One mile away, the hulking albino named Silas limped through the front gate of the luxurious brownstone residence on Rue La Bruyere. The spiked cilice belt that he wore around his thigh cut into his flesh, and yet his soul sang with satisfaction of service to the Lord.
Pain is good.
His red eyes scanned the lobby as he entered the residence. Empty. He climbed the stairs quietly, not wanting to awaken any of his fellow numeraries. His bedroom door was open; locks were forbidden here. He entered, closing the door behind him.
The room was spartanhardwood floors, a pine dresser, a canvas mat in the corner that served as his bed. He was a visitor here this week, and yet for many years he had been blessed with a similar sanctuary in New York City.
The Lord has provided me shelter and purpose in my life.
Tonight, at last, Silas felt he had begun to repay his debt. Hurrying to the dresser, he found the cell phone hidden in his bottom drawer and placed a call.
Yes? a male voice answered.
Teacher, I have returned.
Speak, the voice commanded, sounding pleased to hear from him.
All four are gone. The three senechaux . . . and the Grand Master himself.
There was a momentary pause, as if for prayer. Then I assume you have the information?
All four concurred. Independently.
And you believed them?
Their agreement was too great for coincidence.
An excited breath. Excellent. I had feared the brotherhoods reputation for secrecy might prevail.
The prospect of death is strong motivation.
So, my pupil, tell me what I must know.
Silas knew the information he had gleaned from his victims would come as a shock. Teacher, all four confirmed the existence of the clef de voite . . . the legendary keystone.
He heard a quick intake of breath over the phone and could feel the Teachers excitement. The keystone . Exactly as we suspected.
According to lore, the brotherhood had created a map of stonea clef de voite . . . or keystonean engraved tablet that revealed the final resting place of the brotherhoods greatest secret . . . information so powerful that its protection was the reason for the brotherhoods very existence.
When we possess the keystone, the Teacher said, we will be only one step away.
We are closer than you think. The keystone is here in Paris.
Paris? Incredible. It is almost too easy.
Silas relayed the earlier events of the evening . . . how all four of his victims, moments before death, had desperately tried to buy back their godless lives by telling their secret. Each had told Silas the exact same thingthat the keystone was ingeniously hidden at a precise location inside one of Pariss ancient churchesthe Eglise de Saint‑Sulpice.
Inside a house of the Lord, the Teacher exclaimed. How they mock us!
As they have for centuries.
The Teacher fell silent, as if letting the triumph of this moment settle over him. Finally, he spoke. You have done a great service to God. We have waited centuries for this. You must retrieve the stone for me. Immediately. Tonight. You understand the stakes.
Silas knew the stakes were incalculable, and yet what the Teacher was now commanding seemed impossible. But the church, it is a fortress. Especially at night. How will I enter?
With the confident tone of a man of enormous influence, the Teacher explained what was to be done.
* * *
When Silas hung up the phone, his skin tingled with anticipation.
One hour, he told himself, grateful that the Teacher had given him time to carry out the necessary penance before entering a house of God. I must purge my soul of todays sins . The sins committed today had been holy in purpose. Acts of war against the enemies of God had been committed for centuries. Forgiveness was assured.
Even so, Silas knew, absolution required sacrifice.
Pulling his shades, he stripped naked and knelt in the center of his room. Looking down, he examined the spiked cilice belt clamped around his thigh. All true followers of The Way wore this devicea leather strap, studded with sharp metal barbs that cut into the flesh as a perpetual reminder of Christs suffering. The pain caused by the device also helped counteract the desires of the flesh.
Although Silas already had worn his cilice today longer than the requisite two hours, he knew today was no ordinary day. Grasping the buckle, he cinched it one notch tighter, wincing as the barbs dug deeper into his flesh. Exhaling slowly, he savored the cleansing ritual of his pain.
Pain is good, Silas whispered, repeating the sacred mantra of Father Josemarнa Escrivбthe Teacher of all Teachers. Although Escrivб had died in 1975, his wisdom lived on, his words still whispered by thousands of faithful servants around the globe as they knelt on the floor and performed the sacred practice known as corporal mortification.
Silas turned his attention now to a heavy knotted rope coiled neatly on the floor beside him. The Discipline . The knots were caked with dried blood. Eager for the purifying effects of his own agony, Silas said a quick prayer. Then, gripping one end of the rope, he closed his eyes and swung it hard over his shoulder, feeling the knots slap against his back. He whipped it over his shoulder again, slashing at his flesh. Again and again, he lashed.
Castigo corpus meum.
Finally, he felt the blood begin to flow.