Asanti’s apartment was exploding.
With her three kids over for dinner and the grandkids with them—eight going on nine—everyone was trying to talk louder than everyone else. Her husband and older son were arguing politics, as they had for years. Asanti was aware by now that they did it as a kind of sport. Each knew the other would disagree with him. Each knew he’d never convince the other that he was right. It sounded like they were fighting sometimes, but they were both thrilled. It was their way of saying I love you. The grandkids were having a real fight that Asanti’s youngest dispelled by giving all of them a snack. Pans clattered in the kitchen, smoke and steam. Asanti was about to step out for palm oil—she had no idea she’d run so low—when the phone rang.
“Asanti?” the voice said on the other end. “It’s Izquierdo.”
It took her a moment, but then she remembered. The Mexican professor from the conference. They’d exchanged phone numbers and email addresses in Russia.
“How are you?” she said.
“You sound busy,” he said.
“Later tonight is better,” she conceded. “Can it wait?”
“You could say that,” Izquierdo said. He’d found something about her question funny.
“I’ll call you,” she said.
“Okay,” he answered, and hung up. So all the way to the store and back, all through dinner and dessert, between the small dramas and big comedies that brought her family together, she wondered what on earth Izquierdo could want to tell her.
She waited until her family had left, picked up the phone, and dialed.
“I found them,” Izquierdo said. “At least I think I did.”
“Team Four?” Asanti said.
He seemed confused for a second. Then: “Yes. Yes, if that’s what you call them. The Vatican’s wizards. I know where they went.”
“How did you find out?”
“The academic problem was one of synthesis. All the scholarship we needed to locate them was in existence. It just happened to be in seven different languages.”
“So how many languages did you learn between the conference and now?”
“None. I collaborated with some colleagues. There was my story about the hikers, which put them somewhere in the Tatra Mountains. Another tale, about an army battalion that went missing, placed the site of their disappearance at a specific distance from the border with Romania—”
“Which may have moved,” Asanti said.
“It did indeed,” Izquierdo said. “We allowed for that. Then there were four accounts—these proved crucial—in Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and, of all things, Turkish, of travelers from abroad in the Tatra Mountains encountering a person who could only be described as a wizard.”
“The stories say he used magic?”
“Yes. Which makes them impossible to believe. And the magic he uses is small, maybe one step above a parlor trick. But it is consistent with a certain character. Which is very interesting . . . because the stories are decades apart.”
“When is the most recent one from?”
“Perhaps a century ago.”
“There have been no sightings since?”
“If there have been, we’re unaware of them. It’s possible that no one is writing them down. Perhaps they’re in a state archive somewhere in Poland.”
“From the Communist era.”
“Yes. Some have been opened to researchers, but not all.”
“So it’s possible that there are more.”
“Yes. Though that’s beside the point.”
“Right,” Asanti said. “So where are they?”
“Our location is surprisingly exact. In fact, according to our maps, there is a town there now, called Biała Czapka. It means ‘white cap,’ and it is well named, because it refers to a peak north of the town that has snow on it for much of the year.”
“Team Four put their town inside another town?”
“Biała Czapka was built during the Communist era as an industrial town. It failed. Lately there has been an attempt at tourism, but it is not going well.”
“But the location of your wizards is, we think, even more specific than that. According to what we know, if you stand in the right spot in Biała Czapka and face north, you will find that four prominent peaks create a compass—one due north, one due south, one due east, and one due west. That is where the wizards are.”
“Why do you think they did that?” Asanti had her own ideas, but she wanted to hear it from Izquierdo.
“Because the place the wizards created is, somehow, there and not there. It’s hidden. There is something you have to do, a mechanism you have to make work. A spell, a ritual you have to perform. I am not sure. But if you do it right, you will be taken there.”
“That makes sense,” Asanti said.
“Do you know what the mechanism might be?” Izquierdo said.
The Orb, Asanti thought. We just need to hit the right switch.
“I have an idea.”
“What is it?”
“I can’t say for sure,” Asanti said. “Not yet.” She hoped he didn’t hear the hesitation in her voice. “Are you . . . planning to publish your findings?” she said.
“No, of course not,” Izquierdo said. “We may be zealots for our work, but we’re not idiots.”