There was a small black case on the desk that appeared to have been carved out of some dark, shiny stone. It was open to reveal an egg-shaped chunk of green crystal.
The man and the desk were in a small, stone room. Behind him was a long, black, ornately carved chest.
Its lid was raised, revealing a heap of gold coins and glittering jewels.
Verity stared at the figure frozen in time. The wraith stared back at her. "Something's wrong," she whispered tautly. "Something's different about this image. I've been in this psychic corridor with you several times now, Jonas, but I've never seen a phantom vision like this."
"Nothing's moving, that's what's wrong." Jonas took a few steps forward. "There's no action." The scene in front of them remained still, as if it had been rendered in marble.
"I don't like the green glow coming from the crystal." Verity took a wary step backward. "There's something really wrong here, Jonas. I'm sure of it. Why doesn't this image move like all the others? Why aren't we witnessing a scene of violence connected to that sword hilt you're holding? That's the way the time corridor always worked in the past."
"I don't know what's going on, but I'm sure it's harmless, Verity. I've told you a hundred times the scenes in this corridor are just visions. They can't hurt you."
"I'm not so sure about that." Her brows came together in a sudden scowl. "Where are the ribbons?
There should be ribbons."
Always before when she had entered the psychic corridor with Jonas there had been an immediate rush of strange, writhing ribbons. They converged on Verity as if drawn by some invisible force. It was her ability to harness those dangerous tentacles of emotion that enabled Jonas to control his psychic abilities.
Without her, he could be overwhelmed by the hungry ribbons of seething emotional energy that sought to escape through him to the real world.
"I don't know," Jonas said softly. He walked slowly toward the image of the man seated at the desk.
Verity stared at the figure in the scene. "Jonas, I think his eyes are following you."
"Just an optical illusion."
"I'm not so sure. Jonas… "
"You're right about this vision being different in several ways, Verity. The scenes in the time corridor have always been scenes of violence connected to whatever object sends me in here. I'm still holding the sword hilt, but there's no action, no violence."
"Do you think that piece of crystal on the desk is the one Digby Hazelhurst found a few years ago?"
Verity asked softly.
"It's possible. It fits the description." Jonas studied the frozen image for a few more minutes. Then he moved back to stand beside Verity, "It's just not a normal corridor image."
She shivered. "How can you say that anything in this corridor is normal?"
"It has its own rules and its own physical laws, you know that. You've been in here often enough with me. This vision doesn't fit the rules we've learned. We're not looking at a scene of violent action. Nothing is moving within the image, and there are none of those energy snakes that always pour out of the scene and try to lock onto me."
"It's as if whoever is sitting there has reversed the usual way things work in here," Verity agreed.
"Christ, I learn something new every time I step into this crazy place." Jonas shook his head in bemusement. "Wish I knew what the hell this all means."
"I think," Verity offered slowly, "that if that's the crystal Digby eventually found, there might be some truth to the legends of a treasure buried here in this villa. Look at the chest behind that man. It's heaping with gold and jewels. Maybe that guy in the cloak is the one who originally owned the treasure."
"I wonder if this piece of metal I'm holding was the hilt of that sword the man in the image is wearing. In the past, the object that took me into the corridor has always appeared in the vision. Something is very, very different here, honey."
Verity's intuition was prodding her. "I think we ought to get out of here, Jonas. I really do not like this whole set-up, not one bit. This psychic thing has always been pretty weird, but this is stranger than ever."
"Okay. I want to see where this passageway goes. Guess we'd better get going." He dropped the hilt of the sword.
It clattered on the stone floor of the real-time corridor, and the psychic corridor vanished. A cold draft made Verity tighten the sash of her robe again.
"You take the sword hilt," Jonas said. "It's got a strong pull. If I pick it up again, we'll jump right back into the corridor."
Verity scooped it up. "Got it." She was about to comment on the dirt encrusting the ancient metal when the faint shaft of light that had been seeping into the passage from the bedroom dimmed. An ominous creaking sound from around the corner of the passage warned her too late of what was happening.
"Jonas, I think the door is closing!"
"Shit." Jonas raced passed her, his face grim behind the flashlight.
Verity limped after him, her heart pounding as the distant angle of light narrowed, then vanished completely. They rounded the corner of the passageway in time to see the heavy door slide into place with a very final thud.
Something clattered eerily in the darkness behind the closing door. It sounded like a handful of kindling being tossed against rock.
Or bones being dragged across stone.
Jonas raised the flashlight and Verity sucked in her breath at the sight of the skeleton. It lay just behind the massive door. The bones were bound together by the remnants of what had once been a natty pair of pleated trousers, an oxford cloth shirt, and a corduroy sport coat with suede patches on the elbows. A pair of gold-rimmed spectacles glittered in the dust near the skull. The sleeve of the jacket had gotten caught under the closing door and had jarred the bones, thus causing the unnerving rattle.
"Oh, my God, Jonas. It was there all the time! We didn't see it because the door was open."
Jonas ran the flashlight beam over the inside wall. There was no handle, knob, or other obvious means of reopening the stone gate. "We'll have to assume that whoever built this place didn't want to get accidentally trapped inside here himself. There's got to be a simple way out."
"Apparently our friend here didn't succeed in finding it," Verity said grimly.
Jonas looked down at the tangle of cloth and bones. Metal shone dully as the flashlight wandered over the remains of the body. Jonas knelt beside the bones and studied the blade that was projecting through the corduroy sport coat.