Barcelona, Spain; 2 October 2011, 2345 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 29 days
Quentin McLintock felt the world tilt and spin. It was almost as if he was being held still as the Earth continued its daily revolution. The world around him blurred. He looked around. The Guardians were standing some fifteen feet from him. They were unmoving as the world around them convulsed and shifted.
"What are you doing?" Quentin asked. He didn’t know how they were doing it, but he was sure this was the Guardians’ work. Reality pulsed painfully, reminding him that he was an observer. Again, Quentin didn’t know how that knowledge popped in his head, but he clearly remembered what that sensation meant.
The world slowed. Surroundings came into focus. It looked like he was on the same street where the church was on. The sky was light with gorgeous oranges and violets, but the streets were dark. That meant dusk or dawn. The streets were deserted. Quentin walked back to where the church should be. Off in the distance he could hear the sounds of some massive festival. As he walked closer, new sounds started getting stronger. Those he recognized immediately. The sounds of a battle were echoing in the street. Quentin cautiously jogged down the street toward the sounds. In front of the church, he found the source. In the center was a tall, thin man in a torn business suit. The man had to be over seven feet tall. His long brown hair swirled around his head as he snarled at his opponents. Quentin could feel the sickening evil power emanating from the man. Surrounding him were four men in older tactical gear and holding MP5’s. Six other men in similar clothing were scattered on the ground with horrific gashes. There was no way they would have survived those wounds. The four men were screaming at each other in Italian, but there was something odd about their accent and dialect. Quentin struggled to keep up with them.
"Use the holy rounds!" one of them yelled. He seemed to be leader. The others shouted back confirmations. The other three yelled back confirmations. If the tall man understood them, he didn’t show any sign. The street filled with the familiar buzzing of full-auto MP5’s as the four men attacked. The tall man seemed to blur and suddenly appeared in front of the leader of the tactical team. With a casual backhand, the tall man launched the team leader nearly twenty feet. The team leader crashed into a light pole and Quentin could hear the sickening crack of shattering bones.
"Jerusalem and the world," the team leader yelled before curling into a ball. At least that’s what Quentin thought the man said. It was hard to decipher the Italian they were using. Then, Quentin saw him. A man crouched behind a newspaper box some thirty feet from the battle. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, but Quentin recognized him. This was a younger version of Dr. de Castillia, the man known as Castle. The leader of the Truth. Quentin looked back at the tall man. Was that Giant? Was this the first battle between the Truth and MacKenzie and Winston?
As the tall man turned back to the remaining fighters, Castle dashed to the church. Quentin carefully followed. No one could see him, but Quentin wasn’t sure if he could affect things. He had a nasty suspicion that reality would punish him again if he did more than observe. Castle was reading from a worn, leather-bound notebook and looking around the old church. From the yellowing and wear on the pages, Quentin estimated the notebook was at least fifty years old. Castle stopped in front of the dais. Pulling out a long dagger, Castle pried up one of the floor tiles. He reached down and pulled something from the floor. Castle held it up to the light and Quentin recognized a gold medallion similar to the one Chief Stahl had pulled out of the altar. The Guardians were suddenly standing on either side of the altar. Castle knelt in front of the two ancient men.
"Are you the Guardians?" Castle asked, his Spanish words translating to English as they reached Quentin’s ears.
"We are the Guardians of the Truth. Who are you?" they both asked.
"I am Santos de Castillia, the descendant of the man who brought you to this land," Castle said forcefully.
"We were not brought. We followed one of many paths. Why have you come here?" the Guardians asked.
"To stop the Great Death," Castle answered. "I followed the Little Death from Britain. I knew what would have to be done. I knew I would need the power of this artifact to stop it and its horde."
"The Knights outside this church could stop the Little Death. They and their god have stopped the Great Death before," the Guardians intoned, "Why should you be this world’s protector? Why should the Flayed One give you the power?"
"My family has known what needed to be done. I have prepared for this my entire life. I will not falter from the path set before me," Castle said. The conviction in the man’s voice bordered on fanaticism. It was kind of scary.
"Know this – you are on one of many paths that will lead to the moment of the Truth. You may live, you may die. You may see the coming of the Flayed One or you may prepare the way for the one who will usher the Flayed One’s return. Do you still wish to walk down the paths to the moment?"
"Yes," Castle answered, reverently.
"Then, arise and know the Flayed One’s power is with you," the Guardians said. Castle nodded solemnly. He strode out of the church. Quentin followed him. The tactical group was down to a single standing member. He was firing a Beretta at the tall man. The tall man shrugged the bullets off like they were BB’s. The tall man’s grabbed the last fighter by the neck. The attack was so fast, Quentin didn’t even see the tall man’s arm move.
"Knights of the Temple, it is time for you to fight again. Destroy the Little Death," Castle said to himself as he gripped the gold medallion. Castle closed his eyes and started murmuring words under his breath. To Quentin, the man looked like he was praying. Castle’s eyes snapped open with a dangerous glint. The loud, familiar moans of the undead echoed through the street. The nine dead Knights staggered to their feet.
The tall man – vampire, Quentin belated realized – hissed as the zombies attacked. These zombies didn’t move like normal zombies. They ran like golems, but without the snarling ferocity. The vampire snapped the neck of the Knight in his hand and knocked two of the zombie Knights down with the corpse. Three more zombies leapt on the vampire and bit off long strips of flesh. It shrieked and tossed them off. Quentin saw the large gashes start to heal, but they stopped before they were completely healed. Black blood continued to pump out of the vampire. Others grappled with the vampire to bite off more flesh. The vampire punched one in the head hard enough to shatter its skull. The zombie Knight dropped to the ground in a jumbled heap. The vampire didn’t have time to celebrate its victory as the rest of the undead Knights continued to attack. As Quentin watched the fight, he watched the vampire start to weaken from the numerous half-healed bites. As it weakened, the zombies increased their mindless attacks. Finally, the vampire fell to the ground and was swarmed by the zombies. Its final scream melted into a gurgle as the vampire’s throat was savaged by one of the Knights.
"I release you Knights of the Temple," Castle said. The zombies collapsed onto the vampire just before they all were consumed with a sudden intense flame. All that was left was some blackened scorches on the pavement.
"Now to the tablet," Castle said as he dropped the gold medallion into a pocket and walked down the street as if nothing had happened.
Quentin felt the world spin and shift again. As reality resolved itself back, Quentin found himself back in the seat of Seraph’s truck. He looked over at his friends and teammates. They were all staring at each other in disbelief. All except for Mateo. The team leader wore the same neutral face that he’d taken to using for the past few weeks.
"I’m guessing we all saw the same thing?" Mateo asked. The others barely managed to nod. "So, now we know where Castle came from."
"We also know why zombies are so dangerous to vampires," Quentin said.
"They didn’t act like any zombies we’ve seen so far," Jim said, "They acted more like gollums. Was it because they were created by that medallion?"
"I don’t know," Chief Stahl said, holding his own medallion up, "So how does this little vision help us find the city of the dead?"
"Castle mentioned the tablet just before we were yanked back," Quentin said. "I think he meant the Chekotsy Tablet. It was a tablet of some odd Aztec pictorals discovered in the 1950’s and taken back to Soviet Union. I’ll bet it was either an artifact or told where other artifacts were hidden."
"Pretty good theory, but if it’s in Castle’s possession, how’s that supposed to help us?" Chief Stahl asked.
"Castle doesn’t have it. The tablet’s on display in Odessa," Quentin answered.
"Texas or Florida?" Mateo asked.