"Death is just the beginning"
Island of Kos, September 1646
In the blackened cavern, Erasmus cast aside the broken remains of the cheap shovel, standing upright for the first time in hours. The handle had snapped off four hours — and three feet of dirt — before, but it had been worth it.
Reaching down, he grasped the exposed link firmly, dragging the chain out into the light of the flickering torches, marvelling at how it responded to the dancing flames, ignorant of the irony.
"Fetch the Master, immediately." He told the hunched guide, firmly, and the man bowed and left. Erasmus was still entranced with the gleaming chain when the Master returned, and had him pull the whole fragment free.
"How much, Erasmus?"
"A fathom, Master, no more."
"Fathom? Still the sailor at heart, Erasmus? Do you still yearn for the sea air?"
"Master, my place is where you bid me be." The outstretched hand was response enough, taking the chain from him and running the silent links over heavy leather gloves.
"The Promethean Chain... it is the last link." Were it anyone else, Erasmus might have considered the pun deliberate, but the Master was not a man given to humour.
"If I may, Master... what is it?"
"Prometheus, Erasmus, have you no comprehension of the classics?"
"No, Master. Sailors have little need of the lore of Ancient Rome."
"The Hellenic Republic, not Rome, fool boy." The Master growled, and Erasmus cringed, but did not evade the slow blow delivered with the heavy leather. "Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man. For this, Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock in the harbour. Every morning an eagle would alight and eat his liver, and every night it would grow back."
"Foolish superstition, surely, Master." Erasmus quickly made the sign of the cross, as he'd been taught.
"Of course, Erasmus, superstition." Nevertheless, he grinned as he pulled the sturdy links through his fingers, letting them play in the glow of the torchlight. He appreciated the irony of the fire's light.
"Then... what is the chain for?" he wondered, aloud.
"Even superstitions have power. That power must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, imagine what the French could achieve if they convinced their idiot peasantry of the wonder of this simple piece of metal. Or the Prussians..."
"Has anyone else touched it?"
"N-No, Master." He shook his head, earnestly. "You bade me keep everyone else at bay."
"Good." The end of the chain rose and fell, the solid metal eliciting a single pained cry that ended with the second stroke. Ten good, solid strokes later, and the Master appraised the metal links once more. Despite the staining on the sand, and the fragments of bone and stone chipped about the hole, the metal gleamed unstained and unblemished.
The Master turned away from the corpse, satisfied the chain was now in the right hands.
Munich, Bavaria, 1712
The seven men stood around the rough stone block, one with a knife in one hand, their arms outstretched over the paraphernalia gathered there.
"You have a subject?" One asked, a deep, barrel-chested tone at odds with the thin, emaciated hand that protruded from the robe.
"Is she willing?" Another, slighter voice.
"Does it matter?"
"She is... passive."
"Does that matter?"
"Again, perhaps. Too much of this is left to chance. We are groping in the dark places of the soul already..."
"We have not time to be sure. DuPres has already begun gathering his counterstrike in Britain. We must forge onward. She will suffice."
"And you are sure you can control her?"
"The chain has been cut. One half will bind her, the other half will be kept to control her. Whomever holds the chain, controls her."
"Excellent... proceed." The thinnest hand wavered a little as the voice, thick with exhaustion, muttered the words. The knife held steady, though, as the Artificer turned to the door, opening it briefly to admit a single, slight figure wrapped in coarse sacking.
"Do you stand in the Light of God?" she was asked, and she nodded, once. "Speak, child." The voice wasn't badgering, but wasn't welcoming either.
"She has no tongue, Librarian." The Artificer explained, quietly.
"She has no need of one." The Master of Ceremonies intoned, quietly.
"Do you swear to obey this council?" another voice demanded, and she nodded again.
"Then stand forth, girl, and become our agent in this world." She slipped the thick material from her shoulders without hesitancy, many nude days in the musty holdout showing her that flesh held no appeal for these men. She climbed the three short steps on the back of the stone, as she'd been told, and waited.
Each of the seven men cut into their palms with the knives they held, dripping blood from old scars onto the stone, filling delicate carved channels in the surface. Warmth spread quickly through the marble, as the seven began muttering slowly in a rhythmic, disturbing cadence. The heat built, sweat bursting forth from every pore as she waited until, suddenly, manacles were snapped about her forearms, the chains on them tightened to lift her into the air above the stone.
She struggled in pain, unable to free herself, shoulders protesting briefly until she felt the burning pain in her chest and stared down in disbelief at the knife jutting between her breasts.
Why? she wanted to ask, but they would not have answered, and they had no time anyway. The warmth burst forth from the stone in pillar of fire, searing away her flesh, leaving her screaming her agony to the skies for a brief moment until the light died, and darkness returned to her.
"It is done, Master." Someone muttered in the darkness, and she looked up to see seven faces filled with a mixture of horror and wonder.
"Kneel." The Master of Ceremonies called, loudly, and she felt her knees buckle beneath her instantly, unable to resist. She looked down, wondering why there were no tears, to see the legs she pressed to the floor were nothing more than bone. Her arms were thrust forward, suddenly, before her eyes, ravaged, bleached sticks of yellowed bone as well, and she let loose a wail of loss that turned one of the seven away as he retched.
"She will suffice." The Master of Ceremonies told the Artificer, quietly, reaching out to the wall, and drawing forth a long handled scythe. "Take it." He told her, and she watched the five emaciated fingers that had once been her hand latch about the handle.
The Master of Ceremonies walked around behind her, wrapping the short length of chain about his arm until he was stood behind her.
"Now, my dear... Kill them all."
"You have it?" George Baker whispered into the quiet darkness, barely aware of the shadowy figure opposite him in the narrow lane.
"For what it's worth." The thief spat back, snarling at him.
"You were told it would be dangerous, that the item was important and would be protected."
"I lost seven friends in there, I still don't know what killed them."
"Better for you that you don't." He jingled a bag at his waist, placing it on the barrel top. Another, larger, jangling sack was placed beside it, and they swapped.
"Done." They both intoned, and he disappeared into the dark alleyways. Before he reached the end of the next street he was stopped, and the bag was passed on. It moved through five more sets of hands before, finally, it reached the Union Hall.
The hall still had the smell of newness about it, the fresh-cut timbers still leaking sap in places, the scent of the woodlands brought to the heart of the sprawling monstrosity that was London. George Baker, slightly bemused at the circuitous route the goods had taken, received the bag once more at the door, turning to the other four men in the room.
"Can we free her?" The tallest asked, worrying the starts of a beard with his three-fingered right hand.
"After a fashion." He conceded, with an apologetic shrug. "We can't release her."
"What can we do?" Tully was a short, fat, obstinate man, but it had been he who had refused to countenance slaying her outright — if they even could.
"We can give her control of herself, nothing more."
"It is more than she has."
The four trekked slowly down into the cellars and basements beneath the hall, to a small but well-lit room in which a cloaked figure lurked towards the back.
"Miss?" Baker called, but she made no acknowledgement of his presence, save to pull the cloak about herself slightly. "We... we have what you asked for." He laid the sack on the table, gently, pulling the drawstring and upending to pour the length of gleaming chain onto the surface.
Still she didn't move, and he backed out to the doorway where the others waited, and she finally shifted. The skeletal hand that emerged drew hissed wonder from all four of them, but the bones curled about the chain in a fierce grip, dragging the metal links one-by-one into the darkness beneath the cloak. A wind sprang up from nowhere, whistling through the small room, reeking of rotten flesh and decaying corpses, and suddenly the cloak was flung wide. The skeletal figure within, beset with a jewelled crown, an hourglass and a four glistening lengths of chain on manacles at wrist and ankle raised a glistening scythe high in the air and brought the blade plunging down through her own breastbone.
The torches guttered and went out, and a keening wail screamed through the four men, driving two of them to their knees. Baker stood, trembling, ears bleeding, and hurriedly relit one of the torches with trembling hands.
The cloak lay on the floor, a few vague lumps showing where it covered other objects, and the scythe jutted from the wall where the blade had been driven into the stonework like a knife into a soft cheese. Of the skeleton there was not a trace.
"Who would suspect?" Baker's voice was thin and reedy, age had withered him, but he was the only one of the four left, and he would complete the work they had begun. The Crown was gone, lost on the sub-continent almost a decade ago. The cloak had lasted bare months, and was now a tattered rag mislabelled in a museum in London. Of the others, he knew nothing, save the four glistening manacles he kept in the chest beneath his bed. He'd touched them, once, felt the slick surface and the pain of centuries beneath it, and hadn't opened the lid since. The lock was oiled and moved every week, but the lid stayed tightly shut.
"No-one." His secretary admitted. "What is it that needs so desperately to be hidden that you would bankrupt us, though."
"The city needs the bridge, but this needs to be hidden. It needs to be put where it will never be found until its legend has died and none remember what once these were."
"You will not even tell me?"
"Some secrets must die, Mr Nelson."
"Very good, sir. I'll commission an architect this afternoon. Do you have any preference for where the bridge should be, Sir?"
"Somewhere busy, somewhere that will not fall out of use. Near Parliament, somewhere in Westminster."
"Very good, sir. Baker Bridge?"
"No, nothing to tie it back, no clues, no riddles... just... Westminster Bridge."
"And Mr Nelson."
"The key to the chest has been lost. I lost it deliberately. There are a number of nasty surprises for anyone who opens the chest without the key... please try to ensure no-one falls foul of them."
"Of course, Sir." And George Baker passed away, satisfied that he had achieved that last work.
Avebury, Wiltshire, 2003
Alex Kavanaugh huddled down into his lightweight anorak against the bitter wind and turned his back on the persistent rain. The staccato patter of water against the hood did nothing to distract him from the deep, biting chill of the wind on the back of his legs, but at least it drowned out the tedious history lecture as they wandered about the dilapidated heap of rocks.
"Keep up, Mr Kavanaugh." Someone yelled, the wind made it difficult to know whom, and he forced himself to turn back into the rain and trot the half-dozen yards or so to draw level with the last stragglers of the party.
"You're going to get another detention if you keep slacking off like that." Mitch Brenner pointed out, paying little more attention to the speech than Alex had. "You don't have to listen, just don't piss 'em off. If they have to keep stopping for you in this rain they're going to take it out on you."
"I just want to be shot of all this crap, I've got better things to do than this, you know."
"Sure, Alex Kavanaugh's great football dream."
"Not a dream, mate, it's real. I'll be there, one day. Soon."
"Until then, though, you'll be in room 14b from three-thirty till five, three days a week, pissing your life away in detention unless you get down to it. Then when are you going to practice."
"True..." Alex responded to the threat to his football, and did his best to keep up for all of five minutes, meandering slowly past the numerical indicators in the sopping grass before his dream-world overtook reality again. Mitch shook his head, making sure he didn't wend his own way into detention, but he was the closest when it happened.
The lightning lanced down out of the murky cloud, the first sight they'd seen of it, striking high on the tip of the canted heel-stone, and arcing out to the fallen altar-stone across the remains of the ditch known as the avenue — straight through the straggling, lonely figure of Alex Kavanaugh.
Fire flowed through Alex' nerves, his thoughts shut down under the onslaught. Lights flashed, figures danced, his life flashed before his eyes, followed in and endless stream by other lives, other thoughts, other experiences, centuries of thoughts and dreams and memories in a torrent
Two days later, when he finally came round, all he remembered was fragments of the images that flowed through the fevered, frantic dreams. Ancient battles, olden time lives and loves, fleeting remembrances, run of the mill events mixing with the world-changing battles and decisions.