Authors: Alex Archer
Tags: #Suspense & Thrillers, #Action & Adventure, #Fantasy
Toronto • New York • London • Amsterdam • Paris • Sydney • Hamburg • Stockholm • Athens • Tokyo • Milan • Madrid • Prague • Warsaw • Budapest • Auckland
Levi began to
twist alarmingly in his ropes
Annja reached up and grabbed his right boot to stabilize him. Whether the experience
unnerved him or not, he didn't continue the conversation. That suited Annja
In the early afternoon the storm clouds returned with a suddenness that halfway
tempted Annja to believe in Levi's dueling mountain deities. At almost the same
moment a soft cry came from above and Annja looked up to see Larry's head
silhouetted against the ominous boiling clouds. She could tell he was grinning.
Less than five minutes later Levi and Larry were helping her scramble onto the
top of a gently sloping plain of ice, pierced by snow-mounded juts of rock. A
mile and a half ahead of her rose the snow-covered peak of Ararat. And there, a quarter mile away to the south and west of them, the long, dark mound of
the Ararat Anomaly seemed to hang over the edge of the abyss.
The Spider Stone
The Lost Scrolls
God of Thunder
Secret of the Slaves
The Soul Stealer
The Golden Elephant
…THE ENGLISH COMMANDER TOOK JOAN'S SWORD AND RAISED IT HIGH.
The broadsword, plain and unadorned, gleamed in the firelight. He put the tip
against the ground and his foot at the center of the blade. The broadsword
shattered, fragments falling into the mud. The crowd surged forward, peasant
and soldier, and snatched the shards from the trampled mud. The commander
tossed the hilt deep into the crowd.
Smoke almost obscured Joan, but she continued praying till the end, until
finally the flames climbed her body and she sagged against the restraints.
Joan of Arc died that fateful day in France, but her legend and sword are
form," Roux said. He glided to a stop easily on the ice of the outdoor
skating rink. "You make falling upon your wonderfully sculpted posterior a
balletic act. Pure poetry." He kissed his kid-gloved fingertips.
"How about a hand, here?" Annja Creed asked. She sat like an
abandoned rag doll with her mittened hands on the ice and her legs stuck out in
front of her.
She regretted the request at once. The slim old man with the bright blue eyes
and the carefully trimmed white beard began to clap slowly.
Seeing her expression start to resemble gathering thunderheads he desisted and
extended an arm. All around them cheerful skaters passed by emitting dragon
puffs of condensed breath against a black night sky from which the bright
multicolored rink lights banished stars. She fought the impression they were
laughing at her.
With the help of Roux's strength, surprising in a man his apparent age, she
found herself back upright with her feet beneath her. Temporarily, anyway. She
teetered, the blades of the rental skates strapped none too comfortably to her
feet that slipped back and forth over the ice. Roux held her by the arm,
"Where is your vaunted sense of balance, which you have supposedly gained
through rigorous study of your black arts?" he asked.
"Martial arts," she said. " And the problem isn't lack of
balance. It's lack of
"If you say so. Now, pay attention. The principle is simplicity itself.
When you go with the direction of the blades, you move without effort. If you
press at an angle to the blade, you push. You see?"
Annja did. She was starting to. Sort of. She made herself draw deep breaths to
the diaphragm, calming, centering herself. You can keep your head while people
are shooting at you, she reminded herself sternly. So you can keep your head
while doing something little children do effortlessly.
The fact was, she was determined not to let this get the better of her. She
wasn't in the habit of backing away from challenges. It made her curse Roux all
the more for talking her into this despite her reservations.
As she propelled herself forward a skinny septuagenarian a head shorter than
Annja easily passed her by. Not a yard ahead of her a tiny girl, elfin face
bracketed by enormous white puffy earmuffs, skated fearlessly backward.
Annja sighed. "I thought the Quays of the Old Port Skating Rink didn't
open until December."
The outdoor rink was in the old St. Lawrence River dockside district appended
to Montreal's downtown. Like every other run-down waterfront in every other
major North American city, it had been renovated and gentrified at enormous
expense sometime in the last quarter-century. Now the skaters glided and
chattered to saucy French techno-pop before the broad, benign domed edifice of
the Marché Bonsecours, the old market that once housed City Hall.
"Customarily it does not open so early," Roux said, tipping his hat
to a passing pair of handsome middle-aged women. "But the winter has come
early to Montreal, as you can see. This global warming, it fails again to
materialize, it seems."
He shook his head. "I do not understand you moderns and your
superstitions. Even should the good Earth be warming, why is that bad? I lived
through five centuries of what your scientists now call the Little Ice Age.
Including times in which it lessened. In the times it grew cooler again, the
people suffered, grew sicker and poorer. Crops failed. And whenever the weather
grew warmer, prosperity and happiness returned."
She said nothing. From her own detailed knowledge of history, especially
European history, she knew her mentor was right about the previous effects of
She also knew he wasn't kidding about having experienced it for himself. What
was worse, he wasn't even delusional.
"All right," she said to her companion as they picked up speed. She
was finding a certain degree of control. She learned things quickly, physical
or mental. "You've brought me here. You've established your dominance by
ritually humiliating me. What's so urgent that you had to see me?"
"What else but the offer of a job? At a fee most welcome, given the sadly
depleted state of our exchequer," Roux said.
Annja knew Roux was fabulously wealthy but he loved to cry poor. However, she
also knew for a fact that their occasional joint covert enterprises, while
tending to command high fees, were phenomenally expensive. For one thing she
burned through all-but-bulletproof fake identities, with attendant
documentation, the way some people smoked cigarettes. Even with volume
discounts, the requisite quality was costly.
"Then give," she said. The old man loved to hear himself speak and
would ramble all night, or possibly for days, if she didn't occasionally boot
him back in the general direction of the subject at hand. The trouble was, he
was highly entertaining to listen to. Being a raconteur was another skill he'd
had a long, long time to develop.
He clucked and shook his head. "You moderns have no sensibility of the
rhythms of life. Everything is always 'hurry-hurry-hurry.'"
"You got that right, old man," Annja said with a grin.
Roux sighed. "A consortium of wealthy American Protestant fundamentalists
are organizing an expedition to examine the so-called Ararat Anomaly, believed
by many to be Noah's Ark. They wish you to come along and direct excavation and
"No," Annja said without hesitation.
His fine brow creased in a frown. "Why must you always make things so
" You're trying to hook me up with a bunch of Biblical literalists?
They're like the archenemies of anthropologists and archaeologists."
"Why must you be so dogmatic? You really should be more open-minded."
"The Ararat Anomaly is a total crock. The mountain's
feet high, for God's sake! How does a flood plant something up there?"
"It is, in fact, Turkey's highest mountain at 5,137 meters. Or 16,854
feet, as you Americans would say. I'm with you, by the way—the metric system
was another unlovely conceit of the French Revolution. We might as well have
kept their ridiculous calendar, with its ten-day weeks and its months with
names like Heat and Fog!"
"Okay. Almost seventeen thousand feet, then. Thanks for making my point
"But what of the photographic evidence? The Ararat Anomaly has repeatedly
been photographed by surveillance aircraft and satellites. Some analysts claim
it resembles the Biblical description of Noah's Ark."
"It's just a natural formation."
"Ah, but do you know that for a fact? How? Is this your science, to
determine truth by decree like His Holiness the Pope? You've not been there. No
one has, for very long. No expedition has ever succeeded in examining it in
"Of course they haven't," Annja said. "The Turkish government
won't let anyone in because of trouble with the Kurds. And with the fighting between
the Turks and the Kurds continuing the way it is, the Turks are especially
unlikely to let anyone in now."
"Just so. Yet the expedition sponsors and organizers, who I assure you are
serious men who are not to be taken lightly, believe they have a way to get to
the mountain and climb it with ample time to perform at least a site survey and
"You mean go in illegally, don't you?" she asked.
"It's not as if you are a stranger to that sort of thing, Annja
She shrugged. The motion momentarily unbalanced her. She felt proud that she
managed to right herself without clutching at Roux. He had them skating in a
circuit about the rink's long oval now. She noticed he also kept them clear of
the rail, most likely to prevent her grabbing it and vaulting to solid ground.
Or ground with friction, anyway.
Roux had declared himself her mentor when she first came into possession of
Joan of Arc's sword through some kind of power she did not fully comprehend.
Even now she didn't really know what that meant. The sword traveled with her in
another plane and was usually available to her in times of trouble. She could
call it to her hands by willing it there if conditions warranted it. It was a
privilege and a burden at the same time and Roux, who claimed to have been
Joan's one-time protector, came along as part of the deal. He was always
pressing her, pushing her to extend her boundaries, challenge herself.
For the most part Roux seemed content to play business manager for her
unorthodox archaeological services. She knew, though, that he had an agenda
entirely his own. And she had no real clue as to what it was.
"Where is your dedication to the scientific method?" he asked.
"Where's the spirit of scientific inquiry? Where, even, simple human
curiosity? Absent investigation, child, how can you be so sure what it is or is
"Well," she said, "I mean, how likely is it?"
"My principals claim to have in their possession relics recovered from the
site. Allegedly these substantiate that it is, at the very least, artificial in
His gloved hands gestured grandiosely. Other skaters glanced their way and
giggled. But it didn't disturb his balance in the slightest. In fact he skated
with the same ease with which a dolphin swam. He's had a lot of time to
practice this, too, Annja reminded herself
"Think, Annja!" he exclaimed. "Even if it doesn't happen to be
the Ark, would not a man-made structure atop the mountain be a magnificent
archaeological find? Would it not also be in dire need of professional
preservation? And also, the Americans offer quite a handsome fee."
"You won't even have to organize matters, nor run the expedition. That
burden is borne by others. You'll be there purely as chief archaeologist."
She sighed. Roux could be devilishly persuasive.
He was right about one weakness of hers in particular. Science and the
scientific method were very important to her, as was the spirit of scientific
inquiry. But mostly, she was as curious as the proverbial cat.
"All right, you old renegade," she said. "You've got me
wondering just what is on top of that stupid mountain. I'll agree to hear them
"I'm not promising anything else," she said, shaking her head so
emphatically she blew her balance again and had to windmill her arms
frantically. Her legs in their black tights slid right out in front if her. She
landed on her tailbone with an impact that shot sparks up her spine to explode
like fireworks in her brain.
Roux blinked down at her. "Try to contain your excitement, child. People
Grumbling, she allowed him to help her up once more with his surprising
strength of grip and arm.
"Besides," Roux said as she came back onto her skates, a little
tentatively. "I can't dally here with you forever, delightful as your
company always is. I've got other projects to attend to. I'll set up a meeting
and will be in touch." He skated away from her with great speed.
"Roux!" Annja called out to him as he disappeared. Once again she was
left wondering what she was getting herself into.