The later the hour, the slower time passed. After the concert concluded, the city gradually quieted although drums could still be heard in the distance coming from the camping ground above the theatre, with occasional snatches of song and laughter.
Bishop Galliard began leading the prayers from the balcony overlooking the town square. A sonorous rhythm could be heard coming from the congregation in the plaza reciting the rosary together. Inside the South Transept, moonlight splashed muted colors across the floor. They crawled imperceptibly across the checkered pavement with the circular spotlight of the oculus toward the Rose Line.
Midnight came and went. Once the public prayers were over, the bishop joined them, conversing earnestly in low tones with the Cardinal. “No, not another soul,” the prelate said angrily, “keep them all out.” Galliard bowed and disappeared into the darkness of the nave.
“Wait, what’s that?” the Count suddenly said. An ominous dark angle jutted into the colored pattern. The square shadow slowly protruded further into the light across the window.
The tall astronomer peered at the obstacle and shook his head. “Something is wrong. This cannot be!” he exclaimed. “The hotel is not tall enough to interfere with moonlight even during a lunar standstill. I know; I was upon the oversight committee and made damned sure!”
People rushed to the South Transept’s door. Marcel waved them back, and stepped outside alone. “Sergeant, report,” he barked.
A policeman saluted. “A sign or banner, sir, was just raised atop the Hotel International. It’s blocking the Moon.”
“Could this be a coincidence?” asked the agent.
“No, monsieur, the Hotel management is aware of this,” the cop said. “They say the door is held shut by persons unknown. This must be deliberate.”
“The Unknowns!” someone said, and everyone began talking.
“Quiet!” Marcel barked. “Sergeant Foucault, have you contacted hotel security?”
“Yes sir,” the officer said. “They report at least five men upon the roof denying them access. They do not know if they are armed or not.”
A man waving at them from the crowd got Marcel’s attention, and allowed to approach. “Gentlemen, allow Uncle Sam to assist,” Sundog drawled, hobbling forward.
“How would you do that, Monsieur Sundog?” Marcel asked. “Call in an airstrike?”
The CIA agent sweetly smiled. “Nothing so dramatic; I don’t have the budget. But I bet I could lead the mob away from here, though. Maybe get them to remove the banner, too.”
“Good,” Marcel said. “Be careful, though, we don’t want anyone to be hurt.”
“I imagine a crowd howling for blood headed their way should be adequate.”
“Wait,” said a voice from behind. Count Roland stepped forward. “I have a few friends stationed at the hotel.” He shrugged in innocence at their looks. “My ride home.”
“Are they armed?”
“If not – and I assure you it’s as a precaution, not looking for trouble – they’re fired,” the Count declared. “I offered to provide security, you know –”
“We’ve no time for that now,” Marcel said. “Okay, Mister Sundog, get your posse together. Count, call your men, have them ready to help – but no violence, understood? This isn’t an armed assault; the goal is to scare them away.”
Taff sat below sprawled upon a step, observing the scene. Sundog smiled at him, and said, “Run out of tricks? Watch and learn, my friend.” He whistled sharply.
“Look!” Sundog shouted pointing at the growing shadow which already swallowed half the façade of the South Transept.
“The scientists aren’t the problem, people,” he continued, pointing at the black shape intruding on the Moon. “Somebody’s up there trying to stop God! Someone doesn’t want the Vision to return! We must prevent them.”
“Les Invisibles!” a voice called from the crowd. “Damned bastards!”
“Exactly! The same people who have kept the secret all this time. This is our chance, everyone,” Sundog shouted. “We can save the day! For the honor of the Virgin Mary and France!” He repeated it in fluent French and German just to be sure.
“Let the light in!” He leapt off the steps, chanting. The energized crowd followed along.
As the crowd flowed past, Taff stood. He said to Marcel, “Not bad. But they’ll be back soon. They’ll expect to be admitted.”
“No doubt,” Marcel said. “Stay alert: we might need you again before this is over.” He shut and barred the door. A tense silence fell as the minutes slowly ticked by. The Count made a quick phone call and resumed pacing behind the table.
From the darkness behind him, he was silently joined by Jesús garbed in black, holding a baton.
Skip looked around. More silhouettes gathered around the area than there were earlier, some crouching behind the painting. He silently rose and moved closer to the Count, making a show of observing the instruments. “It worked, Excellency,” he heard Jesús whisper. “The crowd’s on its way.”
“Should buy us time. Have the men clear out, and await orders in the garage,” Count Roland replied. “We’ll have to move fast when and if it happens.”
A sudden murmur of relief echoed when suddenly the shade encroaching on the rose window suddenly vanished. The splash of colors lit the front of the Templars’ Tomb and spilled around the side, leaving the side facing the altar in inky darkness. But the suspense continued as the light imperceptibly crawled across the floor.
“Bloody hell, I need a fag,” Nigel muttered. “How much longer?”
“Until the Moon passes in front, soon enough,” Skip said. He checked his watch. It was nearing half past one. The silvery disc of moonlight finally reached the red line upon the sheet.
“Something’s happening,” Gus called. As a small crescent appeared above the hole in the hanging sheet, Aysha stated flatly, “Starting recording.”
“Cameras on,” Skip said. “Everyone, be ready!” He stood and focused his own lens.
“Instruments functioning also,” Lacnuit reported. “How’s the alignment?”
“I think I got it!” Gus yelled. The light vanished and reappeared, centered perfectly.
A sharp intake of breath came from the crowd as the crescent expanded around the edge of the hole. “It looks good, where it should be,” Allie breathed. She uncrossed her fingers.
The spotlight from the larger oculus continued to creep across the vertical red line but not alone. Constellations of dozens of bright spots, moonlight refracted from the glass bits atop the Birdcage accompanied it. Across the overlay they inched in unison, lighting traced circles and small numbered crosses. “Okay,” Allie said, “at first light, it looks like we have spots at three-green, two-red, five-green, and four-green, six-green, and nine-green. Whoa, there’s a really bright one now on two-green, which is also close to three-red.”
Skip smiled at his sister. “Looks good to me. What do you think?” Allie checked the map key on her laptop. She said in surprise, “Oh my, look at the lights. I didn’t think there’d be so many. Stars all over Haute Maureven; look, there’s a huge one between Horrig’s Chapel and the Dolmen. That must be it!”
The Count silently came up behind her. “Now, my dear, tell me, which one? Red or green?” he demanded, seizing her wrist. “Is it the site from the original painting?”
“What?” she said. Skip moved protectively towards her, but Jesús stepped in his way.
“Which one?” Count Roland repeated in a low voice. He raised his other hand and snapped his fingers. “Come, girl, we don’t have all night. I know about the colors. Never mind how. The Gumbels and the hotel staff are old friends of the Triple Knot.”
She bit her lip and pointed at the screen. “This one.”
“Great, let’s go.” Behind the Count, Jesús nodded. Skip noticed the man wore tactical gear, and besides carrying a baton in his hand, a sinister-looking machine gun slung over his shoulder. He turned to Skip. “You heard his Excell–” he began.
Something struck the transept doors making everyone jump. “Let us in!” angry voices outside yelled. More banging and shouting followed. High above the crowd, Gus grasped the railing of the platform as the door behind him shuddered, boomed, and shuddered again.
“So soon?” the Count mumbled. He spoke curtly into his phone. “Sir Gordon, meet us at Horrig’s, go now. Team One, Team Three, Plan B.” Noticing Allie and Skip narrowly staring at him, his smile was grim. “Come, my friends, the night’s just begun. We’ve much to do before dawn. You don’t believe we’re the only ones spying, do you?”
Nearby, Sister Santarovel turned away, speaking rapidly into her own cellphone. “Sister, what are you doing?” Cardinal Mortens demanded.
She swung to face him and with a gasp, the nun dropped to her knees, staring at the rear of the Tomb. “Oh my God,” she gasped. The lights on the instruments suddenly went out.
“Damnation, they cut the power!” Skip said. “Why isn’t the backup kicking in?” Jesús stepped aside, and Skip ran towards the generator.
Everything happened at once, starting with a crash from the opposite side of the church. “They’re breaking in!” Marcel shouted as he ran past the Tomb. “Officers, follow me! This way!” Blasts from his whistle echoed throughout the huge space.
“Bloody Christ, there it is at the Tomb!” Nigel breathed. “The Vision!”
On the smooth marble face, behind the opening left in the Birdcage for the devout to touch the stone, floated a round disk of opalescent white. Within it shone the clear outline of a simple basin.
Raimondo scurried near, crouching. He squinted at it through his glasses in distrust, and lifted them to make sure they weren’t playing tricks. He reached through the opening in the Birdcage as if to touch it. The light played across his hand. “It’s real!” he cackled.
Sounds of running feet, struggles, and screams came as the mob burst onto the scene. “Le Vision!” voices behind them shouted. “Mon Dieu!” “Holy Mother of God!”
A mass of people flooded in around the altar screen. Several policemen, including Marcel, struggled with the intruders. Unable to stop quickly enough, a fat man stumbled backwards into the painting. It toppled as slowly and inevitably as fate.
“Watch it!” Gus shouted, punching buttons. The swaying lift slowly descended. The door behind him suddenly burst open. The mob pushed the platform against the barrier around the Earth medallion. The high platform creaked and swayed. “Whoa! Help, Skip!” he yelled.
Meanwhile, Mortens grabbed the kneeling nun trying to pull her out of the way, but she struggled, oblivious to the danger. The Ascension of the Sacred Reliquary fell, crashing with a tremendous splintering sound. The painting’s frame flipped up and squarely caught the base of the altar screen. The rotten wood splintered into a thousand flying fragments.
Another gilded edge caught the prelate and knocked him aside. The nun disappeared. On the other side, Raimondo was also flattened along with his nephew beneath the falling artwork. Agent Marcel was nowhere to be seen.
Allie tore around the table and began trying to lift the shattered framework. Skip ran for the platform, leaping over the balustrade. Gus swung, holding onto the platform’s railing as the door bashed against the lift. Skip half-caught him, rolling upon the floor as it toppled.
“Marcel!” Allie called. “Skip, Gus!” It was useless, the inrushing torrent of tubbers and true believers swarmed around and clambered across the painting.
As they did, the remaining panel of the rotten altar screen disintegrated. The circular light on the Tomb wavered and vanished. Clanging loudly, the silvery disk bounced down the steps and rolled across the clear floor. Lacnuit eagerly grabbed it as it wobbled past.
“Amazing,” the astronomer said, peering at the smooth metal surface. He held the disc into the bright moonbeam from the lower porthole, turning the reflection back towards the Tomb. A large faint outline of the pot reappeared in the circle of light. “Look at this, Aysha, a Japanese magic mirror!” he gleefully announced, unmindful of the chaos around him. “My stars, it’s a makyo!” He turned it over. Sure enough, he laughed to see an embossed image of the tub upon the rear.
The Count stood behind him. “Not now, Lucien. We have to go. Come on!” Lacnuit tucked the mirror into a pocket and turned. “Aysha, Miss Recording Secretary, let’s go! Your duty to the Silent Sages obliges your attendance.” He grabbed her wrist, and she slapped him hard with the other hand. “No,” Aysha shouted. “No way, old man, I’m not going anywhere with you.” She ripped her hand away and slapped him again. “No job is worth this.” She fled.
Roland looked around, unable to spot Skip and Gus. He shrugged, and nodded to his footman. Jesús grabbed Allie from behind. “Apologies, señorita, but your assistance is also desired, and we dare not wait for your brothers.”
Half-dragging the still-protesting woman, the men clambered across and around the shattered remains of the altar screen. The group disappeared into the sanctuary.