The Holy City
The rising sun cast little circles of light around the confines of the Nord 1402 Noirot seaplane. One of them alighted on Lara causing her to rouse from an uneasy half-sleep. In the seat across from her she could see Ryan peering out the window at the sparkling Mediterranean.
“Do you ever sleep?” Lara asked him. She had to half shout it to be heard above the Noirot’s twin radial engines.
“Not anymore,” Ryan said without turning away from the window. His face was as impassive as stone. When she had seen Ryan at the Cais do Sodré in Lisbon the night before Lara thought he looked happy to see her. Now any levity had faded from his face completely.
“How much longer?” Lara asked.
“We’ll have to stop in Tunisia to refuel and file new flight plans. I know a spot where they won’t ask questions.” Ryan stretched his arms over his head and then resumed his vigil at the window. “I’m sorry about James,” he said.
“Me too,” Lara replied.
Ryan half turned to her. “Even the best of us lose our way sometimes.”
Lara nodded. She wanted to say more but the hurt was still too fresh. She resorted to reassuring herself that she was doing the right thing—that she wasn’t just running away from the painful reality of James’ betrayal. Carlos Vicente, leader of the Shadow Kingdom, was at large and wanted her dead. Ryan wanted Carlos dead. Thus, in order to ensure her own survival, Lara needed to help Ryan kill Carlos. It was logical, but the logic did not comfort her.
The sun was on its descent by the time the plane landed by the harbor outside Ashdod, Israel. They were met at the harbor by a man about Thomas Woodson’s age. His face was creased and his hair was white but his military bloodlines were still very apparent in his bearing.
He addressed himself to Lara first, “I’m Benjamin. You must be our informant.”
“I’m Lara,” she replied, shaking the weathered hand Benjamin offered.
When he saw Ryan, Benjamin said, “So you’re Matteo’s boy?”
“I am,” Ryan replied as he shook Benjamin’s hand.
“Your father and I worked north Africa for a time. He was a good man. I was so sorry to hear about your wife.”
“Thank you.” Ryan forced a thin smile and quickly changed the subject: “Have you been able to locate Carlos?”
Benjamin frowned and motioned for them to follow him to a nearby Land Rover. “Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything,” Benjamin said. “I think he probably got here and went to ground before I knew to start looking. But I have an idea where he might be headed.”
“Where?” Lara asked.
“We’ll need to wait until we get to Jerusalem before I can answer that.”
Almost an hour later they pulled up by a block of nondescript apartments across from the Blumfield Garden in the heart of Jerusalem. Benjamin led Ryan and Lara to a vacant apartment on the third floor. The apartment was very sparsely furnished. There was a table with a few chairs around it, a couple of camp cots against one wall, and an assortment of cases and crates stacked next to the table.
Once they were inside Benjamin locked the door, turned on some music—Lara guessed it was in order to prevent anyone from eavesdropping—and handed a newspaper to Ryan. The title read: Heads of State Convene for Hendley Signing. Ryan sat at the table and began reading out loud: “Security is ratcheting up in Jerusalem in preparation for the signing of the Hendley Peace Accords this Thursday. Heads of state from the United States, Iran, Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be in attendance.”
“They’re having the signing ceremony right on the Temple Mount between al’Aqsa and Dome of the Rock,” said Benjamin. “It’s a fine show really. The heads of state from the most influential Muslim, Christian, and Jewish nations meeting at the physical intersection of all three faiths to resolve their differences.”
“It’s a damn nightmare is what it is,” gasped Ryan.
“What do you mean?” Lara asked.
“If Carlos can get the Idol close enough to the signing, the demons can possess all four heads of state at once,” Benjamin responded.
“This is the same endgame the Shadow Kingdom originally had in mind only this time instead of the Portuguese empire it’s America, Iran, Palestine, and Israel. Any one of those four being possessed might destabilize the region. All four of them together…that’s a world war easy.”
“Yes. The Idol now has the potential to be a spiritual weapon of mass destruction,” commented Benjamin.
“But security is going to be insanely tight at the signing,” Lara protested. “There’s no way Carlos could get through to the head table.”
“He doesn’t have to go through them when he can go around them,” Benjamin replied.
“What?” exclaimed Ryan.
Benjamin lifted a briefcase from the stack of crates, unlocked it, and pulled out a large map on an ancient piece of parchment. “During the Crusades the Knights dug a tunnel right up under the Mount to circumvent the Moorish defenses at the city walls,” Benjamin gently traced the line on the map with his finger. “After they broke through they sealed the tunnel and booby trapped it so if they ever needed to use it again, the Knights—and only the Knights—could get through.”
“But how does Carlos know about the tunnel?” asked Ryan.
“There were two maps of the tunnel made. David Hunter was in charge of one of the maps,” Benjamin said simply. “He had a very different idea about how to end the war between the Templars and the Shadow Kingdom. I assume he gave it to them.”
“David Hunter…Daniel Hunter is his son,” said Lara as if to herself. Suddenly more pieces of the puzzle came together.
“He might have given it to Daniel,” affirmed Benjamin. “Either way, it’s almost certain that they know about the tunnel and they have at least a two day head start.”
“And they know we’re coming after them,” said Ryan.
“That’s where we might get a break,” Benjamin offered. “There is one main tunnel, but there was a crosscut made here.” He pointed to a line running perpendicular to the tunnel. “As a second means of egress in case of a cave-in. David’s map was made before they dug the crosscut so it’s a good bet Carlos doesn’t know it exists. It’s rigged with traps like the main tunnel but if we can get through them fast enough we might be able to cut Carlos off from the chamber under the Temple Mount.”
“Why not just let the traps take care of Carlos for us?” offered Lara.
“It’s too much of a risk,” said Benjamin. “The traps are marked on the map. It doesn’t say what they are but it says where they are.”
“And the traps were designed to kill mortal men, not men who are playing host to demons.”
A shiver went down Lara’s spine at Ryan’s last comment.
“Is Fisher bringing reinforcements?” Benjamin asked Ryan.
“If he does they won’t get here in time. We’ve got to start tonight if we want to try to beat Carlos.”
“Well, fortunately for you,” Lara said, summoning her courage. “You have me to guide you safely through.”
Ryan turned to her and, for the first time in days, she thought she saw him smile.
The rest of the night passed in a controlled blur of activity. Lara made two copies of the tunnel map—one written and one mental. Benjamin and Ryan unpacked several of the crates—IMI X95S Micro Tavor submachine guns, suppressed H&K USP Tactical pistols, plastic explosive, and light amplification gear. At half-past one in the morning, Benjamin retired to one of the camp cots for a cat nap. Ryan was stripping down each weapon, inspecting each part, and then reassembling them. Once Lara was convinced she knew as much about the tunnel as any non-knight of the crusades could, she sat at the table with Ryan and began loading magazines with 9mm bullets.
“How does it look?” Ryan asked her.
“I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse,” Lara sighed. “I won’t know for sure until we get in there. Although it will be nice to have someone watching my back while I pick my way through traps for a change.”
Ryan nodded and began testing out the night vision sights on the X95Ss Picatinny rail. “Do you ever get tired of going it alone?” he asked softly.
Lara was suddenly much more aware of her heartbeat than she had been. “I feel as though I’ve been alone ever since my parents died,” she admitted. “I’ve always had Winston and he’s great but…it’s not the same. I don’t need someone to take care of me. I need someone…”
“To love you,” Ryan finished the thought. His steel blue eyes met hers.
“Yes,” Lara whispered.
Ryan leaned forward and placed the hint of a kiss on her cheek. “You deserve to be loved.” Without another word he stood and retreated to the other camp cot. He laid down and closed his eyes but Lara had seen enough of Ryan to know he wasn’t asleep. God, how lucky I would be to actually find love! thought Lara. But love will have to wait. Now is the time for justice and death.
Lara leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She would need her strength for the tests ahead.