Sal Brooks couldn’t stop running.
Shaggy beasts chased her across the campus lawn. Paws hammered into the mud beneath sodden leaves. Claws ripped up the soil, and hot wet breath seared her neck. She could not look, could not bear to see how close they were. She drew her weapon, shot blindly behind her, but the beasts did not slow. Something, someone, laughed in her ear. A thorn or a finger slid along the line of her jaw and vanished.
People, Perry once said, hunted with endurance at the dawn of time. Our ancestors chased prey, the prey sprinted off—and humans jogged after. They caught up, sooner or later. And when they did, the prey sprinted off again, and the humans kept jogging. Most animals can outrun a human being over a short stretch, but none can outpace us for a hundred miles.
Sal didn’t have a hundred miles. She didn’t have one. Already her legs were flagging, her limbs felt heavy, already she strained to breathe. And Perry’s model only helped if you were the predator.
Stop, then. Fight—before they run the fight out of you.
She knew how that would end: teeth in her arm, claws in her stomach, the wet tear of viscera. Her guts seized and her sweat ran cold; she ran faster. Thick mist seeped from holes in the earth, and spiraled up with the wind of her passing.
A grim monument loomed through the mist, vacant black glass windows staring. Double doors gaped wide. No shelter there, only danger of a different kind—a carpet lolled down the stone front steps, wet as a tongue.
Where was Grace? Where was Father Menchú? Where was Asanti? Where, for fuck’s sake, was Liam?
Why was she alone? Why was she so fucking scared?
Don’t stop. Don’t think.
Just take it one step at a time.
There was a door—and a man with a rifle outside the door—in the Vatican, and Sal needed to get through both.
“I work here,” she said, hands on her hips.
“There’s no here here, miss,” he replied.
“Through that door. Right behind you. That’s where I work. Down there.”
The Swiss Guard glanced over his shoulder, and registered slight surprise. “That door does not go anywhere.” Mid-European accent, ambiguously German. Hell, maybe he was even Swiss—did they still have to be, these days? The guard was just doing his job, but she didn’t have to like the job, or him, for that matter. She had too many bad memories of men like this pointing rifles like that in her direction.
“If that door doesn’t go anywhere, why are you guarding it?”
He shrugged. “The commandant tells me where to stand. I don’t ask questions.”
“He told you to keep people from going through that door.”
“And he didn’t tell you why.”
The guard’s eyebrows approached his hairline. “I don’t think that is any of your business, miss. If you take a left and go straight past the mural, you will return to the public areas.”
The problem with working for a secret organization inside the Vatican, Sal reflected—and then laughed bitterly to herself at the notion there might be only one problem with working for a secret organization inside the Vatican—was that you couldn’t exactly go around pulling rank. Back when she’d been the shield-and-sidearm kind of police, rather than the bell-book-and-candle kind, a simple flash of the badge would have gotten her through most doors. Now, she wasn’t entirely certain whom she could tell about her job. The default assumption was: no one. Including this armed yutz standing between her and the Black Archives.
“Look,” she said, and sidled left; the guard mirrored to block her. “Obviously you’ve been put here to protect what’s behind that door. I’m telling you I want to go through, because I know what’s behind it, because I work there. I’m jet-lagged. I just got off the world’s worst transatlantic flight. Literally all I want to do is check in and make sure the boards are clear before I go back to my apartment and sleep. Your orders can’t possibly be to keep the people who work behind that door from getting through it.”
Though of course they could. Six months ago, Sal’s teammates had been kicked out of the Vatican and hunted across Rome, while she herself was imprisoned and tortured by Society officials. Water under the bridge, she’d thought. Hoped.
Be reasonable, she told herself. If this was a Society coup sort of thing, he’d be trying to shoot you already. These are new security protocols, that’s all. We need them. Hell, you suggested them.
But Sal didn’t find herself very reassuring these days. “You’re doing a great job of protecting this door,” she said.
“Thank you.” He looked uncomfortable.
“But you can’t be set here to keep everyone from getting in. If that were true, they’d just have locked the door. So how do you decide who to let through? Do you need identification? Credentials?” Sal drifted left again, and again the guard shifted to match. A tour group passed behind her. Arched ceilings reflected the guide’s sepulchral voice. “Saint Peter’s Basilica is the heart of the...