The Prophecy


by Dolores Esteban



"The end of the world is nigh.
Leadenly dark lies on the time,
twined the hours,
in stranglehold the minutes."

Hear my call.

There is yet time!





01

London, 2012.

Jason awoke with a start. It had happened again. Sweat covered his forehead and his body was trembling. He was cold despite the warm summer night. He had awoken again from a dream, an almost nightmare. The images were vivid and they were frightening him. They were the same always, but they were getting clearer and more three-dimensional with every dream that he had. Jason dreamed that he was in a small and dark room. The air was stifled and breathing was hard. He was exhausted, dead tired and desperate. He was crawling across the floor and along the stone walls in search for a door. When he finally found it, he found that the door was locked. Whatever he tried, he was not able to open it. Then the image changed and Jason looked into the room from the distance. He looked through the walls and through the darkness. Jason saw a shadow, a figure, a man who reached out his hand to him. The man whispered, but Jason did not understand him. The man’s voice was rough and desperate. Jason moved closer and then he understood the words: Hear my call. There is yet time! The tone of voice was urgent and sent a cold shiver down Jason’s spine. He awoke with a start, his body trembling and his forehead covered with sweat.

Jason turned on his side and tried to push his dream aside. He tossed and turned in his bed and was unable to go back to sleep. Finally, he switched on the lamp on his bedside table and looked at his alarm clock: three o’clock in the morning. The dream had haunted him five nights in a row. Every time he had awoken at three in the morning. He was not able to shake the vivid images off. He felt as if he had witnessed a real event and he fixed his eyes firmly on the alarm clock on his bedside table in order to calm down. Ten minutes passed, and then Jason got up. He went into the bathroom, took a shower, dressed, and then made coffee. He sat down on the couch and stared into the room.

What was it all about? Why did he dream this dream? The dream didn’t relate to anything in his real life, neither a movie he had seen nor a book he had read. Jason took a sip of his coffee. He could not help but go through the dream again. First, it felt as if he was the man himself, locked in the small and dark chamber, but then the perspective changed and he watched the man from the distance. For some reason, the man noticed him and reached out his hand to him as if asking his help. What did he want? Jason had no clue at all.

He shook his head in order to clear his mind. He remained sitting on the couch until dawn was breaking. Jason rubbed his eyes and wiped his forehead. He was dead tired. Luckily, it was Saturday and he didn’t need to go to work. Jason leaned back against the rear of the couch and yawned. Was something wrong with him? Perhaps he was overworked and stressed out. He would speak to his boss on Monday. They had to find a solution.

The dream haunted Jason again on Saturday and Sunday night and every night Jason was unable go back to sleep. On Monday morning, Jason was entirely exhausted and he phoned in sick. He called his primary care physician and got an appointment in the afternoon. Jason told the doctor of his dream and how the images got more vivid and clearer every night. The man said the dream was a symptom of stress, gave Jason a sick note and prescribed him sleeping pills. Jason went home, called his boss and then stretched on his couch and instantly fell asleep. Night had fallen when he awoke. He went to bed, determined to catch up on the sleep he had missed. He awoke with a start.

The call was urgent, pleading and loud. Jason reached out his hand to find the lamp on his bedside table, but he touched a hard and rocky wall. He winced and let out a frightened cry. Jason sat up and found himself in pain. His breathing was ragged, his heart was beating fast and sweat was running down his body. His whole body shook and his mind was total chaos. He reached out his hand once more and again touched a wall, but a second later the wall disappeared and Jason grasped at nothing. He lowered his hand slowly and sensed an item. It was the lamp on his bedside table. Jason switched it on and looked at the alarm clock. Like he had expected, it was three o’clock in the morning.

His teeth chattered. Jason clenched them and then took a deep breath and closed his eyes. All he sensed was his heartbeat. He opened his eyes and looked around in the room. Nothing had changed. He reached out his hand reluctantly and moved it from left to right. There was no wall in his reach. But he had not been mistaken. Jason was certain about it. He had touched the wall of the small and dark chamber where he was locked or where the unknown man was locked, depending on perspective. He could have sworn he had already been awake when he had reached out his hand.

But how could this be? Where had the wall come from? Where had it disappeared to? Jason swallowed. Had it been a haptic perception? A haptic hallucination? He pushed the thought forcefully aside and got up. Jason looked at the alarm clock: half past three. He went into the bathroom, showered, dressed, and then made coffee and sat down on the couch. The ritual had meanwhile become familiar to him. Jason mused. The sleeping pill hadn’t worked. The dream was stronger than the pill. He closed his eyes. Something was definitely wrong with him. Things were getting worse. It was high time to do something. Jason objected to the thought, but the thought had already seized his mind. Was he going insane?

He called a specialist in the morning and upon hearing his story and his pleading and desperate voice, the man agreed to see him at six in the evening. The doctor’s diagnosis shattered Jason. The man told him that the symptoms could well indicate the early stage of a mental illness. He prescribed a psychotropic drug that was meant to sedate Jason’s thoughts and he gave him another appointment at the end of the week. Jason went home and sat down on the couch where he remained sitting for a considerable time, just gazing into the room and trying to cope with the diagnosis. Finally, he rose to his feet and took the package with the pills from the kitchen counter where he had placed it. He pulled the package leaflet from the box and started to read it. The drug had many undesirable side effects. Jason placed the leaflet and the box back on the kitchen counter and reluctantly poured a glass of water and swallowed a pill. He sat down again and waited for the drug’s effects and, indeed, after some time had passed by he felt calmer and less distressed. Disillusioned, Jason went to bed at eight in the evening in hope for a sound and calm sleep.

The call was loud and the voice desperate. Jason winced at the touch of the man’s hand on his chest. His heart was pounding fast and his breathing was ragged. He sat up, his eyes widened with fear. The man’s hand did not let him go. His fingers seized the collar of Jason’s pyjama top. Jason let out a cry.

There is yet time! the man called out and his words echoed in Jason’s mind. And then the vision was gone. His heart beat wildly and it took him several minutes before he was able to switch on the lamp on his bedside table. Jason’s hand was trembling, his body was covered with sweat, and tears shot into his eyes out of fear and despair. His teeth chattered and he sobbed. The psychotropic drug had not worked out as well. The man in his dreams was stronger than it.

Jason got up and switched on all the lights in his apartment. He was scared to the core. When he had finally calmed down, he booted his computer and searched the internet for an article that would explain his weird experiences. The search distracted Jason for a while. He found several articles that described similar experiences, some of them were called out-of-body experiences, but those didn’t fit exactly what Jason had witnessed. He was certain he had not left his body.

He continued researching and reading for a couple of hours. It was already noon when he finally showered and dressed. He had found a phone number on the internet. A man offered counselling sessions. Jason called him in the afternoon. He felt a little taken aback at the man’s soft and almost sweet voice, but then he told him of his dreams and his odd experiences. The man was interested and invited Jason to his house. His spirits raised, Jason met the man at four in the afternoon.

Lou Barnaby called himself a shaman and time traveller. He had shoulder-length white hair and a white beard. He wore a headband that was made of black wool and was decorated with feathers and he wore a leather pouch around his neck. Lou Barnaby poured Jason tea that smelled sweet and exotic and tasted of tangerines, and then he invited Jason with an affectionate smile and a soft nod to tell his story again.

Jason recounted his dreams and experiences while Lou Barnaby’s mild eyes rested patiently on his face. When Jason ended, Lou told him that he was under the impression that Jason was haunted by past memories, memories of a past life, a previous life that Jason had lived long ago. Jason was sceptical, but Lou’s explanations sounded plausible, and finally Jason agreed to the man’s proposal, a past life regression in order to solve the riddle. The price was only 100£ an hour. Lou suggested to do the regression at once, provided Jason had time and had taken along his credit card. Jason agreed and five minutes later he was stretched on a couch.

Lou switched on a CD player and soft ethereal sounds filled the room. Jason instantly felt compelled to yawn. He closed his eyes and soon was half-asleep. Lou talked to him in a gentle voice, but Jason did not get his words. He drifted to sleep and he slept safe and sound. Lou woke him an hour later with a gracious smile on his lips and told him that he had solved the riddle.

He said that Jason had talked in his sleep and had told him that many centuries ago he had been sentenced to prison for a minor misdoing. He had been locked away and he had starved to death. Lou said that Jason so far had not accepted his cruel fate, but if he forgave the culprits now, then his soul would finally be at peace. Lou placed his hand softly on Jason’s forehead while Jason spoke his words of forgiveness. Lou helped Jason up and led him to a desk and almost casually asked for his credit card. Then all was said and done and Jason parted. Lou’s mild eyes followed him as he walked down the stairs.

Jason felt better and he went to bed in the evening without feeling scared. He slept safe and sound until three in the morning when the man in his dream shouted in his ear, his voice transporting mortal fear. Jason let out a dreadful cry and could not stop crying until someone rang at his door. Jason fell silent and reached out his trembling hand for the lamp on the bedside table. The bell rang again.

Jason trudged to the door, opened it cautiously and peered out. He saw Mr. Sullivan who lived in the apartment upstairs.

"Is anything wrong, young man?" Mr. Sullivan asked. His voice was worried.

Jason gazed at Mr. Sullivan’s chequered dressing gown.

"Anything wrong?" Mr. Sullivan repeated his question. "I heard your cries. Are you in pain? Can I help you?" He looked at Jason with concern.

"A nightmare," Jason said in a stifled voice.

Mr. Sullivan’s eyes rested on Jason.

"A horrible nightmare is haunting me," Jason blurted out. "I awake every night with a start." Tears filled his eyes and he swallowed.

"Come," Mr. Sullivan said calmly. "Come up to my apartment for half an hour or so. Let’s have a cup of tea together." He gave Jason an encouraging nod.

Jason hesitated, but then he took his key and stepped out. He followed Mr. Sullivan up the stairs. His neighbour opened the door to his apartment and with a gesture of his hand invited Jason to enter. Mr. Sullivan led him to his living room and pointed at the couch. Jason shook his head at the sight of the sofa. He had an aversion to sit down on the couch as it reminded him of his daily morning ritual. Mr. Sullivan gave him a questioning look, but then steered Jason to his armchair. He took a woollen blanket from it and asked Jason to sit down. Jason did what the man told him to do. He folded his hands and gazed at Mr. Sullivan. The man studied Jason for a second, and then handed the blanket to him.

"I’m making tea," he said.

"No more tea, please. And neither coffee," Jason replied. The words had slipped his mouth. He gave Mr. Sullivan an apologetic look. "I had too much tea and coffee, Mr. Sullivan," he said weakly.

"Leonard. My name is Leonard," the man said with a brief nod.

"Jason," Jason replied in a toneless voice.

"All right, Jason. How about orange juice?" Leonard asked.

Jason nodded and smiled briefly. He looked around in the room while Leonard went into the kitchen. The man’s living room was stuffed with furniture, a shabby couch, an armchair, a coffee table, a big table and four wooden chairs, a desk and several shelves. A worn green carpet covered the floor. Jason turned his head when Leonard re-entered the room with two glasses in his hand. Leonard placed them on the coffee table, fetched a wooden chair and placed it opposite of Jason. He pointed at the glasses.

"Orange juice," he said.

Jason took his glass and took a sip. He placed the glass carefully back on the table.

"Tell me about your dream," Leonard said. "I suspect it was truly frightening?"

He studied Jason’s face. Jason fidgeted and then told Leonard of his weird dream. He told him of the doctor’s diagnosis and of Lou Barnaby and the past life regression. Leonard shook his head in disbelief.

"A past life regression done without preparations? I think you have just slept for an hour and Lou Barnaby made his whole story up. Not too difficult. From what you have told me, I would have also guessed what Barnaby said, if I believed in past lives, that is," Leonard said.

"You don’t?" Jason asked curiously.

"Do you?" Leonard asked back.

Jason shrugged. "I don’t know. I have never really thought about it. Barnaby’s explanation sounded plausible to me. I mean the dream doesn’t relate to anything I saw or witnessed in real life. Why would my subconscious mind make up this weird dream and bother me every night with it?"

Leonard leaned back in his chair. His eyes lasted on Jason’s face. "Do you think it was just a dream? Answer quickly," he said.

Jason looked puzzled. He opened his mouth, yet gave no reply. His mind focused on the dream.

"Don’t think. Answer," Leonard said harshly.

"Partly," Jason said. "In the beginning it’s just a dream. But then the dream is starting to get real. It came alive. I touched a wall. I sensed the man’s hand. It felt totally real. And I was awake. I did not dream."

"And you felt you had not left your body?" Leonard asked.

Jason shook his head. "No, definitely not," he said.

"This means an energy form comes to you, is drawn to you, wants to contact you," Leonard replied. "The energy is strong and you are perceptive. We are most perceptive in the dead of the night when our minds are calm, our bodies relaxed, and nothing is distracting us."

Jason looked at Leonard, trying to grasp what he had said. Leonard smiled briefly and then continued. He said that energy and matter were interchangeable. Energy could materialize under certain circumstances, which could be witnessed in nature.

"This is acknowledged fact," Leonard said. "However, the physicists have no idea of the many kinds of energies that exist. They don't know how to generate specific energy forms and they don't know how to make them materialize. This knowledge is called magic, for the lack of a better word," he said. "It’s not so magical, however. It’s in fact a daily process that we all apply, albeit mostly subconsciously."

"You mean the man was locked in the room and found no escape?" Jason asked. "He died, his mission not accomplished? The message was urgent. The man wanted to deliver it and he created an energy form that outlived his death and I was chosen to receive the message? This raises a few questions. Who was the man? Where and when did he die? What is the message and why am I the chosen one?"

Leonard nodded and rose to his feet. "I need a cup of coffee now. What about you, Jason?" he asked.

Jason looked at the window. The sun was shining and there was nothing to fear any more. "A cup of coffee would be fine," he said.

Leonard went into the kitchen.

***
02

Saint-Denis, France, 1012.

Dawn was just breaking and the first light of the morning illuminated his cell. Simon rose from his bed. His bare feet touched the stone floor. It was cold in the room and Simon was shivering. He reached out and picked his worn robe from a stool. The wool was rough, but the garment served its purpose. Simon put on the robe and slipped into his sandals, and then he left his cell and hurried down the deserted corridor of the monastery. He was late again. He had not heard the bell that called the brethren to matins. Simon hurried towards the chapel, but stopped at the well and drank from the water. The water was cold, but it quenched his thirst and it revived his spirits.

Simon heard the other monks singing a gloomy chant in the chapel. Their voices were dark and sad. He listened for a while, looking at the chapel. It looked old and dreary in the dim morning light. Simon shivered, but not only from the cold. He felt as if somebody was watching him. An uneasy feeling took hold of him. Simon had a sense of foreboding.

Following an impulse, Simon turned away from the chapel, crossed the yard and entered the cookhouse. He found it empty. It was hard to make out anything in the half-dark room, but finally he spotted bread and cheese on a wooden sideboard. Simon took a loaf of bread and several pieces of cheese, aware that he was stealing from the monks, but he committed the sin without the slightest feeling of remorse. Simon left the building and entered the vegetable garden of the monastery. A gate at the end of the garden opened to a path that led to a small forest. Chewing on a piece of bread, Simon walked down the path through a field of heather. The path was overgrown with brier wood. Thorns scratched the skin of his feet, but Simon ignored it.

It was not his first time in the wood. He had already hidden in the forest several times. Simon climbed a high seat, sat down on the planks and rubbed his hands. It was the end of March and the mornings were bitter cold. His bare feet were numb, but Simon had meanwhile gotten accustomed to the cold and so he simply ignored it. He ate the food, and then he just sat in the dim morning light, gazing at the dark sky. Rain was falling in a drizzle and fog was rising from the ground. The weather fitted his mood perfectly.

Simon was eighteen years of age. His elder brother would take over and carry on the business after his father’s death. Simon had been sent to the monks at the age of thirteen. Nobody had asked him if he wanted to go. Five years had passed and he still did not accept his fate. He had learned a lot in the cloister, reading, writing – his handwriting was elaborate -, calculating and many more things, but Simon did not feel happy with it. He felt locked up in the cloister, forced to live a life he felt he was not destined to. He tried hard to fit in for extended periods of time, but then suddenly, from one day to the other, Simon felt like an outcast. He sank into depression and started to brood. His thoughts were gloomy, apocalyptic. Simon hid his thoughts from the other monks and avoided their company altogether. Whenever he could, he stole away from them. The brethren had scolded him in the beginning, but, for the sake of peace, they finally let him be. God would judge on the young man in the end.

Simon watched the rain for a considerable amount of time. The monotony of the falling rain calmed his mind and soothed his heart. When he finally felt better, Simon climbed down and slowly trudged back to the cloister. The rain had turned the path into mud and Simon was dirty and completely soaked when he finally reached the yard of the monastery. The place was deserted. The monks had retreated into the buildings that sheltered them from the heavy rain. Simon went to the well and poured a bucket full of water over his dirty feet. Then he trudged back to his cell.

He took off his soaked robe and undergarments, wrapped his naked body in a woollen blanket and then stretched on the bed. He shivered. His body was cold, but his head felt hot. Simon realized he had caught a cold. The illness added to his depressed mood and Simon closed his eyes to find shelter in an inward refuge. He did not move again until the evening bell stroke and Simon realized he was hungry. Despite being feverish, he rose to his feet, dressed, and then went to the chapel. He sat down in the rear. The other monks ignored him. Simon sat quietly and with his eyes lowered until the end of the mass. He followed the others to the refectory, sat down and quietly ate his broth. He sneezed and coughed. The other monks glanced at him out of the corner of an eye and Simon left instantly after they had finished supper. He had just entered the corridor, when he sensed a hand on his shoulder.

"Come, Brother Simon," a deep voice said. "I’ll prepare a remedy for your cold."

Simon turned his head and saw Brother Nicholas, the cloister’s healer. The stout man gave him a brief yet sympathetic nod. Simon nodded back and followed Brother Nicholas down the hallway.

Despite Brother Nicholas’s remedies, Simon was feverish for a week. The illness made him feel humble and weak and when he had recovered from it, he undertook another effort to fit in the cloister. He attended the masses regularly and worked in the scriptorium all day long. He copied a rare and old book that the monastery kept in a secret chamber. An old monk had entrusted him with the work and Simon worked carefully. He filled the parchments with his elaborate handwriting.

Six weeks passed by and finally spring had come. The bright sun of spring raised Simon’s spirits.

He entered the scriptorium one morning and found the door to the secret chamber open. Simon peered into the small room, and then, his heart pounding faster at the forbidden act, he entered the chamber with a candle in his hand. Shelves were filled with old, leather-bound books that looked like the one that Simon was copying. He took a quick glance at some of the books. They all contained religious texts written in ancient Latin. Simon wondered why the monks locked away the books. Probably because they were rare and precious. He was about to leave the room when he spotted a box made of ebony wood that was placed in one of the shelves. He couldn’t resist and, snatched the box and opened the lid. The box contained a parchment. Simon unfolded it and started to read the text. The handwriting was hard to decipher.

Simon’s hand was trembling when he placed the parchment back into the box. He had read a prophecy, dark, disastrous and demonic. If the text was true, then the end of the world was to come about soon, brought about by the demiurge himself. Simon left the chamber and made a few steps, but then he stopped and, following an impulse, he re-entered the room, opened the box again and took the parchment. He pushed it into the sleeve of his robe, and then, his heart pounding wildly at his act of betrayal, he hurried out of the scriptorium, crossed the yard and entered the cloister’s vegetable garden, and then he hastened to his hiding place in the wood.

Simon climbed the high seat and sat down on the planks. He waited until his ragged breathing had calmed before he unfolded the text. The text spoke of the end of the world. The prophecy gave the exact date. The text was written in Latin, but the figures were Arabic. There was a little ink stain just were the first figure of the year was written. Simon held the parchment in front of his eyes. The first figure could well be read as a 2, but that was probably because of the stain. Simon had another close look, and then he was certain. The world would end on the 17th of May 1012, Anno Domini.

Simon calculated the time that was left until the anticipated day. It was the beginning of May. Only two more weeks until the day of doom. Simon raised his eyes and looked into the distance. Why had the monks hidden the parchment? Why had they locked away the prophecy? It had been written three hundred years ago. Had the brethren forgotten about the text? But what if the prophecy was coming true? Shouldn’t he speak to the abbot? Simon was about to jump up from the planks, but he stopped within the movement.

The text stated one thing clearly. Only one man was able to stop the demiurge. The chosen man’s name was Jason. Only little more was said about the man. He resided in London, England, and worked with a horse trade company that sold the fastest horses the world had ever seen. Simon pondered. Surely only the king kept the fastest horses. Was Jason a courtier? No, Simon thought, the text stated that he worked with the company that sold the horses to the king.

The young monk gazed into the distance for a while, then pushed the parchment into his sleeve and hurried back to the scriptorium. He would copy the text and place the original parchment back into the box. If at all, Simon realized, he had to act on his own. It was useless to speak to the abbot. The man would not do anything. He would shrug off the prophecy as mindless drivel written by an unknown man. Simon saw the severe face of the abbot. The man would not believe in the prophecy. He would ask if Jason really believed that the man Jason was the saviour of the world. He would ask him if he had forgotten the true saviour’s name. The true saviour’s name was Jesus. Simon shuddered. He had to be cautious. He had to hide the text, if he did not want to burn at the stake.

He hurried to the secret chamber and found that the door was locked. Simon stood for a moment, not knowing what to do. Who had locked the door to the chamber? The old monk? Had he already found that the parchment was missing? Simon’s heart beat faster.

***
03

Jason finally went back to his apartment. He let in fresh air, and then he showered, dressed and made himself a meal. He ate an enormous pile of scrambled eggs and ham directly from the pan. He saw the package of psychotropic drugs, picked it up, but then placed it back on the kitchen counter. He would not need the pills anymore. Jason called the doctor’s assistant and cancelled his appointment at the end of the week. He was not insane, he was not distressed nor was he burned out nor did memories from a past life haunt him. Leonard had offered a plausible explanation. Jason looked out of the window and watched a few children playing a game.

A thought struck him. The energy form tried to get in touch with him, probably to pass him a message and he was most likely expected to do something with it. What if he was expected to do something morally reprehensible, commit a crime, for instance? What if he rejected to do what he was expected to do? Would the energy form then look for someone else or would it continue to bother him for weeks, months, or even years? Jason stiffened at the dreadful prospect.

He saw Leonard approaching with a bag in his hand. The man spoke to the children who did not respond and only looked at him awkwardly. Leonard turned away and entered the house. A short time later, Jason went up to his apartment and rang the bell. Leonard opened the door and looked at him.

"Sorry to disturb you again," Jason said. "A thought has occurred to me. I’m having a question."

Leonard invited him in and led him to his living room. A big apple pie was placed on the table.

"I'm hungry," Leonard said with a laugh. "You must think I’m a glutton. Would you like a piece of the pie and a cup of coffee maybe?"

Jason agreed. He sat down while Leonard went into the kitchen. The man came back a couple of minutes later with plates, cups and forks.

"All right," Leonard said when he was seated. "What question came to your mind, Jason?

Jason told him and Leonard pondered for a while. "You’re absolutely right," he said. "We need to find out what this message is all about. Try to remember every detail of your dream, Jason."

"The man is locked up in small room, the floor and the walls are made of stone, a prison cell perhaps. I was under the impression that the cell was empty. I saw no furniture," Jason said.

"A young man, locked up, bound to die in this room and therefore looking for help. He created an energy form that he sent out to you. You’re most likely able to understand his wish and his mission," Leonard said.

"I don’t have a clue," Jason replied.

"Next time try to contact him, ask him, instead of just watching the scene. Try to find out when and where he lived, so that we can try to locate him in space and time and get more background information. I mean, did he live in England or in Japan? Did he die ten years ago, or forty, or maybe hundred or even a thousand years ago?" Leonard said.

"Next time..." Jason murmured. "So the dreams will continue?"

"I guess so," Leonard replied, taking a bite of  the apple pie.

Jason looked at him. "I’m not certain I can intervene. Can I seize control of the dream?" he asked.

Leonard nodded. "You certainly can. Just tell yourself before you drift to sleep that your conscious mind will intervene. Don’t be afraid. That’s what the energy form wants you to do anyway. It wants to connect to your conscious mind. Take control of the dream," he said.

"Easier said than done," Jason replied. He leaned back and looked into the room, feeling overwhelmed with the task.

"It’s all new to you, but you will grow with the challenge. You have done pretty well so far," Leonard said.

"It seems you’re an expert in these kinds of things," Jason said, turning his eyes back to him.

Leonard waved his fork. "Not an expert. But I have been studying these phenomena for many years, decades so to speak. I’m sixty-nine," he said.

"I’m twenty- five," Jason said lamely.

"Well, I was your age when I first got confronted with the supernatural as people love to call it," Leonard said. "My grandmother died and from that day on our house was haunted. In all honesty, strange things were going on, like cupboards moving, silverware clattering, or lights switching on and off. My mother said that my grandmother could not leave because something was left unaccomplished. We searched the house thoroughly and we found a piece of paper, her last will, hidden in a cupboard. The phenomena stopped that very day. My curiosity was aroused and I started to study these phenomena at length. I’m an amateur researcher, though. I did it all in my spare time. I had a wife and four children to look after."

Leonard leaned back and folded his hands

"My wife died seven years ago and my children have a life of their own. I have plenty of time now that I’m retired. I spend my time mainly with reading and crossword puzzles. I could imagine it sounds boring to you," he said. "What’s your profession, Jason? I saw you usually leave the house at eight in the morning and come back at half past five."

Jason smiled. "I work with a car company, Taylor & Grimson. But I’m not a salesman. I work in the accounts department.  We sold a Bugatti Veyron last week, gigantic horsepower, one of the fastest cars in the world," he said.

"I can’t really imagine why people need such a fast car, perhaps for compensating their deficiencies," Leonard said drily.

Jason gave a laugh. "Well, yes, this could be an explanation. Then again, the car is simply awesome."

"Awesome, like I said, compensating..." Leonard mumbled to himself.

They parted a short time later and Jason promised to seize control of the dream in case the dream came back at night. And so it did.

He awoke with a start, or so it seemed to him, but then he realized that he was still dreaming. This time, however, he was able to reflect on what he saw. Leonard’s advice had worked out. Jason was able to take control of the dream.

He watched the scene from the distance, then stepped closer and approached the man. Unlike the previous times, the man did not reach out his hand to him, but stood motionless and waited for Jason to join him. They exchanged a look. "What date is it?" Jason asked. The young man gave him a sad look. "The 18th of May 1012. I was mistaken. So it’s up to you now," he said in a grave voice. Jason awoke and was disoriented for a moment until he realized that he was lying in his bed. He sat up and switched on the light, and then scribbled down all he had heard and seen in a notebook that he had placed on the bedside table.

"Goodness," he muttered when he had finished. He lay down again and after a couple of minutes fell asleep. He slept sound and safe until nine in the morning. After breakfast, he hurried up to Leonard’s apartment. The man invited him in and cleared the table from the newspaper that he had been reading.

"So it worked out?" Leonard asked curiously.

"It did," Jason said and opened his notebook. "The man is young, younger than I am, eighteen, nineteen or so. He has blue eyes and fair, very short hair, and a shaven crown. He was dressed in a robe. He looked like the people I saw on a renaissance fair. He said it was the 18th of May 1012 and that he was mistaken and that it was up to me now. He sounded very sad."

"A thousand years have passed by," Leonard said thoughtfully.

"What?" Jason asked.

"He probably died on the 18th of May 1012, a thousand years ago," Leonard said. "The energy form has waited for a thousand years to pass on the message. A truly mighty energy form, a truly urgent wish, a truly important mission, it seems."

They exchanged a long look.

Jason shuddered. "Goodness," he mouthed. "What does he want me to do?"

"We’ll find out about it," Leonard said. "We must find out about the year 1012. What happened back then?"

"I have no idea," Jason said with a shrug. "I was never interested in medieval things."

"I’m going to ask a friend of mine," Leonard said. "Gary. He's a retired historian. He might help us with it." He paused. "The best source, however, is your dream, Jason. I suspect it will come back. Watch and question the man."

"I need more time," Jason replied. "I need to go back to work on Monday."

"Another sick note?" Leonard suggested.

Jason shook his head. "I cancelled my appointment with the doctor. I’ll call my boss and ask if I can take a vacation. I have not yet had a single day off."

"Don’t risk your job," Leonard said. "Times are bad. This car company seems to make a lot of money. Bugatti or what was the name of the car?"

Jason smiled and rose to his feet. "Bugatti, yes. And I’ll call my boss anyway."

Against his expectations and much to his relief, Jason’s boss agreed to a two weeks' vacation.

***
04

A week had passed and so far Simon had not found the door to the secret chamber open again. Whenever he sneaked into the scriptorium, early in the morning, at lunch time when the other monks had already assembled, or at night, the door to the secret chamber was always locked. Simon grew more and more nervous. Had somebody already found out that the parchment was missing? For a couple of days, he had hidden it in the sleeve of his robe, but then he had looked for a safer place to hide it. He placed it under a loose stone of the floor in his room and only took it along when he sneaked into the scriptorium.

Simon found it increasingly difficult to behave normally. He was barely able to look into the eyes of the old monk who also worked in the scriptorium. Had the man any suspicions? Did he distrust Simon or why did he give him piercing looks now and then? Simon found that the other monks also eyed him strangely when he entered the chapel or gathered with them for the meals. He kept his eyes down whenever somebody was around. At the end of the week, Brother Nicholas addressed him and asked him if he was still feeling ill. Simon denied, just a slight headache, he lied, and then turned away quickly from the man, his cheeks blushing and his heart pounding wildly. Simon found he  needed to put an end to it. He had just decided to speak to the abbot when he found the door to the secret chamber was open.

He made a step towards the room, but then stopped short. The parchment was in his cell, hidden under the loose stone. He had to hurry back and get the manuscript. Five minutes, if he ran all the way to and back, and then his deed would be undone. Nonetheless, he made a few quick steps and looked into the secret chamber. His heart jumped when he realized that the inevitable had happened. The box had disappeared. His crime was uncovered. The old monk was probably speaking to the abbot this very minute. They would identify the culprit in the briefest of time. Simon was barely able to breathe. They would come and get him in just a few minutes. There was not much time left in case he intended to flee.

He turned around abruptly, ran to his cell and, entirely out of breath, removed the stone in the floor. He grabbed the parchment, pushed it up the sleeve of his robe and looked around in his cell. There was nothing he could not spare. Simon had taken a decision and he acted on it.

He peered out of his room. The corridor was empty. He stood for a second and then he heard the bell strike. The monks were gathering in the chapel. Simon started to run. He crossed the yard and entered the cookhouse. He looked around, saw a linen bag, took it and filled it with cheese, bread and a piece of ham. Then he left the cookhouse and entered the cloister’s vegetable garden. He hastened through it and opened the gate that led to the field of heather. Simon ran down the path and into the forest. This time, however, he did not stop at his favourite place. He ran deeper into the wood instead.

There was a village on the other side of the forest. They would probably go and search him there as this was the only place where he could steal a horse or a donkey. Simon forced himself to calm down. He had to do the exact opposite of what they expected him to do, if he wanted to get away with it. Simon focused his mind. One thing they would never expect him to do was going back to the cloister.

Simon smiled. This was exactly what he would do, sneak back and steal one of the cloister’s horses. They had three workhorses and the abbot possessed a mare and a stallion. Simon drew a piece of bread from his bag and chewed on it. A thought occurred to him. They would believe he had run to the village. Why not sustain their belief? Simon followed the path for a while, dropping bread crumbs, breaking leaves and trampling flowers.

Then he left the path and moved to the brook in the forest. He stepped into the shallow water and followed the brook, walking in the ankle-deep water. The brook led him where he wanted to go, the burial ground of the cloister. From there he would sneak back to the monastery and break into the  stable. Simon walked at a steady pace. Once, he heard voices from the distance. He recognized Brother Nicholas’s voice. They were searching the wood already. If he was lucky, and Simon prayed he was, they would not find him before he had reached the abbey.

He hid deep in the ferns at the edge of the burial ground and there he sat all afternoon, anxiously listening for the monks’ voices, but everything remained silent. They had probably set out for the village. It was a three hours march. Simon calculated. They wouldn’t be back before six o’clock which played into his hands. As long as the men had not come back, life in the cloister would go on as usual. The brethren would gather in the chapel at six in the evening. All of them would assemble there and the abbot would read the mass. This was his chance and he would not miss it.

Simon waited patiently until he heard the bell strike six and then hastened across the burial ground. He reached the cloister and hid in the shadows, carefully listening and watching out. Like he had expected, he heard the gloomy chant of the monks from the chapel. Simon knew the place inside out. He moved on and reached the cloister’s stable. The gate was only secured by an iron bolt. Simon opened it and slipped into the stable. It was semi-dark inside, but Simon saw the cloister’s horses. The workhorses were slow, not fitting his purpose as he had to move fast. The abbot’s stallion was a noble horse and a simple monk riding it would make others suspicious.

Simon approached the abbot’s chestnut brown mare. The horse would give him an advantage of a few hours, time that he desperately needed for a lucky escape. He took the bridle and saddled the horse, and then led the mare out of the stable and to the main gate of the cloister. Like he had expected, the monk on guard had also gone to the chapel. Simon opened the gate, led the horse outside, and then closed the gate the best he could. If he was lucky, they did not detect right away that someone had opened it. Simon mounted and spurred the horse. A soft breeze was blowing and the wind carried the gloomy chant of the monks to his ears. Simon looked back for an instant.

Dusk was breaking and the cloister’s buildings looked dark and repelling. A dreadful shadow hung over them. A shiver ran down Simon’s spine as he spurred the horse. He would reach Paris this very evening, but he felt that Paris was too close for a lucky escape. Simon had a sense of foreboding. Whatever had slept silently behind the cloister’s walls, now it was set free and out to get him. Had it to do with the prophecy he had found? Had it to do with the end of the world that he wanted to stop, whereas others - Simon shuddered at his thought –wanted the end of the world to come about? Simon seized the reins tighter.

Night had fallen. The horse walked slowly, yet found its way. The wind grew colder and rain started to fall. The horse baulked at a sudden thunder. Simon touched the saddlebag where he had deposited the old parchment. There it was sheltered from the rain. There it was safe, at least for the time being.

***
05

There is yet time! The cry was ear-splitting. Jason awoke with a start. His ears were ringing and the words echoed in his mind. He sat up in his bed and switched on the light. He sat silently until the words faded away. Jason wiped the sweat from his forehead. The cry had been urgent, pleading and desperate. The man in his dream had called out to him again. Jason felt driven to act, to do something, if only he knew what to do. He got up and poured a glass of water. He drank it slowly, and then, almost frightened, he went back to bed, but nothing else happened that night.

Jason ate his breakfast listlessly. It was nine o’clock in the morning. He was exhausted and tired. The bell rang. Jason opened the door. Leonard was standing outside.

"You’re looking wretched," Leonard said. "Another dream?"

Jason shook his head. "Just a terrible cry." He told Leonard of his experience.

"I’m having news," Leonard said. His eyes rested sympathetically on Jason. "Would you like to come up?" he asked.

Jason nodded and took his key. He followed Leonard to his apartment. Leonard made coffee.

"I called Gary," Leonard said. "I didn’t mention your name. I told him I had had a vivid dream about a young man living in the year 1012. I told him I had resumed my studies on supernatural things and was speculating if perhaps the dream had a deeper meaning. Gary laughed and teased me for my odd interests. He doubted the dream had called me to solve some mystery of the past, but he promised to look up in his books if anything odd happened in the year 1012. I said the man had perhaps fled a cloister. He had a shaven crown. He was most likely a monk. Gary was not very confident. But if anyone, then Gary will find it. His memory is excellent. I have no doubt he will research thoroughly."

Leonard took his cup of coffee and had just taken a sip when the telephone rang. He placed the cup cautiously back on the table and went into the corridor. He came back a minute later with a broad smile.

"You can rely on Gary," he said cheerfully. "He has found something. Come, Jason, let’s go and see him. You have a car, haven’t you?" he asked.

Jason nodded and rose to his feet. "I’m back in a minute. I’m getting my car keys," he said.

"A Bugatti?" Leonard asked. "I don’t think I could stand the high speed."

Jason gave a laugh. "No, I’m not a millionaire. A compact car, a Ford Focus," he said.

One and a half hour later, they arrived at Gary’s country house. Leonard rang the bell and an elder man opened. He was dressed in brown cord pants and a blue wool cardigan. His white hair was dishevelled. He greeted Leonard warmly and then looked at Jason with a questioning look.

"Jason Bolding," Jason introduced himself.

"My assistant," Leonard said. "Jason is extremely interested in supernatural studies, downright involved in them, so to speak."

Gary reached out his hand to Jason. "Gary Conelly. Nice to meet you." he said.

He made a gesture with his hand and invited them to enter the house. He led them to a big and comfortably furnished study and asked them to sit down at a table that was covered with papers and books.

"My research table," he explained. "I don’t like to sit at a desk. The plush chairs are far more comfortable and more adequate to a man of my age. Would you like a drink?" he asked.

While he made tea, Jason and Leonard had a look at the books and papers. Finally, Gary came back with mugs, a teapot, and biscuits and placed all on top of the papers.

"Help yourselves," he said as he sat down in a plush chair.

"All right," Leonard said. "What have you found out? I’m curious, Gary."

Gary straightened in his chair. "Well," he said in a meaningful voice. "I have found something. I wasn’t very confident, but I consulted a few books. It was already midnight when I was about to give up, but something was nagging on my mind. And then it occurred to me. I once had read a footnote. It took me some time to find it, but here it is," he said, seizing a book. He placed it in front of Jason and Leonard.

Leonard leaned forward. "French," he said in a consternated voice.

"Yes," Gary replied. "The author is a Frenchman. The book is about the history of Saint Denis, a large medieval abbey in the north of Paris. In late Roman times the site was a Gallo-Roman cemetery. St. Genevieve purchased some of the land in 475 and built a church. Dagobert I replaced it by a much grander construction in the 7th century. The place became the burial place of the French kings. The place is of somewhat importance."

Jason and Leonard exchanged a glance and then looked at Gary expectantly. Gary pointed at the footnote.

"This is what might interest you," he said. "The author alludes to an event in the year 1012. He refers to a letter that the abbot wrote to the king. The letter is only preserved in fragments. The abbot complains of the degeneration of morals and accused four monks of collusion with the devil. He mourns the death of a fine young man, victim of the demiurge’s henchmen. He banned the four monks from the cloister. In absentia, as they had already left without the abbot’s permission." Gary folded his hands. "What exactly are you researching on? I suspect you have not yet told me all," he said.

Leonard smiled. "You know me well," he replied, and then recounted the story.

Gary’s eyes rested thoughtfully on Jason. "I’m afraid I can’t help you more," he said. "Perhaps you should talk to an expert, someone specialized in the history of Saint Denis." He rubbed his eyes, pondering, and then looked at them excitedly. "Why don't you talk to the author of the book?" he asked. He seized the book and opened it. "He wrote it in 1975. Do some research on the internet. I heard it can be helpful at times."

Jason pulled out his cell phone. "I'm having access to the internet," he said.

"You have internet?" Leonard asked Gary with surprise.

Gary shrugged. "I don’t know. An employee of the telephone company visited me a couple of months ago and talked me into a new contract and a technician came here and installed a new telephone connection. At least that was what I understood. I pay less now. That convinced me."

"I have found the man," Jason said. "I googled his name: Antoine Lambert, church historian, residing in Paris. The book about Saint Denis was his thesis. Age sixty-five, emeritus, retired professor. Here’s a list of the books he published."

Jason held out his cell phone to the others.

"You ought to approach modern technology with an open mind," Gary said in an impressed voice. "That’s what my grandson told me."

"In fact," Leonard replied. He took a biscuit. "Does this mean we need to travel to Paris?"

"We better call him first or send him an email," Jason replied. "We need his number or email address. I’ll find out about them."

Jason and Leonard returned to London. Jason researched on Antoine Lambert’s contact dates. He wrote an email to the university where the man had lectured and four hours later he got a response. The department secretary gave him Lambert’s email address. Jason excitedly set up a message and then impatiently waited for a reply. He slept well that night, no dream haunted him. As soon as he had gotten up, he checked his cell phone and found Antoine Lambert’s reply. In fluent English the man asked for more details as to Jason’s request. Jason sent another email, and then hurried to inform Leonard.

"If we’re lucky, then he’ll agree to see us, Leonard. We’ll drive over in the morning and we’ll be back in the evening. This shouldn’t be a problem at all," he said.

"Drive through the tunnel?" Leonard asked in a pressed voice.

"Would you prefer to fly?" Jason asked in astonishment.

"No, no," Leonard replied, his face as white as snow. "Either way sounds like a trip to hell."

Jason gave a laugh and then checked his cell phone again.

"Get a bag packed, Leonard, just in case we need to stay in Paris overnight for whatever reason," he said. "Antoine Lambert has replied. He offers to see us tomorrow at noon. He invites us to have lunch with him in a restaurant."

"Goodness," Leonard said. "Things are moving fast. Too fast for me, I think."

Jason gave him an encouraging look. "You have a whole day for packing a bag and getting accustomed to it, Leonard," he said. "Just imagine. A day in Paris. Sounds good to me. I wonder what they have there for lunch."

Leonard gave Jason a consternated look and shook his head slightly. Then he rose to his feet with a sigh.

"What has to be done, needs to be done," he said resignedly.

They set out for Paris the following day at half past four in the morning. Leonard had given in to his fate. He sat in the car quietly, but cheered up as soon as they had passed the Channel Tunnel. His curiosity was back and even a certain spirit of adventure.

"We’re getting closer to our goal," he exclaimed when they arrived at Paris.

Jason gave a laugh. He drove on, following the instructions of his navigation system. He parked the car and then drew a paper from a pocket of his jacket. Leonard gave him a questioning look.

"A map of the area where the restaurant is located. I printed it from the internet," Jason explained. "Mr. Lambert awaits us there at twelve o’clock. We’re a bit in a hurry."

Leonard checked his watch. "Only twenty more minutes. Is it far from here, Jason?"

"This street down and up this one," Jason replied, his finger following the way on the map. "We should make it in time, I think."

They left the car park and followed the route that Jason had figured out. They entered the small restaurant at five past twelve. It was far from the places that attracted tourists and therefore it was not crowded at all. Four Frenchmen were sitting at small tables, having lunch or just a coffee. The light in the room was dim and the air smelled of cinnamon. The wallpapers were anthracite-coloured with dark green ornaments and a few faded monochrome pictures in brazen frames hung on the walls.

A small man in a black coat rose from a chair when Jason and Leonard entered. He approached them.

"Messieurs Bolding and Sullivan?" he asked, looking between them.

Jason nodded and reached out his hand. "Mr. Lambert. I’m glad to meet you. I’m Jason Bolding. We have exchanged emails," he said.

"Welcome to Paris," Antoine Lambert said with a polite smile, shaking Jason’s hand briefly. "Welcome to Le Bijou, 'the jewel' in your language, my favourite restaurant. It’s quiet, calm, and very original." He turned to Leonard who stood watching him. "Monsieur Sullivan, what a surprise, I imagined a younger man, but it seems we’re about the same age. Welcome to Paris."

Leonard shook the man’s hand and thanked him for his invitation. Antoine Lambert pointed at the far end of the room.

"I have lunch here every day. May I invite you to sit down at my table," he said.

"Garçon," he hissed as they passed by the waiter.

Antoine Lambert spoke a few words to the man, too rapid for Jason to understand or even grasp the meaning.

"I learned French at school, but I have never practised the language," he said to Leonard as they followed Lambert to his table.

"My French is not only a little rusty, it has faded away completely over the years," Leonard said drily.

They sat down and, after discussing the menu at some length, they ordered their meals.

"I have ordered an aperitif, vin d’orange, you will like it," Antoine Lambert said.

He leaned back, adjusted his glasses, wiped his full beard, and then looked at Jason and Leonard expectantly.

"Alors, tell me more. I understood the matter was of exceptional urgency," he said.

***
06

Simon arrived at Paris. He led the mare down the cobbled streets that were crowded although night had already fallen. This, Simon knew, meant that the king, Henri I, was currently residing in Paris. Merchants had come to the town in order to sell their goods and buy others, and all of them hoped to make a good bargain. Simon looked around. Many booths and market stalls were still opened and people were bargaining with the merchants. Simon had witnessed this as a boy when he had come to Paris with his father. He felt a twitch in his stomach. Was his father around? Had he come to Paris as well? Should he look out for him and join him? This would be very unwise, Simon admitted to himself. His persecutors would question his father also, either here in Paris or in his hometown. It was best he hid and did not attract attention. It was best to leave Paris again very soon.

Simon stopped and looked at the booths. If he wanted to hide, then he had to change clothes. He had to get rid of the monk’s robe and travel on in disguise. But he had no money and nothing to trade for. So what could he do? Simon stopped short. The abbot’s mare was an object of exchange, a precious horse, worth at least a few silver coins. But where could he trade the mare? Offering it on the official market was far too dangerous. The deal would attract attention. He couldn’t afford being the centre of interest. He had stood in the same place far too long already. Simon walked on.

He pondered. He needed to go to the shady quarters of the town that he once had visited with his father when they had desperately been looking for a cardinal red piece of cloth that a noble woman had ordered. His father had sought out a shady trader and the man had offered him a cardinal's robe, which his father had ultimately bought. It had cost him a few silver coins, but he had told Simon that it was a good deal as he was certain that the lady would pay him in gold. Simon had asked whether it was not a sin to buy a churchman’s robe. His father cited the holy words that Jesus Christ Our Saviour had once said: And if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! Instead of a sword, we could buy a pig and roast it on a pit, his father had said. His father’s wise words had convinced Simon.

Simon reached the shady quarters of Paris. They were less crowded, but a few people were already sneaking about in hope for a good bargain. The streets and lanes would fill later at night when fewer watchmen were around and illegal bargains were less dangerous. Simon had walked down the street only halfway, when a haggard man addressed him.

"Are you looking for something special?" the man whispered, eying the abbot’s well-fed mare. "I can help you," he said in a flattering voice that could not deceive Simon.

Simon saw the greed in the man’s eyes and also his intention to cheat him. The man was in desperate need of money or something he could trade it in for. Simon knew that the dealers waited patiently for their victim to seek them out. They all cheated people, but they did not rob them from their treasures. Simon shook his head and moved on, ignoring the man who followed him and kept talking to him. After a few steps, the man stopped. Simon guessed that he had entered another man’s bargain territory. He walked down the street slowly, watching the sides of the streets out of the corner of his eye. All remained quiet, but he knew that everybody had taken notice of him and his intention to sell a stolen horse. It was as clear as day to everybody, Simon knew, that a simple monk would never call a fine horse his own. He turned around at the end of the street and walked it up again. If any of the dealers were interested in the deal, then he would see them now furtively lurking in the shadows. He saw a stout man with a devilish grin who stood in a doorway eying him. Simon moved on and saw a shady man in a black cloak, leaning against a wall and fixing his eyes on him. Simon glanced at him briefly, and then moved on. Nobody else showed any interest in him.

He had almost reached the place where the first man had addressed him. Simon was thinking. Three men only were interested in the deal, which did not really surprise him. Buying the precious horse was a risk, and selling it even more so, unless the men could rely on a safe underground network. If the stolen mare was found by its righteous owner, then the dealer could be easily found. Simon doubted that the man who had first addressed him had an underground network that helped him sell off the mare in secrecy. He also disliked the stout man with the devilish grin. Simon came to a decision. He turned his eyes to the man in the black cloak and quickly approached him. The man straightened promptly. They exchanged a look, and then the man made a gesture with his hand and invited Simon to follow him. He led him down a deserted alley and then they entered a shady back yard. The man called out a command and a torch was brought by a young man. The dealer examined the horse carefully.

"Four silver coins," he said finally. "Or copper coins worth the same, if you prefer."

"Copper," Simon said.

The man cast him a knowing look. "Left the cloister?" he asked, stating the obvious.

Simon did not reply.

"In need of new clothes, a robe and a cap?" the man asked, patting the horse’s neck.

"Yes," Simon said, giving a nod.

"I’ll see to it," the man replied. He turned away and spoke to the youth.

The young man handed the torch to the dealer and then left the back yard quickly.

"I’ll offset it against the amount for the horse," the dealer said to Simon. "He’ll be back in short. You can change clothes here. I’ll dispose of the monk’s robe. Don’t bother."

They waited until the young man returned with a pile of clothes, garments, a robe, a cap, and leather shoes, all shabby and worn. Simon took the parchment from the saddlebag and then started to change clothes. The dealer went inside and the young man led the abbot’s mare away. Finally, the dealer returned with a small leather bag on a cord. He opened it, took the copper coins out, showed them to Simon and counted them. The man looked up and Simon gave a nod. The dealer put the coins back into the bag and handed it to Simon. He gave him a piercing look.

"The horse is precious. They'll look for it, but they will not find it," he said. "Too many men have seen you and the horse. Better leave while it is yet time."

Simon modded. The dealer turned away and entered the house. Simon stood for an instant, glancing around in the dark yard. Then he pushed up his upper robe and fastened the cord with the bag around his waist. His upper robe had a false pocket where he could reach in and seize the bag, which of course he would never do in public. He left the back yard and hurried down the lane in the opposite direction of where they had come from. Simon felt driven. He was in a desperate hurry. He needed to find a safe place or shelter where he could figure out where to go in the dead of the night.

He sat down on a door sill in an empty lane and pulled cheese and bread from the bag that he had stolen from the monks. He chewed on the stale bread and pondered on what to do next when suddenly yells interrupted his thoughts. He startled and his muscles tensed, but he relaxed when he heard more yells that were followed by cheerful laughter. Simon recognized the sounds. A spectacle. A fair was not uncommon in spring. Following an impulse, Simon changed his plans. It was far too dangerous to travel by foot at night and without company. He would only be the target of rascals.

He rose to his feet. Better join the crowd and hide among the people, he told himself as he walked up the lane. He went in the direction of the yells and the laughter and soon found the market place that was illuminated by torches. A few men, dressed in colourful clothes, juggled with balls and rings on a primitive stage. The crowd watched the men and cheered on them. Simon joined the people and watched the spectacle. He was engrossed and for some time he forgot about the monks and the cloister and the predicament he was in. Reality, however, caught up with him.

The jugglers had just left the wooden stage when the people fell silent and the atmosphere on the place grew tense. Simon turned his head and winced at the sight of four Benedictine monks, Black Monks, on horseback who had entered the place. Their black hoods hid their faces, but Simon had no doubt that they had come from St. Denis. He recognized the abbot’s black stallion that one of the men was riding. The other three horses were the abbey’s workhorses. The black monks had come and were after him.

The crowd parted. The people shied away from the riders as a menacing aura emanated from them. Silence hung over the place as the Black Monks moved on slowly. Simon hid behind a wooden pole, which he was aware did not suffice to hide him from the men's sight. They had found out about the missing horse and had waited for the group to return from their search in the forest. And then the abbot had chosen four men and had sent them after him. The stout man on the stallion was not the abbot. Brother Nicholas, Simon realized. Brother Nicholas was the only stout man in the cloister. The other monks were all thin and haggard men.

The riders crossed the place. Simon retreated farther. He hid behind a tall man and did not move. Were they able to spot him in the crowd and in the dim light? Simon watched the riders out of the corner of his eye. The Black Monks crossed the market place slowly. They rode one after the other, a sinister alliance, scary and angst-inducing. They finally left the market place and entered an alley. They disappeared and left an aura of danger and menace. The people gathered again, but many left soon because the buoyant spirit was gone. Only a small group remained in the place and called out for the jugglers who reluctantly resumed their game. Simon left the place also.

He sat down on a door sill again and looked down the deserted lane. It was late at night and it had gotten chilly. Simon was scared. Why had the abbot sent four men? Would not have one or two men sufficed to track him down and seize him? He leaned back against the wooden door and looked up at the nightly sky. The light of the moon was creepy and cold. What was their intention? What did the men want? Seize the parchment and hide it again? Simon shuddered at his next thought. Did they want the end of the world to come about? He lowered his eyes. Were these men in league with the devil?

***
07

Antoine Lambert took off his glasses and wiped them. He put them on again and looked between Jason and Leonard sceptically.

"This all sounds very weird to me, messieurs, and usually I’d shrug it off, but you came all the way from London to Paris just in order to talk with me. I can offer you to do some research. In fact, I already have an idea where to start with. And more so, I already have a general idea where my research will lead me to," he said. He looked between them. "I've studied church history for many decades. In fact, I can say I know it all inside out. Must you go back to London at once? If not so, we could meet again in the evening and I will report my results to you."

Jason and Leonard exchanged a look.

"I brought my bag," Leonard said.

"We have already thought of staying in Paris for the night," Jason added. "Is there a hotel you can recommend, Mr. Lambert?"

"Not a hotel, but guestrooms. I will ask a good friend of mine. She's in fact my fiancée of twenty years," Lambert said with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. "I'll go and call her."

He rose from his chair, approached the counter and spoke to the man behind it. The man handed him a telephone. Lambert spoke rapidly to someone, tapping his fingers impatiently on the counter.

"Naturellement, Geraldine, naturellement," he cried exaltedly. The woman apparently answered as Lambert listened attentively for  a minute. "Eh bien non!" he cried into the receiver and abruptly hung up the phone. He hissed at the waiter and snipped his fingers when the man did not turn to him instantly.

"I’m not sure whether it is the language or whether it is him, but I’m under the impression that Mr. Lambert is a very impatient man," Jason said.

"No wonder the woman did not marry him," Leonard said drily.

Jason snickered in response.

"Frenchmen," Leonard said simply.

They left the restaurant together. Antoine Lambert had paid the bill. He gave them a piece of paper with his fiancée’s address and told them that the woman was awaiting them.

"Everything is arranged, messieurs," he said, and then he waved for a taxi and without one more word or look jumped into it.

Jason and Leonard watched the taxi drive around a corner. Leonard rolled his eyes whereas Jason snickered again.

They arrived at Madame Geraldine Lefèvre’s urban house an hour later. Like Lambert had said, the woman was already waiting for them. She was in her forties, slim, well-groomed, manicured and elegantly dressed. She welcomed them with an amiable smile and she spoke very good English. Geraldine Lefèvre led them into her house and showed them to their rooms, each one spacious, elaborately furnished and decorated. Each room had a separate bathroom. Leonard and Jason were somewhat stunned. The elegant woman asked if they wanted coffee after they had refreshed. They accepted the offer and half an hour later she led them to a parlour. The windows were high, the furniture was white and the decorations were of rose and green colour. The sun was shining into the room.

"I understood you will stay in Paris for only one day and one night," Madame Lefèvre said after graciously taking a sip of coffee. "You must not miss a tour through the city. I would take you around myself, but I have matters to attend to. But if you like, messieurs, I will arrange a tour for you."

"We don’t want to cause you inconveniences," Leonard replied.

"Je vous en prie," Madame Lefèvre said. "No trouble at all, messieurs."

She reached out her hand and seized her cell phone from a side table, typed a number and then spoke exaltedly into the receiver. She closed her phone and smiled amiably at Jason and Leonard.

"My niece Amélie will be here in short and take you around in her car. Antoine will be here at seven and we will have dinner at eight," she said.

Her niece arrived twenty minutes later. The girl was in her early twenties and looked curiously between the two men. They left the urban villa and climbed into Amélie’s car, and then the girl drove them to the major places of interest. She drove rapidly, ignoring traffic signs, and she incessantly spoke to them. She tried to impress them with her tour guide qualities and more so with her American accent. She had been in Boston for a year as an exchange student. Jason bought her a chocolate heart in a patisserie after they had finished the tour. Amélie kissed Jason on the cheeks. Waving her hand, she started the car and drove away. Leonard and Jason climbed the entrance stairs of the urban villa.

"Love is all that matters. Just a cliché, but they do the best to sustain it. Frenchmen," Leonard said. He gave Jason a sideways look. "A chocolate heart. One more week and you'll be like them. It seems you’re in fact sensitive to the influences of foreign cultures."

Jason gave a laugh and then rang the bell. Geraldine let them in. Antoine Lambert had already arrived. He was having a coffee in the parlour.

"Bonsoir, messieurs. Did you enjoy your tour? Did you like Paris?" Lambert asked, rising from his chair.

He invited them to sit down and after a few minutes of small talk he took a sheet of paper out of a briefcase that he had placed on a chair.

"I've summarized for you what I have found out," he said. "Not much, but it could be important to you, although I cannot judge on this." He cleared his throat. "Like I mentioned in that footnote years ago, the abbot wrote a letter to the king and informed him of having banned four men from the cloister. He claimed that they were in league with the devil and accused them of being at fault for the death of a young man. I don’t know what exactly happened and neither can I say why he claimed they were in league with the devil, but I suspect that they had committed a deed that in the eyes of the abbot was a terrible sin. I suspect they broke the Ten Commandments. The abbot claimed the four men were at fault of the death of a man, so he most likely accused them of having murdered the man or at least of having approved of his death." Lambert looked up. "I think this is more or less what you have already guessed from the abbot’s letter," he said.

Jason and Leonard nodded. Lambert continued.

"I remembered something that I once read about: Bernhard’s Abbey in Hemiksem, a town south of Antwerp, Belgium. The abbey was a Cistercian convent. I did some research and I actually found an interesting detail in a document that was preserved, a letter from a nobleman to his brother. He advised him to not send his third son to St. Bernhard’s Abbey as he had news that the cloister had admitted four villains, former Black Monks, who had fled their convent near Paris. He did not go into details as to what was the crime they had committed, but he advised his brother to decide against St. Bernhard’s Abbey as this was not a holy place anymore."

Lambert looked up.

"I think this is an obvious connection," he said. "In 1836 the remaining monks bought the empty premises of Bornem Abbey and leaving Hemiksem for good, re-settled it as the still-existent St. Bernhard’s Abbey in Bornem, a town south of Antwerp. I’m certain they have also resettled the monastic library and the archive. There you can find out more about the four men and their possible victim," he said.

"This is far more than what we had expected, Mr. Lambert," Leonard said. "You helped us a lot. My honest thanks for it."

Antoine Lambert smiled briefly, and then put the sheet of paper back into his briefcase.

"I’m afraid I cannot help you more, but although I know church history inside out, I have not researched on such details, of course. I was interested more in the big picture, the political influences the church had and, naturellement, their relations with the meritocracy et cetera," he said.

"Certainly," Leonard replied politely.

"We could visit the abbey on our way back to London. It wouldn’t be much of a detour," Jason said.

"This is exactly what I was going to suggest," Antoine Lambert said.

He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Madame Lefèvre looked into the room and smiled amiably at the men.

"Dinner will be served in about fifteen minutes. What about an aperitif, messieurs?" she asked.

"Bonne idée, ma chérie," Antoine Lambert replied.

He rose to his feet and made an inviting gesture with his hand. Leonard and Jason stood also and Madame Lefèvre led them to the dining-room. They had an exquisite four-course meal.

Jason and Leonard parted the following morning. Antoine Lambert had come to say goodbye. Geraldine Lefèvre stood by the window of the parlour and watched Jason and Leonard climb into their car. She turned to Lambert who was sitting in a chair, raised her eyebrows and gave him a questioning look. Lambert gave a brief nod in return. Geraldine seized her cell phone from the side table, typed a number and spoke briefly to someone.

Twenty minutes later, a black Bugatti Veyron left Paris. The driver passed by Saint-Denis and drove in the direction of Antwerp, Belgium.

***
08

Simon was thinking. What could he do? A hasty escape, a panic-stricken flight would only play into the monk's hands. Four roads led out of town, one in each cardinal direction. Four roads and four monks. Simon was sure they were watching the town’s exits. He would never make it to England. He would never find the man Jason within only one week, but he could not hide in Paris for a long time either. A thought came to his mind. What if he returned to Saint-Denis, confided to the abbot and repented his sins? Would the man forgive him and save him from the hands of the scoundrels?

Simon rose to his feet and moved on. The alleys were meanwhile deserted. Finally, he found what he had been looking for, a small chapel at the end of a lane. The door was unlocked and Simon sneaked in. A few candles illuminated the altar and the heavy smell of incense filled the air. Simon made the sign of the cross and knelt down in front of the altar. He folded his hands and lowered his eyes. He prayed and meditated like he had learned it in the cloister. He was in silent communication with the Lord.

Finally, Simon asked the Lord’s forgiveness, rose to his feet and retreated from the altar. He lay down on the stone floor in a dark section of the chapel and briefly touched the leather bag that was fastened with a cord to his waist. He touched his upper arm and sensed the parchment against his skin. He had pushed it far up the sleeve of his robe. Simon closed his eyes. He was an outcast, a man on the run, but he was also a man with good intentions. He had stolen the parchment. He had committed a sin. But if the Lord held a protecting hand over him, then, Simon was certain, he would find a way to escape unscathed. Simon drifted to sleep.

He awoke in the morning at the noise of the door. Simon blinked. A churchman bowed down to him and eyed him suspiciously.

"Good morning, Father," Simon said in a guilty voice.

The man did not respond. He just looked at Simon grimly and then he reached out his hand. His fingers were crooked by the gout, the nails were long and yellow. Simon jumped to his feet and retreated from the man who suddenly showed an ugly grin. Simon made another step back, and then turned around and ran from the chapel. He hastened down the lanes until he reached the market place and saw the merchant’s booths and stalls.

A thought came to his mind, a risky plan. Simon blushed at his own idea. It would be a dreadful deed and an awful sin, but it could save him from the scoundrels. The plan would work out if he hid in the crowd and left the town with the merchants. All he needed was a perfect disguise. Simon eyed the booths and stalls again, and then he approached one and quickly bought a woman's cloak and hood. He left the market place and entered a back yard. He had just put on the clothes when a female voice addressed him.

"You can’t hoodwink anyone with this," a woman said mockingly.

Simon turned around and gazed at her. The woman approached him, reached out her hand and touched his cheek lightly. Simon’s muscles tensed. The woman's dark hair wasn’t braided nor covered by a bonnet. It hung loose and down to her buttocks. She wore a thin white robe that looked like an undergarment. A whore, Simon realized. He made a step back.

"Whoever you want to cheat with your disguise, it won’t work out, believe me," the woman said with a smile.

She reached out her hand again, touched his face and moved her index finger down his cheek and across his chin. Simon realized what she wanted to say. His beard. He had not shaved in two days. The woman was right. Everybody would see through him in an instant.

"I could turn you into a woman," the woman said with an ambiguous smile. "Whoever you want to cheat, you must not tell me. It’s not my business. But if you want to cheat, then do it right. I can help you if you can pay me, that is."

She pursed her lips. Simon’s heart beat wildly. The woman smiled again.

"Come, dear," she purred. "I’ll help you with it. Two copper coins for my efforts. "

Simon gave a nod and followed her to a door that led to a single room in the rear house. The woman pointed at his cloak. He took it off and handed it to her. The woman smiled and pointed at a wooden stool. Simon sat down and looked at her.

"The hood," she said.

Simon took it off and also the cap that he was wearing under it. The woman gave a laugh at the sight of his tonsure.

"So you’re in double-disguise, my dear?" she asked, casting him a meaningful look.

Simon did not respond. He could not help but gaze at the woman. Her undergarment revealed more than it veiled. Simon looked up and fixed his eyes on her face, but her long hair distracted him largely.

"So innocent," the woman purred, bowing down to him.

Her breasts were right in front of his eyes and Simon could not help but stare at them. Finally, he closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. He would withstand the temptation. He would not fall for the sin.

"All right," the woman said curtly. "I’ll shave your face and I’ll darken your eyebrows. I have a queue of chestnut brown hair that I will sew to your hood. Your eyebrows ought to fit to it. Your cloak is too short. Everybody will look down and see your big feet that are definitely those of a man. I’ll go and trade your cloak for one that fits you better. Two copper coins for my efforts and one for the queue of hair. Can you afford it?"

Simon gave a nod. "I’ll pay you when you have done all that you have offered," he said.

"One coin in advance," she said swiftly, narrowing her eyes and casting him a dark look.

Simon shook his head. "The first after you have shaved my face and dyed my eyebrows, the second when I hold the hood with the queue of hair in my hands, and the third when I have the new cloak and find that it fits," he said brusquely.

The woman raised an eyebrow. "You have not always been a man of the church, have you?" she asked.

"My father is a merchant," Simon said curtly.

The woman gave a nod and smiled briefly. She turned to a chest, seized a cloth and threw it at Simon. Then she poured water in a bowl and took a knife from a table.

"Don’t move," she said harshly. "I'm going to shave your face."

An hour later, Simon had turned into a woman. He was sceptical, but the woman assured him that the disguise would do, as long as he refrained from talking to someone and didn’t look others too long in the eyes. Simon handed her the final copper coin, and then left quickly.

The woman looked after him. "Poor guy," she said sadly. "So sweet and innocent." She hesitated for a second, but then she straightened and walked up the lane. She knocked at a door. It opened slightly and someone talked to her from inside.

"He ran into my arms," the woman said. "I was about to set out and seek for him when he entered my back yard. There was no need to persuade him. The same idea had already occurred to him."

And then she described in detail how Simon looked and in which direction he had gone. The door opened more and a Black Monk looked out. His face was hidden by his hood. He handed the woman a silver coin that she seized with a trembling hand. The monk closed the door and the woman turned away.

"So sweet and innocent. Forgive me, my dear, but I must make a living," she said as she walked down the lane.

***
09

"We’re getting closer to our goal," Leonard said contentedly as they joined L’Autoroute du Nord. "No bad dreams last night, Jason?" he asked with a sideways glance.

"No," Jason replied. "No dream, no voice, absolutely nothing. I slept like a baby."

Leonard gave a laugh. "My bed was very comfortable. The house is beautiful and the lady is amiable. I wonder what she sees in Lambert."

"Love moves in mysterious ways," Jason said lightly.

"Isn’t it ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways’?" Leonard asked.

"God is love," Jason replied in a meaningful voice and then snickered.

Leonard shook his head and left it at this. A few minutes passed before he spoke again.

"Can I use your cell phone, Jason? I’d like to inform Gary on our findings and plan," he said.

"Sure," Jason replied and pointed at the cell phone holder. "You need to type the international access code and then Gary’s number."

Leonard took the cell phone. Gary answered his call. Leonard told him briefly of their day in Paris and in more detail of what Antoine Lambert had said.

"Sure," Leonard said in a confused voice. He turned his head to Jason. "What’s your number, Jason? Gary wants to call back."

Jason told him his number and Leonard spoke to Gary again. Then he ended the call and placed the phone back in the holder.

"Is anything wrong?" Jason asked when Leonard remained silent.

"I don’t know. Gary sounded strange, flustered, downright agitated. I couldn’t make anything of his talk. He’ll call back later," Leonard replied.

They drove on for a while. A black Bugatti Veyron overtook on the left.

"A Bugatti," Jason exclaimed.

"Nice car," Leonard replied absently.

Jason glanced at him. "How about a brief stop, Leonard?" he asked.

"Yes," Leonard said with a nod.

Jason drove up the drive of a motorway restaurant.

"Isn’t it difficult to drive on the right?" Leonard asked him.

"Not so much," Jason said. "I’m having no difficulties, although I’m glad we didn’t drive back last night. I was really tired."

Leonard just gave a nod. Jason stopped the car and turned to Leonard.

"What' wrong?" he asked with a concerned look.

"I can't say exactly. Gary was agitated, confused and worried," Leonard replied. "He said he needed to check on something. I must have said something that made him nervous."

"Would you like to call him again?" Jason asked.

"Let’s have a coffee and eat something first," Leonard suggested. "Then I'll call him again."

They climbed out of the car and entered the restaurant. They went to the counter and ordered coffee and snacks. Jason pulled his purse from a pocket.

"I have Euros left over from a trip to Spain," he said as he placed a few coins on the counter.

Leonard didn’t reply. He just took a cup of coffee and a plate with a muffin. Jason paid and then they sat down at a table. They ate quietly and they both winced when Jason’s cell phone started to ring. Jason pulled it out of a pocket and answered the call.

"Gary," he said. He handed the phone to Leonard.

Leonard listened for a while. "All right, Gary. I’ll talk to Jason," he finally said in a stifled voice.

He ended the call and handed Jason the cell phone. Jason gave him a questioning look.

"Bad news," Leonard said. "Lambert told us that the four monks fled to St. Bernhard’s Abbey in Hemiksem, south of Antwerp. Gary was confused. He has an excellent memory, but he wanted to double-check and he consulted his books. St. Bernhard’s Abbey was founded in 1243, long after the four monks fled St. Denis. Antoine Lambert is a renowned church historian. He must have known of this fact."

"Why did he send us to Antwerp then?" Jason asked. "We would have found out about the truth in just a few hours. I can't see why he wants to come across as a liar."

Leonard shrugged. They sat silently for a while.

"What are we going to do now?" Jason asked finally.

"Drive back to London?" Leonard asked back.

"I don't grasp it," Jason said in an angry voice. "Did he want to get rid of us? But why did he invite us to stay for the night? Why did he  invite us to an exquisite dinner? He could have written a simple reply to my email: I’m afraid I cannot help you. I don’t see the point, Leonard."

Leonard leaned back in his chair and looked at Jason. "There’s more to it. I have a feeling we've touched on something dark, but so far we have only scratched on the surface. It was enough, however, to cause a disturbance. I fear we sleepwalked into something that we have not the faintest idea of."

"Sleepwalked..." Jason said. He startled, then turned his head and glanced around in the room. His look was haunted.

"What’s wrong, Jason?" Leonard asked, straightening in his chair.

"Did you hear it?" Jason asked, turning back to Leonard.

"What?" Leonard asked in confusion.

"The call. There is yet time! I heard his voice, distinct and clear," Jason said, glancing around once more.

"No," Leonard replied. His look was serious. "Jason, we need to take steps. We must finally find out what's going on. We must find out what we've gotten involved in."

"I thought this was exactly what we were trying," Jason said with a helpless gesture of his hand.

Leonard looked at Jason thoughtfully."Lambert sent us to the wrong place and he knew he did," he said. "We have touched on something, Jason. Lambert tried to stop our research."

"But where do we need to go then?" Jason asked.
 
"Think of the footnote in his book," Leonard said. "What does it say?"

"The abbot of St. Denis sent a letter to the king, complaining about four men who were in league with the devil and were responsible for the death of a young man," Jason replied.

"St. Denis," Leonard said.

They exchanged a look. Jason nodded.

"Yes, of course," he said. "Clear as day. Why didn't we see it earlier?"

They returned to their car and drove on. Jason turned off the motorway and followed the instructions of his navigation system. They drove back south to Saint-Denis.

***
10

Simon moved through the streets. He tried to walk like a woman and he forced himself to walk slowly and make shorter steps. Nobody spoke to him, nobody paid attention, but Simon was feeling insecure. He was certain that all eyes rested on him and that everybody saw through his disguise and his plan.

He stopped at some distance of the town’s northern exit and watched the people enter the town or leave it. The watchmen didn’t pay much attention and looked disinterestedly at the people. The watchmen, however, were not the men who Simon feared most. He was afraid of the four monks. Where had they hidden? Simon was certain they had not yet left Paris. They were lurking somewhere, watching out for him in order to get him. Could he really pass the exit without being detected? Simon remained standing for another while until a man called out to him and made an obscene gesture with his hand. Simon ignored him and finally walked on. He couldn’t wait any longer, else he would attract attention.

He saw a group of women who were carrying empty baskets, peasant women who had sold their eggs on the market. The women were walking towards the northern exit. Simon saw his chance and followed them swiftly. He caught up and walked close behind them. Two of them glanced back, but Simon lowered his eyes and they lost interest in him. They approached the watchmen. Simon looked aside when they passed by the guards, but the men had no interest in the peasant women. They had passed the exit in less than a minute. Simon could barely believe he had made it.

He dropped back a little, but moved on at a steady pace as if he were familiar with the road. He didn’t see the four Black Monks who crossed the exit by foot, leading their horses on the reins. A ragged looking man accompanied them. The monks’ henchman hurried to catch up with Simon, while the four monks dropped back and followed them slowly. The peasant women and many more people, one after the other, left the road. The road was almost empty after an hour and only few people continued walking farther north. Simon glanced back and saw only a haggard peasant with an empty sack on his shoulder. Simon relaxed, albeit only a little. He had not yet made it, but if he walked on at a steady pace, he would reach St. Denis in the afternoon. His safe escape was only a matter of hours.

Another hour passed. The road was meanwhile empty. Simon glanced back once more. The haggard peasant with the sack had finally left the road also. Simon let out a joy of relief. No one was after him, no one was coming his way. It seemed that God had heard his prayers and had granted him a lucky escape. Simon felt tempted to rest, but he moved on instead. Better not waste time. He wanted to reach the abbey and speak to the abbot. He was certain that the pious man would forgive him his sins and punish the four men who were after the parchment. Simon was not aware that he indulged in wishful thinking and that he whitewashed the facts and deceived himself. However, reality caught up with him.

Simon suddenly heard footsteps. Someone was approaching him. He looked back and saw the haggard peasant running towards him with the sack in his hands. His face was grim and his look determined. Simon looked at him in confusion. Had the man not left the road a short while ago? Where did he come from now and why did he run towards him? The truth hit Simon like a bolt from the blue. The four monks had sent the man after him. The man had followed him all the way from Paris. They had sent a henchman to do the dirty work outside of town where nobody witnessed it and nobody paid attention. The monks had spotted him. They had recognized him despite his disguise. His plan had not worked out. It had been far too simple.

Adrenaline swept through Simon’s body. He turned around and started to run, panic-stricken and his heart beating wildly. His persecutor, however, was faster. The haggard man reached Simon, seized him and knocked him down. Simon struggled and fought, but the man was strong and, more so, he was determined to earn the money that the monks had offered to him. The brief fight was over quickly. The man stuffed a piece of cloth in Simon’s mouth, pulled the sack over his head, and then fastened a rope around his wrists and his ankles. Simon tossed and turned, but his efforts were useless. And then he heard the galloping of horses. The Black Monks were coming. Simon let out a muffled cry.  

The horses stopped. Simon lay still. Two hands seized him and dragged him up. Simon didn’t react. He was paralysed with shock. Two men lifted him up and placed him on the back of a horse. Everything happened in just an instant and none of the monks spoke a word. A man climbed the horse and sat behind him. The horse moved and then trotted off. The other horses followed. Some time passed and then Simon heard voices of men, women, and children. He realized that they were riding back to Paris. Suddenly, however, the horse turned left and the voices faded. The monks had left the main road to Paris.

Finally, the horse stopped. Simon heard a knock at a door. A voice from inside asked a question in Latin. One of the Black Monks answered. Simon shuddered when he recognized Brother Nicholas’ voice. He heard a noise. A heavy wooden gate was opened. The horse moved again and they passed the gate. A man pulled Simon from the horse, another grabbed his ankles, and then they carried him away. A muffled sound escaped Simon’s mouth and one of the men knocked him on the head in response. They carried him farther and descended stairs, and then they stopped and dropped him to the floor. A door was opened. A man seized him again and dragged him along, but finally he let him go. Simon was lying on the stone floor. He listened and heard the shuffling of feet.

Suddenly, he was dragged up again. One man held him tightly, while the other ripped the woman’s cloak off his body and then thoroughly searched his clothes. The man cut the leather bag with the copper coins from the rope around Simon’s waist and pulled the old parchment from the sleeve of his robe. And then the men dropped him to the floor and left the room. The door was closed and locked. Simon lay still for a minute, paralysed with shock, but then his emotions overwhelmed him. He let out a muffled cry and salty tears filled his eyes.

Simon realized the naked truth. They had left him here in order to die.


11

It was about noon when Leonard and Jason arrived at Saint-Denis, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris. Jason’s navigation system led them to the Basilica of St. Denis. Jason parked the car. They climbed out and walked the short distance to the church. They stopped and looked at the impressive cathedral.

"I have no idea how we can dig here deep in the past," Jason said.

"Let’s visit the cathedral," Leonard replied. "Perhaps an idea occurs to us."

They entered the building, stopped for an instant and then slowly walked down the central aisle like others did also, tourists most likely.

"Truly impressive," Leonard said in a low voice. "Gothic, I think. Look at this beautiful window."

They walked around and then entered the nave aisle, the burial site of many French kings.

"Look," Leonard said. "King Henri IV, 1008 to 1060. The abbot wrote the letter to him."

They stood and looked at the memorial.

"His nephew was Philip the Conqueror," a man said.

Leonard and Jason turned to him. The man was dressed in a crumpled suit, had well-groomed white hair, and held a thick paperback in his hands. He smiled at them, showing big and slightly yellowed teeth.

"Barry Dexter," he introduced himself. "I’m from Texas. I heard you talking. On a round trip through Europe also?" he asked.

Leonard smiled politely and Jason suppressed a snicker.

"Just visiting Paris and the surroundings," Leonard said in a distinguished voice. "We’re from London."

"I see," Barry said cheerfully. "Just a day trip. That’s fine. I’m here with a group. We’re on a magical mystery tour. That’s how they call it. We’re visiting places with a past. My wife is totally intrigued by murder mysteries. Stuff like that, you know."

An elder woman with a sunhat joined them. She was dressed in an oversized white blouse and black trousers. Her face was tanned, her hair dyed blonde, and her lips were painted pink. Leonard and Jason gazed at her.

"My wife Sally," Barry introduced her.

Sally opened her painted lips and showed a broad smile. She had overheard her husband’s last words. "Yes, I’m totally interested in mysteries. Mysteries of the past intrigue me. Europe has a past, hasn’t it, my dear," she said in an exalted manner.

"Sure," Barry said. "St. Denis, for instance. Did you know that four Benedictine monks from St. Denis killed a man some eight hundred or so years ago?"

"Black Monks," Sally said. "Monks in long black robes and with hoods, you know."

"A thousand years ago, according to what I've heard," Leonard said.

"Or so," Barry replied. "The remains of the poor murdered man have never been found."

"I could imagine he's walking the cathedral at night," Sally said cheerfully.

"You've watched too many mystery shows," Barry teased her.

"How did you learn of it, Mr. Dexter?" Jason asked eagerly.

"I'm Barry," the man said with a smile. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a leaflet. "Our tour leaflet," he said. "The major places of interest and their secrets are listed here."

Sally took it from his hand and opened it. She was interrupted by a pale man in his thirties.

"Barry, Sally. The bus will be leaving in a minute," he said.

"Oh my god," Sally exclaimed.

Barry and Sally wished them goodbye and a nice stay and then hurried down the aisle. Jason stopped the tour guide man and asked him about the tour. The man smiled in response to his question.

"I actually made up the tour. They like it. It’s so mysterious, so creepy, you know. There are better places than St. Denis, but I needed a stop in the morning. We’re going to London now. I booked a ferry passage, but I only got one in the afternoon. I had to fill their morning," he said with a smile.

"What’s it about St. Denis? How did you learn of the story?" Leonard asked.

The smile on the man’s face disappeared. "I studied church history, but I quit," he said shortly.

"Sorry," Jason said. "We don’t mean to bother you. But we’re desperately trying to get more information on this particular story. For personal reasons, but nonetheless important ones."

The man looked at his watch. "Okay, five more minutes," he said. "I came across this story during my studies. A footnote in a book referred to it. In the year 1012, the abbot of St. Denis wrote a letter to the king and complained about four monks being in league with the devil. He accused them of being responsible for a young man’s death and in absentia banned the four monks from the cloister. This brief recount somewhat intrigued me. I have a foible for mysteries myself. I started to research, hoping to find something interesting for my thesis. I found something, but I was put under pressure. I signed a document that my thesis supervisor had set up. It says I must never publish nor discuss my finding. It shook me to the core and I quit and became a tour guide instead."

He looked between Leonard and Jason. Pain and hate showed in his eyes.

"But I don’t give a damn," he spat out the words. "I'll tell you the story. One of the four monks, son of a nobleman, later confided to his father. I found the letter, a very old manuscript, but well preserved. He told his father that a young monk fled the cloister after he had stolen a parchment from the abbey. The parchment contained a prophecy and the prophecy announced the end of the world to come about on the 17th of May 1012. The four monks had hid the prophecy from the abbot, the king, and the public. They pursued the young monk and they must have killed him or let him die. The man at least wrote to his father that he had broken the Fifth Commandment. They were all mistaken, however. The end of the world did not come about on the 17th of May 1012. Antoine Lambert, my thesis supervisor, put me under pressure. I suspected he wanted to publish the finding himself. He was a renowned historian, famous and respected in his field, but his reputation suffered over the years. He has meanwhile left university."

The man looked at his watch. "I must go," he said. "Goodbye, gentlemen."

He turned around and walked down the aisle. Jason hurried after him.

"Where is this manuscript now?" he asked.

"In the Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs," the man replied, and then fastened his steps.

Jason went back and joined Leonard who looked after the man in almost shock.

"Good Lord," he said under his breath. "What have we gotten into?"

"Let’s go and have a coffee somewhere. I need to calm down," Jason said harshly.

Leonard gave a nod. They left the cathedral and looked for a quiet café. They found one, sat down at a table and ordered croissants and coffee.

"What a coincidence. If we had not met that tour guide...," Leonard said, eying his croissant suspiciously.

"A minor coincidence," Jason said sarcastically. "I mean compared to the fact that the murdered man is contacting me in my sleep."

"Quite true," Leonard replied. He took a bite of the croissant.

They sat silently for a while. Jason gazed into nowhere. His face showed utter distress.

"I still don’t understand why Lambert lied to us," he said finally. "Why did he tell us that crap? Why did he not just say he has not found out anything and cannot help us?"

"I’m pondering on this also," Leonard replied. "We have not yet found the key fact."

"To sum it up," Jason started. "The parchment contained a prophecy that not fulfilled. For whatever reason, the four monks tried to keep the prophecy a secret. They killed the young man who had stolen the parchment."

"He most likely stumbled over it," Leonard said.

"Why did he flee the cloister?" Jason asked.

"To stop the announced event?" Leonard asked back.

"It would make sense, provided he found the parchment prior to the announced date of the end of the world," Jason replied. He straightened in his chair. "He said in my dream that he was mistaken. He said it was the 18th of May."

Leonard nodded thoughtfully. "He lived long enough to witness that the prophecy did not fulfil," he said.

Jason fidgeted in his chair. He leaned forward and looked at Leonard intently. "He said it was up to me now. Why? Did he think…oh my God! There is yet time! That's what he called out to me."

"Goodness," Leonard said under his breath. "He thought the prophecy would fulfil anyway and he had just misinterpreted the date. The announced year was not the year 1012. Is it 2012?  The 17th of May is…when, Jason?"

Jason looked at Leonard in shock, but then seized his cell phone and checked the calendar. "On Thursday," he said in a hollow voice, and then started to laugh hysterically. "Ascension Day," he said. Jason’s laughter faded, and he slumped in his chair."I finally get it. There is yet time. Three more days," he said in a toneless voice. "Heaven, what am I supposed to do?"

"We need to see this manuscript," Leonard said. "We must see it whatever the cost. I will call Gary if necessary. He has connections. We’ll find a way. Where is this priory, Jason? The priory that keeps the manuscript."

"The Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs," Jason said. He opened his cell phone and googled the name. "There are many with the name. Stop. There’s one in the city of Paris," he said.

"I suppose that’s the one the man referred to," Leonard replied. "Not far from St. Denis. Perhaps the four monks fled there."

"It makes sense," Jason said. He googled an article and read the text and then looked up. "King Henri I rebuilt the abbey in 1060 and the Benedictine community became one of the major houses of the Congregation of Cluny in 1079. However, a community of monks had already become established there earlier around the chapel that was built prior to 710. The abbey was destroyed by the Norman invaders in the late 900s," he summarized the text.

"I could imagine that the monks have never entirely given up the site. A ruin though, an almost deserted and forgotten place, until Henri I rebuilt it. A Benedictine site that could well have admitted the four monks who had been banned from St. Denis," Leonard said thoughtfully. "Think of the letter the man found in the Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. One of the four monks later confided to his father. He told him of the murdered man. The letter was most likely never sent, for whatever reason. The priory kept it. We should find it in the archives."

Jason searched for money in his pockets. "Let’s go, Leonard. There is yet time, but time is getting short," he said. He gave a hysterical laugh, but then regained control and called out to the waitress.

They hurried back to their car. Jason started it and checked his navigation system. A couple of minutes later, they left Saint-Denis.

Jason thought of Antoine Lambert. The man was cunning, deceitful, a bloody liar who ruined other people’s career. Jason found it was high time to stop the traitor. He seized the wheel tighter. His look was grim and determined. The murdered monk had called out for his help and he, Jason Bolding, would answer the call. He was no longer a victim, a man randomly involved in a mysterious game. He was a man with a mission, a man with a goal. He would avenge the murdered monk and he would avenge the miserable tour guide also.

A rush of adrenaline swept through Jason's body as he stepped on the gas.

"Here we go!" he called out. "Saint-Martin-des-Champs, we’re coming."

“Yes, sir,” Leonard said with a faint smile that did not completely hide  his worries.

***
12

Simon was semiconscious. He was cold, his limbs were numb, and his muscles were tensed, but Simon did not pay attention. He felt dizzy and his thoughts were incoherent. The piece of cloth in his mouth had almost choked him. Simon was scared and frightened.  

He had no idea how much time had passed when he heard the door open again. Simon’s muscles stiffened even more when he sensed a hand on his shoulder. Someone turned him on his side and then seized his hands that were fastened on his back. The man cut the rope, and then freed his ankles. Simon did not move. His heart was pounding wildly. What was going on now? The man removed the sack from Simon's head, pulled the piece of cloth from his mouth and removed the hood with the false queue of hair. Simon’s eyelids flickered as he looked up to the figure that bowed over him. He saw a Black Monk, his face hidden by the hood. The man was holding a candle in his hand.

"I didn’t agree with it, Brother Simon," the monk said hastily and in a low voice. "Brother Nicholas put me under pressure. I must leave now with the others, but I will return and free you from your prison. I promise, Brother Simon."

"Brother Philip," Simon whispered as he recognized the voice of the Benedictine monk. .

"Quiet," Brother Philip hissed. "Don’t move, don’t call out for help, else they will find out that I have come here."

"Why, Brother Philip?" Simon asked desperately.

Brother Philip placed his hand on Simon’s forehead. "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," he prayed.

He withdrew his hand. "Forgive me, Brother Simon, but trust in me. I’ll free you as soon as I can."

"Brother Philip," Simon begged.

But the monk rose to his feet and left the room. Simon heard him lock the door. And then he was alone again. Fear took hold of him, but Simon tried to suppress the feeling. He didn't move nor did he call out. He did what Brother Philip had told him. When would the man come back and free him? Why had they locked him up here? Where had they taken him to anyway? Simon pondered on his many questions. Time passed by and the door did not open. Many hours had gone by when Simon finally dared to sit up. He reached out his hand, as the room was in total darkness, but he only grasped at nothing. Simon crawled cautiously across the stone floor until he reached the wall of the room. He leaned against the cold wall, his arms wrapped around his body.

The hours went by, but nothing happened. Simon told himself that he had to be patient. The four monks had probably returned to St. Denis, along with the abbot’s horse and the parchment. Brother Philip had to wait for a chance to leave St. Denis again. It could well take a day or two until the man returned and freed him. A new thought bothered Simon. Would he outlive two days without water? Simon was doubtful, but then he saw a way to outlive the days, a technique he had practiced many times when he had prayed and meditated in the cloister.

A new thought came to his mind. What day was it? Had the time already come? Would the prophecy fulfil? Would the demiurge arise from hell and strike mankind with plagues and evils? Who was the man Jason who could have been able to stop him? The prophecy said that he lived in London, a place that Simon had heard of, but had never seen. Was the man Jason aware of his mission? Was he planning the devil’s defeat? Simon pondered for some time, but then he drifted to sleep. He was dead tired.

When he woke up, Simon found himself still leaning against the cold wall. He was hungry and more so he was thirsty. Simon swallowed. He told himself that he needed to stay calm. Brother Philip had promised to come for his rescue. He shifted his position until he was sitting more comfortably. Then he closed his eyes and concentrated. Simon began his meditation.

He visualized the holy cross, the sign of Jesus Christ Our Saviour. He focused on the image, he spoke to the Lord, and he recited a Latin prayer, silently, again and again. The monotonous repetition of words made him feel light and airy. Simon ignored his body, forgot it entirely, while his mind grew clear and clearer. Time passed by. The words meanwhile came automatically. Simon’s mind climbed higher. He saw the holy cross with his inner eyes. A beautiful, heavenly light surrounded it. Simon felt happy, delighted, and joyous. He felt touched by the Lord, protected and sheltered.

Simon had long lost track of time. He had entered a different level of meditation where neither time nor matter existed or were of any importance. Simon was in silent unison with the Lord. He sensed the heavenly beings around him. Many hours went by, but Simon was not aware of the passing of time. He was in deep meditation. He reached an unknown level of heavenly joy and he wanted to indulge in it. And then the heavenly light got even brighter and Simon’s heart flew out to it.

Simon approached the light, yet stopped for an instant. He looked down and, to his very surprise, saw forests and green fields surrounding a place with buildings. Simon recognized the site: St. Denis. He saw the cloister. Simon looked in astonishment at the buildings. He saw a rider, a Black Monk, riding fast on the abbot’s black stallion. Simon recognized the man. Brother Philip was coming for his rescue. Simon was deeply moved and grateful. Brother Philip had kept his promise. Simon's heart flew out to the man.

But then something attracted his attention. Simon saw a figure in the distance. The man was coming closer. He was approaching him. The man Jason, Simon realized. Jason was also coming for his rescue. And then the truth hit Simon like lightning. Total knowledge filled his mind. He suddenly knew all dates, facts and connections. He had misread the prophecy. The prophecy was to be fulfilled a thousand years in the future. Simon looked back at Brother Philip who spurred his horse in obvious hurry. Then he turned to Jason who meanwhile had joined him.

"What date is it?" Jason asked. "The 18th of May 1012. I was mistaken. So it’s up to you now," Simon replied in a sad and pleading voice. But then he smiled and turned back to the light that drew him closer and closer. He had almost reached it when he looked back to Jason again. "Hear my call. There is yet time!" he called out loudly to him. And then Simon turned away and walked into the light.

Tears filled Brother Philip’s eyes as he crouched beside the dead body.

"Forgive me, Brother Simon," he said in a choked voice. "I wasn’t able to run from them earlier."

He stroked Simon’s forehead. The skin was still warm.

"Why did you not wait for just one more hour?" Brother Philip asked in a broken voice.

An old man stood beside Brother Philip. "We had no idea that you had locked him up here," he said. His voice was shaking.

Brother Philip looked up and met the monk’s eyes. The old man’s eyes were filled with severity. He placed his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and spoke again, but his tone of voice had changed.

"You and your companions broke the Fifth Commandment. Brother Philip, you committed a capital sin. Only Our Lord can release you of it. Confess and do penance, Brother Philip," he said in a stern and cold voice.

Brother Philip’s lips started to tremble. The old man looked at him and made the sign of the cross.

"Rise to your feet, brother, and raise your eyes to Our Lord," he said. "Come, I will show you to the abbot."

"Brother Simon?" Brother Philip asked in a brittle voice.

"Our brother will receive a Christian burial," the old man replied.

Brother Philip rose to his feet. He was shattered and bowed down with grief.

***
13

Jason and Leonard arrived at Saint-Martin-des-Champs and, to their great disappointment, learned that the priory was dissolved. The place was now a museum. They entered it. Jason studied the leaflet they had gotten at the entrance.

"The priory was suppressed in1790 under the new laws of the French Revolution and the buildings were used as a prison. The monastic walls and dormitories were torn down. The surviving structures became the home of the Museum of Arts and Crafts. It opened in 1802," he read. "The refectory is now the library and cannot be visited by the public."

"I think the parchment is in the library," Leonard said. "The man probably had permission to visit it and study the documents when he was a student of church history. Too bad we cannot enter it." He sounded disillusioned.

"Let's walk around a bit and look for a hint. I trust we find something here," Jason said. "We simply must."

Leonard shrugged. "Perhaps you’re right. Lambert at least feared we were able to find out about the secret," he said.

They entered a room, walked along the walls and looked at the displayed items. A door opened suddenly and a middle-aged man in a brown robe entered the room and looked at them.

"Bonjour, messieurs," he said.

"Bonjour," Jason replied, gazing at the monk’s robe as if he spotted a treasure.

"Good afternoon," Leonard said.

"Do you speak English? Can I help you?" the monk asked in English with a French accent, looking between the two men.

"Are you a Benedictine monk?" Jason blurted out

The monk looked at him. "Oui," he replied reluctantly and then turned his eyes to Leonard.

Leonard smiled and gave a nod.

"Well, yes, you can help us," Jason said eagerly. "We’re looking for a manuscript."

"What kind of manuscript?" the monk asked. "The library is not open to the public."

Leonard intervened. "We heard of a manuscript that tells of a certain incident. The document was written sometime after the year 1012, a letter from a nobleman’s son to his father. He confessed a crime and he told his father of the incident."

The monk’s face paled and he looked at them warily. "How did you learn of it? Who told you? Antoine Lambert?" he asked hastily.

Leonard and Jason exchanged a quick glance.

"Yes, we have talked with Mr. Lambert...," Jason started.

The monk interrupted him. "Come," he said. "I’ll take you to the library. This matter must not be discussed in public."

He led them down a narrow corridor and opened a door at its end. They entered a room. It was  filled with bookshelves, desks and chairs. The monk turned to them.

"Alors, tell me more of it," he said, fixing his eyes on them.

Leonard cleared his throat. "Well, it sounds a bit weird," he said. "I’m very much interested in supernatural phenomena. I’m an amateur researcher, though. I read a book about past life regression and one of the stories intrigued me. A man had several dreams that frightened him. He dreamed he was locked up in a dark room. He underwent a past life regression and was told that he had been a Benedictine monk. He had been captured and he died in this room in the year 1012. The story intrigued me and I started to research in the local library. I found Antoine Lambert’s book on church history and stumbled over a footnote that referred to an old manuscript, a letter that the abbot wrote to the French king. The abbot had banned four monks from the cloister as they had been in league with the devil and were responsible for the death of a young man. I was asking myself if I had found a connection to the story in the book about past life regression. I told Jason of my findings...."

"Who?" the monk interrupted. His voice was harsh and his eyes shot nervously between Leonard and Jason.

"He told me. I’m Jason Bolding," Jason said.

"I have not yet introduced myself. Sorry about that. I’m Leonard Sullivan," Leonard said quickly.

The monk did not pay attention to him. His eyes were fixed on Jason. He downright stared at him. "Jason...," he said slowly.

Jason looked back in confusion. "Bolding. Jason Bolding," he said.

The monk smiled a forced smile. "Don’t you think this is all a bit far-fetched?" he asked, turning back to Leonard. His voice was suddenly cold and his look was haughty.

"Perhaps it is," Leonard replied slowly, apparently taken aback at the man's arrogant behaviour. "But like I said, I’m interested in the supernatural. I couldn’t stop my research."

"I’m interested in the stuff also," Jason intervened. "However, I do not research in libraries. I use the internet instead. I found a short passage in an old book. I don’t know if you are familiar with the internet. Google scanned a large amount of old books. You can read part of them online. I found a passage that referred to the story about the four monks. I found more details. One of the monks wrote a letter to his father and confessed his crime."

The monk narrowed his eyes. "Who has written this book that you claim you have found?"

"I’m afraid I can’t remember the author’s name. It was an outlandish name, Spanish perhaps," Jason lied. "But if you want to see a copy, I’ll go and get it from the car. I have printed the page from the internet."

Jason gambled. All-or-none, he thought. He smiled at the monk who gazed at him warily. The man waved with his hand. "Do I understand correctly? The old book mentioned a letter and you are looking for this letter to read it yourselves?" he asked.

"Exactly," Jason replied. "Perhaps there’s more mentioned in it than was mentioned in the book that I have found on the internet."

The monk studied him. "Your book mentioned all. The manuscript actually is in the library of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, but only few have ever seen it. It's not displayed to the public and I won’t show it to you, but I can assure you that nothing else is written in this letter than what you have already found out by yourself. It's written in Medieval Latin, by the way. Forgive my bluntness, I cannot imagine you can read Medieval Latin," he said.

Jason and the monk measured each other. Jason smiled amiably. The monk’s look was conceited.

"No, we can’t read Medieval Latin," Leonard said calmly. "You’re right on this, Father. We would have needed your help. I think we have received valuable information. Come, Jason, let’s go and not bother Brother..."

"Samael," the monk said with a polite smile.

Leonard turned to Jason. "Let’s go and not bother Brother Samael any longer," he said.

"Okay," Jason replied reluctantly.

"Thank you for your help, Father," Leonard said.

"Je vous en prie!" the monk said amiably.

He made a gesture with his hand and then showed them out of the library and down a corridor. He opened a door  to the main street. Jason and Leonard stepped out. The monk smiled curtly.

"I cannot imagine Monsieur Lambert sent you here," he said arrogantly and then closed the door.

"Goddamn liar," Jason hissed. "He lied to us like Lambert did."

"Quiet, Jason," Leonard said. "Come, let’s go to the car and drive a bit."

Jason kicked a stone aside. He pushed his hands into the pocket of his jacket, looked at the sky and took a deep breath.

"Okay," he said brusquely.

They walked to the parking lot and climbed into the car.

The monk watched them from a window. When the car was out of sight, he seized a cell phone and typed a number. He spoke rapidly and then ended the call. Madame Lefèvre looked at her cell phone and then made another call. A man answered and said that only ten minutes ago they had finally managed to track Jason Bolding's cell phone. He said he would instantly call their agent who was currently driving north in the direction of Antwerp. The driver of the Bugatti left the motorway and fifteen minutes later joined it again. Jason drove north and the black Bugatti Veyron shot south.

"He lied to us," Jason said. "He said there was nothing else in the letter. He didn’t mention the prophecy."

"He wasn’t a Benedictine monk," Leonard said slowly. "The Benedictine monks are also called Black Monks because of their black robes. His robe was brown."

"Another lie," Jason said grimly.

They drove on silently for a while.

"Why the hell did he not mention the prophecy?" Jason asked finally.

"Hell, that’s it," Leonard said in an agitated voice. "He said his name was Samael. The name rang a bell. I've already read the name in a book about the fallen angels, the angels who were banned from Heaven. The most prominent one is Lucifer, but he was accompanied by a league of angels. They all rebelled against God. Samael was one of them."

Jason seized the wheel tighter. "God," he said. "The abbot wrote they were in league with the devil."

"I fear we've made a big mistake," Leonard said. "I fear we've warned them, Jason."

"Warned them of what?" Jason asked back.

"We let them know that we are close to revealing their secret," Leonard replied.

A black Bugatti Veyron shot south.

"Too many black Bugattis driving north and south," Jason said. "Too many odd things going on to my liking."

He left the motorway and drove up the drive of a restaurant. They climbed out of the car, went into the restaurant and had a coffee. They had just returned to their car when a black Bugatti Veyron was driving up the drive.

"Too many black Bugattis," Jason said thoughtfully, looking after the car.

"I'd second that," Leonard said. He watched the black Bugatti, and then straightened. "Quick. A truck is reversing out of a parking space. The driver of the Bugatti can’t see us. Quick, Jason," he said urgently.

They climbed into the car. Jason started it and drove down the drive. They resumed driving north. Jason looked nervously in the rear-mirror.  

"Shall I leave the motorway?" he asked. "Shall we drive back to Paris?"
 
"No," Leonard replied in a firm voice. "The young monk died there. Don’t evoke the ghosts of times past."

Jason gave a hysterical laugh.

***
14

Brother Philip confided to the abbot of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. The abbot spoke to him in the chapel. He said that only the Lord could judge on Brother Philip’s failure. He asked the man to give up his misguided belief and trust in Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour of the world and redeemer of mankind. He said that Brother Philip had broken God’s Commandments, but if he did penance, prayed to the Lord and honestly asked his forgiveness, then the Lord would show mercy and have pity on his soul, then Jesus Christ Our Saviour would ultimately release him from his capital sin. Brother Philip repented and the abbot saw the good in the man and his willingness to wash himself from the sin and so he offered Brother Philip to stay in the cloister.

The abbot of Saint-Martin-des-Champs stood silently, looking at the cross, after Brother Philip had left the chapel. Then he knelt down in front of the altar and started to pray. He asked God’s help and guidance, and then he thanked God and rose to his feet. He returned to his chamber and sent for a man, Brother Elias, a pious and trustworthy man. Brother Elias left Saint-Martin-des-Champs a short time later by foot. He arrived at St. Denis at nightfall and asked to be taken to the abbot immediately and without delay because he had a verbal message for him. Brother Elias handed a manuscript to the guard. The monk looked at the seal of the abbot of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, broke the seal and read the letter that confirmed the urgency of the matter. The abbot of St. Denis received the messenger in his chamber and Brother Elias passed on his message. The abbot sighed sadly.

"The three men have fled the cloister, a short time after Brother Philip stole the stallion and rode off to Saint-Martin-des-Champs," he said.

The abbot pondered deeply for a while and then spoke to Brother Elias. Brother Elias left St. Denis at dawn the following day and hurried back to Saint-Martin-des-Champs in order to deliver the message to his abbot.

The abbot of St. Denis sat quietly for some time after Brother Elias had left his chamber. Then he rose to his feet and left the room. He sought out the monk who rang the bell of the cloister and ordered him to ring it at once. The monks gathered in the chapel. They were agitated and nervous. The abbot spoke to them and passed on the sad news. Brother Simon was dead and Brother Philip had sought sanctuary in Saint-Martin-des-Champs. Brother Philip had run from his companions Brother Nicholas, Brother Gregory, and Brother Thomas who had meanwhile also fled the cloister. The abbot said that the four men were responsible for Brother Simon’s tragic death. They had abjured their faith and righteous belief and had committed an awful sin. The abbot said they did not acknowledge the Lord and Jesus Christ Our Saviour. He recited 2 John 1:7: For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. The abbot said that Brother Nicholas and his companions were in league with the devil and he banned the four monks from St. Denis, in absentia as they had already fled the cloister.

The monks prayed long for Brother Simon and then they prayed for Brother Philip who had realized his mistake. They also prayed for the three other men. They prayed for them to see the error of their ways. The monks retreated to their cells and chambers. They locked themselves up and meditated in private. A dreadful silence hung over St. Denis. The abbot took his quill and wrote a letter to the French king who without doubt had to be informed on the matter.

Brother Philip stayed in the cloister of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. He was taken to a solitary cell, a small and dark room. The air was stifled and stale. The cell resembled the room that Brother Simon had died in. Brother Philip swallowed as he entered the cell, but he did not protest. This cell was part of his penance. Brother Philip never said a word again. He made a vow of silence and dedicated his life to meditation and prayer. When he died fifteen years later, they found a manuscript in his cell, a letter he had written to his father. The letter had never been sent, but Brother Philip had kept it all the years, perhaps as a reminder of his awful sin. The monks archived the letter.


15

Jason changed lanes and left the motorway five minutes later. He drove up a drive.

"A motorway chapel?" Leonard asked in astonishment at the sight of the small building.

"Much appropriate, I think," Jason said drily.

He parked the car at the far end of the place and looked back, studying the place carefully.

"The driver of the Bugatti won’t see my car from the motorway," he said. "But we can watch out and see if he drives by. Come, Leonard."

They climbed out of the car, left the drive and entered a meadow. They positioned themselves behind bushes and peered through the leaves. The black Bugatti drove by a couple of minutes later.

"Their chase is not very effective," Leonard said.  "I mean, driving up and down the motorway doesn’t make much sense, does it? Thus they will get us only by chance."

"They almost got us a couple of minutes ago," Jason replied. "We had a lucky escape."

They returned to their car and had just climbed in when Jason’s cell phone rang. Jason took it and looked at the number.

"Hello, Gary," he said.

"Goodness, I have entirely forgotten to keep in touch with him," Leonard replied.

Jason placed the cell phone back in the halter and  pressed a button. They heard Gary speaking to someone.

"Jason?" Gary asked. "Hello. Can I speak to Leonard, please? Is he around?"

"He’s in my car with me. He’s listening also," Jason replied.

"Ah, well," Gary said. "I wanted to inform you on something that I have found out. I carried on with my research and I've something interesting. But let me explain it to you right from the start. Your internet research, Jason, somewhat impressed me. I called Alec, my grandson, on Saturday afternoon and the young man went shopping with me. I bought a notebook," Gary said proudly.

"That’s excellent, Gary," Jason replied. He cast a glance at Leonard and smiled.

"Well, yes," Gary continued. "Alec has a driver licence and a small car. He drove me to and back to the shop. He picked a notebook. We brought it to my place and Alec installed software on it. He’s very much into computers. He showed me the Google thing and how to do research with it. It somewhat intrigued me. I did some research after Alec left. In fact, I researched until two in the morning."

"Goodness," Leonard said.

"Well," Gary continued. "I was having serious difficulties, however, when I booted the notebook this morning. There was an odd window popping up on the screen. I was feeling somewhat alarmed and didn’t know what to do. So I called Alec again. The young man was unnerved. Quite understandable, I think. But he was so kind to come here again. He checked the notebook and said the...the what, Alec?" Gary asked. "Alec is currently installing more software. Ah yes, Alec says the system software asked for an update."

Gary coughed and then continued.

"Well, why I’m calling you, Jason and Leonard. Like I said, I was researching. The story about the four monks had intrigued me. I found something interesting on the internet, a website that mentioned a similar story. Three monks had fled Buckfast Abbey in the year 1020. Buckfast Abbey is in Buckfastleigh, a small market town and civil parish in Devon. The abbey was founded by Earl Aylward in the reign of King Cnut in 1018. It was a Benedictine abbey. I looked it up with the Google thing. Ah, yes, thank you, Alec. Alec says I googled it. The site claimed that the three monks worshipped the devil and therefore were banned from the Benedictine abbey. It said that they later founded a cloister themselves in a secret and hidden place not far from Buckfast Abbey. I think this is very interesting. A similar story, set in England, though, not in France. And three monks instead of four."

"One had died perhaps," Leonard said thoughtfully.

"What kind of website is it, Gary?" Jason asked "Can we rely on the information?"

"Well, I don’t know," Gary replied. "The site collects lore and rumours, creepy stories set in Buckfastleigh and the area."

"I’m certain there is a connection, Gary," Leonard said loudly.

"Just a minute, Leonard," Gary said.

They heard him talking with Alec, but didn’t understand the words.

"Alec has just said he checked the site. He brought his own notebook, just in case I had damaged my new notebook and he needed to go online. He says the owner of the site is a certain Robert Harper, residing in Buckfastleigh. Don’t ask me how he found out about it," Gary said in a surprised voice.

"He checked the domain," Jason said to Leonard.

"I see," Leonard replied in a puzzled voice.

"Okay, Gary," Jason said. "We’ll call you...."

"Wait," Leonard interrupted him.

Jason turned to Leonard. "The Bugatti, Leonard. We must drive on."

"Just a minute," Leonard said. "If it’s true and the three monks settled somewhere close to Buckfastleigh, shouldn’t we find a trace then? I mean, assuming, they founded some weird sect, a black church to worship the devil, a black order that it still active a thousand of years later, operating in France and perhaps in England also, shouldn’t we find a trace of them?"

Jason nodded thoughtfully. "You’re absolutely right," he said.

Gary cleared his throat. "Any more we need to discuss, gentlemen?" he asked. "The call is somewhat expensive."

"One more thing, Gary. Can I speak to Alec, please," Jason said urgently.

"Sure," Gary replied.

They heard a rustle, and then Alec spoke to them.

"Hey," the young man said slowly.

"Hey, Alec," Jason replied. "Leonard and I are currently in France, investigating a bit on ancient sects."

"Really?" Alec asked. He sounded disinterested.

"Yes, we’re trying to uncover a secret sect that was founded in medieval times, most likely around the year 1018," Jason replied.

"Uncover?" Alec asked. His voice was mildly interested now.

"Yes," Jason said. "I got involuntarily involved in some of their activities and I decided to uncover their practice. Leonard, a friend of your grandfather, was so kind to accompany me. We set out for France. We’re visiting some places."

"France?" Alec asked. "You’re driving around in a car?" He sounded baffled and almost taken aback.

"Well, yes," Jason replied.

"That’s totally ineffective," Alec said disdainfully. "Why don’t you use a computer? It’s far more effective."

"Um, well," Jason replied. "I’m computer literate, but I have to admit I would not know how to uncover the sect with it. We’re a bit in a predicament, Alec. We made a mistake. We spoke to the wrong man and thus we warned them. The sect is chasing us now."

"Goodness," they heard Gary say in the background.

"No wonder," Alec said with a long sigh. "Totally amateurish. Driving around in a car…"

They heard a rustle and then Gary spoke again.

"Sorry," he said. "Alec has just turned seventeen. He’s…"

Alec interrupted him. "I’m seventeen, but I would never work like an amateur," they heard him complaining to his grandfather.

"Alec," Jason said loudly.

There was a rustle again. Gary handed the phone to Alec.

"Yes?" Alec asked, sounding unnerved.

"I was thinking," Jason said. "Could you do perhaps some internet research, helping your grandfather a bit, and find out about weird, occult, black and so on sects, churches, and orders founded around the year 1020 in the south of England. But I don’t want you to get into difficulties. Just generate a list or so, do not contact the group, provided you find one. Keep it secret, leave no trace."

"Jason," Leonard said in an indignant voice. "Don’t draw the young man into it."

Jason shrugged apologetically. "We cannot do all by ourselves. Time is getting short, Leonard."

"Alec?" Jason asked.

"Yeah, I was thinking," Alec replied. "Shouldn’t be too difficult. How can I contact you? I personally would get rid of that cell phone of yours and not use your email address anymore. If they are already chasing you, then they might well check your emails and calls. Buy a new phone and give me the number. I will contact you when I have the list."

Leonard shook his head. "He sounds like an undercover agent. Watched too many weird shows on TV probably."

Jason smiled at him. Gary spoke again.

"Call me also and give me your number, Jason, please," he said. "Alec says we must work undercover."

"Goodness," Leonard said. "I didn’t know Gary was into spy thrillers."

"All right," Jason said. "I’ll contact you. Bye, Gary."

"Bye for now," Gary replied and ended the call.

Jason started the car and joined the motorway again, but took the next exit.

"I guess I must either get rid of my car or hide it," he said. "And I need a new cell phone."

"We ought to find a hotel anyway and we must buy additional clothes, if we plan to stay in France for some time longer," Leonard replied.

"True," Jason just said.

They drove down the country road for a while.

"I was thinking," Jason said finally. "How about we drive back to England? It deems me less dangerous than driving around aimlessly in France." He checked his navigation system. "We’re close to Combles. We could join motorway E15 there and drive to Calais. Approximately two hours. Shall we take the risk, Leonard?"

"What about the cell phone?" Leonard asked back.

"I’ll get rid of it soon. I'll buy a new one in England," Jason replied.

"We cannot make a call and cannot be reached for a certain amount of time then," Leonard said.

"Yes, this is a risk we must take," Jason replied.

They reached a small town. Night was falling. Jason parked his car in a parking lot. They climbed out of the car and Jason pointed at a small supermarket.

"Let’s get some food and drink, rest for half an hour, and then we do a moonlight flit," he said and gave a hysterical laugh.

Leonard eyed him worriedly. "Are you able to drive all the way to London?" he asked with concern.

"Sure," Jason said simply.

He examined his cell phone, deleted numbers and contact details and then pushed the phone into a pocket of his jacket. They entered the supermarket, bought sandwiches and several bottles of water and then walked back to the car. Jason spotted a small hotel. He stopped and studied the promotional sign, and then he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He typed the hotel’s number and spoke in English to the woman who answered the call.

"Sorry, Madam, I got the wrong number." he said and ended the call. He pushed the cell phone back into the pocket of his jacket.

Leonard gave him a questioning look.

"Just in case they're tracking my cell phone. I want to make them believe we're looking for a hotel," Jason said.

Leonard gave a brief nod. They returned to their car, climbed in, ate and drank, and then drove on. A short while after they had left the town, Jason slowed down, opened the car window and flung his cell phone into a meadow. He accelerated and drove on. They joined motorway E15 at Combles. Jason seized the wheel tighter as he stepped on the gas. Adrenaline swept through his body. The countdown had started. It was a race against time.

***
16

Brother Nicholas, Brother Gregory, and Brother Thomas had fled the Abbey of St. Denis soon after Brother Philip had escaped the cloister. The three men left by foot and they walked fast and only stopped at nightfall. They were outcasts now and they would outcasts be until the day they had found a safe place of refuge.

The men had settled in a clearing for the night. They were sitting in the darkness. The moon shed a creepy light.

"We must leave France," Brother Gregory said. "The abbot will inform the French king and the king might send soldiers after us."

"We’re not that important to the French king," Brother Nicholas hissed.

"After all, we committed a capital sin. We left Brother Simon behind in this cell. We left him there to die," Brother Thomas said in a weak voice. "We..."

"Brother Philip ran to save his brother from his certain death and it could well be that he succeeded. He could have freed the man," Brother Nicholas interrupted him.

"I doubt it," Brother Thomas said weakly. "Too many time had gone by. Brother Simon is dead. I'm certain of this."

"And if so," Brother Nicholas said angrily. "We allowed for all possibilities. Brother Simon was close to uncover us. He stole the parchment with the prophecy and he would have doubtlessly shown it to someone."

"Murder is a capital sin," Brother Thomas said.

"Stop talking of sins," Brother Nicholas said in a sharp voice. "We do not believe in sins and we do not believe in penance, do we? I thought you were one of the perfecti."

Silence fell. The atmosphere was tensed.

"Brother Philip will confide to the abbot," Brother Gregory said meekly.

"Brother Philip is a traitor," Brother Nicholas hissed. "A traitor! Are you a traitor also, Brother Gregory?" His voice had a dangerous undertone.

"No, I do believe in the righteous god," Brother Gregory said firmly.

"The Catholic church is full of wolves and hypocrites who worship the wrong god," Brother Nicholas said, raising his voice. "Unfortunately, we must hide among the wolves until our time has come."

"The day passed by and the world did not come to an end. We were mistaken," Brother Thomas said. His voice was shaking.

"Nonsense," Brother Nicholas hissed. "We were discussing it. Don't you remember? The figure was hard to decipher. It could have been a 1, but it looked more like a 2. I’m disappointed like you are, my brothers. I would have liked to see the world come to ruin and the true god reign over the world. We must firmly believe and trust in our faith now, my brothers. The end of the world will certainly come, however, in a thousand years from now. We must pass on our belief and we must pass on the secret prophecy, so that our successors will be well prepared when the day of doom will ultimately come."

Brother Nicholas got excited about the topic. He rose to his feet.

"They don’t understand their own belief. They are not able to read the words. They do not grasp the words' true meaning. All is written in the Book of Revelations. The Apocalypse is proclaimed and announced. They don’t know the exact date, whereas we do. We have an advantage over them. But if they were able to open their minds, then they would understand also. However, they shy away from the naked truth. It is all said in John’s book," Brother Nicholas preached.

He raised his voice and recited from the book:

"They will desire to die, and death will flee from them. By these three plagues were one third of mankind killed: by the fire, the smoke, and the sulphur, which proceeded out of their mouths. There were lightnings, sounds, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men on the earth, so great an earthquake, so mighty. The great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."

Brother Nicholas paused for effect, and then continued.

"Whoever has ears ought to hear. Whoever has eyes ought to see. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus, their saviour, said to his followers? His followers, however are deaf and blinded, my brothers. Jesus' followers trust in illusions and fantasies," Brother Nicholas said gravely.

He sat down again.

"I agree with you, Brother Gregory," he said. "We better leave France and go to a place where they cannot find us and where we can establish our own community in secrecy, in hiding. A place that is pure and cathartic."

The three monks wandered north. They took a passage to England in autumn and found refuge in St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. They were withdrawn, secluded, and solitary men and they did not attract much attention. They came across as pious and god-fearing men and no one doubted their pure intentions. Brother Nicholas, Brother Gregory, and Brother Thomas left Canterbury in 1018 when they learned of Buckfast Abbey in the south of England. They joined the community and were among the first monks that settled in the newly founded cloister.

"We need to have patience," Brother Nicholas said. "Everything comes to him who waits. We will ultimately found our own secret cloister. Until that day, however, we must hide among the wolves. Their places provide us with food and they give us shelter. Canterbury was too big an abbey. Buckfast Abbey is a better place. Many of the brethren are pious but naïve young men. We can speak to them, correct their beliefs. In Buckfast Abbey we can find followers and we can start to establish our church."

"We must proceed cautiously," Brother Gregory said. "Some of them firmly believe in Jesus, their saviour. Confronting them too soon with the naked truth, the true nature of things, would do harm to their minds and souls."

Brother Thomas nodded and recited from the Book of Revelations.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood," he said. "They think they are blessed. However, they are misguided creatures."

Brother Gregory nodded. "They ought to read on. They ought to read the next passage: I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the assemblies. I am the root and the offspring of David; the Bright and Morning Star."

Brother Nicholas raised his hand. Brother Thomas and Brother Gregory looked at him.

"We must slowly and cautiously make them familiar with the meaning of Morning Star," he said.

"The Son of Dawn," Brother Thomas said solemnly.

"The Light Bearer," Brother Nicholas said.

"Lucifer," Brother Gregory mouthed.

***
17

Jason and Leonard arrived in London late at night. Exhausted and tired, they climbed the stairs of their apartment house.

"Oh my God," Jason called out as he opened the door. "Bastards. They've searched my apartment."

He moved on and entered his living room. The room looked like a mess. Every cupboard and sideboard had been opened and the contents were sprawled on the floor. The furniture was moved, the desk was searched also, and sheets of papers covered the desk and the floor. Jason went to his bedroom. The bed was moved, the mattress removed, the blankets thrown on the floor. The cupboard was open and also searched. Jason went to his bathroom. The room was total chaos.

"This is Lambert’s work," Jason said grimly. "He sent his henchmen here while we were in France."

Leonard had followed Jason inside. "But what were they looking for?" he asked.

Jason shrugged. "I suspect they want to find out what we are looking for," he said.

"God," Leonard said. "I must go upstairs and check if they have broken into my apartment also."

He hastened to the entrance door. Jason followed him. They climbed the stairs and Leonard opened the door. He switched on the light in the corridor and startled at the sight of the mess.

"Searched also," he said in a brittle voice.

"Devils," Jason hissed.

They checked the rooms. Each room had also been searched and the intruders had left a terrible mess.

"I can’t say if anything is missing," Leonard said weakly, picking up a scarf from the floor.

"It’s Lambert’s work," Jason said. "Only he knew our names."

"They didn’t damage the doors. They must have opened them with a false key," Leonard said.

"Professional burglars," Jason replied.

Leonard turned to Jason, his eyes widened with fear. "We’re endangering their plans. They have searched our apartments, the black Bugatti was following us, what are they going do next?" he asked.

They exchanged a look.

"Get rid of us?" Jason asked back.

"We must complain to the police," Leonard said, looking again at the mess in the room. "Goodness," he exclaimed. "I must call Gary and ask if he's all right."

He went into the corridor, seized the receiver of his telephone and typed Gary’s number. Gary answered a short while later.

"Thank God, you’re all right," Leonard said. He recounted their story. "Yes, it’s a good idea perhaps. Just a minute, Gary," he said, turning to Jason. "Gary wants us to come to his house. What do you think?" he asked.

Jason nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. Let’s pack a few things and go. Once they find out we have left France, they might come here again," he said.

Leonard ended the call. They got a few things and then left. One and a half hour later, they drove up the drive to Gary’s house. It was one o’clock in the morning. The lights in the house were on and Gary opened the door when they climbed out of the car. He looked concerned and had obviously dressed in a hurry, his cardigan was buttoned up the wrong way and his hair was uncombed, but neither Leonard nor Jason paid much attention. Gary led them to his living room.

"Take a seat," he said. "I’m getting us coffee."

Gary left the room. Jason and Leonard sat down in the plush chairs at Gary’s research table. His new notebook and a printer were placed on it. Gary returned with biscuits and coffee. He sat down as well. Leonard and Jason told their story.

"It deems me you opened a can of worms," Gary said when they had finished. "The end of the world on Ascension Day. Downright weird." Gary was shaking his head.

"Unless they plan to set off something, a terrorist attack or so," Jason said.

"True," Gary replied. He looked at the watch in the room. "I suggest we rest now and talk again tomorrow morning," he said.

They agreed. Gary showed them to the guestrooms. Jason slept well and only once awoke with a start when the monk shouted into his ear.

They got up early. Gary made breakfast. He told them his grandson had called and had asked if he had heard from them. After learning the news, Alec had insisted on coming in the afternoon right after school. He had already generated a list of secret orders and societies, but unfortunately had not found one that was founded around 1020 in England.

The three men sat down in Gary's living room.

"The end of the world is a common theme throughout history," Gary said, pouring them coffee. Ancient prophecies announcing the end of the world are somewhat common. Think of the Book of Revelations. The Apocalypse. Doomsday."

"But why the hell on the 17th of May 2012?" Jason asked.

"Who knows," Gary said. "It doesn’t really matter. Far more important is: Will the prophecy fulfil? Or, rather, is somebody working on its fulfilment?"

"Maniacs," Leonard said, seizing a toast with jam. "Fanatics, terrorists."

"Or firm believers or zealots," Gary said.

"Pretty much the same," Leonard replied.

Gary took a sip of coffee. Jason gazed into his cup. Leonard eyed his toast and took a bite.

"Yes," Jason said. "Zealots. I think that’s what they are. A sect, a secret order, whatever. They firmly believe in the end of the world on Ascension Day. They are determined to bring it about themselves in case their god fails. They missed the end of the world in 1012, they won’t miss it a thousand years later. Totally weird and therefore dangerous."

"Could it be that the four monks established a new belief, based on the old parchment with the prophecy?" Leonard asked.

"They were Black Monks, but fled St. Denis and later Buckfast Abbey, both Benedictine cloisters," Gary said thoughtfully. "They were accused twice of being in league with the devil. It was a somewhat common accusation often used by the Catholic Church."

"Heretics," Leonard said.

"Yes," Gary replied. "Heresy was redefined by the Catholic Church as a belief that conflicted with established Catholic dogma. I suspect the monks were heretics."

"Heretics in a Catholic cloister?" Jason asked.

"The cloister provided them with food and gave them shelter. They were most likely unable to sustain on their own, at least in the early years. They are said to have founded their own community later, after they had fled Buckfast Abbey," Gary said. "I guess they practiced their belief in secrecy. But when their secret was unconvered, they fled the cloister."

"Could it be that the accusation was true?" Leonard asked thoughtfully. "Did the monks worship the devil? Did they follow a satanic belief?"

"Heretics," Jason said. "A new belief based on an old parchment with a prophecy. What a crap! I think the four monks were not right in the head."

"Heresies were part of church history," Gary said. "The Roman Catholic Church has always dealt harshly with strands of Christianity that it considered heretical, but before the 11th century these tended to centre around individual preachers or small localised sects. By the 11th century, more organised groups were beginning to appear in the towns and cities of Europe. In western Mediterranean France the Cathars grew to represent a popular mass movement and the belief was spreading to other areas."

"Heresy, a mass movement," Jason replied, shaking his head.

"It seems the four monks had a sound grasp of contemporary developments," Leonard said drily.

"I suspect they were influenced by one of the major groups and mixed up a heretic belief with their own apocalyptic scenario. And it seems there is still an active group in these days," Gary said.

Jason gave a sarcastic laugh. "In fact, there is. They have searched our apartments. They are after us. I think Antoine Lambert is the key figure."

"Or just an informant. There might be others behind him," Leonard said thoughtfully. "But I agree with you, Jason. Antoine Lambert is one of them. And they are pretty much aware that we know he is. Else they would not have searched our apartments. They fear us for a reason, whereas we still have no clue of their plan."

"They fear I will stop them," Jason said drily. "I could do so, according to the message that I received in my dreams. I’m their archenemy."

"But how could you stop them? It’s about time we find a solution,” Leonard said.

"Archenemy," Gary said absently. A thought occurred to him. "Who is the devil’s archenemy?" he asked.

Leonard and Jason turned their heads to him.

"The Catholic Church," Jason replied.

"A more abstract idea," Gary said.

"God," Leonard said. "He banned Lucifer from Heaven."

"And who are God’s agents?" Gary asked.

"The angels," Leonard said.

Jason spilled his coffee and started to laugh. Gary Leonard looked at him.

"I beg you," Jason uttered between laughs. "I'm neither superman nor an angel. I don’t think I like the idea."

"Calm," Gary said. "Think more thoroughly, please. Let’s proceed on the assumption. Antoine Lambert’s group, possibly a satanic circle, aims at destroying the world. We don’t know yet about their exact plans, but we know that they fear you could stop them.” Gary studied Jason. "We have never read the original text of the prophecy. Could it be that the text mentions the name of their archenemy’s agent?"

"Goodness," Leonard said. "You mean they fear that a man named Jason was able to stop them? They think Jason is the chosen one? Oh my God." Leonard leaned back in his chair.

"Strangely, the man in my dreams also insists that I am the one," Jason said drily.

"You should finally get accustomed to the idea, regarding the limited time window we have,” Leonard said.

Jason shot him a dark look and opened his mouth to protest, but Gary raised his hand.

"Stop it," he said. "We'd better find out what’s it all about. Why would they think that Jason was the one to stop the devil?"

"I have no clue at all," Leonard replied. "God banned Lucifer from hell, but, if I remember correctly, it was one of the archangels who threw Lucifer out."

"Yes," Gary replied. He rose to his feet, went to a bookshelf, and returned with an encyclopaedia. He looked up an entry. "Here it is," he said. "Michael is the archangel who defeats the dragon. His name means: who is like God?"

"They picked the wrong man then," Jason said grimly. "Michael, not Jason. They made a big mistake."

Gary looked up. "The meaning of the name," he murmured.

"What?" Jason asked brusquely.

Leonard reached out and touched Jason’s arm in order to calm him. Jason leaned back in his chair.

"The meaning of the name," Gary repeated. He turned the pages and then read an entry. "Goodness," he said. "Jason is of Greek and Hebrew origin, and the meaning of Jason is ‘healer’ or the ‘Lord is salvation’."

Gary raised his eyes and gave Jason a surprised look. Leonard also gazed at him. Jason straightened. He opened his mouth, but then shut it again.

"Many are called, but few are chosen," Gary said in a solemn voice.

***
18

Brother Gregory leaned in more and whispered to the young monk.

"Lucifer was a prominent archangel in heaven before he disregarded god’s wishes and rebelled against him. When the rebellion failed, Lucifer was cast out of heaven with the third of the heavenly host and he came to reside in this world. It is said he was motivated by pride. He was the most gorgeous of angels, before god threw him to hell. And now anything which tempts, lures and prompts a man to sin and causes contempt in the eyes of their god is said to be caused by the devil. Lucifer is considered the embodiment of evil and everything wicked."

Brother Gregory  paused for a moment, and then carried on. The young man hung on his lips.

"The church has gotten it all wrong. Let me explain. Lucifer means ‘Morning Star’ or ‘Light Bearer’. We have difficulties with foreign names, but this is no excuse to cast a shadow on Lucifer. The morning star is associated with Venus, the goddess of shining beauty. Can you see now, Brother Lucas? Lucifer sheds light on the darkness. Venus is the goddess of love, beauty, and sex. She turns the hearts of men and women from sexual vice to virtue, but the Catholic Church shuns the goddess of love, beauty, and sex. The Catholic Church shuns the Morning Star. The Catholic Church shuns Lucifer. Can you see, Brother Lucas? You must change your belief. Your must change your overall view."

Brother Lucas’ lips opened slightly. Brother Gregory nodded seriously and carried on.

"Lucifer fell from grace like Adam and Eve did some time later. It was god’s original plan and it is said that god moves in mysterious ways. But, like he said in the very beginning: Let there be light. And there was light. God saw the light, and it was good and god divided the light from the darkness. Lucifer is the light bearer, the morning star. The Catholic Church banned love, beauty, and sex from the world. But Lucifer is the world’s righteous ruler. We must give up our wrong beliefs. All falsehood must come to an end."

Brother Gregory placed his hand lightly on Brother Lucas’ arm. He gave the young man an encouraging look, and then rose to his feet and walked away slowly. He joined Brother Nicholas and Brother Thomas.

"Brother Lucas is still confused, but his mind is slowly opening up to the true belief," he said.

His companions nodded contentedly. The three monks had started to subtly influence the young monks who had joined the cloister. Brother Lucas, for instance, was a sensitive young man. His father, a wealthy nobleman, had, following the tradition, sent his third son to the cloister. Brother Lucas had joined Buckfast Abbey in 1019 at the age of thirteen.

The three monks made progress. Their activities, however, were unconvered in the year 1020 when a young man wrote a letter to his father and at some length explained to him his new understanding of the Book of Revelations and his changed view on Lucifer and his role in the world. Brother Nicholas and his companions were questioned and put under pressure to give up on their twisted beliefs. The three monks fled Buckfast Abbey in 1020 and founded their own community in the area. The abbot of Buckfast Abbey, however, did not tolerate the heretics who he considered were worshippers of the devil. The three monks were driven from the place. They fled east with a few followers. In 1021 the group returned to France and settled in the ruins of a cloister far in the west of the country.

The group and their successors lived in seclusion, in hiding, and in secrecy throughout the centuries. The secret order, however, did not dissolve. The inner circle was small, sometimes only five or six men, but they managed to maintain their community. New members were mainly acquired from rural areas. Poor peasant families sent their sons to the monks. The young boys were subtly influenced and formed by the masters of the order.

The secret order underwent many changes over the years, mainly structural changes and reformations, but the belief system was also reshaped to some degree. Cathar elements, like the self-understanding of the brethren as perfecti, were dropped entirely. While the brethren were all considered equal in the beginning, a hierarchy was established in later years. On top was the grandmaster, followed by the masters, the adepts and the novices. In the 19th century, the order didn’t differ much from other black orders that had become popular then. The group gave up their place in the west of France and resettled in Paris. The group’s activities changed in the 19th century. The secret order started to acquire men from all social classes. A powerful and far-reaching network was established over the years. The order got prepared for the time when the prophecy would fulfil.

From around 1980 on, the group was acting globally. The order had become a modern and effectively working union. Target compliance and target analysis were their main concerns. The grandmaster and masters were not only initiated into the secret, they were also well-educated and highly qualified men. The order opened to women in the beginning of the 21th century.

The group had increased its efforts to find the man who, according to the old prophecy, was a potential danger to their plans. His name was Jason, but until May 2012 the group had failed to find the man. This changed when Antoine Lambert received Jason Bolding’s email. The brethren were in an almost state of shock. Their archenemy had personally contacted them.

Jason Bolding had made no secret of his intention to uncover the prophecy and stop its fulfilment. Jason Bolding had chosen to not operate undercover. He had openly challenged the order and had thrown down the gauntlet to them.

The brethren had reacted to his challenge, but their initial responses had been rash and little effective. Jason Bolding had meanwhile left France and returned to London. However, the secret order had understood Jason Bolding’s challenge of war and the black order had started to counteract.

***
19

"All right," Jason said after a moment of silence. Gary and Leonard's eyes were still resting on him. "All right, we  must stop researching on the past. Researching on the order’s origin will take us nowhere. We must find out about Lambert’s group instead."

Gary and Leonard nodded.

"How is the order structured? How does it operate? Who are the members? What is their plan?" Jason asked. "A nuclear attack, a terrorist attack? What are they capable of? I need information and I need it quick."

"Right," Gary said. "The faster we proceed, the better."

"We must research on Antoine Lambert, occult orders and sects, and attack strategies and weapons that would cause a global disaster," Jason said.

"I’m going to research on Antoine Lambert," Gary replied. "Leonard, you can research on occult orders and sects."

Leonard agreed with a nod.

"I'll research about attack strategies and weapons. I need your notebook, Gary," Jason said. He looked at his watch. "Half past nine. I suggest we present our results at eleven o’clock and then we’ll discuss on how to proceed, based on our findings."

Gary and Leonard nodded. Leonard went to the bookshelves and pulled a few books out. Gary brought a pile of history magazines. The three men worked quietly and highly focused. They ended their session at eleven o'clock.

Jason leaned back in his chair and looked at the others. "All right, let me hear your results," he said.

Leonard  took two sheets of paper and started to read.

"A secret society is an organization whose activities and inner functioning are concealed from non-members," he said. "The societies are organized conspiracies working in secret to achieve a hidden agenda. Members use secrecy to protect themselves and their movement. Critics view secret societies as malevolent organizations working against the general will of mankind. There are quite a number of secret societies."

He cleared his throat.

"Ordo Templi Orientis, for instance, is a mystic organization that was started in the early twentieth century. The group was established along the same lines as the less secretive Freemasons. One of their practices is the group’s fixation on the sexual. There are many societies, some more modern like The Fenians, The Black Hand, Ku Klux Klan, and Opus Dei. Freemasonry is an older society. It's a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th century. Rosicrucianism was founded in late medieval Germany by Christian Rosenkreuz. It holds a doctrine built on esoteric truths which provide insight into nature, the physical universe and the spiritual realm. Another secret society, The Bavarian Illuminati, was founded in 1776."

Leonard looked up.

"And we all know the Knights Templars," he said. "The organisation existed for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages. Their existence was tied closely to the Crusades. When the Holy Land was lost, support for the order faded. Rumours about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony created mistrust, and King Philip IV of France took advantage of the situation. In 1307, many of the order's members in France were arrested, tortured, and then burned at the stake."

Leonard placed the papers on the desk. "The societies have certain elements in common. A strong chain of authority, a hierarchy, and the members are divided in classes," he said. "They are effective and they often operate globally."

"Like a modern company," Jason said.

"There’s always an inner circle that holds a secret or insights that are concealed from the public," Leonard continued.

"I guess this describes Lambert’s group pretty well. I doubt, however, Antoine Lambert is the grandmaster of the order himself," Gary said.

"Why not?" Jason asked.

Gary pointed at a magazine. "Antoine Lambert. I found a brief biography. A classical academic career. He was a renowned scientist and specialist in his field. He published in many acknowledged journals. A man of the highest credit until 2001 when he published a rather polemic and unfounded article on Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society," he said. "His reputation suffered somewhat. He left university a couple of months after the article had been published. He was offered a job as a strategic consultant by a company."

"A strategic consultant?" Jason asked in disbelief. "He’s a church historian. Which company?"

"No real surprise,” Gary said. "Lefèvre Industries."

"His fiancée of twenty years lent a helping hand," Leonard said drily.

Jason leaned forward and seized the notebook. He opened Google, typed the company's name, and then surfed to the company's website.

"A pharmaceutical company, operating globally. Corporate headquarter in Paris. Company strategies: Grow a diversified global business. Deliver more products of value. Simplify the operating model,” he read. Jason clicked a button. "Board of Directors: Alexandre Lefèvre, Geraldine Lefèvre, and Robert Guilmant."

"The inner circle, so to speak," Gary said. "The successors of the three monks who fled Buckfast Abbey."

Jason opened Google and searched the names. "Alexandre Lefèvre is Geraldine’s father," he said. "Robert Guilmant is Alexandre’s son-in-law. He married Nicole Lefèvre, Geraldine’s elder sister. Nicole died in a car accident in 2001."

Gary folded his arms in front of his chest. "I think we have found the order and the group’s potential weapon. Lefèvre Industries. A pharmaceutical company," he said.

"Goodness, yes," Leonard said. "It's plain to see."

Jason nodded and seized a piece of paper. "I've researched on attack strategies and weapons that would cause a global disaster. Biological warfare is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These agents may be lethal or non-lethal, and may be targeted against a single individual, a group of people, or even an entire population. Bioterrorism," he said.

"The deliberate release of viruses and bacteria," Gary said.

Jason nodded. "Terrorists want to use these agents because they are extremely difficult to detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days. Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, cannot. They are categorized A, B or C. Category C agents are emerging pathogens that might be engineered for mass dissemination, the Nipah virus and the Hantavirus, for instance, SARS, H1N1, and HIV/AIDS."

They looked at each other.

"The apocalyptic plagues," Gary said.

"H1N1 caused a flu pandemic a couple of years ago, if I remember correctly," Leonard said.

"If I were them, I'd pick that too," Jason said drily.

"What can we do now?" Leonard asked.

"Stop the distribution of the viruses," Jason said. "It's plain to see."

***

"Naturellement," Antoine Lambert hissed into the phone and then pressed a button and ended the call. He turned to Geraldine Lefèvre who was standing by his desk. Her piercing eyes were resting on his face. "Your father," Lambert said, rising to his feet from the chair behind his office desk.

He moved to the big window and looked out. The sky was dark and rain was falling. Lambert looked down at Paris from the 5th floor. He found that everything looked small and unimportant.

"Your father wants to change the ways of distribution. Everything’s organized, but he wants to make changes," he said.

"This can be done. Calm down, Antoine," Geraldine said in an unnerved voice. She crossed the room, joined Lambert by the window and gave him a sharp look. "Our initial responses were rash and inconsiderate. Jason Bolding escaped. We should have gotten rid of him and his companion immediately. We searched their apartments in London. Nothing. Nothing that indicates his plans. Their apartments are being observed meanwhile, but they have not shown up yet or maybe they have already moved on," she said.

"Then find out about the names of their friends," Lambert hissed.

A disdainful smile showed on Geraldine’s lips. "I've already found out about their names," she said coldly. "I’ve researched and checked on their friends."

Lambert felt tempted to make a step back, but did not. Geraldine looked out of the window for an instant before she turned back to Lambert.

"Gary Conelly," she said. "Seventy years old. A retired historian. Single. He lives south of London. I’m certain that Jason Bolding is hiding in his house. Two of our best men have left Paris. They ought to be there by evening."

She measured him. Antoine Lambert loosened his tie.

"I’m not particularly worried, Antoine," Geraldine said. "The prophecy announced that the man Jason would come and try to stop us. He came, which proves that the prophecy is true. The prophecy announces the end of the world. It gives an exact date: Thursday, the 17th of May 2012. But, Antoine, believe me, Jason Bolding cannot stop us. He can try, but he won’t succeed," she said. "The Light Bearer will win. The Son of Dawn will defeat him."

Lambert’s eyes rested on Geraldine’s face. "Are you certain you will outlive the day?" he asked calmly. "After all, these viruses are biological weapons. They are lethal, Geraldine."

Geraldine shot him an angry look. Lambert winced and made a step back. Geraldine recited from the Book of Revelations.

"The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from the sky which had fallen to the earth. The key to the pit of the abyss was given to him. He opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke from a burning furnace. Then out of the smoke came forth locusts on the earth, and power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power."

Lambert swallowed. Geraldine lifted her chin and continued.

"They have over them as king the angel of the abyss. His name in Hebrew is Abbadon."

***
20

Jason, Leonard, and Gary resumed their research. They used the internet and primarily focused their search on the company and the three board directors.
They found out that Lefèvre Industries was a French multinational pharmaceutical, biologics, vaccines and consumer healthcare company headquartered in Paris. The company had a portfolio of products for major disease areas including asthma, cancer, virus control, infections, mental health, diabetes and digestive conditions.  
Lefèvre Industries had been founded in 1969 by Alexandre Lefèvre, a pharmaceutical chemist, and his brother Michel Lefèvre, a product executive. The company had soon expanded. Alexandre Lefèvre’s eldest daughter Nicole had joined the team of board directors after her graduation in 2000. She was a pharmacologist as was her husband Robert Guilmant whom she had married in 1995. Nicole Guilmant died in a car accident in 2001. Her sister Geraldine Lefèvre, a pharmacologist also, took her place and joined the team of board directors. Michel Lefèvre died in 2005 and Robert Guilmant took his place.
The Board of Directors was responsible for the group's system of corporate governance and was accountable for the group's activities and strategy, the risk management and financial performance. The Board was responsible for the long-term success of the company and was assisted by a corporate executive team.
Lefèvre Industries employed 32,000 people worldwide. 4,100 worked in research and development. Its global headquarters were in Paris, France; Glasgow, United Kingdom; Chicago, United States, and Tokyo, Japan. Lefèvre Industries had a presence in 29 cities across 13 countries. Its largest market was in the United States, which generated approximately 42% of its revenues, although the company sold its products in around 39 countries.

The major research and development centre was located in Ahmedabad, India. Major manufacturing sites for prescription products were located in Meaux, France; Paisely, United Kingdom; Naperville, United States; Sochaczew, Poland; Ploesti, Romania, and Brussels, Belgium.

"A successful company and competent directors," Jason said. "I’m just wondering how Antoine Lambert fits in."

"He’s Geraldine Lefèvre’s life partner," Gary said.

"Yes, that’s what he said," Leonard replied. "He’s sixty-five and she’s forty-three, a big age gap. They met when he was forty-five and she was twenty-three. She was a student, studying pharmacology, whereas he was a university lecturer, a renowned church historian, a specialist in his field.”

"Why did the order recruit him?" Jason asked.

"Lambert’s book, the footnote he wrote," Gary said. "Perhaps they suspected he was close to uncover their secret."

"Yes, most likely," Jason said thoughtfully. "They sent Geraldine to seduce him. It was probably too dangerous to approach him openly. They approached him and he gave in."

"According to his biography, he was a sober scientist until he published his polemic and emotional article on Theosophy. He has apparently changed a lot in his later years,” Gary said.

"Geraldine Lefèvre’s influence," Leonard said. "Hers and that of her family. They have brainwashed him over the years."

Jason looked at the company's website for a minute. A thought formed in his mind. He turned to Gary. "You said Alec was very much into computers. I must call him," he said.

"He'll be here in short anyway," Gary replied. "He...."

A loud noise interrupted him. The three men looked at each other.

"It came from the kitchen," Gary said in startled voice.

Jason rose to his feet. He opened the door and looked out, then switched on the light in the corridor and slowly moved down the hallway. He jumped when the kitchen door opened and a hooded figure stood in front of him.

"Stop," Jason called out. "Who are you and what do you want?"

The man gazed at him likewise startled. Leonard and Gary stepped into the corridor.

"Alec!" Gary called out. "For heaven’s sake, how did you come in?"

Alec pulled down the hood of his sweater and brushed back his dishevelled hair. He looked at his grandfather.

"I came in through the kitchen window. It was open, luckily," he said.

"Why so, Alec?" Gary asked.

"There’s a black car in the street, right in front of your house, Grandpa. I parked my car at some distance, went back and hid behind a bush. I’ve watched the car for about fifteen minutes. Two men are sitting in it and are watching the house," Alec said.

"Come, Alec," Gary said, waving his hand.  

Alec eyed Jason and Leonard suspiciously, but then followed his grandfather to the living room. Jason and Leonard followed also. Gary moved to the window and looked out. He turned to them with a frightened look.

"I saw this car already from the bathroom window an hour ago or so, but I didn’t give it a thought. It's indeed strange. The next house is at some distance from mine. Why do they park right in front of my house?" he asked.

"They’re observing the house," Alec said, joining his grandfather by the window. He turned to Jason and Leonard. "They were chasing you and they have apparently found you. Not too difficult, really. You parked your car on the drive. They know you’re here."

Jason sensed a cold shiver running up his spine.

"And why don’t they come up and ring the bell?" Gary asked in an indignant voice.

"God, Grandpa," Alec said, rolling his eyes. "They are waiting for them to come out. They’ll follow their car and get them when they climb out of it. That’s much easier than intruding into the house."

"I’m not sure, Alec," Gary said. "They might have a plausible reason for parking here and…."

"No, Gary," Jason interrupted him. "Alec is totally right. They have tracked us down.”

"We must get out of here," Leonard said in a hysterical voice.

"That’s why I have parked my car behind the house,” Alec said. “I drove back and took the dirt road to the back of your house."

"I don’t know," Gary said. "What if they enter the house and devastate it?

"Call the police," Leonard said. "Ask them to send a car here. They’ll chase the criminals off."

"They’d come back, no doubt," Jason said soberly.

"They’ll only find out we fled when night falls and the lights in the house are not switched on. The sooner we leave, the better, Grandpa. I know a good place to hide. Trust me," Alec said.

"There’s not much else we can do anyway," Gary replied in a resigned voice.

Jason waved his hand. "Okay," he said. "Let’s get out of here. Alec, where’s your car?"

Alec crossed the room and hurried down the corridor. The others followed him quickly. Alec opened the back door and looked out. He glanced back at the others, gave a nod and then tore the door open and hastened to his car. He jumped into it. The others climbed in and Alec started the car. He drove down the dirt road until they had reached the main road and then he accelerated and sped down the road.

"For heaven’s sake, where do you take us to, Alec?" Gary asked.

"London," Alec replied. "A friend of mine’s currently away. I can use his lab. That’s pretty fine. I have a key to his apartment."



Antoine Lambert was sitting at his office desk. He was gazing at the computer screen. According to the board’s instructions, he had altered a few targets and operation places. The board had confirmed his suggestions and the computer experts had updated the software. Alexandre Lefèvre, the head of the board, had started the computer programme. He alone knew the code that could stop it.

The door opened. Antoine Lambert looked up. Geraldine Lefèvre entered the room.

"Operation Abbadon is under way," she said with a content smile.

Lambert did not respond. Geraldine gave him a questioning look.

"What's wrong, Antoine?" she asked.

Lambert straightened, but then slumped back in his chair. He looked at the computer screen that was showing a map of the world with many red spots on it. Geraldine surrounded his desk and stood beside him.

"The lab is still sealed. It will open automatically in a couple of hours for the couriers to receive their packages," she said. She gave a laugh. "Well, not exactly packages. That’s the wrong word, I guess. The transport vessels are tiny and won’t be detected by any control system. Robert has meanwhile arrived in Ahmedabad. He’ll personally hand the vessels to the couriers."

"What if one of the couriers gives the game away?" Lambert asked, turning his eyes to Geraldine.

"This will never happen. These men would rather sell their souls," Geraldine said. She looked at Lambert, her eyes narrowed. "All men will have arrived at their destination on Thursday morning our time. The computer programme will coordinate their actions. Nobody needs to think about time zones and time differences. The couriers will receive an automatic command. The board will watch and supervise the concerted action from Paris."

"What if the vaccine doesn’t work?" Lambert asked.

Geraldine shot him a dark look. "Is this what you are afraid of, Antoine? Are you afraid of dying unexpectedly?" She gave him a condescending look. "The vaccine is safe and it will work out. We will outlive the end of the world."

She looked at the computer screen, then leaned forward and pressed a key. The red spots disappeared and several green spots showed on the screen.

"The basic units," she said. "The places we have prepared over the years. We will rebuild and reshape the world according to our ideas and ideals. We’ll take over the worldwide communication networks, the electricity supply grids, and so on. Our computer programmes are ready to seize control. It will be done at the end of the week."

She turned her eyes to Lambert. He looked up at her. Geraldine smiled.

"The virus is lethal. It’s highly virulent and it spreads vast. A virus-infected person dies within one hour, unless the person had a vaccination. They have no time to develop a vaccine. There’s no escape. We tested it. Our operation is dead certain," Geraldine said and gave an exalted laugh.

Lambert looked at the green spots on the screen. Geraldine placed her hand on his shoulder and bowed down. She kissed his cheek lightly.

"Nothing to worry about, my dear," she whispered in his ear.

Lambert tensed. He did not reply. Geraldine straightened, looked at him, and then turned away and left the room. Lambert watched her and for an instant looked at the door that had closed behind her, but then he turned his eyes back to the computer screen. He reached out his hand and pressed a key. The red spots re-appeared on the screen.

***
21

Alec questioned them on their way. Jason told him of the French company and of the thought that had formed in his mind. Alec gave him a sideway glance and a smile.

"It seems I arrived just in time," he said.

"What do you think, Alec? Are you able to do it? I think it's our only chance," Jason said.

Alec gave him a nod. "Sure," he said in a self-assured voice.

Gary leaned forward and asked what they were talking about. Alec ignored his grandfather's question, but Jason turned his head back and looked at the two men in the back seat.

"We have devised a plan," he said. "We must act fast. Time is running out."

Leonard looked at his watch nervously and Gary just looked back in confusion.

It was getting dark when they arrived at London. Alec drove into a suburb and stopped the car in front of a multi-storey building. They climbed out of the car, Alec hurried towards the entrance door and the others followed him. Alec pulled a key from the pocket of his jeans and opened the door. They entered the building and Alec led them to the elevator. They drove up to the ninth floor and then walked down a dark and smelly corridor. Alec stopped in front of an apartment and unlocked the door.

"It seems you have a second life, Alec," Gary said in disbelief. "Who is that friend of yours and why do you have the key to his apartment?"

Alec glanced at his grandfather. "Like I said, I can use his lab while he's away," he replied.

"Does the man have a name?" Gary asked in an annoyed voice.

"Dave," Alec said shortly.

He switched on the light in the hallway. Polythene bags and empty cartons, packing materials, filled the corridor. Two flat screens leaned against the wall and user manuals and leaflets were spread on the floor. The air was stale and smelled of cigarettes. Leonard coughed and Gary gave a disgusted grunt. Unimpressed, Alec walked on and opened a door. He entered the room and switched on the light. Jason, Leonard, and Gary followed him and then stopped short at the unexpected sight. The room was stuffed with tables, computers, notebooks, and other electronic devices and the floor was covered with cables, switch boards and unused drives. The room looked like the computer centre of a major company. The three men looked around in disbelief.

"What’s this?" Gary asked in bewilderment.

"Dave’s lab," Alec replied.

He moved into the room and started booting the computers.

"A secret operation centre," Jason said excitedly. He joined Alec. "How fast can you get into their system?" he asked.

"What?" Gary asked, stepping closer.

"Alec will hack into Lefèvre Industries’ computer system,” Jason explained.

"This is illegal," Gary replied in an indignant voice.

"The dark order’s plan is lethal," Leonard said.

"Think of the end of the world," Jason added.

"The end justifies the means," Alec said drily.

Gary gazed at him, but finally gave him a nod. Alec started typing on a keyboard. The others watched him for a while. Time passed by. Jason finally went and checked Dave’s messy kitchen for something to eat and drink. Gary and Leonard sat down on a worn couch in the rear of the room. Jason provided them with instant coffee and biscuits. Leonard seized the latter thankfully. Jason took a chair and sat down beside Alec. The young man had meanwhile booted and activated all computers and electronic devices. Several windows showed on two screens. Alec turned to a third computer and opened a browser.

"Again, what's the name of the company?" he asked.

"Lefèvre Industries," Jason said.

Alec opened the company's website and studied it for a minute. "All right," he said. " I’m pretty certain I'll be able to connect to their computer system. Dave wrote a fantastic programme. I will track them down."

He opened a few programmes and entered the URL and the company’s IP-address into several input windows. The programmes started their work. Bars and windows showed the progress of the analysis. Time passed by. Suddenly, Alec leaned forward and pressed a key. A window popped up. It showed an input field and Alec typed in a few numbers. Jason watched him curiously. Alec pressed keys and typed more numbers. A larger window opened. Alec nodded contentedly and pointed at the screen. He  turned his head to Jason. His lips showed a devilish grin.

"It was not too difficult. My computer is now connected to the company’s server," he said.

"Will they notice the intrusion?" Jason asked, leaning forward and studying the screen.

Alec snickered. "No way," he said. He gave a sideway glance at Jason. "I’ll start a programme now that will check the server’s directories. It will be looking for hidden and protected sections. Provided they use the company’s server for their secret activities, we’ll find out about them soon. Dave’s programmes are fantastic. It’s simply a question of time."

"I’m just wondering where you learned all this and why?" Gary asked from the background. "The circumstances are exceptional and I won’t stop you, but when this is done I want an honest answer, Alec."

Alec turned his head and smiled at his grandfather. "This means you trust in my abilities, Grandpa. Promised, when all this is done, I’ll tell you the truth," he said.

Gary shook his head slightly. "I think I have finally realized that this is not a game," he said. "Our activities are illegal. We’re breaking laws. Who knows where all this will lead us to?"

Jason swallowed, but then turned away and continued looking at Alec’s screens. Alec ignored his grandfather's words entirely and focused on his hacking activities.

Time passed by. Alec worked quietly and totally focused. Jason finally gave up looking at the screens and joined Gary and Leonard on the couch. Leonard handed him the cookie box and then looked at his watch.

"If they really plan a global disaster, then the operation must be long under way," he said.

"Two protected sections," Alec called out excitedly and turned to the others. "I’ve cracked them open. Do you want to have a look?"

Jason jumped to his feet and Gary and Leonard stood also. Alec pointed at a  window on the screen.

"Section one," he said.

They all leaned forward.

"How fast can you check them?" Jason asked anxiously.

"It could take some time," Alec replied. He pointed at another screen. "Section two. I’ll be checking the sections simultaneously. But I need to enter a few key words. What are we looking for?"

"Goodness," Gary said.

"Goodness?" Alec asked in confusion.

"What?" Gary asked back.

"You want me to enter ‘goodness’?" Alec asked with a puzzled look.

"No," Gary replied. "The word slipped my mouth."

"Ah," Alec said.

"What kind of words?" Leonard asked.

"Well, what kind of stuff are you looking for?" Alec asked, rolling his eyes.

"Well, criminal activities," Gary replied.

"The secret order’s activities. The end of the world," Leonard said.

"I see," Alec replied, turning back to his computer screen. He started to type. "Dark, occult, secret, global, disaster, catastrophe, end of the world, doomsday," he said.

"Apocalypse," Gary suggested.

"Prophecy," Leonard said.

"Concerted action," Jason added. "Biological weapons, virus, H1N1, attack." He paused, thinking. "Jason," he said.

All eyes turned to him.

"Jason?" Alec asked in bewilderment. "Your first name, why?"

"Hell, yes," Leonard exclaimed.

"God," Gary said.

Alec looked from one to the other. "Now what?" he asked.

"Type them all. Hell, god, Jason, saviour, angel, foe, enemy, archenemy," Jason said.

"Opponent," Gary suggested.

"Antagonist," Leonard said.

Alec gave them a questioning look, but then entered the key words.

"Any more?" he asked.

"Devil, Lucifer, Satan," Gary said. "We suspect the order is a satanic order. So why not type the words?"

"True," Leonard confirmed. "Let me think. Demon."

"Black angel," Jason added.

"The demons have names," Gary said.

"Right, Gary," Leonard said excitedly. "I came across their names also while researching supernatural stuff." He scratched his head. "But I’m afraid I don’t remember them."

Alec eyed Leonard and then turned to a computer. He opened a web browser and searched for the names. A minute later, he gave them a triumphant look. He pointed at the screen.

"Lucifer, Abaddon, Asmodeus, Azrael, Leviathan, Arakiel, Azazel, Belial, Ezequeel, Lilith, Malphas, Marbas, Naamah, Semjasa,” Alec read. “Quite a number.” He copied the names into the input field. "Any more?" he asked.

Jason shrugged and Leonard shook his head.

"Nothing more comes to mind," Gary said.

"All right. Let’s see what the programme will find," Alec said. He leaned back in his chair and looked at the screens. "This will take a while. I guess I’m having a Coke or so. Is any food left?" he asked.

Jason searched the kitchen again. He found cans of Coke, chips, spaghetti, and tomato sauce. Half an hour later, the four of them were eating spaghetti in Dave’s lab.

"I've only just now realized how hungry I was," Jason said.

"I did so earlier," Leonard replied drily, pointing at the empty cookie box.

"I don’t particularly like Italian dishes," Gary said, "but this one was truly delicious."

"Yes," Alec said. "I’m...."

A high-pitched sound interrupted him.

Alec jumped to his feet. "We’ve scored a hit," he called out. He hurried to the computers and pointed at a screen. "The programme found a protected folder," he said.

He leaned forward and typed on the keyboard. A window popped up and showed two words, black letters on a white background.

"Operation Abbadon," Alec said.

***
22

Antoine Lambert opened another file. He knew he was taking an enormous risk. Sweat covered his forehead and his hands were trembling. Alexandre Lefèvre would immediately take steps, if he found out about his activities.

Alexandre Lefèvre was not an idiot, but only an idiot would have written down the secret code in a document and saved that document to the company’s server. Lambert was aware of it and yet he could not stop his search.

Only few people had access to the protected section and even fewer had access to the protected folder. Lambert had been denied access to it, but he had seen Geraldine typing the invisible password and he had memorized the keys she had pressed. He had remembered all keys but the last one, but it had not been very difficult to find the missing letter.

Furtively, Lambert had opened the protected folder and had spied on the hidden files and programmes, but he had found only little that he had not already found out about one way or other before. One programme, however, had shocked him to the core.

It was the programme that Alexandre Lefèvre had started a couple of hours ago and that was now running automatically. Lambert had found out that the automatic programme could only be stopped by entering a specific code. Antoine Lambert was looking for this exact code.

He opened the last file and closed it and then gazed at the computer screen. He was cold and his mind was blank. Nothing. Lambert leaned back in his chair and sat motionless for a couple of minutes. He knew that they traced the activities on the server, but he didn’t care.

Antoine Lambert looked into the room. It was past midnight, but he was certain that nobody missed him. The inner circle had gathered in Alexandre’s office room. Lambert had no idea what they were doing. Geraldine had not answered his questions. He had not seen her or heard from her for a couple of hours.

Lambert stood, went to the window and looked into the night. The final hours of the world had come, at least of the world he had known. His body felt cold. Lambert felt empty and hollow. What had become of him? Again and again he asked himself this very question.

He had fallen for the devil’s daughter. The devil’s daughter had seduced him. Shouldn’t he have known better? A church historian, a sober scientist, who knew all of the churches’ claims, errors, and failures. He had fallen for a dark and obscure sect. Had they brainwashed him or had he volunteered? Antoine Lambert couldn’t say anymore. He had been profoundly wrong and grievously mistaken, at least until.... Lambert straightened. When had he started to change his mind? Lambert clenched his hands. He had changed his mind when he had met Jason, the antagonist, in person.

Lambert pressed his hands against the cold window pane. Jason, the antagonist, was a nice young man who – Lambert was certain on this meanwhile – had no clue of his mission at all. The older man, Leonard Sullivan, who had accompanied him, had also accidentally gotten involved. Where were the two men?  Had they returned to London? Had Geraldine’s men found them already? Were they still alive or dead meanwhile? If the latter, then he, Lambert, was not without guilt.

Lambert stood motionless for a minute, but then returned to his desk and opened his email programme. He opened the emails that Jason Bolding had sent him a couple of days ago. Lambert shook his head. A couple of days ago, he had been convinced that Jason Bolding had contacted him in order to challenge the secret order. Lambert read the emails again. Following an impulse, he clicked the reply button. Lambert looked at the message window and then he closed it again. His shoulders slumped down.

Two floors up, Alexandre Lefèvre leaned back in his chair. He looked at the other members of the order’s inner circle.

"Robert has arrived in Ahmedabad. The operation is under way and the couriers are ready to set off. Every man will have arrived at his destination on Thursday morning our time at the latest. The distribution will start at noon our time. It’s a concerted action. The men won’t have to worry about the time differences. They will open the vessels at exactly the same time. They’ll receive a command sent by the automatic programme. It has started its work. No difficulties so far. Everything’s proceeding according to plan," he said.

Alexandre Lefèvre paused and looked from one to the other.

"There’s a minor problem, though, that so far we have not been able to solve. Jason Bolding. Any news as to his whereabouts?" he asked.

"Disappeared. So far, we were not able to locate him. Escaped with the others in Alec Connelly’s car. A neighbour saw Gary Conelly’s grandson driving down the road in the evening, but didn’t remember the exact time of the day," one of the executive directors reported.

Alexandre Lefèvre looked at the ceiling for an instant, before he turned his eyes back to the others.

"Personally, I don’t think he’s a threat to us, but let’s play it safe. Find Alec Conelly’s car. Find the four men. Eliminate them. Eliminate Jason Bolding," he said to his daughter. His look was cold and his voice was sharp and tolerating no dissent.

Geraldine gave a barely visible nod.

Alexandre Lefèvre leaned back. “Call Lambert," he commanded.

One of the executive directors jumped up. Geraldine gave her father a questioning look.

"Antoine met Jason Bolding and Leonard Sullivan for lunch. Sullivan might have mentioned Gary and Alec Conelly. I want to question Antoine. Every detail is important," Alexandre Lefèvre said.

Antoine Lambert entered the room ten minutes later. His face showed a haunted and frightened expression. Geraldine gave him a condescending look, but Lambert didn’t see it. He looked at Alexandre Lefèvre. The man measured him. The other members of the board also fixed his eyes on him. Lambert stood in the room and pushed his trembling and sweaty hands into the pocket of his suit jacket.

"You met Bolding and Sullivan for lunch," Alexandre Lefèvre said. His voice was harsh and unpleasant. "They have returned to England, but unfortunately we lost track of them. We suspect that they are hiding somewhere and we suspect they are in company of Gary and Alec Connelly, grandfather and grandson. Did Sullivan mention them? Think hard, Antoine."

Antoine Lambert looked from one to the other. The board members were seated around a big conference table. Everybody’s eyes rested on him. Lambert swallowed. He thought of the meeting in the restaurant and the dinner at Geraldine’s house.

"No," he said finally. "I’m certain Sullivan did not mention the name Conelly." He looked at Geraldine. "You met them also," he said.

Geraldine straightened in her chair. She looked at her father. "Leonard Sullivan did not mention their name," she confirmed.

Alexandre Lefèvre raised his hand. He was about to dissolve the meeting, but was interrupted by a telephone ringing. He turned his eyes to the red telephone on his desk. He looked startled for a moment, but then he reached out and forcefully seized the receiver of the phone.

"Oui," he shouted.

The others watched him with concern. The emergency telephone had rung.

"Find them. Trace the IP or whatever. Find them," he hissed into the phone.

He put the receiver down and looked at the others. His look was grim and alarmed.

"Someone opened the protected folder Operation Abbadon," he said.

The atmosphere in the room was tensed in an instant. Geraldine and the executive directors straightened in their chairs and fixed their eyes on Alexandre Lefèvre.

"Whoever gained access to the folder and thought he was clever enough to leave no trace was terribly mistaken," Alexandre Lefèvre said in a dangerous and menacing voice. He leaned back in his chair and looked at the others with a content smile. "They’ve signed their own death warrant.”

Antoine Lambert retreated slowly to the far end of the room where he sat down in a chair. He was feeling hot and cold at the same time. Lambert looked at the board members with widened eyes. They had traced the activities on the server. He had been aware of it. His heart was pounding fast, He clenched his hands and teeth. Lambert felt trapped in Alexandre Lefèvre’s room. Was there a way out of it? Was there an escape? Antoine Lambert’s mind was chaos, but none of the board members took notice of his inner turmoil.

***
23

"Shit," Alec exclaimed and pressed a key. He turned to Jason with widened eyes. "Intrusion detected," he said. "Shit. But no harm done. They have not yet tracked me down. They have just noticed that someone opened the folder."

"How do you know?" Jason asked, leaning forward and looking at the many windows on the screens.

"Got a message from a programme that is surveying the server activities," Alec said without going into details.

He turned back to the screens and studied the windows, and then he started to type frantically. Jason asked another question, but Alec ignored him and focused on the screens.

"What happened?" Leonard asked from the background.

Jason turned to the two men who were sitting slumped down on the couch.

"We’re facing difficulties," he explained. "Lefèvre Industries has detected our intrusion."

"God," Leonard said in a resigned voice. "Now it’s too late anyway."

"What does this mean?" Gary asked. "Can they find out now where we are? Should we leave the apartment?"

Jason turned back to Alec. "Alec?" he asked.

Alec gave him a sideway glance. "I must finish something and then we can go," he said curtly.

"Can they find us now?" Jason asked with some urgency.

"I don’t know," Alec replied in a pressed voice. "Their protection system is excellent. I’ve never seen that before. I don’t know, but, yes, they might be able to track us down."

"Then we must leave instantly," Jason said in a determined voice.

"Half an hour," Alec pleaded. "I must finish something and get my notebook prepared. Else we won’t have a chance to connect to their server again. Once we have left Dave’s lab, then this will be our only chance."

"It’s an enormous risk," Jason said.

"Our only chance," Alec insisted.

"All right," Jason said, looking at his watch. "We’ll leave at four o’clock."

He crossed the room and joined Gary and Leonard.

"We must think of a place where we can hide," he said. "A place that is safe but not deserted. We’ll need electricity and access to the internet."

"A place where they cannot find us," Leonard said in a gloomy voice.  

"Why not do what they least expect us to do?" Gary asked.

"That is?" Jason asked back.

"Go home," Gary replied.

"It could work out,” Leonard said thoughtfully. "They’ve already searched our apartments. They won’t search them again. But, just to  make sure in case they're observing our street, we can enter the underground garage from the next street over. The garage belongs to two blocks of flats. And we must not switch on the lights."

Jason nodded slowly. " It could work out, and yet it's an enormous risk, but we have precious little choice," he said. He turned to Alec. "Can we lay a false trail?"

"I’m already working on this," Alec replied. "Dave’s system will try another intrusion, an automatic one at six o’clock in the morning. It will leave a false IP-address. It will lead them to Birmingham."

"Ingenious," Leonard said admiringly.

Gary looked at his grandson with a mixture of admiration and shock. He shook his head slightly.

"I must be ready at six o’clock. I need to have access to the internet by then," Alec said. "I’ll be connecting to the server shortly after Dave’s automatic programme has connected to it. As soon as the company’s server responds and detects the automatic programme’s intrusion, I will infect their security programme."

"Sounds like a virus infection," Gary said.

"It is a virus infection," Jason replied. "Hopefully, it will work out."

Leonard looked between them. "Virus attack against virus attack," he said in a gloomy voice. "This is modern war."

Jason nodded. "A virus war. Quite appropriate," he said.

"Perhaps we should report our findings to the authorities," Gary said.

"What have we found so far?" Leonard asked.

 "Nothing. They would not listen to us," Jason replied.

"I have found a lot," Alec said.

They turned to him.

"I've copied the documents and files from their server to Dave’s computer and my notebook. An automatic programme is currently running on their server. I was not able to open it. That’s why I must connect to their server again," Alec said.

He turned back to the screens, and then started to close the programmes and windows.

"I’ll shut down all devices and computers but one. The programme will automatically connect to the company’s server at six in the morning," he said.

The others watched him quietly. Finally, Alec rose to his feet. He looked at Dave’s computers and devices.

"Hopefully, they won’t intrude and destroy his lab. I’d feel forever guilty for it," he said.

Jason patted Alec’s shoulder and gave him a brief nod. Then he turned to Gary and Leonard.

"All right," he said. "Let’s get out of here."

They left Dave’s apartment and hurried to Alec’s car. They arrived at Jason and Leonard’s apartment house at a quarter to five. Alec parked the car in the underground garage. They climbed out and hurried to the elevator. Jason unlocked the door to his apartment and entered the corridor. The others followed him inside. Morning was breaking and the light was still poor, but they refrained from switching on the lights.

"Oh my God," Gary said at the sight of the mess in the corridor. "Hopefully, they didn’t intrude into my house."

Jason moved on and entered the living room. He looked around. "They have not been here again, I think," he said.

Gary sat down on the couch and rubbed his eyes tiredly. Leonard went into Jason’s kitchen to get them some coffee. Jason joined Alec at the desk.

"I’m getting prepared," Alec said. "I’m checking the programmes. So far, they are working properly." He looked at his watch. "It's a quarter past five. Dave's automatic programme will connect to the company’s server in forty-five minutes."

"Would you like a drink? Something to eat?" Jason asked.

"A Coke, if you have," Alec said.

Jason went into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and took two cans out of it. He thought of the young monk who had been the dark order's first victim. He saw his face, young, innocent, and clearly defeated.  Jason gnashed his teeth "I will not give up. I simply won't. I will accomplish our mission," he said grimly and threw the door of the fridge shut. He joined Alec again and placed the cans of Coke on the desk. Alec seized one.

"Won’t your parents be missing you?" Jason asked.

Alec shook his head. "No, I sent my mother an email. I told her I’ll sleep over with a friend. I do this often. They’re used to it," he said.

"Where did you learn hacking computer systems?" Jason asked.

Alec smiled briefly. "I started early. I think I was eleven. I was curious. I started with cracking programmes. I looked for serial numbers on the internet. It was quite easy to find them until a few years ago. I joined forums and boards where they offered serial numbers and codes. I knew it was illegal, but this didn’t stop me. On the contrary, it intrigued me a lot. And then I started downloading and installing certain programmes. I joined a group on the internet and I met one of the members in person: Dave. He’s a freak. His skills amazed me. We became friends. Dave taught me all I know."

"You said he’s currently away?" Jason asked.

Alec nodded. "He studies computer science. He applied for an exchange programme. He’s currently in Moscow. He left two weeks ago," he said.

"Moscow," Jason said with a meaningful look. "Sounds interesting."

Alec smiled. "It is. As least this is what I understand from his messages. We’re in touch, of course," he said.

"Of course," Jason replied.

There was a brief silence.

"What's this all about?" Alec asked. "How did you get involved in it?"

Jason took a breath. "Well," he started. "It sounds totally weird. I had several dreams. A man called out to me and asked my help. He looked like a monk from medieval times. The man told me that there was yet time, but I couldn’t make anything of it. I started thinking that I was going insane. I even consulted a doctor. But then, more or less accidentally, I told Leonard of my dreams. He was intrigued. He’s interested in paranormal and supernatural stuff. He thought the dream was a message from the past. He contacted your grandfather and asked him to research on the year 1012."

"1012?" Alec asked.

"Yes," Jason said. "The man in my dream said it was the 18th of May 1012 and that he had been mistaken. I understood that he had not been able to complete his mission. He said it was up to me now. I know it sounds totally weird, but I’m chosen to accomplish his mission."

"What happened back then?" Alec asked with a questioning look. "You asked me to research on dark orders founded around the year 1020 in the South of England."

Jason nodded. "To sum it up, we found out about an old prophecy that announced the end of the world. The group that guarded the prophecy thought the date was the 17th of May 1012. We think that the man in my dreams wanted to reveal the prophecy and therefore was killed by four monks, the ones who guarded the secret. The monks founded a secret society, a dark order in England," he said.

"Near Buckfastleigh. Close to Buckfast Abbey," Alec said.

Jason nodded. "The monks fled France and went to England. Their activities were unconvered, though, and they fled again," he said. "Don’t ask me why, but they didn’t give up on the prophecy. They had either misread the date or they just delayed the end of the world. The new date is the 17th of May 2012."

"Thursday. Tomorrow," Alec said.

Jason nodded. "Alexandre Lefèvre and his companions are the monks’ successors. Operation Abbadon is proof of it and I want to finally find out about it," he said.

Alec nodded and looked at his watch. "Ten more minutes. I’ll infect their security programme, and then we can have a look at the documents that I’ve copied. And I can have a closer look at that automatic programme," he said.

They sat quietly and watched the computer’s time display. The minutes passed by, and then Alec straightened. It was five to six in the morning. A sudden rush of euphoria seized Jason. He felt like a sprinter waiting for the starting shot. Alec focused on a window on the screen, and then raised his right hand slowly. Jason looked at the time display. The seconds passed by and then the display showed 06:00.

Alec looked at a window. “Intrusion completed,” he said. His finger shot down and he pressed a key. He leaned back, crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked at the screen for a minute before he turned his head to Jason.

 "The game is on," he said. "I’ve boarded the enemy’s ship. We have entered Operation Abbadon."

***
24

"Another intrusion at seven o’clock our time. The intrusion was instantly blocked," Geraldine reported to her father at ten past seven. "Our computer experts are trying to locate them. They have left a trace."

Alexandre Lefèvre nodded absently. He did not respond. Geraldine shifted in her chair.

"Operation Abbadon is under way. Jason Bolding can’t stop it. Time is getting short," she said. "They have probably copied the files, but what can they do? They have just learned of a secret operation. The information is entirely useless to them."

"The documents will inform them of our plan," her father said.

"So what?" Geraldine said in an angry voice. "Nobody can stop us now, even if they pass on the documents to the authorities. The mills grind slowly. The couriers will leave Ahmedabad soon. Jason Bolding is not the dangerous man who our order has feared for a thousand years. He’s an amateur, a wannabe superman."

"But he’s apparently into the secret," Alexandre Lefèvre said calmly. "And he apparently considers himself the chosen one, the antagonist the prophecy announced."

"Well, so what!" Geraldine hissed. "He’s hopelessly inferior to us. He can’t stand a chance. His attempts are downright ridiculous. Yes, he and his henchmen gained access to our server, but we blocked them, and we will track them down. And, more important, they have not gained access to the automatic programme." Geraldine paused. "Even if they gained access, they would not be able to stop the programme since only one man knows the code. You."

She exchanged a look with her father.

"Yes," he said. "And it will never slip my mouth."

He measured Geraldine’s face. Geraldine bit her lip. The red telephone rang. Alexandre Lefèvre seized the receiver instantly.

"Oui," he said. He listened and put the receiver down.

"Birmingham," he said. "They have located the place where the intrusion came from. An internet café in Birmingham."

Geraldine rose to her feet. "I’ll speak to the computer experts. I need more details," she said.

"Wait," Alexandre Lefèvre said.

Geraldine stopped short and gave him a questioning look.

"It’s a trap," her father said. He looked at Geraldine, his eyes dark and narrowed. "An internet café in Birmingham. No, Geraldine, Jason Bolding and his companions did not leave London in the dead of the night. They didn’t drive to Birmingham. Can you imagine them in an internet café at six o’clock in the morning? No, Geraldine, it’s a trap, thought out in the briefest of time in order to keep us occupied for a while. In order to distract us from their true whereabouts."

Alexandre Lefèvre leaned back in his chair and looked at Geraldine thoughtfully. Geraldine just looked back.

"Where, Geraldine, would you least expect them to hide?" he asked.

Geraldine narrowed her eyes. She was thinking.

"In a place that is entirely unsafe," she said.

"And that is?" Alexandre Lefèvre asked.

"Jason Bolding’s apartment," Geraldine replied.

Alexandre Lefèvre gave her a barely visible nod. "Go and get them," he said.

They exchanged another look, and then Geraldine turned around and left her father’s office room. The men who were observing Jason Bolding's apartment house had not reported back to her, but perhaps they had missed Bolding and his team of amateurs. Geraldine bit her lip and clenched her hands. Perhaps she had underestimated Jason Bolding and his team.

Alexandre Lefèvre folded his hands on his belly and looked into the room. A smile appeared on his lips and the smile broadened.

Geraldine hurried to her office room. She made a few calls and then she put on her jacket and hastened to the elevator. It took her to the ground floor where she met two grim looking men. Geraldine spoke to them briefly, and then the three of them hurried out of the entrance hall. They ran into Antoine Lambert who had left the office late at night, yet came back in the morning. Geraldine ignored him, but stopped short when Lambert addressed her.

"What’s going on? You look distressed, Geraldine," Lambert said.

"No time for small talk," Geraldine hissed. "I’m flying to London."

"London?" Antoine Lambert asked.

"London," Geraldine said harshly. "In my father’s private jet."

She turned to the two men who had accompanied her and now stood at some distance. Geraldine made an impatient gesture with her hand, and then hurried on. The two men followed her. Antoine Lambert looked after them. He stood paralysed. It was too late. Jason Bolding was defeated. Alexandre Lefèvre had found him.

Lambert turned away and entered the building. The watchman gave him a nod. Lambert stopped for an instant and looked into the hall. Then he crossed it slowly and entered the elevator that took him to the fifth floor. Lambert went into his office room and locked it. He didn’t switch on the light, but sought the way to his desk in the dark. He sat down and started his computer, asking himself what he was doing and why.

The computer had finally booted and Lambert gazed at the screen. He felt tempted for an instant to open the secret folder, yet refrained from trying it. Lambert had no doubt they had increased the security measures. They would detect his attempt instantly. Lambert opened his email programme instead and looked at the empty message window. He sat motionless and the minutes passed by. Why had he come back? Lambert straightened. If he had not come back, he would not have met Geraldine and he would not have learned the latest news. Jason Bolding was as good as dead.

"God moves in mysterious ways," Antoine Lambert said under his breath.

He looked at his watch. It was ten to eight in the morning, Paris time, which meant it was about seven o’ clock in London. Geraldine would arrive in London at nine o’clock London time at the latest.

"As good as dead, but there is yet time," Antoine Lambert said as he rose to his feet.

***

"Okay," Alec said. "How about I’ll print out the documents that I have copied from the company’s protected folder and you take a look at them while I try to gain access to their automatic programme."

Jason nodded. He rubbed his eyes. "I feel totally exhausted, but strangely I’m wide awake," he said.

Alec smiled. "That’s the rush of adrenaline. Illegal activities are somewhat exciting," he said.

Jason smiled briefly. He rose to his feet and fetched his printer. They connected Alec’s notebook to it and Alec started printing out the documents he had copied. Jason looked at the sheets of paper while Alec focused on the screen of his notebook again.

"Evidence," Jason exclaimed suddenly, holding up a piece of paper. "They manipulated the H1N1 virus, a virulent influenza virus. It caused a pandemic in 2009. The new virus is highly virulent and it’s lethal."

"Shit," Alec said. "And they want to set the viruses free and spread them all over the world?"

"I think so," Jason replied, turning back to the papers. "They have planned it all carefully. Do they really think they can outlive the day?"

"Provided they have developed a working vaccine," Alec said. "I’m certain they have." He turned back to the screen.

"Anything you found out?" Jason asked.

Alec shook his head. "I can’t gain access to the automatic programme. But I won’t give up. I’m having an idea..." He fell silent and focused on the screen again.

Jason carried the sheets of paper to Gary and Leonard who were sitting on the couch and watching them. He showed them the pile of papers.

"We'd better help you with this," Gary said at the sight of the pile.

"Yes," Leonard agreed. "We must not waste time." He seized a piece of paper and studied it.

"How are you doing, Alec?" Gary asked his grandson.

Alec looked up absently. "I’m close," he said and turned his head back to the screen.

Gary gave Jason a questioning look.

"He entered the company's security programme. Thus he has access to the server without being detected by the company," Jason explained. "Hopefully," he said. "Alec’s trying to gain access to that automatic programme. We think it plays an important role in their plot."

Gary nodded and then started to read. Jason went back to the desk and sat down next to Alec.

"Goodness," Gary exclaimed suddenly.

They all turned to him and even Alec looked up. Gary held up a sheet of paper.

"Couriers with the virus will leave Ahmedabad. They’ll travel to the major cities on the globe. Here’s a list. New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, many more US cities, London, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, Bangkok, Tokyo, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Johannesburg...Oh my god, this is an army," he said.

The list was long and covered all major cities of the world. They looked at the list in shock.

"A concerted action," Leonard said in a stifled voice. "It’s all over now. We cannot stop them."

"Ahmedabad is the place in India where Lefèvre’s lab is located," Jason said. "When will the men leave Ahmedabad?"

Gary turned back to his papers. He studied several of them and then stopped short. "A time schedule," he said. "The first men leave at two o’clock in the afternoon." He looked up. "Today."

"Indian time?" Leonard asked.

Gary had another look at the paper. "Two o’clock in the afternoon IST," he said.

"That’s half past nine our time," Alec said.

They turned to him.

"I checked the time difference on the internet," Alec explained.

"Oh my God," Leonard said. His voice was shaking. "It’s too late. It’s  all over now."

"What time is it?" Jason asked in a pressed voice.

"Ten minutes to eight," Alec said.

"We must call the police. We must report it to the authorities," Gary said.

"Too late," Leonard replied. "Do you really think they would listen to us, Gary? And even if they did, they would not be able to stop the men. One and a half hour. Way too little time to do anything."

Silence fell. The men sat motionless. Only Alec was typing frantically on the keyboard. Suddenly, he stopped and snickered mockingly.

"Access granted," he said.

The others rose to their feet and stood behind him. The screen showed a programme with a time display in the upper right corner. Alec pointed at it.

"A countdown," he said. "Ninety more minutes."

"The first couriers will leave in ninety minutes," Jason said.

Alec nodded. "Yes. Now let’s find out what the programme has to do with it."

He leaned forward and resumed typing on his keyboard. The others watched him quietly.

***

 25

Alexandre Lefèvre looked at the screen of his computer. It showed the automatic programme.

He felt content. The time had finally come. In just a few hours, the world would come to an end, as the prophecy had announced a thousand years ago. A thousand years had gone by, nothing more than the blink of an eye from a higher and more divine perspective. So many men had passed on the secret. They all had firmly stuck to their belief, none of them had ever had doubts, and they all had firmly believed in their mission.

Alexandre Lefèvre let out a sigh. He thought of his long and hard training that had begun when he had been just a small boy. He thought of the long days and nights that he had spent in the basement, in a dark cell, the air stifling and stale. He had knelt on the hard and cold floor for many long hours, reciting the words of the prophet and learning them all by heart. His father had been a rigid man, cold and severe. He had hated his father until he had understood, and then he had adored the man who had taught him, who had made him the man he was, who had passed on to him the secret and who had revealed to him his mission and the vocation he couldn't ignore.

Alexandre Lefèvre enlarged the window with the time display. It filled the whole screen. He looked at it contentedly. Ninety more minutes, and then a new era would start. They had all planned it carefully, they were ready to seize control, and they were ready to rebuild and reshape the world according to their ideas and ideals. Alexandre Lefèvre closed his eyes for an instant. He felt awe and gratitude. Fate had chosen him to bring about the change. He was Brother Nicholas' worthy successor.

"The great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book," Alexandre Lefèvre recited in a low voice the words from the Book of Revelations.

Jason Bolding came to his mind. Alexandre Lefèvre gave a mocking laugh. They had feared the man’s coming for a thousand years, but the man was a fraud, a wannabe hero, a total loser in his eyes. Alexandre Lefèvre didn’t worry any longer. Jason Bolding and his group of amateurs were no threat to him anymore. He looked at his watch. Jason Bolding would be dead soon anyway. Geraldine would eliminate him and his companions.

Alexandre Lefèvre folded his hands on his belly. He would not miss his vocation. Nobody could stop him now. This was the end of an era.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city," he recited another passage from the Book of Revelations.

Alexandre Lefèvre leaned back and watched the countdown with relish.

"Fate has chosen me. So be it," he said. " I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. I will create a new heaven and earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. I am the Son of Dawn. I am the Light Bearer. And I said, Let there be light..."

The screen light flickered off and on.

"... and there was light" Alexandre Lefèvre said.

***

"Wow," Alec mouthed in obvious admiration.

"What?" Jason asked nervously.

Alec turned to him. "The programme will open a sealed lab once the countdown has ended. Very well thought out," he said.

Jason and the others gazed at him. Alec shrugged.

"Well, I guess the vessels with the lethal viruses are in the lab. Only the automatic programme can open the lab. It will open in..." He looked at the time display. "In fifty-nine minutes, and then the distribution of the vessels begins."

"Fifty-nine minutes," Leonard exclaimed hysterically.

"Oh my God," Gary said.

"Can’t you stop the programme?" Jason asked.

"I’m trying," Alec said in a pouting voice. "What the hell do you think I’m doing?" He turned back to the screen.

The others stood in shock.

***

Antoine Lambert left the company building and went to the parking lot. He climbed into his car and looked at his watch. "There is yet time," he said in a firm voice. He started his car and drove down the drive. His mind was clear now. He had made a decision and he felt totally calm and at ease.

Antoine Lambert left Paris and drove north with no particular destination. He just wanted to get away from the city, from Alexandre Lefèvre and the company. He wanted to find a quiet place, solitary, hidden, and secret. There, out of Lefèvre’s reach, he would put his plan into action. It was all he could do now. He had no option, he saw no other chance. Antoine Lambert drove on, content, calm and at peace with himself. He saw a motorway sign and changed lanes. He left the motorway and drove up the drive. Lambert parked his car and climbed out. He took a deep breath. The morning air was refreshing.

Antoine Lambert looked at the motorway chapel at the end of the parking lot. He walked there slowly and in a solemn state of mind. A perfect place, he found. He entered the chapel. It was empty. Lambert sat down in a row. He looked at the altar and said a short prayer. He asked the Lord's forgiveness, and then he sat motionless for a while.

Antoine Lambert memorized his life and the steps he had taken and the decisions he had made. And then he sat quietly for another minute, his mind and his heart at peace. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his ultimate weapon. It felt cold in his hand. Now it was only a matter of seconds.

***

Alec pressed a key. A window popped up. If you would like to abort before the end of countdown, enter password. An empty input field showed under the text.

"Shit," Alec exclaimed.

The others winced at his sudden outburst.

"What?" Jason asked urgently.

Alec looked up. "The automatic programme can be stopped manually by entering a password. I don’t know it. I don't have the faintest clue. Anything about this code in the papers I printed out?" he asked hysterically.

The others gazed at him.

"Time is running out," Alec shouted. "Cracking this password is our only chance. Thirty-seven more minutes."

The others took the sheets of paper and brushed through them, looking for anything that referred to a password. They refused to think of what was going to happen in just a few minutes. They focused grimly on their work, but finally they placed the papers down and looked at each other in silence.

"Nothing," Leonard said in a brittle voice.

Alec gave a nod. "Like I had expected," he whispered.

He leaned forward more. His head almost touched the screen. The others watched him quietly. Gary and Leonard leaned back on the couch and looked into the room. Their faces showed a resigned expression. They were slowly, gradually giving in to their fate.

"That must not be," Jason said, unwilling to accept the inevitable, the impossible that was about to come true.

***

Geraldine Lefèvre looked at her watch. Nine o’clock, London time. The private jet was landing. Geraldine called her father and spoke with him briefly. She closed her cell phone and pondered. She had to second her father’s opinion. Jason Bolding was no longer a threat to them. Thirty more minutes. Jason Bolding and his amateurish group were not able to stop them. But, like her father had said, better get rid of the losers. Geraldine looked again at her watch.

Unfortunately, she would not make it to Jason Bolding’s apartment before the countdown had ended. It would have given her pleasure to shoot the man herself after granting him a brief glance at the automatic programme. Geraldine opened her cell phone and called the men she had sent to London earlier. The men were waiting for Geraldine’s command. Geraldine looked at her watch.

"Kill them all at half past nine," she said.

She closed her cell phone with a contented smile. Half past nine was the perfect time. Jason Bolding’s life would end at exactly the time the lab in Ahmedabad opened.

The jet landed. Geraldine got off the plane and climbed into a black Bugatti Veyron that had already been waiting for her. Unfortunately, she was not able to shoot Bolding herself, but at least she wanted to have a look at his dead body.

***

"Okay, I’ve started a programme Dave has written," Alec said in a pressed voice. "I'm trying to crack the password."

The others looked at the screen. A programme was running.

"The programme is looking for the hash," Alec explained. "Plaintext passwords are usually stored in a hashed form."

He looked up. The others gave him puzzled looks.

"We'll find the hash in the rainbow table, if we're lucky, that is," Alec said, turning back to the screen.

"How many more minutes?" Jason asked.

"Nineteen," Alec said in a toneless voice.  

Nobody replied. The others gazed at the screen. Silence filled the room and the minutes passed by.

"Bingo!" Alec exclaimed suddenly.

They all leaned forward and looked at the screen. Alec pointed at a window of Dave’s hacking programme. It showed a combination of numbers and letters.

"The hash," Alec said. "We’re making progress." His face was blushed with excitement.

"How many more minutes?" Jason asked nervously.

"Twelve," Alec said. He took a deep breath. "The programme is searching the rainbow table now."

"The what?" Jason asked.

"Many hashes are stored in the table," Alec replied. He looked up. "But naturally not all of them. It all depends on how complex that fucking password is. The search will take a while."

They looked at each other.

"I see," Jason said in a brittle voice when Alec's words had sunken in.

"Our only chance," Alec replied. "Time is too short to try something else." He turned back to the screen.

Leonard looked absently at the screen and Gary started pacing the room. He walked to the window and looked out of it.

"Oh my God," he exclaimed. "Look. They have found us."

***

26

The doors of the black compact car in front of the apartment house opened and two men climbed out of it. They were dressed entirely in black and they wore sunglasses despite the rainy morning. One of the men looked at his watch and then gave the other a nod. They approached the apartment house slowly and then entered it. One of the men pressed a button. The door of the elevator opened and the men stepped in. They reached into the pockets of their coats and pulled out their guns. The elevator stopped and the men entered the empty corridor. They placed the silencers on their guns and then walked down the hallway. They stopped in front of Jason Bolding’s apartment. One of the men looked at his watch.

***

Jason and Leonard had joined Gary. They looked out of the window.

"Shit," Jason exclaimed.

"We must instantly leave," Leonard said hysterically.

Jason tore open the window and leaned  out. "We can’t. They’ve already entered the building," he said.

"The locking system doesn't work properly. I told the facility manager several times," Leonard said.

"Call the police, Jason," Gary said urgently.

Jason hurried into the corridor, seized the receiver of his fixed phone and typed the emergency number. "Gun shots," he shouted into the receiver. "In the house. In the staircase. Someone's running amok." He gave his name and address and then ended the call.

He joined the others. They looked at each other in despair.

"I must block the door," Jason exclaimed.

He hurried back into the corridor and shoved a cabinet to the entrance door. And then he stood, holding his breath. Were the men already standing in front of the door?

He hastened back to the living room. Gary and Leonard had meanwhile joined Alec. Alec looked at the screen. Dave's programme showed a window. Alec was shaking his head.

"How many more minutes?" Jason asked nervously.

"Five," Alec said.

They heard a siren. Jason hurried into the kitchen and looked out of the window. A police car stopped in front of the house. Two policemen climbed out and hastened towards the building. Jason looked back at a sudden noise that came from the corridor. Someone was trying to open the door.

Leonard and Gary retreated to the far end of the living room.

Jason made a few steps back from the window, turned around abruptly and ran into the kitchen counter. A grunt escaped his mouth and he bowed forward in pain. He spotted the package with the psychotropic pills that the psychiatric consultant had prescribed him. He had placed it on the counter a couple of days ago. Jason involuntarily read the name of the brand.

He gazed at the package. He seized it and once again read the name of the brand. And then he suddenly felt totally calm. There is yet time. Now it's up to you, he heard the monk's voice in his head. The voice was distinct and clear. The monk spoke with dead certainty.

A gun was shot. Alec shrieked and jumped from his chair. He joined Leonard and Gary at the far end of the room. They heard another police car siren.

Jason felt calm and confident, almost buoyant. He went to his desk and sat down. His mind blocked out every sound. Jason looked at the time display of Lefèvre’s automatic programme. One more minute. Sixty seconds. Enough time to type a word.

Jason looked at the window that required entering the code: If you would like to abort before the end of countdown, enter password. Jason placed his fingers on the keyboard and typed the brand name of the drug: Tryptizol. He checked the word again and then pressed the enter key.

A new window showed on the screen. Aborted. Self-destruction initiated.

***

Lefèvre Industrie’s lab in Ahmedabad, India, self-destroyed five minutes later. The lethal viruses were eradicated and the lab exploded and caught fire.

Alexandre Lefèvre gazed at the screen. The window with the time display had closed and another window showed on the screen. Alexandre Lefèvre winced as he read the words: Aborted. Self-destruction initiated. He reread the message in disbelief and it took him a minute to realize that his plan had failed and that the dark order was defeated, but then the man acted quickly. He seized the receiver of his red telephone and made a brief call and then he opened the drawer where he kept his false passports. A couple of minutes later, Alexandre Lefèvre hastened out of  the company building. A helicopter took him to Brussels, Belgium, where he took the next flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Geraldine Lefèvre arrived at Jason’s apartment house just when the second police car stopped in front of it. She realized at once that their plan had failed and ordered the driver of the Bugatti to take her to London Heathrow. She checked her Gucci handbag for her false identity papers and then called her father. According to their emergency plan, which she had never thought would ever be put into action, Geraldine took the next flight to Argentina. Several members of their society also sought to instantly leave France. The automatic programme had sent them a message.

***

Antoine Lambert opened his cell phone and looked at it. Like he had expected, he had access to the internet. He logged into his private email account and checked the documents he had stored there. He had copied them from the protected folder. Antoine Lambert took a breath, but then he didn't hesitate any longer. He sent the documents to all major newspapers in the world. He had compiled the email addresses in the previous days, wondering himself what he was doing. But then, suddenly, from one moment to the other, his own odd behaviour had made total sense to him. Antoine Lambert looked at his cell phone. The messages and the attachments were sent. He closed his phone and sat quietly for another couple of minutes. Then he rose to his feet and returned to his car. He drove back to Paris in order to take the final step and hand himself over to the authorities. Antoine Lambert felt content. He was at peace with the world and himself.

***

When they saw the policemen, the killers tried to escape. They ran down the corridor, shooting their guns, and then hastened down the stairs. The policemen ran after them. One of them shot his gun. Two other policemen were waiting in the street, observing the entrance. Jason, Leonard, Gary, and Alec were watching the chase from the windows. Police finally overpowered the killers.

"Congrats," Alec said, turning to Jason. "You found the password in the very last minute."

"Yes," Gary said, patting Jason’s shoulder, "Good you kept calm, young man."

"It was his destiny, after all," Leonard said in a sober voice.

Jason shrugged and then smiled. "It’s all over now, but I still do not know why I was chosen. I have no idea why the monk contacted me. And more so, how he did it. After all, he died a thousand years ago," he said.

"So many questions, so many riddles. We’ll answer and solve them all. Some time or other," Leonard said lightly.

"Sure," Jason said cheerfully. "How about coffee now? Biscuits, Leonard?"

A short time later, they were sitting in the living room. Alec called his mother and she informed him of a global scandal. All TV stations were reporting on it. Jason switched on the TV. They saw an image of Antoine Lambert’s face on the screen. An excited reporter said that Antoine Lambert had revealed Lefèvre Industries’ criminal activities to the public.

"Well, this really takes me by surprise," Leonard said, chewing on a biscuit. "I did not think he was that courageous."

They watched the report and then the door bell rang. Two detectives had come to question them.

Jason slept deeply that night. No dream disturbed his sleep. However, when he awoke, he heard a faint and distant voice. Thank you, the man in his dream said. He sounded relieved and contented.

"My thanks to you," Jason said under his breath. "Without your help, I would not have made it."


THE END



© 2013 Dolores Esteban

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First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction