Authors: Anita Clenney
Kendall touched his hand, careful to avoid the IV. A myriad of pictures flashed through her head. The castle in Italy, the statues, the secret treasure room. Raphael. “Of course I’m alive, thanks to you.”
“The spear? Is it safe?” Marco asked, his voice weak.
“It’s safe,” Nathan said. “The intruders are gone.”
Marco let out a relieved sigh that lifted his scrawny chest. “He’ll try again. He won’t stop.”
“The Reaper?” Nathan asked.
“We found the treasure at the castle. I think it needs to be moved before someone else finds it.”
“Yes, it must be kept safe. Can’t let him get it. Raphael knows how to move it.”
“Marco, Raphael is dead, remember?” Kendall said gently.
Nathan rubbed his chin. He seemed ill at ease. “I’ll have Kendall do it. There’s no one I trust more than her.” He met her gaze and Kendall felt a glimmer of something, as if she’d experienced this moment before. Then the sensation passed, leaving her with guilt at the thought of the crosses in her bag. She would have to tell him she’d accidentally taken them home. Turning, she saw Jake watching her. He was frowning, and so was Fergus. Everyone was frowning.
“I think it’s time you tell us about the Reaper and these relics,” Jake said.
“Water,” Marco said, his voice raspy.
Kendall helped him take a drink from the cup the nurse had left. He shifted in bed, sighed again, and spoke. “There are things in this world that cannot be explained. There are relics so powerful that in the wrong hands the human race could be destroyed.”
“More comic book stuff,” Jake muttered, too low for Marco to hear.
“Our order was formed many centuries ago to protect those relics, to keep them out of evil hands. We were called the Protettori after we moved to Italy. Once there were many of us, but one of our own turned on us. We were slaughtered and scattered like sheep.”
“One of the Protettori did this?” Kendall asked.
“The Reaper. He wasn’t always the Reaper. He was one of our trusted brothers, but something happened to him. He changed. He became greedy for power. He wanted the relics for himself. Darkness took root inside him and grew. We didn’t realize what he was doing at first. When we did, we cast him out of the order and put up the sentinels to keep him out.”
“The statues?” Nathan said.
“Yes. Their duty is to keep him out.”
“Duty?” Jake frowned. “They’re stone.”
Marco nodded. “They are now.”
“What the hell is he talking about?” Jake whispered.
Kendall leaned closer. “What were the statues before they were stone?”
“Guardians of the Protettori.”
Kendall knew her expression must look as puzzled as the others. “Marco, are you saying the statues were alive?”
“Once upon a time, they were guardians and knights.”
“How did they go from being guardians and knights to stone sentinels?” Kendall asked.
“The vow to protect doesn’t stop with death. The guardians will always guard.”
“Is Raphael a guardian?” Nathan asked.
Marco nodded. “He was one of the first guardians.”
“Why isn’t he one of those statues?” Jake asked.
“He chose to stay. It’s complicated,” Marco said.
“Or crazy,” Jake muttered.
“Are you a guardian?” Kendall asked.
“No. I am a keeper. I keep the relics and the treasure. The guardians protect it. With force if need be.”
“Warriors?” Jake asked.
“Warriors. Soldiers. We each have a function. Different strengths. When the guardians die, they continue to protect as sentinels.”
“I think he’s had too many painkillers,” Jake whispered.
“How did Jake and I get past the statues—sentinels—when we found the castle?” Kendall asked.
“Someone had turned them off,” Marco said.
“Raphael?” Nathan asked.
“No. Raphael wouldn’t have done such a thing. But someone knew where to find the stone.”
“Stone? A stone controls them?” Jake asked.
“I’m not allowed to speak of it. It’s in the vow.”
“I bet it was Edward,” Kendall said. “He knew the spear was there and needed to get inside. His ancestor knew a lot about the castle.”
“Who is Edward?” Marco asked.
“He was working for the Reaper,” Kendall said. “Or working against him. The Reaper had hired him to find the Spear of Destiny. Edward was going to steal it and sell it.”
“This Edward is dead?” Marco asked.
“Yes.” Kendall didn’t tell Marco that a ghost killed Edward. She offered Marco another sip of water. His hands seemed shakier on the cup.
“The Reaper won’t stop,” Marco said. “Not until he gets the relics. If he does, I fear for the world.”
“If he’s that dangerous, why not just kill him?” Jake asked. “He obviously has well-trained men, and if he’s stealing all these priceless antiquities, then he has money to back up his scheme.”
“There weren’t many of us left who could kill him. He’s very powerful. He’s had hundreds of years to grow stronger and he knows our secrets.”
“Hundreds of years?” Jake frowned. “Exactly how old is the Reaper?”
“Very old. No one can remember his birth.”
“How is that possible?” Jake glanced at Kendall, and she knew he was thinking of Raphael and the strange vision they had shared when she touched him. They had seen men fighting with swords.
“Was Raphael that old?” Kendall asked.
Before he died?
“He’s very old as well,” Marco said.
“And you?” Nathan asked.
“We are all old.”
“But how is that possible?” Kendall asked.
“The water. We drink from it once a year. It keeps us strong and young.”
“What water?” Kendall asked, hardly daring to breathe.
“The water from the fountain,” Marco said. “The Fountain of Youth.”
HERE WAS SILENCE
in the room as Nathan, Kendall, and Jake shared a stunned look. “It’s real?” Kendall whispered.
“We must keep him away from it,” Marco said.
“Where is it?” Nathan asked.
“Only Raphael knows.”
“Raphael is dead, remember?” Kendall said.
“Someone else must know.” Nathan looked tight enough to snap. He moved closer and knelt beside the old man.
Marco frowned. Was it her imagination or was Marco becoming less lucid whenever Nathan got near? Marco lifted a shaky hand to his beard. “Arthur. Find Arthur.”
“Who’s Arthur?” Nathan asked. “Is he a keeper?”
Marco’s eyes closed.
The nurse stepped inside. “He needs to rest. You can visit later.”
They all filed toward the door. They were in the hallway when Marco called for Kendall with a weak voice. He held out his hand.
“I’ll catch up with you,” she told Nathan and Jake. She approached the bed and touched Marco’s arm. “Do you need something?”
Marco looked blank for a moment; then he closed his eyes. “I can’t remember.”
“You must rest. Don’t worry about anything but getting better.” She straightened and stepped away from the bed.
“Look out for him,” Marco muttered.
“He needs you. You’ll have to save him. It must be you.”
Kendall frowned. Was he out of his head? “Save who, Marco?”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “Adam.”
Kendall’s heart leapt. She started back to the bed.
“Marco, do you see Adam?”
The old man didn’t move or open his eyes. He was asleep.
Kendall turned and saw the nurse watching her. “When he woke up, did he mention someone named Adam?” Kendall asked.
The nurse went over to Marco. “I think he did mention the name once, or maybe it was Arthur. Something that started with an
“What did he say?”
The nurse shrugged. “I don’t recall. He was muttering. Is it important?”
“It might be.”
“Should I let Mr. Larraby know if he mentions the name again?”
“Don’t bother him. He has a lot on his mind. You can let me know.”
“Mr. Larraby does seem troubled. He’s been stopping by every hour that you’re not sitting with Marco.”
Kendall caught up with Nathan and Jake in the hall. They were discussing the trip back to Italy.
“I need you both ready to leave first thing in the morning,” Nathan said. “I’m sorry to send you back so soon, but I don’t trust anyone else to pack up the treasure. I already have a team
on the ground at the castle. The guards don’t know about the treasure room. I’ll tell them you two are studying some stonework, to keep everyone away so you can work undisturbed. After you get everything crated and out of view, I’ll have them load the items up for shipping.”
“You aren’t coming?” Jake asked, surprised.
“I’ll wait for Marco to wake up and try to find out where this fountain is.”
Kendall was surprised too that Nathan wouldn’t be there. The treasure was incredible. How could he trust anyone to load it properly? To load it without keeping a small souvenir? Especially Jake, as much as they seemed to mistrust each other at times.
“Take care of Kendall,” he said to Jake. “I trust you’ll follow orders.” He gave Jake a loaded look. “All of them.”
“Of course, Boss. I live to serve.” Jake gave Nathan a slight bow.
“Stop acting like I’m a piece of glass,” she said.
“I’ll do my best to take care of her,” Jake said as if Kendall hadn’t spoken. His eyebrows lifted in a smirk, and she knew he was getting ready to say something to piss Nathan off. “But she makes it hard.” His hand moved from his waist and hovered for a nanosecond over his groin. “To protect, I mean.”
Nathan scowled and walked off, leaving Jake and Kendall in the hall.
“You’re trying to make him angry,” she said.
“I’ve gotta do something to liven things up in this place. You’re avoiding me. Nathan’s no fun. That leaves Fergus, and he’s acting as strange as Marco.”
“We’ve all been through a lot this past week.” Kendall pulled her hair back and fastened it with a ponytail holder from her wrist. “Do you think he’s right about the Fountain of Youth?”
“Sounds crazy to me. And it sure hasn’t kept Marco youthful. I like your hair better down.”
She pulled it tighter. “The Protettori had the Spear of Destiny. Why not the Fountain of Youth?”
“The spear is real,” Jake said. “There’s history behind it. The fountain is a myth.”
“So we’ve been told.”
“Can’t you read Marco or something?” Jake asked.
“I don’t like reading people. It’s like stealing. And it usually doesn’t work anyway.” Not when she wanted it to. It worked just fine when she didn’t, when she was least expecting it. “But if we can’t get anything else from him, I may have to try.”
“Where are you off to?” Jake asked.
“I have some things to do.” She was going to finish examining the crosses in private before she took them back. She didn’t mind prying into the past of an inanimate object. It wasn’t the same as rifling through a person’s head. “I’m going to do some research on the Fountain of Youth.”
She stopped by the library for some reference materials. Nathan’s collection of books was extensive. Using the sliding ladder, she climbed to the top shelf and found two books that explored the fabled fountain. She carried them to her bedroom and put them and the crosses on the bed. She made herself comfortable and studied the crosses first. She didn’t get any new impressions and after a few minutes, she gave up. Jake was right. Her gift was a pain in the ass sometimes.
Sighing with frustration, she put the necklaces in her purse and walked to the door. She needed to return the crosses. She was surprised to see Nathan leaving Jake’s room. They stood in the hallway, speaking in low voices. She didn’t want to explain her actions, so she eased her door shut. Later, after everyone was asleep, she would put them back.
Next, she opened her reference materials. The Fountain of Youth was like vampires. Everyone had their own myths and
speculations as to the origins and purpose. After her eyes grew blurry, she put the books aside and went to grab dinner. It was informal, usually a buffet allowing each of them to dine at their convenience. Neither Jake nor Nathan was there, which wasn’t surprising. Since they had returned from Italy, Nathan usually ate in his room and God knew what Jake was up to. After dinner, Kendall pulled clothing from her restocked closet and packed her duffel bag for the trip. Then she took a long soak in the huge Jacuzzi before turning in early. The jet would leave before sunrise, and packing up the treasure quickly and yet carefully would be a tiring task.
She was glad Nathan was sending them back to the castle. After the treasure was safe, she planned to spend some time exploring the place, letting the sensations and history sink in. If she wasn’t chasing ghosts or running from bad guys, maybe she would find answers.
She lay down, anxious for morning. Sometime in the night, she heard the roar again. Her feet hit the floor and she opened her door, almost colliding with a sleep-tousled Jake on the other side. He was dressed in his camos and T-shirt. In fact, he looked as if he’d slept in them.
“Are you OK?” he asked, stepping inside her room.