This is an Uber story so the characters are my own. However, I recognise the influence that the characters from the show Xena: Warrior Princess, owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures, has had upon them. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something else.
I'm not talking about strong language here. I'm talking about US-English Vs UK-English. You may have noticed in the first line of the disclaimer that I spell 'recognise' with an 's'. Later on you'll see that I spell 'new-found' with a hyphen and 'artefact' with an 'e'. However, I haven't found an excuse yet for confusing loose with lose or effect with affect - but I'm working on it.
This is my first piece of fan fiction. I'd love to hear any comments or constructive criticism you may have about the story. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dreams from the Darkness
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.
- H. P. LOVECRAFT
Journal of Dr Jack Williams
August 5th 1922
This morning I was informed that the faculty accepted my proposal and Professor Rutherford approved the budget for the trip abroad. I can't describe the elation I felt at the good news, after yesterday's failure by mathematics professor Dr Brown to find anything that might help interpret what I believe to be a near complete decryption of the manuscript. At first they were reluctant to allow a student to accompany me to Europe but I managed to convince them of her importance. Melissa has been acting as my research assistant and, so far, has been the only person able to decrypt the original manuscript text.
Today she deciphered a passage that reinforces my belief that much of the script is based on a geometry system of some form. I have sent a telegram to the Vatican Apostolic Library and I hope to begin my research into this system when I arrive there in 3 days. My knowledge of mathematics is limited but I am unable to find anyone who supports my theories so I must try to perform the interpretation myself.
We leave tomorrow afternoon on the 14:30 train from Charing Cross. I pray the weather will stay calm for our crossing to Calais; I still have lingering memories of the stormy crossing on my last trip to the continent. Melissa intends to continue working on a copy of the manuscript while travelling and expects to have the original text decrypted within a week of our arrival in Rome.
Tonight I will continue with the analysis of today's text for I suspect I would not sleep with the prospects of what lay ahead. If my theories are correct then I will be returning with a complete translation of the Voynich Manuscript.
Lori watched the blurred shapes fly past. Countries, mountains, seas; a rolling mass of adventure waiting to be had. Cities only inches apart, mountain lines dividing people of different races and cultures, rivers feeding the living land that supported so much life. There was more than anyone could possibly see in a lifetime yet she felt very close to it all as she sat alone. She leaned forward and let her cheek brush the displaced air close to the surface of the old globe and smiled as she closed her eyes and let the gentle hum of its rotation lull her. She waited until it stopped spinning, placed a finger on the surface and slowly opened her eyes to see what destination Fate had given her. "Constantinople! I havenít been there in awhile."
The blond woman stood up with a youthfulness that complimented her features and skipped through the polished browns of the antique furniture that covered the floor of the old shop. It consisted mainly of writing desks, wall units and tall bedroom furniture of various styles, some dining furniture, lounge chairs and a recently acquired upright piano. She let her finger run down the keys as she passed it and playfully turned to face the shelves of old books that lived in the back of the shop. She liked to think of them as living with her. They werenít for sale and most were very old so it was like a retirement home where she and her grandfather cared for them.
Lori's slender figure stood just under five and a half feet tall. Natural blond hair fell inches below shoulder height and her slightly tanned skin and jade green eyes gave her a youthful appearance that caused many to underestimate her age of twenty-six.
"Constantinople." She pulled the book from its place, careful of its bindings, and returned to the chair at the centre of the room that sat next to the giant globe. She always used the quiet afternoons to read about distant places she knew she would never visit and people she would never meet; the histories of ancient countries long fallen and the histories of ancient cities still standing; cultures who seem to have disappeared despite their advanced technologies and cultures who have survived in the worst conditions the world has to offer. There was magic about them, a mysticism that was born from the fact that they only existed in books and stories that her grandfather would tell her. She knew her home city of London had a past, "a history to be proud of," her grandfather used to remind her, but she couldnít help but smile when she compared Big Ben to the Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China.
Or the mosques of Constantinople, she thought as she turned the page to an illustration of the fantastic temples where the followers of Islam would worship. The City of Mosques, it was sometimes known as to westerners, or Istanbul to the Turkish residents who refused to accept the name used by the British and French who had occupied the city four years earlier.
She was alone in the old shop. Her grandfather had left that morning to attend an auction on the other side of London in the hope of finding some old paintings he could use to replace those bought earlier in the week. It was good fortune that they had been sold because the money situation was beginning to become stressful. They were purchased by a tall sophisticated gentleman who had visited the shop on a number of occasions but had previously never bought anything. He had taken an interest in Lori and was always keen to talk with her on his visits. When he left, her grandfather would drop subtle hints about how she was twenty-six and still not married. She just laughed and teased that she would live with him forever.
She leafed forward a few pages to a hand drawn map that was probably out of date. Thereís a British embassy somewhere around there now, she thought, looking at the Pera-Galata province. It made her angry to think that forces, from her own country, were out there occupying others for reasons she didnít care to understand. She knew it wasnít very patriotic and her father would have been quick to tell her off for speaking about her country in that way but she hated the idea of war. Fighting over what? Land that was thousands of miles away and she would never get to see anyway.
She skipped forward a few more pages and read about the Stamboul province, the oldest part of the city. That was what interested her the most. Anyone with enough money can build a city, she always told herself, but nothing but time can give it a history; and a city is nothing without a history.
The uneventful afternoon passed by in the glow of the late summer sun that warmed the shop through the large glass windows on either side of the front door. The smell of polished wood filled the air and Lori rested her head on the back of the old velvet covered chair that she had grown very attached to over the last few weeks. Its deep soft cushions had a way of wrapping her in a feeling of safety and solitude where she could read about the places her heroes and heroines would do battle and find romance.
Lori liked to write, nearly as much as she liked to dream. Her fantasies evolved from factual literature held in the old volumes her grandfather owned. The mundane histories that were recorded in those books became the legends of a time long ago. The biographies of the famous became the chronicles of her heroes as they fought for justice in a land in turmoil. Old maps were revised to accommodate the castles where noble princes would fight for the hand of their princess and rolling grasslands where armies would battle over kingdoms. There were taverns where bards would tell their tales, seaports where pirates and thieves ran rampant, forests and villages where farmers made their living.
The histories of her world took shape on the pages of the books she kept locked away in her bedroom. Her world was the most personal thing in her life. A diary of her liberated mind, not the confined life she led assisting her grandfather in his antiques shop. Her writing allowed her to escape this world whenever she felt the need. It only took a few passages from the histories of China to lay the foundations to an oriental adventure. Some pictures of ancient India would send her characters on a spiritual journey.
She sometimes gave her grandfather brief glimpses into this magical land but only through carefully selected windows. He liked to live in the past, surrounded by all the antiques in his shop, but his past was a tangible one. Hers, on the other hand, was not. He marvelled at history for what it was and she felt that perhaps she was betraying his idea of the past by casting it into her own moulds.
At 5.30 she rose from her comfortable position and locked the front door. The day was still alive as people returned home from work and many glanced at the window display as they passed but few ever came in to look and even fewer bought what was on offer. Enough money was made to buy food and clothes and keep the shop running but that was all. Six years ago when Anna, Lori's sister, had her baby, they travelled west to Devon to visit her. She remembered that well since it was the first and last time she had ever been out of London.
Lori retrieved her writing books from her bedroom and returned to the chair that still held the soft imprint of her body. She sat down in the evening's warmth and gave the large globe a gentle spin, letting it settle before curling her legs up beneath her and commencing a new chapter in her latest adventure. Time passed swiftly as her hand formed the words that brought her world to life. Painters created works of art that touched senses and evoked emotions. Her art was only different in that it was too complex to capture in a single image. Her work was a symphony of words containing a harmony that the greatest composers would have envied.
Although he saw little of her work, her grandfather encouraged her creativity. He knew that it eased the boredom that the shop must bring to the spirited girl and he felt frustrated that he had no more to offer her. His only other granddaughter had married the eldest son of a farmer. They moved to Devon so he saw little of her now, but Lori remained here. Part of him wished that she also married but another part knew that there would be nothing left in his life if she left except for the shop and it didn't smile at him each morning as they prepared to open.
The shop had been inherited from his father and had been in their family for several generations but it didn't always sell antiques. It started off as a gentleman's clothes shop. However, his grandfather had no interest in clothes and nearly went bankrupt before a relative died and he inherited an early eighteenth century mansion on the outskirts of London. It soon emerged that the relative had huge debts and it took the proceeds of the sale of the mansion to pay these off. He kept most of the furniture and other artefacts and it wasn't long before London had a new antiques dealer.
The old books had also come from the mansion but they had never been put on sale. Nobody was sure how long they had been in the family as only a few recent ones had a recorded date and the owner of the mansion was a reclusive individual who had little contact with other family members. It was obvious that they were old; some were printed but most were hand-written by unknown authors. The majority were written in English or Old English but a few were in Latin, Greek, French, even Arabic.
Loriís grandfather wouldnít allow any of the books to be removed from the shop, let alone be kept by the university who tried on many occasions to convince him otherwise. They first asked him to donate them to the university library and later offered him money but he refused to part with them for any reason.
"They have been in my family for as long as our recorded history goes and I wonít be the one to let them disappear into the vaults of some university library," heíd told them once and they hadnít asked since.
Over the years Lori had looked through all of them. She took an interest in the historical accounts of Asia, Europe and Egypt. Ancient Greece was her favourite setting for her stories. It had an unparalleled history that begged to be explored, and explore it she did. As a child, her characters were kings and queens or other members of a royal family that bore little resemblance to those who lived at Buckingham Palace. Her grandfather's stories of King Arthur and Camelot had given her a different perception of what royalty should stand for. Instead of the symbolic titles held by the British monarchy, her characters were leaders of great countries that fought for justice and the safety of their kingdom and subjects.
Later, as she grew tired of these characters, she wrote of a solitary hero who fought alone. She liked the idea of a single character affecting the balance of power in a fragile society. She wanted to believe that a single person could have that power and that it could be used for either good or evil. Her character was good, of course, but the potential for evil was always there and threatened to surface when the fight was hard.
The inner turmoil of her hero did not reflect her own but perhaps the solitude did. As the daughter of a failed artist and a small-time stage actress, her life had been less than eventful. Long hours were spent alone with her books or in the company of her grandfather listening to his stories. Her parents encouraged her creativity but took little interest in it. Nobody ever read her writings and it never occurred to her that there was anything strange in them until she was confronted by her father one day, wanting to know why her hero, who wielded weapons and fought forces of evil, was a woman!
"Another story?" Lori's heart skipped a beat as her grandfather's voice broke the silence. She hadn't heard him come in and he now stood looking over the back of the chair. "Don't panic, it's only me," he chuckled with a reassuring pat on the head as he walked around the chair to face her. "You really do get engrossed in those stories you write, young lady."
Lori smiled back at the weary face of the old man. "So, did you get anything at the auction?"
"Just this," he said and turned around the three by six foot painting he was holding. The picture depicted a foxhunt, the frightened fox hidden within the hedgerow in the foreground, followed by the hounds and horsemen in the background. He could see Lori's face muscles tighten and knew that her love for everything living would hardly enhance her appreciation for this painting.
"It's all I could afford," he said, trying to sound apologetic. "There was an American buyer who took a liking to most of the items and he had a wallet as big as his waistline. The frame is probably worth more than the painting anyway."
"Oh, no, it's...very nice. I'm sure it'll fetch a good price." Lori realised that his day hadn't gone too well and her reaction to his only purchase would do little for his morale. Business hadn't been good recently and he did his best to provide for both of them. She rose and hugged him warmly. "I'll get us something to eat," she said and gathered up her books, leaving him alone on the floor of the quiet shop to hang his painting.
Journal of Dr Jack Williams
August 8th 1922
We have arrived safe and well after a non-eventful journey. Melissa spoke little on the train. She would be working on the manuscript when I would go to sleep and I would find her working on it in the morning when I would wake. I began to suspect whether she slept at all but decided not to disturb her as she appeared to be making good progress.
The long journey has left my mind a little clouded so I have decided to spend the remainder of the day resting in my room. I will visit the library early tomorrow to begin the search for information on this mysterious geometry system.
The hotel is basic but comfortable. My room is next to Melissa's, a thin wooden wall dividing what must have been a single room at one time. There is no view from my second floor window and what light is allowed through does little to brighten the atmosphere.
The anticipation of tomorrow's findings has left me without an appetite but I will try to eat something before I retire this evening. Melissa continues the decryption alone in her room. Her obsession concerns me somewhat but I imagine it is no more than my obsession with translating this strange text, which has been the only thing in my life since its discovery ten years ago.
"Matthew, how do you work in this mess?" Kay waited patiently as the young assistant fumbled through the reference cards that lay scattered on his desk. His clothes were untidy and his hair hadn't been combed but this is how he's always appeared since she first met him.
Kay stood nearly six feet tall and her piercing blue eyes were contrasted by dark skin and jet black hair that fell down her back. The shadows emphasised her prominent cheekbones and her muscular but feminine stature gave her an ominous appearance.
"Come on Kay, you know I can find things in this library faster than anyone can." He had known the tall woman for a couple of years and her domineering presence didn't intimidate him like it used to. He also knew she could have a short temper if caught in the wrong mood so he didnít waste any time finding the books she was looking for.
"Actually, I think you're the only one who can find anything in this library since you reorganised the reference cards into a pile!" she said with a hint of sarcasm. "You know, Professor Rutherford thinks you've done this deliberately so that they can't replace you."
Matthew just grinned as he rose from the desk, waving a couple of cards in front of him. "Besides," she continued, indicating towards some brown apple cores and several cups of tea at various stages of growth, "I think people are afraid of catching something down here. This is beginning to look more like a lab in the biology department."
They were in the basement library of the University of London. It was dimly lit by electric lamps and street level windows that penetrated the thick stone walls at ceiling height. Giant pillars extended from floor to ceiling at intervals that seemed too infrequent for the mass that they must be supporting. The books held there were for the exclusive use of staff. Over the last few years, Kay had divided a lot of her time between this dungeon, as Matthew called it, and at the British Museum Library. It was a change from the lifestyle she used to lead but now she wished she had discovered it sooner.
"Shelf 1A-72, it should be around here somewhere." Matthew found the final book on Kay's list and handed it to her. "So, what are you researching now? Still digging around for Egyptian tombs?"
He became aware of a sudden change in Kay's expression. "No, I've finished with that work for now." She took a breath of stale air. "This is more of Jack's research."
"Oh. So, what part of the world is Dr Williams gracing with his presence this time?"
Kay gave him a wry look. "Rome, actually. And don't be so sarcastic about his overseas research. I'll be heading out there to join him if I can find any information on the author of the manuscript. His name just turned up recently and we need to know about his background."
"Hmm, sounds interesting. Is it anyone I heard of?"
"I don't think so," Kay chuckled. "He's been dead for about ten thousand years."
"Oh, right, well maybe Professor Rutherford knew him then."
Kay couldn't help laughing out loud. The sound echoed through the library and almost brought a brightness back to gloomy ranks of old books that had seen their last ray of sunshine many years ago. She always enjoyed Matthew's nonsensical conversation. It was refreshing to listen to after long hours spent in the company of historians and antiquarians discussing ancient lore and myth.
Then there was Professor Rutherford, the dean of the history department where Kay worked. He was aptly positioned because nobody knew how old he was. In fact, Kay knew of nobody who had worked in the university longer than he did. She was introduced to him by her father when she was still a child and she remembered him being just as old back then. They were close now and she had learned a lot from him in her time with the university.
"I'll bring these back when I'm done," Kay said as she turned towards the door.
"Oh, come on, you know I can't let you take the books out of here," Matthew began to protest. "That's what the reading rooms are for."
"Matthew, you might be able to survive in this dimly lit dungeon, surrounded by fifteen foot stone walls and rows of books older than time itself, but I prefer the comfort of my office."
"That's ok. I have to try to stop you or I could lose my job. Have a nice day." He jokingly waved and tossed the cards back on the pile without looking where they fell.
Kay shook her head, still smiling, and left him to do whatever it was he did down there all day. She had decided long ago that only someone with his sense of humour could remain sane in a job like that. She was quite happy with her position, even if it did mean putting up with people like Robert Cannon.
She returned to the history department that was housed in the east wing of the university. She passed through the British history section, with its wall mounted displays of coins and pottery from Saxon settlements, and climbed the stairs to the second floor European history section and through to the third floor world history division. She half expected the university to build a fourth floor when people started exploring outer space like Professor Butler from the Physics department had claimed before he was laughed off stage at their annual charity lectures.
Her office overlooked the green lawns of the campus and the hazy August midday sun warmed her room while the breeze that blew through the open window kept it fresh. Unlike most of the other professors in the department, her office wasn't overflowing with old artefacts that had been collected and stored over the years. Her choice of decor was simple. The large oak table that dominated the centre of the room was uncluttered and the cabinets and bookshelves that lined the walls were neatly stacked. Her leather chair faced the door from behind the table and the south-facing window flooded the room with light. It was a medium sized office that was adequate for the time she spent there.
It was near 3pm when she slammed closed the cover of the last book. She sat back in her chair and looked at the empty pages that she had expected to fill with notes that afternoon. There were no references to the mysterious Greek author. He was either unknown in his time or Jack had translated the manuscript wrong. It was difficult to accept that the author of such a complex piece of writing was unknown. However, no reference to the manuscript was ever found in Jack's years of investigation so perhaps it wasn't inconceivable that no references could be found of the author either.
She considered the possibility that the Greeks had tried to erase all evidence of the manuscript and its author from history. The Egyptians had attempted a similar feat with some of their Kings but on such a grand scale they were less than successful. Perhaps the Greeks had the advantage of a lesser-known personality. No, she thought, I can't use that as an excuse to stop searching. There must be more sources of information.
She stood and walked to the window. Leaning on the sill she stared out over the deserted campus where the summer flowers were beginning to fade and remembered how she used to play among them. Her father would sit on the same bench every afternoon with his books and notepaper while she made daisy chains to hang round his neck. He'd find amusement in the mud and grass stains that adorned her dress each evening as they prepared to leave and she would get to sit beside the driver as the carriage brought them to their house on Kensington Road overlooking Hyde Park. Lost times, she thought and took a deep breath of the cool air before leaving the books on the table and walking down the hall to Professor Rutherford's office.
She knocked on the door and waited for the customary "enter" that was his usual response. Her presence always brought a smile to the old man's face, no matter how many times she visited him. "Kay, come on in. Take a seat." He sat back in his big chair and returned the pipe to his mouth. If he didn't move he could be mistaken for part of the furniture. The walls of his office were a testimony to his age and his old brown suite blended in with his surroundings. There were books and artefacts from every corner of the world, some collected during his extensive travels and many expeditions and others received as gifts from archaeologists and historians who had admired his work. "So tell me, how's your research going?"
Kay took a seat opposite the old man. "Not too well at the moment," she sighed. "I've had a somewhat unproductive couple of days. I can't find any material on Jack's so-called author of the manuscript. I've been to the British Museum Library and today I've been through our own records. He's as non-existent as the manuscript as far as history is concerned."
Professor Rutherford smiled. "But you're not going to give up, are you?" he said, pointing the tip of the pipe at her. "You've got too much of your father in you." Despite their age, the old eyes picked up on the tension that suddenly came to her face. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "You still don't like being compared to your father, do you?"
"I'd prefer to move on with what I have left in my life," she said in a low voice. "The more I think about the past the more I want to change it, even if I know nothing can be undone. You knew my father better than anyone here so I believe you when you tell me that I've inherited some of his traits, and I appreciate that. I just don't want to dwell on it at the moment if that's alright with you."
The old man nodded. "A time will come when you will find comfort in those memories. Just don't lose them in the meantime." He sat back in his chair and let the silence linger for a while. "So," he finally said. "What did you come to see me about if not to dig up old memories?"
Kay relaxed again, thankful for the change in topic. "I was wondering if you had any ideas where I could continue my research on the elusive Greek author."
The professor thought for a moment. "There is somewhere you could try before we start getting other universities involved. There's a little antiques shop in Whitechapel that has some of the rarest books you'll ever see. Some of them contain histories that date back to the Hyborian age. I've used it myself in the past and although it doesn't look like much, it contains a wealth of information that appears to have been lost somewhere in time."
He got some paper, wrote and address on it from memory and handed it to Kay. The wrinkled hand had only the slightest shake and it was evident from the kind face that acknowledged her smile that despite his age he still had all his wits about him. Whatever his secret was, Kay hoped she found it by the time she reached his age...whatever that was.
"Thanks. I'll check it out tomorrow. I have a few loose ends to tie up this evening."
"Come back and let me know what you find," he said as she left.
"I will," she replied and closed the door behind her.
Journal of Dr Jack Williams
August 9th 1922
I am of low spirit as I write this entry. With little sleep behind me I stood outside the Vatican Apostolic Library for 45 minutes anxiously awaiting its opening at 10am. After a brief reception with the chief librarian I commenced my search for the volumes most likely to contain a reference to this long forgotten geometry that hid the meaning of the manuscript from me for so long.
By midday I had identified all the volumes I wanted to examine and had them moved to the private room that had been kindly provided. After a hastily eaten lunch I returned to the room to find it laid out with a large solid wooden table, a comfortable chair and several bookshelves containing the books I had identified to the clerk.
I started my investigation immediately and found that my impatient craving to find answers allowed me to quickly review each book and determine whether or not it would contain what I needed. By 6pm I had become a little disheartened as I had managed to look at more than half the volumes and I could not find any reference to even the existence of such a geometry.
I pleaded with the chief librarian to allow me a few more hours since they were staying to re-catalogue a section of the library. I didn't want to leave empty handed after such high hopes at the beginning of the day. However, my efforts were fruitless and at 10pm I left the rows of books behind, each one a volume of evidence against my theories.
I saw light coming from beneath Melissa's door and knocked as I passed, but there was no answer. Curiously, I can hear movement from her room from time to time through the thin wall that separates us. I will speak to her in the morning when I am rested.
I have not eaten since lunch and I have no desire to do so now. Ironically, my appetite has left me through despair, not anticipation.
The bell above the door rang, pulling Lori back to reality with a start. She looked up to see a tall woman enter and close the door behind her. She was carrying a leather document holder in one hand and some loose papers in the other. "Iím glad to see youíre still open. I thought Iíd missed you for today."
Lori looked at the old grandfather clock, surprised to see that it was half an hour after closing time. "Oh, well, I donít have much to do these evenings," she replied and put her books to one side. "Are you looking for something in particular or are you just browsing?"
"Actually, I'm not here to buy anything. I was given this address and told you might have some books I'd be interested in." She approached Lori and put her papers down. "Hi, I'm Kay Ridgeway. I'm from the University." She held out a hand and Lori took it.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Loraine Winters." She looked up into the face of the taller woman who stood several inches above the blond and found herself caught by sea blue eyes.
"Is this your shop?" Kay asked, breaking the connection with the jade green that had locked with hers and cast a look over the surrounding furniture.
"No, it's my grandfathers. I'm just the shop assistant."
"Oh, alright." Kay wasn't known for her small talk and usually got straight to the point when she wanted something. "Well, if I could just have a quick look at your books I'll know if they'll be of any use to me. If so, I'll come back at a more convenient time."
"Sure, they're back here." Lori led Kay to the back of the shop where a desk had been placed beside the shelves for the use of those who came to study the books.
Kay wasnít the first person to inquire about the old volumes. There were quite a few visitors from the university who referenced her grandfatherís books. "They are one of a kind," an old professor told her once. "Most of these books I havenít been able to find anywhere else in the world, and Iíve travelled quite a bit." He showed her one and made some reference to eastern European cults but she didnít really understand at the time. Later she realised that it was an original hand-written book by an author she didnít recognise. It was written in multiple languages with symbols and illustrations that looked like the drawings of a madman.
"I'll leave you to it then," Lori said as the other woman turned her attention to the books. "Let me know if you need any assistance." It was only after she said it that she realised how that must sound to someone who works in a university. I'll give you assistance...yea, right!
The dark haired woman turned her head and the edge of her lips slowly rose into a smile. "Sure, thanks."
Lori had looked through all the books at one time or another but only the histories really interested her. She couldn't make much sense of the rest and didn't spend much time trying. Their gruesome illustrations and morbid text had given her nightmares when she was younger and her grandfather had banished the culprits to the top shelf. "You're old enough to read them when you're tall enough to reach them," he told her but she never regained the desire to read or understand their secrets.
Lori locked the front door and returned to her favourite chair on the shop floor. The day had only brought casual browsers and all the furniture remained where it had stood since it first arrived. Her grandfather had left that morning for another auction, this time at the former home of a disgraced judge whose estate and possessions were being auctioned off to repay his huge gambling debts while he awaited trial. It was an unusual, perhaps disturbing, feeling to look at something being sold in the shop and knowing that it once belonged to someone who now sat in a prison cell. Still, she thought, He has already had his high life. I wonder if we will ever have ours?
The blond woman watched Kay as she quickly worked her way through some of the books. She was well dressed and obviously intelligent, Lori thought, a formidable figure with a distinctive air of authority. I wonder what she does at the university. What position does she hold? Does she teach? What's her area of study? What's she looking for now?
What? Lori suddenly realised that she was staring directly at the tall woman who was staring back in amusement. "Huh?" she managed.
"Do you have a book on Constantinople?" She turned to point to the third shelf from the top. "Most of the major cities are here apart from Constantinople and I thought you may have a book on it since it played such an important role in history."
"Oh, sorry, Iíve got it here," she replied as she paced quickly to the desk with the book in hand.
Kay laughed gently. "Itís your book, no need to apologise." She smiled. "Are you finished with it?"
"Yes, Iíve been looking through it for a few hours now. A fascinating city." She handed the book over the desk to the taller woman and retreated a few steps, feeling a little embarrassed. "It has quite a history."
"Yes, it does. I just hope that Zoras Zakythinos had enough of a history to make an appearance in it."
"The person who wrote the manuscript? Yes, he's in there somewhere."
Kay's head snapped up and her eyes struck Lori with a force that caused the young woman to step back a pace. If they could have reached into her and drawn forth what they desired, they would have. Lori wasn't sure they hadn't. What have I said?
Kay's mind rushed. Where do I start? Was this the key to what she and Jack had been working on all this time? A wealth of information at their disposal from the endless volumes held in the world's libraries to the correlated knowledge held in the minds of the worlds leading historians. Years of research that brought them to the far corners of the world and here the answer lay, at the back of a little antiques shop in Whitechapel. She would have laughed at the irony if the setting had been appropriate and perhaps when the project was over she will look back on this discovery with amusement but, for now, the mix of emotions only allowed, "What did you say?"
"Um..." Lori wasn't sure how to react. Was this anger or surprise? Perhaps a little of both.
Kay saw the confusion in the green eyes that looked upon her apprehensively. She knew she could evoke those emotions when necessary but this was purely accident. She held back her anxiety and forced a smile to try to relax the other woman. "Sorry, let me start again." She sat back in the chair. "You said you know about a manuscript written by Zoras Zakythinos?"
Lori released her breath. "Yes, he was a Greek scholar who lived around the middle of the eighth century. His only credited work is a manuscript he wrote just before his death. It was held at the Imperial Library in Constantinople until it disappeared in 1453 when the city fell to the Ottoman Empire. He wrote it in a language that nobody could read so it wasn't seen as a great loss. However, it was noted as being the only item stolen from the library by the invading force, which was strange since they were more interested in the valuable treasures the city had to offer." Kay was sitting back in her chair, arms folded. Lori had relaxed a little and had approached the table again. She felt like a student, reciting her homework for the teacher's approval. A sense of excitement trickled through her. She never had to recount any of the information in those books before and here she was, standing in front of an academic, able to recall the information with an accuracy that surprised even her.
Kay just listened. She knew she should be taking notes but after waiting for so long she just wanted to let the information wash over her. Was this young woman a student at the university? What qualifications did she have? Wait a minute. Just how accurate is this information? "Can you show me where you got this material from?"
"Sure." Lori walked around the table to stand beside the other woman and quickly found the few paragraphs where the author's name was mentioned. As Kay read, Lori pulled another two books from the shelves. "This one notes the disappearance in 1453," she said, placing the thick book on the table, the title indicating a detailed account of the fall of Constantinople, "And this one makes a brief reference to the strange language used to write the manuscript." She placed another heavy book on top of the first. "It's some sort of code that only those with the key can read."
The book had a symbol on the front and with a skipped heartbeat Kay immediately recognised its occult origins. There was a phrase underneath written using the Arabic alphabet but in a dialect that was no longer used. They drew images of an all too vivid past from a hidden corner of Kay's mind and it took considerable mental effort to lift the cover. On opening the book she realised that it had been entirely hand-written and illustrated. A quick perusal revealed various languages including Arabic, Latin, Greek, French and Italian, all written by the same hand. The author was obviously well educated, she thought.
Another page turned and a paragraph of text was revealed that was written in an alphabet unknown to Lori. However, Kay recognised it and the understanding she wished she didn't have made her feel nauseous.
"Can you read that?" Lori's voice broke her line of disturbed thought and she looked up at the young woman.
"No," she lied and turned the page.
A shuffling came from the back of the shop as the back door opened and closed and Lori's grandfather made his way through the storeroom to the shop floor. He stopped, seeing the two women at the table looking at him.
"Hi, grandad." Lori straightened herself. "This is Kay Ridgeway. She's come over from the university to do a little research. Kay, this is my grandad Harvey Winters."
Harvey walked up to the desk, a smile adding to the creases in his aged face. "Pleased to meet you," he said, reaching for her hand and shaking it warmly. "We haven't had a visit from anyone at the university in a while."
"I'm not surprised," she returned, "I don't think too many of us know these books exist. Where did they come from, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Oh, they've been in my family for generations," he said as he turned to walk through the shop. "Nobody seems to know where they came from but our best guess is that they were collected by an ancestor who lived around 1700. Nobody knew what he done abroad, or where he got his money. In fact, nobody really knew anything about him at all. He would disappear for months and return with artefacts that he claimed had come from the remotest regions of Europe and Asia. The books were among the many things he brought home. Some seem to have been written around that time but others seem to be much older."
"I know what you mean," Kay replied, looking down at the book that lay in front of her. "Well, you're closed. I should be going. I'll call back tomorrow if..."
"Oh, don't worry," Lori interrupted. "We don't mind, do we grandad?"
"No, work away, work away." He waved a hand absently.
Lori looked at Kay for her response and immediately realised that if it wasn't for courtesy she probably couldn't pull Kay away from the books if she tried.
"So, did you get anything at the auction?" Lori asked her grandad, moving to help him take the jacket off his shoulders.
"No, I...err...didn't see anything I liked."
Lori knew he probably meant that he didn't see anything he could afford but wouldn't admit this in the presence of a guest. "Oh, well," she comforted him. "We have enough here to be selling in the meantime. I'll get us something to eat." She turned to Kay. "Just call if you need anything."
"I will. Thanks." Kay watch the two disappear through the door at the back of the shop and climb the stairs that ascended to the living quarters. She paused a moment to scan the shop and ponder the sort of life the young woman led in a place like this. Did her daily routine consist of waiting around for customers to enter the shop? That seemed a little tedious for someone of her intelligence and, evidently, she was very intelligent. Attractive also, she admitted. Why wasn't she married? Her fingers weren't even decorated with an engagement ring. Did she live her with her grandfather? Where were her parents?
She stopped in mid thought. What was she thinking? Why did she find this young woman so intriguing? It wasn't like her to take an interest so quickly in someone she just met. Perhaps it was an intellectual interest, being the holder of information that was seemingly lost to the academic world. Perhaps it was the way she was able to recount the scattered information on the manuscript so accurately.
Although she only saw a brief display of her academic abilities, she suspected that Lori had the potential for an exciting and prosperous academic career but was obviously from the wrong social class. She could easily outperform many of the students who would prefer to discuss their family wealth than the influence of the Roman Empire on Europe. However, there was no time to reflect on that now. She returned her attention to the books and the pages that had remained stubbornly empty the previous day began to fill with notes that weren't restricted by language or alphabet.
Currents of culinary aromas drifted down the stairs and teased Kay's senses as she tried to concentrate on the foreign passages. She hadn't eaten since midday and found her concentration drifting to what she would have the maid prepare when she returned home. There were only a few more pages left and she'd leave with more solid data than anyone had been able to gather in the last couple of years. Just then, the back door opened and Lori entered with a tray of food.
"I thought you might be hungry," she said bringing the tray over and placing it on a free space on the table. "It doesn't matter if you're not. Sasha will be happy to eat it for you."
"No, that's fine. Thank you. I just didn't expect....who's Sasha?"
Lori smiled. "She's my dog." The plates were set on the table, containing potatoes, cabbage and pork covered in rich gravy. A glass of water was placed beside it and Lori pulled up a chair to sit next to the taller woman. "We used to let her into the shop but she tended to get too friendly with the customers so she lives upstairs now, usually in my room. She keeps me company while I'm writing."
"Oh, you write?" Kay asked with genuine interest.
A delicate redness surfaced on Lori's cheeks. "Yes...I guess you could call it that. This isn't exactly Oxford Street so it's just something I do to keep my mind occupied while waiting for customers. I've been writing since I was a little girl. It's something I've always found comfort in."
"Are you a published author?"
"Gosh no! I'm not that good. It just passes the time, that's all."
"You're probably better than you think," Kay said sincerely. "You must let me see some of your work sometime." She paused, realising what she was saying. She'd only been in the company of the young woman for a couple of hours and already she was planning ahead. A slip of the tongue, Kay assured herself. She probably wouldn't see Lori again after she left the shop.
"Oh," Lori shied away a little, "I don't usually let people see my work. It's kind of...personal."
A hint of disappointment fluttered in Kay's chest. "That's alright. I wouldn't want to impose. However, the best stories are those that are closest to an author's heart."
Is she genuinely interested in reading my stories? Something in Lori wanted to run upstairs and return with some of her best pieces for Kay to read. No, I couldn't. "So, did you find what you were looking for?" Lori nodded in the direction of the notes that were neatly piled beside the old books.
It took a second for Kay to pick up on the change of direction. "Well, it's the most substantial information I have ever found on the subject. I've recently started working with a Dr Jack Williams on his project. He'd spent years coming up with leads and connections that ultimately led him nowhere. This is the first time we've found hard evidence that the manuscript is more than just a figment of history's imagination."
"You mean you've actually found the manuscript?"
"Well, we've found a manuscript. An American bookseller, Wilfred Voynich, discovered the manuscript in an old Italian castle in 1912. He donated it to the academic world shortly after and it became known as the Voynich Manuscript. It quickly made the rounds of the top universities in the US but nobody was interested in attempting a translation. It eventually made it's way to England and the University of London where it ended up on Jack's desk. From that day he's dedicated almost every waking hour to deciphering it."
"You think it's the same manuscript?"
"Well, the name Zoras Zakythinos came out of the translation only last week. Until then we had no idea where the manuscript came from or who wrote it. It was a complete mystery that some critics claimed was a sick joke played on the academic community. It hurt Jack at first to hear them try to discredit his work but after a while it just made him more determined to prove them wrong."
"So, Jack's going to be happy when you bring him the news tomorrow."
"Actually, he's in Rome at the moment. The first trip abroad that was commissioned by the university was to Italy in 1914. He hoped that there might be some clues there since thatís where the manuscript was discovered. He spent a month searching through every library and museum he could find but came back empty-handed. To be honest, he didn't really know what he was looking for. He knew little about the manuscript back then and on hindsight, it was unlikely he'd find anything with what information he had."
Kay began to feel very comfortable telling Lori about her work. She wasn't sure why but it was the least she could do after the discoveries that had been made in her little shop. They'd already finished eating and they were now facing each other in the fading evening light. Something deep with her that she had no control over was drawing her close to the blond woman and she wondered if the other felt it also.
"You see, the manuscript is enciphered using an old medieval technique. It's crude but very effective and anyone without the key is unable to read it without breaking the code. What made it even more difficult to crack was that nobody knew what language the original text was written in. Two years ago a mathematics student, Melissa Parker, found a method of decrypting the text without the key. It was a complex procedure that Jack didn't really understand. Mathematics wasn't his field; he's an anthropologist and historian. However, he didn't really care how it was done as long as it worked and as the first lines of decrypted text started to appear he held the biggest party the university had seen in years. He knew it wasn't his own work but he thought that the manuscript's secrets would finally be given up.
"However, what emerged from the manuscript was another enigma. It wasn't a diary or a religious text as he had hoped, or a recipe for fudge cakes as the critics had joked. The language turned out to be an old Arabic dialect but only a small portion of the manuscript actually consisted of words. The remainder was yet another puzzle and Jack went into a state of depression for a number of weeks. He thought his goal had been achieved when, in fact, he had only managed to open the lid of the box of tricks."
Lori was now engrossed in the other woman's story. Her tanned skin and dark hair were engulfed in shadow and half-light. From time to time her blue eyes would catch the remainder of the sun's offerings and pierce the twilight as if illuminated by some inner fire.
"I can understand his misery," Lori said.
"Eventually, he regained his composure and with a new mission at hand he started over again. There were only small portions of the decrypted text available in the beginning. The decryption was a slow process and Melissa's other studies had to take precedence over that task. Besides, Jack had enough to work with and he didn't really know what to do with it. After a few months of investigation he decided that it was some form of ancient geometry system. Whatever the text was describing was in the form of pictures, not words. The few phrases that emerged from the manuscript became as much of a mystery as the rest. Some of the words could be translated but the majority appeared to be gibberish. The best he could do was make a phonetic translation and build up a new vocabulary of the strange words that had no apparent meaning.
"These words became the basis of all the criticism that was laid upon his research. He was accused of making a mockery of the field in which he worked and, once a respected member of many historian societies, found himself being abandoned by his peers and colleagues. They joked about how he'd make up a word if he couldn't find one in the English language that suited his needs.
"About six months ago I joined him in his investigations. I had little knowledge of mathematics but I thought that maybe my field of study, which covers archaeology, anthropology and foreign language, could bring some fresh ideas to his research. He was grateful for my help, if a little surprised because of the reputation it would undoubtedly bring to me. Progression was slow and I began to admire his perseverance.
"Then, last month, he decided that he had enough of the translated text to take another trip to Rome in the hope of finding something that would help him make sense of this geometry. He had already tried to obtain the assistance of the most renowned mathematicians but his reputation had closed many avenues to him. Last week his trip was approved, despite the many objections from the critics within the department. Shortly before he left he found a name among the decrypted text that Melissa had been supplying in ever-increasing volumes. He suspected the name was that of the author and I've been left with the task of discovering what I can of his background. He set off with Melissa on the 6th and I suspect he's sitting in some library at this moment, head buried in some dust-covered volume that has seen less sunlight in the last century that the tomb of King Tut."
They sat in silence for a moment. The sun had gone and the ominous wooden forms that danced by candlelight on the shop floor appeared to be as captivated by Kay's story as Lori had been. "Wow, a real life adventure," she said eventually.
Kay laughed. "I wouldn't exactly call it an adventure. This sort of work is pretty boring most of the time. When you're not sitting in a library or a museum looking through old books and artefacts, you're sitting in a room talking about history with people who could put you to sleep with their voices alone."
"Oh, come on," Lori protested. "Those are all the elements of an adventure. There's the hero, Jack, with a quest to discover the mysteries of the manuscript. You and Melissa are his allies while his critics are his oppressors. Despite what many call a hopeless cause, he battles on against the odds. He travels to far off lands in search of the elusive key. There's the glory of a great discovery and the agony of its shortcomings. Now you've probably found the last piece of the puzzle and you can all walk the remainder of the path together." Lori sat back in her chair and folded her arms. "You should probably write a book about it," she said only half jokingly.
Kay was amused at Lori's colourful perception of what she would consider a fairly mundane research project. "Maybe you should write a book about it. You're the one with the romanticised view on the whole thing."
Lori smiled. "Well, you'd see the adventure in it too if you spent all your time in a place like this." They looked around to where the sentinels of the shop floor stood in formation around the giant globe and the placid picture held them for a moment. It was rare for Kay to find tranquillity like this and she welcomed it unconditionally.
"Besides," Lori continued after a pause, "I've just about exhausted these old books for characters and story ideas."
"Can't you get more from the library?"
"No, not me. I think my great grandfather had a social status that permitted library use but our family lost that a long time ago. I've grown up with these books so they're all I know."
Kay felt for the other woman, something she hadn't experienced in a long time. Her daily routine usually included a trip to the library and she forgot about the line drawn through society. Sometimes it was more than a line, it was a trench. Those who stood on one side were given free passage throughout the city while simple amenities like a library were out of reach to those trapped on the other side. She wanted to do something for the writer whose work she vowed she would read some day.
"Well, there are more books at the university than you could read in a lifetime and I'll make sure you get access to them...if you're interested." The brightness that came to Lori's face and the sparkle in those green eyes were all the reward Kay needed. Their radiance threatened to outshine the candlelight that formed the circle within which the two women sat. "In fact," she continued, now content that Lori would embrace the opportunity, "I can pick you up tomorrow morning if you're not required to assist in the shop."
"Oh, I'm not. I have a few errands to run in the afternoon but my whole morning is free. Tomorrow morning would be great!" Lori tried hard not to look like a child on Christmas Eve, but wasn't very successful in Kay's eyes.
"Well Loraine, it's getting late so I should be going." Kay stood and gathered her papers. "Thank you so much for the food...and your company."
"It was my pleasure. Thank you for telling me about your work." As she looked at Kay, a realisation crossed her mind. How could she feel so comfortable with someone so quickly? "Just call me Lori."
"Alright, Lori. I'll see you tomorrow morning then."
Lori walked her to the front door and unlocked it. "Good night."
"Good night." The tall dark figure left the shop and the silence returned. Lori blew out the candle wandered through the familiar furniture for a few minutes contemplating what had passed. Moonlight flooded through the large windows and the old polished characters took on the familiar features that Lori knew so well. She passed the giant globe that held centre stage and wondered if these walls were the limits of her world. Was she happy in this un-scripted production that had ran every day since she had left home? Who was this new character and what influence would she have on her life? She closed her eyes and Kay's face appeared in the darkness, penetrating blue eyes highlighting the soft angles of her face. We will see.
She turned to the silent audience that watched from the shelves at the back, took a bow and made her exit.
Journal of Dr Jack Williams
August 10th 1922
Today I awoke to find that a new set of decrypted text had been pushed under my door during the night. The rate at which Melissa is decrypting the manuscript is increasing and I suspect her role in this project will soon be complete. Before breakfast I knocked on her door but, again, there was no response. I didn't persist in case she was still sleeping after working late. However, it is strange that I have not seen her since our arrival here 2 days ago.
I realised that the success of this project was in my hands and with renewed conviction I returned to the Vatican Apostolic Library to resume my search. From 10pm I re-examined the rows of ancient volumes in the hope of finding something I overlooked yesterday but by lunchtime I was rewarded with the same feeling of despair I had felt on my long walk home last night. Over a tasteless lunch I spoke with the chief librarian again. My first impression of the worn looking old man was, erroneously, that of a caretaker. However, I soon realised that he was very knowledgeable in many of the areas I was investigating.
After some careful probing, to test the accuracy of his knowledge, I decided to ask him directly about what I was researching. He concluded that I was unlikely to find what I was looking for here and referred me to a retired priest living locally. I was suspicious at first because his mood changed a little when I described the nature of the problem to him (without making any reference to the actual manuscript) but, without any other leads, I decided to follow his advice.
I found Fr Antonio a warm and caring old man. He invited me into his house immediately and we had a brief chat about London, a place he visited many years ago. There was little reason in testing his knowledge and so I proceeded directly to the reason I had travelled all the way to Rome. A long silence ensued in which he appeared to ponder whether or not to deny any knowledge of mathematics or geometry. Eventually, on instruction to remain where I was seated, he stood up and exited the room. I spent a nervous few moments alone, wondering how the mention of my research could have silenced the kind-hearted old man and if, perhaps, I should excuse myself and leave. A moment later he returned with several notebooks. Then he told me where they came from.
While training to become a priest in the 1860's, he came across some texts within the Vatican vaults. Some were encrypted with a particular cipher that had been used by both churches and occults dating back to the fourth century that protected their spells and incantations. The cipher only worked on the alphabet of a language so to encrypt their symbols, which played a large role in spell casting, a geometry was invented. This geometry would allow them to describe their symbols in a way that could be encrypted with the cipher and hidden along with the natural language of the spells. The cipher had been lost somewhere in history so all these texts were rendered useless until someone could find a way to decrypt them.
Some of the texts found in the vaults were not encrypted. They were mainly diaries of monks that lived in the fourth and fifth century but for some reason the geometry was being used to describe shapes and symbols. Fr Antonio realised that this was a rare opportunity to see the geometry in its natural form and took an interest in this ancient form of mathematics. The next fifty years of his life would be spent trying to unravel its mysteries.
Throughout those years he had compiled the notes that have now been entrusted to me. In 1920 he decided to spend the remainder of his time on earth solely in the service of God and has been looking for someone to continue his work on the analysis of the geometry. I was quick to accept his offer, perhaps blindly out of thirst for the knowledge contained those books, but what I now possess may be enough to complete the interpretation of the text to which I have devoted ten years of my life. I dare not ponder the fifty years that Fr Antonio may have saved me from.
I have now returned to the comfort of the library to study his notes. I hope to have good news to add to this journal before the day is out.
Fr. Antonio's notes have proved to be the key for the prison doors that have held me for so long. I didn't take any of the decrypted manuscript to the library with me but the endless hours I have spent over the previous two years looking at the text allowed me to recreate some passages from memory. I found that the methods described in the books actually give some meaning to the unintelligible text. I will begin the interpretation of Melissa's text tomorrow as the range of emotions and the disregard for my health since my arrival has finally caught up with me and I feel that any more work tonight would drive me to sickness.
I won't disturb Melissa at this late hour. I'll convey the good news tomorrow over breakfast.
The rows of books appeared to stretch to infinity. Lori had never seen such a volume of information held in a single room before. She took a step forward and then paused. Where do I start? She wanted to dive in and wallow among them but restrained herself when she caught the taller woman's amused look.
Kay smiled inwardly at Lori's enthusiasm. She took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face the desk that stood to the left of the large double doors they had just come through. The scruffy looking man that sat behind it was unshaven and looked like he had only woken up. As Kay walked Lori towards the desk, hands still on her shoulders, she leaned forward and whispered in her ear. "This is Matthew. You might find him a little strange at first but he's fine once you get to know him. Most people think he's built himself a nest somewhere in this dungeon and he lives down here feeding on staff members who get lost in the maze of books...but we don't hold that against him."
Lori turned to see a broad smile on Kay's face. "Matthew, this is Lori Winters, Lori, this is Matthew Walters. He'll help you to find whatever you want in this place." Kay released her and she took a step forward, extending her hand towards the tired looking young man behind the desk.
Matthew stood and shook Lori's hand. "Nice to meet you. Welcome to my library." He shot a glance at Kay, who just rolled her eyes, and then he returned his attention to Lori. "You'll have to excuse my appearance but I fell asleep down here last night while reading this," he held up an old book, "And I've only just come around. Obviously it's very boring therefore I don't recommend it." He slammed it down again.
Lori held back a laugh. She liked him already.
"I'll leave you two to it then," Kay said and started walking towards the door. "Remember Lori, don't get lost," she added without turning.
Mathew's eyes narrowed as they followed her out the door. He turned to Lori. "What's she been telling you about me?"
"Um...nothing." She tried to look innocent.
"Ok then." He sat down again. "So, what are you looking for?"
"I don't know." Lori hadn't really thought about it. "Have you got anything on Ancient Greece?"
He stood and his stomach rumbled. "Pardon me but I haven't had breakfast this morning." Lori looked at him. "Ancient Greece. Right this way."
The young woman couldn't help but keep an eye on him as he led her deep into the corridors of books.
It was midday when Kay returned to the library. She immediately spotted the blond figure sitting in an alcove that had been laid out with tables and chairs for research purposes. She was engrossed in a book that lay open in front of her and she didn't notice Kay approach. "Ancient Greece. Interesting."
Lori turned to see the tall figure looking over her shoulder. "Oh, yes. That's where most of my stories are set. It's great to get some new material I can use." She sat back. "I guess it's time to get back to the shop. I told grandfather I'd be home before two."
"You can give the book to Matthew. He'll put it back where it came from. Unfortunately we're not allowed to remove the books from the library but you're welcome to come back here anytime you want."
A broad smile crossed the younger woman's face. "Thanks, that would be great."
"Just let me know first," Kay added. "Only staff members are supposed to be down here and there's a man called..."
As if summoned by Kay's thoughts, Robert Cannon came barging into the library, pushing both double doors open wide to announce his presence. He held some old books under his arm that Matthew recognised immediately and he turned to Kay who registered the same look of dismay.
Robert Cannon was in his early forties. He'd been working in the history department of the university for a little over nineteen years and he acted like he owned the place. He was next in line for the dean's position and had been for five years since Professor Beckensdale retired. It frustrated him that old Professor Rutherford still held that chair and refused to retire. Without any evidence of senility, there were no grounds to force him out so Robert had to remain where he was until such time as the position became available for whatever reason.
"Kay. Matthew. A word please." He walked up to the desk and let the books fall with a thud that echoed through the great library. Kay joined them as Matthew made an attempt to tidy his surroundings in a hurry. "Recognise these?" Robert asked, pointing at the books that Kay had taken from the library the previous day.
"Yes Robert, they're books." Kay made no attempt to hide her sarcasm. "You may find a few more down here if you look hard enough." She folded her arms and sat sideways on the desk with one hip.
"I see your respect for university policy hasn't changed. Down here is where they're supposed to stay, not in your office. You take too many liberties in this university, Kay Ridgeway, and if you're not careful you'll find yourself stacking books and cataloguing pottery for the rest of your time with us." He swung his attention to the untidy character behind the desk. "You have a responsibility to keep these books in the library. I'm going to have words with Professor Rutherford and if I have my way you'll be looking for a new job by the end of the week."
He turned away from the silent youth, whose face had turned a bright red, and noticed a timid blond figure standing a few feet away watching the exhibition. "I haven't seen you around here before. What department do you work in?"
"Um...I don't work in the university. I just came to take a look at some of your great books."
"Don't work for the university? Where do you work?"
"I work at my grandfather's antiques shop in Whitechapel."
"WHAT?" he choked on the word and took a step towards the young woman. "What on earth do you think you're doing in the staff library of the University of London? We're not a public service. The knowledge held here is for academics and scholars, not people like you." Kay's muscles visibly tensed and Matthew braced himself for what he knew was coming. "Who let you in here?"
"I did." Kay slid off the desk and brought herself within breathing distance of Robert. She stood two inches above him and that was more than enough. "I brought her here to give her the opportunity to learn since that is what this university claims to do. As a senior member of staff I have the right to give access to whomever I please and until that policy changes I'm going to make full use of it." He didn't want to give away any ground but his body involuntarily took a step backward and Kay took another forward. "And as for the books, I'm surprised you still know how to find your way to the library. I haven't seen you produce a single research paper that's worth the ink it was written with in the last five years so don't try to tell me how to do my research."
He turned his back to her and walked a few paces. "Research! You call the twaddle that Jack has been wasting his life on research?"
She grabbed one shoulder and swung him around. "If you have anything to say to me about my research then you say it to my face." Robert found himself lost for words again. "Jack is devoted to his work because he believes that what he is doing will contribute to our knowledge of the world we live in. You, on the other hand, are devoted to your work because of the social status that comes with it."
He considered retaliation, but only for a brief moment.
"So, why don't you go back to your office where you can think about all the social functions you'll be invited to next month and leave us to get on with the real work."
He turned without another word and walked toward the door. "One more thing," Kay called out to him. He paused in mid step but didn't turn. "If you ever enter my office in my absence again, I'll have you answering some very awkward questions about your last trip to the Mediterranean and exactly what research you were doing there." Without a response he left the library.
Kay took a breath and turned to find Lori and Matthew staring at her. She noticed the startled expression on the blond woman's face. "Don't worry, I only get like that around people like Robert." She softened her expression reassuringly. "He needs to be put in his place every so often or he'll end up thinking he runs the entire university."
This wasn't the first time Matthew had seen Kay's temper explode. Lori, however, had never seen a woman stand up for herself, or anyone else, like that before. At least not in real life, she thought. But in my stories...the hero of my stories...she's like...
"Are you alright?" Kay was looking at her now. "You look a little dazed. Come on, I'll bring you home. Let me get my things first." She turned to Matthew. "Sorry about getting you into trouble but don't worry about your job. For any criticism Cannon has, I'll have twice as much praise."
"Thanks Kay, I appreciate that. Besides, like you said, they can't replace me." He picked up a few cards that had fallen on the floor and added them to the pile on the table.
Kay looked at him in amusement. "Every time I come down here that pile of reference cards gets smaller. I dread to think how many un-catalogued books there are in this library now." She turned toward the door. "Come on, time to be going."
"It was nice meeting you," Lori added before she turned to leave also.
"No, it was my pleasure. I'm sure I'll be seeing you again."
They left the library and Kay brought Lori back to the little shop in Whitechapel. Before Lori opened the car door, Kay lifted a book from a pile of her own that she had put in the back seat at the university. It was the book that Lori had been reading in the library.
"But..." she started. Kay interrupted quickly.
"I don't think Robert Cannon will be doing any research on Ancient Greece anytime soon. Besides, anything that annoys him is fine by me." Lori regarded her for a moment. This is definitely a woman to be reckoned with.
Lori thanked her again and Kay returned to the university to attend the meeting she had arranged that morning. She was making a proposal to travel to Rome as there was nothing left to be found here in London. It was arranged for four o'clock but Robert made himself unavailable until near seven. Kay knew it was out of spite but she managed to talk the rest of the attendees into waiting for him. Unfortunately Professor Rutherford had taken the remainder of the week off which left Robert Cannon in charge of the department. She knew it wasn't going to be easy and she was right.
Cannon tried everything to make it impossible for her to get the trip approved. He made her present her current findings, estimate budgets, discuss her goals and how she expected to achieve them. After three hours of listening to Robert's failed attempts to find fault with the proposal the other board members were getting agitated with him. Kay knew this was working in her favour. His last attempt brought him to the department regulations.
"You can't go on an overseas excursion without a research assistant. We expect you to make good use of the time you spend over there at the university's expense and the regulations state that you must have a research assistant with you. Jack brought Melissa, much to my disapproval, but I'm afraid that there are currently no other research assistants available. They are either on holiday or engaged in other projects. So, I'm afraid we can't approve the proposal unless you have any ideas where you'll find someone qualified in your area of research."
All eyes turned to Kay. She just sat back in her chair with a satisfied grin.
Journal of Dr Jack Williams
August 12th 1922
The horror of what I have done with ten years of my life has been shown to me in the darkest of ways. The doors that I thought imprisoned me I now realise were protecting me and I have opened them wide to behold what no man of this world should see.
Yesterday morning I awoke to find the remainder of the Voynich Manuscript decryption at the base of my door. I was elated since I now had all pieces of the puzzle and a map showing me how they fitted together. I dressed and went to Melissa's door. This time I would knock until she answered as I thought that any bad feeling would be alleviated by the news that I now had the ability to interpret what she had spent the last two years decrypting.
I knocked solidly on three occasions but got no response. As I waited, my nostrils were harassed by an unpleasant odour, the source of which I determined to be somewhere behind the door. When I knocked a fourth time, got no response but heard movement from within, my concern got the better of me and I tried the doorknob. I found it to be unlocked and proceeded slowly forward, the unearthly smell causing my stomach to heave.
The curtains were drawn, shielding the hunched form at the desk from the daylight that threatened to disclose its grotesque features. Its head twisted to look at me while both hands continued to write simultaneously on the paper that had been scattered on the desk before it. The hiss of some animal poured from its mouth into the dank room and I stood frozen for a period of time I cannot recollect.
The form I recognised to be that of Melissa's had withered to a skeletal structure, wrapped tight in a pale skin that bore dark blemishes. The tattered clothes that hung on her body were those she wore on our arrival three days previous. Patches of hair had been torn from her scalp and lay on the floor beside her. What remained on her head was tangled and knotted, giving a wild appearance to the eyes that burned with rage at my intrusion into her lair.
I wanted to run but a force (or maybe it was fear) held me fast. Melissa's hands stopped writing and her corpse like body rose from its position at the desk, defying the rules that death should have imposed upon it. She threw herself to the floor and, using all four limbs, approached me like some broken animal that flinched and twisted in pain.
One hand grabbed my leg, then another. Her grip bit deep into my calves with an unnatural strength. I tried to scream but I had forgotten how. Her hands moved up to my thighs and then to my waist as she continued her ascent.
Some merciful instinct from deep within my humanity brought me back to the room and I looked down into the face of insanity as it climbed my rigid body. I didn't know what to do so I punched it. With both fists clenched and an unknown source of power, I hit it once, then twice. I swung at it a third time but it had already fallen. The force caused me to lose my balance and I fell beside it. Its proximity now a stark reality, I scrambled backwards against the wall and screamed. I remembered how and heaved the air out of my lungs in resounding blasts of thunder until I passed out.
My next memory is waking up in a bed in a dark room. With unknown surroundings and the memory of what I knew to be very real, I pulled the covers down and clambered to my feet. With a disregard for my safety I ran with outstretched arms in the hope of finding a solid wall but instead my legs found a chair and I tumbled over it in a heap.
The door opened and the light was switched on. I realised I was in my own bedroom with the chair which had sat at my desk now underneath me. Then I felt the blunt pain in my legs where Melissa's grip had left its mark, complimented with the sharp pain caused by the impact with the chair. The man at the door introduced himself as a doctor and he helped me back into bed. I had slept all day after my ordeal that morning while the doctor had been caring for Melissa next door.
He told me that she had neither eaten nor slept in days, probably since the day she arrived, and the wounds to her scalp appeared to be self-inflicted. The only place he had seen this sort of behaviour before was in an asylum where he had worked for a few years. He told me that decent into insanity at this level usually takes months, maybe weeks but never days. His main objective at the moment was to nurse her back to health. For now, he decided, she was too delicate to move to a hospital so he would keep an eye on her here until she regained some strength.
It was now just after midnight. He left me with my thoughts and returned to Melissa's room. I couldn't sleep and the silence of the night was a blank canvas for my imagination. I could still see her face as I looked down at what clung to my body and nothing I could do would remove that image from my mind. I tried pacing around the room but the pain in my legs would not permit it. I finally decided to get my notes and start the interpretation of the text which lay waiting for me. It served two purposes: firstly, it would take my mind off the events of the morning and secondly, it may provide some answers to Melissa's abrupt plunge into the realms of the insane since the manuscript was the only thing that occupied her mind since we left London.
I looked for answers to ease the suffering of my mind but instead I tortured it with a red-hot poker. Like a child who wants to play with the matches that are kept locked away, so too was I burned by that which was locked away from me. I gazed down upon the symbol that I had drawn and knew that my mind did not have the capacity to understand the horrors it could bring. After a time, which could have been minutes or hours, I noticed that I was rocking back and forth in my chair, and a sharp pain brought the realisation that I had a firm grip of my hair on either side of my temples.
I fear the worst is happening to me. I write this entry in my journal with the grim expectation that it will be my last. My mind is not my own for as I gaze upon my other hand I see it writing words and symbols I do not recognise. I am translating the text that Melissa has decrypted but without the aid of Fr Antonio's notes. I don't know what I will do when it is complete but I know only evil can ensue. I pray that nobody will follow me to this place for my fate will undoubtedly become theirs also.
Lori sat before the writing desk in her room, her head resting on the partially filled pages of the book that lay in front of her. Her consciousness had escaped into her daydream and she slept peacefully in the company and protection of her female warrior hero. The sharp rap of knuckle on glass brought her back to the darkness of the cool night. It took a few seconds for her senses to adjust to the environment and the knock on the front door came again.
"I'll get it, grandfather," she said as she passed his bedroom door. Who'd be calling at this hour, she thought, passing a clock that read eleven. With only the moonlight to guide her, Lori navigated the shop floor and cautiously approached the front door. She sighed with relief, combined with some curiosity, when she recognised the dark figure of Kay silhouetted on the glass.
She opened the door and the assault of the night air brought her sharply awake. "I'm sorry, we're closed, " she said wryly to the figure that stood in front of her, arms folded.
"Damn! And I need a set of seventeenth century bookshelves so badly tonight!" Kay smiled as Lori stepped aside to let her in. "Actually, I was wondering what you were doing for the next couple of weeks?"
Lori looked puzzled. "Just the usual helping around the shop. Why?"
Kay raised an eyebrow with a mischievous expression. "Want to go to Rome?"
The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
- H. P. LOVECRAFT