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THE LAST TEMPLAR BY Raymond Khoury THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER "Fast-paced, highly cinematic the perfect read for. Author: Khoury Raymond The Last Templar (Knights Templar series) THE LAST TEMPLAR BY Raymond Khoury THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER. THE LAST TEMPLAR raymond khoury 'I can't remember the last time the Met hosted such a star- studded party, certainly nothing since the Mayan show and.

The Last Templar Raymond Khoury Pdf

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Get Instant Access to The Last Templar By Raymond Khoury # d EBOOK EPUB KINDLE PDF. Read Download Online The. the last templar raymond pdf. The Last Templar is a novel by Raymond Khoury, and is also his debut work. The novel was on the New York Times. The first thrilling novel in Raymond Khoury's New York Times bestselling Templar series. In , a young Templar knight flees the fallen holy land in a hail of.

The Last Templar My first novel, the one that started it all The ship never reaches its destination. Present day, Manhattan: Four masked horsemen, dressed as Templar Knights, emerge from the darkness of Central Park and storm into the Metropolitan Museum, scattering the great and the good of Manhattan society who are there for the gala opening night of an exhibition of Vatican treasures.

Caught in the brutal mayhem, desk-bound archaeologist Tess Chaykin watches in silent terror as the leader of the horsemen homes in on one piece in particular, a strange geared device. He utters a few cryptic words in Latin as he takes hold of the device with reverence before leading the horsemen out and disappearing into the urban nightscape of Manhattan. Tess and Reilly are soon facing the deadly forces battling to recover the lost secret of the Templars, and find themselves propelled into a dangerous adventure which takes them through the cemeteries and sewers of Manhattan, across continents to desolate Turkish mountains and remote Greek islands, through a Mediterranean storm of biblical proportions and into the very heart of the Vatican.

Read more about the history behind the book — Templars, Cathars and the Jefferson Bible. One of the artifacts stolen was an unremarkable cryptographic device, but the device leads to the decoding of an ancient manuscript written by one of the last Templar Knights, which in turn leads to a secret submerged somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea — a secret that, if uncovered, could transform humanity forever.

Like the compelling dialogue between atheist Chaykin and the devotedly Catholic Reilly concerning faith versus science, the highly volatile subject matter discussed within The Last Templar will spark endless hours of heated debate — and the conclusion oh, the brilliant conclusion!

Veritas vos liberabit: The truth will set you free. His narrative vision is cinematic in scope, so the story unfolds like a seamless film reel across the imagination.

A lot. That single thought kept assaulting Martin of Carmaux, its brutal finality more terrifying than the hordes of fighters swarming through the breach in the wall.

He fought to block the thought, to push it away. Now was not the time to lament. He had work to do. Men to kill. His broadsword held high, he charged through the clouds of choking smoke and dust and plunged into the seething ranks of the enemy.

They were everywhere, their scimitars and axes ripping into flesh, their warrior howls piercing the haunting, rhythmic beat of the kettle drummers outside the fortress walls. With all of his strength, he brought down his sword, splitting one man's skull clear to the eyes, his blade springing free as he lunged at his next opponent.

Flicking a quick glance to his right, he spotted Aimard of Villiers driving his sword into the chest of another attacker before moving on to his next opponent.

Dazed by the wails of pain and the screams of rage around him, Martin felt someone clutch at his left hand and swiftly clubbed the offender away with the pommel of his sword before bringing down its blade, feeling it cut through muscle and bone. From the corner of his eye, he sensed something menacingly close to his right and instinctively swung his sword at it, slicing through the upper arm of another one of the invaders before slashing open his cheek and severing his tongue in one blow.

It had been hours since he or any of his brothers had known any respite. The Muslim onslaught had not only been ceaseless, it had also been far worse than anticipated. Arrows and projectiles of blazing pitch had rained down incessantly on the city for days, starting more fires than could be tackled at once, while the Sultan's men had dug holes beneath the great walls into which they had packed brushwood that was also set alight.

In several places, these makeshift furnaces had cracked the walls that were now crumbling under a barrage of catapulted rocks. The Templars and the Hospitallers had managed, by sheer force of will, to repulse the assault on Saint Anthony's Gate before setting it on fire and retreating. The Accursed Tower, however, had lived up to its name, allowing the rampaging Saracens into the city and sealing its fate.

Gargling shrieks of agony receded into the confused uproar as Martin yanked his sword back and looked around desperately for any sign of hope, but there was no doubt in his mind.

The Holy Land was indeed lost. With mounting dread, he realized that they would all be dead before the night was over. They were facing the largest army ever seen, and, despite the fury and the passion coursing through his veins, his efforts and those of his brothers were surely doomed to failure. It wasn't long before his superiors realized it too.

His heart sank as he heard the fateful horn calling on the surviving Knights of the Temple to abandon the city's defenses. His eyes, darting left and right in a confused frenzy, again found those of Aimard of Villiers. He saw in them the same agony, the same shame that was burning through him. Side by side, they fought their way through the scrambling mob and managed to make their way back to the relative safety of the Templar compound. Martin followed the older knight as he stormed through the throngs of terrified civilians who had taken refuge behind the bourg's massive walls.

The sight that greeted them in the great hall shocked him even more than the carnage he had witnessed outside. Lying on a rough refectory table was William of Beaujeu, the grand master of the Knights of the Temple. Peter of Sevrey, the marshal, stood at his side, along with two monks.

The woeful looks on their faces left little room for doubt. As the two knights reached his side, Beaujeu's eyes opened and he raised his head slightly, the movement causing an involuntary groan of pain. Martin stared at him in stunned disbelief. The old man's skin was drained of all color, his eyes bloodshot. Martin's eyes raced down Beaujeu's body, struggling to make sense of the sight, and he spotted the feathered bolt sticking out of the side of his ribcage.

The grand master held its shaft in the curve of his hand. With his other, he beckoned Aimard, who approached him, knelt by his side, and cupped his hand with both of his own. And may God be with you. His attention was elsewhere, focused on something he'd noticed as soon as Beaujeu had opened his mouth. It was his tongue, which had turned black. Rage and hate swelled in Martin's throat as he recognized the effects of the poisoned bolt.

This leader of men, the towering figure who had dominated every aspect of the young knight's life for as long as he could remember, was as good as dead. He noticed Beaujeu lifting his gaze to Sevrey and nodding almost imperceptibly. The marshal moved to the foot of the table and lifted a velvet cover to reveal a small, ornate chest. It was not more than three hands wide. Martin had never seen it before. He watched in rapt silence as Aimard rose to his feet and gazed solemnly at the chest, then looked back at Beaujeu.

The old man held his gaze before closing his eyes again, his breathing taking on an ominous rasp. Aimard went up to Sevrey and hugged him, then lifted the small chest and, without so much as a backward glance, headed out. As he passed Martin, he simply said, "Come. He hurried quickly after Aimard and soon realized tivat they weren't heading toward the enemy. They were heading for the fortress's moorings. Aimard didn't break his step. We're leaving7. He had known Aimard of Villiers since the death of his own father, a knight himself, fifteen years earlier, when Martin was barely five years old.

Ever since, Aimard had been his guardian, his mentor. His hero. They had fought many battles together and it was fitting, Martin believed, that they would stand side by side and die together when the end came.

But not this. This was insane. This was. Aimard stopped too, but only to grasp Martin's shoulder and push him into motion. Martin felt nausea rising in his throat; his face clouded as he struggled for words. Blazing projectiles were arcing into the night sky and hurtling down into it from all sides.

Still clutching the small chest, he turned and took a menacing step forward so that their faces were now inches apart, and Martin saw that his friend's eyes were wet with unshed tears. You know me better than that. It's crucial if we are to make sure everything we've worked for doesn't die here as well. We have to go. Martin bowed his head in curt, if unwilling, acquiescence and followed.

The only vessel remaining in the port was the Falcon Temple, the other galleys having sailed away before the Saracen assault had cut off the city's main harbor a week earlier. Already low in the water, it was being loaded by slaves, sergeant-brothers, and knights. Question after question tumbled through Martin's brain but he had no time to ask any of them. As they approached the dock, he could see the shipmaster, an old sailor he knew only as Hugh and who, he also knew, was held in high regard by the grand master.

The burly man was watching the feverish activity from the deck of his ship. Martin scanned the ship from the aftcastle at the stern, past its high mast and to the stem from which sprang the figurehead, a remarkably lifelike carving of a fierce bird of prey. Without breaking step, Aimard's voice bellowed out to the ship's master. Before long, the overseer had called out and the banks of galley slaves had dipped their oars into the dark water. Martin watched as the rowers scrambled up onto the deck then hauled the longboat up and made it secure.

To the rhythmic beat of a deep gong and the grunts of over a hundred and fifty chained rowers, the ship gathered speed and cleared the great wall of the Templar compound. As the galley moved into open water, arrows rained down on it while the sea around it erupted with huge, sizzling explosions of white foam as the Sultan's crossbows and catapults were trained on the escaping galley. It was soon beyond their range, and Martin stood up, glancing back at die receding landscape.

Hordes of warriors lined the city's ramparts, howling and jeering at the ship like caged animals. Behind them, an inferno raged, resounding with the shouts and screams of men, women, and children, all against the incessant rolling thunder of the drums of war. Slowly, the ship gathered speed, aided by the offshore wind, its banks of oars rising and falling like wings skimming the darkening waters. On die distant horizon, the sky had turned black and threatening.

It was over. His hands still shaking and his heart leaden, Martin of Carmaux slowly and reluctantly turned his back on the land of his birth and stared ahead at the storm that awaited diem.

Chapter 1 A t first, no one noticed the four horsemen as they emerged out of the darkness of Central Park. Instead, all eyes were focused four blocks south where, under a barrage of flashbulbs and television lights, a steady stream of limos decanted elegantly attired celebrities and lesser mortals onto the curb outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It was one of those mammoth events that no other city could pull off quite as well as New York, least of all when the hosting venue happened to be the Met.

Spectacularly lit up and with searchlight beams swirling across the black April sky above it, the sprawling building was like an irresistible beacon in the heart of the city, beckoning its guests through the austere columns of its neoclassical facade, over which floated a banner that read: Yet again, recent intelligence reports had prompted the government to raise the national terror alert level to orange.

National Guard troops were posted at subways and bridges, while police officers were working twelve-hour shifts. The exhibition, given its subject matter, was deemed to be particularly at risk. Despite all this, strong wills had prevailed and the museum's board had voted to stick to its plans.

The show would go on as planned, further testimony to the city's unbreakable spirit. Having failed at studiously knowledgeable and blase, the reporter was going for earnest this time as she stared into the lens. They've been locked away in the vaults of the Vatican for hundreds of years and—" Just then, a sudden surge of whistles and cheers from the crowd distracted her.

Her voice trailing off, she glanced away from the camera, her eyes drifting toward the growing commotion.


And that was when she saw the horsemen. The horses were superb specimens: But it was their riders that had roused the crowd. The four men, riding abreast, were all dressed in identical medieval armor.

They had visored helmets, chain-mail vests, flanged plate leggings over black jerkins and quilted hose. They looked as though they had just beamed in through a time-travel portal. Further dramatizing the effect, long scabbarded broadswords hung from their waists.

Most striking of all, they wore long white mantles over their armor, each bearing a splayed, blood-red cross. The horses were now moving at a gentle trot. The crowd went wild with excitement as the knights advanced slowly, staring ahead, oblivious to the hoopla around them. It looks like the Met and the Vatican have pulled out all the stops tonight, and aren't they magnificent," the reporter enthused, settling now for plain old showbiz.

They didn't stop there. Instead, they turned slowly until they were facing the museum. Without missing a step, the riders gently coaxed their mounts up and onto the sidewalk.

Continuing the advance slowly, the four knights guided the horses onto the paved piazza. Side by side, they ceremoniously climbed up the cascading steps, heading unerringly for the museum's entrance. Chapter 2 "Mom, I've really gotta go," Kim pleaded. Tess Chaykin looked at her daughter with an annoyed frown on her face. The three of them—Tess, her mother Eileen, and Kim—had only just walked into the museum. Tess had hoped to take a quick look around the crowded exhibits before the speeches, the schmoozing, and the rest of the unavoidable formalities took over.

But that would now have to wait. Kim was doing what every nine-year-old inevitably did in these occasions, which was to hold off until the least convenient time had arrived before announcing her desperate need for a restroom.

Navigating through them to escort her daughter to the ladies' room wasn't a prospect Tess relished right now. Tess's mother, who wasn't doing much to hide the small pleasure she was finding in this, stepped in. You go on ahead. The little face and its glinting green eyes never failed to charm its way out of any situation. I don't want to lose you in this circus. Tess watched them disappear into the melee before turning and heading in.

Black ties and evening gowns were de rigueur and, as she looked around, Tess felt self-conscious. She fretted that she stood out as much for her understated elegance as for her discomfort at being perceived as part of the "in" crowd all around her, a crowd she firmly had no interest in. What Tess didn't realize was that what people noticed about her had nothing to do with her being understated in the precise, seamed black dress that floated a few inches above her knees, nor with her discomfort at attending platitude-intensive events like this one.

People just noticed her, period. They always had. And who could blame them. The seductive mass of curls framing the warm green eyes that radiated intelligence usually triggered it. The healthy, thirty-six-year-old frame that moved in relaxed, fluid strides confirmed it, and the fact that she was totally oblivious to her charms sealed it.

It was too bad she'd always fallen for the wrong guys. She'd even ended up marrying the last of that contemptible bunch, a mistake she had recently undone.

She advanced into the main room, the buzz of conversation echoing off the walls around her in a dull roar that made individual words impossible to determine. Acoustics, it seemed, had not been a prime consideration of the museum's design. She could hear traces of chamber music and tracked it to an all-female string quartet tucked away in a corner, sawing away energetically but almost inaudibly at their instruments.

Nodding furtively at the smiling faces in the crowd, she made her way past Lila Wallace's everpresent displays of fresh flowers and the niche where Andrea della Robbia's sublime blue-and-white glazed terra-cotta Madonna and Child stood gracefully watching over the throng. Tonight though, they had company, as this was only one of many depictions of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary that now adorned the museum. Almost all of the exhibits were displayed in glass cabinets, and it was clear from even a cursory glance that many of those exhibits were enormously valuable.

Even for someone with Tess's lack of religious conviction, they were impressive, even stirring, and as she glided past the grand staircase and into the exhibition hall, her heart raced ahead with the rising swell of anticipation. There were ornate alabaster altar pieces from Burgundy with vivid scenes from the life of Saint Martin.

Crucifixes by the score, most of them solid gold and heavily encrusted with precious stones; one of them, a twelfth-century cross, consisted of more than a hundred figures carved out of a walrus tusk.

There were elaborate marble statuettes and carved wooden reliquaries; even emptied of their original contents, these chests were superb examples of the meticulous work of medieval craftsmen. A glorious brass eagle lectern proudly held its own next to a superlative six-foot painted Spanish Easter candlestick, which had been prized away from the pope's own apartments. As Tess took in the various displays, she couldn't help but feel recurring pangs of disappointment.

The objects before her were of a quality she would have never dared hope for during her years out in the field. True, they had been good, challenging years, rewarding to a certain extent.

They had given her a chance to travel the world and immerse herself in diverse and fascinating cultures. Some of the curiosities she had unearthed were on display in a few museums scattered around the globe, but nothing she'd found was noteworthy enough to grace, say, the Sackler Wing of Egyptian Art or the Rockefeller Wing of Primitive Art. She shook the thought away.

She knew that that life was over now, at least for the foreseeable future. She would have to make do with enjoying these marvelous glimpses into the past from the remote, passive viewpoint of a grateful observer. And a marvelous glimpse it was. Hosting the show had been a truly remarkable feat for the Met, because almost none of the items sent over from Rome had ever been previously exhibited. Not that it was all gleaming gold and glittering jewels.

In a cabinet facing her now was a seemingly mundane object. It was a mechanical device of some sort, about the size of an old typewriter, boxlike and made of copper. It had numerous buttons on its top face as well as interlocking gears and levers protruding from its sides. It seemed out of place amid all this opulence.

Tess brushed aside her hair as she leaned forward to take a closer look. She was reaching for her catalog when, above her own blurred reflection in the glass of the cabinet, another loomed into view as someone came up behind her. It ain't here," a gravelly voice said to her.

And although it had been years since she'd heard it, she recognized it even before she turned. You look great. How about you? Other than that, same old same old. Literally," he chuckled.

That wasn't true either. Joining the prestigious Manoukian Institute had been a bold stroke for her, but as far as the actual experience of working there went, things weren't all that good.

But those things you kept to yourself, especially in the surprisingly gossipy and backstabbing world that archaeology could be.

Seeking an impersonal remark, she said, "You know, I really miss being out there with you guys. We haven't hit the headlines yet. Any one. You're the one who traded in the camels for a desk," he quipped. It was something she often thought about. Not for a while, anyway.

An awkward silence settled between them. Let me download you a drink. Three generations of Chaykins—that should be interesting. Don't disappear on me. The cameraman josded to get into a clean shot as the claps and whoops of delight from the elated crowd drowned out his reporter's efforts at commentating. It got even noisier when the crowd spotted a short, heavy-set man in a brown security guard uniform leave his position and hurry over to the advancing horsemen. From the corner of his eye, the cameraman could tell something wasn't exacdy going according to plan.

The guard's purposeful stride and his body language clearly indicated a difference of opinion. The guard raised his hands in a stopping motion as he reached the horses, blocking their procession. The knights reined in their horses, which snorted and stamped, obviously uncomfortable at being kept stationary on the steps.

An argument seemed to be under way. A one-sided one, the cameraman observed, as the horsemen weren't reacting to the guard's ranting in any discernible way. And then one of them finally did something.

Slowly, milking the moment for all its theatricality, the knight closest to the guard, a bear of a man, unsheathed his broadsword and raised it high above his head, provoking another barrage of popping flashbulbs and yet more applause. He held it there, with both hands, still staring straight ahead. Although he had one eye glued to his viewfinder, die cameraman's other eye was picking up peripheral images and he was suddenly aware of something else happening.

Hurriedly, he zoomed in on the guard's face. What was that look? Then he realized what it was. The crowd was now in a frenzy, clapping and cheering wildly. Instinctively, the cameraman zoomed out a touch, broadening his view to take in the horseman. Just then, the knight suddenly brought down his broadsword in a quick, sweeping arc, its blade glittering terrifyingly in the flashing artificial light before striking the guard just below the ear, the power and velocity of the blow great enough for it to shear straight through flesh, grisde, and bone.

From the onlookers came a huge collective gasp, which turned into penetrating screams of horror that rang through the night.

Loudest of all was tiie shriek of the reporter who clutched at the cameraman's arm, causing his picture to judder before he elbowed her away and kept on shooting. The guard's head fell forward and began to bounce hideously down the museum's steps, unspooling a splattered, red trail all die way down behind it. And after what seemed like an eternity, his decapitated body slumped sideways, collapsing onto itself while spouting a small geyser of blood. Screaming teenagers were stumbling and falling in their panic to escape the scene, while others, further back and unaware of exactly what was happening but knowing that something big was taking place, pushed forward.

In seconds, there was a terrified tangle of bodies, the air ringing with screams and cries of pain and fear. The other three horses were now stamping their hooves, jinking sideways on the steps. Then one of the knights yelled, "Go, go, go! The otiiers bolted and followed close behind. Chapter 3 I n the Great Hall, Tess heard the screams from outside and quickly realized something was very, very wrong. She turned in time to see the first horse burst through the door, shattering glass and splintering timber inward as the Great Hall erupted into chaos.

The smooth, polished, immaculate gathering disintegrated into a snarling atavistic pack as men and women shoved and screamed their way out of the path of the charging horses. Three of the horsemen rampaged through the crowd, swords crashing through display cabinets, trampling on broken glass and shattered timber, and damaged and destroyed exhibits.

Tess was thrown aside as scores of guests tried desperately to escape through the doors and into the street. Her eyes darted around the hall. Kim—Mom—Where are they'? She looked around, but couldn't see them anywhere. To her far right, the horses wheeled and turned, obliterating more displays in their path. Guests were sent flying into cabinets and against walls, their pained grunts and shrieks echoing in the vast room.

Tess glimpsed Clive Edmondson among them as he was knocked violently sideways when one of the horses suddenly reared backward. The horses were snorting, nostrils flared, foam spilling from around the bits in their mouths. Their riders were reaching down and snatching up glittering objects from the broken cabinets before stuffing them into sacks hooked onto their saddles.

At the doors, the crowd trying to get out made it impossible for the police to get in, helpless against the weight of the terrified mob. One of the horses swung around, its flank sending a statue of the Virgin Mary reeling over to smash onto the floor. The horse's hooves pounded down onto it, crushing the Madonna's praying hands.

Ripped from its mounting by the fleeing guests, a beautiful tapestry was trampled underfoot by both people and animals. Thousands of painstaking stitches, shredded in seconds. A display case toppled, a white and gold miter bursting through the breaking glass to be kicked aside in the mad scramble. A matching robe drifted, magic carpet-like, until it, too, was stamped upon. Hurriedly getting out of the way of the horses, Tess looked down the corridor where, partway along, she could see the fourth horseman and beyond him, way back at the far end of the corridor, yet more people were scattering into other parts of the museum.

She searched for her mom and her daughter again. Where the hell are they'? Are they all right'? She strained to pick out their faces from the blur of the crowd, but there was still no sign of them. Hearing a commanding shout, Tess spun around to see that the police officers had finally made it through the fleeing mob.

Weapons drawn and shouting above the mayhem, they were closing in on one of the three horsemen who, from beneath his robe, pulled out a small, vicious-looking gun. Instinctively, Tess dropped to the floor and covered her head, but not before witnessing the man loose a burst of bullets, moving the gun from side to side, spraying the hall. A dozen people went down, including all of the policemen, the broken glass and smashed cases around them now splattered with blood.

Still crouched on the floor, her heart pounding its way out of her chest, and trying to keep as still as she could even though something inside was screaming at her to run, Tess saw that two of the other horsemen were now also brandishing automatic weapons like the one their murderous consort was carrying. Bullets ricocheted off the museum walls, adding to the noise and to the panic. One of the horses reared suddenly and its rider's hands flailed, the gun in one of them sending a fusil- lade of bullets up one wall and onto the ceiling, shattering ornate plaster moldings that came showering down onto the heads of the crouching, screaming guests.

Risking a glance from behind her cabinet, Tess's mind raced as she evaluated routes of escape. Seeing a doorway to another gallery three rows of exhibits beyond to her right, Tess willed her legs forward and scurried toward it.

She had just reached the second row when she spotted the fourth knight headed straight toward her. She ducked, darting quick glances as she watched him weave his mount among the rows of still undamaged cabinets, apparently uninvolved and unconcerned with the mayhem his three companions were wreaking.

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She could almost feel die breath venting from his snorting horse as the knight suddenly reined to a stop, barely six feet away from her. Tess crouched low, hugging the display for dear life, urging her beating heart to quieten.

Her eyes drifted up and she spotted the knight, reflected in the glass displays around her, imperious in his chain mail and his white mantle, staring down at one cabinet in particular. It was the one Tess had been looking at when Clive Edmondson had approached her. Tess watched in quiet terror as the knight drew his sword, swung it up, and brought it thundering down onto the cabinet, smashing it to bits and sending shards of glass spewing onto the floor around her.

Then, sliding his sword back into its scabbard, he reached down from the saddle and lifted out the strange box, the contraption of buttons, gears, and levers, and held it up for a moment.

Tess could barely breathe and yet, against all rational survival instincts she believed she possessed, she desperately needed to see what was happening. Unable to resist, she leaned out from behind the display case, one eye barely clearing the edge of the cabinet.

The man stared at the device, reverently it seemed, for a moment before mouthing a few words, almost to himself. He wheeled his horse around and for an instant, his eyes, though shadowed beneath the visor of his helmet, met Tess's. Her heart stopped as she crouched there, utterly and helplessly frozen.

Then the horse was coming her way, straight at her—before brushing past and, as it did so, she heard the man yelling to the other three horsemen, "Let's go! She recognized the archbishop of New York, as well as the mayor and his wife. The leader of the knights nodded his head and the big man forced his mount through the knot of distraught guests, grabbed the struggling woman, and lifted her up onto his horse.

He jammed his gun into the side of her head and she went still, her mouth open in a silent scream. Helpless, angry, and afraid, Tess watched as the four horsemen moved toward the doorway. The lead knight, the only one without a gun, she noticed, was also the only one without a bulging sack tied to his pommel.

And as the horsemen charged away through the galleries of the museum, Tess stood up and rushed through the debris to find her mother and her young daughter. Despite the sobbing of the frightened and the moaning of the injured, it was suddenly a lot quieter and around them came shouts; men's voices, police mostiy, with random words identifiable here and there: Their movements were brisk but not urgent, contemptuous of the approaching police sirens sawing at the night, and in moments they had disappeared back into the marled darkness of Central Park.

Chapter 4 A t the edge of the museum's steps, Sean Reilly stood carefully outside the yellow and black crime scene tape. He ran a hand over his short brown hair as he looked down at the outline where the headless body had lain. He let his eyes drift down lower, following the trail of blood splatters to where a basketball-sized mark noted the position of the head.

Nick Aparo walked over and peered around his partner's shoulder. Round-faced, balding, and ten years older than Reilly's thirty-eight, he was average height, average build, average looking. You could forget what he looked like while you were still talking to him, a useful quality for an agent and one he had exploited very successfully during the years Reilly had known him. Like Reilly, he wore a loose-fitting, dark-blue Windbreaker over his charcoal suit with big white letters, FBI, printed on the back.

Right now, his mouth was twisted in distaste. Reilly nodded. He couldn't take his eyes off the markings of where the head had lain, the pool of blood leading down from it now dark. Why was it, he wondered, that being shot or stabbed to death didn't seem quite as bad as having your head chopped off?

It occurred to him that official execution by beheading was standard procedure in some parts of the world. Parts of the world that had spawned many of the terrorists whose intentions had the country gripped by heightened alert levels; terrorists whose trails consumed all of his days and more than a few of his nights. He turned to Aparo. It'd be a shame to see a good bruising go to waste. These guys knew what they were doing. They weren't waiting around for a cab. Well organized.

As if amateurs couldn't do as much damage these days. All it took was a couple of flying lessons or a truckload of fertilizer, along with a suicidal, psychotic disposition—none of which were exacdy in short supply. He surveyed the ravaged scene in silence.

As he did, he felt an up-welling of utter frustration and anger. The randomness of these deadly acts of madness, and their infuriating propensity to catch everyone off guard, never ceased to amaze him.

Still, something about this particular crime scene seemed odd—even distracting. He realized he felt a strange detachment, standing there. It was all somehow too outlandish to take in, after the grim and potentially disastrous scenarios he and his colleagues had been trying to second-guess for the last few years.

He felt as if he were stuck outside the big tent, distracted away from the main event by some freakish sideshow. And yet in a disturbing way, and much to his annoyance, he felt somewhat grateful for it.

As special agent in charge heading up the field office's Domestic Terrorism Unit, he had suspected the raid would end up in his corner from the moment he'd gotten the call.

Not that he minded the mind-boggling job of coordinating the work of dozens of agents and police officers, as well as the analysts, lab technicians, psychologists, photographers, and countless others. It was what he always wanted to do. He had always felt he could make a difference. No, make that known. And would. Reilly felt that a lot of things were wrong in this world—his father's death, when he was only ten, was painful proof of that—and he wanted to help make it a better place, at least for other people, if not for himself.

The feeling became inescapable the day when, working on a paper involving a case of race crime, he attended a white supremacist rally in Terre Haute. The event had affected Reilly deeply. He felt he had been witnessing evil, and he felt a pressing need to understand it more if he was going to help fight it. His first plan didn't work out quite as well as he'd hoped. In a youthful burst of idealism, he had decided to become a navy pilot.

The idea of helping rid the world of evil from the cockpit of a silver Tomcat sounded perfect. Fortunately, he turned out to be just the kind of recruit the navy was looking for. Unfortunately, they had something else in mind. They had more than enough Top Gun wannabes; what they needed were lawyers. The recruiters did their best to get him to join the Judge Advocate General Corps, and Reilly flirted with the idea for a while, but ultimately decided against it and went back to focus on passing the Indiana bar exam.

It was a chance meeting in a secondhand bookstore that diverted his path again, this time for good. That was where he met a retired FBI agent who was only too happy to talk to him about the Bureau and encourage him to apply, which he did as soon as he passed the bar. His mother wasn't too thrilled with the idea of his spending seven years in college to end up as what she called "a glorified cop," but Reilly knew it was right for him.

He was barely a year into his rookie stint in the Chicago office, logging some street duty on robbery and drug-trafficking squads, when on the twenty-sixth of February everything changed. That was the day a bomb exploded in a parking lot underneath the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring over a thousand.

The conspirators had actually planned to topple one of the towers onto the other while simultaneously releasing a cloud of cyanide gas. Only financial limitations had prevented them from achieving their objective; they simply ran out of money.

They didn't have enough gas canisters for the bomb that, apart from being too meager to fulfill its nefarious purpose, was also placed alongside the wrong column, one that wasn't of critical structural importance. The attack, although a failure, was nevertheless a serious wake-up call. It demonstrated that a small group of unsophisticated, low-level terrorists with very littie funding or resources could cause a huge amount of damage.

Intelligence agencies scrambled to reallocate their resources to meet this new threat. And so less than a year after joining the Bureau, Reilly found himself working out of the Bureau's New York City field office. The office had long had the reputation of being the worst place to work because of the high cost of living, the traffic problems, and the need to live quite a way out of the city if one wanted anything more spacious than a broom closet.

But given that the city had always generated more action than anywhere else in the country, it was the dream posting of most new, and naive, special agents. Reilly was such an agent when he'd been assigned to the city. He wasn't new, or naive, anymore.

As he looked around, Reilly knew the chaos surrounding him was going to monopolize his life for the foreseeable future. He made a mental note to call Father Bragg in the morning and let him know he wouldn't be able to make softball practice.

The Last Templar

He felt bad about that; he hated to disappoint the kids. If there was one thing he tried not to allow his work to trespass, it was those Sundays in the park. He'd probably be in the park diis Sunday, only it would be for other, less congenial reasons.

Chapter 5 A s he and Aparo stepped carefully over the scattered debris, Reilly's gaze took in the devastation inside the museum. Priceless relics lay strewn everywhere, most of them damaged beyond repair. No yellow and black tape in here. The whole building was a crime scene.

The floor of the museum's Great Hall was an ugly still life of destruction: Any of it was capable of providing a clue; then again, all of it could fail to offer a single damn thing.

As he glanced briefly at the dozen or so white-suited CSIs who were working their way systematically through the debris and who, on this occasion, were joined by agents from the ERT—the FBI's Evidence Response Team—Reilly mentally checked off what they knew. Four horsemen. Five dead bodies. Three cops, one guard, and one civilian. Another four cops and over a dozen civilians with bullet wounds, two of them critical. A couple of dozen cut by flying glass, and twice that number bruised and banged about.

And enough cases of shock to keep rotating teams of counselors busy for months. Across the lobby, Assistant Director in Charge Tom Jansson was talk- ing with the rail-thin captain of detectives from the Nineteenth Precinct. They were arguing over jurisdiction, but it was a moot point. The Vatican connection and the distinct possibility that what had happened here involved terrorists meant that overall command of the investigation was promptly transferred from the NYPD to the FBI.

The sweetener was that, years earlier, an understanding had been reached between the two organizations. When any arrest was to take place, the NYPD would publicly take credit for the collar, regardless of who actually made it happen.

The FBI would only get its share of the plaudits once the case went to court, ostensibly for helping secure the conviction. Still, egos often came in the way of sensible cooperation, which seemed to be the case tonight. Aparo called over a man Reilly didn't recognize, and introduced him as Detective Steve Buchinski. That's what we need right now," he said. I'll borrow a few more shields from the CPP, that shouldn't be a problem," Buchinski promised.

The precinct adjoining the Nineteenth was Central Park; horseback patrols were a daily feature of their work. Reilly wondered briefly if there might be a link and made a mental note to check on that later. Most of the offices above were being used as makeshift processing rooms. Reilly looked over and spotted Agent Amelia Gaines coming down the stairs from the gallery. Jansson had put the striking, ambitious redhead in charge of interviewing witnesses. Which made sense, since everybody loved talking to Amelia Gaines.

Following her was a blonde who was carrying a small replica of herself. Her daughter, Reilly guessed. The child looked like she was fast asleep.

The Last Templar

Reilly looked again at the blonde's face. Usually, Amelia's alluring presence made other women pale into insignificance. Not this one. Even in her current state, something about her was simply mesmeric. Her eyes connected briefly with his before looking down to the clutter under her feet.

Whoever she was, she was seriously shaken. Reilly watched as she headed for die door, picking her way through the debris with unease. Another woman, older but with a vague physical resemblance, was close behind. Together, they walked out of the museum. Reilly turned, refocusing. Can't afford not to. The whole damn thing's on tape. Part of the museum's security system. Although, as the only cardinal-bishop present, Brugnone outranked the others, he deliberately avoided sitting at the head of the table.

He liked to maintain an air of democracy here, even though he knew that they would all defer to him. He knew it and accepted it, not with pride, but through pragmatism.

Committees without leaders never achieved anything. This unfortunate situation, however, called for neither a leader nor a committee. It was something Brugnone would have to deal with himself. That much was clear to him from the moment he had seen the news footage that had been broadcast around the world. His eyes eventually settled on Cardinal Pasquale Rienzi.

Although he was the youngest of them all and only a cardinal-deacon, Rienzi was Brugnone's closest confidante. Like the others seated at the table, Rienzi was speechlessly engrossed in the report before him. He looked up and caught Brugnone's eye. The young man, pale and earnest as always, promptly coughed gently.

At the Metropolitan Museum. How foolishly otherworldly, Brugnone thought. Anything could happen in New York City. Hadn't the destruction of the World Trade Center proved that? They don't yet know who is behind this. Lunatics inspired by their amoral television programs and sadistic video games," another answered.

Red crosses on white mantles. They were masquerading as Templars? There it is, Brugnone thought. That was what had set off his alarm bells. Why, indeed, were the perpetrators dressed as Knights Templar? Could it be simply a matter of the robbers seeking a disguise and fastening onto whatever happened to be available? Or did the apparel of the four horsemen have a deeper, and possibly more disturbing, significance?

The question had been asked by the oldest cardinal there. The old man was peering short-sightedly at the circulated document. A multi-geared rotor encoder. Reference number VNS What is it? Again, he felt a shiver—the same shiver he felt the first time he spotted it on the list. He kept his face impassive. Without raising his head, he flicked a quick glance around the table at the others. No one else was reacting. Why should they? It was far from common knowledge. Sliding the paper away, he leaned back in his chair.

Make contact with the police and ask for us to be kept abreast of their investigation. Brugnone was pleased to see that this elder appeared to have forgotten about the machine. People always had deferred to Mauro Brugnone. Probably, he knew, because the way he looked suggested a man of great physical strength. If it were not for his vestments, he knew that he looked like the burly, heavy-shouldered Calabrian farmer he would have been had the Church not called him more than half a century ago.

His rough-hewn appearance, and the matching manner he had cultivated over the years, first disarmed others into thinking he was just a simple man of God. That he was but, because of his standing in the Church, many proceeded to another assumption: He was not, but he'd never bothered to disabuse mem.

It sometimes paid to keep people guessing, even though in a way, that was in itself a form of manipulation. Ten minutes later, Rienzi did as he asked. He made his way down a sheltered brick pathway, across the Belvedere courtyard and past the celebrated statue of Apollo, and into the buildings that housed part of the Vatican's enormous library, the Archivio Segreto Vaticano—the secret archive.

The archive wasn't, in actual fact, particularly secret. A major part of it was officially opened to visiting scholars and researchers in who could, in theory at least, access its tightly controlled contents. Among the notorious documents known to be stored in its forty miles of shelf space were the handwritten proceedings of Galileo's trial and a petition from King Henry VIII seeking an annulment to his first marriage.

No outsiders, however, were ever allowed where Brugnone was headed. Without bothering to acknowledge any of the staff or scholars working in its dusty halls, he quietly made his way deeper into the vast, dark repository.

He headed down a narrow, circular stairwell and reached a small anteroom where a Swiss Guard stood by an immaculately carved oak door. A curt nod from the elderly cardinal was all that was needed for the guard to enter the combination into a keypad and unlock the door for him. The deadbolt snapped open, echoing up the hollowness of the limestone stairs.

Without any further acknowledgment, Brugnone slipped into the barrel-vaulted crypt, the door creaking shut behind him. Making sure he was alone in the cavernous chamber, his eyes adjusting to the dim lighting, he made his way to the records area.

The crypt seemed to hum with silence. It was a curious effect that Brugnone had once found disconcerting until he had learned that, just beyond the limits of his hearing, there really was a hum, emanating from a highly sophisticated climate control system that maintained constant temperature and humidity.

He could feel his veins tighten in the controlled, dry air as he consulted a file cabinet. He really didn't like it down here, but this visit was unavoidable.

His fingers trembled as they flicked through the rows of index cards. What Brugnone was looking for wasn't listed in any of the various known indexes and inventories of the archive's collections, not even in the Schedario Garampi, the monumental card file of almost a million cards listing virtually everything held in the archive up to the eighteenth century.

But Brugnone knew where to look. His mentor had seen to that, shortly before his death. His eyes fell on the card he was looking for, and he pulled it out of its drawer. With a deepening sense of foreboding, Brugnone trawled through the stacks of folios and books. Reams of tattered red ribbon, bound around official documents and thought to be the origin of the term "red tape," dangled in deathly silence from every shelf.

His fingers froze when he finally spotted the one he was looking for. With great discomfort, he lifted down a large and very old leather-bound volume, which he placed on a plain wood table. Sitting down, Brugnone flicked over the thick, richly illustrated pages, their crackling loud in the stillness. Even in this controlled environment, the pages had suffered the ravages of time. The vellum pages were eroded, and iron in the ink had turned corrosive, creating tiny slashes, which had now replaced some of the artist's graceful strokes.

Brugnone felt his pulse quicken. He knew he was near. As he turned the page, he felt his throat tighten as the information he was seeking appeared before him.

He looked at the illustration. It depicted a complex arrangement of interlocking gears and levers. Glancing at his copy of the e-mail, he nodded to himself. Brugnone felt a headache forming at die back of his eyes.

He rubbed them, tJien stared again at die drawing before him. He was quietiy furious. By what delinquency had this been allowed to happen? He knew the device should never have left the Vatican and was immediately irritated with himself. He rarely wasted time in stating or thinking the obvious, and it was a measure of his concern that he did so now.

Concern was not the right word. This discovery had come as a deep shock. Anyone would be shocked, anyone who knew the significance of the ancient device. Fortunately, there were very few, even here in the Vatican, who did know die legendary purpose of diis particular machine. We brought it upon ourselves. It happened because we were too careful not to draw attention to it.

Suddenly drained, Brugnone pushed himself upright. Before he moved to return the book to its place on the shelf, he placed the file card that he had carried with him from die cabinet randomly inside it.

It would not do to have anyone else stumble across this. Brugnone sighed, feeling every one of his seventy years. He knew the threat wasn't from a curious academic or from some rutiilessly determined collector.

Whoever was behind this knew exacriy what he was looking for. And he had to be stopped before his ill-gotten gain could unveil its secrets. Chapter 7 F our thousand miles away, another man had the exact opposite in mind.

After closing and locking the door behind him, he picked up the intricate machine from where he had placed it on the top step. Then he moved slowly down into the cellar, his movements careful. The machine wasn't too heavy, but he was anxious not to drop it.

Not now. Not after fate had interceded to bring it within reach, and certainly not after all that it had taken to seize it.

The underground chamber, although lit by the flickering glow of dozens of candles, was too spacious for the yellow light to reach into every recess. It remained as gloomy as it was cold and damp. He no longer noticed. He had spent so long here that he had grown accustomed to it, never felt any discomfort. It was as close to being a home as anything could be.

A distant memory. Another life. Placing the machine on a sagging wood table, he went over to a cor- ner of the cellar and rummaged through a pile of boxes and old cardboard files. He took the one he needed to the table, opened it, and gently withdrew a folder from it. From the folder, he pulled out several sheets of thick paper that he arranged neatly beside the machine. Then he sat down and looked from the documents to the geared device and back again, relishing the moment.

To himself, he murmured, "At last. Picking up a pencil, he turned his full attention to the first of the documents. He looked at the first line of faded writing, then reached for the buttons on the top casing of the machine and began the next, crucial stage in his personal odyssey. An odyssey, the end result of which he knew would rock the world.

Chapter 8 A fter finally succumbing to sleep barely five hours earlier, Tess was now awake again and eager to start work on something that had been bugging her ever since those few minutes at the Met, before Clive Edmondson had spoken to her and all hell had broken loose.Can Chaykin and Reilly authenticate certain Templar assertions?

Nothing special about their crosses? An early Scully and Mulder relationship would have worked much better. Reilly nodded. The exhibition, given its subject matter, was deemed to be particularly at risk. And after what seemed like an eternity, his decapitated body slumped sideways, collapsing onto itself while spouting a small geyser of blood.