The Red Cross of Gold XX:. Cross Purposes

The 20th novel in the Assassin Chronicles continues the adventures of the Poor Knights of Solomon’s Temple as they fight modern, as well as, ancient evil forces bent on subduing the world and bringing back a dark age from before time began as we know it.  Cross Purposes has several mysteries playing out with plenty of twists and turns above and below. The Knight of Death faces the most difficult situation of his long career, suffering from the effects of a terrible curse placed on him when two of his arch enemies leave him trapped in the Seventh Gate.

Lucio finds the underworld in serious need, but the question is, can he do what is necessary to help the elves out of their dilemma before they freeze to death?

Below is a short excerpt from the 20th Book, but make sure you start the series with Book I if you haven’t begun it yet.

$3.99 at Amazon.com and Smashwords. Also available in paperback from Amazon.com.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004BSGWMW

“Ho, the cottage!”  A familiar voice called to him from the snow-filled air.

“Armand?!”

He threw open the door as the Knight of the Throne tramped up the steps, shaking the snow from his golden hair.  De Bleu wore a fox fur mantle, soft leather boots and a green tunic much like the elves wore.  On his back was a long bow and a quiver of arrows.  His sword was strapped at his hip.  He pulled off a pair of doeskin gloves and slapped them together.

Lucio grabbed the Knight and pulled him inside.

“Santa Maria!  Thank God you have found us!”  He said as he hugged the Knight tightly.  He grabbed him on either side of his head and kissed both cheeks.  “What is going on here?!  Why is it so cold and dark?  Where are the others?  What happened to Meredith and Simon?”

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know the answers to your questions, Brother,” Armand said cautiously and Lucio’s expression changed as he noticed Armand’s pointed ears.

“Armand?”  Lucio backed away from him.  “Che cosa e` esso?”

“I am trapped here, Brother.”  Armand shook off his mantle and hung it on a peg by the door before taking up a stance in front of the fire, warming himself.  “I fell into a faery ring and now I am a faery!” Armand’s face clouded over.  “I have been here a long time, Brother.  I know nothing of Meredith or Simon or what happened after I left.  I only know that there is no sun and no moon here and the creatures of darkness just keep coming and coming.  We kill them and kill them.  But they just keep coming.”  Tears ran down his face and Lucio hugged him again.

“Lucio!”  Nicole’s voice drifted from the bedroom.  “Who is that?”

“Who is that?”  Armand echoed her question in a whisper and his eyes widened in surprise.

“Nicole,” Lucio told him in a low voice and put his finger to his lips.  “She was injured.  Very badly.  Shhhh.  A goblin’s dagger!  We fell down a well.”

“What?  Sainte mere`!”  Armand’s mouth fell open.  “Then you are stranded here, too.  And I thought we might help each other get back.”

“Shhh.”  Lucio put his finger against the French Knight’s lips.  “Let me talk to her first.”

Armand shook his head sadly.  Nicole. Of all the luck. The King’s Royal Sister.  And Lucio Dambretti, the most reckless of all the Knights and the one that the little King considered his human ‘father’.  Wouldn’t he be happy to see them?  Armand collapsed on the bench by the table and picked up the half empty mead bottle, looking at it forlornly.  Soon all the bottles in the underworld would be empty and there would be no more bread or butter or cheese.  They would all starve, but they would not die unless the monsters of the black hoard killed them.  And he would never be able to explain anything to Il Dolce Mio about his impetuous Italian foster parent or his wildly erratic half sister.

“Nicole?”  Lucio sat on the side of the bed as she pushed herself up and clutched the quilt to her neck.  “Armand is here.”

“Armand de Bleu?”  Her eyes widened.  “How did he find us?”

“He is trapped here.”  Lucio leaned closer to her.  “He has pointed ears, Nicole.  He says he is an elf now.  Either I am losing my mind or he has lost his.  I am not sure which.  Perhaps we are not really here and this is just a dream.”

“So he finally came back!”  Her eyes snapped.  “I knew he would do it.  I told them not to let him come back here!”

“You did?”  Lucio frowned.

“Never mind!  Where are my clothes?”  She asked and looked about in panic.  Lucio got up to find her clothes for her.  When he handed them to her, she grabbed his arm and pulled him close.  “Remember what you promised to me, Lucio Dambretti!”

“I remember,” he told her in consternation and then kissed her, before laughing lightly.

“You belong to me!”  She told him fiercely and hugged his neck.  “Remember that!  I’m going to…  I’ll be…  There will come a time when… ” she started, stopped, started and stopped.

“Of course, la dolce mia!”  He said.  “Don’t worry.  I am yours as long as you need me.”

“Good,” she said in a tone that made him shiver slightly in the cold.  “Now.  Tell him that I am too ill to come out.  Find out where he is staying and what he is doing here.  Ask him about the dragon and the Shugoshim.  Find out if he knows how long this darkness has been in force.  Ask him…”

“Hold, please, hold! The what?  Ask about the shoeshine… shoe go… what?” Lucio frowned and then put his hand on the scar on his face.  That hurt.

“The Shugoshim.  The army of Nergal.  The black creatures!”

“Oh those guys.  He said that they had been killing them.  He said there is no sun and no moon,” Lucio whispered to her.  “I am very worried about this.  He says he is trapped here.  He says that we are trapped here as well.”

“We will see,” she said and then kissed him again, reluctant to let go of his arm.  “Now go and talk to him.”

Lucio nodded and went back to the other room.

Andrea dressed quickly while Lucio and Armand talked.   At least, as quickly as the slowly healing wound would allow.  The room was quite chilly as she sat thinking about what might cause the moon and the sun to disappear from the underworld and wondered if the same thing had happened in the overworld.  As above, so below.  It could be something that Omar had done.  He was still bent on saving the world from itself.  A worthy goal, but hardly attainable.  The Prophet would never learn.  They had to get out of this place and on to someplace more defensible.  If those horrid black beasts were roaming the underworld, the cottage was not a good place to be caught.  She closed her eyes and pressed her palms together tightly.  A great cavern full of silvery light came into view.  She seemed to be looking down from a great height and there was a rhythmic sound.  A sort of rumbling.  The dragon.  Inanna! The view flew past with dizzying speed.  Inanna.  Again the view of the cavern swished past.  The dragon was looking for her.  Fascinating!  And she was seeing things from the dragon’s eyes.  Inanna!  She tried the trick again and the sound of a frustrated roar filled the cavern.  Good.  Good.  She could contact Inanna.  Best not to anger the beast.  She withdrew from the lair and let out a long breath.

“Oooh.”  Andrea pressed her hand to her forehead as the room spun.  She pressed her hands together and concentrated again.  Now she was in another cavern full of red light.  This faded and she was in a cavern full of gold light.  Ahhh.  Queen Ereshkigal’s realm.  Now she was getting somewhere.  Reshki was reclining on her stone bower and Nergal was there with her, feeding her little bits of roasted meat off a wooden spit.  She was preening and taking the little tidbits between her teeth while he fawned over her in a most disgusting display of mush.  She stroked his cheek and cooed to him like a dove.  He shuddered and shivered and held a cup to her lips so that she could drink of the dark red liquid.  She licked her lips provocatively and then leaned forward to kiss him.  Andrea watched this in fascination.  The love potion.  They must have gotten some of the love potion.  Good.  Good.  This was very good!  As she watched they were joined by Marduk.  He stormed into the chamber, dressed in his gold, white and black robe.  He was no longer disguised as the handsome blonde Kris d’Marukou, he had resumed the form of al Hafiz the Mad.  And he was truly, truly mad now.  She watched in total fascination.  He shouted once more at them, asking them what they intended to do about the fountain.  They shrugged in unison and went back to oohing and cooing at each other.  Marduk threw up both of his hands and great chunks of rock rained down from the ceiling on his head and theirs.

Andrea lowered her hands and squinted at the wall in front of her.  The fountain?  He had asked what they intended to do about the fountain.  That was it.  The fountain!  Something had happened to the fountain.  The golden fountain at the center of the underworld.  Below the Abyss.  Below the Abyss!  But there was nothing below the Abyss.  Was there?  Yes.  No.  The center.  She closed her eyes once more and pressed her hands together, trying to visualize the center and the fountain.  A vision of the glorious fountain with its nine circular layers, tiered like a wedding cake came to her mind, but it was blurry and fuzzy and wavered as if it were not real.  She was not seeing the real thing. This was a memory. She redoubled her efforts.  The fountain became clearer and she could see the top where the marble pedestal rested on the water.  The marble pedestal and on top of the marble pedestal was the….

“Nicole!”  Lucio’s voice cut her concentration.  The fountain collapsed in her mind, leaving a great gaping hole in the earth.  She shrieked and he caught her about the shoulders.  “Nicole!  Wake up!  What are you doing?  We have to go.”

“Go?”  She blinked at him in the candlelight.  “Where is Armand?”

“He is gone,” Lucio told her.  “He said he would send horses back for us.”

“Ohhh.”  She clutched her sore side.  “Horses.  Wonderful.”

She eased herself to the side of the bed and he helped her up, wrapping one arm around her waist.

“Maybe we should stay here a bit longer,” she said as she tried to straighten up slowly.

“I don’t think so, no.”  He shook his head.   “Armand said that…”  His words were cut short by a screeching noise from somewhere outside.  “Let me get your coat.”  He let go of her and scrabbled about on the floor for her black jacket and helped her into it.  “It’s cold out there.”

“It’s warm in here,” she pointed out hopefully as she limped toward the door.

“I know, my love.  I know, but we’ll be OK.  You’ll see,” he said and pulled open the door.  An icy blast struck their faces.

“It’s very cold out there,” she shivered.

“I know. Wait a moment,” he told her and rushed back to get the quilt and wrapped it around her shoulders as they stepped into the darkness on the porch.  Another screech rolled across the meadow.

“Is that what I think it is?”  She asked him and looked up at him doubtfully.

“Si`.”  He nodded as they walked down the steps.  There was at least two inches of snow on the steps.  A line of blue lights shown just outside the fence and they could hear horses snorting in the cold air.  The elves sat hunched on their small gray ponies under shimmery blue cloaks.  Their large eyes gleamed dully in the blue glow.  Their faces were obscured in the shadows beneath their hoods.  They held lances in their left hands.  Two stallions stood pawing the snow-covered ground impatiently.

“Alright, la dolce mia.”  Lucio stopped beside the first, dark-colored horse.  “Up you go!”  He gave her a boost and she almost fainted onto the saddle from the pain, but managed to sit up after a few seconds.  “Are you all right?”

She nodded and he climbed onto the second horse.

“Now hold on!”  He told her and reached down to take the reins of her horse.  “We’re going to ride hard.”

The elves started off in a long double column at a gallop.  The ponies were not as fast as the horses, but the pace was almost more than the injured woman could bear.

“Lucio!”  She gasped as they rode across the snowy meadow.  “Where are we going?”

“To the castle of the King!  Il Dolce Mio!”  He shouted back to her.  “Just hold on, my love.  It’s not that far.”

“Il Dolce Mio,” Andrea nodded to herself and bent over the horse’s neck, shivering from the cold, groaning from the pain.

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