THE CITY OF DARKNESS
The Watchers Chronicle Book II
by Evan Braun and Clint Byars
“Once something is in your memory, it is possible to access it. It takes discipline and reflection. It takes patience.”
More than a year has passed since the explosive events on Tubuai, and Sherwood Brighton’s world has changed forever. Haunted by recent discoveries and the absence of key allies, Brighton is on the run, struggling to evade the long reach of Raff Lagati, an eccentric billionaire desperate to capture the powerful secrets in the elusive Book of Creation.
Half a world away, a long-forgotten terror is rising in the highlands of South America. When two members of an archaeological expedition vanish without explanation, archaeologist Dario Katsulas takes on a mission to find and bring them back alive. While fighting for his life against ever-mounting odds, he discovers just how much a single act of bravery can cost…
For the history of mankind may turn on the fate of a single individual.
Amesbury, England JULY 17
Once something is in your memory, it is possible to access it.”
The bartender dropped a mug of dark ale on the wooden bar. The wood was pockmarked with the rings of previous mugs, a marker of the hours Sherwood Brighton had occupied this creaky stool. His clumsy hands brought the mug to his lips, tipping it back and feeling the frothy head cling to his moustache as the sweet ale went down.
Brighton ignored the bartender’s judgmental gaze, but worried it might mean he was close to being cut off. He was certain it was too early for that. He focused on the clock hanging above the beer taps and waited for the three clocks to merge into one.
One-thirty, he determined as the clocks separated again.
Brighton put his head down. The hours had come and gone faster than one of those god-awful trains that had shot him through the chunnel. His eyes hurt and his head hurt. In fact, most of his body had suffered miscellaneous aches and pains long before he’d sauntered in.
“Once something is in your memory, it is possible to access it.”
He shut his eyes tight and willed Ira’s voice away, to disappear as thoroughly as the rabbi himself had. Even so, he could never forget those words; they would dog him to his deathbed—that, and the sight of Emery Wörtlich’s broken body, drowning in blood caked with dust and fallen stone—
Another swig of ale made that image dim a little around the edges. How many more beers to make it fade entirely? He’d experimented heavily these last few months and still hadn’t reached a conclusion, except that common ale likely wasn’t enough to achieve such magic. He might need something a little stronger.
“It takes discipline and reflection,” Ira’s voice continued, ringing maddeningly somewhere deep in his head. “It takes patience.”
He gritted his teeth and felt another wave of pain roll from one side of his head to the other. More ale.
“It does not happen by accident. It happens through intention.”
Fed up, Brighton pushed back his stool and stood—or attempted to, anyway. He almost tipped over but managed to throw his right arm against the edge of the bar in time to catch himself. What would Ira Binyamin think of him now, staggering through a pub, barely able to keep his own feet?
“I’ll be back,” he mumbled at the bartender, but he wasn’t sure the words were coherent enough to understand. He didn’t care.
This was his third straight night here and his feet knew the way to the loo. After doing his business, he stood at the sink, staring at his reflection in the mirror. The bruise over his left eye—or was it his right eye? Intoxication rendered him easily confused. Well, the bruise over one of his eyes was dark brown… an improvement over the purple color he’d sported the night before. It hurt worse than almost anything he could remember, but passersby gave him a wide berth when they saw it—and that’s exactly what he needed.
Everywhere he went, he memorized the faces of the people around him, paranoid that he was being followed, being pursued. Ira had absconded with the Book of Creation, and Wörtlich had died, leaving only one target for their enemies: him.
In truth, he couldn’t afford to get this drunk.
He splashed water on his face, then watched as the drops streaked down his cheeks, mingling with facial hair. He yawned, dismissing the ache in his jaw, and returned to his stool.
Instead of sitting down, he pulled a stack of bills out of his wallet and left them next to his final half-finished mug of ale. The amount was too much, he was sure, but he didn’t trust his ability to count; besides, the bartender deserved a reward.
Brighton pulled on his jacket and stepped out into the muggy night. The humidity was out of control and he could practically feel drops of water squeezing out of the air around him. From everything he’d heard of England, the one consistent fact was that it rained almost all the time, and yet not a drop had fallen since Brighton arrived.
I need a plan, he told himself, repeating the mantra that had stalked him all day. His first trip to Stonehenge had yielded nothing. Of course, he wasn’t quite sure what he’d expected. Just something.
There had to be something. This was a hotspot, just like the Giza pyramids and the bone field in Antarctica. He and Ira and Wörtlich had had dreams in those places. No, visions. When they’d been lost, those visions had helped them figure out where to go, where to search for the Book. They had provided direction, and if anyone had ever needed direction…
Brighton looked up at a group of young people chatting and gesturing animatedly a block up the street. He tried to walk in a straight line as they passed. He might look and sound like a drunk; no use in walking like one, if he could help it.
They hardly noticed him.
Brighton looked both ways for traffic—there was none so early in the morning—then steered across the cobblestone street toward his hotel, a narrow sliver of a building with a bright blue door. That door shone like a beacon, making it impossible to get lost in his wanderings.
He approached the door, reaching into his pocket and producing a skeleton key. He admired it for a moment under the streetlight; it was quintessentially old-world, the sort of thing nobody would have ever found in North America, so caught up were they in new technology and modern amenities. It only took three tries to unlock the door.
The green-shaded lamp atop the front desk lit the tiny lounge, lending everything a green tint. Nobody was on duty at this hour. Brighton’s shoes clicked over baby blue ceramic tile as he crossed from the door to the staircase, which spiraled upward. He gripped the metallic railing and began to climb.
He paused on the second floor, where several tables waited to accommodate the morning’s continental breakfast.
A man sat at one of the tables, still as stone, face mostly hidden by shadows, his back to the window overlooking the front stoop. A well-worn book lay open in front of him, and next to it a pen.
The stranger lifted his head and stared right at him. “Are you okay?”
Brighton furrowed his eyebrows, mustering all possible sobriety, and took a step toward the mystery man.
“Yes,” Brighton answered. “You must be a night owl.”
The stranger craned forward into the light. He was smiling. “I’m not the only one. Smells like you’ve had a few.”
Brighton froze. It hadn’t occurred to him that the scent of ale wafted off him. He sniffed his jacket appraisingly and cringed.
“As most people have who are up past two o’clock,” the stranger acknowledged, his long hair swaying. He gestured to an empty chair across from him. “Sit? Unless you’re on your way someplace.”
Like my bed, Brighton thought wistfully. And my air conditioner.
Instead, he pulled out the chair and sat.
“Have we met?” the stranger asked.
Brighton fought his instinct to run. He’d been running for months, moving from one city to another, never staying long, always worried someone was after him. Never had he allowed himself the luxury of considering himself safe, that no one cared about his whereabouts or what he was up to.
“I don’t think so,” Brighton replied. “Maybe I just have one of those faces.”
The stranger looked down at his book and shrugged. “Could be, could be.”
Brighton gazed at the pages of the book—a notebook. There was a sketch on the nearest open page in black ink, a number of squares and rectangles arranged in a rough circle with lines of scribbled text in the margins, the writing connected to the diagram via crudely drawn arrows.
“Stonehenge,” the stranger answered before Brighton could ask the question. “I was there today.”
“So was I.”
The stranger lifted an eyebrow. “Perhaps I spotted you on one of the tours.”
Brighton doubted it. He hadn’t been part of any tours.
“You’re mapping out the blocks of stone,” Brighton said. Just looking at the diagram gave him the shudders. They were almost exactly the same as the sketches in Olaf Poulson’s notebook, the way the Norwegian had mapped out the bones of the giant skeleton…
The stranger nodded, closing the book. “This place… it’s special, you know.”
“Once something is in your memory—”
Brighton shook his head and, mercifully, Ira’s voice fell silent.
“You okay?” the stranger asked again. “You look like you have something on your mind.”
Brighton smirked. “More like someone.”
The stranger regarded him quizzically.
“Never mind,” Brighton said. “So, what’s special about Stonehenge?”
“The energy, mostly. But the history intrigues me, too. Who built it and why? It’s one of my favorite mysteries.”
A grin split the man’s face. “Oh, there’s too many good mysteries to choose from. Could you feel the energy when you were there today?” The stranger’s face slackened and his eyes glazed over. “It infused every rock, every stone, every blade of grass. Even the air, it sizzles, like a frayed wire, like electrical current loose in the sky.”
Brighton fiddled with the cuffs of his jacket, not looking up. He’d had no such experience, sensed nothing extraordinary even though he had been so certain he would. He’d traveled a long way only to come up empty-handed.
“Don’t worry,” the stranger said. “It’s all over the world, in many places, but it’s strong here. One day you’ll know what I mean. You’ll find it, whatever you’re looking for.”
That took him by surprise. “I’m looking for something?”
“Everyone is, didn’t you know?”
His heart was beating fast now, and the faster it beat the more clear-headed he became. He didn’t want to become clear-headed.
“I shouldn’t have disturbed you,” Brighton said, standing up. The chair legs skipped against the floor tiles.
The stranger looked as though he might protest, but Brighton didn’t give him a chance; he was already halfway up the stairs.
Brighton shut the door to his room and leaned against it. His breath came short and his headache flooded back, stronger than ever. He put his hand to his head, his palm brushing against the bruise over his eye. He winced, feeling the bump from where he had been hit two days ago. The swelling had gone down by half, but it still had a long way to go.
That was a foolish risk, he told himself, not of the bar fight but the conversation with the stranger downstairs. I might have compromised everything.
He walked into the bathroom and poured water into a flimsy plastic cup. He took a few sips, feeling the pain in his head subside, albeit only slightly. He filled the cup again and carried it to the nightstand.
Brighton pulled off his shirt and was about to undress the rest of the way when a panicked thought occurred to him. If that stranger had been working for either Raff Lagati or Noam Sheply… Brighton cringed. He left his pants and shoes on, just in case he had to leave in a hurry during the night. He had to be prudent.
Brighton rested his head into the too-soft pillow and turned to look out the window. There weren’t as many stars as there had been out in the street. Had clouds rolled in?
And with them, perhaps some blessed rain.