A man in a tan jacket, hands in his pockets and mumbling to himself, headed across the courtyard toward the Vatican Palace in the early morning light, weaving among the tourists and people idling in the morning sun. At first there wasn’t anything about him that drew the attention of the police or the Swiss Guard. He just walked like he knew where he was going. Then something changed in his step; it was too quick, too deliberate, and getting faster.
A policeman noticed his dark, moving shape in the crowd, the way a lifeguard at the beach notices the shadow of a shark in the water. He put his handset to his mouth to tell a couple other officers. He headed over to investigate.
The man in the tan jacket noticed the policeman, too, and further quickened his pace. He stopped weaving and started to make a straight line for the palace. He jostled a woman trying to take a picture, bumped shoulders with a tourist walking the other way. Hey, the tourist said. The man in the jacket didn’t look back. His pace was even faster now, almost a run.
The policeman moved through the crowd toward the man and radioed for backup; two other policemen responded. The second officer approached the man in the jacket from behind, the third from the side.
The man broke into a run. A sound came from him, a whine that burst into a roar too big for a human throat. The third policeman reached him first and grabbed one of his arms. The man tried to throw him off, but the policeman wouldn’t let go. The man leapt forward, still in the direction of the palace. That was when his skin began to change. It started to shine, to shimmer, until it was almost translucent. Then it tinted a splotchy red. The man kept running.
The first policeman yelled at the crowd to clear the square. Most followed the order. A few whipped out their phones to take videos. The phones didn’t work.
The second policeman caught up to the man from behind and tackled him to the ground. The third policeman had one arm. The first policeman ran and pinned the other one down.
“Calm down, sir,” the first policeman said.
The man roared again, louder than before. A torrent of words, in a language none of the officers had ever heard before, rushed out of his mouth. They sounded like curses, old and foul.
Then the man blistered all over, in seconds. His skin cracked open and smoke poured out. Blood burned off before it could flow, and the policemen jumped away as the man self-immolated in front of the Vatican Palace, so fast that he left his clothes behind—pants, socks, jacket, and all—singed and smoking but still there.
“What the hell was that?” the third policeman said.
The second policeman just stared, wide-eyed, shaking his head.
“Back!” the first policeman yelled at the crowd, which was starting to move forward, wondering what they had seen. “No pictures, you understand? No pictures!”
Later, the three officers were informed that they had thwarted a terrorist attack. They were given bonuses and a few days off. Hilary Sansone from Team Two made the rounds in the media and gave them the same story. The newspapers and TV shows were satisfied. It was what eyewitnesses thought they saw; it was the best way to explain the memories they had. No one could explain why none of the cameras worked, but there was nothing to be done about that fact. Something about the bomb he had, someone said, and that was enough.
The Society knew what had happened. It was the third attack they’d faced that week. Team Three had found one small demon on a highway into the city. There had been a car chase for a few kilometers, then a zigzag through back streets before the demon, which didn’t know where it was going, hit a dead end. It turned its host into water, there in the driver’s seat of the car it had made the man steal, as Grace approached.
Another demon, brawny but stupid, managed to land itself in jail for brawling and hanged its host in the cell. Team Three only knew about that one because of the Orb. The man had no identification. The police buried the body. The demon was still out there, looking for another host, another shot. Team Three was sure of it. So was Team One.
Team Three was all together in the Archives when Team One’s new leader arrived. She descended the long spiral staircase fast, with three men in tow, and somehow found her way straight to Asanti’s desk. Team One’s leader gave each member of Team Three a courteous smile and a quick nod, but it was hard for Sal to shake the feeling that this new leader was here to arrest her.
They know, Sal thought.
No, they don’t, the Hand said.
“Father Menchú,” Team One’s leader said. She turned to each of them. “Grace. Liam. Sal. Asanti. Is it all right if I address you this way? I am Thavani Shah, the new head of Team One. I’ve been reading up on all of you and these Archives you oversee, and I want to tell you how much I admire the work that you do.”
“Thank you,” Menchú said.
“I hear that some of...