Peter Knox dodged the puddles in the courtyard of the Strahov Monastery in Prague. He was on his annual spring circuit of libraries in central and Eastern Europe. When the tourists and scholars were at their lowest ebb, Knox went from one old repository to another, making sure that nothing untoward had turned up in the past twelve months that might cause the Congregation-or him-trouble. In each library he had a trusted informant, a member of staff who was of sufficiently high standing to have free access to the books and manuscripts, but not so elevated that he might later be required to take a principled stand against library treasures simply . . . disappearing.

Knox had been making regular visits like this since he'd finished his

doctorate and begun working for the Congregation. Much had changed in their world since World War II, and the Congregation's administrative structure had adjusted to the times. With the transportation revolution of the nineteenth century, trains and roads allowed a new style of governance, with each species policing its own kind rather than overseeing a geographic location. It meant a lot of traveling and letter writing, both possible in the Age of Steam. Philippe de Clermont had been instrumental in modernizing the Congregation's operations, though Knox had long suspected he did it more to protect vampire secrets than to promote progress.

Then the world wars disrupted communications and transportation networks, and the Congregation reverted to its old ways. It was more sensible to break up the globe into slices than to crisscross it tracking down a specific individual accused of wrongdoing. No one would have dared to suggest such a radical change when Philippe was alive. Happily, the former head of the de Clermont family was no longer around to resist. The Internet and e-mail threatened to make such trips unnecessary, but Knox liked tradition.

Knox's mole at the Strahov Library was a middle-aged man named Pavel Skovajsa. He was brown all over, like foxed paper, and wore a pair of Communist-era glasses that he refused to replace, though it was unclear whether his reluctance was for historical or sentimental reasons. Usually the two men met in the monastery brewery, which had gleaming copper tanks and served an excellent amber beer named after St. Norbert, whose earthly remains rested nearby.

But this year Skovajsa had actually found something.

"It is a letter. In Hebrew," Skovajsa had whispered down the phone line. He was suspicious of new technology, didn't have a cell phone, and detested e-mail. That's why he was employed in the conservation department, where his idiosyncratic approach to knowledge wouldn't slow the library's steady march toward modernity.

"Why are you whispering, Pavel?" Knox had asked in irritation. The only problem with Skovajsa was that he liked to think of himself as a spy hewn from the ice of the Cold War. As a result he was a tad paranoid.

"Because I took a book apart to get at it. Someone hid it underneath the endpapers of a copy of Johannes Reuchlin's De Arte Cabalistica," Skovajsa explained, his excitement mounting. Knox looked at his watch. It was so early that he hadn't had his coffee yet. "You must come, at once. It mentions alchemy and that Englishman who worked for Rudolf II. It may be important."

Knox was on the next flight out of Berlin. And now Skovajsa had spirited him away to a dingy room in the basement of the library illuminated by a single bare lightbulb.

"Isn't there somewhere more comfortable for us to conduct business?" Knox said, eyeing the metal table (also Communist-era) with suspicion. "Is that goulash?" He pointed to a sticky spot on its surface.

"The walls have ears, and the floors have eyes." Skovajsa wiped at the spot with the hem of his brown sweater. "We are safer here. Sit. Let me bring you the letter."

"And the book," Knox said sharply. Skovajsa turned, surprised at his tone.

"Yes, of course. The book, too."

"That isn't On the Art of Kabbalah," Knox said when Skovajsa returned, growing more irritated with each passing moment. Johannes Reuchlin's book was slim and elegant. This monstrosity had to be nearly eight hundred pages long. When it hit the table, the impact reverberated across the top and down the metal legs.

"Not exactly," Skovajsa said defensively. "It's Galatino's De Arcanis Catholicae Veritatis. But the Reuchlin is in it." A cavalier approach to precise bibliographic details was one of Knox's betes noires.

"The title page has inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin, and French." Skovajsa flung open the cover. Since there was nothing to support the spine of the large tome, Knox was not surprised to hear an ominous crack. He looked at Skovajsa in alarm. "Don't worry," the conservationist reassured him, "it isn't cataloged. I only discovered it because it was shelved next to our other copy, which was due to go out for rebinding. It probably came here by mistake when our books were returned in 1989."

Knox dutifully examined the title page and its inscriptions.

בנימין זאב יטרף בבקר יאכל עד ולערב יחלק שלל Genesis 49:27 Beniamin lupus rapax mane comedet praedam et vespere dividet spolia.

Benjamin est un loup qui dechire; au matin il devore la proie, et sur le soir il partage le butin.

"It is an old hand, is it not? And the owner was clearly well educated," Skovajsa said.

"'Benjamin shall raven as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil,'" Knox mused.

He couldn't imagine what these verses had to do with De Arcanis. Galatino's work contributed a single shot in the Catholic Church's war against Jewish mysticism-the same war that had led to book burnings, inquisitorial proceedings, and witch-hunts in the sixteenth century. Galatino's position on these matters was given away by his title: Concerning Secrets of the Universal Truth. In a nifty bit of intellectual acrobatics, Galatino argued that the Jews had anticipated Christian doctrines and that the study of kabbalah could help Catholic efforts to convert the Jews to the true faith.

"Perhaps the owner's name was Benjamin?" Skovajsa looked over his shoulder and passed Knox a file. Knox was happy to see that it was not stamped top secret in red letters. "And here is the letter. I do not know Hebrew, but the name Edwardus Kellaeus and alchemy-alchymia-are in Latin."

Knox turned the page. He was dreaming. He had to be. The letter was dated from the second day of Elul 5369-1 September 1609 in the Christian calendar. And it was signed Yehuda ben Bezalel, a man most knew as Rabbi Judah Loew.

"You know Hebrew, yes?" Skovajsa said.

"Yes." This time it was Knox who was whispering. "Yes," he said more strongly. He stared at the letter.

"Well?" Skovajsa said after nearly a minute of silence had passed. "What does it say?"

"It seems that a Jew from Prague met Edward Kelley and was writing to a friend to tell him so." It was true-in a way.

"Long life and peace to you, Benjamin son of Gabriel, cherished friend,"

Rabbi Loew wrote.

I received your letter from my birth city with great joy. Pozna?? is a better place for you than Hungary, where nothing awaits you but misery. Though I am an old man, your letter brought back clearly the strange events that occurred in the spring of 5351 when Edwardus Kellaeus, student of alchymia and beloved of the emperor, came to me. He raved about a man he had killed and that the emperor's guards would soon arrest him for murder and treason. He foresaw his own death, crying out, "I will fall like the angels into hell." He also spoke of this book you seek, which was stolen from Emperor Rudolf, as you know. Kellaeus sometimes called it the Book of Creation and sometimes the Book of Life. Kellaeus wept, saying that the end of the world was upon us. He kept repeating omens, such as "It begins with absence and desire," "It begins with blood and fear," "It begins with a discovery of witches," and so forth.

In his madness Kellaeus had removed three pages from this Book of Life even before it was taken from the emperor. He gave one leaf to me. Kellaeus would not tell me to whom he had given the other pages, speaking in riddles about the angel of death and the angel of life. Alas, I do not know the book's present whereabouts. I no longer have my leaf from it, having given it to Abraham ben Elijah for safekeeping. He died of the pestilence, and the page may be forever lost. The only one who might be able to shed light on the mystery is your maker. He, too, sought this book. May your interest in healing this broken book extend to healing your broken lineage so that you might find peace with the Father who gave you life and breath. The Lord guard your spirit, from your loving friend Yehuda of the holy city of Prague, son of Bezalel, 2nd of the month Elul 5369

"That's all?" Skovajsa said after another long pause. "It's just about a meeting?"

"In essence." Knox made rapid calculations on the back of the folder. Loew died in 1609. Kelley visited him eighteen years before that. Spring 1591. He dug in his pocket for his phone and looked at the display in disgust. "Don't you get a signal up here?"

"We're underground," Skovajsa said, shrugging as he pointed to the thick walls. "So was I right to tell you about this?" He licked his lips in anticipation.

"You did well, Pavel. I'm taking the letter. And the book." They were the only items Knox had ever removed from the Strahov Library.

"Good. I thought it was worth your time, what with the mention of alchemy." Pavel grinned.

What happened next was regrettable. Skovajsa had the misfortune, after years of rooting about without success, of finding something precious to Knox. With a few words and a small gesture, Knox made sure Pavel would never be able to share what he had seen with another creature. For sentimental and ethical reasons, Knox didn't kill him. That would have been a vampire's response, as he knew from finding Gillian Chamberlain propped up against his door at the Randolph Hotel last autumn. Being a witch, he simply freed the clot in Skovajsa's thigh so it could travel up to his brain. Once there, it caused a massive stroke. It would be hours before someone found him, and too late for any good to come of it.

Knox found his way back to his rental car with the biblically proportioned book and the letter safely tucked under his arm. Once he was far enough from the Strahov complex, he pulled over to the side of the road and took out the letter, his hands shaking.

Everything the Congregation knew about the mysterious book of origins-Ashmole 782-was based on fragments such as this. Any new discovery dramatically increased their knowledge. And this letter contained more than just a brief description of the book and some veiled hints as to its significance. There were names and dates and the startling revelation that the book Diana Bishop had seen in Oxford was missing three pages.

Knox looked over the letter again. He wanted to know more-to squeeze every potentially useful bit of information from it. This time certain words and phrases stood out: your broken lineage; the Father who gave you life and breath; your maker. On the first reading, Knox assumed that Loew was talking about God. Upon the second he came to a very different conclusion. Knox picked up his phone and punched in a single number.

"Oui."

"Who is Benjamin ben Gabriel?" Knox demanded.

There was a moment of complete silence.

"Hello, Peter," said Gerbert of Aurillac. Knox's free hand curled into a fist at the bland response. This was so typical of the vampires on the Congregation. They talked about honesty and cooperation, but they had lived too long and knew too much. And, like all predators, they weren't eager to share their spoils.

"'Benjamin shall raven like a wolf.' I know Benjamin ben Gabriel is a vampire. Who is he?"

"No one of importance."

"Do you know what happened in Prague in 1591?" Knox asked tightly.

"A great many things. You cannot expect me to rehearse every event for you, like a grammar-school history teacher."

Knox heard a faint tremble in Gerbert's voice, something that only someone who knew the man well would catch. Gerbert, the venerable vampire who was never at a loss for words, was nervous.

"Dr. Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley, was in the city in 1591."

"We've been over this before. It's true, the Congregation once believed that Ashmole 782 might have been in Dee's library. But I met with Edward Kelley in Prague when those suspicions first surfaced in the spring of 1586. Dr. Dee had a book full of pictures. It wasn't ours. Since then we've tracked down every item from Dee's library just to be sure. Elias Ashmole didn't come into possession of the manuscript through Dee or Kelley."

"You're wrong. Kelley had the book in May 1591." Knox paused. "And he took it apart. The book Diana Bishop saw in Oxford was missing three pages."

"What do you know, Peter?" Gerbert said sharply.

"What do you know, Gerbert?" Knox didn't like the vampire, but they had been allies for years. Both men understood that cataclysmic change was coming to their world. In the aftermath there would be winners and losers. Neither man had any intention of being on the losing side.

"Benjamin ben Gabriel is Matthew Clairmont's son," Gerbert said reluctantly.

"His son?" Knox repeated numbly. Benjamin de Clermont was on none of the elaborate vampire genealogies the Congregation kept.

"Yes. But Benjamin disowned his bloodline. It is not something that a vampire does lightly, for the rest of the family is likely to kill him to protect their secrets. Matthew forbade any de Clermont to take his son's life. And no one has caught a glimpse of Benjamin since the nineteenth century, when he disappeared in Jerusalem."

The bottom dropped out of Knox's world. Matthew Clairmont couldn't be allowed to have Ashmole 782. Not if it held the witches' most cherished lore.

"Well, we're going to have to find him," Knox said grimly, "because according to this letter Edward Kelley scattered the three pages. One he gave to Rabbi Loew, who passed it on to someone called Abraham ben Elijah of Chelm."

"Abraham ben Elijah was once known as a very powerful witch. Do you creatures know anything about your own history?"

"We know not to trust vampires. I'd always dismissed that prejudice as histrionics, not history, but now I'm not so sure." Knox paused. "Loew told Benjamin to ask his father for help. I knew that de Clermont was hiding something. We have to find Benjamin de Clermont and make him tell us what he-and his father-know about Ashmole 782."

"Benjamin de Clermont is a volatile young man. He was afflicted with the same illness that plagued Matthew's sister Louisa." The vampires called it blood rage, and the Congregation wondered if the disease was not somehow related to the new illness afflicting vampires-the one that made it impossible for them to make new vampires. "If there really are three lost sheets from Ashmole 782, we will find them without his help. It will be better that way."

"No. It's time for the vampires to yield their secrets." Knox knew that the success or failure of their plans might well depend on this unstable branch of the de Clermont family tree. He looked at the letter once more. Loew was clear that he had wanted Benjamin to heal not only the book but his relationship with his family. Matthew Clairmont might know more about the book than any of them suspected.

"I suppose you'll be wanting to timewalk to Rudolphine Prague now to look for Edward Kelley," Gerbert grumbled, trying to stifle an impatient sigh. Witches could be so impulsive.

"On the contrary. I'm going to Sept-Tours."

Gerbert snorted. Storming the de Clermont family chateau was an even more ridiculous idea than going back to the past.

"Tempting though that might be, it isn't wise. Baldwin turns a blind eye only because of the rift between him and Matthew." It was Philippe's only strategic failure, so far as Gerbert could remember, to hand over the Knights of Lazarus to Matthew rather than to the elder son who had always thought he was entitled to the position. "Besides, Benjamin no longer considers himself a de Clermont-and the de Clermonts certainly don't believe he's one of theirs. The last place we would find him is Sept-Tours."

"For all we know, Matthew de Clermont has had one of the missing pages in his possession for centuries. The book is of no use to us if it's incomplete. Besides, it's time that vampire pays for his sins-and those of his mother and father, too." Together they had been responsible for the deaths of thousands of witches. Let the vampires worry about placating Baldwin. Knox had justice on his side.

"Don't forget the sins of his lover," Gerbert said, his voice vicious. "I miss my Juliette. Diana Bishop owes me a life for the one she took."

"I have your support, then?" Knox didn't care one way or the other. He'd be leading a raiding party of witches against the de Clermont stronghold before the week's end, with or without Gerbert's help.

"You do," Gerbert agreed reluctantly. "They are all gathering there, you know. The witches. The vampires. There are even a few daemons inside. They are calling themselves the Conventicle. Marcus sent a message to the vampires on the Congregation suggesting that the covenant be repealed."

"But that would mean-"

"The end of our world," Gerbert finished.

London: The Blackfriars

Source: www.StudyNovels.com