Chapter LXVIII: The Last Piece
19 November 1608
The rays of the sun washed the sandy metropolis with a mild blessing as it illuminated the thoroughfares with a proud glint. The people milling around in that afternoon carried and displayed numerous items from the far corners of the Empire: spices from India, China from the Empire of the Ming, Gold from the Caucasus, Incense from the Peninsula in the south, and various foodstuffs from the West. Zeren was not unused to such a sight, in fact he held an inner scorn at the place considering his homeland’s port heart to be ten times as grand and busy as this diamond of Persia’s West.
The wagon trains he had been ushering through some of the less crowded routes of the city were chained down with double locks—naturally all concealed underneath mounds of cloth. At least forty men that he was assigned from Halep ringed the three wagons copiously. Ever since he had disembarked from the ships along the Lebanese coast, he had to deal with these hooded mercenaries.
“Why didn’t the Sublime Porte give us regular soldiers?” he asked to no one in particular.
“It would have been too obvious, sir,” Zeren’s lieutenants answered just as quietly lest the others heard him. “This is a secret mission after all, we could not risk being seen as an official van.”
“I understand the reasoning, Abdullah,” Zeren said with a sigh as he took another glance back at the shifting figures making sure that no one got too near the train. “But I’d feel better if I knew a bit more about these soldiers… if they even are soldiers.”
Abdullah placed his older hand on the young leader’s shoulder. “It is too late to be complaining about such things, sir. In a few moments we’ll be at the Vizier’s palace. It’s a miracle from Allah that we did not encounter any problems on the voyage as it is and we are already here… at our destination in Bagdad!”
“You have been a good help, Abdullah. If it weren’t for you, we would not even have made it past the landing,” Zeren praised genuinely to the older man. As he turned back to look towards his lieutenant, there was a glint of somberness in that veteran’s eyes. “Is this the last mission you will be doing?” Zeren asked.
“It is indeed,” Abdullah replied. Abdullah was a bit taller than Zeren but shared in the darkness of hair and eyes with the exception of venerable gray portions curling here and there. One could tell he was a man of many missions before as his tanned skin exemplified the years of walking in desert or plain for the glory of the Empire. “The men at home thought that they would need an experienced fellow to be your guide through this, but I already see that you are quite capable yourself, young Zeren.”
“I will not forget the advice and help you have given me in controlling these brutes. They do not take kindly to being ordered by someone younger than many of them. When we reach home, I will personally convey to the minister how deserving you are of your retirement.”
Abdullah bowed a little to his young master. “You are most kind, sir.” He said with the humility of a seasoned servant.
“Allah is kind,” Zeren uttered gently, “kind enough that we have come here with no large incident…” Zeren also wished to say that Allah was kind enough to grant him such a future wife as Lady Leyla. The thought, however, further pressed his anxiety at the last leg of his journey. He looked back once more at the train making sure that no misstep would be taken. He did not understand what it was; perhaps it was the proximity of their goal, but he viewed the men with a disheartening suspicion. Failure now not only meant that he might possibly die within these foreign walls, but that Leyla would be… No, he did not want to think of it; could not fail now.
The exchanges had been swift. Raul had already picked out three secluded places along the route of the van that served as perfect hiding spots for the rear three guards that would be disposed of. Willem and Riku were already in place fully clothed with the thickest of cloth and even a smear of mud across their faces to attempt to hide fair complexions. Their eyes were perpetually downcast lest the glint of emerald or turquoise would give them away.
The moving crowds crisscrossing amongst the guardians of the train were both a boon and a danger. Raul had to first pass alongside one of them and insert his paralyzing needle just at the right time so that Riku could slip in the rear man’s place while Raul escorted the tipsy victim to the nearest drop-off. The same, once more for Willem, and then lastly, with the utmost silence, he would usher the last man to his receptacle before taking his place at the end of the train.
“Don’t huddle so close,” he whispered to them as quietly as he could from their rear. “Willem, move to the right, and Riku, to the left. Keep your heads turned as if you’re watching for possible danger.” As the two acquiesced to his response, he himself moved forward near the very rear. The others along the sides did not seem to notice as they were busy grumbling amongst themselves or regarding the various wares and foodstuffs.
Riku dared an upward look to the front but quickly lowered his eyes once more as the man at the very front seemed to sweep a look backward. “Their leader is getting suspicious,” Riku said to the others as if such a curt reminder would make them work harder to blend in.
“The Vizier’s palace is not much further. Once we get past the guards we can slip into the halls and wait for our chance,” Raul calmed his friends.
“I’ve stowed the horses where you showed me,” Willem added lowly, “and I’ve also prepared the way through the southern gate in the way you instructed me.”
Raul leaned a look towards Willem who similarly gave him a resolved gaze in return. For a moment, both young men looked at each other with a kind of strange understanding. Despite the immensity of what was to occur, both had felt a greater weight taken off of them then they had expected. “Thank you for understanding,” Raul wanted to say but dared not to. Van Axel’s eyes seemed to grin an adventurous look at him. The talk they had three days prior had not been the most fruitful, but as with all things, it took time for it to sink in; both for Willem who was receiving the revelations, but also for Raul. “Is this what it means to have… friends?” Raul asked in his mind, “Real friends?”
“The palace approaches,” Riku from the left whispered. All three came closer to the van and hid their faces behind the dusty entourage’s many cloaks. The intricate archway and the mosaic like painting now greeted them. Guards behind heavy cloth eyed the moving group with great disdain. Professional soldiers were these. Standing like monoliths on either side of the entrance, these giant sentinels crossed their arms in front of themselves and watched as the three caravans now crossed the portal into the courtyard of their lord.
Walls encircled the compound like a city within a city although the lawn and courtyard was rich with watered greenery and gardens. The buzzing of the markets now gave way to the soft trickle of fountains giving life giving liquid to the area around them. Raul could stealthily spy several wardens patrolling the parapet of the wall aside from the gate guards who now sealed a thick wooden door behind them and barring it with iron and planks. Raul, for a moment in the open courtyard, wrinkled his forehead… The gazes of the guards gave him a sickening feeling.
“Welcome to my humble home,” a stoic voice announced in Farsi far in the front. Raul peeked an eye forward and found the speaker. His rudimentary understanding of Farsi at least gave him a clue of the kind of greeting. His keen eye, however, spotted two things. First, the square ornamentation on the man’s staff, and secondly, the man’s cryptic gaze. This was indeed the man with the Golden Gun… but there was something more going on. That’s when he heard the sound of swords being drawn and Arquebusiers drawing their weapons.
Minister Burak grunted and snorted after he took another bite of his beef dinner. The succulent meat frothed its marbled fat in his mouth. The murmurs of his satisfaction were like the breathing of a fattened beast wheezing as it porked on its trough. The sound reverberated throughout the large solitary hall in which he ate.
“Al-Muwakal!” A voice calling out the minister’s proper title startled the eating man enough to make him jump and whimper in his chair. He knew whose voice that belonged to. The tone was a strong man’s voice but carried the undercurrent of that slicing malice known only to corruptible royals.
“Your Majesty!” Burak nearly choked as he spoke standing to his feet with some trouble. The gargantuan man spied the approaching figure and immediately administered the proper obedient gestures. The strain it took on the plump figure seemed to puff his face red.
“Don’t bother calling me ‘Majesty,’ you know how much disdain I have for the ‘gracious favour’ my uncle bestowed upon me,” the man retorted with a growl. A handsome young man not even breaking halfway past his twenties with fairer skin than his companion, he strutted down the hall with a royal gait but with a proud power to accompany it.
“You should not speak ill of your uncle the Sultan here, Your M—mmnn .. Amir Shahim.” Burak spoke with a low voice with eyes shifting to make sure none were around to have heard the young prince say such a thing.
Shahim ignored the cowardly admonition. “Any news?” he asked plainly.
“It will still be another few months before the messenger is due to return,” the minister attempted to explain while keeping his eyes low. “Our friend, the Vizier, is sure to succeed in his mission; I assure you!”
“I trust you with this task, Burak. That Zeren must not make it out alive,” the prince said while taking a step towards his cowed subordinate. “You understand how delicate my plan is?”
“Of course, of course!” Burak acceded quickly, “once we have word that he failed I will be menacing enough to Lady Leyla that she will have no choice but to accept your protection. I will make it as real as the sun rising from the horizon.”
The young prince grinned evidently and turned around. “I will let you return to your gluttony then,” Shahim dismissed. He would be too busy thinking of his new prize: that young spy master whose wit was as sharp as the blades she fanned. Lady Leyla: the girl with skin as white as milk.
When the fighting began, Raul had jumped underneath the carriage of the rear van. Instinctively, Willem and Riku had joined the similarly clothed mercenaries in fighting against the ambushers. Raul, however, ran and crawled underneath the long train until finally leaping out the other end to find the captain and his older companion desperately avoiding gunshot and sword. Beyond the melee, the tall and grinning figure of the Vizier watched over the battle like a snake watching its constricted prey slowly die.
Raul’s young legs propelled him forward before launching him into the air. The cloak he disguised himself with fell back from him as his bent knees cleared his feet from the men clashing below. Mid-air, needles and daggers issued with a gasp of air from his fingertips radiating towards the heavily regaled minister. The two guards immediately to the bureaucrat’s right and left received sharp spikes with their bodies and fell to the ground in pain. Three of the other projectiles, however, caught the twirling and agile movements of the Vizier’s staff as he raised it to stop the sharp edges in the wood.
Raul landed in the lawn in front of the Vizier but gave no time for the man to realize what had happened. Leaping forward with legs pumping against the dirt, he closed the distance between himself and the older gentleman just enough for one of his holding daggers to make contact with the man’s deflecting staff. Despite the man’s age and office for the government, his reflexes were excellent. There was one advantage Raul had, however: he was here for the box, not the man’s life. Wheeling another dagger from his other hand around, he once again met the opposing crash of the hard wooden weapon. Several more token swipes and Raul’s hand managed to grab the square top of the staff and slice the already weakened wood at the neck.
As he fell back, Raul noticed the sudden dread and realization that overtook the treacherous host—he had been himself tricked and it only began to dawn on that man that this was no Turk he was fighting. “I have it, let’s get out of here!” Raul yelled out in clear Spanish. Willem and Riku turned their heads and started to head towards the east wall. From underneath his clothes, Riku procured two small spheres and struck the cords attached to them with two pieces of metal ringed around his middle and index fingers. After a small sizzle, they were tossed over the east wall at the astonishment of the guards and landed on crates conspicuously leaning against the outer barrier. The small spheres, after a second or two, gave way to a flash of light and a crash of noise.
Zeren did not have any time to rationalize this betrayal and it appeared to him that this was the end of this poor soldier’s life. It was not until the amazing crash overtook the fighting and the entirety of the eastern wall disintegrated into a dust storm that covered the entire field of fighting. Zeren did not miss this opportunity. “Abdullah!” he cried out grabbing his older companion’s collar and pulled him towards the now gaping opening. Although the sand and debris bit harshly against his eyes, he could make out three figures fleeing into the gap and steadying uneasy horses from across the street way. Zeren’s instincts did not make him blind to the double treachery occurring here.
The three held fast to their steeds as they made their way through the alleyways of the city. Memorizing the route, Riku lead them southward. Raul held onto the box he acquired with great care, but just to assure himself of the worth of the object, he steadied himself on his stirrups long enough to bring a piece of parchment from his pocket. He let a small crack open in the box and held it close to the paper. Just as he thought, a small hole was now being burned at the center. Snapping the box tight, he inwardly exulted in the completion of his mission: he now had the last piece! Soon, he thought, soon he would be back at their hiding place and there he would carefully reconstruct all Three to be One once more… The Goldeneye … the Golden Gun … and the Goldfinger. Together they would be…
Turning the final corner, the found the south gate barred. “Willem,” Riku called out to the soldier who immediately understood that it was now his turn. Galloping towards the top of the road leading down towards the gate, he found the heavy cart that he had prepared the previous day. Cutting ropes with his sword, the cart jolted free from the wall it had been resting against and now barreled down towards the gate. The guards, surprised first by the explosion within the city and now from a cart rushing in their direction, moved in opposite directions as that small southern gate was forced open with a bang. Not long after, three horses spurred past the open portal.
“Get out of the car,” Pablo flatly said. At first, Taguchi swept his eyes away from the action and spectacle in front of them and froze at his room mate’s words. “Get out of the car!” Pablo repeated turning towards him. The intensity of those eyes was like firebrands that forced Taguchi’s hand to the handle of the door and to release his safety belt. He barely stumbled out onto his back end on the curb when the screech of tires brought a cloud of burnt rubber into his immediate vicinity.
Coughing and wincing, he was completely unprepared for the gigantic crash which shuddered his very being. Pablo had rammed his vehicle into the side of the black van. Taguchi immediately got to his feet and started to run towards the crash but quickly stopped at the edge of the intersection when he noticed in the midst of the smoke that the hooded men withdrew into their van leaving their prize on the lawn and veered their van away. Stunned, the road between him and his apartment was now like a frozen gulf and even the sight of his fallen professor could not compel him to move forward. Nonetheless, his eyes raced with unrestrained anxiety towards the small blue car now skewed in the middle of the street with the large indentation against its front passenger’s side.
Another noise and the tall bodyguard of a man he saw his cousin enter his house with broke out of the front door and was now out surveying the area with what seemed like an assault rifle the size of a small anti-aircraft gun. What finally forced Taguchi forward was the low murmur of his professor against the grass calling out his name. “Poltok-sensei!” Taguchi screamed as he crossed the gap. Looking about frantically at the beaten nature of his sensei, he was on his knees next to the man desperately searching for the right thing to do. Behind misted eyes, Taguchi watched as his mentor raised a shaky hand upward. Taguchi immediately took it, “Please don’t move sensei,” he pleaded.
Accosting his view for a second was Pablo apparently unharmed running up the steps saying in passing, “I’ll call the authorities” while The bodyguard of a man seemed to be surveying the area and engrossed in any further incursions by strange men.
“Taguchi-kun…” the professor said with a hint of liquid building up in his throat. Taguchi was horrified to look at the old man’s face with his lips coated in red. “You must… the Key…” the man tried to say. His fingers released themselves from Taguchi’s grip and pointed towards where a golden and a silver item were laying on the gross next to the blown open suitcase. “You must…” Poltok uttered. “Please…”
Completely confused, Taguchi reached over obediently and brought both items closer to them. Looking at the golden piece that Pablo had procured from the binding of the book the other day, he noticed how strange of a thing it actually was—it was no regular key. Five teeth it had: three of the same length, one shorter, one longer; The teeth were attached to the shaft which spread cylindrically like the barrel of a gun until at the end it stuck to a figure eight with a small hole in the middle like the iris of an eye.
“You must… … please… the Key….”
Chapter LXIX: The Key (coming soon)