The Devil's Gift

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XXVI

I entered the west wing teeming with ideas and plans regarding the attack on the Vatican. So far, I had devised a plan that would require greater stealth than the original turn up to the Vatican, storm the building, risk exposing the vampires and lose however many vampires in the process. No, this plan was much simpler, I would enter the Vatican myself in a stealthy approach. In I would go, search the building until I found the Papal office, wherein lies, hopefully, a great deal of information regarding the enemy’s plans, strengths and weakness and hopefully secure a bit more information regarding their numbers.

After I’d found the Papal office, I would return the Castle and draw a detailed map for the other vampires to follow. I quickly found myself staring at the council chamber door which I opened without hesitation and strolled in. I was greeted by the sight of five vampires and three angels. Armaita, Azrael, Omniel, Klomano, Noster, Reyjak, Oceana and Broman. I had apparently interrupted an important conversation which had the angels wearing a puzzled expression on their flawlessly beautiful faces. At this moment, I didn’t care what they were talking about, what I had to say was far more important and required a great deal of cunning, stealth and no small amount of skill.

‘Listen up, I have no easy way of saying it, so I’ll just come out with it. We’re attacking the Vatican.’ A stony silence fell upon the chamber as everyone absorbed the information staring at me like I could have just proclaimed I’ve just become the pope. I waited a moment or two before Armaita broke the silence.

‘My lord, that would be impractical, think of the danger you face and the consequences should you fail.’ Her voice was stern yet secreted a tone of plea.

‘I understand where you might get that idea from, but after a lot of thought, it seems like this is the only way to gain an advantage over the Cardinals.’ I replied seriously.

‘But, sire, what is the purpose of attacking the Vatican? What advantage will that give us?’ Asked Broman who at the moment donned a full leather suit of armour that was adorned with a number of sinister looking blades, some with thick serrated edges.

‘I will enter the Vatican on my own, I’ll take a stealthy approach and locate the Papal office. Once I’ve accomplished that without bloodshed, to avoid any guards being alerted by a corpse or the commotion, I’ll come back here and I will pen a detailed map of the layout.’ I said as Noster was about to interrupt, I held up a hand and silenced him. ‘Then, myself, Markus, you, Broman, Noster, you’ll come too, and Oceana. Together, we’ll infiltrate the Vatican once more and, with the shadows on our side, enter the Papal office, secure information on enemy movements and plans then we’ll leave, eliminating, as many Cardinals as possible on the way out. Thus, we should have information, and have dealt a strike against our enemy.’ I finished proudly.

Again the room fell silent. It took a few minutes for the plan to sink in and I knew they were thinking it over. I’d replayed the information in my mind many time and I could not yet see any flaw in the plan. I waited for someone to speak, almost hoping they’d find flaw in my plan, but no such comment was spoken.

‘I think, maybe this could work.’ Said Armaita slowly. I gave a small smile, it was hard not to be even a little pleased when faced with the opportunity of not only taking a stand against our enemy, but also the thought of gaining information on them began to make me quite nervous yet almost excited at the same time. I was buzzing with the thought of the attack but I knew there was not enough time left tonight to execute the plan, but tomorrow, the Cardinals will regret the day they entered my Castle and attacked my people. Tomorrow, we would have the upper hand in the war.

I made my way upstairs where I found Sophia in the art exhibit. I’d collected, over the centuries a great number of paintings by very famous artists and each painting could be sold for a small fortune each. Not all the art was painted on canvas, though. A number of the artwork was sculptures made from stone. I watched Sophia from the doorway as she strolled around the room, gazing at the paintings that were hung on the bare stone. Not many people came in here, but it came as no surprise to see Sophia staring with palpable interest at the artwork before her. It was just another one of her traits that I admired, her appreciation for the simple things in this world. She wandered around the edge of the painting and took an inordinate amount of time studying the bust of a bald man with a thick moustache.

‘Is there a reason you’re watching me?’ She asked almost sarcastically. A smile spread across her face as she stood and faced me.

‘I came to let you know that tomorrow night, we attack the Vatican.’ She looked down at the floor, her face now composed in a mask of worry.

‘I fear that this will not affect our standing on the war, I feel like we’re going to lose.’ These words hit me hard, it was difficult to see Sophia in a state of worry that must be wounding her quite badly. I walked over to her and placed my hands on her shoulders.

‘My love, don’t worry, we’re to gain documents and attack from the shadows as we leave, I won’t let this child go, he or she will always be safe, I will not let them harm you or the baby.’ This seemed to soothe her slightly and she cradled the bump that was now looking bigger and bigger with each day that passed.

We retreated the comfort of the bedroom, so many daylight hours were spent here it almost seemed as though I lived in this one room alone leaving occasionally to hunt or else pursue other menial tasks that I was constantly bombarded with. It was around eight in the morning, I was watching the small patch of sunlight let in by a crack in the wood of the window that I’d left there for this purpose, crawl across the floor, when a sharp rapping on my door caught my attention.

‘Sire,’ Reyjak’s deep voice floated through the wooden door and I granted him entry. His hulking figure crossed the doorway and closed the door behind him. ‘I’ve been thinking about the attack. I am aware you insist on entering the Vatican on your own, but I would like to once more offer my company in this task.’ This was the Reyjak I knew. It so like him to offer himself forward to a task, anything to show his loyalty, I was moved by his constant support. I gave myself a moment to think. It was true, I had intended to enter the Vatican on my own, but Reyjak’s speed was unmatched, it was the one thing I could not surpass. For some reason, unknown to anyone, Reyjak had developed a knack of manipulating the air around him, allowing him to move so fast it seemed like he just disappeared and re appeared at will at the other end of the room. Even to my eyes, I could only just catch the shimmering blur that was Reyjak moving.

It would be beneficial to have Reyjak accompany me. I put aside my stubbornness,

‘Of course, you’re right, I gratefully accept your offer. We leave at midnight, we can reach the Vatican City at about twelve thirty and enter the building from roof, there’s a window that we can use to enter, then we’ll search the building, locate the papal office and return back to the castle.’ I informed him.

‘Of course my lord, I’m to understand then, that after we’ve returned here, we’ll be accompanying a select group of vampires back into the Vatican and enter the papal office, then eliminate as many cardinals as possible on the way out?’ He asked. It seemed quite obvious he already knew the plan and I got the distinct feeling he was just after showing me how committed he was to the task.

‘That’s about right.’ I said, though he did not appear to need an answer. After the quick discussion, the day was uneventful and passed quickly. Before I was aware, half past eleven at night was upon us as myself and Reyjak were in the armoury, preparing for the infiltration. I had since changed from my usual robes of royalty and adopted something a little stealthier. A fine silken doublet was wrapped tightly around my torso that allowed me to blend well to the shadows without any light reflection or noise. Around my legs, light and supple leather hose afforded me easy movements that tucked neatly into my knee-high leather boots with thick buckles. Reyjak had also donned a similar outfit though his was a dark brown unlike the black that I had chosen. We stood fastening buckles and straps in the armoury.

After I finished strapping my boots tightly, I adorned a full-length coat as did
Reyjak before heading over to the weapon racks. I chose against Excessus, its length being too prominent and could clatter, rendering our stealth useless. Instead, I picked up some light daggers from a table in the far corner of the large room. Weapon racks were hung every few feet on the stone walls, each slot was filled with some sort of weapon. As I strapped a dagger to the outside of my right calf, Reyjak had already strapped three knives, each about a foot long, to his chest, legs and thigh. I quickly strapped another dagger to my waist and we looked carefully at each other.

‘Are you ready?’ I asked. Reyjak nodded. We both left the armoury soon after and made our way to the council chamber where Noster, Broman, Oceana and Markus were stood. They had each donned a similar outfit, though the colours and styles varied according to where they lived. Markus, for example, had a thoroughly English outfit that looked more like he was invited to an expensive ceremony rather than the infiltration task he’d been assigned to. Oceana had kept her outfit simple, a heavily adjusted silk dress that no longer flowed in the wind and instead, was formed to her athletic figure. They each carried a number of their preferred weapons.

‘Make sure you’re prepared.’ I said to the group of vampires before me, ‘once we’re back, the map will be drawn and we will leave immediately, I want this over with quickly, but I want it done properly. We cannot afford any mistakes, not tonight. With any luck, we’ll be back here before two in the morning with a thick wad of enemy information and a good number of the enemy dead.’ The seriousness of the plan was starting to sink in, the importance this all goes right. I almost felt as if we were being lured into a trap, but now was not the moment for hesitation. I had already spoken with Sophia, she seemed upset and worried, I understand why, but I had already told her we were not to engage the enemy in direct combat, we would be in their territory, their familiar ground and we were sure to be outnumbered. I had kissed her goodbye and left for the armoury. I did not prolong the goodbye, she seemed already uneasy and prolonging it would only exacerbate things.

I motioned Reyjak toward me and we finally strode out through the heavy oaken front door and out into the grounds. The gravel crunched slightly beneath our feet as we headed toward the border of the trees.

We kept silent as we passed the trees and bushes, it was easiest to keep a stealthy approach, there was no telling who or, more frighteningly, what was watching us. We did not speak or communicate in any way as we passed through the forest. I side-stepped a large root that was protruding from the earth. Within ten minutes, we’d successfully left the forest, as far as we were aware, unnoticed. I looked at Reyjak’s dark face that was shrouded beneath the hood of his cloak, and gave him a nod. He understood. As if not time had passed between the motion and gaining speed, we were running full speed toward the Vatican City. We flew past buildings of stone and parks of green grass, picking up the tiny details in the air even at this impossible speed. It seemed like we were running almost in slow-motion. All the particles of dust and dirt seem to slowly fall to the ground as we neared them, each chip in the stonework of the buildings was noticeable, every ant that crawled among the ant’s nests on the park’s ground. Everything was in perfect clarity. I whisked past stores and stalls, trash and stone until the Vatican City came just within view. We were still miles from the Vatican itself, but we were closing the distance impossibly fast.

Every few seconds, we’d crossed another kilometre. Reyjak was keeping to my pace, we’d agreed he would not leave my side, we were to do this together and at no point, unless through danger or on my instruction was he to vanish as he was so used to doing. I listened as the wind whistled in my ears and blew through my hair. Even at this noise, the sound of the birds flying somewhere above me was audible. I heard every beat of their heart, every flap of their wings. We soon approached the Vatican City and was quickly inside it. We stopped just outside, at the Egyptian obelisk in the centre of the piazza, surrounded by the ring of concrete pillars, atop with statues. I studied the obelisk carefully, it seemed only a few days ago, I was by Maria’s side, fighting off battling Rosse as he attempted, and failed, to eliminate the clan-king.

I walked slowly up to the monument which had since been repaired following the extensive damage it had sustained as I threw Rosse full strength into it, sending shards of concrete careering in every direction. I withdrew my hand that was slowly reaching toward the concrete and turned to Reyjak, I could not be distracted, not now. It was only just becoming apparent how even in my life as a priest, I’d never even had the desire to see the inside of the Vatican, the seat in the holy empire.

‘We enter via the window to the east.’ I told him. Though he had already been aware of the plan, he nodded in agreement. We looked upon the towering building of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Large columns covered the front facing wall, the spire just visible poking over the top of the ancient building. Two archways on the left and right glowed with candlelight, as did a couple of the twenty-odd windows that adorned the facing wall. As we had hoped, most off the windows were black and unlit. We traipsed forward, silently and stealthily until we reach the east facing wall. I gave a silent nod to Reyjak and in unison, we both bent our knees, poised and ready, then leapt with full strength up the wall. Using all our strength, we cleared an extra ten feet above the Basilica and landed silently on its roof. We crept along the rooftop, bowing low into the shadows and made our way to the spire that was now fully visible.

We looked up above the giant dome that was now blocking our path inside. Once more we poised and, with less effort, sprang from the rooftop and clung to the spire as we landed. I took a glance over the edge of the building. I was momentarily stunned by the view. From this height, every part of the Vatican City, and further, was visible. I tapped Reyjak on the shoulder, even in this moment, it would be a shame to miss the beauty of something as special as the view upon which I was now transfixed. Reyjak looked at me, and then after a second, past me. He too, was momentarily stunned by the view and we took a moment to gaze around. It was very unlikely we’d ever see this view again. After a few seconds, we both lowered our gaze and clung carefully on the spire.

As we’d hoped, a small window was open here, at the highest point of the Basilica, and with great care to make no noise, I entered first, Reyjak following. As we clung to wall we took a gaze around the inside of the most notable religious building in history. Though I was far from a man of God, I was still mesmerized by the beauty of such a decorative place. Every free wall space, even up here, was covered with an incredibly detailed painting. The colours stood out like fireflies, vibrant reds and blues, greens and oranges. Every pillar, every arch was covered leaving no bare piece of wall.

Beneath us, the large altar was visible, surrounded by many arches painted with gold striped and mosaic decorations and sculptures. We dropped to the altar, both of us landing in a silent crouch and looked around the incredible building. There was no one around at this time, no guards were patrolling, no cardinals were praying, everything was silent. We dropped further down onto the floor and walked silently around the altar. Finally, we found a door beneath one of the many decorative archways that was too, covered with mosaic and paintings. We made our way toward the door but quickly stopped as it began to open as we neared it.

I darted to one side, seeking cover beside a thick column that I thanked profusely for being there. Reyjak, meanwhile, had already disappeared, where he was I could not tell, all I was aware of right now was that if my heart could beat, I felt sure it would be beating right out my chest. A small bobbing light that came from a candle, grasped by an elderly gentlemen in thick red robes, passed between the two walls. I circled the pillar silently as he dawdled past me, unaware of my presence, and rounded the corner. I waited until the candlelight had ebbed away and no more reflected on the mosaicked floor. Carefully, and cautiously, I moved away from the pillar into the open where I scoured the number of paintings and sculptures for a sign of Reyjak; I could not find him. As I wheeled around, there stood the hulking figure of Reyjak himself, always too modest to show that he had an extraordinary talent in speed, even for a vampire.

I made no comment on this, we had work to do that was being disrupted already. I glanced at the door from which the elderly man had just come from, it was left ajar. From the edge of the studded door, candlelight from inside the room had spilled out, turning the white walls a flickering yellow. I beckoned Reyjak to follow who did so without question. We inched closer, eager to keep the noise levels to a minimum, which we managed without too much difficulty. I peered round the edge of the door as we approached it.

My eyes fell upon a spacious room abundant with tables and chairs, topped with open books and snubs of candles that flickered and glowed dully. Tall bookcases lined the walls and a great fire was popping merrily in the grate that was centred in the main wall. Opposite that, a tall glass window was covered by a long thick curtain which blotted out the outside view. Beneath each circular table, a round green carpet had been rolled onto the floor. The room was empty as far as we could see but I did not chance it. I closed my eyes and allowed my other senses to take the lead. The smell inside was slightly musky, the hum of old books lingered like a poisonous cloud. The only sounds I could make out were that of the fire, besides that, all was silent. I gave a little nod to Reyjak, indicating the room was indeed empty and so we pulled open the door, cursing its slight creak, and entered.

Our footsteps muffled by the green carpets we kept to, we slowly crossed the room, our eyes trained on the door at the other end. When we reached the door, I carefully placed my ear on the wood, listening hard. Beyond the door, muffled voices were conversing in hushed tones.

‘– could be here right now for all we know, your holiness, I beg you to enhance security!’ the voice sounded panicked and I pictured a man on his knees, eyes flitting frantically to every door.

‘That is not necessary, the Lord will keep us safe, you must trust in him.’ This time, it was the cracking voice of an old man, a new pope had been elected? I was unaware of this and slightly concerned as to why I did not know and how they were talking, it was like they expected us here.

‘Of course, forgive me. Perhaps then, you might ask for extra protection regarding the… place.’ Finished the first voice. I furrowed my brow, what place could they mean? I waited at the door, unmoving, hoping to catch more information. I listened hard.

‘Again, that is not necessary, I have the documents on my person at all times. You must put your faith in the Lord, and in me.’ The pope muttered, an edge of hardness creeping into his voice.

‘Of course your holiness. I beg forgiveness.’ Muffled footsteps indicated the cardinal was leaving the pope alone. I listened to the steady breathing of the pope inside the room, fighting the temptation to kill him that was rising in my chest. Priorities, I told myself and with a great deal of effort, turned away from the door. I looked up into the archways that covered the roof. Above one of the bookcases was an ornate banister that was shielding a ledge. Perfect. I pointed to the ledge and Reyjak gave a nod. He wrapped his cloak tighter around his torso and leapt into the air, landing silently on the other side. He kept to a low crouch, clinging to the shadows. I waited for his signal which came in the form of a sharp nod, and leapt up to join him, joining him silently in the shadow of, what now was visible, an overhanging passageway.

I silently thanked whoever it was that left the candles on the wall beside us unlit. I peered over the edge of the banister, into the room from which I had heard the pope and an unknown cardinal conversing. The room looked far comfier than the one from which I had just came. Two red leather armchairs were facing a large mantelpiece which was surrounding another fire that crackled in the grate. There, in one of the armchairs sat the pope, in all his finery, just a second from death had his day been unluckier. I tore my eyes away from the cowardly man and crept slowly and silently along the passageway. My mind, though focused on locating the papal office, was fixed not on that but something the pope had just briefly mentioned.

A document of some sort that was clearly of great importance, kept on his person at all times. I racked my brain, trying to figure out what that document could be, but no suggestion came to mind. I shook my head, clearing it of the puzzling thought that was diverting my attention. Reyjak taking the lead, we found ourselves at the end of the passageway facing a hard choice. Left or right? If we were to execute the entire plan tonight, we’d have to separate and hunt for the office individually, or face running out of time.

We agreed to split up, Reyjak went left, and I went right. My path brought me to another room that was full of paintings, some sort of shrine or tomb it appeared to be. The paintings were of all past popes, and underneath each one, a stone coffin was situated. Though I knew they were dead, an uneasy feeling began to rise in my chest. I proceeded cautiously, unable to shake the feeling of someone watching me. I passed, thankfully, the tombs with no interference from their occupants, not that I expected to, but still, it was difficult to push away the feeling. I crossed the tomb, and ended up facing another left or right choice, I chose left and made my way to end where I found a stone staircase that led upwards.

Hoping that I had indeed just stumbled onto the location of the papal office, I began to ascend the stairs, my ears pricked and alert should anybody be descending at the same time. Thankfully, I was the only person on the stairs and now I faced yet another spacious room. If I had to take a guess, it looked like a library, though there were no books, just rows and rows and what appeared to be letters. This spiked my curiosity and, though I knew I was wasting time, I plucked one from the shelves, unfolded the brittle parchment and read.

Your holiness, I hope this letter finds you well. I have received another order. The Lord wishes you to host a party, he believes there may be informants amongst your ranks. He wishes for you to unveil them, and take them to the usual place. Please ensure this matter is attended to with haste, he fears they may succeed in whichever plan they are attempting to complete.

The letter was signed with a fancy ‘S’. My obvious thought at who the mystery signature could be, was the one who used to advise the pope. Sophia. I replaced the letter and plucked another identical one from the shelf above it. Once more I unfolded it and began to read.

Your holiness. Regarding the previous conversation which took place two days ago, I am to inform you the Lord wishes you to investigate the person discussed. He believes there is a plot to have you killed, or worse, by the one who goes by the name of Roconn, leader of the underworld. I understand this may seem slightly strange to read, but you must have faith in the Lord, and all will become clear.

Once more, the letter was signed the same ‘S’. I was more than a little surprised to see my name mentioned here and I decided to read one final letter.

Your holiness, the Lord wishes to congratulate you on your success in gathering your followers, he says they will become most useful in time.

I stared at the ‘S’ that adorned the bottom of this letter too. It was difficult to see her handwriting on letters planning something that was directly intended as what appeared to be gathering an army to destroy me. It now became clear why Sophia was so hesitant to let me go in alone, she did not want me to see these letters and having others there, would ensure I would not be side-tracked by reading the letters. A surge of affection rose inside me at the thought of Sophia. I placed the letter back and looked around, peering through the gap in the shelves. Just as I went to look away, I noticed a pair of bright blue eyes staring at me from across the room. I quickly looked away, I hoped beyond all hope the person had not seen my face nor the colour of my eyes. It was probable at the most judging the distance between myself and the cardinal.

‘Who is that?’ The voice spoke. I quickly formed a bizarre plan that with effort, might just work.

‘It is I.’ I spoke back, imitating the pope as best I could from memory of his voice. It seemed just passable, but I doubted whether the cardinal would fall for it.

‘Your holiness?’ The cardinal asked inquisitively. I bit my tongue, it was clear he did not believe fully it was the pope. Racked my brain quickly, replaying the scene behind the door in my head. Yes, he had a slight crackle to his voice.

‘Yes, that’s right.’ I said. I planned to keep sentences short, doing so, and with a lot of luck, I might just be able to pass as the pope so long as I kept behind the shelves so he could not see me. I heard footsteps edge towards me.

‘Don’t come any closer.’ I said, trying hard to keep the note of panic out of my voice.

‘Are you all right your holiness?’ Asked the wheezy cardinal suspiciously.

‘No, I’m… I’m ill,’ I faked a convincing spluttering cough, ‘Please, leave me be.’ I told him. The footsteps stopped. I bit my tongue hard, please just leave I told myself.

‘Apologies, I’ll leave you alone sire.’ Wheezed the cardinal heavily. I waited for the footsteps to die before stepping out from behind the shelves. I let out a long sigh of relief, I could not believe how close I had come to being discovered, all because of my morbid curiosity. I made my way through the centre aisle of the shelves, each filled with letter from Sophia, and made my way to the door at the other end. I pressed my ear against it, let out a long slow exhale and closed my eyes, allowing my other senses to take over once more.

I picked up a number of muffled voices, each one seemed strained and concerned. I noticed three different speakers.

‘I’m telling you, something doesn’t feel right, he does not heed our warnings and mark my words, he’ll pay for it!’ the first voice floated through, panic evident in his tone.

‘Listen to me, we may not like his choices, but you must trust him, if we cannot trust his holiness, who can we trust?’ The second speaker retorted heatedly.

‘Wait a minute,’ the third voice began, ‘tell me once more why it is you do not trust his holiness?’ The man’s tone was heavy confusion.

‘Because… Because, I just don’t all right?’ The first man replied in an entirely unconvincing way.

‘Yes, well, as I’ve already said, I for one would trust him with my life, you ought to as well. I find it deeply unsettling that you speak this way of the holy leader, may you beg forgiveness for your sins!’ The second man spoke hardly. At that, muffled footsteps indicated his departure leaving the first and third cardinal alone. For a moment, they both remained silent and I listened to the slightly raised heartbeats that was almost rhythmic and slightly relaxing.

‘Now, I don’t know what you’ve been hearing or what you’ve been seeing, but this kind of behaviour will get you thrown out of the Vatican. I’d suggest keeping a journal if you feel the need to vent any further. Good night.’ Said the third speaker harshly and he too walked away. Now, only the sceptic remained inside the room beyond the door of which my ear was still pressed up against. I listened to him pace the room for a few minutes, muttering distractedly under his breath.

It was another ten minutes after, for which I was silently cursing his night-time rant, he too decided to leave. Once I was sure the room beyond was empty, I opened the door quietly and slowly before proceeding inside. This room was rather small in comparison to the one I had just left, its dark furniture and curtains made the room appear even smaller than it was.

I knew I was running out of time, I had to find the office, and Reyjak too for that matter, and head back out without being spotted. I was now starting to doubt the success of this plan. I swept across the room and up another flight of stone stairs, whisked down a corridor lined with paintings and identical doors, and finally, I reached a grander looking door. On a brass plaque, nailed to it read the words,

Papal Office, entrance by express permission of His Holiness only

I allowed myself a brief moment of joy before once more pressing my ear to this door too. I listened carefully, there was no sound coming from the room inside. I carefully pushed the door open and entered. Inside, the décor was very grand, a large oak desk was placed near a large window that too, was covered by a thick, drawn curtain. There was a large fireplace which was unlit and cold, in the centre of a feature wall. Above the fireplace hung a large painting depicting Jesus being crucified on the cross.

Either side of the fireplace, to tall bookcases had been set and filled with old books, all, by the look of their spines, were religion oriented. On a pedestal in front of the desk, a large book that looked very old was left open. I proceeded towards it and looked upon the blank pages puzzlingly. I dismissed the pointless text, it seemed a shame, now, I was here and time was running out, I needed documents, and I needed them fast. Any moment the pope himself could walk in and discover me. Though I was not remotely afraid of humans, the powers of which the cardinals had been granted would undoubtedly be just a taster in comparison to the power the pope himself must have.

I flitted around the room, over to the bookshelves and searched frantically for anything that could hold even the slightest piece of information on the enemy. I saw nothing that hinted anything of the sort. I rifled through the draws of the desk, taking any letter or document that could hold any clue regarding their numbers or plans. I did not notice it until it happened, I froze on the spot as the door swung open. I looked up instantly, rooted to the spot. My eyesight fell upon only a dark, empty corridor. I spun around, nearly striking down Reyjak in the process for he had appeared behind me and took me unaware.

‘You fool!’ I half-whispered half-shouted, ‘I almost killed you!’

‘My apologies sire,’ whispered back Reyjak in his deep voice, ‘have you found anything?’ he asked immediately.

‘No, nothing yet. Here, take these,’ I said pushing a handful of parchment into his hands, ‘check them whilst I search over there, there has to be something here, anything.’ I said in an exasperated voice. As Reyjak began rifling through the pages, I searched a close-by cabinet that looked official and business-like. I was beginning to think what a wasted risk this had been when my fingers fell on something hard and cold. I withdrew the object and turned it over in my hand. I was a long ornate key, the teeth were curled and clearly broken but that was not what caught my attention. Though this key was bent and curled, the thing that stuck out the most was the symbols on it. They were like ancient runes that I could not read nor even guess at, though they seemed familiar but I could not think where I’d seen them before.

I pocketed the key, it had to be important, I just knew it.

‘Nothing here sire, what about this book?’ He asked pointing to the blank pages that were on show in front of the desk.

‘It’s blank.’ I told him. Reyjak looked at it closely and closed it, showing the cover, again the same symbol was imprinted onto the front of that too, like a giant ‘O’ with swirls inside it. It was the same symbols as shown on the key, this could not be a coincidence.

I surveyed the book with intense curiosity. Its dark blue cover seemed to sparkle slightly. I traced my fingers over the runes.

‘I don’t know, it seems odd to have a blank book, but these runes, I’ve seen them before… Just take it, they’ll find out things are missing anyway.’ I said. Reyjak placed the book into a leather bag that was slung over his broad shoulders.

‘We better leave, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bad feeling that our presence here is not quite as much of a secret as we first thought.’

‘I’ve been thinking that for the past ten minutes sire.’ Said Reyjak, a tone of unsettlement heavy in his voice.

‘I’m not taking any more risks, we take the window.’ I said pointing toward the thick drawn curtain. We swept over to it and parted them revealing the cold glass window and the view of a deserted city, shrouded in darkness and shadow. I fumbled on the latch and the large windows swung open. A cold breeze blew in heavily, scattering the sheaves of notes atop the desk over the floor and blowing them into the corridor. The wind was stronger than I had anticipated and blew the door shut, slamming loudly as it did.

‘I think it’s best we leave now.’ Reyjak offered. I nodded and at that, he leapt forth out of the window, darting into the darkness which quickly consumed him. I did not hear him hit the floor, nor did I see him land. My eyes were instead trained on the door, my ears focused on the voices that were coming to investigate the noise. The last thing I saw was a flash of red as a dozen robed cardinals swept into the room, before I too, flung myself out of the open window and into the darkness, listening to the echoing voices that cursed me and screamed out,

‘They’ve taken the book!’ Before the howling of the wind whistled past my ears and I fell noiselessly to the ground.

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