I no longer consider myself a crusader for change, but I must find the splinter of the artifact. First, however, I need to learn more about it.
Subject: Nikolai Andreievich Orelov; Location: Russian Empire; Time Period: 1917
The road to Krasnoyarsk is a lonely one. The sky is dark, moonless. Snow creaks underneath my horse's hooves. I shiver, but not because of the cold.
- I have been here— or near here— before, not so long ago. No doubt the people of Krasnoyarsk have felt the tremors of the explosion.
- I was younger then, dedicated, but arrogant, angry. Yet I followed the Mentor's plans to the letter, convinced that victory of the Brotherhood was all that mattered.
- Krasnoyarsk is quiet. My arrival, in the middle of the night, will remain unnoticed. My business here will soon be over— provided I find the one I seek.
- I pass by Krasnoyarsk's Svyato-Troitsky Cathedral, but cannot help thinking about that fateful night, when the Royal Staff shattered. I need to concentrate.
- Here at last! The walls enclosing the asylum are easy to climb. The guards are few; most of them inebriated. I slip inside and, quietly, reach my goal.
- She sits alone in her cell. Her face, horribly disfigured, has a hole where a nose should be. The "monster" I was looking for— more repulsive than Baba Yaga!
She runs cracked fingers upon her bald head, staring at me. Her eyes, kindly despite a seemingly inhuman face, are mesmerizing. I cannot look away.
- "Khioniya Kuzminichna Guseva," I say, somewhat harshly. "You have attempted to murder the monk Grigori Rasputin." She nods; a barely perceptible gesture.
- The rather pitiful excuse of a lock provides no challenge. I open the door and Guseva takes several steps back. "I am not here to pass judgment. I seek only answers."
- "I know nothing!" Guseva's voice is strong, confident, but somehow devoid of emotion. Three years in this madhouse, yet she seems quite sane.
- "You may know more than you think." I truly hope she does. "I offer you freedom. All I ask in return is that you answer a few questions."
- "Only through death can one be truly free." Guseva's voice is like a knife's edge. She smiles— a dreadful grimace. "You will get me out of this misery!"
- I order Guseva to follow me. She hesitates, so I take her hand— the hand which held the knife that disemboweled the Mad Monk— and guide her outside.
The Holy Devil
A handful of kopeks is more than enough to bribe the priest. We sit in a darkened corner of the Svyato-Troitsky Cathedral. Here, we can talk privately.
- A black scarf hides Guseva's monstrous face, but her eyes shine brightly in the candlelight. "Tell me what happened," I whisper.
- "I was a disciple of Father Grigori, the Holy Devil." This is not the voice of a madwoman. "We had traveled to Pokrovskoe, his hometown."
- "lt was midsummer." Guseva lowers the scarf, revealing her ravaged face. "A day, perhaps two, after the feast of the nativity of St. John the Forerunner."
- "I was waiting for Father Grigori outside of church, as he had ordered. When I saw him, I... I charged, stabbed him deeply, in the belly."
- "I raised the knife up to his navel, to make sure he would die!" Guseva's voice trembles. "His insides... they... fell out! He... He clutched at them... And SMILED at me!"
- "I screamed, 'I have killed the Antichrist!', but I was wrong. What kind of man can survive this?" One who carries a splinter of the Royal Staff, no doubt.
In the gloom, Guseva remains silent, as though waiting for me to pass judgment. I do not move. I do not speak. She takes my hand, squeezes it.
- "You have to understand!" Guseva says at last. "The Holy Devil had a POWER over people... Over me! His eyes were blue. Sinful eyes!"
- "The scars!" Guseva caresses her ruined face. "My nose!" She points to the hole where her nose should be. "He made me do it! The Holy Devil made me do it!"
- "You did this to yourself?" My voice cracks. Suddenly, tears stream down Guseva's scarred face. Of course, Rasputin had the means to control her.
- "He used to say 'Death is near me. She is crawling towards me like a whore.' That day, he expected me to try to kill him. And fall."
- "Rasputin prophesized the attempt on his life," I say. "He knew he would not die." The splinter from the Staff! Could it be this powerful?
- Guseva takes my hand into hers. "End my sufferings! Now!" She does not utter a sound when my hidden blade runs through her heart. She only smiles.
The FBI suspects that Jack Parsons sold state secrets to the Commies, but I know he didn't commit treason. The man is much more dangerous than that.
Subject: Thomas Sean Morgan; Location: Pasadena, California; Time Period: June 17, 1952
A Dangerous Man
On any other day, I would enjoy driving my '51 Studebaker through the streets of Pasadena. Not today, though. Today, Dr. von Kármán will not be pleased.
- I pull out my Omega and check the time. It's early, but the Doctor is already sipping tea at the Terrace, waiting for my report on Parsons.
- I turn left on Hillcrest, take out my handkerchief, and wipe the sweat off my face. I then pull the Studebaker in front of the Langham Hotel.
- I grasp the files and pictures I studied earlier and put them in the open briefcase on the passenger side of the seat. On top of the pile is a photograph of Parsons.
- The man's gaze is so intense, so diabolical, that I quickly close the briefcase— to avoid looking at his picture. I wipe my forehead and step out of the car.
- The valet gives me a look as I hand him the keys. Ordinarily, I would've smacked his face, but today's his lucky day. I have pressing business to attend.
- "Careful!" I warn the valet as I adjust my tie. The boy's too dense to feel threatened; he thinks I worry about the car.
l sit in front of Dr. von Kármán at the Terrace. Despite his age, he looks spiffy in his pinstriped suit. "Mr. Morgan. What have you found out?"
- "Mr. Parsons seems to have cut all ties with the outside world." I clear my throat and take a sip of water. I'd prefer beer, or something stronger.
- "He's seen no one of consequence since he lost his security clearance at Caltech, in January." I place the briefcase on the table. Where is that waiter?
- Dr. von Kármán raises a hand and a waiter appears. "Scotch for my friend. Make it a double." I know I'm not his friend, but I'm proud to work for this man.
- I wait for the waiter to leave. 'The FBI investigation is going nowhere, but..." I open the briefcase, rummage through it, and pull out a couple of files.
- "Mr. Parsons made travel arrangements to Mexico." I hand the latest photographs to von Kármán. "He'll be leaving in a few days. "On the 25th."
- "What?" von Kármán jumps to his feet, dropping the photographs. I had a feeling he'd be upset. "It is worse than I feared! Much, much worse!"
l knew von Kármán wouldn't be pleased to learn Parsons was planning to skip the country, but I didnt think he'd react so strongly.
- The waiter finally arrives with my drink. Dr. von Kármán snatches it and gulps it down. "Glenfiddich," he mutters. The good stuff. "Now leave us!"
- The waiter hesitates a moment, then scrams. Part of me regrets not having the guts to order another glass. God knows I need one!
- "Are you certain Jack is leaving on the 25th?" I'm surprised to hear von Kármán use Parsons given name, but I know better than to question him.
- "Positive." I hand him a copy of the arrangements Parsons' wife made with the airline. The Doctor peruses the papers, mumbling in Hungarian.
- "He discovered how to work Crowley's FORMULA!" von Kármán shouts. "He will show them... on St. John's Day, of all days! The results could be worse than Philadelphia in '43!"
- ln the lobby. Dr. von Kármán tries to reach Parsons on the phone. "Busy!" He turns to me. "You must stop him! Go to his lab! Tell Jack he needs to stop! NOW!"
l never drove so fast in my life! My hands feel numb and my knuckles are white. I loosen my hold on the steering wheel and cut the accelerator some slack.
- I turn on South Orange Grove, glad to be in one piece. Two black '49 Fords block the road, four men in equally black suits behind them. G-Men!
- The familiar weight of the Walther in my pocket suddenly feels very comforting. I cut the engine and check the time: 5:06. I get out of the car, ready to bust some chops.
- A dame with gams up to her neck steps out of one of the Fords, a chrome-dome twice my size behind her. She wears a ritzy dress, and I can tell by the way she moves she's no dumb Dora.
- "Please come with us, Mr. Morgan." She knows my name! Chrome-Dome puts a hand on my shoulder. My elbow's about to pay a visit to his stomach, but I freeze!
- The dame wears a small pin on her dress: Three crooked rectangles forming a triangle! My heart sinks. Now I know the meaning of the word FEAR!
- l'm blinded by an unearthly flash— a brightness stronger than the sun! I barely hear the explosion, but feel its tremors. Parsons' lab! What have they done?
Comme À La Guerre
Tonight, the people will light bonfires and celebrate the birth of Saint Jean Baptiste, le Précurseur, unaware that history is about to unfold.
Subject: Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan; Location: Montreal; Time Period: June 24, 1834
The ding dong of my father's tall-case clock pulls me out of my reveries. It strikes ten times. The day is still young, but we have much to look for tonight.
- I pace the drawing room, constantly checking the clock. It is past noon already. A knock at the door! At last! I suddenly realize how tense my jaw is.
- "Come in, come in!" Duvemay's most trusted man removes his felt hat and steps inside. "Bienvenue chez moi. Monsieur Larose."
- "I apologize for the tardiness. Doctor." His English is flawless. "Everything is set for tonight. The gathering will take place, as planned."
- Our historic assembly will be held on Saint John's Day— a date the Oppressors value so much! How ironic. "Can Mr. Duvemay count on you?"
- "My dear Mr. Larose, I would not miss this meeting for all the money in the world." The crooked smile on Duvernay's man says it all.
- I am honored to be included in the celebration, to be part of the inevitable revolution. Future generations will remember this day— June 24th, 1834.
My "calèche" slowly makes its way through the gloomy streets of Montreal. I am eager to arrive, but I instructed the driver to take his time, as is proper.
- All is quiet on rue Saint-Antoine, save for a few people standing in front of Mr. McDonnell's house. "Docteur O'Callaghan," a stranger greets me.
- "I work for Mr. McDonnell." His accent is thick. "Come with me, s'il vous plaît." I step out of the caleche and follow him.
- The barrister's house looks impressive, but the man leads me straight to the garden, which is filled with flowers of every kind.
- Linen-covered tables have been set outside. Musicians sit on the porch, readying themselves for the evening, while retainers offer wine to honorable guests.
- Lights hang from every tree, bathing the garden in a golden glow, which make the place look surreal— like what we are about to do.
- The gathering is even more impressive than I had imagined. There must be 60 of us! Everyone a reformist, everyone a patriot.
We gather around the tables and the orchestra begins to play. The violins' melodies are haunting at first, as though to remind us of the significance of the evening.
- Most here are Canadians— and members of Aide-toi et le ciel t'aidera—, but there are several Americans and fellow Irishmen as well.
- Mr. Duvernay, who orchestrated this meeting, clears his throat. "Messieurs," he points toward Montreal's mayor, "le Président!"
- The Mayor raises his glass. "To the people, primitive source of all legitimate authority!" After much applause and several more toasts, dinner is served.
- I raise my glass. "To our host, Mr. McDonnell! And to Mr. Duvernay, who orchestrated this soirée!" When the cheers die down, Mr. Duvernay gets up.
- "Mes amis!" Duvernay says. "Fellow patriots! The Oppressors have laid claim to Saint John's Day! As we speak, they are celebrating the creation of their secret association."
- "No longer will this blessed day be theirs!" Everyone cheers. "We will form our own society! We will give this day back to the people!"
Mon Pays, Mes Amours
After dinner, pacts are concluded and promises made. So many of us, united against the Oppressors! So many of us, ready to change the world!
- The music stops. A man begins to sing, "Comme le dit un vieil adage..." One of the violinists is missing. "Rien n'est si beau que mon pays..."
- The singing continues, but I spot a man slipping into the house. Larose? I follow him. I open the door as the song concludes. "Ô Canada! mon pays! mes amours!"
- I see no one inside McDonnell's residence. I am about to announce my presence, but I hear a thump. Upstairs! What is Larose up to? I run up the staircase.
- One of McDonnell's servants lies in a pool of blood! The unconscious violinist is beside him. "Please remain calm. Doctor." I turn to face Larose.
- "The musician murdered the poor fellow," Larose explains. "I do not yet know what he was after, but he is working for THEM. I had to neutralize him."
- The Oppressors have been spying on us! "Everything is lawful," I say, "when the fundamental liberties are in danger."
It has been a year and a day since we received our wedding gift from Uncle John. Today, Johannes surprises me with another letter addressed to Lady Beth.
Subject: Elizabeth Jane Weston; Location: Prague; Time Period: 1604
My hands tremble as I break the seal of Uncle John's letter. Is it not silly that someone so familiar with letters should find herself so excited at receiving one?
- "Lady Beth," the letter reads. "Please accept my apologies for the prolonged silence. My duties as Warden in Manchester are keeping me rather occupied."
- "Nevertheless, I have managed to learn, between two unrelenting debates, about the imminent arrival in Prague of a play by the Bard of Avon."
- The Bard of Avon? Uncle John must mean the English playwright William Shakespeare. I have heard so much about him.
- "Last year," I read, "I had the pleasure of watching the play performed at the Globe Theatre in London. It was a rather 'illuminating' experience."
- "I believe, my dear Lady Beth, that you will find the subject matter of this play prevalent to your liking." I rest my head on the back of the chair, smiling.
- "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is scheduled to open, rather appropriately, on June 21st. Johannes and I will be attending.
I am not surprised to find Vladislav Hall crowded with spectators. After all, this will be the only representation of the Bard's play at Prague Castle.
- The first part of the comedy is disappointing. It deals with trivial matters, such as a daughter refusing to marry the man her father has chosen for her.
- I catch Johannes laughing a few times, which makes me smile. The play is indeed quite humorous, but I expected more after Uncle John's letter.
- ln Act II, Oberon, king of the Faeries, and his queen, Titania, enter. The play becomes more intriguing. I begin to pay closer attention.
- The plot thickens with Puck, an enigmatic and rather mischievous character, who creates mayhem as he fails to follow Oberon's orders.
- ls Puck willingly misusing the magical love-in-idleness? Does he loyally serve the king of Faerie, or is he following his own, secret agenda?
- After much confusion caused by the Faeries, the mortals in the play are made to believe that what they have experienced in the forest was but a dream.
All the actors leave the stage, with the exception of the one playing Puck. "If we shadows have offended," Puck says. Yes, the Faeries are shadows...
- "Puck continues: 'Think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumber'd here, while these visions did appear."
- "And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream." Why imply that the theme has no worth? Why suggest that the play is an illusion?
- "Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend. And, as I am an honest Puck..." I smirk. Puck may be many things, but honest he is not!
- "lf we have unearned luck." Indeed they have. "Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, we will make amends ere long." Yes, Puck is the Serpent! The Trickster! The Tempter!
- "Else the Puck a liar call; so, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends."
- "I am startled by the sudden wave of applause. The actors return to the scene and take a bow. What secrets, I wonder, hide behind this comedy?
People begin to leave the hall, but Johannes and I linger. "It was a good comedy, was it not?" Johannes' smile seems frozen upon his face.
- I usually enjoy discussing poetry, literature, and theatre with my husband, but now my mind is somewhere else. I must shed light on the meaning of this play!
- "The characters are fantastical inventions!" I nod, half listening to Johannes. Somehow, I know he is wrong. These characters felt REAL to me.
- What was it Puck said? "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" In ancient mythologies, the gods certainly believed that. They toyed with mortals as they pleased.
- In the background, Johannes continues to analyze the Bard's play. What if Oberon and Titania, the immortal Fairies, were ancient gods? What if...
- Titania wore a diadem, exactly like Hera's in the painting Uncle John has given me. A mere coincidence, surely, but what if Titania and Oberon were actually Hera and Zeus?
- What would Puck, the Serpent, be? Puck challenged Oberon's patience, like Prometheus challenged Zeus' omnipotence. I must write to Uncle John!