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from the second page..
Arkady slammed the phone back into its cradle in a fury. His little excursion was not turning out as he had planned. First his flight had been delayed at the airport in Madrid by a demonstration by Basque separatists. He had finally made it to his hotel, only to discover his room had been inexplicably given to someone else by the computer system. It had taken an hour before he could finally move into a suite smaller than he was accustom to occupying. He hadn't been there more than a few minutes when one of his minions in Boston had called to inform him of Thomas's death. The plane his assassin had chartered had experienced unforeseen technical problems in mid-flight and had been forced to land at a small airfield just outside the city. It was then that the pilot had noticed the odd smell coming from the rear compartment and had discovered their passenger dead from smoke inhalation. His skin had been blistered as though he had been caught in a raging fire, yet nothing in the cabin was disturbed. Arkady's employee had called him for instructions as to the disposal of the body and how he wanted the local authorities handled. The police, it seemed, were insisting they had questions for him concerning his deceased employee, who was found to be carrying a number of unregistered weapons. They were becoming insistent in knowing who might have wanted him dead.
"Lucky for him he died. I would have shot him myself for making such a mess of a simple assignment." Arkady fumed, angrily reading through the various messages the hotel's front desk had given him. Anger was a feeling he dealt with well. It kept him from having to confront the fear lurking in the depths of his blighted soul. Fear of what might have burned an experienced killer and left the plane in tact. Fear of who or what else might be searching for the prize he was tracking. He didn't give a second thought to the Legacy team which had gone before him, knowing that their reverence for life would have precluded their having a hand in his man's demise. One message caught his eye, jerking him out his self-absorption. It was a brief message asking he call a local number as soon as he arrived. It was unsigned, but Arkady had his suspicions as to its author. He had recently acquired a spy in the Madrid House, Manuel Diaz. It hadn't seemed much of an acquisition at the time, but Arkady was nothing if not patient. Now his patience was bearing fruit. He had called the renegade Legacy member before boarding his flight, giving the man a list of instructions he was to have accomplished by the time his employer had arrived. This message to inform the man's employer that the job had been performed and the information required had been found. Arkady pulled the phone back and dialed the number quickly, his jaw set in a grim smile.
"Bueno?" the voice at the other end of the receiver called out hesitantly.
"It's me, where do we meet?" Arkady asked, impatiently.
"At the Museao del Pardo, Senor. In one hour. Come alone and bring my money."
"Not getting cold feet are we Manuel?" Arkady's voice dripped with sarcasm as he imagined the nervous man on the other end of the phone.
"One hour, senior. Or I will take my information to my Precept and throw myself on his mercy." A sharp click and the hum in the receiver signified the conversation was ended.
Arkady dropped the phone in disgust and grabbed his coat from the bed. "It will be a pleasure to relieve this toad of his life." He thought, closing the suite door behind him and striding off toward the elevators.
On the street below his window, a nervous young man carrying a manila envelope walked swiftly away from a phone booth, warily watching the masses of people around him. Manuel Diaz had been a soldier, a teacher and a researcher in his short life. He had even been a trusted representative of his House at numerous Legacy gatherings, standing in for his busy Precept. But this was the first time he had ever been a traitor and he was discovering that deceit was not his strong suit. It hadn't seemed so bad at first, just performing some outside research assignments for the rich American using his House's resources. His family had needed the funds to pay for some unexpected medical bills and his position at the Legacy, while trusted, had not been the means to financial success. Most of the topics had been historical, not supernatural so he had not suspected what the man had really been after until it was too late. Too late to give back the large sum of money he had spent on himself and his family. Too late to apologize to the members of his house who were injured by his lapses. Now he was left with the vain hope that this would be the last job the American would require of him, the last time he would take the man's blood money in exchange for help against his own people. His guilty conscience made him especially paranoid, seeing shadows following him up every street. Yet for all his watchfulness, he did not notice the small figure that followed him at a distance, keeping pace with him through all the twists and turns of the city's back alleys. Even if he had noticed, it would not have mattered.
The stealthy black feline followed its prey almost to the steps of the Prada, stopping only when the crowds became too dense for its small frame to avoid. It took up a post in an alley nearby, crouched in the shadows, watching the masses of humans as they moved in and out of the ancient museum, watching everything that occurred. Watching the world with thoughtful violet eyes. Watching until a shadowy figure moved to enter the famous museum from a little used service entrance. Then it leaped gracefully to its feet and disappeared into the crowd at the entrance.
Inside the Prada, Diaz found a secluded corner facing the entrance and waited. Time seemed to drag on eternally. The package in his hands seemed to grow heavier with every passing minute.
"Waiting for someone?" a sarcastic voice asked from somewhere behind him.
Manuel whirled around to face Arkady, who had decided to slip in through the museum service entrance. "When did you get here?" he gasped, his face pale and sweaty.
'Not important. Do you have the information I requested?"
"Si Senor. Dr. Rayne called my Precept and requested the House's help in finding a small town called Las Rosales. I have copies of everything my Precept will give to them when they arrive. It is said that the churchyard in the town has gravestones decorated with the symbols of the Knights of Christ, the ones that were once known as the Templars. One of the members of the House had sketched the symbols a few years ago while visiting a relative. He also found set of blueprints for the church from when it was renovated, about the time of the end of the Franco regime." He shifted the envelope in his hands, debating his next move. "Do you have my money?"
Arkady pulled an envelope from his jacket and tossed it to the nervous man. "It's all there, just as I promised."
Miguel briefly glanced into the envelope, noting the bills were American currency and not Spanish. He handed his envelope to his benefactor quickly, stuffing the money in his pocket. "Our business is concluded, Senior. As we agreed, this is the last time we will ever speak to one another."
"What, no handshake to seal the deal?" Arkady drawled, putting his gloved hand out in a friendly fashion.
Miguel hesitated briefly, then reached for the other man's hand. Arkady swiftly pulled the man close, burying the switchblade he had palmed into the man's defenseless back. Shock rendered the turncoat speechless, his limbs suddenly useless as the blade buried itself in his heart. To the passing museum guard, it seemed that the two men were sharing a common greeting, an abrazo between two old friends. Only Arkady could hear the rattling sound which signaled the impending death of his hapless pawn. He quickly dragged the injured man into a dark corner, dropping the still form behind a tapestry. He wiped his hand on his victim's jacket, then fished the money back out of his pocket.
"No sense leaving this behind." He said to the dead man. "You're not going to need it." He tucked the envelope under his arm and walked calmly out the main entrance, his mind quickly reviewing his plans to beat the Legacy members to their shared goal.
He was so intent on those plans that he did not notice the dark-haired young woman who brushed past him in the crowd, gently jostling him as the throng of people moved impatiently through the entrance. Nor did he notice as she lifted the envelope containing his bribe from his pocket and transferred it to her own. Marianne smiled secretly to herself as she moved toward where she had last seen her quarry. It had been too easy to 'liberate' Arkady from his money, just as it had been too easy to kill his man on the plane. Now she must find this man who was willing to trade his secrets for currency and see if her suspicions about the outcome of the meeting were true. She continued across the museum, slowly making her way the far corner where the ill-fated meeting had taken place. She stopped suddenly, the scents in that almost deserted corner of the building overwhelming her. The blood scent, imperceptible to others, flowed over her in a wave, reminding her of other times, other places. She could almost hear the hounds baying in the distance and feel the rush in her veins as the prey beast was brought down. She followed the scent to the tapestry and the cooling body of the traitorous Legacy member. Marianne sighed in frustration, wishing for once she had been wrong about the ultimate fate of this foolish human.
"It was his fate to die for his treachery, little sister." Damien's voice floated out of the shadows of her mind. "Leave him to be mourned by his own kind. He is not worthy of your regrets."
"Perhaps not." She admitted ruefully, bending to tuck the cash into his inside pocket. "But he was not so very bad as to deserve this. At least his family will not suffer for his mistakes. Not with Arkady's money to help them through the hard times to come." Her violet eyes flashed with repressed anger as she looked back in the direction she had last seen Arkady. "Now that one, on the other hand, deserves to serve me as prey for my hunt."
"Perhaps you will have that chance later." Damien admonished, his voice growing indistinct. "But for now, all the players are on their way to the final confrontation. Go now and see to your pets."
"Where will you be?" she asked fretfully, moving swiftly out of the open service entrance.
"I will be at your back, sister. Look for me in the sun's bright rays and I will look for you in the Moon's deep shadows."
The door slammed shut behind her, the sound reverberating with more volume than it should have, as minute fragments of dust fell on the upturned face of the dead man.
Derek watched the Spanish countryside roll by his window in silence. The team had been met at Barajas airport by a member of the Madrid House "Jesus Montoya at your services senors y senorita. I will be your guide through my city until it is time for you to move on." The driver, a wizened man with shining dark eyes had set about to collect their luggage and hurry them to his car, a huge stretch limousine.
"So much for not attracting attention. " Nick muttered darkly as he crawled in between Derek and Alex. Philip chose the seat opposite the driver, the better to pump the elderly man for information about his House. Derek had settled into his seat and promptly shut out the world, his mind focused on his search. The eight hour difference San Francisco and Madrid would eventually take it's toll on both him and the members of his team. But for now, the others were being carried along by the adrenaline surge. He, on the other hand, was only feeling old and tired. The thought of finding the very cup of Christ both intrigued and frightened him. The possibilities of the Grail's power in wrong hands terrified him. The possibilities of it's power in his hands scared him even more. He remembered the look in his father's eyes when he had found that sepulcher, the night Winston had died. In his heart, he believed that his father had begun his search for stone caskets with all the best of intentions. But he also knew, from painful experience, that the lure of power could sometimes overwhelm even the best of men.
"Earth to Derek." Alex teased, leaning across Nick in the car's back seat. "Penny for your thoughts?"
"Sorry. I must be more tired than I thought." Derek replied absently, not looking back at his friends. "What did you say?"
"I was just wondering about the Precept of the Madrid House. What's he like?"
"Senor de la Vega has been with the Madrid house for many years. I believe he came to it during Franco's regime and has managed to his families influence both with the old and new powers that be to collect some of the rarest of tomes dealing with time of the Inquisition. He also has collected some fine Arabic volumes of poetry, medicine and other such subjects. It's possible that somewhere in that fine collection he may have some more information about the town we will be visiting and how the remnants of the Templar Knights came to set up a base there."
"How did you know that Arkady knew our flight plan?" Nick asked, his eyes darting between the Alex and Derek. "You never said how you figured that out."
"She told me he was waiting to follow us to our goal."
"She? You mean that woman, Marianne? The same one who's brother just waltzed in to the house and told us about Arkady's interest in our puzzle?" Nick fidgeted in his seat, wishing he had not had to stow his gun before they had landed. "Why do I get the feeling that those two have a separate agenda from ours?"
"They mean us no harm." Derek replied shortly, his eyes locked on his young friend.
"So they say." Nick replied, determined not to be dismissed. "Alex, Philip and I looked at those pictures you had her dig up, the photos of the various brother and sister teams that have been associated with the Legacy over the years. These two "people" have been showing up again and again at Legacy houses for at least a hundred years Derek, maybe more! If it's the same two people, then they can't be human. And if they are not human then we can't assume that human motivations, as Rachel would say, apply to anything they do. For all we know, they could be working with the forces of darkness, setting us up to take the fall with Arkady while they make off with the cup."
"Perhaps Senor de la Vega will have more information on our guests as well in that extensive collection of his." Philip interjected, hoping to distract both Derek and Nick from what promised to be a nasty fight.
"Perhaps." Derek agreed grudgingly, looking pointedly back out of the car window. The rest of the trip was accomplished in dead silence, each of the team member's wrapped in his own thoughts and concerns.
-- The Madrid House was a splendid mansion on the outskirts of the city, showing various styles of architecture as well as hiding the best of modern day security. To the local's it was the home of a nonprofit organization which devoted itself to the preservation of the nation's artistic history. Only other legacy members knew that behind the beautiful walls were some of the oldest tomes in the Legacy's collection of information about the world of darkness. Senor Efraim de la Vega, the fifth generation of his family to serve the Legacy, watched his driver bring his visitor's from American through the drive with concern. The information he had just received from the Boston House would make their search that much more complicated.
"Buenos dias, Derek. It's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of speaking to you." De la Vega approached his guests, a smile on his handsome face. Efraim de la Vega was a little taller than Derek, ramrod straight posture, tanned complexion, and wavy gray hair. To Alex, he looked remarkably like Ricardo Montalban, even to his slight accent as he greeted them in English.
"Yes, not since I graduated from Oxford." Derek replied, a smile on his tired face. "Senor de la Vega was one of my instructors. Let me introduce you to the other members of my House. This Alex Moreau, our researcher, Father Philip Callahan and Nick Boyle who acts as my security chief."
"Please, call me Efraim. Not even the members of my House call me Senor de la Vega. Derek, I have received news which may bear on your quest. A plane belonging to Victor Arkady was forced to make an emergency landing in Boston. On board were the charred remains of one of Arkady's employees, a man by the name of Thomas. A hired killer with little regard for anything or anyone but himself and his employer. He had become the victim of spontaneous combustion."
"Spontaneous combustion?" Nick snorted, hefting his bag over his shoulder. "What, he just went up in flames?"
"Yes, exactly." Efraim agreed, graciously leading them into the main hall. "Nothing else in the plane was damaged but this man."
"Derek, do you think_" Alex began, darting a quick look at Nick and Philip.
"I think we had better begin our travel to Las Rosales as quickly as possible." Derek replied, his tone grim.
"I must agree. But not just because of this man's death." Efraim stopped at the entrance to the parlor and looked back at his fellow Legacy members with concern. "Arkady has been seen in Madrid. It seems our "friend" is just as eager for the search to begin as you are."
"Then let's not keep the man waiting." Derek agreed, his eyes cold.
Nick worked quickly to pack the gear that the Madrid House had provided them for their work once they arrived at the church. "Man, what do they think we're going to do, dig for coal?" he asked as he tried to find space in the rapidly filling jeep for another Coleman lantern.
"Many of these old churches which have ties to the Templars were built near caves." Philip replied, handing his friend a duffel bag. "This one is probably no different." The young priest shot a worried look back into the interior of the majestic home. "What's keeping Derek?"
"He wanted to ask Senor de la Vega about our two mysterious friends." Alex answered, coming around the corner with Jesus Montoya in tow. "Jesus will be coming with us on this little expedition."
"Why?" Nick asked, glancing quizzically at the old man.
"I am from that town." The elderly man replied, a smile on his face. "The village priest is my cousin. Efraim thinks that perhaps he will be more likely to help me than a bunch of gringos." The smile melted away to a sad frown. "Another member of this house, Manuel Diaz, was to be your guide, but he has disappeared from his home." The sound of a phone ringing in the distance distracted him from his reverie. "I must catch that, my friends. I will be back in a moment." He trotted back into the house with a speed that belied his aged face.
"So we're gringo's? Well, I've been called worse." Nick laughed, shoving the duffel bag in his hands into the last open spot in the jeep. "Anything else to go in here?"
"No, the rest of our gear will go in the other jeep." Alex replied, starting back into the house. "Philip, will you give me a hand checking out the reference material we'll be taking with us?"
"Wait, Alex." Philip replied, catching her . He turned to his friend with a concerned expression on his sensitive face. "Nick, I think you, Alex and I need to talk. Have you noticed that Derek seems to be taking this hunt almost too personally?"
"Yeah, he really didn't like my questioning the motives of those two strange characters who have been feeding us information did he?" Nick leaned against the jeep, mulling over his impressions of the last few days. "It's almost like he has a history with them, or at least with her. I got the impression before we left that you were worried about him, Alex."
"He's been having flashes of the Sight, something I think to do with that woman and the armor. He hasn't said anything about it, but I get the distinct feeling they concern him."
"Yes, he had one when I walked in the room. When he flashed on the idea that one of the men mentioned in the journal might be a woman." Philip cast a worried glance back up at the house. "He's had visions all his life, but for some reason these are intensely personal to him. I wasn't sure if Alex or you or I should try to talk to him about it."
"Philip, by now you should know that if Derek's wrong Alex be the first one in his face about it, and Rachel and I wouldn't be too far behind her. Anyway, it may just be he's tired. Hell, we're all tired." Nick's quick eyes noticed a shadow moving in the doorway, a form that became Jesus Montoya. The old man's face was lined with sorrow. "Senor Montoya, what's wrong? You look like you lost your best friend."
Jesus looked up at the two young men with somber eyes. "In a way, I have. That was the police. They have found Manuel. He is lying dead in the Prada, a knife in his back."
"Arkady." Nick replied, his eyes cold.
Derek and Efraim walked quietly into the Madrid House's hidden control room, it's cool interior a relief from the heat outside. The courtly Spaniard pointed to a painting sitting on a table in the center of the room. "We found this shortly after I was informed of your plans to come to Spain. I thought it's subject might be another clue to the treasure you seek. It was painted by an ancestor of mine, many hundreds of years ago. At least, that's what I believe." He pulled the dust cover off the painting with a flourish. "There was writing on the back identifying the title of this painting as The Lord and Lady."
For a moment, Derek felt the room begin to spin. In front of him was a portrait of a man and woman in medieval garments. The woman was dressed in black with a broadsword clasped in front of her. Her eyes were dark and mysterious, as mysterious as the smile on her pale face. The sword's quillions formed a cross at her breast, and she wore crescent moons in her ears. Behind her was a man with flowing golden hair who had his hands outstretched in a summoning. His light eyes glowed with joy from the canvas as though the paint had been freshly applied, though the cracks in the paint told a different story. Behind them both was the banner of the Knights Templar. It was Damion and Marianne, looking just as they had the night he had first seen them in San Francisco. He sank into the first chair he could find and stared at the painting mutely.
"Derek? Have you seen these people before?" Efraim asked gently, kneeling beside his stunned former student.
"Yes, at a charity function for the Luna Foundation. And in photos from the historical archives of the Legacy. But I don't know who or what they are."
"Who they are isn't important." Efraim began patiently. "That they are here at all is what matters most."
Derek looked at his former teacher with interest. "You know them?" he asked, surprised.
"Not personally." Efraim replied dryly, rising to turn a computer screen towards himself. "But I've heard stories of these two, stories that have been handed down through the generations of my family. You know that we have been part of the legacy for hundreds of years, each generation giving one or more of its members to answer the call. What you may not know, what not many others even at the Mother House know, is that for centuries my family has also produced sorcerers of some power. It was they who served these beings of power from a bygone age. When I found this portrait, I recognized the handwriting on the back as that of my great-uncle, one such magi who also served the Legacy. I had read his journals often when I was a boy. He speaks of this work of art, of finding it hidden away in some dark cavern in an abandon church he was helping to clean of evil spirits. They are the wanderers from the time before man, before the One God, from the time of Magic. They are called the Children of Avalon, forces of nature who once were considered gods. It is said that when they appear, trouble always follows. I have a theory that they are the ones following the path of trouble. They are not always pleasant people to be with, especially the woman. She is a huntress, a soldier, sometimes even an Avenging Angel. He is the more enigmatic of the two, despite his sunnier reputation. But make no mistake, my friend. Their motivation is their own."
Derek looked back at the portrait, concern on his handsome face. "Efraim, I have dreamed of these two. Over and over, seeing her especially in a battlefield long ago. In the time of the Templars. I feel a connection to them - to her. Can they be causing these dreams, using them to control my actions?"
"Anything is possible. My great-uncle's stories claim great powers for both of them, powers that did not diminish when the old religions went into decline. Be careful, my friend. Nothing maybe as you believe, not even your own beliefs."
"Is there anything in your great-uncle's journal to tell me why they have chosen us or more precisely, chosen me to appear to?"
Efraim thought for a moment, reviewing the stories about these two mysterious creatures he had read in his ancestor's journals. "There is a story, one my uncle had heard from his father, who had it from his father. You know how these things go. Well, My uncle said that long ago, when Magic still walked the land with man, the Lady became fond of a mortal. The legend is that this mortal died before she could make him immortal and now his spirit is reborn whenever there is new trouble for them to face. He comes to be at her side, to protect her where her brother-consort can not, in the realm of man. It may be, my friend, that his soul now resides in you."
Derek rose from the chair and started out of the control room. "Be that as it may, I must try to find the answer to this riddle before Arkady. Thank you for your help." He turned with a wan smile and shook his teacher's hand. "I'll be careful, I promise." With that he disappeared into the corridor, heading for the cars.
"Well, that went well, didn't it?" a sarcastic voice commented from the shadows. Marianne stepped into the light, the hem of her dark cloak stirring up flecks of dust. "And here all this time I thought we were friends."
"Friends, my lady?" Efraim answered, his eyes steady as he looked down at the mysterious woman before him. "My family has served you and your Lord for generations, but I don't think friendship ever came into the bargain. Besides, I said nothing that was not true. Your reasons for what you do are mysterious, known only to the two of you. My family has served you over the centuries, I simply didn't mention that this generation the honor was mine. I would not wish my student and friend to be caught up in one of your plots."
"The only plot you need worry yourself about, sorcerer, is the one that minion of darkness Arkady is hatching. He's killed one member of your house and before this is done, he may kill many more. Guard your portals, lest he slither in past your door. It would be very inconvenient for me to have to find another wizard to act as my eyes and ears when we are not in this world." She turned to leave then looked back over her shoulder with a grim smile. "Be more careful of your warnings in the future, de la Vega. I doubt the Legacy would look kindly on a Precept who serves two masters." She disappeared into the shadows, leaving the old man to contemplate the events ahead with concern. --
Derek moved quickly towards toward the jeeps waiting in the drive, his friends revelations still sounding in his head. The thought that his might be the soul of the Lady's reincarnated lover filled him at once with dread and desire. Everything he had been taught told him that this could not be, yet there was no denying the feelings he experienced whenever she was near. His reverie was broken as soon as he saw the faces of his team and the sorrowful eyes of their guide.
"What has happened?" he asked, walking up to Nick.
"Looks like the man who was suppose to be our guide was found dead in the Prado. Any bets who our assassin was?" Nick replied, staring up at his mentor.
Derek turned to face the old man at Philip's side. "Senor Montoya, I am sorry for the loss of a member of your house, but can you tell me what Arkady could have gotten from him that might have been worth his life?"
"Si, he had collected much information about the church for your team, blueprints, notes made by other researchers who had gone to investigate the symbols in the graveyard. All of this was in his possession before he disappeared."
"But it didn't disappear with him?" Alex asked, concern in her voice.
"No, the originals are still here but I know he made copies to give to you. Those copies are not in the House."
"Great! Just great!" Nick muttered, walking around to get into the drivers seat. "So Arkady has the same information we have and probably has a headstart in getting to Las Rosales. We'd better hit the road if we expect to get there before he does."
The team piled into the two jeeps, with Derek and Jesus taking up the lead in the first car. It would take the two car caravan several hours to reach their destination, time they could ill afford to waste. Derek pulled the original blueprints from their protective covering, wincing at the thought of exposing the old documents to the heat and dust of a long road trip.
"It looks like the church was built over a set of caverns. Do you know if anyone has ever explored these caves, seen where they went?"
"No Senor, at least, not very much." Jesus replied, his sharp eyes constantly scanning the road in front of him. "The caverns are very deep and the people of the village had more important things to do with their time than get lost in them. Las Rosales is a very poor place, Senor. There isn't much time for adventure."
"What about the village priest?" Derek asked, carefully folding the old documents and placing them back in their box.
"As I told Nick and the others, the priest is my cousin. Efraim arranged with the Church to have him assigned to his home as their parish priest. It is not often that such a thing is done, but my cousin's parents were elderly when he took his vows. If it had not been arranged so, he would not have been able to take Holy Orders. He is not a very adventurous sort, Senor, a good and honorable man but not one who would go out of his way to look for new puzzles to solve. His predecessor wrote a history of the church which he keeps in his library. Perhaps there are hints there to where to look for whatever it is you seek."
Derek smiled as he looked at the old man. "I'm sorry we've been so secretive. The treasure we seek is so valuable it seemed best that only those who needed to know be told."
"Then do not tell me, Senor. I'm here to get you to the village. It is not necessary that I know what you seek once you get there." The old man looked at his companion somberly. "And it may be safer for me and my House that you do not tell me. My friend may have been killed for the knowledge in his head. I may be old but I value what little time I may have left."
"I understand." Derek replied, watching the scenery flash by as they turned off the highway. Their journey of discovery was only hours away from completion, yet he had the uneasy feeling that the adventure had just begun.
Padre Saenz walked quickly along the dusty main street of his home town, mentally checking off the things still left for him to do in his busy day. There were the Allende family to visit, whose son had just joined the military over is father's strong objections. Senora Valle had asked for him to visit a while with her aging mother, and the Senor Macias had to be informed that his daughter had skipped school again. Small matters and not related to his role as Father Confessor for his village. Yet he had always felt that being involved in helping his friends and neighbors in their daily trials and tribulations gave his words more credence on Sunday than if he never left his rectory. He knew that his fellow seminarians, many of whom had gone on to be scholars and aspired to power in the Church, looked down on his post as a humble village priest. Yet it was the only place in the whole world where he felt complete.
"Padre?" a soft voice floated out of a doorway, catching his attention. He looked up into a pair of violet eyes that seemed to pull him in and surround him with their beauty. "I'm sorry, but may my brother and I have a word with you?" A young woman stepped from the door, dressed in white linen, her face shaded from the sun by a broad brimmed hat.
"Of course, Senorita. How may I help you?"
Damien stepped from behind his companion, moving out of the shadows into the brightness of the noon day sun. "Padre, we come bearing a warning for you from the Bishop."
Padre Saenz tore his eyes from the young woman in front of him to look at the man. "A warning, Senor? About what?"
" A man called Arkady. He is Know to the Church hierarchy as one who profits from destruction." Damien replied, lifting his face to the hot, blinding light of the sun. His eyes seemed to gleam with the fire of the hot sun, causing the old priest to back up in alarm.
"Why would such a man come to Las Rosales? There is nothing here for such a one to take."
"You would be surprised, Padre." The woman replied, reaching out to her companion. She caught the younger man's hand and gently eased him out of the sun's bright rays. "You would be surprised what that one could find in such a town as this. Beware, Padre, of the wolf in sheep's clothing. He may carry away the prize before you have the chance to think."
"How do I know that you come from the Bishop?" the priest questioned, his voice laced with suspicion.
"You don't." the woman conceded, turning her back and beginning to stroll down the dusty street, her companion firmly in tow. The priest hesitated for a moment, debating whether to follow. Suddenly, a gust of wind stirred the dust around him, sending him into a coughing fit. When he looked again, the couple had disappeared.
Arkady eyed the run-down church with disdain. This was no grand cathedral, no ornate chapel built by master builders. Much of the structure was patched over with newer styles of architecture, overlaying what once must have been a simple, yet sturdy structure. Some parts of the exterior still needed work, and some looked like nothing could save the parishioners from having the building fall down around their ears. Yet this was the place that the Legacy team had inquired about, this was the place their search would bring them to. For the life of him, he couldn't see why.
"May I help you?" a querulous voice inquired from behind him. An elderly priest appeared out of a side street and approached, eyeing the stranger suspiciously.
"Yes, I was just admiring the architecture of you church. It's quite old, isn't it?" Arkady responded, smiling what he thought would be a pleasant smile.
The priest frowned, looking first at his church and then at the stranger. "I believe it was built in the early Middle Ages, Senor. But I could not tell you exactly when. My predecessor, Father Salinas, could have given you more information, but I fear he was killed by a bomb planted by Basque rebels while he was in Madrid."
"Well, medieval architecture is something of a hobby of mine. Perhaps you would let me take a look around and see if I could date the structure myself." Arkady held out his hand to the old man. "My name is Victor Arkady. I could make it worth your while."
The priest fought to keep the surprise from his face. This was the man the couple had warned him about. "If Senor Arkady would like to make a donation to the collection for the poor, then he is free to do so. But the Church is not a museum where one can tour the galleries at any time. This is the house of God and the people of the village would take it ill if it were desecrated, even in the name of history. I cannot spare you a guide today, but come back in the morning and perhaps I can arrange for one of the local boys to take you around and show you the inside of the Church and the cemetery." He turned and walked into the church, shrugging off any attempt by the other man to continue the conversation.
Arkady watched the old man walk away, stunned. It was obvious from the priest's reaction that he had been warned to expect him. *Derek must have sent word ahead for the priest to keep me out.* he thought, looking up and down the street. *If he thinks some little old man is going to stop me.* He started towards the door of the church then stopped suddenly in his tracks. The heavy wooden doors had opened and in the entrance stood a powerful looking man, his dark eyes smoldering with suspicion. Behind him, Arkady could just make out the slight figure of the old priest. Discretion being the better part of valor, Arkady gave the duo a jaunty wave and started back to his hotel. He had plans he had to implement before the Legacy team reached their destination.
Derek dozed fitfully in the front seat of the jeep, kept partially awake by the jerks and halts of travel through the country. They had driven for an hour before they had encountered their first obstacle, an overheating engine in the vehicle driven by Nick. It had taken some time to find a garage, then even longer to find a replacement car when the damage to the engine was discovered to be too great to fix quickly. Then there was the road construction, which had forced them to make detours that ate up precious time. Finally they had made the turn which would take them into the interior. Las Rosales was only an hour away. Derek could feel the heat of the sun beating down on him through the window, its radiance spreading through his body like a fever. A fine mist of sweat formed on his forehead, matting his hair. He could smell the dust in the air, the dust and something else ..
"Laurent! What ails you man? Quickly, we must get the trunk down to the dock before the sun rises and the enemy can prevent us from completing our task!"
He opened his eyes and looked into the worried countenance of one of his brother knights. The man's eyes were shadowed with fatigue and fear. The room in which they sat was dark and smoky, making it hard to distinguish the other members of the order sitting around the table. On the table in front of him was the armor and shield, the relics of their beloved first grand master . He could barely make-out one of his brethren, paint brush in hand, leaning over the wooden shield, adding a few finishing strokes to the message it would bear to his father. The huge chest the armor would travel in was lying open at his feet, a smaller box already packed in it's depths.
"We must hurry." A voice replied urgently from his left. Vivid violet eyes seem to burn through the haze into his mind, igniting a surge of emotion in his soul.
"Philip?" he heard himself ask, his voice hoarse from the smoke. "Are you ?"
"Yes?" the other person responded, their piercing gaze never leaving him. "Am I what?" the other's bandaged face swam into view, long dark hair spilling from under a hooded cloak.
He stared into those eyes, searching for an answer to his unspoken question, for a logic behind the unimaginable thought that a woman could masquerade as a man and not be found out. Searching for the reason behind his heart's sudden pounding at the gaze directed at him. Somewhere beside him he could hear a voice calling his name, calling him
"Seņor Rayne? Are you all right?" Jesus asked anxiously, reaching one hand from the wheel to touch the other man's arm.
Derek jerked awake suddenly, his visions fading from his mind as quickly as it had come. "Yes, I'm fine. I must have nodded off. Sorry." He passed a hand over his forehead, noting the sweat which had formed. "It's very warm in here." He stated, looking in the back seat for the thermos. His fingers brushed against his notebook, which had spilled out of one of the bags. Pages from his translation of the Templar manuscript had fluttered on to the car's floorboard. He snatched them up with a muttered oath and began to set them back in order, reading through them briefly as he did. One set of passages caught his eye, holding his attention as they slowly made their way to their destination.
Translated from the journal of Sir Laurent Dubois
What madness is this that has come over me? Never before have I been tempted to stray from the strict rules of the order, never tempted to err. Yet now I have find myself standing in the center of this city under siege, searching for God alone knows what. People scurry around me like ants, each trying to find that one place of sanctuary that the enemy would never find. My brother knights are all around me, checking battlements, moving wounded comrades, hurrying the civilians out of their way before the next battle. She was there as well, the woman I saw only the other day, clothed in a gray linen under dress and an outer garment of some dusky color I can not identify. The outer garment is open at the sides down to her hips, revealing the belt she wears beneath it. On her sleeves she wears bands of color, embroidered shapes I can not quite make out, shapes that look like intertwined ribbons and animals. Her dark hair is pulled back and covered with a veil and around her brow is a simple chaplet. She smiles at me across the dust and haze then turns and disappears into the alleyway behind her. I moved quickly to follow, vowing this time no one would stop me before I had a chance to speak to her.
Stepping into the alley, I felt as though I had stepped into another world. The sounds I had left behind, sounds of war and death had suddenly ceased. There was no sound at all in this narrow passage, not even the familiar sounds of the city. All was quiet, almost deathly quiet. I moved through the alley slowly, my eyes searching each of the windows and doors I passed for signs of the woman's passing. No one came to the windows to shout down at me, no one at the doors to try to catch my eye. It was as though the buildings were already deserted, their occupants gone in anticipation of the coming battle. Yet I knew that only the other day, these very stone structures had teemed with life, people going about their every day affairs oblivious to the coming conflict. *Mon dieu! What is this happening? * I thought, *What enchantment has trapped me?*
"Nothing that will harm you." A voice replied. I turned to find myself looking into expressionless violet eyes. The woman stood impassively before me, her veiled folded back from her face.
"Why did you follow me, chevalier?"
"I..meant no harm, Lady. I only_" I stuttered. I was intensely aware of the wrongness of my actions yet nothing could have prevented me from coming, nothing short of death itself.
"I was under the impression that those of your order could not be alone in the presence of a woman, not even their own sisters because of their vow of chastity. Am I mistaken in this? She asked, moving closer. One slender hand reached out to brush my cheek, a gentle touch which send shivers down my spine.
"You are right, Lady." I replied hoarsely, clenching my hands behind my back. "Even this innocent speech between us is forbidden to me as a member of my order. Yet I am compelled_ by what I do not know. I know only that I would know your name before I die, that I may carry it with me to Paradise."
The woman sighed. Her eyes fixed on a point behind my shoulder, a point somewhere beyond the entrance to the alley. "It's time for you to go, chevalier. Another calls to me and I must answer. Know only that when the time comes, I will be with you." She walked into the shadows beside me and disappeared. I had risked all for nothing. For this beauty who had captured my soul with a look was a mystery still and I feared there was no more time for me to unravel the secrets she kept behind her violet eyes.
Derek sighed as he closed the notebook, feeling the frustration the writer must have felt when he penned the entry in the journal. Ahead, a dusty grouping of houses was coming into view, signaling their arrival in Las Rosales. He put the journal entries back into his bag with an exasperated shove, vowing he would give the entries no more of his time and emotion. There was too much ahead which required both his mind and his heart to give it to the writings of a man long dead.