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Alexandra Moreau glanced around her in satisfaction, mentally congratulating herself on the success of the evening. It wasn't every night that the Winston Rayne Hall of Antiquities hosted a charity benefit like this one. Everyone who was anyone in the world of academics and philanthropy was here, ostensibly to help raise money for the new Pediatrics ward at City hospital. All the members of her house were in attendance. Even Philip had made time away from his duties at his new parish to attend the event so that he could help support Alex's newest pet cause. But in reality, most were here to see the rare and lovely new additions to the museums collection. Especially the armor which had reportedly belonged to the first of the Grand Masters of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, Hugues de Payens. She smiled at Nick Boyle, who was standing in the far corner watching the guests as they moved through the exhibit hall.
"Nick looks uncomfortable." A voice behind her commented. Dr. Rachel Corrigan appeared beside her friend, her teal green silk gown a contrast to Alex's black satin dress.
"Ever since that amulet was stolen from the house during the cocktail party a few months ago, he's been nervous about security." Alex looked around for their precept Derek, then shrugged. "He'll get over it."
"I hope so." Rachel remarked, watching her fellow Legacy member as he scrutinized each new arrival. "He's beginning to make some people nervous."
"He's making ME nervous." Alex laughed.
Across the room, Nick watched carefully as new people wandered into the exhibit hall. He knew that Alex thought his caution was excessive, a reaction to the events which had begun with the loss of the medallion belonging to the Dark Priest killed by Nick's father.. But he couldn't shake the feeling that something was about to happen, something he should be prepared for. Damn it, you've been hanging around Derek too long, he thought to himself, Next thing you know, you'll be seeing things, just like he does. A movement at the door shook him from his reverie. A man and a woman moved through the entrance into the hall, gliding with silent footsteps around the exhibit. Nick watched them closely, an uneasy feeling creeping up his spine.
Alex noticed the couple as they entered and stopped in mid conversation, entranced. A fragment of a Barbara Streisand song floated through her head, something about morning glory and midnight sun. Those lyrics described the people walking around the exhibit hall perfectly. The man was tall, well over six feet, with a tanned complexion and golden blond hair. He radiated the warmth of a sunny day, lighting all the rooms dark corners with his presence. Even his white tuxedo seemed to give off a light all its own. The woman beside him was tall and slender and his opposite in coloring, having pale skin and long black hair. Yet there was a light about her too, the light of a full moon, not so hot as the sun yet radiant in its own way. Her long dark dress seemed to reflect hidden fires in its silky folds. They walked from exhibit to exhibit, her hand on his up-raised wrist, like a knight on procession with his lady. They stopped only when they came to the Templar exhibit.
"Well, so here it is my sister. What do you think?" Damien Phoenix asked, looking down at the woman at his side. Phoenix was not the name he was born with yet it suited him to be known by it now. Just as it suited him for the world to believe that the woman at his side was his blood sister.
"Interesting. But not what we came for. I doubt they have found it yet. Jacques de Molay was a careful man. He would have hidden the words in something more secure than an old set of armor." Marianne leaned forward, ostensibly to examine the exhibit more closely. In fact, she was more intrigued by the man in the corner who stood watching them intently. She had been through enough killing grounds to recognize the aura of a fellow soldier, just by the stance and the look in their eyes. That "thousand yard stare" that they all developed over time. "The Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon. It was a good concept. Pity they had to become so political."
"So rich you mean." Damien laughed softly.
"Wealth brings notice and not always the best type of notice. By the way, we appear to have an audience, my brother."
"So it would seem. What shall we do about it?" Damien looked over his shoulder and caught sight of Alex and Rachel watching them from a distance. "Perhaps we should introduce ourselves?"
"Damien, we are here only to look, not to socialize."
"Tactics, my dear. Always keep the enemy guessing."
"But they aren't the enemy, dearest." Marianne's sharp eyes caught sight of a figure entering the gallery and hissed angrily. "But he is." She pulled away from her escort's arm and walked boldly up to Nick, her hands clenched behind her back. "Are you in charge of security here?" she asked haughtily, noting the bulge of a shoulder holster barely concealed by his tuxedo coat.
"Who wants to know?" Nick asked warily, his eyes still on her male companion.
"My name is unimportant but you may call me Marianne. And you my friend are about to be robbed." she replied, nodding toward the newest arrival. "That one is here for the something in your exhibit. Beware, soldier, lest he breech your defenses."
Nick glanced speculatively at the man she indicated. "Seems harmless enough." He answered, looking back at her.
"Appearances can be deceiving." Damien walked up and took his sister by the hand. "Look again and use more than your eyes to see."
Nick looked again. The man did appear to have an inordinate interest in the security system around the Templar exhibit, leaning cautiously close to the large display case to examine its construction carefully. "Not very subtle, is he?"
"He does not need to be." Marianne replied, taking her brother's arm. "He is only a diversion, a pawn sacrificed in the larger game. It is the one who commands him you must be wary of."
"And just who might that be?" Derek asked, stepping into the exhibit room from the far gallery. He had watched the exchange between Nick and these strangers from the far doorway with interest, until he had noticed the man at the armor exhibit. He wasn't sure why he knew something was wrong, only that he did. His unease had mounted when he heard the woman's warning to Nick.
"That is a tale for a later date." Damien replied, gently tugging his sister towards the door.
"Wait a minute! Just who are you people?" Nick demanded. "Why were you so interested in the armor?"
"Later days, my friend. Later days." With that the two walked from the hall, leaving as silently as they had arrived.
Nick immediately raced out the door behind them and stopped, stunned. He could see the entire length of the adjoining hallway and beyond to the street. But their strange visitors were no where to be seen. They had vanished without a trace.
Derek watched the man standing in front of the exhibit carefully, certain that Nick could take care of their mysterious guests without him. The stranger seemed oblivious to his scrutiny, more concerned with the chain-mail haubrick and coif in the case before him. The thick glass of the exhibit case prevented him from actually touching the armor, so he moved around and around the case, trying to see its contents from all possible angles. He seemed most interested in the one small section of the metal shirt, a portion Derek couldn't see from his vantage point. But it certainly seemed to have the stranger's interest.
"They got away from me." Nick's voice, tight with frustration, broke through Derek's concentration. "One minute they were there and the next they were gone."
"Perhaps our friend over there can enlighten us on why this particular exhibit is attracting so much attention." Derek commented, motioning to the figure across the room.
"I can ask." Nick replied grimly, starting for his quarry. The lights choose that moment to suddenly flicker off, leaving the narrow gallery in total darkness. Someone uttered a nervous scream. Other guests began to speak in high, nervous tones as they felt around them for the exit.
"Alex, find Miranda Blake." Derek ordered, his calm voice piercing the shadows. "She should know where the circuit breakers for this room are." Suddenly, the lights returned, blinding the room for an instant. When Derek's eyes recovered, he saw that his curious guest had disappeared.
"Another disappearing act." Nick commented in disgust. He marched up to the glass case which had been the center of so much interest and eyed it speculatively. "At least he didn't get away with this. What's so special about this hunk of metal anyway?"
"Aside from being a historical oddity, not much really. It was found in a place called Ruad, a Templar installation in Palestine." Alex commented, walking up to join her friends. "It was a donation from an anonymous benefactor in Syria and come with fairly complete documentation. According to the paperwork, it was sent specifically for the Winston Rayne Hall of Antiquities. But when I spoke to Miranda Blake, the assistant curator, she seemed to feel it might be a hoax, though she couldn't say exactly why she felt that way."
"So who was this guy, Hugues de Payens?" Nick asked, curiously.
"He was the first Grand Master of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, better known as the Knights Templar." Derek replied, moving to stand in front of the exhibit. "The order was founded in the Holy Land in 1118 A.D. and assumed the duty of protecting Christian pilgrims and merchants traveling through the Holy Land. They took upon themselves monastic style orders and vows of poverty and chastity. With the backing of Bernard of Clairvaux or St. Bernard and Pope Innocent II they built themselves into a fighting force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, they also acquired much wealth as well as great fighting glory. They were accused of heresy in 1306 and by 1314 were for the most part destroyed." His voice trailed off as he remembered the stories of the Knights Templar his father had told him as a boy, before the Legacy had become the only thing of importance in Winston Rayne's life.
"Sounds like you know a lot about these guys." Nick remarked, glancing back at Alex.
"Yes, I was fascinated by them as a young boy." Derek glanced back at his comrades. "But that does not explain why our mysterious guests were so fascinated with what might be a hoax. Nick, check the security cameras. See if you can print out a photo of our visitors. Alex, check with Miranda Blake. See if anyone has been asking about the exhibit recently, especially this particular piece. And see if you can come up with a name for our anonymous benefactor." He turned his eyes back to the armor, frowning at the sight of the broken links hanging from the chain-mail shirt. For a moment, the room seemed to spin and he remembered a dream. At least, it had seemed to be a dream.
"Something wrong?" Rachel asked, quietly moving to stand beside her friend.
Derek looked down at her, startled at her sudden presence. "No. Nothing is wrong. I was just thinking.."
"You looked like you were remembering something not too terribly pleasant."
"A dream I had as a boy. The Knights Templar was the one interest my father and I shared when I was young. Before he became obsessed with the druid's casks."
"What was your dream about?"
He frowned as the memory came unbidden to his mind. The dream had come to him after the death of his father, after the funeral which had laid Winston Rayne's body, if not his obsession, to rest. Derek had pulled out a favorite tome, a history of the Crusades written for young adults. Its stories of Saladin and the Christian knights who fought against him had always served to take his mind off his father's growing disinterest in anything but his work for the Legacy. Tonight, however, they seemed more like fairy tales than reality. His eyes closed with fatigue and he had drifted off into a troubled sleep. It was then that he had dreamed, had seen the battle of Acre as it unfolded before him. He saw the Knights Templar, with the red cross patte on their banner flying raggedly above the walls. The battle almost over and the defenders were losing. He watched in fascinated horror as the knights died, fighting a hopeless cause. One man in particular stood out in his dream, yet he couldn't quite see his face. Only the triangular shield he held before him as he tried to fight his way to his brethren's side. As he went down under several attackers, his helm fell and his face was revealed. It was then that the young boy had awakened, drenched in sweat.
"I dreamed of the Battle at Acre. And of a man falling at the hands of the enemy. A face I recognized, yet didn't. Strange, I hadn't thought of that dream in years." He looked back at the armor, frowning then turned away. "We'd better return to the island. I have a feeling that tonight's excitement is only the beginning." He led her away, stopping only to cast one last thoughtful look at the only lasting possession of the first of the Knights that had once filled his dreams. Then he and his team were gone, leaving the room and its contents to their secrets.
The team returned to Angel Island and retired to their various tasks. Nick checked the house's security system, as he had done every night since the Dark Priest's sons had sabotaged the system. Alex walked through the hologram into the computer room to begin a search for the mysterious donor of the Museums newest exhibit. Derek secluded himself in his study, a copy of the manifest which had accompanied the gift of armour scattered across his desk. A copy of a reference book he had retrieved from the library also lay on the desk, open to a drawing of a Templar in full battle armour. He read through the list of pieces with interest. The inventory listed the existence of a mail helmet or haubers, mail leg protection called chauces de fer, armour for the shoulders and feet and a triangular body-shield. He frowned at the last listing.
"Something wrong?" Nick asked, stepping through the partially closed door.
"Yes. This manifest lists a shield as part of the display. But there was no shield in that case, only the armour. So where is it?"
"Maybe it was too big to fit in the case." Nick replied, walking around the desk to look at the paperwork in Derek's hands.
"No. The display case was designed to accommodate a life-size mannequin wearing that armour. The shield would have fit within the case perfectly. Somehow it never made it to the display area." Derek shut the reference book gently, his hand brushing it's well-worn cover fondly.
"If it was in as bad a condition as that chain-mail was, the movers probably mistook it for a part of the packing crate. It's probably still in the storeroom. So you think that what both our weird visitors were looking for was on that shield.?"
Derek gathered up the loose pages of the manifest with a sigh. "We won't know until we find it."
"Want me to check on it tonight?"
"Yes. I'll call the curator and make sure there is someone waiting to let you in."
Nick started for the door then stopped and looked back at his precept. "What do you think is going on here, Derek? What's so important about some old armour?"
"I'm not sure." Derek admitted, rubbing his tired eyes. "But I think it is something that we need to look into."
On the opposite shore two figures walked along the edge of the water, their feet leaving almost no impression on the wet sand behind them. Damien stared across at Angel Island soberly.
"I wonder how much he remembers." He commented thoughtfully, stopping to let the water play around his boots.
"If he remembers." Marianne corrected, kneeling to dig a stone out of the sand to toss into the waves.
"Oh he remembers. The dreams have remained with him since his father's death. They have fueled his interest in the Order. Now that interest has made him the recipient of a gift he knows nothing about. It will arouse his curiosity. He will search for answers and we will walk just a step behind, ready when the time comes to intervene."
Marianne dipped her hands in the ripples of waves as they flowed over her "brother's" boots. "Hopefully before the other party in this hunt shows up. By the way, there was something missing in that exhibit tonight."
"Yes, the shield." Damien replied absently.
"You might have told me you noticed that while we were there."
"Didn't I? I must be getting forgetful in my old age." His smile lit up the darkness as he helped the woman beside him stand.
"No, you just enjoy testing my powers of observation. After all these years, a person would think you would get tired of these games. Especially considering the importance of what we are searching for." Marianne wiped her wet hands on her companion's dinner jacket, noting with grim satisfaction the muddy stain which marred it's perfect whiteness. She gathered her long, dark skirts around her ankles and started down the beach.
"I take it you're going to return and look for the shield." Damien called out to her, watching her figure slowly melt into the fog.
The only answer he received was the call of a night bird as it winged its way toward the lights of the city.
Derek sat in the near darkness of the library, a snifter of brandy in one hand. In his lap was the worn tome he had been using to refresh his memory on the details of the standard Templar armour. The book was open to a description of the siege of Acre, more precisely to a description of the battle around St. Anthony's Gate. He had no need of light to know what was written on the pages before him. Derek had read that particular passage dozens of times. He closed his eyes and thought of that desperate battle, when both the Templars and the Hospitallers had fought overwhelming odds to save the city. He could almost feel the desert heat on his skin, the heavy weight of the chain-mail shirt on his shoulders and in the distance, the cries of dying men.
"Derek? Are you all right?" Alex asked, standing just inside the entrance to the shadowy room.
"Just thinking." He replied, not opening his eyes.
"Don't you need a light to read?"
"No. I know this story by heart." Derek opened his eyes and shifted the book in his lap, the better to reach the lamp beside him. "It is the story of the battle at St. Anthony's Gate during the siege of Acre." He lay his glass down beside the chair and turned a few pages, letting the book open to them on its own.
"What happened?" she asked, coming to sit beside him on a footstool.
"In 1291 Sultan al-Ashraf laid siege to the city of Acre, one of the Templar strongholds. One evening, the defenders attempted a sortie beyond the city walls into the Moslem camp. They suffered heavy losses as the knights tripped over guy-ropes in the dark. The next day the Moslems launched their own attack at St. Anthony's Gate, which was one of the main landward gates of the city. Only the bravery and fighting skill of the Templars and their brother knights, the Hospitallers, kept the gate from being breached and the city from falling. But they paid a heavy price. The Templar's Grand Master, Guillaume de Beaujeu, was mortally wounded and died soon afterwards. After that battle, an effort began to evacuate as many from the city as possible. The city fell and the Templars retreated to their castle, where they held out for weeks. Eventually, even that fell and the Templars never again fought a major battle in the Holy Land. It was as though when their stronghold at Acre fell, their hearts fell with it." Derek sighed, a familiar feeling of sadness and loss stealing over him.
"You make it sound as though you were there." Alex remarked, looking at her precept with curiosity.
"Do I? Sometimes I feel as though I were. When I was a boy, after my father died, I would have dreams about the battle to protect the Templar palace at Acre. I could see the battle, feel it, even smell it going on all around me. Eventually, the dreams faded away. Yet even now, all these years later, I still remember them. And the feelings they awakened in me."
"Seeing that armour display tonight must have reminded you of those dreams." Alex rose and stretched, her muscles cramped from sitting in so low a chair. "You look tired, maybe you should turn in."
"I will as soon as Nick calls in. I sent him back to the museum to check on something that appeared on the manifest but didn't appear in the display." He hefted the old book onto to table beside him and rose from his seat. "Did you find anything about our mysterious donor?"
"Nothing yet, but I'm still working on it. I may have something by morning. Anyway, I'm going to bed unless you want me to wait up for Nick with you?"
"No. Go ahead. I will see you in the morning." Derek walked passed her towards the study. Alex watched him disappear behind the heavy mansion doors with a frown, then made her way upstairs to her bed.
It took Nick the better part of an hour to reach the Museum. The ferry had been late in getting him off the island then it seemed that every traffic light between the pier and downtown had conspired to turn red on him. He finally pulled into the alley way behind the building housing the Winston Rayne Hall of Antiquities, just in front of the deliveries entrance. No one else was in sight.
I thought Derek was going to call the Curator to meet me here? he thought, scanning the area with a practiced eye. The scene was too quiet, even for this late hour. He walked up to the service entrance and gently touched the door. It swung open soundlessly, revealing the dark interior beyond. Nick pulled his 9mm Browning and prepared to enter.
"Frontal assaults aren't always the best way into a battle, soldier." A voice called from the deepest shadows at the alley's center. "But sometimes they are all that's available." Marianne walked out of the darkness, her long dress replaced with dark jeans and a black turtle-neck. Her long hair was braided down her back and she wore black gloves over her slender hands. She was carrying a Colt 45 in one hand and Nick could see a sheathed dagger hanging from her belt.
"What are you doing here?" He asked, keeping her in his gun sights.
"Same as you. Looking for that shield. And I suspect we're not the only ones." She peered into the doorway, squinting in the dim light. "Unfortunately, it seems the Museum's Curator found our competitor's before we did." She pointed into the gloom.
Nick risked a glance in the direction she indicated, keeping his gun trained on the woman in front of him. He could barely make-out a figure lying just beyond the door, behind some crates. "Stay where you are. I'm going to check on him."
"Not on your life, soldier. My quarry is somewhere within the walls of this establishment. And I never give up a hunt until I've caught my prey." With those words, she deftly moved past him into the gloom, avoiding the debris in her path.
Nick grabbed at her arm, only to be shoved back by a force he could not identify. For a moment, he wondered if he had accidentally touched an exposed electrical wire, yet there was no smell of burning flesh or pain. Only a feeling of being shoved out of the way by something or someone. His eyes had become accustomed to the gloom, allowing him to pick a path through the multitude of crates and tables in the delivery area. He could see her dark figure just in front of him, picking her own way through the debris. Suddenly she stopped and motioned toward him.
"Over here." Marianne hissed, waving him to her. She pointed through an open doorway into a receiving room, where the items were obviously unpacked and examined. Two silent figures were diligently searching the contents of a crate, a small fluorescent light their only illumination. "They haven't found what they seek yet."
Nick considered his options carefully. "Two against two. Not bad odds. If I can trust you, that is." He whispered, his eyes never leaving her face.
"You can't." Marianne replied, holstering her gun and unsheathing her hunting knife. "But for now, I'm all you have." She lowered herself to the ground and crawled into the room on her belly, keeping to the shadows at all times.
Nick soon lost her in the gloom. He spotted the light switch for the room close to his position and debated adding a light to the situation, then thought better of it. He watched the men from his vantage point as they reached to the bottom of the crate and hauled something up from its depths. To Nick, it looked like nothing more than another piece of wood. But the way the men were acting, it was obvious that this was the elusive shield. One man reached down to retrieve something from behind the crate. He disappeared into the shadows surrounding the container. His companion looked around a few moments later, suddenly aware he was alone, and moved towards the crate. Nick decided it was time to make his stand. Standing with his back to the wall and his gun trained on the moving figure in the room, he flipped the light switch on.
"Freeze!" he called, squinting against the sudden glare from the exposed light fixture.
The man in front of him whirled, a gun in his hand. A figure lunged out at the burglar from behind, knocking him to the floor. Marianne grasped the man by his hair and proceeded to bang his head on the wooden floor, knocking him unconscious. She wiped her hand on the back of the man's shirt as she rose, then glanced over at Nick.
"I was wondering if you would try that." She commented. Looking down at the table, she gently brushing the packing material off the piece of wood in front of her.
"Where's the other one?" Nick asked, edging around table to take the fallen burglar's gun.
"There behind the crate." Marianne replied, pointing behind her.
Nick cautiously moved to the rear of the packing crate and saw the other man's body. As Nick bent to check for a pulse, Marianne quickly brushed dirt from a section of the shield. Her dark eyes swept over the intricate designs buried under layers of grime. She turned her back on the table and watched Nick search the unconscious body in front of him.
"No ID, right?" she asked, nudging the body in front of her with her toe. With her arms crossed over her chest, she palmed a small object from her glove, sliding it into her other palm.
"None." Nick agreed, rising to walk towards her. "He's out cold. What did you do to him?"
"Not much. He's lucky. I could have killed him. There was a time when I would have." Marianne smiled grimly, remembering those long-ago days. "You'll find out who sent them soon enough. Find who sent this armour to your precept and you'll find your adversary." With a sudden flip of her wrist, she tossed a small object at the overhead light, breaking the bulb and plunging the room into darkness. Nick reacted swiftly, lunging for the place he had last seen the strange woman. But Marianne was quicker, flipping backwards over the table and out the door before she could be caught. "Better luck next time, soldier," she called, her voice fading into the shadows.
Nick slammed his fist down on the table in frustration, barely missing the wooden shield. Derek's going to love this! he thought, reaching for his cellular phone.How the hell did she know to call him a precept? And what the hell did she want here anyway, if it wasn't the shield? He glanced down at the bodies at his feet and grimaced. It was turning into a very long night.
Derek laid the receiver back in its cradle, lost in thought. He had been in the process of opening an old book of his father's on the Templar heresy trial when the ex-Seal had reported back to his precept. Nick's message had not been totally unexpected. Derek had expected there would be trouble at the Museum, and his instinct had proven him right. Nick called after the police had arrived, telling his associate of his little adventure and of the mysterious woman from the party. He had sounded more than a little aggravated that she had escaped before he could find out more about her and her interest in the Templar armour.
Friend or foe? Derek thought to himself, absently tapping the old book's cover. It had been a very long time since he had seen this book, had in fact almost forgotten that is was in the House. The book had been a gift to his father from an old friend, Maurice de Lacy, a member of the Paris House. He lifted opened the book to the pages relating to Jacques de Molay, grand master at the time of the arrests by King Philip the Fair of France, a historical event which had fascinated his father. Just inside the first few pages he found a fading cream-colored envelope. Derek examined the strange item with surprise, noting the date on the front was written in his father's painfully precise handwriting. Inside was a single snapshot, with a small piece of paper wrapped around it. The paper was a note from Winston Rayne to his friend de Lacy. The note was dated almost a week before Winston's death in South America.
"Maurice," the note read, "I am sending you this photo in hopes that you can identify the people in it. I dare not send it via the normal Legacy channels. I will explain why later. Whatever happens, tell no one of what you find. I will contact you soon." It was signed Winston Rayne.
Derek turned the photo over then stiffened in surprise. The two people in the picture had obviously been photographed in the garden of the San Francisco Legacy House. The woman was seated on a stone bench, a horn bow and a full quiver of arrows at her feet. She was staring up at her companion with a bemused expression on her face. The man was standing beside her, his head thrown back in laughter. He was leaning on a long bow almost as tall as he was. Derek stared at the faces intently, using a magnifying glass to see what few details existed in the grainy snapshot. There could be no doubt. The people in the photo were the same as the couple at the museum, the same two who had warned of a possible theft. They had been in this house before and, as far as he could tell, had not changed in twenty years.
The next morning, Nick threw himself into his seat at the conference table, still annoyed by the events of the night before. He had stayed at the museum long enough to make sure that the injured Curator was taken care off and the burglars were taken away by the police. The museum had many priceless artifacts in its collection, so it had not been too difficult to divert the authorities attention from the old shield on the workroom table. As soon as they had left, he had hauled the broken piece of wood out to his car and had driven back to Angel Island with it. He looked suddenly up at Rachel with a tired smile. "Hey, where's Kat? I thought I heard her voice when I was coming down the stairs."
"She wasn't feeling well today, so I kept her out of school. I told her she could sit out in the garden and draw while she waited for me."
Derek walked in and seated himself at the head of the table. "What did you find out about the shield?"
"It's nothing but a broken, painted piece of wood, Derek." Nick commented, playing with his pencil. "Why go to all that trouble?"
"Alex, what did you find out about the donation of the armour?" Derek asked, ignoring Nick's question.
"It's strange. The bill of lading says it was shipped from Syria, but I can't find anyone willing to admit they shipped it. It's like it just appeared out of thin air, paper work and all."
"Surely there must be customs records?" Rachel protested, "That crate couldn't have crossed all those international borders without someone noticing, could it?"
"If a terrorist could get a bomb aboard an airliner in one of the busiest airports in the world, what makes you think someone couldn't get a nearly empty packing crate across a few borders?" Nick replied sarcastically. "Especially if they had all their phony permits arranged before hand."
Philip walked quietly into the conference room, silently acknowledging his comrades greetings with a nod. "I've looked over the item that Nick brought back with him last night. It's in pretty bad shape, but once I cleaned a little of the grime off of it, I could just make out some Arabic lettering hidden in the heraldic imagery painted on its face. I haven't had a chance to translate it much of it yet, but it seems to be some sort of riddle."
"That is not the only riddle in this case." Derek commented, tossing the snapshot he had found to Nick. "Do these people look familiar to you?"
"Our guest from last night." Nick replied, looking sharply up at his precept. He turned the photo over and frowned. "The date on this is twenty years old!"
"My father was sending this to a friend in the Paris house, Maurice de Lacy, shortly before his death. My father's obsession with the Druid's casks must have side-tracked him from this. Yet he was concerned enough about these people to warn de Lacy not to talk to anyone about anything he might find."
"Do you remember them at all?" Rachel asked, as Nick slid the photo across the table to her.
"No, they must have been in the House after I was sent to boarding school." Derek moved from behind the table and entered the library, the other members of the House following behind him. He retrieved his father's journals from their assigned space on the shelf then sat down to examine them. He flipped to the last entries, scanning the writing for some clue to the people in the photo. When he reached the last entries in the journal he stopped. "He writes of two members of the Mother House who had transferred just a few weeks before the date on that letter. Their names were Daniel and Megan Solaris, a brother and sister from London."
"Why would he have wanted to send that photo to a member of the Paris House if they had come from London?" Alex asked, reading the entries over Derek's shoulder.
'Maurice had been part of the London House at the time they said they had belonged there. From what he writes, I think he had come to doubt their story, even though they had all the proper identification." Derek closed his father's journal gently, then looked around at his team. "Philip, you will work on that shield. I need a translation of whatever is written on it as soon as possible. Rachel, you and Alex go back down to the museum and talk to the assistant curator. See if she remembers anything about our mysterious guests. Nick, talk to the police. See if they have discovered anything about the museum's uninvited guests from last night. I'm going to try to reach Maurice de Lacy."
"Is that wise, considering the doubts you've had about the Paris House since my last visit there?" Alex frowned, remembering the chilling image of Paris fog and the dead body of their associate laying on the damp pavement.
"Maurice retired from the Legacy almost ten years ago. With any luck, whatever touched the Paris House won't have effected him." He rose from his seat, effectively ending the conversation.
Outside in the garden, Kat was growing bored with drawing flowers and butterflies. She had woken that morning with a slight fever and so had been allowed to stay out of school. But the enforced inactivity was almost as wearing to her as the illness was. She curled up on the bench with her knapsack and drawing pencils and closed her eyes, tired and achy. Suddenly, she felt a cool hand smooth back the damp hair from her forehead.
"Poor little kitten," A strange voice whispered sympathetically, "You probably feel quite awful don't you?"
Kat opened her eyes and saw a woman in a short white dress kneeling beside her. At the woman's feet was what appeared to be a curved bow and a round cylinder full of feathered arrows. The woman's dark hair was pulled up in a ponytail and Kat could see that she was wearing half-moon shaped earrings. But it was the woman's eyes which held her spell-bound. They were the deepest, loveliest violet that Kat had ever seen, eyes at once so blue and yet so purple that they didn't look real.
The woman smiled gently at the startled child and rose to her feet. "You should really be inside, you know. It's not good for you to be laying on a damp bench when you're sick."
"Who are you?" Kat asked, curiously.
"What's your favorite name?" The woman responded, hoisting her arrows on her back.
"I don't have one."
"Well, I have several. Favorite names, that is. Diana, Artemis, Marianne. Pick one and that's what you can call me."
"I like Marianne." Kat admitted, trying not to stare at the bow which lay on the ground.
"Marianne it is then. And you're Kat, aren't you? Do you like my bow and arrows, Kat? Don't tell me you've never seen their like before! Haven't you ever shot arrows into the air and wondered where they fell?"
"No. I'd like to, though. How did you know my name was Kat?"
"You just look like a kitty cat to me." Marianne touched the child's cheek with one slender finger, then picked up her bow and bound off toward the shore. She turned for one last wave as she reached the edge of a grove of trees. "See you another time, kitten." With that she turned and was soon lost to the child's sight.
Kat gathered up her colored pencils and blank paper and began to draw her new friend, her illness forgotten in the rush of a new friendship.
"Derek, I've found something strange that I think you should look at." Alex looked up at her precept, a frown on her expressive face. She had returned hours before from talking to the museum curator about the chain-mail armor in the display case. "I decided to run a check in the Legacy's database on the names in your father's journal. According to the computer, they had been a part of the Mother House only a few weeks, when they were re-assigned to this house. Then they suddenly disappeared from the records. There's no record of why they were admitted to the Legacy and no record of why they were reassigned."
Derek scanned the computer screen impassively. "Check and see if there are any other occurrences of a sibling pair claiming membership in the Legacy who might match our two."
"Already did that. That's what's so strange. There were numerous brother-sister teams listed in the database so I factored in physical characteristics. And on a whim, I factored in an interest in Medieval studies, particularly an interest in the Templars. The list of names the computer found, scanning both present and archived Legacy journals, goes back over a hundred years."
"Is there anyway to narrow the search down any further?"
"I don't think we need to." Alex moved her cursor over a small icon on her computer screen and began to download an image. "Along with written records, I had the computer do a search for any photographic material linked to the names in these records. It pulled up three photos that had recently been scanned into the databanks. I downloaded the low resolution versions of the photos, which appear to run from a daguerreotype taken around the time of the Civil War to a photo taken during the Korean Conflict. Derek, it's those same two people!"
Derek watched as the image on Alex's screen came into view. It was the scan of the daguerreotype, with the man in a Confederate officer's uniform and the woman in antebellum costuming. The man's hair was short and he wore a neatly trimmed mustache and beard. The woman 's athletic figure was almost totally hidden by the wide hoop skirt and her hair was tucked up under a large straw hat.. But there could be no doubt. It was the same two people from the museum. As he looked at the photo, Derek suddenly felt himself no longer in the familiar surroundings of the computer room. Before him were images from another time. There was something different about this vision, something he had not seen in his dreams. He could feel himself back on the battlefield in the Holy Land. The battle was raging all around him when a movement off to his left caught his eye. It was a woman, dressed in a faded russet gown, her long hair braided with red cords. The circlet which held her veil on her head gleamed dully in the bright sunlight. It was the woman who had introduced herself as Marianne. She turned her dark eyes to him and he could hear her voice, even over the sounds of the battle. "There will be another time, chevalier. Another time. Nothing is forgotten." He closed his eyes as a wave of pain washed through him.
"Derek, are you all right?" Alex asked, concern in her voice.
"Yes. Just a flash of something. I'm not sure what. Something I'm suppose to remember." He looked down at the image on the screen again with a frown. "Somehow, I think I'm suppose to know them. But why or how is a mystery to me."
"There's another mystery here." Philip remarked, walking into the computer room. "The writing on that shield is a code. I have the computer trying to make sense of it, but I think we're missing the key to how to read it."
"Maybe it's in these photos I took of the armor." Alex offered, pulling some snapshots from a folder on the desk. "I noticed that there was some sort of design woven into the metal links. It was almost invisible because of the condition of the metal, but you can just make out some letters."
Philip looked the photos over carefully. "You may be right Alex. The words on the shield didn't make much sense as written, but with these added, the message may become clearer. Let me feed them into the computer and see what we get."
Derek left his two companions to their work. He retrieved a book from the library and decided to take it outside to read as he was beginning to feel claustrophobic within the confines of the mansion. Outside, a dense fog had rolled up from the sea, covering the garden in a blanket of haze. Derek looked around ruefully, the chill seeping into his bones.
"Not a very pleasant day, is it?" a voice from beside him commented. A figure of a man appeared out of the fog, walking towards him with confidence. He wore an English riding habit and carried a short riding crop. It was the young man from the museum, the man in the photo who Winston Rayne had identified as Daniel Solaris. "I dislike any day which separates me from the warmth of the sun."
"What are you doing here?" Derek asked, stepping between the stranger and the mansion door.
"Just wandering around. It's been a while since last I was here. So very long ago." The stranger smiled warmly at him. "You don't like me much, do you?"
"I don't know you. I'm not even sure what to call you. Daniel or "
"Daniel was one of my names. I've had many. Most totally unpronounceable. Today, I am known as Damien. That was what you called me before. Don't you remember?"
"We've never met." Derek responded brusquely.
"But we have, chevalier. Nothing is forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten."
The pain in Derek's head increased suddenly from a dull roar to a piercing ache. The world began to tilt around him. He sank to the ground, his hands clutching his temples. A wave of vertigo washing over him. All the familiar sights around him turned vividly colorful and yet hazy, like a Van Gogh painting. For a moment, the man before him seemed to change, seeming to glow with an inner light. Around him, small flames seemed to dance up, reaching to caress the glowing brilliant figure. Even his golden hair seemed to be alive with light. Then he was as had been before, nothing more than a handsome young man.
"Enough, brother. You'll hurt him." Marianne walked out of the fog and approached her brother. She also wore a riding habit, and her long hair was braided down her back in one long tress. "You agreed to leave him to me. I wish him to remember what was before, but in my own good time."
"You worry too much over him. You always did." He looked down at the man at his feet, his handsome face impassive. "This time, I thought you would choose the soldier."
"I've not decided." Marianne replied, gently stroking Derek's hair. "They both have aspects which appeal to me."
"Make haste with your decisions, sweet sister. Time grows short. We must find what was hidden for us soon, lest it be lost in the night forever." Damien turned and strolled away, swinging the riding crop nonchalantly in his hand.
Marianne gently turned Derek's face towards hers, forcing him to look into her violet eyes. "Hear me, chevalier. You will remember nothing of this. Not my brother's presence here, not his words, not the pain. That which was past must know be known and when it is, you will remember all." She passed her hand over his eyes to close them, then gently stroked his forehead. She waited until the pain the resurgent memories had brought with them had receded then rose and walked away, leaving the scent of wild roses in her wake.
Derek's eyes opened with a start and he looked around himself in confusion. How did I get on the ground? he thought, rising from his knees. I came outside to read and Why can't I remember? He looked around himself at the strange yet familiar world of the castle's garden then started hesitantly back inside. At the door he stopped and took a deep breath. Roses? But there are no roses in this garden? he wondered, taking one last look about him. Then with a puzzled sigh, he returned to the mansion and it's new mystery.
"Derek!" Nick called out, letting the mansion's door slam behind him. He shifted the package he had picked up at the museum to a more secure position under his arm. "Where is everyone?'
"Chill out Nick." Alex replied, walking out of the library. "They can probably hear you back on the mainland."
"Where's Derek?" Nick asked, ignoring her comments.
"Here." Derek called from the landing, looking down the stairs at his friends. He had been in his room nursing the remnants of a splitting headache when he had heard Nick's car come roaring up the drive. Derek had wondered what had become of the young soldier, as it had been hours since he had sent him to speak to the police. Usually, Nick would call in as soon as his mission was accomplished
"Those guys who broke into the museum are sitting tight, waiting to be brought before a judge. The police lieutenant I spoke to says neither of them appears to have a record and with good enough lawyers they might make bail. The District Attorney isn't complaining too much. They're only little fish. Convicting them won't win him re-election." Nick handed his awkward package to his precept. "I stopped by the museum on the way back. Looks like our mysterious donor is still out there. This package arrived for you this morning. No one knows where it came from or how it got to museum. All anyone knows was that it was found with today's mail." Nick gave the package a little shake, a grim smile on his face. "I had the museum x-ray it.. Looks like some sort of book."
Derek walked into his study and laid the bundle on his desk. It was addressed to him at the museum. He examined the wrapping carefully, noting the lack of any sign as to how it was shipped. With Alex's help he soon unwrapped package and found himself staring at a manuscript, carefully wrapped in plastic. Derek slipped on a pair of white gloves and carefully unwrapped the plastic overlay. It's simple binding consisted of weathered dark leather. The pages of the document were hand-written, in a style reminiscent of medieval texts he had seen at Oxford. But this was no holy tome, lovingly copied by a monk's hands. There were no illuminations, as would have been used in such early books. The team examined the writing carefully.
"It appears to be a personal journal. At least, I think that's what it is. It's in Latin." Derek commented ruefully.
"Can you translate it?" Alex asked, glancing up at Nick with a frown.
Nick shrugged and retrieved the brown paper wrapping for latter study.
Derek looked over the first page with a frown. "With some time. It appears to be the journal of a Sir Laurent Dubois, a Knight of the Temple of Solomon."
"Do you recognize the name?" Alex asked.
"Should I?" Derek responded, puzzled.
"I thought you might have heard it in your dreams about the Templars." Alex eyed her precept, wondering if he was holding something back, as he usually did.
"I thought only the clergy could read in medieval times." Nick asked, eyeing the text dubiously.
"For the most part that was true. It may be that he was destined for the church and so was taught to read and write before he joined the Templars. Alex, run a check on this name and see if anything in the Legacy's databases will tell us about him."
Derek began to try to decipher the entries to himself, shutting out the others as he lost himself in the journal's entries. Alex motioned Nick to follow her through the hologram and set to work tracking this new piece to their expanding puzzle. The mansion fell silent as the team set to work. Outside the full moon shone its pale light on the garden below.
Translated from the journal of Sir Laurent Dubois
It had been a slow processes, even with a Latin dictionary to help him over some of the more unfamiliar words. As he read he had noticed that there was something almost familiar about the manuscript, as though he had seen or held it before. Even the phrasing was familiar, as though he had heard those words somewhere before. Slowly, the story contained in these faded pages began to unfold. Derek closed his eyes and pondered the words in the journal. The light of the rising sun pouring through the windows reminded him just how long it had taken him to read just those few paragraphs. He could feel the adrenaline surging through his veins from the battle, the heat of the unending sun and the weight of the sword in his hand. The room seemed to dissolve around him and when he opened his eyes, he was on that dusty street looking across at a woman with violet eyes. She smiled at him and turned away, walking quickly down a crowded alley. He followed her, his armor heavy on his shoulders. Suddenly someone was in his path.
"That one is not for you, mon amie." Damien stood before him, his helm under his arm. The man's bright blue eyes gleamed with laughter. "Not yet, at any rate. She has other business to attend to, as do we. Come away, Laurent. Our brothers have need of us."
"Derek? Derek, can you hear me?" Alex walked up to her mentor and laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her, startled by her sudden presence.
"What? Oh yes I'm fine." He looked down at the manuscript pages he had been reading, still dazed by his vision. "What did you want?"
"I found something on a minor noble family from the province of Navarre in France by the name of Dubois. There are some translations of chronicles written by a historian of the Templars about the fall of the city of Acre which mentions a Laurent Dubois in the list of Knights who were killed when the Moslems breached the city walls and forced the remaining Templars to retreat to their castle. The researcher who translated these histories also put together a list of all the Knights whose names appear in the chronology of the eventual fall of the Templar castle. I printed it out for you."
Derek took the printout from her hand and scanned it quickly. The names of Damien and Philip de Lancie were not on the list. "This isn't all the men who fell at the walls." He murmured , picking up the next page of the journal. "I wonder what happened to them?"
"To who?" Alex asked, confused.
Derek looked at her blankly then shrugged. "People named in this journal. I'll finish translating this later, but from what I've read, I can't see what connection this manuscript has to our attempted theft or the puzzle surrounding the Templar armor." He rose and gathered the rest of the pages together and walked out, leaving Alex to wonder just what had occurred while she was at her console. Her precept seemed so preoccupied with a manuscript he said was not part of their present investigation. And he seemed to have completely forgotten their unusual guests from the museum. Alex frowned and returned to her console, determined to learn just how all these stray threads connected together.
The team met as a group in the study. Alex quickly brought the group up to speed on what she had found about the shipment of armour and the strange journal. She had also located Winston Raine's friend Maurice de Lacy at his family home in Paris. He had proven to be a source of surprising information.
"According to de Lacy, he had been on the verge of contacting your father to warn him about strangers posing as Legacy members coming into his House when he heard about your father's death. After the funeral, he made it a point to talk to the members of the house who were present and not one of them mentioned anyone new joining their team. So he assumed that the impostors had been warned off. Shortly after that he was injured in a hunt for a were-beast in Spain and retired from the Legacy." Alex looked at her assembled teammates with a frown. "Isn't it strange no one mentioned Daniel and Megan Solaris to him when he talked to the House?"
"Maybe my dad and the others didn't think of them as a threat." Nick commented, his eyes never leaving his precept's face.
"Or maybe my father was the only one who had direct contact with them." Derek responded, looking down at the snapshot of the strange pair in his hand.
"How did de Lacy know there were people posing as Legacy members coming to this house?" Rachel asked curiously.
"He had received a call from the precept of the Mother House in London, telling him that some friends of his had been assigned here. Problem was, De Lacy had never heard of these people. He told me that at the time he had the feeling that that his precept knew more about what was going on then he was willing to tell. But he never could verify that feeling."
"What about the journal?" Rachel asked. "Did you find anything useful there?"
"I've not gotten very far." Derek admitted wryly. "My father was right about my Latin being bad. But from what I've read, it appears to be a personal account of the last few days in the Templar stronghold of Acre, shortly before it fell to the Muslims."
"No mention of a special shield or suit of armour?" Alex queried.
"No, nothing like that. At least, not yet."
"So we're back to the square one. Who are these people and what do they want with the Templar armour." Nick remarked.
"Well, if you must know, we just want to make sure the secret carried in its links doesn't fall into the wrong hands." A voice from the doorway replied. Damien walked from the shadows, closing the doors behind him. He moved gracefully to stand in the fading sunlight gleaming through the windows behind Derek. "I do love the sunlight, don't you? It's so warm and bright. My sister likes the moonlight, but I've always had a taste for the sun."
Nick jumped to his feet, reaching for his gun. "How did you get in here?"
"Oh, there are ways. This place was never as secure as Winston thought it was. No structure is totally impregnable, is it my old friend?" Damien laid a gentle hand on Derek's arm, turning the precept toward him.
"Old friend? Strange, I don't remember our being introduced." Derek replied coldly.
"We were comrades, even friends. But that was another lifetime ago. You'll remember when the time comes. But for now, you and your team must undertake a search for me. A search for a treasure long hidden from the world. A treasure which must not fall into evil hands."
"Whose hands?" Rachel asked.
"An enemy you have fought before. One who delights in resurrecting things which should have stayed dead. He and his family have searched for this treasure for generations. They have thought to use its power, to corrupt it for their own gain. I and my kind had thought it too safely hidden to be concerned with their puny attempts to locate it but now, with modern technology to aid him, all is changed. "
"Who is this enemy?" Rachel demanded tensely.
"Someone who thought nothing of destroying a house and growing a demon in a petri dish."
"Arkady." Derek replied, tearing his eyes from the man in front of him. "But what is this treasure?"
Damien shrugged nonchalantly. "Nothing terribly significant. Only the treasure of the Templars, the gold and precious jewels they acquired over years of their existence. And other items with less of a monetary and more of a symbolic value." He walked around the table to the door, his eyes never leaving the team in front of him. "You wouldn't think that a simple object would cause so much trouble, would you?" The doors behind him flew open and sudden light blinded the occupants of the room. When at last they could see again their strange visitor had disappeared.
Kat ran quickly down the stairs in front of her school, a puzzled frown on her face. Classes were technically not dismissed yet but her teacher had allowed her to leave the room to visit the nurse's office. Her minor illness of the day before still lingered yet it was not severe enough for her mother to consider keeping her home again. But she had sent Kat's antibiotics to the school nurse as a precaution and had instructed that her daughter be given her medication at the prescribed time. Kat had been on her way to receive her pills when she had caught sight of a familiar figure outside of the school.
I know I saw her out here. Kat thought to herself, looking up and down the sidewalk with growing frustration.
"Here kitty Kat, here I am." A voice called from behind a tree. Marianne stepped out into the light with a smile. She was dressed in dark jeans and a white cotton shirt, with a dark overcoat slung over one arm. Her dark hair was loose around her shoulders, long and straight and fine as silk and her violet eyes looked down at the child with kindness. " How are you feeling this bright day?"
"Okay, I guess."
"That doesn't sound very positive." Marianne took the child's hand and led her to a shady spot under a large tree, out of sight of prying eyes. "What troubles you?"
Kat hesitated, looking back at the school with a frown. "I don't think I'm suppose to talk about it, especially to strangers."
"Well, I'm not exactly a stranger, am I? Let me see if I can guess." The dark-haired woman leaned back on her elbows and tilted her head up, examining the branches of the tree with a thoughtful gaze. "I'll bet it's got something to do with your gift of the Sight."
"The Sight?" Kat asked, hesitantly.
"The ability to see what others can not. Like seeing events before they happen or seeing people where everyone else sees empty space. Am I right?"
"Mom doesn't believe I can do that." Kat sighed, picking at string on her jacket.
"Oh, I think she believes you, little one. I just think she worries for you. Being different is a hard thing and I think she wants your life to be pleasant and easier than hers has been. Perhaps she believes that if she ignores this talent in you it will disappear, but it won't. At least, it didn't with me."
Kat looked at her new friend with interest. "You have this too?"
Marianne smiled sadly at the excited youngster. "Oh yes, since I was younger than you. I could look into a bowl of water and see things happening miles away as clear as if they were happening right in front of me. My grandmother was pleased I had the gift. I think she was afraid that the only talent I would have would be in war-craft."
"What's war-craft" Kat asked.
"The art of making war. My father had no son to leave his knowledge of battle to so he taught me, much to the horror of the rest of our family. My mother died when I was born. The old women of our village said that she had fairy blood in her. Can you imagine that?. The Christian priests said they were what was left of the descendants of the Sons of God and the Daughters of Man and so were dammed for all times. Luckily my father didn't believe in either the old gods or the new ones. I wonder what they would say of us now?" Marianne sat up quickly and looked back at the school. "I've confused you totally haven't I? Well, no matter. It appears that someone's looking for you, luv. Best you go on your way."
Kat stood up and eyed her new friend wistfully. "Will I get to see you again?"
"You never know. I tend to pop up in the most interesting places and at the most inconvenient times. Don't worry. If you need me, I'll be there. Now off with you." She shooed the child off towards the school then wandered towards a patch of fog that was forming near the end of the street. The mist grew thicker and colder as she walked into it, like a blanket of damp cotton pressing in all around her. Sounds came from the fog, soft whispering of conversations long ended which echoed forever in this corridor between worlds. She ignored the feeling of unease the fog emitted concentrating on her destination, a point of light just ahead of her. Soon the light burned away the dampness and chill and she stepped to her brother's side with a sigh. "Well, did you tell them?"
"Not in so many words, but I think they got the hint." Damien took her coat from her arm and placed it gently around her shoulders. "Why are you so interested in the child?"
"She reminds me of me at that age."
"You were never that innocent." Damien replied curtly, turning away to move down the suddenly brightly lit path.
"Wasn't I? Well, perhaps not. I was a warlords brat born to a woman branded a witch by even those who found her fair. A child with the power to see what had not yet been and make things happen that could not be done by mortal means. It's no wonder I was never like other children." Marianne followed her brother silently down the trail to where their horses were tethered. "How long will we be exiled from our people this time, my brother? How long before we me return to our home beyond the mists?"
"For as long as it takes to insure the safety of the item the Templars guarded for us. Then we will return beyond the veil again until the next time we are called. It will be no different than the other times, ma belle." Damien mounted his horse and rode into the mists without a backward glance.
Marianne watched him ride away onto the mystical trail his power created then reached into her saddlebag for the mirror she knew was there. It's wooden frame was decorated with symbols whose meanings were lost before time had begun. She held it up in the gray light of the fog and concentrated until its bright silver surface no longer reflected her image back to her. Clouds swirled on its face then slowly another image emerged, hidden away in a dark cave. A light glowed around the image, a light which seemed to come from the all around a hollow in the darkness. Then the image faded and another took its place, the image of two men, one young and anxious to be on the hunt and one older and more cautious, looking for advantage before committing his troops to the search yet in his own way as incautious as his young friend. The Warrior and the Mage she mused, looking closely at both of their handsome faces. Can you two protect what we children of Avalon can no longer care for alone? She sighed and wrapped the mirror back in its protective velvet the mounted her steed for the journey back to the world of mortal men.
Now go e-mail Mary and tell her what you think!