This sample is taken from The Red Cross of Gold XXVI:. All That is Fallen, the 26th in the Assassin Chronicles series. The unthinkable has finally happened; nuclear war has devastated most of the world. As the smoke clears, two Templars emerge from the underworld, where they have taken refuge from the horror. A new era begins as the old world passes away.
Synopsis: While the new Emperor of New Persia allows his hatred for all things Templar to cloud his already impaired judgment, the Ancient Evil expands his grip on the world, turning vast tracts into barren wastelands full of monstrosities with the help of an even more insidious power from beyond the Abyss. Meanwhile, the Templars fight to bring order and protection to the remnants of the human race using the crystal skulls to construct a safety net.
The Chevalier du Morte encounters a problem when he fails to recognize the truth about Sophia Cardinelli and lets his guard down one too many times. The results are disastrous for both of them as another surprising turn of events takes the Knight of Death in a different direction altogether.
Suicide was the order of the day as people saw no hope of recovery from radiation poison, burns and starvation. Entire towns and villages ritually killed themselves with everything from poison to self-immolation on a massive scale. There were several instances where entire shiploads of people purposefully put out to sea, and then, after sailing, drinking and partying for a few days, sank the ships, drowning everyone aboard. The skirmishes continued on the ground in other places and more people were slaughtered as they tried to scatter in all directions, seeking shelter where no shelter existed.
If the Twenty-Seven Year War in America had seemed chaotic, it now seemed well organized in retrospection. Millions, even billions of people died in very short order and only isolated pockets of people remained to pick up the pieces and the pieces left to pick up were hardly worth the trouble. No one knew what anyone else was doing. There were no communications, no believable or reliable sources of information. No viable governments to control anything larger than a few small countries.
When the smoke began to clear, and only the darkness remained, couriers on horseback began to spread out across the European continent in search of survivors. In Scotland, a small group of people in Lothian began to send out scouts to determine who was left. Two such riders emerged from a pile of rocks in the center of a dark meadow full of dead grass. Both were dressed in black and both were mounted on great black steeds of heroic proportions. The horses snorted leaving their breath hanging in frosty puffs in the freezing air of mid-July.
Snow was falling again, and the wind was blowing the powdery stuff into drifts against the deserted buildings.
“Great Scot!” Luke Andrew’s muffled voice drifted to the ears of the second rider. “Which way?”
“South.” Came the equally muffled answer.
The horses made their way laboriously through the snow toward the highway west of the Ramsay estate.
“We’ll never make it to London this way.” Luke shook his head and yanked on the horse’s reins.
“This should start to clear up soon.” Mark Andrew caught up with him.
“I hope you are right. I hate the cold!”
But the Knight of Death was indeed correct. They reached the highway which was still visible only as a smooth expanse of snow between the exposed tops of the stone fences lining the road. The snow grew lighter and lighter, but the wind picked up considerably. The sunlight was extremely dim, much like the false light just before dawn, even though it should have been close to noon. Luke pulled the woolen scarf from his face and looked up at the sky. Above them, the clouds were scudding along, moving much more rapidly as the winds in the upper atmosphere grew in strength and ferocity.
“Do you think we’ll find anyone?” Luke shouted to be heard above the wind howling over their heads.
“Of course.” Mark Andrew answered him, and then adjusted his own scarf.
They rode doggedly on for several miles as the wind continued to gain force and speed in the upper atmosphere. The light grew brighter incrementally, giving some hope to the two lone riders.
Luke Andrew stopped as he perceived movement in the dim road ahead of them. Mark Andrew drew up beside his son and waited as a group of perhaps ten or twelve riders on sturdy horses approached them. The riders were bundled in heavy garments, their identities completely obscured. When they drew abreast of the two southbound searchers, the lead man raised one hand and ordered the others to halt.
Mark and Luke waited while the leader pushed back the fur-lined hood of his bulky coat and unwound a scarf on his head.
“Hello, friends!” The man shouted to them. English, but not native. “From where are you come?”
“Edinburgh!” Mark Andrew lied.
“Edinburgh!” The man repeated and looked about at his comrades. “That is where we were headed.”
“Who do you represent?” Mark Andrew asked him warily.
“I’m Lt. Colonel James McGuffy, though not late of Scotland, Australian…” He smiled and stuck out a gloved hand “…from His Majesty’s Royal Fox Patrol. We are searching for survivors, come up from London. How many more of you are there away north?”
“None!” Mark told him emphatically. “My brother and I are traveling south in search of refuge. Is there nothing left of King Ramsay’s court in London?”
“King Ramsay has perished!” Colonel McGuffy shook his head. “London is in ruins.”
“The war?” Mark knew that neither London, nor any of the British Isles had come under direct nuclear attack.
“Nay, the aftermath.” The Colonel told him. “There are very few people left there who are not sick. None of the King’s Royal Court remains. We found nothing of the Prime Minister or his cabinet. The people are starving already and many more have died from eating contaminated food and drinking the water. How came you two to be unaffected?”
“We were working off shore.” Another lie. “My brother and I were part of the underwater research operations in the North Sea. We had our own mini-sub. It was the only thing that saved us. We made it back to Edinburgh just before the lights went out.”
“Ahh. The oil fields!” The Colonel smiled. “Are they intact?”
“No! Nothing above the surface.” Mark shook his head.
“What about your food and water?”
“MRE’s.” Mark shrugged. “We’ve been drinking Scotch.”
The man actually laughed. “Then you should be feeling quite well. We have only cheap Vodka.”
“Then there is no water?” Mark Andrew frowned.
“None I would drink.” The Colonel told him. “Won’t you and your brother come back with us? There is safety in numbers, and we could use two whole men.”
Luke frowned and shuddered even more deeply. Whole men?
“We’d rather not go back to Edinburgh. There is no sense in it. The people are gone or dead.” Mark told him. “I would suggest you not waste time and return with us to London. Do you have any news of the Continent?”
“Things are not much better there.” The Colonel told him. “We traveled by train as far as Paris until the lights went out as you say. The Fox is the only thing operational. It’s very dangerous. I started out with twenty men. I’ve lost seven.”
“And what of New Babylon?” Luke Andrew spoke up for the first time.
“The city stands. The Emperor and the Prophet have provided protection for the inhabitants. The Emperor has sent out envoys to assess the damage. I don’t know how we are going to make it back. Not in the dark! Not without transportation. These horses are suffering! They can’t last much longer. They already have the radiation sickness.”
“Then turn back.” Mark Andrew urged him. “The weather seems to be clearing a bit. South would be better a choice. The snow is much deeper further on.” He waved one hand toward the road behind him. The Colonel reined his horse about and consulted with his men briefly. They seemed more than willing to take the two strangers word for it. They did not want to go further into the cold.
“We are going to take your advice, sir.” The Colonel announced after the impromptu conference. “May I ask your names?”
“I’m John and this is my brother Andrew. I hardly see the point of going further in that regard.”
“That is true enough. We’ll be needing nothing further for some time to come, it would seem.” The Colonel nodded his head thoughtfully. “How about a bit of that Scotch? I’m sick of Vodka!”
The small troop of unlikely traveling companions took shelter for the night when the horses tired, in an abandoned train station where they made a magnificent feast. A grand assortment of snack foods, bottled water and beverages meant for the defunct vending machines was stacked unmolested in a basement storeroom made of reinforced concrete. Apparently, none of the scavengers had thought to come to the train station after the trains had stopped running. They left the doors open, posted sentries at the entrance to the basement storerooms, and built a fire in the middle of the floor. The blustering wind pulled the smoke out and left the underground shelter surprisingly warm.
As they filled themselves on chips, cookies and candy bars and began to warm up, the soldiers started removing the outer layers of their clothing, carefully laying them in piles, intending to use the down coats, woolen sweaters and excess layers of shirts as bedding atop the concrete floor. Luke and his father followed suit to a certain degree, but did not wish to expose themselves completely to the scrutiny of the Fox contingent. They kept their heads covered by black knit caps and pulled the high collars of their heavy sweaters up around their chins. The soldiers refused to share in the strange white flakes Luke and Mark Andrew took from bags on their saddles. The manna provided by the elven King for their journey would have been much more filling than the candy bars, but Mark did not press the issue. He and Luke ate the flakes from their hands, calling it partially processed cereal, and then, washed them down with honey mead, also provided by Il Dolce Mio. The Scotch, taken from the basement of the house in Lothian, they gave over to the soldiers.
Luke sat staring at the soldiers in the light of the fire as they slowly and painfully removed their equipment, which consisted of every conceivable type of light firearm and bladed weapon that could possibly be carried by one man. The array was staggering as each man made a pile of his weapons near the places they had chosen to bed down. Their weapons did not grab Luke’s attention as much as the appearance and condition of the men.
They bore hideous scars on their heads and necks and the exposed portions of their arms and hands. None of them, including the Colonel had escaped this latest atrocity without being permanently and perhaps even mortally wounded in some way or another. There were also numerous sores, burns, cuts, punctures and missing fingers. Their bandages were ragged, dirty and bloody. Some of the injuries were still rather fresh and obviously infected. Luke was horrified at the sight of what he had, at first, taken to be a well-armed, well-fared group of soldiers. They began to silently go about checking themselves and each other, applying what little medicine they had to the various injuries as the two ‘brothers’ looked on in silent horror. To Luke, it was a miracle any of them could have been able to even mount a horse, much less ride for hours on end in the freezing darkness, drinking Vodka and chewing freeze-dried rations without the benefit of clean water. They had to be numb with despair.
“We were lucky to be in New Babylon when the war started.” The Colonel said as he finished wrapping one of the soldiers’ hands in a filthy rag, and then, sat down on his parka to face them. He had a gauze bandage wrapped around his head and an oozing wound or sore above his left ear. “The water there is good. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to keep control within the city walls and around the palace. The Emperor opened his courtyard for the people to receive water rations from the fountain. The lines were long, but the wait was worth it. We haven’t seen any clean water since leaving France. One of the monasteries there had a well the good fraters claimed had been protected by God. They gave us shelter for a day and then filled our canteens for us. Good men, but dying. They have no food. God gave them water, but He forgot about the food.”
The Colonel looked down at his hands which were covered in dirty bandages heretofore concealed under his gloves. “We gave them some rations in return for the water, but we couldn’t do much for them. They assured us that God would provide for them. They were waiting to hear from Rome. They said a new King was coming and he would take care of them. Can you believe it? They said that this new King was of the old Frankish bloodline and something about the Holy Grail. I suppose they were on the verge of insanity or hysteria. The Holy Grail! The folly of men never fails to amaze me.”
“Sir?” Luke Andrew leaned forward and looked into the man’s haunted eyes. “Is everyone… does everyone… are these injuries you and your men suffer… are they typical?”
“We’ve been fortunate. Our wounds are probably less severe than they appear. We have no clean bandages. All of the stores have been looted. The hospitals are deserted. We need some antibiotics, but there are none to be had. We’ll just have to wait out the infection and hope for the best.”
Mark Andrew pushed himself up and then sat down next to the Colonel. He examined the wound on his head as best he could in the flickering light. McGuffy obliged his curiosity by pulling up the bandage slightly. The gash on his head made Luke gasp. It was hideously infected and so close to the brain. How the man lived and breathed was beyond knowing.
“What caused this?” He asked after a moment.
“We were attacked when we landed in Dover. A band of ruffians wanted our food. They had what I believe were pipe bombs. Crude, but effective. I think I was hit by a piece of flying metal. I’m not sure.”
Mark grimaced at the sight of the open wound under the loose bandage. Only now did he notice that the Colonel’s face was flushed and his hands shook slightly. Fever. It would not be long before he would be unable to go on. The fever gleaming in his eyes would take him, but it was likely that his horse would die even before that happened. The animals could be heard snorting and pawing the bare floor of the station above their heads. No water. No fodder.
Mark Andrew looked at Luke and was surprised to see tears on his son’s face.
“Andrew!” Mark motioned Luke over to his side. “Do you still have the elixir?”
Luke nodded and took a small bottle from his jacket pocket. The bottle was dark brown and stopped with a cork stopper.
“We don’t have much, Colonel.” Mark Andrew took the bottle from Luke and held it up in the light of the fire. “I think we might have enough to help you and your men.”
“What is that?” The Colonel frowned at the little bottle.
“A sort of cure-all potion. I dabble a bit in herbal medicines. You might be surprised.” Mark smiled at him. “If you would like to try it, I would be happy to share it with you, but it is of mystical origins.”
“What do we do, drink it?” McGuffy smiled at the Knight and then eyed the tiny vessel doubtfully.
“No. You would have to trust me.” Mark told him solemnly. “Do you believe in God, Colonel?”
“No. I can’t say that I do.” McGuffy looked about at his men. “I don’t think you’ll find many believers in this group.”
“You don’t have to believe, but you will have to trust me.” Mark shrugged.
“Are you a priest then? I thought you said you worked off-shore?” One of the men, by his collar insignia, a sergeant, spoke up. He had a bandage covering one eye and three fingers missing on his right hand. “We need more than prayers, Mr. John Doe. I don’t think you have enough in that bottle for all of us.” Several murmurs of agreement and a round of derisive chuckles followed his statement.
Mark slipped the bottle in his pocket and raised one eyebrow.
“As you like.”
“No!” The Colonel caught his arm. “It can’t hurt. I mean what have we got to lose? We’ll never make it back anyway.”
The soldiers fell silent and Luke looked at his father in dismay. They had brought the elixir to use on anyone they might find that could be helpful to their cause. He failed to see how these men fit the bill.
“All right then.” Mark Andrew stood up. “Who would be first?”
No one spoke up and finally the colonel volunteered. The sergeant protested immediately. The colonel was the commander and could not be risked. A general consensus was taken and the sergeant was chosen to be the first recipient. Mark Andrew had him lay down on his back beside the fire. He crossed the man’s feet and placed his hands on his chest.
The Knight of Death instructed the others to remain quite during the ceremony.
“Ceremony?” The Colonel frowned at him.
“This is not a simple medicine, Colonel.” Mark Andrew told him. “I told you that you would have to trust me.”
“You’re not going to cut on him, are you?” One of the men asked from near the staircase.
“There will be no need for anything like that.” Mark assured them. He pulled the cork from the bottle and looked up at the dark ceiling of the storeroom.
“If this is some mumbo jumbo voodoo bullshit, I’m out of here!” One of the other soldiers started to get up and the Colonel ordered him to sit down.
Mark Andrew knelt beside the sergeant and pushed back the bandage, exposing his forehead. He placed his right index finger over the top of the bottle and shook some of the precious Red Tincture of the Dragon’s Blood onto his finger.
“Close your eyes.” He told the sergeant. “This will not hurt you.”
The sergeant complied and Mark drew a small cross on his forehead.
“Hear me, Master and Father,” began the invocation, speaking in old Gaelic rather than English. “Creator of the Universe, bless this effort of Thy humble servant, John, Prince of the Grave, King of Terrors, have mercy upon the heads of Thy people in their time of need. Put forth Thine Holy Hand and quicken this liquor for it rejoices the Soul, it renews virtue, it cleanseth the soul, it strengthens youth and removes old age, for it suffers not the blood to be putrified, nor choler to be found, nor melancholiness to be abundant, yea rather it multiplies the blood beyond measure and restores and renews all corporeal members efficacioiusly and preserves them from hurt, and does most perfectly heal all infirmities, hot as well as cold, dry as well as moist, before all other medicines of Physicians, and to conclude it expels all evil humors and brings in those that are good, love, honor, security, boldness and victory in battle to those that possess it and in this is the greatest secret of nature accomplished which is, a secret not to be valued at any price a most precious and incomparable treasure which god grant to be hidden in their minds that possess it lest it be made known to the foolish and the ignorant. Let every man living say: Finis!” He announced the final sentence in English.
Several of the soldiers and Luke Andrew said the word.
“Every man!” Mark Andrew glared at the soldier who had threatened to leave earlier.
“Fuck that shit!” The man looked about wide-eyed. “I’m not going to sell my soul to the devil!”
Colonel McGuffy leapt to his feet and came up with a shining, chrome-plated pistol. He pressed the man against the cold wall and put the muzzle of the pistol against his temple.
“Say it, damn you! I’m sick of your mouth, Spencer! I’m still in command of this pathetic outfit and you will do as I say!”
The man was flabbergasted, but he squeaked out the word ‘Finis!’ and the Colonel let go of him.
McGuffy turned about and smiled at Mark Andrew. “I hope that was good enough.”
Mark shrugged and then helped the sergeant sit up.
“How do you feel, sir?” He asked the soldier, who sat staring at his bandaged hand in wonder. He held up his hands and another soldier edged forward on his hands and knees.
“Great merciful Father!” The soldier breathed as he began to peel off the nasty bandages on the Sergeant’s injured hand. When the last of the cloth fell away, the hand was revealed whole and clean. Five fingers where before there had only been two and three mangled stumps, swollen and grotesque.
“It worked!” The soldier shouted and his voice echoed in the concrete room. The horses whinnied nervously over their heads as the soldiers crowded about to inspect the hand. A moment later, they were awestruck as the bandages were removed from the sergeant’s head. He not only had three new fingers, he had a brand new eye to replace the one he had lost on the beach at Dover! The sergeant blinked and rubbed his new eye with his healed hand before finding Mark Andrew standing behind the other soldiers. He pushed them aside and fell on his face at Mark’s feet, weeping uncontrollably.
Luke got to his feet quickly and helped the man up.
“Who’s next?” Mark smiled at them.
“Take Mario!” Someone suggested. “He’s shaking with fever.”
Mario was pushed forward and soon they were witnessing a second miraculous healing.
When the men were all healed of even the most hideous wounds, even the vulgar-tongued doubter whose name, ironically enough, was Thomas Spencer, the Fox soldiers sat about the fire, shocked, examining themselves and each other again and again.
“Father!” Colonel McGuffy spoke at long last. “Tell us who you are, Master.”
Luke Andrew retreated into one corner of the storeroom, unsure of what he should or should not do. He was undecided concerning the wisdom of what his father had done. There was barely a drop of the elixir left.
Mark Andrew reached up and deliberately removed the tight knit cap covering his long hair. The dark locks fell upon his shoulders and the silver ornaments tinkled on the white braid. His blue eyes glowed with a look that Luke had never witnessed in his father’s face. The Colonel’s men crowded around to look at him in wonder. One of them reached a trembling hand out slowly and Mark allowed him to touch his hair. “The Prophet!” Someone gasped the words and the soldiers fell back. One of them got on his knees and placed his forehead on the concrete. “Praise Allah and His Prophet, Omar!” Another voice called out.
“Do you still profess no belief in the Creator, James?” Mark asked him in a low voice.
“I will believe anything you tell me to believe, Master.” The Colonel blinked at him in the firelight. “For surely, if there is a God in heaven, He has sent you to us. Are you truly the Prophet? Have we all died, then?”
“I am no Prophet, Brothers.” Mark Andrew addressed all of them. “I am not the Prophet whom you believe lives in New Babylon. Nor is he the person you believe him to be. Let me tell you a story, my Children.”
Luke watched in fascination as his father sat cross-legged in front of the fire as these formerly desperate men, who had been full of fear, desperation and hatred, gathered in front of him, reacting in exactly the manner in which he addressed them… as children. Never in all his life or association with his father had he heard, or expected to hear, words such as this spoken from Mark Andrew Ramsay’s lips. His father looked and sounded both very old and very young
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Mark Andrew began to quote from the Book of John and the men listened to him as they had never listened to anything before. “Tomorrow morning the sun will rise on a new day, my children.”