The Shadow

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The First Clue

13: The First Clue

Syrus

“I can’t believe that you just let him go…” I mumbled as we got into the car, Caeli had told me we couldn’t stay at the hotel since our location had been compromised.

“I got what I needed from him, and if he does as he said he would, then we are going to have someone on the inside of the Temple.” She replied calmly as she started the car. She only put her daggers down once we started moving again.

“A trainee? That’s what you said he is, right? What is the point of having a trainee on the inside?” I asked, genuinely confused about it, she sighed.

“Trainees have more power in the Temple than you think, they can ask to be involved in commissions, they have direct access to the Priest after they’ve been training for a few months. They learn to fear him from when they first begin, and with the close proximity the Priest can determine who could make a good option for an heir.” Caeli explained, and I was about to ask how she knew that, but she answered my unspoken question. “Most organisations like the Temple and the Order of Shadows have the same principles and rules, just separated by their causes and their ideas.” So, because of the Order and her insider stint at the Temple then.

“So, he’ll get you an audience with the Priest?” I asked. She had a whispered conversation with Leopold before she let him go, I didn’t hear a word of it, but I knew it was important and was probably the reason she let him go.

“He said he would, but I don’t believe that he will. I’m more interested in him being on the group that will come after us. I know Leopold and his abilities, he will be useful if he wasn’t lying.” She stated simply, silence enveloped the car for a few seconds as I held the backpack which still contained the statue, closer to my body. This was becoming very dangerous very quickly, escalating at a speed I was struggling to keep up with. Caeli’s involvement with it all was increasing far too much… it was why I had to ask my next question.

“Did you and him…” I trailed off, feeling wrong about asking in the first place, but she answered without me finishing.

“I slept with Leopold a few times.” She told me, not seeming the slightest bit embarrassed about the topic like I apparently was.

“I thought you didn’t like casual sex,” I said, she sighed at my question.

“I don’t, but at the time it proved to be useful. They never really favoured me at the Temple, they knew about my past with the Order and my reputation. Leopold didn’t have a status like I did, so if I got him attached to me then I figured he would prove useful, provide me information that I needed and be a pawn in the future, I guess I was right.” She stated, clearly not embarrassed by it. How could she use her body like that without thinking about repercussions, about her future as a girl? The consequences of selling herself out like that?

“Have you done that with anyone else?” I asked next, and she heard the disgust in my tone.

“One other person…” she trailed off, although it wasn’t her backing down about it. I could tell that much.

“Who?” I asked, and she sighed again.

“If it’s really that important to you, to know who I’ve slept with, then I’ll tell you, but I’m sure that if you used your brain for two bloody seconds, you might figure out who it was.” She replied.

“Dallas,” I said with finality, she hummed in reply. “You’ve never slept with someone you cared about?”

“I half-liked Dallas, so kind of. But I guess in the grand scheme of things, no, I haven’t.” She answered. That was another part that concerned me.

“You shouldn’t use your body like that…” I trailed off I thought I made a valid point, but she scoffed at me.

“Why not? And before you answer with some patriarchal bullshit, let me tell you it was all my choice. They never forced me into it, which would be a distinct set of circumstances where the one forcing me into sex would end up in a lot of pain.” She told me she didn’t seem to be angry with me even though I was going to answer with some patriarchal bullshit.

But, I saw now that this was something I had to rethink. It was something that I had to relearn, my thought process, I had been working on it for a while, but it still caught me out sometimes. Caeli was understanding of that fact, but she was still angry and had every right to be.

“I can use my body however I see fit, it’s a tool to me. But it’s mine, it belongs to me and will not be forced into anything I don’t want to do. I’m teaching Nylah to protect herself so no one forces her into something she doesn’t want to do, so she always has control over her body. A lot of women don’t have that choice.” She explained, bringing Nylah into this was something that made my chest constrict, but I had to force myself to relax. Caeli was making a valid point, Nylah had to have control over her body the same way I did. To do what she wants with it.

“So, if I did the same thing, slept with someone for information…” I trailed off, trying to get a grasp on the point she was making. I had to relate it me, put myself in the same position mentally to understand where she was coming from. I knew it wasn’t the same, but I was just trying.

“Consent is essential, as long as you have their consent, then I don’t care what you do with your body. It’s yours, you get to make that choice.” She said with a smirk, she knew that I had to go through a process to understand the point she was making and knew that her saying that explained it thoroughly to me. If I did the same thing I wouldn’t be judged for it, and yet I had judged her the second she said she had slept with Leopold. If I wanted to be a better brother to Nylah, a supportive brother who would let her grow as much as she wanted to and do whatever she wanted to do, I had to understand all of this. Understand everything that a woman goes through, not just in this line of work, but in this world. There was a lot.

No wonder Caeli is angry all the time.

“What did you get from him?” I changed the topic, she seemed to be glad for it as she relaxed her shoulders a little.

“This.” She answered, holding a hand away from the steering wheel and letting the pendant of a necklace fall from her grasp, the chain still wrapped around her palm.

“He was wearing a cross? I asked as I took hold of the pendant, and she dropped the chain, so I started investigating the necklace carefully. Silver, definitely silver, with a few small rubies embedded into the cross.

“What I always liked about the Temple was the fact that when they receive a job, they make sure they have a token from whoever hired them. That way, their enemies know who sent them, a fear tactic. It’s usually something wearable like jewellery or a temporary tattoo, and in this case specifically…” she trailed off, I got the idea and where she was going with it.

“They’re working for the Pope?” I asked just to make sure I had the right information and the right idea, she nodded her agreement with me.

“Whatever we’re going after threatens Christianity, and if it threatens Christianity, it probably threatens a lot of other religions. Especially if the Pope called on the Temple.” She responded, and the thought scared me. If it was enough to send the Temple after us… what were we on the trail of.

“What in the name of Hell are we going after then?” I asked, rhetorically since I didn’t expect her to know. She didn’t seem to pick up on my tone, though.

“I assume we’ll get a better idea after we crack that statue open.”

~

The four of us regrouped in America, in a motel that Sinclair and Caeli seemed very comfortable in. As Caeli had explained on the way over, whenever she and Sinclair came to the storage container they always stayed here. At that moment, we all sat in a room while Caeli held the statue in her hands. She focused heavily on the object, not on the suspense she was creating for the rest of us.

Well, maybe the other two.

My brain was preoccupied with two nights ago, still processing everything from Hansen’s party to Caeli’s past, to the attack in the hotel room after we got back and the cross necklace which felt like it was burning through my pocket. Why would the Pope want us stopped? What could be inside the statue that could be that dangerous? And if the Temple was as dangerous as Caeli kept saying they were, why would they send a trainee after us when they knew Caeli’s backstory? None of this made sense to me, even if the Temple banked on the fact that her history with Leopold would throw her off. That hope shouldn’t have been enough for an organisation like the Temple to throw someone as inexperienced as Leopold at Caeli.

Whatever the case, it didn’t work, and they wouldn’t use the same tactic again.

Next time they send someone after us, it would have to be a group of assassins, more than enough to make sure that Caeli lost as we would all die. All four of us were in danger, and they could kill Nylah if that ever happened…

This was precisely what Caeli had been telling me on the way back from Hansen’s manor, the danger that Nylah and myself would be in if we stuck around Caeli and Sinclair. But there was a chance that the Order of Shadows already knew about us… I felt like it was too late to leave, but, there was the feeling that now was the right time to do so.

I would have to talk to Nylah, but maybe we could wait. See what it led us to first… if that didn’t kill us.

“Hurry up and open it, Caeli,” Nylah stated, my sister getting impatient with how long Caeli was taking to open the statue. I focused my eyes on Caeli as she looked to my sister and sighed.

“Let’s see what the Pope doesn’t want us to find.” She said with a smile on her face, I probably enjoyed seeing that smile a bit too much. Especially since the auction, things had felt different between her and me, but I didn’t know if that was just me.

Since I was unsure of how she planned on opening the statue, I kept too close of an eye on her hands, her fingers slim and gentle as she held the statue, but I remember them being covered in blood that night, the red standing out against her pale skin. My focus shifted back to her eyes at the thought of what those hands were capable of, she was looking around the room for something, and she then walked over to the table that Nylah and I were sitting at. She held both ends of the statue before she brought it down quickly and forcefully onto the edge of the table.

The statue cracked perfectly in half.

I saw her smile as she pulled the two pieces apart and pulled something small from the inside. The object was smaller than I had imagined it would be, it was no taller than my thumb, whatever it was. Caeli held it in her palm with a confused expression before she moved it around, inspecting it.

“A wax seal press…” She stated, looking at it in amazement. From what I could see, the trinket was made from stone which would be why it had shattered so easily when it had been shot at the auction. It looked very fragile, like if someone held it with a little too much force it would break.

“Does anyone have any wax?” I asked rhetorically, it earned a small laugh from Ny.

“Not last I checked,” Sinclair responded with a smile. “Can’t we just look at the end and-”

“No, there’s too much going on. We need to press it or use some ink or…” Caeli trailed off as she put the press down on the table and walked to the bathroom.

“Okay then…” I trailed off, being closest to the object I picked it up and looked at it. It was simple, very simple, except for the stamp. It was indiscernible without pressing it first. Caeli then came back out of the bathroom, a candle in her hands as her eyes were focused solely on Sinclair.

“Lighter.” She said simply, the man complied immediately and threw the object over to her. Caeli then used it to light the candle, and the four of us waited patiently for the wax to melt. While it did so she grabbed her notebook and opened it to a blank page, we waited a couple more minutes before she poured the melted wax onto the paper.

“Press it.” She said as she looked to me, I smirked before I put the press over the wax and held it for a few moments before I removed it. With white wax, it was hard to read, but Caeli grabbed her pencil and lightly ran it over the ridges created in the wax, distinguishing the raised details. The words written in it became clear. Before I had time to, Caeli read them out slowly, and without thinking, I looked to Nylah.

Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum.”

“Sy, the Archives…” Ny said simply, I nodded slowly in response.

“What archives?” Sinclair asked, so I turned to look at him.

“The Vatican Secret Archives. They hold miles and miles worth of shelves covered in letters and hearing proceedings and information. It was only just over a hundred years ago that they let scholars study some contents of the place, it’s a bitch to get into though. You have to have credentials that have to be renewed every six months, have had years of scholarly study and interest to even possibly gain access to the archives.” I explained. It was something I had wanted to see since I was young. The idea of standing underground with miles and miles of shelves covered in ancient papers and knowledge was something like a dream to me, it was something that Nylah wanted to see as well. And now we had to go there for the next step.

“How many miles?” Sinclair asked, his curiosity piqued by these archives.

“Over fifty,” Ny replied, I turned to look at her with a smile. Knowing small trivia about this stuff used to be commonplace in our family, before it broke apart, we would quiz each other over meals, always learning and pushing each other.

“We might need to narrow down the search then.” Sinclair pointed out, and that was the moment I realised that Caeli was uncharacteristically quiet.

“What is it?” I asked as I looked over to her, hunched over the wax, angling her head to see something else in the pattern.

“Will a year help?” she asked with a smile on her face, seeing her smile made me do the same.

“I don’t know how they organise the archives, but I assume as much, if it isn’t ordered by date then I think there might be an issue,” I answered before she pointed to an embossed area of the seal. It was barely noticeable, but there was something there.

“That there, is a number, 1600 to be exact.” She told me, still studying the details to see if there was anything else.

“A year probably won’t narrow it down either, especially if it’s as vague as 1600. That could be a year, decade or century.” Sinclair stated, and he had a point.

“It’s a start…” I trailed off before I looked back to Caeli, who seemed to ignore the surrounding conversation. It was fascinating to watch her work, to find details that other people would skip. She looked so focused, and to me, that was when she seemed to be in her element. When she was that focused, she looked so… shit. Not again. I can’t think she looked beautiful again, I couldn’t get involved with those emotions, not right now.

“Here…” she pointed to one more part of the seal having found something else. “It’s small, and barely even there, but there are initials.” She said, I walked behind her and looked over her shoulder at it. Whatever the initials were, they were too small for me to see them from this far away.

“What initials?” I asked, and I watched as she turned to look at me, her eyes focused solely on mine. Those gorgeous eyes…

“A. L.”

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