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Authors: Trey Garrison

Death's Head Legion

 

DEATH'S HEAD LEGION

The Spear of Destiny: Part Two of Three

A
F
AR
R
ANGER
N
OVEL

TREY GARRISON

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

Rome

On Via Casilina

Between Ciampino Aerodrome and Sapienza–Università di Roma

I
n the early morning traffic it would take Sean Fox Rucker and his team at least half an hour to drive the mere fifteen miles from Ciampano Aerodrome to the University of Rome, which wasn't all that bad considering some of the road and highway layout dated back two and a half thousand years before Henry Ford found his calling.

Rucker and his team—his friend and copilot Jesus “Chuy” Lago, the fussy and aristocratic Prussian Dr. Kurt von Deitel, and Terah Jane Spencer, the femme fatale spy who once broke his heart—were in a race against the forces of the Third Reich. The prize? The Spear of Destiny, the tip of the Roman spear used to pierce the heart of Jesus on the cross. The stakes? The fate of the world. The Black Sun, the inner circle of the New Order that now cast its shadow over Germany, believed the spear—if this was the true one and not another forgery—held the key to raising a hideous, unstoppable legion of darkness. The Black Sun had already tapped into dark energies and portals to the Otherness ripped open in the fabric of reality from the industrial scale of death and destruction in the Great War, to unleash dark magicks and singular demonic creatures. But that was nothing compared to the power they believed the Spear of Destiny could bring them. It could create for them an unholy army that would carry the swastika and the Black Sun across the many nations of Europe, the many nations of North America, and then the rest of the world.

Rucker and his people, backed by the extraordinary and strange Prometheus Society in the Freehold of Texas, didn't know exactly how the spear was to be used, what its power was, or how the Nazis planned to use it. They didn't know if its power came from magic, alchemy, superscience, or, God forbid, a wrathful deity.

What they did have, though, was the name of the one man who might know where the Spear of Destiny was, and what its arcane power might be. And that's how they found themselves racing through the exurbs of Rome, bound for the Vatican, hoping to stay ahead of the agents of the Third Reich.

After a marathon fifteen-hour flight across the Atlantic, the drive was a welcome change. The unlikely foursome was working their way from the southwest side of Rome to the city center in a 1926 Itala two-liter roadster with the top down. Rucker was behind the wheel, Terah riding shotgun, and Chuy and the doctor in the back.

Rome in April is like Rome in November—perfectly mild and cool, with more sunny days than not. Today didn't disappoint. The air was fragrant and alive. The rise of diesel engine autos had dramatically reduced the choking smoke from steam cars, which still populated the roads but in dwindling numbers.

One of the ancient city's foremost repositories of history was the Sapienza–Università di Roma—the University of Rome. Founded in 1303, the university itself was the oldest and largest in all of Europe.

According to Terah, that's where the foremost authority on the Spear of Destiny, Professor Claude Renault, on sabbatical from the Université de Cergy-Pontoise, was supposed to be, according to the French intelligence agency.

Chuy was deep in thought, scratching out numbers and formula in his pocket notebook.

Deitel leaned over and in a quiet voice that Rucker and Terah wouldn't hear over the rush of the wind, said, “Herr Lag . . . I mean, Chuy, may I ask you a question?”

Chuy nodded, brow still furrowed at whatever he was looking at in his notebook.

“Captain Rucker seems reluctant to take on this assignment, and yet sometimes it's like he enjoys the thrill,” Deitel said.

Chuy didn't look up. “I'm not hearing a question.”

“Well, why?”

Chuy closed his notebook.

“Good question. What he doesn't like is taking jobs working for the government.”

“I thought your Prometheus Society wasn't connected to the Freehold's government,” Deitel said, confused.

“It's not. But it serves in the interest of the government. And the Freehold. It tries to balance the principles on which the Freehold was founded with what it takes to ensure the Freehold in a world that keeps changing. For Fox, that's close enough to government.”

“I don't get the western distrust of government,” Deitel said.

“Look where you're from,” Chuy said cheekily.

“Okay, fine, but it's not like the Freehold has an overpowering government to begin with,” Deitel said. “Why does he still chaff so at its presence?”

Chuy shrugged. “Well, Fox likes to say that government is usually worse than the problem it's supposed to solve. Supposed to keep men from killing each other, and yet only governments kill on an industrial scale. Supposed to keep people from robbing each other, and then robs everyone it serves. It makes it harder for people to get by on their own, and then offers to help you out, and you're supposed to feel grateful. For him, and a lot of folks in the Freehold, government leads to people telling each other what to do, which leads to people shouting, which leads to people calling for war, and war leads to . . . well, I needn't continue, need I?”

It made sense, in a roundabout, backward, Texas way, Deitel supposed. But there was still a disconnect.

“And yet sometimes he seems to relish this, like an adventure,” he said. “Sometimes he kills without a thought and sometimes he does everything he can to avoid killing.”

“I suppose there's the challenge. Fox certainly is good at violence. Or at least he's good at getting himself into fights, anyway. And when you tell someone like Fox that someone has to save the world, well, that's something he can't walk away from even if he says he wants to. Deep down I think he's a knight of old. Saving damsels, slaying dragons, and all that. And doing it by a code of honor—or a cowboy code, maybe more accurately—which for most of the world is no longer fashionable.”

Deitel didn't look any more enlightened.

“Or put it this way,” Chuy said. “He hates working for government, but he does so love fighting against them.”

Deitel thought about that one for a good couple of miles.

“D
r. Renault is serving as a visiting scholar at the university,” Terah said. “His office should be easy enough to find. Lysander wired Renault before we took off, so he's expecting us even if he doesn't know why yet.”

“Let's just hope the krau . . . er, the Nazis haven't got wise,” Rucker said. He was dodging through traffic like a native and using his “Roman brakes”—the roadster's horn—judiciously.

“There was nothing in the files I brought to Herr Benjamin that indicated the SS had any knowledge of this Dr. Renault,” Deitel said, who had been listening. “I shouldn't expect we shall encounter trouble.”

“It's not that I expect to find trouble,” Rucker said, “it's that it so often comes looking for us that bothers me.”

Chuy set the notebook aside and turned around to Terah.

“I've been thinking about what you said, about how West Africans did not have the technology to produce iron in pure enough form to create steel weapons,” he said. “And specifically about what you said about how the Spear of Destiny grants—your exact words—the power of ‘life over death.' ”

“Yeah, that's right,” Terah said.

“Are you familiar with Vodun?” Chuy asked. “No? It's the root cosmology of all West African mysticism, animism, and mythology. I may be a good Catholic schoolboy from Sao Paolo, but I've had firsthand experience with Vodun in its many forms in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.”

Vodun, Chuy explained, encompassed all the spirits and elements of divine essence in primitive African polytheism. For every tribe and region in Africa—the Ewe, Kabye, Mina, Fon, Togo, and the Niger clans—there was a form of Vodun. Some of these forms were carried across the Atlantic in the 350 years of New World slave trade that ended in 1801. The African tradition was combined in the West with native Indian and Catholic beliefs. In Brazil it was known as Candombljé Jejé. In Cuba it was called Santeria. In Haiti it was known as Voodou.

“One common trait they share—especially in Voudoo and Candombljé Jejé—is the belief that certain magic spells and elements can give a shaman the power of life
over death
,” Chuy said. “That's why I remarked on what you said about the Spear. The darkest figure of the New World's Vodun tradition is the
bokors
, a sorcerer who practices black magic to steal souls, create monsters, open the world to the chaotic madness of other realms. And, it is said, to raise the dead.”

“Could there be some kind of connection between this tradition and the meteoric iron?” Deitel asked.

“That's a good question,” Terah said.

“Three words I've never heard her say,” Rucker said to himself. He yelped when she slapped him on the back of his head.

Chuy returned to whatever calculations he was working through.

“You need to take the long way around and drop Dr. Deitel and I off at the Vatican,” Terah said.

“That sounded a lot like you giving orders, and I know that can't be the case,” Rucker said. “Remember? Me? Captain of the plane, captain of this mission?”

Terah, seated behind the driver's seat, leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Rucker's neck. She planted hot, soft kisses up the side of his neck.

“Know how to access the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana,
mon coeur
?”

“The what?”

“The Vatican Library.”

“How hard can it be?”

“It holds 75,000 codices, 1.1 million books, and 150,000 other items. They're divided by the five historical periods. We'll be looking in the pre-Lateran. Know how to sort through the catalogues to find a specific document?”

“Of course,” he said. “What's a codice?”

“Exactly. Therefore, the doctor and I are going to find and then sneak out any records related to Cascus Antonius, so that even if the Nazis get wise, they won't be able to pick up the trail. Meanwhile, my love, you and Chuy can collect Professor Renault at the university.”

Rucker drove silently for almost a mile. Finally he spoke.

“I have an idea. Terah, I'm taking you and Deitel to the Bibliotecha Aposti . . . postal . . . the library, and then Chuy and me are going to go get Professor Renault.”

“Good plan,” Terah said.

L
ieutenant Otto Skorzeny's modest military rank didn't reflect the actual power he wielded as de facto head of SS special services. Thus, when he used the Rome airport's telephone to inform the German Embassy that he'd arrived and wanted to speak to the Special Detachment's operations chief, he could hear the heels clicking two rooms away from the receptionist's open line. It was not for him, a humble lieutenant, however accomplished. It was for his boss, Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's number two man in the SS, who made the calls to ensure the embassy security detachment knew to extend to the lieutenant every courtesy. Thus, Skorzeny was informed that the team he'd requested fifteen hours before—at 6:00
P.M.
local time—was in place, and the orders he'd specified had been executed. Further, as a courtesy, a high ranking officer and three agents would meet him at the airport terminal. While they were equipped as ordered and carried the equipment he'd specified, the team was not informed of his identity beyond his rank.

He watched through a window as the Itala roadster sped toward the airport exit.

“Zehr gut,”
Skorzeny said, working out the kinks in his legs.

It was time to cease reacting and start acting.

A black Mercedes pulled up to the curb where Skorzeny had just arrived. They were punctual. The team leader who stepped out of the car was dressed in a plain black overcoat, but his bearing and age told the young commando that the man probably outranked him by two grades and wasn't accustomed to being summoned by a mere lieutenant. Skorzeny could see it in the man's look of disdain for his sloppy appearance and workman coveralls.

“Herr Lieutenant?” the man asked too loudly, clicking his heels as if to call Skorzeny to attention.

Skorzeny rolled his eyes at the man's doltish lack of the concept of covert operations.

“Quiet your tone, fool.”

The officer looked incensed at the lieutenant's insolence, and in a louder tone he began to dress the lieutenant down.

“You will show appropriate respect. I am Sturmbannführer Wilhelm von Kle—
Ack!

None of the three other agents even saw Skorzeny move, it was so fast. He drove his mid-fingers knuckles into the man's throat, slammed the heel of his hand into the sturmbannführer's diaphragm, and as the man's knees buckled, he silently gasped for breath that wouldn't come. Skorzeny wrapped an arm around him, holding him up, and looked to any observer to simply be greeting an old friend.

Only when it was done did the three agents realize what was happening.

“Get this fool in the car and let's go before we cause a scene,” Skorzeny whispered with an animal snarl. The agents almost saluted but thought better of it.

In the car, on their way to the rendezvous point with the sturmbannführer now gasping beside him, Skorzeny shook his head.

“Damned lockstep, military school amateurs,” he said with disgust.

T
he Vatican was nothing new for Chuy. He'd made the pilgrimage and attended mass at St. Peter's half a dozen times. Yet being this close always aroused a sense of peace and reverence in the man. Rucker, meanwhile, had an academic interest in the libraries and museums in the Holy City—more than he'd let on—but not this morning.

At the Vatican's eastern gates, Terah and Deitel climbed out. They were dressed enough like academics or tourists that they wouldn't arouse suspicion, on the off chance they were being watched.

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