Read The Rift Walker Online

Authors: Clay Griffith,Susan Griffith

The Rift Walker (41 page)

The door swung in and Mamoru appeared. The samurai was dressed in a fashionable black suit with a pearl-grey bowler hat. A walking stick was gripped tightly in his fist. Greyfriar withdrew across the room with a deep rumble in his throat.

“What happened to her?” Mamoru snarled at him.

“I've been here for hours with no word. How is she?”

“I don't know.” The priest suppressed a smile, savoring the pain he was inflicting on the vampire through his various amulets and crystals, and by withholding information. “I ask you again, what happened to her?”

“She was attacked by a man who was hidden in her family tomb. Stabbed before I could intervene. I was not cautious enough. She seemed to know him.” Greyfriar raised a baleful eye at Mamoru. “She said you knew him as well.”

“What do you mean? Explain yourself, damn you!”

“She called him
Selkirk
.”

Mamoru stiffened, and his eyes darted with confusion as he whispered, “What? That's impossible. You misheard. Where is the assailant's body?”

“They brought him here. He's still alive, to my shame. My first concern was Adele.”

The schoolteacher leaned out the door and shouted to an unseen figure, “You! Send for General Anhalt.”

The samurai and the vampire stared silently at one another for minute after minute until finally the doorknob rattled. Mamoru moved swiftly and went outside before Anhalt could enter. He closed the door on the vampire and confronted the general in the hallway.

“Where is the assassin?” he asked.

Anhalt replied coldly, “He's recovering. His surgery was successful and he will likely survive long enough to attend his execution.”

“I need to see him.”

The general looked surprised, but said, “As you will. Follow me.”

The two men climbed an echoing stairwell to a vast, dim ward, now deserted but for one lone bed surrounded by White Guardsmen. A pale figure with matted hair and bandages wrapped around his midsection lay in a metal-frame bed. Clicking footfalls halted yards from the patient as Mamoru caught a glimpse and faltered. Anhalt stopped too.

“What's wrong?” the general asked.

Mamoru breathed as if he were injured. “I know him.”

“How so?”

“He is a student of mine. I don't understand.”

Anhalt grew grim. “I don't either, but I intend to.”

Mamoru ignored the potential threat to his affairs. He had outmaneuvered greater dangers to his secret cabal than this simple soldier. The extraordinary thing was that Selkirk, one of his chosen geomancers, was here in Alexandria as the would-be assassin of Princess Adele. He couldn't imagine what could have happened to the lad between here and Britain. He had to find out. The implications for his network were catastrophic. The samurai turned abruptly and left the ward with Anhalt following. “I'll want to see his possessions.”

“He had only his clothes and a dagger. They've been searched to no benefit.”

“I will want them. I may see value where others do not. General, even in this horrific time, we have been given an ideal opportunity to end the blight on what we both hold dear. We both know this grotesque situation with the princess can't continue.”

“What grotesque situation would that be?”

“That monster that has latched onto her. You have no idea of his power. We can't know what happened to her in the north, but we both understand that this cannot be allowed to stand. The princess must be free of that parasite. We can do it now while she is not here to protect it.”

The Gurkha general stared at the teacher with no outward emotion. He clasped his hands behind his back. “Prince Gareth is under Her Highness's protection. He is, therefore, under mine as well.”

“But he's a vampire. And the princess is not in her right mind. We must do the right thing!”

“Keep your voice down, sir. This is a hospital.”

The samurai paused, then smiled with recognition at what he took as Anhalt's cleverness. “Ah, I see. Will you then leave me alone with that creature? You need have no knowledge of events.”

General Anhalt pursed his lips and said in an even voice, “I play no games with you, sir. I care nothing for your secret, occult studies with Her Highness. If she enjoys it, teach her; that is not my concern. But if you act against Prince Gareth, I assure you I will fall on you like unholy hell. Do I make myself clear?”

“General, I—”

“Do I make myself clear, sir?”

Mamoru eyed Anhalt with new suspicion. “Yes, General. You are crystal clear.”

“Thank you. I will expect a full report on your relationship with the assailant.”

“In due time. We have more pressing matters. This man, Selkirk, could not have acted alone. He carried no food. Where is his transport? How did he get into the imperial crypt? The doors are always locked and the keys are held by a loyal few. Clearly, he has confederates here in Alexandria, perhaps in the palace itself. We must move before they flee.”

“All traffic—air, sea, rail—has been halted. If he has allies, they can go nowhere.” Anhalt paused, then added, “The only contact we know he has here in Alexandria is you.”

Mamoru reddened, and his mouth tightened in anger. “How dare you! Damn your implications! If you bring me his possessions as I asked, I may be able to track his recent movements. I saw how efficient your dragnet was in preventing Princess Adele and that monster from escaping the city after the wedding. Your men couldn't even find a vampire and a woman in a wedding gown! Now, every second you delay costs us a chance to apprehend whomever may be party to this conspiracy.”

“Do it,” came a voice from down the corridor. Greyfriar emerged from the shadows. “The teacher has abilities that may help.”

Anhalt nodded and barked an order to a nearby soldier to fetch the assassin's belongings from the hospital director's office.

Mamoru said to Greyfriar, “I see you followed us. How much of our conversation did you hear?”

“My hearing is good and you are loud.”

“Then we can stop pretending about where we stand, you and I.”

“I stopped pretending when you tried to take my head in Bunia. Adele covets your teaching, and appears to need it. I don't intend to stand in your way as her instructor. Also, I don't intend to turn my back on you.”

Mamoru's smile transformed into a savage sneer. “You're wiser than I thought.”

 

M
AMORU REMOVED
S
ELKIRK'S
filthy clothing from the canvas bag stenciled
Iskandar Hospital.
He laid it out in the empty operating room where the surgeons had recently labored to save the assassin from his wounds. The samurai priest searched the items, checking seams and cuffs particularly. Then he examined a pair of heavy leather boots with rubber soles, now worn thin. These were the same boots Selkirk had when he had departed Alexandria for Britain nearly two years ago. Mamoru studied the soles, picking at the seams and cracks with his fingernails.

“Ah!” He held up a small stone. “This will do.”

General Anhalt asked, “What can you learn from that pebble?”

 

“Something, I hope.” Mamoru opened a leather satchel and began to arrange metal instruments on the porcelain tabletop. “Not as much as Selkirk himself could tell me; a finer geolocationist never existed.” He popped the blue flame on a small handheld torch. “You may wish to remove our vampire friend, as he could find his senses offended by some of my practices. Return in an hour.”

Gareth followed Anhalt into a guarded corridor as he lifted his wrap over his face. The general glanced at the soldiers who stood tensely along the walls, feeding off the stressful mood of the hospital.

“General,” Greyfriar said, “may I please see Adele?”

“She is still in surgery.”

“I just want to see her. Please, I beg you.” His tone held a hint of a man on the brink of losing everything.

The general considered for a moment, then nodded. He ordered nearby troopers not to let the priest out of their sight before departing with Greyfriar. Passing countless soldiers, they turned several corners, striding endless pale-green tiled hallways. Anhalt led the way onto an inconspicuous staircase, and through another door into a theater of sorts. Troopers saluted as the two moved quietly down the steps between the rows of benches until they reached a railing. Both men faltered.

In the arena below lay Adele, bathed in a pool of stark white light. She was naked, but partially covered by a blood-soaked sheet. Her soft body rested on a hard, cold table as men and women in gowns, their heads and faces covered, moved around her. Arms reached quickly across her torso for instruments and gauze. A heavyset man took a long, thin piece of metal and reached over the helpless girl, inserting the tool into a raw gash in her chest. He did it without hesitation or concern, as if it were a normal activity.

Greyfriar gripped the rail as his breath rushed out. The smell of Adele's blood washed over him in a great offensive blast. It had no nuance or spice; instead, it was blunt, sour, and overwhelming. It had no life. He also smelled other blood blended with hers, cold and flat with no sense of person.

“Adele,” Greyfriar moaned. He staggered back onto a bench and dropped his head, unable to watch her poor form being abused.

General Anhalt stood rigid, staring at his princess. He studied the doctors and nurses and watched the facile hands of the surgeon. He noted the glass jars of dark red blood as the doctors struggled to pump new life into the girl who had nearly bled to death on the floor of the crypt.

The surgeon lifted the tool out of the young woman while a nurse snipped a thread. The nurse whispered, and the surgeon glanced over his shoulder at Anhalt and Greyfriar. He said to the man beside him, “Doctor Kemal, begin to close, if you please. I will return shortly.” Then he stepped from the girl's motionless body and approached Anhalt.

He yanked his bloody mask down to reveal the mustached face of an older man, jowly and ruddy. Sweat beads dribbled along his forehead as he nodded at General Anhalt. “Sir. Surgery is nearly completed.”

“Will she live?” Greyfriar asked quickly, surging up to the rail. Instantly, he caught a whiff of the acrid flavor coming off the doctor that he associated with Mamoru and Adele when they were in their practices. The swordsman almost turned his head away in annoyance.

Anhalt extended a hand toward the perspiring doctor. “This is Sir Godfrey Randolph, one of the finest surgeons in the Empire. He was fortunately summoned by Mamoru.”

“Doctor Randolph? The vampire anatomist?” Greyfriar asked, but a flurry of activity around Adele took his attention off the surgeon and back to the helpless girl across the room. Another doctor was sliding a long, curved needle into her flesh, closing one of the wounds. Adele had done much the same thing to Gareth in Scotland after his fight with the hunters, but he didn't feel it. She must. He cringed as the needle poked through her pale skin.

“Yes,” Sir Godfrey replied with surprise. “I have written studies on vampire anatomy.” The old gentleman noticed the swordsman was no longer listening to him, but he continued to stare at the Greyfriar with such intensity that Anhalt wondered if he realized the truth. Then the surgeon regarded the general with a slight smile of embarrassment. “I regret to tell you that Her Highness's wounds are dire. The knife came very close to severing major blood vessels. We've had to give her a great deal of blood.” He glanced quickly at Greyfriar and then away.

“If you will speak plainly, Doctor, what are her chances for survival?” Anhalt's voice caught as he asked the question.

Sir Godfrey knitted his eyebrows in confusion. “Oh, she'll survive. Did I lead you to believe otherwise?”

The two men at the rail came forward, eyes wide.

“She will?” Greyfriar cried.

“You were so dour,” Anhalt added. “Her wounds. The damage. The blood.”

“Gentleman, please, I am a marvelous surgeon.” Sir Godfrey laughed. “I don't lose patients. Certainly not the future empress. Her Highness will recover fully with time and care.”

“Thank God.” Anhalt leaned heavily on the wooden rail with his hands clasped together. “Thank God.” Then the general straightened with an ecstatic smile so rare to his face, and wiped his brow. He turned and extended his hand to Greyfriar. The swordsman looked at the offered hand for a second, then grasped it. They clutched each other's arms and the two laughed loudly.

The surgeon said, “We will keep her under very close attention for several days, I assure you. But I have every reason to expect the best. She's a strong young woman.”

Greyfriar was silent for a moment, but then he nodded and turned to Anhalt. “Shall we see what the teacher has uncovered? I would welcome the opportunity to find any who were involved in this event.”

Anhalt's hand went to his saber. “Quite.”

 

Mamoru crept along the shadowy wall of the imperial crypt. He held a stick of incense that gave off a thin line of smoke. He moved the joss stick slowly up and down close to the marble wall from top to bottom and then stepped aside a few inches to repeat the process. Greyfriar and General Anhalt stood near the door as motionless as possible, just as Mamoru had instructed.

The samurai had told them that the tiny crystal from Selkirk's boot had almost certainly come from Alexandria itself, but from the city's subsurface close to the harbor. He did not detail how he had acquired this information, but he surmised the assassin had spent time in catacombs near the palace. And since there was no possible entry to the imperial crypt from outside without being noticed, due to the locked door and proliferation of soldiers around the palace, there was necessarily a secret entrance into the tomb from those catacombs. Mamoru knew that Alexandria was honeycombed with tunnels and cisterns, although he was unaware of any connected to the crypt. However, it must be there, and he would find the telltale draft that would betray the opening.

Mamoru moved the incense stick with painstaking slowness, watching for a shift in the smoke trail. It took an hour to complete all four walls of the tomb. Then he turned and began to eye the many sarcophagi in the crypt. He decided to begin with the massive tomb of the first Equatorian emperor, Simon I. Dropping to his knees, he held the incense close to where the sarcophagus met the stone floor.

The smoke twisted into a curl.

Mamoru froze and pulled the incense back to let the smoke straighten. When he brought it back, the smoke trail broke again.

“Here. Somewhere around this crypt. There must still be a passage into an underground catacomb. Lord Kelvin's government supposedly sealed them all, but perhaps they missed one. There must be a switch and a counterweight here somewhere. Search for a trigger of some sort.”

The imperious statue of Simon I in his marble robes of state glared down at them. The old emperor seemed quite unhappy and unpleasant, as history indicated he was. Indeed, he had been a man willing to spill blood to define his own empire of chaos in the wake of the Great Killing.

“So,” General Anhalt said to the samurai as he and Greyfriar prodded the sarcophagus, “there's a secret passage in Alexandria that you don't know?”

“I'm as shocked as you,” Mamoru replied. “Built into the imperial crypt. A lovely touch.”

“I have an idea.” Anhalt climbed on top of the tomb and stood next to the stone emperor. “His Majesty Simon the First supposedly died of a seizure.”

“Supposedly?” Mamoru asked as he puzzled over some ornate carving.

“It is said within knowledgeable circles that he was stabbed in the eye by the wife of an Armenian general whom the emperor had put to death. Apparently, he rather fancied this general's wife.” Anhalt put his hand on the angry marble face. “His left eye, I believe.” His finger poked Emperor Simon in the left eye and there was an audible click. The general laughed as the crypt shifted on its base.

Mamoru and Greyfriar put their shoulders against the tomb and shoved while Anhalt leapt off. The massive structure pivoted easily to reveal a rectangular opening with carved steps going down into the dark earth.

Greyfriar said, “I can go first. I need no light.”

Mamoru held up a chemical torch. “We have mastered the dark too.”

“You'll give us away.”

“I shouldn't care to be at your mercy in the darkness.”

“Enough,” Anhalt exhaled in exasperation. “Prince Gareth, scout ahead. Do not go too far or you may become lost.”

Greyfriar descended quickly before Mamoru could argue. The stone stairs dropped fifteen feet into a tunnel carved out of the rock. It was high enough to stand, but narrow. He moved along the rough passage, stopping at intervals to listen and sniff the air. There were no branch tunnels, so he continued for several minutes without pause. Then a sweet scent reached him; it was strong and artificial like perfume, but there was also a faintly human smell underneath it. He crept forward carefully until he finally reached a blank wall. The cloyingly sweet smell was coming from the other side of the slab, as was the faint sound of music.

Greyfriar returned to the crypt and motioned them forward, explaining what he'd found. Mamoru flicked on the torch, adjusted his beloved katana, which he had retrieved from Kelvin's office after his return to Alexandria, and indicated that Greyfriar should take the lead. The three men moved quickly through the tunnel. Neither human smelled anything but musty rock, and certainly they heard no music.

Mamoru pressed on the stone slab and whispered, “Simple counterweight. A push and we are inside.”

They filled their hands with weapons, and Anhalt nodded in the torchlight. Mamoru pushed, and the slab swung open with a flood of light, and they rushed into a spacious chamber. Countless rows of candles burned throughout the room, giving off rich, sweet scents that crowded Greyfriar's senses. The shadowy walls were covered in red-and-white tinted murals, while upright sarcophagi surrounded the perimeter, their round, beige Hellenistic faces staring with blank eyes. In the center sat a man at a large, modern desk next to a lantern that cast a yellow glow over stacks of paperwork. Next to the desk was a small table with a phonograph playing sad music.

“Stand where you are!” General Anhalt pointed his revolver at the figure at the desk.

The man looked up in alarm and jumped to his feet.

“Lord Kelvin?” Anhalt said incredulously.

“Don't shoot.” Kelvin raised his hands, staring from the pistol to the blue-robed samurai and Greyfriar on either side. “What is this?” He looked with confusion over his shoulder toward an open doorway on the other side of the chamber.

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