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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Brandenburg III

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Dante’s Blood is a continuation and conclusion to The Dark Muse. Its a story centering around a Hungarian who tries preventing the plans of global domination from a mysterious being who calls himself Khayr ad-Din.

You won’t have to read The Dark Muse to understand what’s going on in Dante’s Blood but it may clear up any confusion you may have. As with all sequels, there will be some places that may be blurred if you haven’t read the preceding work but I’ve done what I can in the outline to avoid the bulk of these problems.

Muse has won a few awards - one of which I have yet to add to my inkwell - so if you read AARs based on that, have at it. If you want to post a comment about Muse, post it here. And as with Muse, you can expect one update per week with an average of 3500 words.

Dante’s Blood will be have a high fantasy setting. There won’t be trolls, dwarves, etc. I’ll be drawing the bulk of my fantasy from lore and things of that nature. A knowledge of this isn’t necessary as I’ll provide all you’ll need to know.

The outline for the story is complete as are the bulk of the characters - including side characters and even some which are incidental. I had promised a chapter release this week but this week has been terribly busy and draining so there is no update. I post this notice now in case you want to review what has gone on in The Dark Muse so you can keep pace with new updates when they’re released.

 
Last edited:

volksmarschall

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The introduction is certainly leaving me for more, and as a fan of the Dark Muse, albeit I don't think I commented once, or if I did, it wasn't that much; I must say I'm eagerly awaiting for more of your excellent work!
 

SirCliveWolfe

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Very interesting... you may want to tidy up the spoilers thing, as it's quite easy to read without highlighting I'm afraid...
 

Brandenburg III

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volksmarschall & Enewald: Good to have you both along again. Now I just have to sit down and start writing.

SirCliveWolfe: I know but I’ve tried a number of colors before posting and that was the best color that blended. There isn’t much I can do about it. But there are two warnings (one in the pic and the second in the white text just before the red text.) Also the long picture was put in place so early comers could scroll down easily in order to evade catching glimpses of the red text.

Edit: I'll minimize the size of the red text now... don't know why I didn't think of that earlier.
 

SirCliveWolfe

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SirCliveWolfe: I know but I’ve tried a number of colors before posting and that was the best color that blended. There isn’t much I can do about it. But there are two warnings (one in the pic and the second in the white text just before the red text.) Also the long picture was put in place so early comers could scroll down easily in order to evade catching glimpses of the red text.

Edit: I'll minimize the size of the red text now... don't know why I didn't think of that earlier.
Indeed it was just a little nickpick, as I was not sure if you had notices...

...the only other thing I can think of is that you could start a Dante's Blood Spoilers thread and link to it?
 

Brandenburg III

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SirCliveWolfe: I’m not overly concerned about it. It isn’t a spoiler for dante’s blood but will give away the final scene of Muse. I feel it doesn’t ruin anything but not reading it will keep everything pure. And I feel starting a new thread would be a waste. Not many people would bother following it; most would just scroll down anyway.

aldriq: Almost one week. Already with this project I’m altering bits and pieces of the outline while putting in more effort at researching these fantasies - and Dante - I’m going to be entering. Hopefully it’ll come out alright.

To all: For those who were concerned about the uneven chapters in muse (sometimes one side taking up to three chapters to complete) I’ve remedied that problem. No one side is going to take more than two chapters at a time. In fact, I believe that’s the average.

Yeah, I still don’t have that pdf for Muse. I’m a bad narrative writer, bad. Also, no buttons for DB until next week. This week’s been very busy. Update in a few.
 

Brandenburg III

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The tolling of the bell ended but their sounds continued to ring as inertia pushed the clanger against the lip of the bell. The sounds echoed throughout the monastery as János held onto the grate of the door, wanting to push it down. It was still too strong and even in his rage he wasn’t able to rattle his escape.

His voice still called for help believing the effort was in vain. Now that Khayr ad-Din was no longer in his disintegrated form, there was no protection. The Soviets? János knew they were still looking. The ringing bell would make it easier to find him. Even if he didn’t have the book, he knew too much.

The torches were dying and the light was giving way to the darkness of the night. Now the moon was the brightest object lighting the room through slits and windows. Its rays spilled onto the floor while János called out for help again. The bell couldn’t ring itself; there had to have been someone.

János didn’t see it but he heard it, feeling the gentle vibrations through the short bars on his door when someone was fiddling with his lock. He heard something catch, then give way. Then there were a series of locks unbuckling like the first. János heard nothing fall to the floor even in the now silent monastery. It was eerie to be swallowed in this kind of darkness and not know what to expect. But anything was better than being forgotten like a caged animal.

At last his door creaked open seemingly by itself like something born out of the minds of Grimm. He allowed the door to open as he looked down and around, finding nothing. With hesitation he took his first step outside of the room and again looked around. Then he caught his breath. His heart lunging into his throat where it stuck.

A man came out from behind the door, shoving a key inside his pocket as he faced János. “We imprisoned the wrong man.”

“There’s no time for that now,” János didn’t care about excuses or apologies. “We have to get out of here. People are going to be here and they’re not going to like what I know or what you saw.”

The man didn’t respond as János rushed toward a dying torch, taking it from the wall. He returned to the monk, asking, “How can we get out of here?”

“I’m afraid I’ll be too much of a burden. I can’t leave now.”

“What? Why?” János asked as he neared the torch to shed light upon the man’s face. János turned his eyes away from the man when he saw. The monk had sockets for eyes, blood spilling from their empty holes.

The monk didn’t say anything until after János’ silence told the story, “I know now you can see. The man stole away my eyes and left me to live so I could ring the bell for help. He’s taken over the body of my brother, and killed the other.”

“How can we get out of here?” János ignored the man’s talk.

“Through the door you entered.”

“No, that won’t work,” János advised. “They could be outside right now. Even if we have hours ahead of them they’ll track us. There must be another way in this old place.”

“There is, but its dangerous.”

“Its more dangerous to stand and talk.”

“Follow me,” the blind man spoke as he turned around, walking.

János held the torch out to follow the monk while looking around, hearing sounds that weren’t there. The walk was brisk and fast and on his trek, János wondered aloud how the blind man knew where he was going.

“I’ve lived here nearly my entire life. I never doubted I could walk through these rooms without my sight but I never put it to practice. I’m glad my assumptions have been correct.”

János was silently thankful, too. When they stopped János found himself at a wall, the light emanating from the flame showed him a wooden door in the floor. “Here it is,” the man spoke.

“Where does it lead?” asked János.

“Into an old subterranean sewage system. Its toxic so you can’t stay down there long. You’ll have to come up for fresh air whenever you can. If you’re underground long enough it will kill you.”

“So it leads to a city.”

“If you have the strength to get there.”

“Open it, let’s go.”

“I’m not going,” the man spoke. “I’ll only slow you down.”

“Do you want to lose more than just your eyesight? That’s what will happen when the Russians arrive.”

“I’m not going with you,” was all János received as a response. The monk reached for the handle of the door and pulled. It wouldn’t budge. It was air tight, made so from the warped wood and the intention to keep the fumes from rising into breathing space. The man grimaced, pulling harder until he fell onto his back, the handle detached and in the man’s hand.

János watched the handle break, shielding his face from the few splinters that came with it. Shaking his head, he stood, slamming the heel of his foot against the strong wood. But as with the stranger’s attempt, it wouldn’t break.

The man returned to the door, hovering his hand over the place where the handle broke. He slipped four fingers inside the hole where the handle had been, hooking his fingers and pulled. Through grunts and gritted teeth, he put every ounce of strength into opening the stubborn door. At last it gave and flipped open.

“Let’s go,” János spoke impatiently.

“There’s one more,” the man replied, slipping his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a ring of keys, the one he used to free János. “There’s an iron door here. Put down your fire and grab the handles. We don’t want to lose this.”

János looked down the hole where a few inches below the surface an iron door was positioned. There were no hinges but there were four locks on each corner. Reaching his hands and fitting them to the handles, János spoke, “When this thing gives, its going to take me with it.”

“It isn’t completely iron,” the man spoke as he ran through the keys, his fingers feeling the tips of them before he found the first.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to have one key for all four?” János asked as the first latch was unlocked.

“If its easier for us, then its easier for everyone,” the man advised as he held up the second key. He continued suit with the third and then, his empty eyes staring at János, “Are you ready for the last one?”

János moved his knees to either side of the hole, his grip reaffirming itself and his arms pulling upward. “Ready.”

The monk moved the key to unlock the last hole, moving out of the way when he heard the latch give. János’ strength pulled the iron plate out of the hole with little fighting, setting the thing to the side. When the last object was out of the way of the shaft, a putrid wind blew into the room, blowing out the torch János had carried with him. Both men coughed violently in the horrid, cool breeze.

János had to move away from the hole before he could talk, “How can we escape through there?”

“It’s the only way outside of the front door,” the man said as he, too, fled from the hole.

“I can’t go down there alone. My torch is out.”

“Grab another one.”

“What if that one goes out, too? I’d be dead, as you said. I’m going to need your help. If you know the way.”

“I do,” the man confessed.

“Then let’s go,” János spoke as he took a breath, heading to the hole. When the man didn’t offer a response, János pushed his feet in, finding the ladder, lowering himself down. Once he reached the ground he looked up, hoping this wasn’t going to be the last time he’d see light, as dim as it was.

Then, it went out. János heard the scraping of metal from above the shaft. Had the man tricked him? Encased him in this deathly corridor? János was tempted to begin climbing again but put the idea aside as he heard the latches locking into place. The iron plate was strong and there was no way he was getting out that way.

“If you’re at the base of the ladder,” János heard from the shaft, “move to the right. I don’t want to knock you into the pit.”

János did as instructed, glad that he hadn’t been left behind. Then, as he took his first breath, he realized that the smell wasn’t as bad as he first supposed. He attributed it to being acclimated. But as one could become acclimated to the cold, so could the chill kill.

He heard the man’s feet hit the ground, then felt his hands touch his chest. “I needed to know where you were,” the man spoke.

“Why did you seal that?” János asked.

“It’ll take them more time. Not many policemen travel with a locksmith,” the man warned. János didn’t add that they probably had some kind of blowtorch; they were looking for Khayr ad-Din too, and that was the only way to reduce him to nothing. But János didn’t want to bring down the spirit of the man further.

“Which way is it?” János asked.

“Follow me and keep close,” the monk snuck around him. “Here, place your hand on my shoulder. And keep up. We won’t run but neither should we crawl.”

Every breath János drew in he could taste the age from the walls and the stench from the ground. It was a horrible thing and he was happy to begin walking. It was dark and terrible. If he had to be thankful for anything, it was that he wasn’t claustrophobic.


As the monk warned, they could only go so far. When they’d come across another ladder, he forced a climb to find fresh air. But they wouldn’t stay long in the clean air as they returned to the cavern. János was worried about where they were or where they’d end up. His attitude was rising when after the second shaft they were beginning to come across manholes. It meant civilization. Or a city at the very least.

Upon climbing one of the ladders, the monk spoke to János, “We’re getting out here. If we go any farther then we’re both going to run into trouble.”

“That’s fine with me,” János spoke from below. “As long as we get out of here.”

The monk unlocked and unscrewed the manhole, again with his key, and slid it to the side. Both men crawled out, smelling as though they’d spent the day playing in a cess pool. János placed the manhole over their escape, returning it in its place. Light was still scarce but János could now use more of the moon to his advantage.

“We’re going to have to hide your eyes,” János spoke. He ripped a part of his shirt sleeve, wrapping it around the man’s head. Seeing a blind man without a cover was enough, let alone one who had nothing but sockets. “We’ll have to find a hotel or a room to stay in. Do you have any money?”

“Me?” the monk asked. “No, I’ve never had any use for it.”

“And Khayr took my wallet and my identification in the desert. The Soviets probably have both by now.” János fell silent for a moment. “What town is this?”

“It’s a small town, many miles south of Debrecen.”

“Well, let’s find someone,” János spoke. “Now you follow me.”

The monk grabbed János’ arm just above the elbow. “Where are we going?”

“Don’t worry about that,” János spoke as he walked along the sidewalk. There were shops on either side and in the now early morning, there were few people walking up and down the streets. A few cars passed them, still with their lights on while the sun fought for dominance over the moon. Street lights flickered but János wasn’t sure if that was because they were in need of repair or if morning was coming. And in all this, János was trying to think of ways to pay for a room somewhere, or a place to stay. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get money but he knew he didn’t want to be outside during the day.

János altered his direction and began going away from the city. After many blocks and the rise of the morning’s sun, János noted the decrepit state of the buildings where few living shops survived. “Let’s go into one of these,” János spoke.

“I can’t see. You’ll have to tell me.”

“These one and two story buildings. They look to be abandoned.”

“So did my home.”

“Well, we can’t stay out here,” János advised. He went up to a store with a boarded front window, finding its door locked. Just be sure, János knocked and waited, hoping no one would answer. When no one came, János asked, “I don’t suppose you have a key for this?”

“No. And I wouldn’t help you break into someone’s home if I did.”

“It’s a shop,” János answered. He rammed his shoulder against the weak door twice before it caved. The frame near the lock splintered as the door crashed against the inside wall, bouncing back in a recoil from the strike. “We’ll be safe in here for a while.”

The man silently entered. János smirked as he followed, picking up pieces of wood on the doorstep, tossing them inside. The man wasn’t willing to help break in but he was willing to take what comforts remaining in the shop. Once he adequately cleaned up, János stepped inside, closing the door behind him. When it wouldn’t shut, János put an old chair against it, holding it in place.

“What do you want to do here?” the man asked.

“We have to get cleaned up and we have to rest. If we want to go anywhere, your face is going to have to be free from blood. And I haven’t washed in weeks.”

“This place has water?”

“Every building has plumbing these days.”

“Running water?”

“Stop it,” János spoke as he walked by the man. The trash on the floor was easily evaded and a counter with an old cash register was sitting on one end. A door stood ajar just behind the counter. János walked through with an eerie sense that he shouldn’t be there. Inside the room was a stash of inventory of empty boxes. It wasn’t big but it was suitable for a place this size. Then, toward the back corner, János found another small room. A restroom with a small sink and a toilet. Turning the knob on the sink, the faucet coughed, fighting to get the air out of its system. After a few sputtering attempts, water flowed first brown from accumulated dirt, then clean. He was thankful some remained in the pipes.

János returned to the man who hadn’t moved from his spot. János spoke, “We have water. Come with me and I’ll tell you the problem we’re in.”

“I have nothing to be afraid of,” the man spoke as he followed János.

“If you go back there, they’re going to find you. They’ll wonder why you left, why you no longer have your eyes. They’ll wonder why your friends are dead. They’ll accuse you. Just as they would’ve accused you if you had stayed. If you’re gone, they can blame Khayr ad-Din.”

“Ördög?”

“There’s no such-“ but János caught himself before he could finish the sentence. To say there was no such thing about anything was a dangerous thought. “He calls himself Khayr ad-Din. That’s good enough.”

“What is the problem?” the man spoke as they entered the small restroom.

As János began unwrapping the binds from around the man’s eyes, he spoke, “Khayr has a book that can change history upon its completion. We have to destroy it. I know how but I no longer have the book.”

“I know your situation,” the man answered, listening to the splashing water as he felt the cloth peeling from his eyes.

“You know my situation?”

“I know the problem,” he corrected himself. “You need the elixir of the book’s creator in order to destroy it.”

“Elixir?” János asked, trying to clarify. “I thought I only needed to spill the blood over the book?”

“Blood in itself is always a powerful force. In history its been attributed to many things. Dracula, for instance, was created through it.”

“Vampires don’t exist,” János reiterated what he heard from Khayr ad-Din.

“True, but the uninformed don’t know this fact. However, they do realize the properties blood can have. But these properties can only be activated with certain ingredients. I don’t know these ingredients. I don’t think anyone does anymore or we’d see many more of these books.”

“Why would Dante want to create this book for Algiers?” János asked as he washed the torn sleeve in the sink.

“Dante was exiled from Florence, a place he loved dearly. There were petitions from Dante to be reinstated within the city but each petition was denied. Even to this day the order against Dante has not been repealed. We can’t see what Dante was thinking nor can we read about it since he never wrote of the subject. Its quite obvious Dante had been thrown into his own private Hell and at some point, as much as he loved Florence, wanted his revenge.”


“So he created this book to throw Florence to the wolves?” áJnos asked, wiping away the dried blood on the man’s face.

“Maybe not to destroy it. Perhaps to spite Florence. To say, even if in his own mind, that in the end he had the real power.”

“But even in the end he was still expelled from his city. He had no power.”

“Not until someone found his book. But I think it can be said for certain that he didn’t want anyone to find them. That he changed his mind toward the end.”

“What makes you say that?” János dipped the rag under the water again.

“Its taken more than six hundred and fifty years to find the first book.”

János replaced the cool, damp torn sleeve over the man’s eye sockets. He wasn’t sure how much good it would do but it was better than letting them breathe in this condensed, dirty environment. Then János began removing his shirt and plugged the sink.

“Wait,” János remarked. “You said first book?”

“There were two created, yes. There are always two created. When the first is born, it splits and forms a duplicate. Many creators were content with just one book so they never bothered with the second. They destroyed it upon its creation so history could never change beyond what they intended. However, Dante didn’t destroy his second book.”

“How do you know this?”

“Exactly how one comes across information. He asks and discovers.”

“From your monastery?”

“We’re not hermits.”

János set his shirt in the sink, removing the dirt from it. Pulling it out he wrung it, slinging it over the top of the door. Then he returned to the man, “Where’s this other book?”

“Near him.”

“Dante?”

“Yes.”

“And where is he?”

“In Ravenna. A long way from here.”

“You’re saying the book is with him?”

“No, not anymore. The discovery of a book lying with him would’ve granted news such as the letter had. Antonio Santi was the first man of note to observe the remains.”

“You believe they’re with him?” János spoke as he wiped his face clean.

“Man of God or not, its quite a treasure to have for all eternity. He passed nothing down to anyone nor to the church fitting the book’s description. Its with him.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“He won’t be hard to find once we get there.”

“So you’re coming with my willingly?”

“It would seem I have little choice in the matter.”

“Since you’re coming with me, what’s your name?”

“Sándor.”

János grinned as he turned back to him, “But there’s one thing that’s bothering me. Why did Khayr want to come to your monastery? Why did he lead me there?”

“For the other book. He tortured my brothers but they wouldn’t tell. When he took my eyes I told him it was with Dante. He threatened to return and kill me if I lied to him and ordered me to ring the bell.”

“So I’d be caught...” János mused. “But why didn’t he visit you before kidnaping me?”

Sándor cleared his throat, crossing his arms, “Before he found you and the world found out about this book, it was safe in its hiding place. What would he need it for? He could retrieve it after his work was done. But it now sounds as though the world is crashing down on his dream. The Russians are after him, you’re after him and I know about the book. To stop everyone he’s going to have to take it. Two people reading each book at the same time could be disastrous for what he hopes to achieve within the book.”

After absorbing the information, János disappeared into the inventory room. He took down a few boxes, breaking them down. Once they were flat, he lied them on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Sándor asked.

“I’m going to need a place to sleep and so are you.”

“I thought beating Khayr was important to you?”

“I haven’t slept in two days,” János spoke as he lied on his back. “I’ll be no good without it and neither will you. We can leave later tonight. Besides, nobody knows we’re here.”

 

Enewald

Enewald Enewald Enewald
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To Ravenna?
I guess there will be no 'reading' for a while.
 

Brandenburg III

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Enewald: Actually I’ve spaced out the scenes so there’s no more than two chapters per time period.

aldriq: I figured he needed a friend. And I’d have a terrible time trying to write for a man walking by himself. Granted, I’ve done it before, practically basing a book around it but it was tough.

To all: After some time due to personal constraints in early December I’m able to bring this back. The troubles will likely continue for another two months but everything ought to be cleared up to no longer affect this. I am writing this every day so barring another tragedy, updates should be regular once more. In addition, updates will come when they’re ready. This means I’m eliminating the weekly updates; the only reason they existed in the first place was to give people time to read them but they're not bringing in anyone new and my numbers pale in comparison to all other AARs, narratives or otherwise, so there’s no point in me doing it in any way other than my way. So, updates will likely be out every 2 - 5 days depending on chapter length.

Also, I’ve decided against the buttons, or, as I was planning this time, red bars.
 
Last edited:

Brandenburg III

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János woke late in the evening. He felt groggy, still needing more sleep as he rubbed his aching eyes. And he could tell through the lack of light that he sun had gone down. Not even a sliver escaped through the boarded windows. As he moved to stand the cardboard shifted from underneath him, nearly causing him to slip but he regained his balance before he fell over Sándor.

Quietly, János moved into the restroom where he reached for the light switch, turning it on. Looking at himself in the mirror he saw how tired he was, the redness in his eyes. Turning the handle on the faucet he felt the cold water coming through. Placing his hand underneath the running water, he splashed it on his face. It was a fresh shock to his system that he desperately needed. He’d turn off the water a few seconds later after taking a few handful of swallows from it.

As he left the room he ran his finger along his teeth, removing the film that clings to them upon waking. Taking his time, he went to where Sándor lied before bending down, shoving to wake him.

Sándor stirred and woke, rolling to his side before pushing himself up from the ground, “What is it?” he asked.

“Time to go,” János spoke plainly. “There’s still water in the restroom if you need it.”

“Mind leading the way?”

“Over here,” János instructed as he took the man’s arm, leading him toward the door. Once there, he released him, closing the door behind him. János heard the water running from the other side while his adventure spun through his mind like an unending hurricane. What he had done, what he was forced to do and what he enjoyed. Psychologists would have a field day with him. But he could never tell them. He’d never be able to tell anyone. This was something that was his. Something he’d have to live with on his own. Forever.

After a few minutes had passed, the door opened and János shut off the restroom’s light, “Ready?”

“Have you thought about how we’re going to get there?”

“To Ravenna?”

“Yes,” Sándor answered.

“We have no means, no money and people are chasing us. We can’t take public transportation and I don’t know anyone outside of my family I can trust.”

“Can you ask your family for help?”

János hesitated before deciding to tell him. “My father is in politics so they’re either complying or they’re being watched. I don’t think it’s a risk we should take.”

“There’s nothing else?”

“Steal a car. But we’d have to take them from somebody who has their keys. I don’t know anything about cars.”

“We should try something more honest.”

“Honest? There’s no honesty in this world!”

“That doesn’t mean we have to resort to evil means.”

“Then how do you expect us to get from here to there? There is no other way.”

“I have a way,” Sándor proposed.

“What is it?”

“We go through the same channels my brothers and I went through to obtain our information. We can go from monastery to monastery until we reach Ravenna. This will provide us with places to stay, meals and clean water.”

“They’ll take us in? The whole way?”János asked, trying not to get his hopes up.

“Since we’re both in danger and you’ll find out anyway, I’ll tell you. We are an Order. Some of these old monasteries that are inhabited are remnants of a great society to keep the people safe. We choose no sides and keep to ourselves when we can. One of our charges is to keep these books out of the hands of others. We take our oaths very seriously.”

“But if you’re charged to keep the people safe, why allow the books to exist? Why not destroy them once you find them?”

Sándor shook his head, “One man cannot be sent to find it. It’d be simple for one man to be corrupted by this power. One man cannot be trusted but a group of men are more capable of holding this trust. However, a group of men seeking this relic from its home will be noticed and seen by many, eliminating our secrecy immediately. Its best to know where our known relics are and allow them to remain hidden rather than chase after them. They could be lost, stolen or abused in the chaos that surrounds this kind of power. But there are exceptions to every rule. I believe an exception will be provided for this but it will be hard.”

“What’s going to make it so hard?”

“They’ll have to believe me without proof.”

“Why don’t you lie to them? Make up a story about leading me away from the Soviets? It wouldn’t be a complete lie.”

“We’re not to leave our homes without specific permission granted by at least three other monasteries. This prevents any possibility of mass corruption within one monastery and keep everyone stationary so the Order knows where all its members are at all times. The passage of information through direct contact ensures that no one monastery or person can escape the Order if they break the rules. Punishment is also severe for lying to the Order. You would be included in that punishment.”

“That’ll take weeks!” János exclaimed. “To get acceptance from the other places.”

“You have no idea how the Order works or how efficient it is. We can get clearance on the way and it won’t take us any more time than it would’ve if we were passing through. Your pessimism is upsetting. And we do have vehicles and other underground roads to hurry our trip. Our world isn’t trapped in the sixteenth century.”

“I’m sorry. Its just,” János regretfully stuttered. “There’s a lot at stake here.”

“I know,” Sándor spoke. “But we can’t run around like the world’s about to end.”

“It might.”

“Our world,” Sándor confessed, “maybe. But if we can’t prevent Khayr from taking the book, that doesn’t mean the world will end. Another will simply take its place. I wouldn’t be happy with that result but we can only do what we’re able.”

Jnáos returned to where they slept, picking up the cardboard and placing it on the other boxes. The less proof they left behind the better, no matter how shoddy the cover. “I don’t understand how you can be so cool about this. I hope it doesn’t happen as often as you lead on.”

“No,” Sándor heard János distance himself. With the guidance of his hands he followed until the wall disappeared from his touch. “We’re more prepared for it than you are. You’ve been thrown into it without training. Its understandable.”

“Will they be able to follow us?”

“The Order?”

“The Russians.”

Sándor smiled at this, “No. They don’t know where we’re going or the roads we’re taking. I assure you, we’ll be safe until we reach Ravenna.”

“Is Ravenna dangerous?”

“It will be once we go under the city.”

“Under the city?” János asked, returning his full attention to Sándor. “Is this man buried under the city?”

“I don’t know where he is. We’ll find him when we get there. But once we get the book, we’ll have to go under the city. Its under the city where Dante’s blood is stored. We can only get there after we’ve taken the book because there are areas that must be opened by reading the opening lines Dante inscribed. Once that’s accomplished we’ll enter a new world. A world with a myriad of different possibilities. We could encounter anything there. It’ll be dangerous. And you’d do well to beware.”

“We have to read the book?”

“Just the first lines to get past the doors and walls when we come to them. There are three of them as Dante wrote three lines.”

“But I’ll fall into the book. I can’t do that.”

“This only works with someone who knows how to read the book,” Sándor informed. “If you don’t read it, we won’t be able to get beyond the first barrier.”

“I don’t know if I can go through that again.”

“If you want to stop him, you have to,” Sándor spoke.

“How far is it till our first stop?”

“We’ll be walking all night.”

“Let’s get going.”


Over the course of the next week the two men went from one city to another after nightfall. They were stored away lest the Soviets run into luck, guessing where the runaways were even in the off-beaten paths they’ve chosen. As Sándor had said, they moved quickly even if most of their adventure was on foot. János couldn’t remember the last time he’d been run this ragged, including his misadventures in previous centuries. He wanted the return of the old days, when he was trapped by groupies, painting galleries and Tividar’s presence.

János was surprised at how easy it was to cross from one nation to the next. Nations were so concerned with building fences, walls, roads and way stations that they had completely forgotten about these underground areas. Passage was unproblematic. And all the while János and Sándor were able to fill their stomachs for the following day, securing the rights of passage they needed to take up their quest for the book. Convincing the members of the other monasteries wasn’t easy but after they realized the danger that was put upon the world, they caved easily.

Before the end of two weeks the men had reached Ravenna. Tired from walking, János nearly collapsed when the sight of the city came into view. And still there was so much to be done. He was overwhelmed.

“How are you going to find this guy?” János asked as they walked along the road, cars passing them on the way.

“Antonio Santi?” Sándor asked for clarification.

“Yes, you said you didn’t know where he was but you knew how to find him.”

“Public records,” Sándor explained easily. “We’ll ask to be assisted in finding what happened to Antonio Santi: books, records, archives. Those are our sources. While we’re looking for those things, we’ll find out if anyone else has researched these categories.”

“So we’ll know if Khayr ad-Din has been snooping around.”

“You’re quite astute.”

“The last thing I need right now is your sarcasm, Sándor,” János spoke. After a few more steps, he began again, “How long will it take for us to find this information?”

“Hopefully not too long but we shouldn’t expect to find anything immediately. Just got to the archives and do your research there. Can you read Italian?”

“I can speak it but I have trouble reading it.”

“It seems we’re both heading to the same place, then.”

“You weren’t going to come with me?”

“I was hoping to do research of my own. So it wouldn’t take us so long.”

“How were you going to do research without me?”

“Does it matter now? Its an impossible thing. It doesn’t matter.”

The two remained silent the rest of their walk into the city. After a few questions, directions and translations through Sándor, János was able to find out where the Public Archives were held, along with the public libraries. But they wouldn’t need the latter. After a day of searching they discovered where Antonio Santi rested; history had many Antonio Santis to sift through. Santi’s remains was awaiting future transportation underneath the Museo Nationale di Ravenna. János was ecstatic at the discovery, confident that access would be simple considering Sándor’s unique ability to traverse Europe’s underground world.


Once they found out where the museum was, they ran to the place before it stopped receiving admission at 1900. Their worries were quelled when they reached the historical site at 1830, discovering that entrance was free. They’d have an hour at the museum before it shut its doors. They’d have to look busy, interested in other things all the while the object tapping on Janos’ brain remained underground. János hoped that the remains hadn’t yet been ransacked and knowing that Khayr ad-Din hadn’t been asking around had improved those chances dramatically.

As the closing hour neared János grew worried, whispering to Sándor, “There’s nothing here to hide behind or under. We should go to the restrooms before they start corralling the people to leave.”

“What will we do there?” Sándor asked.

“Hide,” János spoke.

“They’d have a camera watching the door.”

“Sandro Pertini may be President but corruption is still a big thing around here. The place is free to all so what are the chances there’s anyone watching a camera, if there’s one at all? If we don’t do this now, and we come back tomorrow, we’ll be recognizable. We’ll draw suspicion. Let’s go, now.”

Sándor offered no objections to János as he was led by the arm toward the nearest restroom. Once there he advised Sándor, “Wash your hands like you’re busy in case someone comes in.”

“What are you going to do?”

“You’ll see.”

Sándor only shook his head, reminded of the bindings around his eyes as he reached for the faucet’s handle. Once the water began running he placed his hands underneath it as János walked into one of the stalls. Standing upon the seat of the toilet he reached above his head, removing a panel from the dropped ceiling. Sliding it to the side János could feel the rush of cold air as it invaded the heated room.

“What is that?” Sándor asked, feeling the rush.

“Come over here,” János hurried.

“What are we doing?”

“Hiding.” When Sándor came close enough, János elaborated, “I’m going to help you climb above the ceiling. Once you’re up there, keep your body long. If there’s too much weight in one area you’ll fall through. I’ll be up behind you.”

When Sándor said nothing János decided that he agreed. Grabbing Sándor’s arms, János helped the man to stand on the seat of the toilet. Bracing himself by holding onto the tops of the stalls, Sándor listened to János as he spoke, “Ready?”

Sándor nodded his head. János took Sándor just under the arms, applying as much pressure as he could to raise him to the ceiling. At the same time Sándor jumped enough so he could grab hold of the ceiling’s edge. With continued help from János, Sándor was able to roll himself above the dropped ceiling. János was next. Jumping from the seat János grabbed onto the ceiling’s edge. Hearing János struggling to bring himself up, Sándor turned, taking hold of János’ shirt. Both of them put their strength into it until János, too, was above the ceiling.

Rolling to the opposite side of the hole Sá ndor was on, János reached for the loose panel. In trying to set it in place, the panel peeled loose from his grip. It fell, breaking in half as it made contact with the floor.

“What was that?”

“Our last chance,” János spoke. “Just sit still, maybe they won’t notice it.”

An announcement filtered through the museum that it was closing within fifteen minutes and the people must leave. János had prepared himself to sit still for hours after the museum closed to abduct one of their patrolling guards but with the gaping hole in the ceiling, the tension in the room rose. He wouldn’t be much good to anyone trapped in an Italian cell.

“How is this going to help us get underground?” Sándor asked.

“Wait here.”

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t worry about it,” János spoke as he rolled toward the opening. “Just wait here.” János lowered himself out of the ceiling, making careful movements until his feet were on solid ground. He left the stall, disappearing into the one next to it. Closing it behind him he left it unlocked and slightly ajar. Moving toward the rear of the stall he stepped upon the toilet, crouching down to hide as much of his body as he could.

Fifteen minutes later a chime rang through speakers followed by a voice stating that the museum was now closed and that if there were any people left in the museum that they must leave. No matter the cold air still being blasted from above, János felt sweat trickle from his forehead. He realized now he’d be wanted by not only the Communists but by those living in the free world. He’d been given a heavy burden.

It felt like forever as János tried keeping his legs from falling asleep. Time seemed to be non-existent as he waited in that stall. Someone had to be along soon. They had to check the restrooms for people, didn’t they?

His doubts passed swiftly after hearing the door swing open. A man’s voice was speaking something in Italian about the ceiling as heels clicked against the hard floor. János heard him step into the vacant stall. Looking down he saw the man’s hand pick up a piece of the fallen ceiling. After the hand disappeared with the piece in hand János stepped down from his perch, silently moving outside the stall’s door.

János kept his eyes on the floor, watching, waiting for the man’s feet to turn around to head out. He frowned as he saw the man’s shoes do just that and when he moved just past the door’s frame, János rammed his shoulder into the door. He hit the door so hard the lock broke from its hold, the guard falling to the back wall from the collision. János was on the man’s back as he crumbled to the floor, slamming his knee against porcelain.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” János warned the man as he straddled his back. The Hungarian’s hands went for the man’s waist, finding a gun there. Unbuckling the holster János took it into his hands, placing it at the base of the guard’s neck. “But I will if I have to.”

“You have no power,” the man groaned underneath János, staring at the floor of the restroom. “Its filled with blanks.”

“They give you blanks?” János spoke, unwilling to trust him. “No matter. Its still lethal at close range.”

The man sighed, “What do you want?”

“Do you have clearance to get into the basement?” János asked.

When the man didn’t answer right away, János drilled the barrel of the weapon hard against the guard’s neck. “Tell me!”

“Yeah, I can get you there,” the man spoke.

“Sándor, get down from there,” János ordered as he stood, backing away from the guard. With the door to the stall wide open, János waited for Sándor’s feet to hit the floor before demanding the guard to stand. “How many of you are on watch right now?”

“There’s another looking around the rooms for anyone left behind and there’s two at the front desk.”

“There’s only four of you?”

“There are others in other parts of the museum but we won’t run into them.”

“We had better not,”János warned. “Let’s go. If we run into anyone, make an excuse. Sándor, keep close.”

With slow steps the guard started forward and opened the door to leave. János was right behind him followed by Sándor. The lights outside the restroom were still bright, highlighting the pieces on display. János didn’t allow himself the pleasure of looking at old Byzantine works. The travel time wasn’t long, a relief shared between János and Sándor.

“I have to reach in my pocket for the keys,” the guard spoke at a thick door.

“Do it,” János answered, keeping it in the back of his mind that he forgot to search the man.

The guard slipped a hand into one of his pockets, removing a ring of keys. Approaching the door the man typed in a series of numbers on a keypad, then sticking his key into the lock. Before turning the tumblers a woman’s voice broke the silence, “You’re free to go, Marcello.”

The door buzzed and Marcello turned his key, opening the door.

“She can see you?” János asked, sticking the weapon in Marcello’s face.

“N- No,” he stuttered. “We each have our own access codes so we know who’s where.”

“But they won’t give you real ammunition in your guns,” János teased. “Alright. Let’s go in.”

Marcello headed in first with János and Sándor behind him. “Shut that door, Sándor,” János spoke as they descended a set of stairs. Florescent lights were spaced apart evenly where the wall met the ceiling. There were so few lights and the area was so dim. It was going to be hard to keep an eye on Marcello.

Reaching the last step Marcello asked, “What are you looking for down here?”

“Antonio Santi.”

“Who?”

“Antonio Santi’s remains. Take me to them.”

“The Dante guy?” Marcello questioned aloud. “This way. It’s the only remains we have down here.”

János kept close, following the man as he led them deeper and deeper into the basement. Briefly wondering if he was being led into a trap, János tried remembering the way he came while looking for signs of treachery. They passed old pieces, all labeled and stationed perfectly in groups. And everything was a hard rock; sculptures, mostly.

“Why is it stored in this room?” János asked. “It seems out of place.”

“It’s the closest to the entrance,” Marcello began. “And they don’t have to worry too much about heating.”

For the next few seconds they were silent until they came to a corner of the room. “Here it is,” Marcello spoke.

“Alright, good,” János answered. “Now, remove your handcuffs with one hand and give them to me.”

Marcello reached with his right hand, fingering the clasp on his belt until he was able to unhook them. Then, holding onto them with his hand he reached behind him, offering them to János.

“Good,” János grinned. “Here,” he spoke to Sándor. “Hold onto this.” He placed the weapon in Sándor’s hands who seemed to rebel at the thought of having such a thing thrust upon him. János slapped one of the cuff’s around Marcello’s right wrist and the other around the hand of a stone statue. Returning to Sándor, János took the gun from him and set it on the floor in front of Antonio Santi’s sarcophagus.

“I wish we could be more careful of this,” János commented to himself. On the cover of the sarcophagus two angels in an ornate carving came together, piecing together a symbol János didn’t recognize. However the side walls were rather plain. It was no wonder why people didn’t want to see this. And it further killed his willingness to destroy the only artistic piece of the box but it was something that had to be done.

János stepped closer, placing his hands under the lid of the cover, ordering, “Sándor. Get over here and help me.”

“I cannot disturb his remains.”

“But you were giving clearance.”

“Sh!” hushed Sándor. “The clearance was to retrieve the book only, not to disturb this man’s rest.”

“I’ll do it myself, then,” János spoke, returning his attention to the lid. After setting down the weapon again he shoved the lid but he was unable to slide it over the edge. There must’ve been a ridge around the inside of the stone to prevent the cover from slipping. János tried to lift it again but was unable to do anything.

“Let me free to help you,” Marcello spoke.

“Why would you want to help?” János asked.

“The sooner you leave, the better I’d feel,” Marcello confessed.

János sneered, picked up the gun and marched toward Marcello. “Where are your keys?”

Marcello grew tight-lipped but answered after a moment’s hesitation by opening the palm of his hand. “Were you going to try something, Marcello?” János asked. He knew he couldn’t trust the man. In one swift motion János grabbed the keys, throwing them to the other side of the room.

“How are you going to open the lid now?” Sándor asked.

“You’re going to help me.”

“I’m not going to disturb this man.”

“He’s dead,” János countered. “You’re not disturbing anything.”

“It goes against my vow.”

“Didn’t you say you also took a vow to protect Europe? Or should I recite the whole thing for our virgin friend here?”

“You are not a kind man, János. You threaten the security of my society and force me into this sacrilegious labor. I’ll pray for you.”

“It’s a little late for that.”

The two men approached the lid of the stone tomb, pushing upward. Initially it cracked open; any smell of the deceased was long gone but a stale air smell remained. Both men coughed as they continued pushing until the lid was open nearly a quarter of the way. With more muscle it rose higher until with a final shove the lid’s ridge was used against itself, aiding in tripping the lid onto the hard floor. The lid didn’t break but pieces of the stone undoubtedly had chipped.

“Is it there?” Sándor asked, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.

János’ heart was pumping hard and fast as he looked inside. It was so dark. He couldn’t see anything but the outline of a book. Reaching in he grabbed it and pulled it out, his hand grazing aged bone. Swiping his shirt sleeve over the cover he cleared the dust away. There was no title. Along the spine he saw in etched letters, ‘Sacra Bibbia.’

“Is that it?” Sándor asked.

“It’s the Bible,” János returned. “It’s the Bible.” János repeated, breathing heavily as though to blow away his frustrations, “This can’t be it.” János unhooked the ancient brass buckles, opening the book much to his astonishment. The Bible’s insides had been carved clean! Inside lied the cover of a book he remembered only too well. Hurrying, he tipped the Bible upside down and Dante’s sister book came falling out.

He laughed to himself as he picked it up, turning through the pages until he started running into the blank ones. But, he noticed, words were being written by themselves. Shutting his eyes he closed the book before he accidentally read anything, fearful of slipping into the book before he was ready.

“What is it?” Sándor asked.

“It’s the book. Its writing itself.”

“Someone else is reading it,” Sándor informed him.

“We have to destroy this thing,” János spoke . “Where do we have to go to open this other world?”

“Are we underground?” Sándor asked.

“We’re in the basement,” János spoke.

“And in Ravenna?”

“You know we are.”

“Then it will work here.”

János handed the gun to Sándor once more, grabbing him by the shoulders and pointing him toward Marcello. “If he moves, you have to pull the trigger,” János warned. “This is too important.”

Sándor didn’t say anything but they both knew he wouldn’t fire the weapon. János was happy enough that Sándor was willing to hold the weapon.

János turned on Marcello, “I’m only going to be gone a few minutes. I’ll be back to find you if you try to leave.”

“Just don’t shoot me,” Marcello asked.

“I thought you said they were blanks,” János spoke. He didn’t receive an answer as he sat on the ground, reaching for the book. With a deep sigh he opened it to its first page. Finding Dante’s scribbling János read aloud, “I am the way into the city of woe. I am the way to a forsaken people. I am the way into eternal sorrow.”

And as he read those lines he could see bright blue ripples lashing out from the wall. It was the last thing he saw before drifting into his remembered foreign, tortured world.

 

aldriq

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No big deal crossing the iron curtain, I guess by the 80s it must have been turning more porous already. And as Sándor says, no border patrol can ever have 100% control, especially in forested or mountainous frontiers.

I wonder who the other reader is... another poor soul kidnapped by Khayr?
 

Brandenburg III

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Enewald: I hear its hot there this time of year

aldriq: I must confess that I left an accidental loophole I hadn’t planned in the first chapter, only noticing it upon rereading it. So I sewed it up as I wrote Chapter 2 ;) and in the end it provided me with a way to cross those nasty national borders without much problem. I’m terrible at outlining stories; my best ideas come while I’m writing which usually means I have to rewrite the first three chapters of any book I write.

Oh, and the new reader will be revealed in time
:cool:
 

Brandenburg III

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Five men in military uniform stood around a small rectangular table, and another, wearing more decorations, near the corner of the large canvas tent everyone was sheltered under. As he looked around, János was amazed that Algiers had made it through the centuries in one piece. He’d be lying if he doubted the pride welling within him.

As the tent’s fabric shuddered against the whipping of the wind, the five men around the table spoke in turn over a map of Spain. Lines covered the Iberian Peninsula; Portugal had shrunk to three quarters of its size, consumed by Spain. But what was more, Algiers’ colors blanketed what little was left of Portugal as well as Spain as far north as Madrid. It seemed Algiers was at war, and János was there plotting the campaign. What was happening seemed important; he just wished he knew what was going on.

“Their fleet is being engaged around the world. They’ve got nothing here. We ought to cut across the Pyrenees and eliminate them,” Ahmed spoke.

“We don’t want to antagonize the French any further,” Khalil warned.

“They’re already involved in this war! They’re supplying the Spanish through the mountains as they allow French nationals join the Spanish army. Some of them women! Do you know how shameful it is for a man to be killed by a woman?” Ahmed declared.

“Farid ought to know something of that, eh?” one of the men laughed.

A few others joined him before Qais interrupted, “Better bullets and a few men than a national army and navy.”

“You don’t know anything,” Ahmed spoke.

“We shouldn’t take unnecessary risks,” Khalil advised.

“Without risk there is no victory.”

“There won’t be many victories if France involves itself,” Khalil continued, refraining to suggest that the war should soon come to its conclusion.

“Everything is necessary in war,” Ahmed answered. “Until victory is achieved. If we don’t use everything at our disposal, we put our country and our men at risk. This is a necessity.”

“General Hassan?” Saud spoke from the other side of the table, looking at János.

He caught himself before he started stammering or said something our of place. Rather than rushing in to make a rash decision, he was going to take his time. János crossed his arms, looking at the faces of each men, trying to gage how he ought to answer. He couldn’t find anything. After what felt like minutes János opened his mouth wanting to put everything to rest, “We’ll finish this in the morning.”

The area went silent except for the wind slapping against the tent with every gust. “General?” Saud questioned.

“We’ll finish this in the morning,” János repeated definitively.

“Are you well?”

“Have you not heard what I said?” János barked, hoping he’d gotten his point across. More time. More time in these conditions was always necessary.

“Go ahead,” the decorated man near the corner spoke. “You can continue in the morning. Yes, General Hassan?”

János looked toward the man, “The morning will be fine.”

“You won’t address me?” the same man spoke.

János looked around for support from the others but everyone was staring back at him, offering nothing. Then he looked toward the imposing man, trying to find a recognizable rank on his collar or shoulder. Again he was without a clue. Politician? Hired civilian? He couldn’t tell and he didn’t want to be foolish so he said the obvious, “You have no rank.”

Mouths dropped as silence conquered the night. “The five of you are dismissed,” spoke the man as he continued his walk toward the table. Without word the five officers left through the tent’s flap. No one wanted to be present for the lashing their General was to receive.

After the men had left he approached János, “Who am I?”

When János didn’t answer the man asked another question, “Who are you?”

János held his tongue.

“If you refuse to answer I will cite you for insubordination and place you in a holding cell!”

Confused, János wasn’t sure what to do. Should he say the wrong name he’d be considered insane; should he say nothing, his fate had been laid out before him. It seemed there was no correct choice. Both paths led to doom.

The man laughed, “You are found!”

János wasn’t sure what was happening, “What?”

“My beloved intruder! So you broke in and they made you a General. I’ve been waiting centuries,” he grinned at the reality that János was standing in front of him.

“Khayr ad-Din?” János dared to guess.

“If that’s what you wish to call me,” he spoke softly.

He was briefly reminded of the Barbarossa name but refused to correct himself if that’s what Khayr was wanting to achieve. He was playing games with him already. But how could Khayr enter the book unless he was also a Reader? The man was filled with lies.

“You could read this whole time?” János asked.

“What do you want me to say? No?”

“If you could do this, why involve me?”

“It seems you’ve involved yourself.”

“From the plane,” János explained, “from Algeria.”

“Would you have me ensure the book worked? No. As always we test our experiments on a lesser species or life. You fit that description perfectly.”

János’ face turned sour, “You condescending-“

“Careful,” he warned. “I don’t take angry tones or insubordination well.”

“I remember.”

“A shame you had to take the role of one of my best Generals,” Khayr added. “It will pain me to kill the man that had once inhabited that body.”

“What are you going to do with me?” asked János.

“Whatever I want but first you’re going to give me the information I need.”

“Why should I tell you anything?” János spoke.

“Because I can hurt you. I can hurt you over many months, years even. Most people don’t respond well to pain over long periods. And you’ll give in eventually. The best part is it won’t take away any time from me unless I want to take a personal interest in your welfare.”

“What do you want to know?” János asked.

“Where did you find the book?”

János smiled, “You went to Rome?”

“I went where I was needed,” Khayr responded dryly. “Where did you find the book?”

János decided not to press the matter, “Ravenna.”

“Where in Ravenna?”

“I want some questions answered, too.”

“That isn’t how this game works.”

“It is if you want your information now.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“A General. And Generals always have loyal men. If you want to wait through transportation and torture, its going to take you a while to get your answers.”

“Are you challenging me?”

“What are you going to do? Fight me here? In front of the men? Would you like to find out whose loyal to whom?”

Khayr remained silent as he thought. What was the worst János could ask? After all, they were only words in private company. “What questions do you have?” Khayr asked, making his decision.

“What are you doing here? In Spain?”

“We’re taking back what’s rightfully ours. When we were forced from this place during the Reconquista. Some of our own men signed alliances with the Christians to battle other Muslims. We were embarrassed, shamed and humiliated politically and on the field of battle.”

“But you weren’t even alive yet.”

“I’m alive now,” he spoke. “And I plan to correct all history’s wrongs.”

“The other empires of the world won’t stand for this. They won’t let you get away with conquering all of Spain and taking it for yourself.”

“They?” Khayr alluded. “How do you know there’s more than one capable power? You haven’t been here for centuries. The world changes quite a bit in that time. You shouldn’t run on assumptions when you’re thrown into a new world. You’ll run into many problems.”

“I only have one problem here.”

“And it’ll be continuous,” Khayr threatened. “Now, tell me where you found the book in Ravenna.”

János doubted there was anything Khayr could do now since János had the book in his possession and there were still questions he needed answered. “In a basement of a museum, buried with a man.”

“And that man’s name?”

“Antonio Santi.”

“An unremarkable man,” Khayr guessed. “It seems our next conquest is Italy.”

“It won’t work,” János dared.

“Not yet,” Khayr admitted. “A Reader can’t read two books at one time, this is true. But once this history is completed, it’ll be in my possession along with the book I already have and the book the Russians discovered in the 1930's. Maybe we’ll find more along the way.”

“If you do that you’ll only create problems for yourself.”

“What do you know of it?”

“The more books you find, the more people will know about them. The easier they’ll be lost, later found and then turned against you.”

“I never said I would allow the expedition to exist beyond its use. I will be the only one to have them and the only one to know their power or where they’re kept. Under my rule the Readers are and will be sought after and eliminated until the world is rid of them. Ancient transcripts and books will be burned until there’s nothing left. We can’t take any chances and history will begin anew. And what a glorious history it will be.”

“It will be a Dark Age.”

“But for me it will be Golden!” Khayr laughed under the tent. Moving toward the short end of the table, he reached for the map and began rolling it up to take it back with him.

“You underestimate the people,” János warned. “They never allow tyranny to rule their lives.”

Khayr laughed again, “Are you new? People are fools. They’ll believe whatever you tell them and they’ll believe it because they have no choice in the matter. Because the alternative, the true reality is a horror. I’ll provide them with hope and continue promising it and they’ll continue eating it like sows at a trough. They’ll have to. They’ll be so hungry they’ll believe anything.”

“They’ll rise against you.”

“And they’ll be killed for it. Think about it! I have the power here. Once the major countries of the world are eliminated I can slow technology to a crawl. Only my closest men will be handed the power of modern weaponry while the peasants are resorted to using muskets and flintlocks,” Khayr laughed loudly, horrendously. “What chance do they have?”

“Imre Nagy.”

“What happened to him in the end? He lost. I do not expect every battle to be won; there will be losses to surprise. In the end things will fall my way. The traitors and their families will be eliminated. We cannot continue to allow rebels to spawn. Should evolution be proven to be true, then in time people will become sheep without the benefit of wool. The world is at an end. Its at a crossroads. The French? They’ve never changed. They threaten to enter war after war but they won’t. They’ve become quite the pacifists since their revolution. As have the other countries. Their revolutions have weakened them.”

János realized that his jaw had gone slack. “You incited these revolutions so you could attack Spain?”

“Nonsense,” Khayr waived off. “I merely brought a few nationals to my humble home and told them about liberty and the freedoms they weren’t receiving. It was on their shoulders when they returned. It was through their means that they persuaded the people to desire such drastic change that it weakened their country to an extent that allowed me the ability to war against Spain and Portugal without outside interference. Don’t think too hard about it, there’s a lot of history to absorb in such a short period of time. Maybe we’ll get to more later, after you’re safely put away.”

“You tell them about equality and liberty yet you have none of it in your own country?”

“What makes you think that?”

“You’re Khayr ad-Din. I’ve spent some time with you. I know who you are.”

“You have no idea who I am,” he seethed, staring into János’ eyes. Khayr then grabbed a cylinder, placing the map of Spain inside. Capping it with a top he held it firmly in his hand as he spoke to János. “The world is mine and so are you. I’m going to place you under house arrest. I’d kill you now but popularity is something to consider and the last thing I need are my men questioning me or my choices. Eventually you’ll want to rebel and you’ll try. At that moment you’ll be executed.”

“And you know I’ll rebel?”

“You can’t help it. You’re a natural. I know who you are. I’ve known for a long time. You have a limit and you’ve been pushed over it. I’ll be waiting for the explosion.”

“You’re going to lose. Sooner or later you will lose. The world spins in cycles.”

“And what happens when I control the world? When one man controls the world the cycles will stop. The world will revolve around me and I’ll control everything. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

“Even if you take down the governments one at a time, you’ll have to deal with their people. Those you incited will spread their words of freedom. Ideas are a hard thing to put down once you’ve put them in someone’s head.”

“I’ve had centuries to think about these things,” Khayr informed János. “There isn’t a thing you’ve thought of that I haven’t been able to find a solution to. Those people, they disappear. I sign a few papers and they’re magically gone as are those who won’t accept the new government or those who won’t convert to the faith.”

“You kill them?”

“No,” Khayr shook his head. “I sign papers and they’re not a problem anymore. A shame most of the people are problematic in one way or another. There’s not too many Europeans left in Algerian occupied lands. Fortunately, those lands are not going unattended. From once my people served in the desert, now they work on fertile lands, prosperous regions and are capable of owning land, real land. We’re no longer cordoned off in our little section of the forgotten world. And there will be no scramble for Africa in the coming decades. No, it is Europe who will be scrambling for their lives. Then the Asians and finally the Americas. I repeat. The world is mine and once Spain falls and you’re dead, what’s to stop me?”

“Your overconfidence. And you’re running out of time.”

“Nonsense. The history of Algiers has been building this moment since I first stole you away from Oran. My timing is perfect and is just as I want it. I can ship my orders where I need them, place troops where they need to be in timely order and keep a close eye on the population. This is the perfect time to become lord of the world provided the people continue to believe in me. And how can they not with victory after victory against those who would conspire against us?”

“Spain conspired against you? Portugal conspired against you?”

Khayr grinned, laughing softly, “Its been centuries but yes, they have. History is a powerful tool for revenge, hate, conquest and dictatorship. I repeat, people are fools. They either listen to the radicals on the streets or read only what they can in state-run papers. A wise man pays attention to both, knowing them to be false yet takes them in at the same time. He can neither discount them nor can he give them credit lest he fall in with the masses. He realizes the world is always slanted no matter how objective, although rare, some of these agencies may try to be. He can neither trust nor deny. These men are few, and they are becoming fewer. They’re remarkably easy to find.”

“You’re assassinating them?”

“Assassinations are reserved for important people.”

“But you are killing them.”

Khayr shrugged, “I sign papers and they go away. They disappear and they’re no longer a problem.”

“You’re an evil man.”

“Evil depends on which side you’re on. I’m a hero here. Just as the General who once stood in that body was a hero. Now you’ve disgraced his face, his name and his history by showing up. You’ve destroyed a man.”

“Are you sure I haven’t saved him?”

“He will not be remembered by history fondly. He will be remembered in Algeria as a traitor, as famous as your Pál Teleki. Or maybe, János Kádár?”

“If this General followed the orders you gave, I have no sympathy for him. But I’ll ensure he brings you down.”

Khayr smiled. “Don’t try to leave your tent. Soldiers will watch it for me until the morning. When the sun rises we’ll both head south; I was planning for an early trip to the capital anyway.”

“I’m not going to stay here,” János threatened.

“No? How are you going to leave? You can’t sneak out of here, too many people know what you look like. Want to fight your way out? Whose loyal to you? You don’t have a clue. And what are the men to say once you start firing at people? People you once commanded? There’s no quicker way to find enemies than to kill the friends of a soldier. Soldiers who put their lives in one another’s hands. Face it. You have no means of escaping this place. You are trapped and under my spell until I give the orders stating otherwise. I have no intention of changing my mind.” Khayr placed the cylinder under his arm as he straightened his jacket, then placing the map back into his hand. “If you don’t mind, I’ll be going. If you’re good then we’ll meet again in Africa. But if you permit me to kill you here, I will.”

János held his tongue as he watched Khayr ad-Din leave with the tent’s lantern. The book was supposed to put him in the best possible position to change history. It seems to have placed him in a death trap. Had he already missed his opportunity? Was he supposed to kill the man on sight? Or was he supposed to delay and form a rebellion? How could he know which course of action to take without knowing who he was? Without knowing how popular this General Hassan was? Would the people accept him as their new ruler if he was able to depose Khayr ad-Din?

He tried putting these thoughts out of his mind as he walked toward his cot, sitting on it. János thought about removing his dress uniform but opted to keep it on when he felt the chilling air combing through the fabric of the tent. But he did remove his shoes as he lied down, these new thoughts tumbling through his head. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do but he knew he wasn’t going to allow himself to be thrown in a cell. There would be no future there.


 
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Enewald

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What actually happened to General Hassan?
He just died?

And how can Janos be so ignorant... :eek: