Authors: Trey Garrison
BLACK SUN REICH
The Spear of Destiny: Part One of Three
For Cindy and Piper
o one told me the writing would be the easy part. The real work begins when you work with great people to make it better than it was, and better than you thought it could be. What makes the hard slog possible is having people who believe in you, even when you don't always believe in yourself. I have a lot of thanks to give.
First and foremost is my smokin' hot wife Cindy, who has made me a better man just for being in my life. Then there are my parents, who didn't strangle me in the crib or shoot me in my teens even though either would have been justified. Aaron and Amy suffered through the painful chapter-by-chapter first drafts, giving me encouragement when I needed it most and ideas when I was tapped out. The great mystery writer Harry Hunsicker likewise gave me invaluable insight, motivation and notes, as did Charles Martin at Literati Press and that master racontrepreneur/editor/P90X conqueror, Eric Celeste.
Standing forefront in making this book really happen is my agent, David Hale Smith, who saw past my flaws and believed there was something there worth taking a chance on. And then my editor .Â .Â . wow. Where this book is at its best is where my editor, Will Hinton, had the most influence. (I also thank David and Will for not taking out a restraining order against me when I was lobbying them with dailyâsometimes hourlyâcalls, asking them to give my weird, genre-mashing first novel a read.)
Finally, I really owe my late best friend, a Chihuahua named Harley, who sat on my lap for three-quarters of the time I wrote this book. He made sure I stayed at the keyboard even when I wanted to walk away.
This book is my humble attempt to capture the unabashed fun of the adventure stories, books, and movies that formed my worldview. There are Easter eggs and love notes throughout this workâmore than I can remember nowânods to writers, fictional characters and scenes that inspired me, whether I was dashing after dragons with a wooden sword or jumping from our roof with a red towel around my neck, flying to save the day. They're the things that remind us that good is worth fighting for. I wanted to add a little bit to that body of stories for my daughter, Piper, who will fight the never-ending battle tomorrow.
Thank you all for being there. I mean that to both the people in my life and the stories and heroes that give us hope and feed our dreams. I hope I lived up to what you have given me.
April 16, 1922
rturo awoke alone in the acolytes' dormitory. The beds of the other boys were empty. The clock said it was twenty past three in the morning. They had done it to him again. He would be late and the brothers would punish him for his tardiness, but not the others for failing to rouse him and instead sneaking out while he slept. Arturo rushed to pull on his coarse robes and his ceremonial vestments while cursing the other boys silently.
It wasn't fair but it's what he'd come to expect. Wherever they hailed from originally and no matter what their age, all of the boys were like him. They'd lost their families to the carnage of the Great War. They were the “Orphans of the Storm,” as Brother Michael called them. His storm orphans. Brother Michael took a special interest in the boys, Arturo was told, because of the war. Arturo had seen a dagger tattoo with the letters SPQR on Brother Michael's arm when he was teaching them to swim and he asked about it, but Brother Michael would only say it was one of the many things he couldn't wash away.
Arturo never quite fit in with the other boys, and the others made sure he knew it, through petty cruelties like letting him sleep in.
The slap of his sandals on the cold cobblestones echoed in the darkness as he sprinted across the lesser piazza to the acolytes' entrance to Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter Apostle, that holiest of all the churches in Christendom on this, the holiest of days.
By now, he knew that the other storm orphans would be setting up the candles and laying out the communion trays and cups, polishing and pressing and shining every inch of the altar. Two levels below the cathedral and inside one of the locked, guarded vaults, Brother Michael and a cardinal would be overseeing the boys as they brought out special items from the reliquary for this special sunrise mass. That's where he should be, and he was glad neither of the Swiss guards was at the lower gate room when he snuck in. Brother Michael never dealt out corporal punishment, but he was rather inventive when it came to other kinds of punishments. Sometimes it was a thing as simple as holding two candlesticks out on both sides. Easy the first few minutes, excruciating thereafter.
Arturo tried to slip as quietly as possible into the reliquary chamber. He was almost there when he heard what sounded like crying. The air was colder than the usual sixty degrees in the underground chamber. Much colder. The hairs on his arms stood up. There was electricity in the air, but not the static electricity Brother Michael had demonstrated for them in school. It was a negative charge he'd felt one time before. It was a dark magic, and somehow here in the place it should least likely have any power. He moved silently behind a tapestry, edging his way to the gilded vault doorway. His insides suddenly felt as if they had been doused in iced water.
The crying and sobs grew louder and more numerous. The air smelled of copper and something more pungent. The dark charge in the air grew stronger. Arturo knew he wasn't just imagining it. Harsh, guttural voices barked out commands. Though he was fluent in his native Spanish, in French, and of course Latin, he did not speak the one he heard now. But he knew the sound of German all too well.
Through a seam in the tapestry he saw the other storm orphans lined up and on their knees, along with three brothers, the cardinal, and two of the Swiss guards. Three men in dark overcoats and hats stood over the kneeling men and boys. They held angry black pistols with long barrelsÂ .Â .Â .
It was the fourth man's silhouette that froze Arturo. He stood in stark contrast to the other three. He was tall, impossibly thin, and wore a long white military coat that gathered at a black collar and a white peaked cap. The prisoners whimpered and prayed softly. The man in white was saying something in a raspy, lisping voice. He turned to his right, and in profile Arturo could see that his face was encased in a mask that looked like wet black leather with reflective buglike eyes. The skin around the edges of the mask was sickly white and deeply scarred.
Arturo wanted to run but couldn't move his feet. He felt a warm trickle on his inner leg. The white-clad man hissed and cursed a question at Brother Michael. The young monk shook his head. The man in white touched a long, bony finger to the chin of one of the Swiss guards and whispered something in his ear. A frigid blast of air swirled through the room. For a moment the man in white had a red glow about his skin. Shadows danced in the chamber, though the electric lights didn't move or flicker. Even the men with pistols looked about nervously. Arturo could hear the man's voice faintly, but only in his mind, not with his ears. It sounded like broken glass.
At the man in white's signal, one of the men in dark overcoats nervously handed a knife to the Swiss guard to whom the man in white had whispered. The guard nodded slowly, stood, and climbed atop a stack of storage crates beside where they clustered. Knife still in hand, the guard reached up to a pulley system on a track that hung from the rafters. It was normally used to lift heavier, crated artifacts onto wheeled dollies.
With no expression on his face or life in his eyes, the Swiss guard slipped his arms through one of the guide rope loops, pushed off with his feet, and slid with feet dangling along the track until he hung above the kneeling prisoners. With the rope snugly under his arms, the guard took the knife and without hesitation plunged it into his stomach. He made no sound, and showing little emotion beyond determination, pulled the knife across the length of his belly. It sounded like wet canvas being ripped. His entrails poured out of his body onto the others below. And still he made no sound. Brother Michael leapt to his feet and charged one of the men with guns but was knocked back down with a blow to his head.
Arturo's own cry was covered by the screams of the prisoners. The boys and Brother Michael tried to move out from the mess of intestines and blood that poured from the disemboweled guard, only to be stopped by the gun-wielding men in overcoats.
The guard finally looked down, and as if for the first time seeing what he'd done, screamed. As an injured Brother Michael said a prayer below, the guard tried to stuff the dangling innards back inside his belly. It took another minute before death mercifully took him.
Arturo was beyond feeling now. It didn't seem real. It had to be a nightmare. He watched as Brother Michael rose and led the man in white to one of the vaults. They emerged a minute later. Brother Michael was shoved back down on his knees as the man in white admired the object they'd taken. From Arturo's vantage point it looked like a simple staff or candlestick. Not even gold.
The three guards with guns quietly filed out the main exit, leaving only the man in white and his kneeling prisonersâthe boys, Brother Michael and the two other brothers, the cardinal, and the remaining Swiss guard.
With his scrawny, porcelain hands, the thin man in white gathered up half a dozen knives from a collection of cutlery and tossed them on the floor in front his kneeling prisoners. Then he removed his mask, and Arturo knew he was looking at the face of a demon. The man's head was simply a skull; alabaster skin pulled taut, as if not there at all, and a few wispy hairs atop it. Cold red eyes burned from within his deep sockets. Everywhere, there were symmetrical scars. His ears and nose were nubs.
The man in white was closer to Arturo now, and he could hear the cold man's voice in his head more clearly. Again there was the gust of chill air and the bloody glow. The man's mouth did not move but Arturo heard his voice in his head, spoken to the whimpering group. “The sin is inside you. It must be removed. It is inside you.”
Arturo knew it was his own sin the man meant. His feet started to shuffle forward. He needed one of the knives. But then he caught himself. He felt for a moment that he'd lost control of his body.
The others, nearer to the man, did not awaken. The boys and the churchmen all rose and took a knife in hand. The man in white put his mask back on, turned his back to the group, and held up the object he'd been given toward one of the bare lightbulbs strung overhead. The kneeling prisoners began gathering up the knives.
Arturo could hear the man's own thoughts still as he stared at the relic. The man in white was admiring the object's craftsmanship even as he thought to himself that it was another in a line of forgeries for his master's collection. Still, as careful as if he considered it the object he'd truly been after, he wrapped the artifact in an oilcloth and placed it inside his satchel.
Arturo watched the others, knives now in hand, line up and one by one do exactly what the first Swiss guard had done to himself. They did so without a sound. Arturo held back his scream of anguish even as he cried out to God in his mind.
A white, bony hand pulled aside the tapestry. Arturo stared up at the man in white. A cold finger touched his cheek and his bowels emptied. He knew then that it was his own sin that had caused the gory tableau before him. But the man in white did not beckon him to remove the sin, as he had with the others. No, the man knew that just knowing he was the cause was punishment enough for the boy. The he turned and walked away.
Knowing all of this was his own fault was the last sane thought Arturo ever had.