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Prologue

The unconventional priest ran towards the seminary… and a mysterious shadow pursued him. Enrique Pocomierda del Toro, affectionately known as el Padre amongst his beloved students, fled, his legs burning and shaking like a dry timber cabin on an erupting volcano-side. But no loving contemplations of his young charges filled his mind in that moment.

I’m being chased, the voice screamed silently in his head, I’m going to being murdered!

El Padre saw the huge heavy door, which was made of mahogany, amongst the densest of woods ever to grow on God’s green earth and in this case hardened by many centuries of allowing entry to willing pupils prior to widening the circle of their religious experience, ahead of him.

Sanctuary.

If he could only reach it in time.

Unable to stop his forward momentum he slammed against the portal – it barely rattled with the impact, for it was tall, broad and with lots of mass, while he was a slight figure in his billowing black robes, subtle gold cross and unobtrusive ring, which bore a strange hexagonal icon and was worn, unusually, on the index finger of his right hand.

He tugged hopelessly at the thick knob, but to no avail. The door was locked. Fast.

He turned, pressing his back fearfully against the firm wood, eyes scanning the darkness that had been behind him like lasers. Nothing.

Except.

A shadow detached itself from the other shadows of the freshly planted garden around it. Interestingly, like the structure to which it lead up to, this verdant and fertile area could also be termed a seminary, which can mean “a place where something is grown”, coming from the Latin sēminārium, a nursery garden, itself from sēmen, seed.

In this case, that seed would grow into a deadly flower.

“I have come for it,” whispered the shadow. “The time has come.”

“No!” The quaking priest shook his head. “It must never be surrendered!”

“And yet…” – the shadow moved closer – “…I shall. …take it.”

At that moment, a light came on at a window on the floor of the seminary and a shaft of light fell across the seminary. It bathed the figure, driving away his shadow and, as if in balance, making all the other shadows seem a little bit darker – but crucially it revealed… a man.

And that man’s face.

Enrique stared at the man’s face in horrified recognition.

“Lord…” he murmured. Then the face fell into shadow once more as a figure came to the window above him, blocking the light – then opening the window! The once-more-shadowed face hissed in rage and Pocomierda felt his heart thrash in his chest like a fish on a line.

“¿El Padre?” came a voice, “¿Es usted?” It was a student asking, Father, is that you? But el Padre was already running. Running for his life. Running for all our lives.

Another door at the corner of the seminary. The priest had no idea where it led, forgetting the layout of the building in his panic though he had spent the last fifty years of his life within her grounds. He fell against it and – joy of joys! – it swung open. He staggered inside, pushing it closed – seeing as he did a shadow of menace approaching at speed.

Slam! He looked around – nothing, nothing to bar the way. Only steps, spiralling upward. Quickly, he slipped the crucifix from around his neck and – with a final reverent kiss – thrust it into the narrow gap between door and frame, wedging it tightly – praying it would be enough.

He turned to the steps, realising now that they led to – The bell tower. He knew he had no choice, but at least he could fully alert the others to the villain in their midst. As the door behind him shook with the impact of his pursuer’s arrival, Enrique began to climb.

His knees were aching and his head was already dizzy from the seemingly endlessly twisting staircase when he heard the door bursting open below. Fear lent him strength and he strove on all the more harder, but he knew that no amount of fear or courage could change what waited him above – and then he was there.

The bell tower.

There was barely enough room around the huge copper bell for him to edge away from the door, a thin wooden thing that when closed would delay his adversary not for a second. He realised now that he couldn’t even ring the bell from here; the rope vanished through a tiny hole in the floor – fool! He looked out through one of the four large openings onto the dusty night sky of the Spanish plains, down into the seminary grounds – no other lights, no strong young bodies hurrying to his relief.

He crouched, desperately reaching under the lip of the bell for the long clapper. Grasping it at last, he desperately swung it towards the far side, hearing only a pitiful clung not nearly loud enough for his needs. But it was at least moving – bracing himself against the ledge, in line with the bell’s natural swing, he planted both feet against the heavy weight and pushed.

With a maximum effort, his whole body bent like a bow, he felt the great bell begin to shift – but at that moment the flimsy door to the tower flew open, revealing his enemy. With a cry of terror he instinctively jackknifed his legs but the bell was too heavy, and inadvertently he pushed his own centre of gravity too high against the opening behind him.

He teetered – then tumbled out into black space.

In a final desperate act his flailing fingers scrabbled for purchase on the crumbling edge of the opening – and held. His body smacked against the old brickwork, blasting the wind from his lungs and, stunned, his grip failed and he fell.

Until another hand struck out, like lightning, and grasped his.

El Padre gasped and craned his head upwards, looking into the cold, killer eyes of the man who, as well as his own right hand, now literally held his life in his hand as well.

His right hand.

“No..!” he groaned. “You… mustn’t!”

“Ah, but I must, dear Padre,” came the almost silent reply, like the whisper of sand over silk, or silk over sand. The priest’s fingers began to slip away, and for a moment the vicious grip of the morbid figure above tightened cruelly…

then released.

Enrique Pocomierda del Toro fell with solemn grace from on high, plunged down, down, down towards the long, sharp, narrow railings which flanked the seminary garden below. With terrible inevitability he landed upon them and was pierced at the base by a lethal spike.

As the agonising knowledge of his imminent demise flooded through his brain, el Padre reached up one – naked – hand towards the heavens, towards the distant bell tower, where the shadowy figure looked callously down at him, then seemed to vanish into the star-lit night itself.

“My ring!” He screamed with his dying breath. “My riiiiiing!”

X

Chapter One

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