Authors: Joseph Nassise
As a Massachusetts State Police officer, Cade used to spend his time hunting criminals until the day an encounter with a fallen angel changed his world forever. Now he commands the Echo Team, a special ops squad of modern Templar knights, and the things they hunt are far darker and much more deadly...
SHADES OF BLOOD AND DARKNESS
A Templar Chronicles Mission
(Originally published as This Cleansing Fire)
The Lear jet banked suddenly, the abrupt action jolting Cade Williams from his uneasy sleep. Glancing out his window, he could see the lights of the city far off to the left and knew the pilot must be starting his preparations for landing. That meant Cade had another twenty minutes or so before he and his team would be on the ground and in the thick of things.
Like most of the Order's equipment, the interior of the aircraft was spartan. Gone were the leather seats and the recessed mini bars, the inflight entertainment centers and the four star meals. Only that which was functional and necessary had been left in place. Thankfully that included the privacy curtain that separated the rear compartment where Cade was sitting from the main cabin just ahead.
Looking past the curtain, he could see his executive officer, Sergeant Matthew Riley seated about halfway up center aisle in the main cabin. As Cade looked on his teammate stripped the Mossberg combat shotgun he held in his hands his weapon and began cleaning it with deft movements that came with long familiarity. The voice of O'Malley, Cade's first drill instructor at the academy, echoed in his head at the sight, "If you have no other assignment, see to your weapons." It was advice he had heeded during his fifteen-year career with the Special Tactics and Operations team of the Boston Police Department and had brought with him when he'd been recruited into the Order. He had enforced that unwritten rule on his squad from the very first day and now, five years later, it was as habitual to them as breathing. Cade knew without looking that their other team member, Sergeant Nick Olsen, would be in the seat opposite Riley, doing the same thing to his Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun.
Having a perfectly operational weapon might just make the difference between life and death for any of them, particularly on this run, Cade thought to himself with some resignation. They had been asked to take the assignment at the last minute, without any advanced preparation or intelligence, and that was not the way Cade liked to operate. The quick briefing they’d been given hadn’t done anything to inspire confidence, either.
Two months ago, the local Catholic diocese had requested help in dealing with a particularly violent blood cult. The parish pastor had catalogued a number of problems ranging from intimidation of his parishioners to the sudden disappearance of many of the street people who frequented the soup kitchen. He was convinced that there was evil afoot and believed the local authorities had neither the desire nor the manpower to handle the situation properly. His request for assistance had gone all the way up the church hierarchy to the Vatican itself and had been passed to the Order for investigation.
That was what the Order did, after all.
Contrary to popular belief, the Holy Order of the Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon, or the Knight Templars as they are more commonly known, were not destroyed by the King of France when he burned Grand Master Jacques De Molay at the stake in 1314 for heresy. Following Molay's death, the Order had gone underground, hiding its wealth, disguising its power and managing to remain a viable independent entity right up through the end of the First World War. A treaty with Pius XI was followed by a reversal of their excommunication, and the Templars were reborn as a secret military arm of the Vatican. Their mission: to defend mankind against the evils that walked in the world, unnoticed in a society that was preoccupied with science and that scoffed at superstition and myth, regardless of the truths they might contain.
Those in command of the Order had agreed that the situation merited a closer look. They had sent a team in, led by a veteran Knight Captain, and instructed them to look into the situation and assist the parish in whatever manner they found necessary.
Three weeks after their arrival, the team had abruptly disappeared.
Using equipment the missing Templars left behind, the parish pastor had communicated directly with the Preceptor and had requested further assistance. Since Cade
unit, Echo Team, had been closest to the site, and presently unoccupied with any other duties, they had drawn the short stick and had been asked to take the assignment.
That had been several days ago.
Oh how Cade wished he could have those days back.
As was standard procedure, Echo Team's active commander had sent the fourth member of his squad, Bishop, in ahead of the rest of the team, with instructions to set up a secure location unbeknownst to the locals and then, and only then, rendezvous with the parish pastor. Bishop had carried out both tasks without a hitch, relaying the address of the safe house during his regularly scheduled communication a few days ago. He had checked in the next night as well, leaving a brief message that he believed he had some information about the fate of the first squad and that he would see the rest of the team in a few days.
The night after that he'd missed his call.
Cade hadn't been too concerned at that point. His team was trained to use secondary and even tertiary communication schedules just in case any activities they were engaged in prevented them from making the primary one. When Bishop missed the second check-in, however, Cade grew more concerned.
By the time he missed the third, Cade had the rest of the team and the necessary gear loaded onto one of the Order's jets and had gotten underway the moment the Preceptor had given them the word.
Now, as the pilot made the announcement that they would be landing soon, Cade reached over and picked up the long, thin case resting on the seat next to him. Balancing it on his knees, he opened the case's three clasps and raised its lid.
Inside, on a smooth bed of white silk, lay the sword that had been given to him during his investiture ceremony on the night that he had pledged himself and his life to the Order.
The weapon itself was an unadorned English long sword. Like all Templar weapons, its hilt had been specifically molded to match the grip its owner's right hand. Along the length of the blade that was facing upright in the case, the word
had been inscribed in silver.
Translated, the Latin word meant Defender.
Cade carefully withdrew the sword from the case and held it up in the aisle, turning it slightly to and fro so that the dim lighting of the cabin made the script sparkle and shine. According to the Code, a knight in the Order was allowed personal ownership of only a few, specific items. The sword given to them during their investiture ceremony was one of them, a symbol of their fidelity to the Order and their unrelenting dedication to its ideals. The weapons were supposed to remain undecorated, chaste if you will, just as the knight who carries them pledges to do the same. Enhancing the weapon in any way after it is awarded was cause for a variety of punishments, for doing so was considered a sin of pride.
Cade wasn't concerned with his sin. Or his pride, for that matter.
He had ignored this rule, just as he had ignored more than a handful of others over the last several years when the success of his missions required it. On the day after the ceremony, he had secretly commissioned a silversmith to help him add a second word to the same exact location on the opposite side of the blade from the first.
Now, as he turned the weapon over, he smiled grimly at what he had written there.
That word represented the driving reason behind Cade's daily existence and the true reason for his membership in the Templar Order.
He gently replaced the sword back into its case, this time with the opposite side facing upward. Tugging the thin, cotton glove off his right hand, he traced the Latin word with the tip of his index finger. He could barely feel the inscription through his skin, but his Talent sent the raw emotion locked in it back to him with the force of a thunderbolt. For several long moments, he reveled in the flow as all that rage, determination, and utter hatred for the Adversary washed over him like the torrent of a raging river. Just as he had on the day he had awakened in the hospital five years before, he vowed once more to find the Adversary and make it pay for the loss of his wife and for all that it had stolen from them.
His encounter with that supernatural entity had left him with a scarred face, hands, and soul. It had also left him with several unique abilities, something he was certain the Adversary had never intended. The first, what he liked to call his Talent, was more properly known as psychometry. When a person handles an inanimate object they leave traces of their passing on it, a psychic residue so to speak, as the emotions and thoughts passing through the individual's mind are left on the surface of the object. With just a simple touch, Cade could read those impressions and know something about those who had handled the object before him. The ability had a dark side too, however, for it denied him even the most casual physical contact with another person. Touching someone was far worse than touching an object, for an object held only a few, brief glimpses into the individual who last handled it while a person had all of their pain and emotion locked inside them. Even a casual brush against another person overwhelmed Cade with a sudden influx of foreign thoughts and emotions. He suspected continual contact could even result in a loss of his own identity, as his psyche was overwhelmed by another's, though he had never tested his theory. Because of the danger of such contact, Cade was forced to wear thin cotton gloves at all times when he was out of the safety of his own home, preventing his Talent from activating.
His other ability, less troublesome from a practical sense but more disturbing emotionally, he called his Sight. Where the Adversary had touched Cade's face, nothing but scar tissue now remained. His eye was destroyed on contact; the skin around it melted and cauterized in seconds, leaving so much scar tissue that removing the damaged orb and being fitted with a prosthetic would have been impossible without extensive surgery, something he had decided long ago that he had no intention of enduring.
In spite of the damage, or perhaps because of it, Cade could now see into the realm of the dead. He could see all manner of ghosts and supernatural beings. Not just when they wanted to be seen, which contrary to popular belief isn't very often, but any time he wanted to see them. Cade had learned that there was another layer of reality superimposed upon our own, a place he had come to simply call the Beyond. It was within this realm that the dead normally resided, cut off from humanity by the smallest of margins. The Beyond is almost a mirror image of this world, but fashioned out of emotion instead of material substance. The stronger the emotions, the better. It is emotion that allows a shade to exist, to hang around some aspect of their former lives that were particularly important to them. To haunt those places, if you will. Just as an accident victim will wander that lonely stretch of highway where they lost control of their vehicle, so will a murder victim revisit the scene of the crime. The shade of an adult might even return to the home they knew as a child, if such a place held a strong emotional attachment for them. When a person sees a ghost firsthand, it is nothing more than a fleeting glimpse into this aspect of reality.
Cade had also learned that having the ability to see into the Beyond had its share of dangers, though. Ghosts and other supernatural beings hunger for the attention of the living the way a heroin junkie hungers for a fix. They quickly take notice when the living suddenly drop into their world. Cade had been hounded by all manner of phantoms when he'd spent too long on the other side of the barrier.
Being on the other side isn't easy, either. The real world constantly calls out to you, so your concentration is often split between this side and that. A momentary lack of caution can get you killed in our world. In the Beyond, the old saying that there are fates worse than death is more than just a saying, it's a reality to live, and die, by.
A mechanical sound vibrated through the aircraft's frame, announcing the lowering of the landing gear, and bringing Cade's attention back to the situation at hand. He replaced his sword in its case and sealed it up before replacing the case on the seat beside him. Unbuckling his seatbelt, he moved forward into the main cabin.
His men looked up expectantly when he entered.
"Ten minutes to go," Cade told them. "Get those weapons secured and sealed away. Once we're on the ground, Riley and I will unload the gear while Olsen goes for the rental car. I want us loaded and on our way in less then thirty minutes. If we get lucky, maybe we'll pick up Bishop's trail from there. Any questions?"