Dark Hunger

Page 28

Sam watched as he listened. Lucan muttered something in a form of English that hadn’t been spoken in seven centuries and slammed down the phone.

“Is something wrong at home?”

“No, it was Kendrick.” He looked at her. “Someone has gone on a killing spree here in the city.”

Sam frowned. “Why is that our problem?”

“Witnesses say the attacker uses his hands to tear apart the bodies of the victims,” Lucan said, and regarded his own velvet gloves. “It would seem that I am not the only monster in town.”

1 October 2008

Ancient Plot to Murder Emperor?

Students Unearth Two-Thousand-Year-Old

Statue, Potential Assassination Conspiracy

at Ostia Antica

A group of American archaeology students participating in a teaching excavation at the ancient Roman port colony of Ostia Arcana have unearthed evidence of a historical whodunit in the form of an eight-foot-tall marble statue of the goddess Minerva. The statue, believed to be deliberately concealed at the ancient port site, was discovered to contain an inscription referring to a conspiracy to assassinate Roman emperor Octavian Augustus.

“We’re very excited,” the team’s chief archaeologist, Professor Jeffrey Williams, said during the international press conference held in Rome on Saturday. “This is the largest and most well-preserved statue of Minerva Victoria ever found, and the early evidence indicates that it was deliberately buried very early in the first century. As soon as the kids translated the inscription on the inside of the base, we understood why it was concealed in such an unorthodox manner.” When asked how the team located the statue, the professor became somewhat chagrined. “I wish I could say we found it because of our meticulous research, but the area where we were working was not considered of any particular value, and has been used for years as an outdoor laboratory to demonstrate proper procedures on a dig. To be honest, it was simply dumb luck that all of the archaeologists who surveyed the site before our team never explored the interior tunnel where the digging equipment is stored, or they would have found the vault a long time ago.”

The enormous marble statue, reported to be over eight feet tall and more than three feet wide, depicts the ancient Roman goddess Minerva (known to the Greeks as Athena) as winged and poised in a classic victorious stance. While the majority of statues from the era were sculpted with solid bases to provide better stability, a fitted marble slab concealed the Minerva statue’s hollow base interior. The statue, encased in many layers of protective wools and linens, was found sealed inside a stone vault inside the service tunnel, which was originally excavated in 1911.

Professor Williams believes the Latin inscription found inside of the base provides the first solid evidence of a conspiracy to murder the emperor Augustus, long believed to have been poisoned in 14 CE by his ambitious wife, Livia, so that her son, Tiberius, could assume the throne.

“We’re not releasing the translation of the inscription until the statue has been dated and authenticated,” Professor Williams told reporters. “It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. What I can tell you is that once we prove this new evidence is legitimate, the historians are going to be busy rewriting a lot of their books.”

2 October 2008

Tragedy Strikes Student Archaeological

Dig at Ostia Antica

Sixteen American archaeology students and their instructor, Jeffrey Williams, have been killed in a tunnel collapse at the archaeological site where yesterday they had evidently discovered an intact statue of the goddess Minerva.

Maria Salza at the Center for Archaeological Studies in Rome issued this statement: “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the young Americans who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy.”

According to witnesses, the students and their instructor had just entered the tunnel to retrieve some equipment when the collapse occurred. Although in the first hours after the collapse rescue workers held out hope of finding survivors, subsequent inspection of the site with specialized equipment revealed all of those who were caught in the collapse were killed instantly.

Workers have now begun the grim task of digging out the tunnel to recover the bodies and determine the cause of the tragic accident. An international search-and-rescue team provided by American biotech corporation GenHance, Inc., will be arriving this afternoon to provide their assistance.

“Our people will do whatever it takes to help with the recovery efforts,” GenHance CEO Jonah Genaro told reporters. “We will also be bringing home the victims of this terrible tragedy. It’s the least we can do for their families and loved ones.”

Police are still interviewing witnesses, many of whom claim they heard an explosion just before the tunnel collapsed.

Chapter 11

Jessa spent most of her first night in Matthias’s underground labyrinth searching through the tunnels and rooms. He and Rowan seemed to be the only occupants, and neither of them tried to stop her from moving about freely. She discovered why when she retraced her steps and found her way back to the communications center, the kitchen, and the library, only to find that she had been locked out of those rooms.

She guessed Matthias didn’t want her helping herself to Rowan’s knives or the computer system, but she didn’t understand why the library had been made off-limits. Antique furniture and old books weren’t much of a threat—unless they were concealing something else.

If I had to protect sensitive information, Jessa thought, I certainly wouldn’t hide it in a filing cabinet.

Nothing told her where she was, except that she was obviously underground. She had to move carefully to prevent her footsteps from echoing, and the thick concrete sides of the tunnels and the absence of windows gave the place a cavelike feel. She was glad she’d never developed any form of claustrophobia, or she would have been climbing the walls by now.

None of what she saw looked new; from the stains, cracks, and condition of the concrete she guessed it was at least thirty or forty years old. She’d heard stories from her father about nuclear attack shelters that many paranoid American citizens had built during the Cold War era; for a time it had been quite a trend to have a bomb shelter in the backyard.

Was this place one of them? If it were, why would Matthias have installed a fireplace? The smoke had to be channeled up to the surface through a chimney or ventilation system, or he and Rowan would have suffocated. How was he dispersing the smoke without revealing the presence of his secret bunker?

She stopped in her tracks as she remembered something Matthias had said: GenHance wants your ability. To have it, they must harvest it from your body.

Was this some sort of research laboratory, like the underground facilities Paracelsus had discovered during his searches for evidence about their past? Had she been brought here to be experimented on again?

Jessa went to the next door, tried it, and found it unlocked. When she looked inside, however, she didn’t see test beakers, Bunsen burners, or medical equipment. She saw big, comfortable-looking pillows scattered on the floor and three tiers of wall-to-wall shelving. Thin, brightly colored books stood in neat rows, arranged by height, and stretched the length of each shelf. She moved into the room, went to the nearest shelf, and took down one of the books.

The colorful front cover read DK Eyewitness Books and Space Exploration and featured a bird’s-eye view of an astronaut in a space suit standing in the open cargo bay of the space shuttle with Earth looming like a giant behind him.

What was Matthias doing with a book that was published for children?

She replaced the book, which was one of more than a hundred DK books on the shelf. Beside them were more picture books, ranging from Old Penn Station by William Low to The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. All of the books featured exceptionally vivid illustrations paired with simple text, and all seemed to be about every subject under the sun, from travel to history to biographies of famous people. All had been read many times, judging by the dings to the covers and the faint cracks on the spines.

As harmless as they seemed, the books didn’t comfort her. If Matthias and Rowan had brought children down here …

She backed out of the room and closed the door. She couldn’t bring herself to believe they were involved with the doctors who had experimented on her and the other Takyn when they were children, or that the experiments were still ongoing. Paracelsus and Vulcan would have found some evidence of it.

She checked several other rooms, bracing herself each time as she expected the worst, only to find the most innocuous of discoveries: closets packed with collections of old radios, calculators, small electric motors, and lamps. In the next room she found a collection of fifty different folding chairs neatly arranged in concentric circles, and in another she wandered through a maze of stereo equipment. None of what she saw made sense to her; if Matthias were collecting these things, he didn’t seem to care what they were worth. He displayed rare antiques next to yard-sale finds.

Her search also made her realize that Matthias was fond of very old weaponry, which he displayed in several locked collectors’ cases hung throughout the tunnels. Most were some form of dagger or short sword, but there were two cases of antique pistols and one large collection of spiked hammers and maces. Each weapon had the marks of age and care; most had been carefully polished to a weathered gleam. The pristine condition of the blades reminded her of the old bronze sword in the glass case over the library fireplace. He had never cleaned that one, she guessed, not with the dark bloodstains streaking the ancient metal.

She wanted to ask Matthias why he was collecting things in such odd ways, and then she turned a corner and picked up a trace of his scent on the air. Everything seemed slightly magnified in this place; the smells seemed to be much sharper and more pervasive. But by following Matthias’s scent she was able to locate his room, and after listening at the door for some time she decided to look inside.

As soon as she saw his bare body stretched out on the camp bed she should have backed out and left, but he didn’t wake, and she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to search his room. He kept almost nothing in the small chamber, which made it obvious he came here only to sleep. After moving quietly around the interior, she stooped to glance under the thin and uncomfortable-looking mattress upon which he slept, but found nothing, not even dust bunnies.

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