once more as the reality of the present returned to them.
Lamont looked over at the bed, at the body of the old master lying perfectly still as if he were sleeping. What happens to the body?
The Tulku looked over at his former Earthen vessel. It will be interred in a crypt of honor in our cemetery. In our former home, twenty previous Marpa Tulkus were interred in the side of the mountain in their golden coffins. But there has been no need for that here up to now. So, I will have to consecrate the ground for a lama's burial chamber. It will take a few days to build the tomb and construct the casket.
Will there be a funeral?
There will be a memorial service for the great teacher Gyatso Kasha. It will give my students a chance to say good-bye. A sigh. They will all recognize me right away when I return to them. But they are all human...and they have developed an emotional attachment to my physical body. Thus, they will mourn that body's passing, and I have found that allowing them to do so enables them to move forward in their training much faster than trying to force their attention away from the physical. He looked at Lamont. Would you care for some tea?
Lamont let out a slight chuckle. Only if it's not that horrible butter tea. You know I hate that stuff.
The Tulku went over to his fireplace and lifted the lid off the smaller pot dangling over the fire.
Lamont came over and sniffed the steam. Mm-m. Darjeeling black with roses. He smiled at his teacher. Expecting me?
I had faith that my prayers would be answered. He handed Lamont a stoneware cup.
Lamont looked at the cup for a moment. It was his cup, the cup he'd held in his hands during many visits over the past few years with The Marpa Tulku since his move to the United States. The two men had shared a virtual lifetime of conversation over tea in this mug, in this very room.
The Tulku took Lamont in a fatherly embrace as the emotions finally overflowed, and Lamont sobbed in his arms, mourning the loss of a man with whom he'd trained 37 years ago...seemingly the last link to that remarkable time in his life.
Eventually, Lamont calmed down and eased back out of the soothing embrace, bowing his head. Forgive me, Tulku. That was disrespectful.
The Tulku looked oddly at him. To deal with your emotions in the here and now is disrespectful?
To put so much attachment on... Lamont tried to find the right words. ...on Kasha is disrespectful.
I think you meant to say "on my past".
Lamont hesitated, then nodded. That, too.
It is difficult to face one's own mortality through the loss of familar touchstones.
Stop reading my mind. Lamont shook his head. I can still remember the first time I met Kasha. God, I hated him. Annoying little brat. Thought he was so superior. Even when I could run circles around him during exercises, he still thought he was so much better than I was. He looked away. And I used to love to knock him on his ass when I thought you weren't looking.
I remember. It was quite a bruise to Kasha's ego to realize how much stronger you were. He reacted with repressed rage, as I remember.
Lamont chuckled. Phurba didn't think it was so repressed.
Lamont chuckled again. I still have that scar. Margo commented on it the first time we made love.
Phurba does make quite an impression on its opponents. He took Lamont's cup and ladled some of the rose tea into it.
That is an understatement. Lamont took the cup.
Yet it was a great learning experience for you.
That it was. I wouldn't know how to do a tumo if it weren't for that attack. He swallowed some of his tea and attempted to swallow his emotions along with it. This is so ridiculous.
You miss that time in your life...when you were a young adept in training.
And you have lost a connection to it.
Lamont hesitated, then nodded again.
The Tulku ladled himself a cup of the butter tea from the other kettle. It is not easy to go through this experience. I too feel a sense of loss. It is strange to say that, considering what has happened to me, but I too have lost a connection to my past. I do not stop being Ngawang when I become Marpa Tulku--it is as if there has never been another, as if Ngawang was always a part of me. But I still remember being Ngawang. I still remember being a young adept, wondering if I would ever be worthy of the great burden of teaching Marpa Tulku had placed upon me. He looked wistful. When Marpa Tulku told me two years ago that I was the dharma heir, I was completely overwhelmed. I could not even imagine what this experience would be like. A pause as he sipped his tea. And I can honestly say it is more than I ever imagined it would be.
It'll probably take you a while to adjust.
Less time than you would think. But it will take some time. Generally, it takes a few weeks to truly feel comfortable again.
Will you have anyone to help you through the transition?
My students. The other monks. He looked at Lamont. And you, if you would grant me that honor.
Lamont looked surprised. Me?
Yes. The very fact that I was able to make this transition is due to you pulling me back from a ledge four years ago. I believe that was the first time I realized what an incredible blessing the gods had given to me when they brought us together 33 years earlier. It is the reason I asked you to come...I wanted you to see this and understand what a gift you have given me.
Lamont's eyes widened. No one else has ever witnessed this--other than your heirs, I mean.
That is correct. You are the only one.
Lamont was speechless for a moment. This had been going on for a thousand years, through hundreds of thousands of students, yet he was the only one who had ever experienced the incredible sensation of seeing the passing of the dharma as an observer...a rogue telepath, a vicious warlord who'd once sworn he would kill the little brat who held him prisoner, had been given the opportunity to witness an awesome display of psychic power far beyond anything he would ever be able to do. His mind groped for words, trying to find some way to express his feelings. Tulku...I'm unbelievably honored. I swore to you years ago that I would do anything you asked. The moon, the stars--you name it, it's yours. Of course I'll be here for you. As long as you want, in whatever capacity, doing whatever you need done.
For now, I need you to simply be here. A gentle smile. I think one of our long conversations over tea and biscuits would be the most beneficial thing right now.
Lamont looked eager. Shall I fetch some biscuits from the kitchen?
The Tulku stood, then reached into a cabinet and pulled out a small tin. He sat down and opened it, offering one to Lamont. They may be a bit stale.
Lamont took one and bit into it. A bit soft for shortbread, but not too bad. They'll do. Homemade?
Alas, no. Gompa picked them up at the market two weeks ago. Apparently our new shop owner is from London and stocks British imports.
They survived the trip across the pond quite well, then.
The Tulku looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded his understanding. Aha. Pond, as in the Atlantic Ocean. Yet another American slang term I need to learn to recognize faster.
At least I recognized what you meant by "biscuits".
Ah, yes. A product of Father Goodman's attempt to convert me to Christianity five generations ago. Wondrous British accent, even in his mental voice. He taught me English, Greek, and Latin. I taught him Tibetan.
Lamont looked puzzled. How did you communicate if he didn't speak Tibetan and you didn't speak English?
He spoke a bit of Mandarin. I speak five dialects of Chinese. We managed to communicate through simple Mandarin and lots of telepathy until I learned enough English to read his mind more clearly.
I'll bet you learn languages really easily.
I do. As you always did. You speak six languages, as I recall.
True. He shrugged. I guess I didn't realize what an edge I had over the other soldiers on the battlefields in France. I spoke schoolboy French--you know, the stuff they teach you in a classroom--but I picked up conversational French and German incredibly easily in those hellish months on the front lines. I didn't know how I was doing it, but somehow the words would just come to me. It was a real advantage to be able to tell what the enemy was saying. A grimace. And, of course, it was much easier to find mercinaries for Ying Ko's army when I spoke their language...and knew when they were trying to plot against me.
I still remember the surprise in your thoughts when I spoke English to you.
Yeah, that was an unexpected twist. He sighed. Seems like so long ago.
Not really. The summer of 1926.
Almost 37 years ago. Lamont looked at the backs of his hands, weathered and wrinkled from years of hard labor and intense war. I know to you that's not a long time, but to me...
...to you, it is. Because you are five years beyond your family's life expectancy.
Lamont fought to keep his emotions in check and gave a shaky smile. I have a grandson now. Can you believe it? Me, a grandfather? He shook his head. I cannot even remember ever seeing my grandfathers--any of them. They were all dead before I was a year old. His eyes rimmed with tears. You said you hope to have the honor of training him...I hope I'm still alive to see him get that far. Because odds are I won't be... He looked away and broke down crying.
The Tulku put a hand on his pupil's shoulder. Lamont's family, full of unawakened telepaths, had all lost their lives early--those who survived their adolescence invariably died around age 60, and many, including Lamont's father, had succumbed even earlier--due to the explosiveness of their uncontrolled psychic energies damaging their brains. Marpa Tulku felt sure that Lamont would be able to survive much longer than his ancestors because his mind was awakened, because he had learned to balance the incredible power inside his mind and keep it from overflowing. But in defiance of everything the monk had learned about the development of adepts over the years, Lamont's projective reservoir was still growing, deepening, and broadening, even 37 years after his awakening. Such growth was unprecedented...and would, unfortunately, probably eventually kill him through a stroke or other cerebral episode. Marpa Tulku was at a loss to explain the phenomenon...but was determined to help Lamont deal with it, to keep his mind active and healthy for as long as possible.
Lamont, still shuddering with emotion, tried to calm down and stop the tears. This is so ridiculous, he chided himself. You'd think I'd be grateful for still being alive, instead of worrying about the future. I've had 37 more years of life than I probably should have had.
That is quite true. But I truly believe you were spared for many other reasons. We were brought together to make a difference in this world. And we have most certainly done that.
You think so? Lamont's smile was mischievous.
Well, I believe there are two more generations of Lamont Cranstons who would agree.
Lamont laughed and smiled with pride. You should see him. He looks like he's growing every day. He's even bigger than he was when you saw him a month ago. Looks a little more filled out, like he's not swimming in his own skin. More awake now, too. Opens those bright blue eyes and looks like he's listening intently to everything you say.
He probably is...even with his mind.
Man, oh, man... Lamont shook his head. I can already feel him thinking. Can you believe that? His little mind is so strong, and he's just barely two months old. It's amazing. I mean, how in the world did my parents not know I was psychic?
Because they were not awakened.
Yeah, but I'm not the most receptive telepath in the world and I figured out he was a little projector almost as soon as I held him for the first time.
Awakening is more than the emergence of psychic power. It is also the acceptance of it. Your parents did not accept that such things existed--they thought all of this was some form of insanity that was striking down their families. Thus, when you exhibited the same symptoms, they viewed them with alarm, not acceptance. Think back to when you first realized Monty was a projector like you.
Lamont remembered. The moment I first held him, I knew. And it scared me.
You deliberately kept your powers hidden from your children until after their awakenings. As a result, the explosion of psychic power each experienced was completely unexpected to them, and frightened them considerably.
Looking back, I realize I should have handled that better. He sighed. I just didn't know how to even approach it. I had to keep such a tight rein on my public image because of The Shadow, so there was no way I could let the kids see any of this. Monty and Annie are going about it a little differently...at least for now, they're not holding back their psyches around Trey. I think they're hoping it'll give him some subconscious memories when he finally does awaken so he won't be so unnerved.
Babies are in many ways the ultimate adepts. They are full of energy and life, with no preconceived notions about anything. Completely open to any experience in life. I would have been shocked if a child with the kind of psychic lineage young Lamont Cranston III has did not exhibit psychic tendencies.
You're probably right. But still... Lamont just looked amazed. His little mind is so strong. No words, of course--he doesn't know any--but you get definite impressions of feelings when you hold him. It's simply incredible.
Probably more so for Margo.
I believe it. She'd hold him all day if Annie would let her. She says she feels so bonded to him. And he knows it, too. He just has to look at Grandma with those eyes and smile, and she'll do anything for him.
I suspect she's not the only one.
Lamont looked guilty as charged. I am trying to refrain from spoiling him rotten. But it's not easy. He's got the Cranston charm down pat. He looked wistful for a moment. I remember when Monty was born. It literally took everything I had to force myself to go back to work, because all I wanted to do was hold him and protect him. At the same time I was scared to death, because I had no idea how to be a good father...or a father at all, for that matter. My parents kind of handed me off to Emily, my nanny, and that was it except to scold me for something. I wanted to give Monty something better.
But you went back to your mission.
Lamont nodded. I had to. I had no choice. That beautiful baby was a living reminder of why it was so important for me to go on. I had to fight back the evil and protect him and his mother. He smiled wryly. So when Monty told he that he was really struggling with himself about returning to the mission, I told him I understood completely, and he had to do whatever he felt was most important in the long run. He was back stalking the streets the next night. He later told me it was liberating and focusing--now he felt like he had a reason of his own to be doing this, instead of just picking where I'd left off. I was so glad to hear him say that...I'd been worried about him doing this for the wrong reasons.
The Tulku looked reassuring. He has always had a good reason for doing this. He wants to honor you. That is important to him. It comes out every time I talk to him, every time we interact. But every man must find something that drives him, focuses him, gives him the ability to fight against the overwhelming darkness in this world. For you, it was your desire to prove yourself worthy of your second chance in life. Monty did not have that experience, so his motivation will naturally be different. Just as Margo gave you the ability to live with your own darkness through the light she brought to your life, so Annie and Trey will give that same focus to Monty. I suspect Lane will find her own focus as she grows into the mission. David has already given her a calm confidence that I was praying she would develop. Her children, when she has them, will be a centering force for her as well, though it will be quite a different focus from what Monty has found, simply because she is a woman.
Lamont gave a mock-scolding glare at his teacher. She'd swat you if she heard you say that. She's very much into that "women can do anything men can" mindset nowadays.
Indeed they can. And often more. But she is different from Monty. Her psyche is very different...more receptive than his. She got a much larger dose of Margo's receptive telepathy than he did. Thus, she will most likely mature differently. A mysterious smile. Although I am slowly learning to make no projections on how a Cranston psyche will mature.
Lamont chuckled. You always did tell me I was a very different type of telepath.
That you are. In 21 generations, I have never met your equal. Projective telepaths are rare enough, but you are almost a pure projector, and I had never met an adept so projectively lopsided until I met you. I now believe the only adepts who will ever come close are your own descendants... His voice trailed off as he looked off in the distance.
Lamont looked concerned. Marpa Tulku's face was completely vacant, as if he were no longer even aware of anyone else in the room. Tulku?
The Tulku could say nothing as the vision intensified. His mind filled with images of generations upon generations of children, all with stark black hair, intense blue-green eyes, and incredibly strong psyches, including a sequence of boys who were essentially spitting physical and mental images of Lamont himself...
Then the vision faded, and Marpa Tulku felt himself gasp for air. The touch of Lamont's mind reaching out to his own was the only thing that brought him back to the reality of the moment. He looked over at his pupil.
Lamont looked startled by the expression on The Tulku's face. Whatever mental images he'd had--and Lamont felt the mental barriers of his master tightening quickly, which meant they clearly weren't meant for sharing--were apparently overwhelming. Tulku, are you all right? Is something going to happen?
Marpa Tulku smiled, a look of joy and amazement on his face. Oh, yes. Amazing things.
Lamont wanted to ask more, but could feel the calm undertones of his master's hypnotic voice urging him not to. Perhaps that was for the best. Chances were that he would eventually understand.
Three days later, Lamont returned to Manhattan, to Cranston Manor, to the life of a billionaire society patriarch. The decision to return home had been hard, but The Tulku had made it easier for him by reminding him that his grandson needed a good cuddle in Granddaddy's arms. The two men made a promise to spend more time together in a few weeks, once The Tulku had settled in, and after a psychic wrestling session that left both men exhausted but exhilarated, Lamont had climbed into his private plane and flown back to to the city. He gave a nod to his chauffeur as he climbed out of the limousine and headed inside.
Margo practically ran from the parlor into his arms.
For several moments, the two of them needed nothing else in life but to hold each other. Lamont hadn't realized how much he missed his soulmate, but the blending of their psyches as they stood together in the foyer quickly reminded him. He kissed her head. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
"Not in the past three days," she replied with a gentle laugh.
"Then let me make up for lost time." He kissed her deeply.
Lamont and Margo broke the kiss to see Monty standing in the entranceway to the parlor. Lamont frowned at his son. "Children should be seen and not heard," he scolded.
"I can disappear," Monty offered.
Lamont shook his head, then crossed to the parlor.
Father and son hugged each other tightly. Dad, I am so sorry, Monty mentally whispered.
Thanks. Lamont broke the embrace and patted his son on the shoulder. But don't be. It was truly the most life-affirming experience I've ever had.
You'll have to tell me about it sometime.
That I will.
Monty gestured into the parlor with his head. Fix you a drink?
"Words," Margo reminded them.
Lamont grimaced. The family rule was that psychic conversation was reserved only for mission discussions and individual secrets. It was a compromise--Lamont would never speak aloud if left to his own devices, but Margo found projective conversation much more difficult. Margo's share of the compromise was that on Sundays, no one in the house spoke out loud from the end of Mass to sunset. But as Monty had matured and his projective side became dominant, father and son had spent more than one conversation over cognac and cigars audibly silent, a wondrous relief for Lamont's ever-growing projective side. He put an arm around his wife's waist. "Sorry. Three days of not speaking, and all that."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You say that every time you come home from The Temple."
"I know. Can you forgive a thoughtless old fool?"
Margo looked sly. "Only if you sit with me on the sofa and snuggle with me by the fire."
Lamont winked, then walked arm-in-arm with her to the parlor.
"All right, that's enough of that," Anne Mulroney Cranston mock-scolded from her armchair as the pair came into the room. "There are children present."
Lamont smiled broadly at the sight of his grandson asleep in Annie's arms. "And I am so glad for that."
Trey stirred, stretching his tiny limbs and letting out a low grunt.
"Ah, look who's awake," Annie soothed. "Did you hear Granddaddy's voice?"
Little blue eyes opened to look up at Mama.
"You did," Annie cooed. "You're looking over Mama's shoulder, trying to find him. He's right here." She looked up at Lamont and offered the bundle in her arms.
Lamont reached down and picked up his namesake, cradling him gently. "Hello there," he whispered.
Trey wiggled and squirmed as his comfortable sleeping position changed unexpectedly, and he fussed.
"Easy, easy. It's O.K. Granddaddy's got you." Lamont projected a quiet, soothing hypnotic wave to calm the wriggling bundle in his arms and sat down in his armchair.
Trey finally stopped moving, then looked up at his grandfather. His eyes opened wide.
Lamont offered a bright smile.
Trey smiled back, a baby's charming toothless grin.
Lamont felt tears rimming his eyes. He gently pressed his forehead to Trey's, letting their minds join.
Monty came over to Lamont and put his arms around his father's shoulders.
Three generations of Lamont Cranstons sat together by the fire, reaffirming the continuity of life.