The Assassin's Throne
A simple assignment goes horribly wrong: the Bone Guard runs afoul of modern knights, ancient Assassins and the self-proclaimed King of Jerusalem, hell-bent on reclaiming his throne.
In the palace of the Byzantine Emperor stood a technological wonder fusing mystic symbols and ancient technologies: the awe-inspiring Throne of Solomon, challenging the unworthy with automated figures made of gold. In 1204, the Fourth Crusade pillaged Constantinople and cast the throne into darkness, the stuff of legend. . . until now.
When a wealthy roboticist hires the Bone Guard for her charity photo shoot, it's the perfect chance for some R'n'R. Stand around looking tough, transfer an ancient manuscript, retire to the client's mansion for a night of luxury--what could possibly go wrong? Then Grant's stand-in gets shot, their objective stolen and the archive catches fire. So much for Nick's mantra of "details, not ops."
Instead of kicking back with champagne, Grant and his wingman plunge straight into danger, chasing a killer, a thief, and an old adversary they know as the Phantom. Their client is lying, their objective is missing, and their reputation is on the line—along with their lives—as they hunt for clues in Turkish baths and ruined churches from Istanbul to the Dead Cities of Syria. Modern wars spark ancient rivalries, leaving Grant caught between the man who would be king, and the mystery shrouding his throne. The Templars are after Grant's head, and the next target is the woman who ignited his heart. The Bone Guard is on the job and the legend's about to get real.
Bone Guard. . .where adventure and history ignite!
Read as a standalone, or enjoy the series! If Indiana Jones had served in Special Forces, this might be the result
Release date: October 13, 2020
Print pages: 372
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The Assassin's Throne
E. Chris Ambrose
The Assassins' Throne, sample
A Bone Guard Adventure
by E. Chris Ambrose
After slipping on his signet ring, Blaise Lebreque donned the silver mask of the King of Jerusalem and prepared to meet the machine. He wore a black suit in homage to his penitence, a crisp white shirt beneath with silver cuff links. A deep purple cape flowed from his shoulders, the garment perfectly weighted to strike the balance between tradition and impression. Blaise stepped from his vestry, and a pair of knights came to attention, half-capes allowing their sword-hands free movement. Haldan's eyes flared just a hint and he drew himself up taller, his ruddy mustache and beard twitching as he adjusted his demeanor to the honor of his role. Chloe swallowed hard, her gaze lifted to the mask, then away.
"Show me this lion of truth that I may judge its value," Blaise said. The mask gave his voice a hollow effect and Chloe stiffened, her hand shifting on her sword-belt. It was only her second service. She would adjust. Blaise had faith in her.
"Yes, my lord." Haldan took the lead. "They arrived about an hour ago, and we've left them in the temple with Darius."
"I helped to carry it in, my lord," Chloe piped up from behind. "But it hasn't been tested."
Blaise nodded. "We'll see to that." As they walked from the smooth marble and sleek steel of the building's addition, they walked back through its history, down an early twentieth-century staircase, through an Ottoman-era doorway rich with carvings, and into a passage of medieval stonework. Blaise relaxed into himself, wearing the impassive face of judgment. Their footfalls echoed in the arched corridor, and torches lit Haldan's form only to cast him back into shadow a moment later. As might be said of any man. At least Haldan and the other knights repented of the shadow they brought upon themselves. Haldan heaved open a massive wooden door, its base jagged by years of damp. Carved into a niche above, two knights rode a single horse, the age-old sign of the Knights Templar.
Darius stood alert to one side, hand on his hilt. At the heart of the round chamber, two people swung about, shoulders high and eyes wide. They drew closer together as Blaise entered, their gazes fixed to his mask.
"Welcome, good people. If you are honest and repent of your evils, you have nothing to fear in my chambers." Blaise's Turkish carried a faint French accent even after twenty-four years, so he spoke carefully, lest he be misunderstood. The cape rippled out behind, then swirled at his ankles as he stopped before them, gazing down at them from the empty eyes of his silver mask.
The woman chuckled, glancing to her companion, who nodded too many times. Perhaps this mode of entry lacked benevolence. Blaise smiled. They couldn't see the expression, but it would ring in his voice. "I understand you have brought me something?"
"Uh, yes, sir?" The woman said. She prodded the man, and he tried a smile of his own. They were in their twenties, without the bearing of academics. Perhaps they had inherited the device. He hoped, for their sake, they had not stolen it. Or carried it to him as a false offering from his enemies.
"It's a lion," the man blurted, raking dark hair out of his face as he took a few steps back. On the table behind them sat a large bundle wrapped in a blanket. "I don't really know what it does." He tugged the blanket away from the treasure it concealed: a seated lion with the blocky form of Byzantine sculpture, its contours covered in gold. No, not gold. Blaise grinned behind the mask and moved forward. This gleaming surface held chips brighter and valleys darker. Better than gold: orichalcum, the gilded bronze of the ancients. Few forgers would go to such trouble. The right leg showed unusual grooves in the surface. Jointing. Blaise imagined the diagrams of similar constructions he'd seen, and found a notch in the statue's base. He gently tugged at it, pulling a concealed lever.
With a soft, well-oiled groan, the lion raised its paw, drawing up a shield. The couple startled back from the table, and Haldan gave a quiet sound of delight as the lion moved. The shield bore an inscription in Greek: Who speaks the truth fears no justice. So similar to his own words, he wanted to reach out and give the creature a pat on the head.
On the table, the lion's head about reached Blaise's chest, its ears flattened back and broad mouth parted in a snarl. When he squatted down, he could see into the creature's dark throat where the mechanisms hid, anchored to a framework of wood. A thin metal tongue lolled inside the open jaw. His heart quickened. The restoration work was excellent. It had to be the work of a museum, possibly taken over the border from the wreck of Syria or another troubled nation. "It's quite remarkable. May I ask how you came by it?" Blaise cocked his head to look up at them. This position made him into the supplicant before the Lion of Truth.
The couple shared a glance, and the man wet his lips. "My father used to have a shop. He died, but I kept some of the stuff."
"We heard you pay for old machines?" The woman put herself forward, her lipstick too bright and clothes too tight. He wondered what she made of Chloe, a model of virtue and modesty.
"Automata," Blaise corrected. "Did your father perform the restoration?" He rose and prowled around the table, appearing to examine the lion from all angles, and really examining them. They brought him an exquisite piece, museum quality. . .honest inheritors? Desperate thieves? Or Nizari Isma'ili?
"I don't know," the man told him. "But it's good, right?" He flapped his hand toward the marvel between them. "It moved and everything.
"It remains to be seen how good. So, you didn't test the mechanism, but you knew it's not just a statue."
"Look, if you don't want it, we can find another customer," the woman said, and Haldan cleared his throat, calling attention to her rudeness. She glowered at him. "That robot woman, she's in town, I heard she likes this stuff, too."
Really. Blaise made a note of that. "Oh, no need to move on." He made sure to smile again as he rounded the table to stand by the lion's upraised paw. "If the inner mechanism is in working condition, my price doubles."
That brightened her face. "How do we test it?"
"One of you needs to place your hand into the lion's mouth and speak the truth." He gestured toward the creature. "Silly game, I know, but indulge me?"
The man fidgeted, and the woman gave him a nudge. "You go. It was your father."
"I mean, what does it do?" He eyed the lion sideways.
"Back in the Day, it might have released fumes, or roared." Blaise laughed warmly. "As I said, a parlor game for wealthy Byzantines."
"Fumes? Like poison?"
Blaise regarded the creature affectionately. "I was lucky the lift mechanism still worked after a thousand years. It's unlikely anything hazardous could have lasted for so long." He shrugged. "Ah, well. I can still give you something—"
"He'll test it, won't you? For double?" The woman prodded her man toward the table.
The man glanced toward the elevated paw, then the mouth, then back up to Blaise's impassive mask as if he tried to get a glimpse of the mechanisms there, too. "Sure. Parlor game." He yanked his hand out of his pocket and placed it in the lion's mouth. "I love you, babe!" he announced, and started to swipe his hand away again.
Blaise braced the man's elbow, making sure his palm touched the lion's tongue. "Where did you get this?"
"I told you that." The man's gaze Danced now, his arm jerking back against Blaise's grip.
"Tell me again." Blaise lost his smile, letting his hollow voice go deep.
"Hey," the woman said, but Chloe stepped up to her.
"You know how far that money could go," Chloe said, woman to woman.
"My father's shop!" the man said in a rush, then his body thrashed and he shrieked, the smell of something roasting emerged from the lion's mouth with a curl of steam.
Blaise let go immediately, but the frisson of power had made his skin tingle, even through the layers of clothing. A Baghdad battery triggered by a sweaty palm. How intriguing. The young man dropped to the floor, spasming against the mosaic. A thief, then. Nizari would have shown greater control.
"Altu!" The woman pounced toward the stricken man, then stopped. "Will it get me?" She pulled back her hands.
"Are you telling the truth?" Blaise inquired, but he did not wait for an answer. He knelt at the young man's side. "I suggest you repent of your wrongdoings," he said softly.
"Get away from me! Are you fucking crazy?" Bloody spittle flew from the young man's mouth. "Who the hell do you think you are?" He cradled his burned hand and tried to dig in his heels to push away from Blaise.
Blaise pinned him with his palm to the young man's frantic heart. "The heir to the throne of Jerusalem. It is my burden to bring peace to this troubled region. If you submit to penance and move forward in humility, that peace could be yours as well."
Altu spat at the mask, trying to roll away. Pity. The future needed strong young people to rebuild all they had lost. Blaise scooped an arm beneath him as if to help Altu off the ground. The young man stilled briefly, and Blaise grabbed his face, shifting his other hand to the nape of the man's neck. He wrenched Altu's head to the side, feeling the snap and grind, pulling hard to be sure he severed the spine, a merciful death.
Blaise remained on one knee, holding the body as the eyes rolled back, the lungs failed, the frantic heartbeat stuttered.
The woman started screaming and Blaise heard the commotion around him as his knights caught her and brought her near. She struggled and wept. "No, please, no! I repent! Whatever—don't kill me, praise to Allah, please don't kill me!"
Chloe lowered the woman to her knees, steadying alongside the body of her companion. Sobs wracked her form, exaggerating the thrust of her breasts in her immodest clothes.
Blaise held out his hand. "Kiss my ring in token of your repentance." The dead man's head drooped toward the ground, blood dripping on the mosaic.
She grabbed Blaise's hand, eager now to show her faith, and kissed, then flinched as the barbs pierced her. She pulled away, hand to her lips, finding a trace of blood. Her eyelids fluttered, and she sagged into Chloe's arms.
"Darius? Bring her to our allies. She is of their faith, and perhaps they can bring her back to the fold."
"Yes, my lord." Darius helped Chloe take up the unconscious woman and bear her away.
Haldan stood nearby. "Will you sit in vigil, my lord?" The knight's fingers tapped on his sword hilt.
"I will cleanse myself of this, but there is no need for you to stay." He lifted his masked face to gaze at the knight. "After all, you've a party to attend, with that robot woman."
"Yes, my lord. May it bring us that much closer to your reign."
"Amen," said Blaise, and his guard departed, leaving him to sit in penance for the unrepentant dead.
Four meters under a mosque in Istanbul, Grant Casey stood at parade rest, watching himself work the room in a way he'd never done in his life.
The other him was good at this, sticking close by the client's side, suppressing his gregarious nature as he deflected questions about Genghis Khan's tomb and that thing in Arizona—can't really say much until the trials are over, leaning in conspiratorially to one of their local contacts, you understand. The client, Kyra Akbulut, kept glancing toward the barred conservation room carved from one wedge of the octagonal chamber, impatient for her big moment, while the imitation Grant Casey at her shoulder played at being a bodyguard. He scanned too quickly, not proper technique, but good enough to fool the average observer. In the dim light of the medieval archive, with his hair raked across one side of his face, he could even pass for Grant from twenty or so paces. Up close, he could've been a Bollywood star. Vivek Destry, actor, playing the role of Grant Casey. Maybe Grant should keep him on payroll. Meantime, Grant kept scanning. Man with a limp, two women keeping close to the encircling bookshelves, skinny young reporter trying to work out the settings for his camera, not allowed to use a flash in the vault. The place smelled musty, as if two millennia of mites and moisture conspired in the gaps where the ancient building settled deeper into the contested earth, making a claim to its place in a city that could barely keep the same name for more than a century.
Across the room, near a temporary dais that intruded among the books and scrolls, Nick matched Grant's pose. He wore an identical bespoke suit with a subtle Bone Guard logo stitched in at the breast pocket. What would be next, pocket squares? It looked good on him, though, black from his buzz-cut head to the shiny toe of his leather shoes--until his teeth flashed in a grin, his gaze tracking the other Grant.
Grant muttered, "Nick, eyes on the prize, okay?" The ear piece he wore picked up his voice even that low. He'd have to compliment D.A. on the upgrades.
Nick dragged his eyes from the actor to the barred door opposite, where the star attraction would soon appear. "Dang, Chief, that is one good-looking man. Better looking than you are, for sure."
Grant shot him a brief glare, then continued to scan the room. Nicely dressed men and women, some with head scarfs, some with skullcaps, glasses of champagne in spite of the ranks of rare books that climbed the ancient shelves toward a distant ceiling. "If somebody hires you a promotional stand-in, you don't pick the ugly one."
Nick laughed, nodded to one of the passing women. "This is a fine gig, Chief, but I hope I can get some of that champagne once this party's over."
Two servers doled out drinks from a makeshift station, an open case of bottles beside them. "I'm sure Ms. Akbulut would be happy to provide." She'd already given them two days of sight-seeing on top of the situational briefing—hard to object to that kind of treatment. His scan caught for a moment on a familiar face, or so he thought.
"See something?" Nick shifted a little as if his necktie were pinching, allowing him to glance in the direction of Grant's hesitation. Excellent wingman, as sensitive to Grant's expression as the mic was to his voice.
"Negative." Still made his heart race at the idea of seeing her. The Phantom. Flickering pseudo-candles made the whole archive hard to scan and cast so many faces into shadow. Shelves receded back in octagonal symmetry to walls of stone he remembered from their earlier circuit, but now could not discern.
"Told you, Chief, details, not ops. Every time you get an op, it gets us in trouble." Nick straightened and cut the chatter as the room gathered to attention around the podium.
Their host, the archive's curator, stepped up to the podium, and Kyra Akbulut moved quickly to join him, her thick, black braid swinging against the silk of her shirt. She did everything quickly, with an efficiency of movement that recalled her most famous creation, the Homedroid. When they first met, he wondered if she cultivated the style deliberately, drawing herself closer to her machines, or maybe trying to shift her robots into the realm of humanity. Good marketing. Hence this whole publicity thing. Hence the other "Grant Casey" who stood at her shoulder, a visible suggestion of several layers of power, from the potential strength of former warriors, to the wealth it took to hire them and fly them to Turkey just to stand around at an event like this.
"Thank you all for coming," the curator began. "And thank you, Ms. Akbulut, for your generous support of the library that will allow us to conserve so many of these ancient works, and create a suitable display space so that we may, at last, open our doors to the public."
Kyra smiled and nodded, offering a little wave at the polite applause. At her shoulder, the other Grant stifled a smile and twitched to wave on his own behalf, as if the audience were there for him. Actors.
"And so, as a measure of our gratitude, Ms. Akbulut, allow me to offer you the unprecedented opportunity to transport for conservation and study one of our rare works, the so-called Crusader Codex. From our examination, we find that this compilation includes a number of accounts of the siege of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, including what appear to be diagrams of the legendary Byzantine automata some crusaders claim to have seen. Neglected for years, due to its poor condition, the content of this manuscript has only recently become known, and I am sure it will open many new avenues of inquiry for scholars near and far. I will welcome its return along with the results of your scientific analysis." The archivist gave a short gesture.
An old man emerged from the locked wedge of the library, beyond the barred door. He carried a handled wooden box inscribed with carvings and edged in the black accumulation of centuries. Tickets to Istanbul, cases of champagne, all that stuff Grant could take or leave. The chance to be among the first to view the codex after its discovery? Yeah, he was on board. The old man shuffled nearer, holding up the box, and Kyra's smile spread.
"Thank you, Curator. I've engaged Grant Casey, and the Bone Guard, to ensure the safety of this valuable text during its transportation." Kyra tipped her head toward Grant's stand-in, and Vivek accepted the box on her behalf, then—reluctantly—stepped back from the center of attention. "I can't say how much it means to me to be given this chance to view evidence of medieval practitioners of the robotic arts." She smiled, cameras clicked and bloggers murmured. "I will look forward to—"
Another click, small but distinct, and distinctly out of place in the crowd. Grant turned sharply. Toward the back, a man's arm raised, a short staff in his hand.
"Nick! Five o'clock. Cover the prize!" Grant lunged forward.
Even as he moved, the other Grant Casey staggered, blown backward. He crumpled to the floor around a rush of blood.
Grant's gut clenched as if he had, indeed, absorbed the impact. "Take care of the target, I'm on the perp!"
"On it," Nick replied. Each of them moved with military speed and accuracy while around them, civilians scattered.
"Give him space! The rest of you, get down!" Grant shouted, repeating the message in two other languages. He pointed toward the archive's own security guard. "And call an ambulance."
The guy with the rod took a step forward, still aiming at Vivek. One of the women rammed into his side so his shot went wild. He spun about, swinging the rod for her head, but she was already gone, scattered like the others—or not. Ducking his swing and turning sharply, she swept her foot around for his knees. The guy leapt her, making for the stacks.
Grant dodged the crowd, vaulted a low shelf into the aisle where the man had gone. When the perp spun about, Grant caught the man's wrist, squeezing hard as he yanked the arm up, aiming the weapon toward the sky. The man grunted, turning with the woman's assault and now finding himself pinned between them. "Drop it!" No guns allowed in the library, but Grant slid a knife from his belt, the point pressing into his captive's spine.
The woman pivoted, recovering from the perp's speedy escape, and her eyes flicked up, pale green, flashing in recognition and surprise. Her glance darted toward the podium, toward the fallen man. He hadn't seen her for more than a year, but he would never mistake her. The Phantom.
As if aware of the brief distraction, the assassin rocked himself backward onto Grant's knife, overbalancing them both and crashing into a bookshelf. He wrenched his arm downward, turning hard. Ignoring the knife carving into him, he landed a flurry of blows. He fought in silence, in spite of the blade, his narrow face grim as Grant blocked the blows aimed at his head and stomach. Where had she gone? No time to wonder. He ducked a back-handed swing of the rod, then slammed that hand against the shelf. Still the guy didn't let go of his weapon.
A high kick slammed Grant's side and he twisted back to solid footing. The guy's other hand dropped to his pocket, and Grant dodged, expecting a gun. Instead, the shooter produced a butane lighter. He snapped it on and swept the flame along the nearest shelf. The yellowed paper of exposed pages curled and crackled. Shit.
The lighter swung toward Grant's face, searing his cheek before he turned aside and brought his knee into the other man's crotch. Yeah, no sympathy for that kind of bastard.
Even that the man absorbed in silence. He dropped to his knees, pulling free from Grant's grip to tumble away. He swept the lighter along a woman's dress as she tried to flee the scene and she screamed. Then the perp was up, his weapons vanishing under his coat. Grant's knife clattered to the ground as the guy fled, pushing through the bewildered crowd and lunging up the stairs. Pursuit or damage control? Grant took in the scene. Books burned behind him, the woman's gown flared up ahead, a horrible beacon in the gloom. No question his choice of action.
"Down, get down and roll!" Grant moved toward the woman, but the Phantom was already there, calling out to the victim, clasping her. Turning aside, Grant stripped off his suit coat to smother the flames that crackled along the texts. He left his jacket there and sprinted past the shelves back to the open space where Nick crouched over the other Casey, stabilizing a shaft that thrush from his lower abdomen. Vivek choked and gasped.
"How bad is it?"
"I won't be you anymore," the actor panted, as tears streaked his face. "I quit. I won't be Grant Casey if it means getting shot."
And beaten, bound, gagged, stabbed, blown up, and occasionally thrown into a cactus. "Sometimes, buddy," Grant told him, "I'm right there with you. Nick's taking care of you—you're in good hands."
Kyra Akbulut paced on the other side of the barred door, the curator huddling nearby, each of them on a cell phone, each speaking a different language. Before it opened, that door stopped anyone from grabbing their goodies, it wouldn't stop a bullet. She froze when she saw him and covered the microphone. "Where's the box? The codex?"
He swept a glance across the floor: blood, Vivek's thrashing form, Nick tearing away the actor's clothes to work on the wound. The box was nowhere to be seen.
"We're good here," Nick said. "Go!"
With that, Grant ran, sliding between the scattering crowd as they stumbled upstairs and spilled onto a cobbled street. The bleat of foreign sirens reverberated from thousand-year-old walls. Far ahead, stumbling as he ran, the assassin moved away from the sound of police—and his hands were empty. Shit. Grant spun about. Seventeen women, twenty-eight men in the archive. One of the women was the Phantom, one of the men was the shooter. Could the Phantom be here to steal the book he was paid to guard? A handful of cars stood along the narrow street, and a few people piled into them, more than the people who'd arrived in them. Grant blocked the first one, slamming his hand on the hood. "Security! We need to search—"
Their eyes looked round and terrified as he popped the doors. Nothing. Moved on to the second vehicle. Where the hell was the box? How could it be concealed so fast?
"What are you doing? You're not security." A beefy man behind the wheel of the car, glaring over a red-gold beard.
The sound of a motorcycle starting up. There! Fifty yards beyond, the rider had a bulky parcel under his arm, and another twenty terrified curators, collectors and librarians wailing in between. The rider could be her: he'd mistaken her for a man the first time they met. "Let me through!" Grant rocked into motion, then a sudden flash in his eyes, and he tripped over someone.
"Wasn't that your boss who got shot?" A thin kid thrust a camera in Grant's face. Grant swiped the camera easy and started shooting, zooming in on the escaping biker as he streaked up the street toward a sharp turn.
"Hey! You can't do that!" The kid's hands grabbed for his camera, making Grant feel like a mean big brother.
"Someone's been shot, and something's been stolen. Take it up with Ms. Akbulut, but get out of my way."
"Okay—but I want the story."
Who did he think he was, Jimmy Olsen on the track of Superman? "You won't get it from me."
The cycle spun around the curve and Grant tracked it in his head. That road came back around to join up maybe two blocks north. Yanking the camera strap over his wrist, he pivoted and started running, alert for the sound of the motorcycle as it curved toward him. He dodged the approaching ambulance, put on a burst of speed as the bike's engine grew louder. They reached the corner at the same time, the biker taking a minimal pause to check traffic.
Grant surged and leaped, slamming into the biker and toppling him to the ground. The bike whined in a half circle and scraped into a lamppost, wheels spinning. The biker rapped Grant with his helmeted head and scrambled to his feet. The helmet turned, scanning, and they both spotted the bundle, the ancient box revealed beneath the scarf used to wrap it. The biker pounced and Grant swept his ankle, bowling him into the street.
Tires squealed and a black sedan lurched to a halt between them. Shit. But the box remained. Grant grabbed the handle and hauled it toward him, the dangling camera clattering across cobblestones. He tucked the box like a football. Beyond the hood of the car, the thief staggered through a crowd of tourists and vanished. Grant aimed a glare at the car that had enabled the getaway.
"That's an alley! I know where it goes!" shouted the guy inside, in accented English. "Get in!"
Grant swung open the door to find the bearded man who had shouted at him earlier.
"You're not security," the guy said, "I am."
He looked familiar from Grant's scanning, and from the earlier security briefing. Grant dropped into the seat, box on his lap, and the guy hit the gas almost before he'd closed the door. They squealed around the tourists and the car roared down a narrow street. Cars parked half on the sidewalks to both sides, and a delivery van pulled around a corner toward them, only to stop and reverse as Grant's driver gunned his engine. They shot past the delivery van and accelerated down a brief straightaway before turning hard across a narrow alley left over Roman times. Empty.
The driver slammed his fist against his steering wheel, breathing hard as he slumped back in his seat. Grant popped his door and stood up from the car, taking advantage of a higher view to scan the streets around. Minarets and domes interrupted the stacked old houses and twisted paths, with a steeple here and there just for variety. Lots of people: women shopping, vendors hawking, tourists gawking. Nobody limping in a conspicuous hurry. Damn. At least he had the box. Grant sank back into his seat and shut the door. "Thanks for trying."
"Doing our job, right?" The guy grinned at him. "At least you retrieved the chest." He put the car into gear and started off at a more careful pace, heading away from the archive. Probably looking for a place to turn Probably.
"Michael Donahue," Grant said, using the assumed name he'd taken for this op. "With the Bone Guard working for Kyra Akbulut. Who're you?"
"Haldan Brunelle." He glanced down at the ancient wooden box under Grant's arm. "Do you want to put that in the back? Might as well be comfortable."
"I think Ms. Akbulut would be more comfortable if I hung onto it. She's very concerned about the codex." He shifted it into his lap. Brunelle presented as an ally and drove like an operator, heading resolutely away from the archives. He didn't appear to be armed. The squint at his eye and the sheen of sweat at his temple suggested the guy was going off script and doing his best. Grant wasn't too worried. Yet.
"So will the archive be, naturally. They were hesitant even to reveal they had it, much less its location in the vault." As Brunelle turned the wheel, a cross tattoo on the inside of his wrist peeked out from one shirt cuff.
"Your accent. Not Turkish or Greek. Sounds Germanic. Do you mind my asking?" Grant ran his hands over the box, worked-iron hinges, iron handle, truncated triangle for the lid, a classic medieval shape A piece of wood had cracked at the back with what appeared to be fresh damage. The box felt light, dried out over centuries. Or. . .
Brunelle chuckled. "I think of myself as Varangian Guard—you've heard of this?"
Nice. Didn't address the question, but Grant flashed a smile of his own. "Vikings in Byzantium in defense of the empire. What's not to love? Pull over, would you? I need to check something."
Brunelle's hands tightened on the wheel, then he gave a nod and pulled over alongside a souk, packed with stalls, vendors, tourists and scammers. So, Brunelle was an operator, but not experienced with abductions, confirming Grant's suspicion that they were both improvising. In ten seconds, Grant could disappear into that crowd and never been seen again. In the meantime, he wiggled free the thousand-year-old latch and opened the lid.
"Are you sure you should expose—?" Brunelle stopped abruptly and both men stared into the empty box.
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