The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Palace Of Wisdom
Approaching midnight, 18th November 1998
'Let's hide him up by the cave of the ancestors,' advises Daniel, as he and Iain gently hustle Andrew through the door of the hut.
'Good idea,' says Iain, but then he remembers how narrow and windy the cliff path is even in daylight. And using torches would give their position away from the village. 'Perhaps we'd better just hole him up nearby until dawn.'
'OK then,' agrees Daniel, and they start to escort the puzzled Andrew off towards a goatshed that lies just beyond the outskirts of the village.
Greg looks calmly from Perez, with whom he has been talking about Symbolic Masonry in a fairly friendly fashion, but whom he is still guarding. He replies to Charles, 'This man smashed our fellow crash survivor, Mr. Smith, over the head and did him a severe injury. The rest of us are taking turns making sure that he does not do such a thing again.'
Charles looks more annoyed than surprised, but the rest of the villagers, crowded in behind him, mutter in shock. It seems to Greg that violence of the type he has described is not common here.
'Is this true?' one old woman asks Perez, in a cracked voice.
He exchanges a glance with Charles, and says calmly 'Yes, it is. But I had my reasons.'
'Well, you can explain these reasons to George,' says Charles briskly, 'and no doubt he will be able to make sense of the matter, such is his wisdom. This will be a task for tomorrow. For now I will take you to his hut, Mr Perez.' He glares at Greg. 'If that is agreeable to you, Mr Wentworth.'
'I have no objection,' says Greg levelly, lowering his gun. He has just seen Ella dash up and start to worm her way through the crowd.
As Charles leads Perez away, accompanied by an excited gaggle of villagers, Ella says to Greg 'Perhaps we should have released Perez - he might have helped us open the tomb. If he truly wants the betterment of mankind, he might join us against the Ylid.'
'Someone else might be the real villain,' agrees Greg. 'But I think we would be better sticking to our own resources until we know more. You, Daniel, Iain and Andrew should go ahead and try to take the body of Cleitus the Black – or whatever else may actually be in the crypt – from its confines, and prepare to try to spirit it out of the temple.' Ella nods dutifully. 'This might be very dangerous, but at the minimum we need to learn more about it and its properties. It's occurred to me that the contents of the sepulchre might well be responsible for bringing the plane down here, given that Robert was on it – something wanted him here.'
'Something?' asks Ella, hesitantly.
'Or someone,' says Greg. He glances around and leans close towards her. 'It could also be that someone at SITU wanted him here, and arranged for it carefully.'
'It's a possibility we shouldn't discount. We will need to learn who was responsible for booking the flight, assigning agents to the case, and all other matters related to the fact that we were in the right place at the right time.'
Ella catches up with Iain and Daniel before they have ensconced Andrew in his new home. 'Up for a bit of tomb-cracking?'
Iain looks relieved at the chance to be doing something constructive for a change.
Daniel is more worried. 'Can we trust Robert to keep an eye on Loki? Actually, I think Robert should be kept out of the way as well. Perhaps we could stash him in the cave of the ancestors.'
'Not if he didn't want us to, we couldn't,' points out Ella.
'We could tie him up,' suggests Daniel hopefully.
'Anyway, I'm a bit dubious now about whether we should disrupt the ceremony,' says Ella. 'But I think I'm still for it, and high-tailing it out of the valley afterwards. After all we told Andrew we'd help him get Roxana, not let Robert keep her.'
Andrew looks anxiously from face to face. 'If the wedding does not happen, Charles and the priests will be very angry. More than angry.'
'Well, let's see what's in the tomb, anyway,' says Iain. 'It might help us make our minds up.' He shakes his head disparagingly. 'Why is it that we never seem to have a clear-cut path of what to do?'
Greg returns to the communal hut to find it mostly awake, what with the excitement in the village. He goes to sit next to Marie-Claude Duval, who is gazing up into the dull, dark sky.
She moves sideways to allow him to sit. 'So, man with a mission, how is life with you? Are you nearer the end of your journey?' Her tone is light but with a hint of bitterness.
'Maybe a step closer,' says Greg mildly. 'But the fight continues. That's why I went into politics - the violence of which you spoke, and poor conditions, are apt to prevail unless people act to thwart or remedy them.'
'So you think the natural state of man is to be violent, cruel, selfish? That our ancestors did not live in Eden? Or do you believe in the Fall of Man?'
Greg gestures out of the hut doorway. 'This village seemed like an Eden, but even here... I suspect, myself, that we may have come to the point where there is nowhere that will be safe to hide away. That is the vision of my mission, if you like. We must confront the evil and violence in the world, or accept the inevitability of its triumph should we do nothing.' He takes her warm hands in his. 'I would prefer to try, and fail, than to sit idly by and allow disaster to overtake us all - even at my own peril.'
At this stirring speech, said with evident feeling, Marie-Claude's eyes grow bright, and her breath comes fast. 'Pour un tel homme je ferais n'importe quoi!' she exclaims. 'You truly are a man among men, Gregory!'
She turns her face towards Greg, glowing, inviting, and he pauses just for an instant. Should I, or shouldn't I?
'Right then,' says Iain briskly, 'are you up to some heavy work, Andrew? You look like a sturdy sort of guy.'
Andrew looks more than a little nervous, as the three Britons casually profane the holy place of his people. 'I will do as you ask, for you have saved me,' he says quietly.
Don't speak too soon, mate, thinks Daniel to himself as he takes up his position at one corner of the sarcophagus lid, scraping away the snow that lies on it. More snow is falling now.
'Crowbars ready?' asks Iain. He has improvised tools from the parts of the 747's airframe that were available to them. 'OK - now take it gently at first!'
Goddess, smile on me now, prays Ella as she starts to take the strain. She has a very uneasy feeling about this place. The feeling of Alexander, the overwhelming sensation that came over her when she was here the previous night, is not far away. Why are we here, in this valley, now? Can this really all be coincidence? She is not as ready as Greg to suspect SITU - that sounds almost like Nora talking. With a pang, she wonders where the Australian woman is now. They have never been close, or even got on particularly well, but they have been through a lot together, and a dose of Nora's scepticism might be handy just now.
This lid weighs more like lead than granite, thinks Daniel. Next to him, Andrew's muscles are standing out like a bodybuilder's. Must be all this fresh air and healthy exercise he gets.
'Right - now heave!' mutters Iain, his face glowing with exertion as he feels the stone slab start to lift and move.
With a deep grating noise, the lid grinds out of its socket and starts to slide slowly across the cabinet. There is a rush of warm, scented air from within - a smell of cloves and rosemary.
As Daniel and Andrew steady the lid with their backs, Ella stands on tiptoes to peer over the lip of the sarcophagus, the pencil beam of her torch darting down into it.
She catches her breath sharply, and backs away from the tomb.
'What is it?' asks Iain sharply, leaning forward himself. He stumbles back too, blinking hard.
The... thing... inside the sarcophagus is not a body. Not any more, at least. Whatever flesh there may have been must have rotted to dust many centuries previously. Similarly the fabric of the clothes, some of which can just about be made out scattered on the granite tablet underneath the... thing. But it itself is an object of utter marvel, thinks Daniel as he comes round to look. A perfect human form - a tall, slim adult male - a skeleton, enclosed in a tracery of silvery wires, from half an inch thick down to as fine as hairs. The tracery makes up an entire circulatory system - every blood vessel, from aorta down to the smallest capillary - rendered in metal. To Daniel it is faintly reminiscent of a photograph he once saw in a biology textbook at school, illustrating the circulation of blood with red and blue tubes running through a perspex body. Here, though, there is no perspex, just air, and the tubes are lines of the curious silvery metal. The whole assembly seems utterly fragile, as delicate as a house of cards, yet at the same time it is clearly sturdy enough to have stood up all this time, and when Daniel gingerly reaches out to prod it gently, it gives springily and returns to shape when he withdraws his finger.
Andrew is as amazed and intrigued as the others. 'So this is Hiram?' he muses.
'The mortal remains of Cleitus the Black, Robert said,' remembers Daniel. 'Beloved friend and trusted general to his Alexander the Great, let his body remain here even as his soul is with the gods, his family mourn him all around the globe, that which might bring them together remains here with him, that they may remain sundered.'
'Yes, what is that?' asks Iain. 'I was expecting some sort of weapon or something perhaps. Or at least a cloak.' He starts to poke about in the bottom of the tomb, but whatever grave goods there may have been, none have survived the centuries of entombment.
'It goes on to say "have fear of the gods, you who would disturb him, and of the legacy of M,"' says Daniel, tracing the inscription, his finger lingering on the final 'M' - one of those letters which, in capitals, is the same in the Greek as the Latin alphabet.
'Well, we've done the disturbing now, we may as well make the most of it,' says Ella, coming back to the tomb. 'See - the heart is a big knot of this metal. There must be a good kilo of it.' She peers more closely. 'That's strange - look here, you two.' She points out what must be the location of another blood-rich organ, judging by the amount of silver tracery that leads to it, curling around the middle of the heart. 'That's not a real organ - there's nothing there except your lungs and ribs.'
'Well, there was something there in him, if this is an image of his bloodstream,' says Daniel.
'An image - I think this actually is his bloodstream. I reckon the flesh has rotted down from around it.'
'What do you mean - he had silver metal for blood? How could he have pumped it?'
'Well, what do you suggest, then? That Alexander sat down and spun this for his dead friend out of a roll of wire he happened to have with him?'
'Shh!' says Iain, sharply for him. 'This is all there is in here, so this must be what we've come for - OK? Now you get scraping together samples of that dust in the bottom, and you give me a hand with the... body.'
'How does that feel?' The monk looks anxiously at Nora.
She flexes her newly-bandaged wrist experimentally. 'Still aches a bit, but not too bad. Thanks for that!'
There is a small commotion as John Pinkler bursts into the sickbay. The monk tuts as he folds away his things. 'Hey, Rachel, come out here! You'll want to see this!'
Nora follows the excited photographer out into the early light of the temple courtyard, squinting against the sun. A party of temple servants are bearing an object in through the great double gates, its form covered be a blanket.
Pinkler strides forward and pulls back the top of the blanket. It reveals the head of Kawanagi-san, crushed from his fall. His eyes are grey and lifeless.
Nora steps forward warily, bearing in mind what Swahn said about the Ylid agent's potential survivability. She pulls back the blanket and prods the smashed body gently. It is cold, and very, very dead.
Nora stands back, her hands on her hips, as the Senzo Lama bustles towards the sombre procession. 'This is the guy, Your Holiness.' She gestures dismissively towards Kawanagi's body.
'Yes, Brother Priun has told me.' The Senzo Lama looks very grave. 'I am hoping this will not cause unpleasantness with the other Japanese people here in Angkor, or with Dai-Mitsu itself.'
'Unpleasantness? That guy tried to kill the Kongwai Lama!' exclaims Nora.
The Senzo Lama shushes her with both hands. 'I know, I know. But we must say his death was an accident - yes? That the pilot was overcome by fumes, and as the helicopter dived, Kawanagi-san fell from it.'
He looks hopefully at the indignant Nora, who snorts in exasperation. 'Look, mate, it's no skin off my back [except she doesn't say 'back' - ed.] what story you tell the papers. But you'd better make pretty damn sure you're looking after that baby, right? Now here - look -' she brandishes a sheaf of photographic prints at him '- are Kawanagi's henchmen, confederates, whatever you want to call them. Now I don't want a single one of these guys getting anywhere near that baby, do you understand?'
The Senzo Lama is not a big man, but he is bigger than Nora, and accustomed to commanding the loyalty of thousands of Theravada Buddhists the world across. But he is cowed, all the same. 'As you wish,' he replies, wretchedly.
'Look, Robert, it's time for you to make a decision,' says Greg. 'Do you wish to stay here with Roxana, take her away with him, or part from her?'
'Why should it just be up to him?' asks Ella tiredly. 'What about her, doesn't she get a say?'
'That's true,' says Greg. 'Roxana's own ideas about this are something that no one has bothered to explore, and that needs to be remedied as soon as possible.'
'She would want to come away with me,' says Andrew confidently. He is guarding the sack-wrapped form of Cleitus the Black, if that is what it is.
'Well, maybe,' says Ella, 'but maybe not, OK? We need to ask her.'
Daniel is checking on Loki once more. There is still no improvement in the young hacker's condition. You'd better last out until we can get you to a hospital, you little bastard, he thinks to himself. Don't you dare go dying on us now.
'I had another thought,' says Greg. 'If Robert really is the reincarnation of Iskander, someone else might be the reincarnation of Cleitus the Black. At the very least, we should be careful to avoid having Robert come in contact with the body. As far as I can tell from the face, it doesn't especially resemble anyone in the village, not the way Robert seems to resemble the earlier Iskander incarnation -it's a lot taller than any of the locals, of course.' He does not add his further thought, which is that if the wedding or something else reawakens memories in Robert, the team really need to get the information that he has - in which case the possibility that Robert might want to remain here is secondary to the importance of getting him to SITU for a thorough debriefing, or at least of having him tell them what he knows in exhaustive detail.
'OK, what have we got so far in the way of a plan?' asks Iain. he counts on his fingers. 'One - let's assume for now that we're taking Robert, Roxana and Andrew all with us. If we decide to leave any of them behind, that'll make it easier. But if we're taking any of them then we'll have to be out before the wedding, which is at noon, right? We've got this body to bring, and we'll have to bring Loki as well. The others can wait to be rescued by the Chinese, I suppose, although it's not ideal. What I don't want is to get into a fight on a flimsy bridge surrounded by people with big choppers!'
'We must be very careful lest someone from the village sabotage the bridge,' says Greg. 'We may need a confederate from the village to guard the near side of the bridge while we cross, if that is how we are to get out of this place – and so far, that seems to be the main chance, or maybe the only one.'
'A confederate? I guess one of the other passengers would do. What about Sarah, or Marie-Claude?' suggests Ella.
'As for Loki,' continues Greg grimly, 'that may be very difficult. It is quite unlikely that he will be able to move under his own power, and carrying him out of these mountains could be altogether impossible.' He pauses. 'And there is also the question of getting Paulette Bondu, Marie-Claude Duval, and the others who have been enchanted by the beguiling character of this village to actually leave. I hope that the revelation of the nasty underside to the place will do this for us, but I wouldn't count on it; I can imagine someone deciding that it was the corrupting influence of we outsiders which led to the eruption of violence here.'
Iain looks at him and says quietly 'I don't think that the others can really be considered a priority in terms of our mission, Greg.'
There is an awkward silence, broken by Daniel muttering 'And then there'll just be the whole People's Army for us to deal with.' At least the snow keeping up has meant that aerial reconnaissance will have been unable to see the crash site. Very fortunate weather.
'Well, look, it seems pretty straightforward to me,' says Iain impatiently. 'We have to decide if we want Robert to marry Roxana or not: and if not, we need to get out of here before that happens, and decide who to take with us. As for the details of the getaway, we can cover that between us, but it's important that we're all agreed and happy about what we're doing. If we can make those two decisions, everything else should be doable. Now you go and see Roxana, Ella, and see what she wants to do, if you think that should have an impact on our decision, and if you think it won't prejudice our getaway. But we need to make those decisions quickly and we need to stick by them once we've made them, and we need to prepare and agree contingencies if things don't work out to plan. OK?' He glances round from uneasy face to uneasy face.
Why's it always me who gets to do the asking? wonders Daniel. Is it because I'm such a master of tact and diplomacy? He has been deputed to work out what is going on with Paulette Bondu's love life. 'Hey, Arnold. How's it going?'
The big man turns round, smiling amiably. 'Not so bad, Daniel. Yourself? All ready for the wedding tomorrow?'
'The wedding! And here's me with no present to give them.'
'I reckon they'll be pretty happy with each other. That Roxana's quite a piece, isn't she?' Terwilliger grins broadly.
'I see you seem to be getting on pretty well with Miss Bondu,' says Daniel joshingly.
'Oh, well, Paulette...' Terwilliger seems slightly embarrassed. 'It was one of those things. We met, we clicked. You know how it happens.'
'I certainly do,' replies Daniel. He turns his engagement ring around with the tips of his fingers.
'She'd been seeing Perez for a while and, you know, things hadn't been working out. She's a fine woman, Paulette, and she deserves looking after. And Perez doesn't even seem too bothered about it. I reckon they'd lost it a while back. Just coasting along - running on empty. It needed something like this to shake them out of it.'
'Are you going to keep it up when all this is over?'
'I sure as hell hope so. My job takes me all over, and hers is mostly in France, and this new deal her people've got going in Kampuchea. But I reckon we can find some quality time together. It's important to make each other a priority - say to work "that's it, the rest of my life is my own" - you know what I mean?'
Daniel is unable to answer, his mind suddenly full of the image of Belle-Marie in her hospital bed, and his eyes suddenly full of tears.
'Listen, mate, you were talking about the forces of Shaitan, in the helicopter. What's all that about?'
Brother Priun, who is rather enjoying his privileged status in the sickbay, is pleased to see Nora, confederate in his heroism. 'Shaitan, the principle of evil, what Christians call The Devil - he assails us daily,' he explains. 'Sometimes by evil people, sometimes by evil acts - sometimes, very rarely, as you and I saw, he attacks those whose faith is strong, with dark sendings.'
'Dark sendings? What's all that about? How do you deal with them?'
'Dark sendings - demons, devils, spirits. You saw it as clearly as I did. And I drove it back by the power of prayer. The strength of God burned in me, and the divine wisdom of the Buddha directed my hands on the prayer wheel. Here - you should have one for yourself.'
He hands Nora a small prayer wheel to hang around her neck, which she gingerly accepts. This wheel might do me some good, sure, but I'm glad I've got this one little souvenir of Kawanagi as well, she thinks. Her hand closes on the butt of the gun, tucked into her waistband.
Greg has pulled the body out of its sack, and is admiring the beauty of its features. 'He must have been quite something when he was alive. But we need to know more about him. He was a friend of Alexander, who seems, from your experience, to have had magical powers.'
Ella nods. 'All that talk about his family - his brothers and sisters scattered over the globe. If Robert's guess was right, and that means the Ylids - the last briefing said that Ylids had tremendous magical powers.'
'So was Cleitus an Ylid as well? And he had something which "might bring them together". Well, it wasn't anything obvious, so I guess it's going to be down to SITU to puzzle that one out.' He sighs. 'I'm sure that the skellingtons are a part of this too, and I have the feeling that we are missing too many pieces of this puzzle.'
'I don't know,' says Ella. 'There's a very big game going on here, all across the world. SITU versus the Ylids. We're just one piece on the board - our team - maybe we're a bishop or something. But we can't be expecting to put together all the pieces and save the world from one remote valley. There are some things here which are important, sure. But if they're important in different ways, or you can only see how they're important when you see them next to other pieces, we couldn't expect to be able to make much of it ourselves.'
Greg nods ruefully. 'This metal, though. In Cleitus's bloodstream - completely pervading it. What does that make you think of? What about some of the biochemical things we saw in Heidelberg? And I'd like to get the chance to talk with Perez some more about the Holy Blood angle of his tradition - very Albigensian, Manichean. I know that Clovis claimed to be the grandson of a dragon - that might fit in here.'
'If you want to talk to him, you're going to have to manufacture an opportunity,' suggests Ella. 'They're probably going to keep a pretty close eye on him now that we've blown his cover.' She stretches, tiredly. 'As for the skellingtons and that strange metal thing with them, perhaps we ought to take that too, although I can't see how we could manage it, to be honest. The metal it's made of is quite different to this metal here, anyway. That's more like aluminium, this's more like silver.'
'Listen, I've been hearing a lot about this ghost, the ghost of King Busan, that's been seen around the temple - is that right?'
The Senzo Lama looks embarrassed as well as distressed at being interrupted. He has a busy morning ahead of him and appears to have had little sleep. Nora herself has not had much sleep either, what with watching over her soldiers and bodyguards who are watching the Kongwai Lama, and instructing Pinkler on circulating the photos of the Japanese henchmen among the crowd, but she is running on adrenaline. 'Yes, people have seen it. It is because this is a holy place, and is becoming more holy as the time of the Kongwai Lama approaches. He is not in body very often. The power here is growing in expectation of him, and that calls forth the ghost of King Busan. It did not surprise me at all to hear of him. He is just a ghost, Mrs Matthews, not a true spirit - the soul of the King is elsewhere, in another body, after a long succession of bodies. Maybe he is at the top of the karmic wheel, maybe the bottom. Maybe he has achieved enlightenment. But this ghost is just a showing, not a reality, and it can do nothing. It is safe to ignore it.'
Allowing the Lama to rush off to his office, Nora pulls out her portable phone and taps the SITU number into it. 'Andre? Hi, it's Nora here. Bit of a question. I was wondering about this Tooth ceremony - it occurred to me that this might be a way of an Ylid entering into the world, perhaps, through this weird baby. So perhaps the fight in the helicopter was Ylid versus Ylid activity.'
Swahn's voice at the other end is thin and crackly, and sounds strained. 'Good thinking, Nora, but it's not as bad as that. Ylids don't enter the world - there's only a certain number of them, who've been here for quite a while, and there won't ever be any more. So whatever the Kongwai Lama is, he isn't an Ylid - and it sounds like he's on our side, if Kawanagi was trying to kill him, and he succeeded in killing Kawanagi.'
'With a little help from yours truly!' Nora did not seem to have any qualms over the death of the Ylid agent, although perhaps those would start to bite later. But the enemy had shown itself to be extraordinarily ruthless: the least SITU could do was meet fire with fire. 'Any news on the plane crash?'
'No, the Chinese are sitting there waiting out the snow, it sounds like. Big snowfalls aren't uncommon this time of year. But it means the wreck'll be very difficult to spot. I don't know if we'll ever be able to recover your colleagues' bodies, I'm afraid.'
'From what you were saying yesterday, you've got enough on your plate at the moment, hm? Some sort of trouble with one of the other investigations?'
Swahn sighs heavily. 'That's right. Well, bloody hell, to be honest there's a couple of them. One team has shot dead the MD of a biotech company, and the police're after them. That's your old friend Maddy Prior, and her new team. Another lot has got one of themselves captured by vampires, up in Whitby.'
'Vampires?' Nora's voice betrays a hint of doubt.
'That's right. You remember The Master, back in Heidelberg? Your friend Ferenc Molnar's boss? He's set up a base here in England, and we sent a team up to clear it out. Only it turns out one of them was an agent for a third party, for a group called the Trismegistus Club, and one of them was already becoming a vampire...' he brings himself up sharply. 'Anyway, I don't want to bore you with my troubles. You'll get copies of the debriefings on those missions once they're completed. Anything else I can help you with now?'
'Some armed backup would be nice,' says Nora hopefully.
'No can do, not in time for noon. I can get some people to you by tomorrow, if that's any good. But between now and then, you're on your own, I'm afraid.'
Ella curls up to catch a couple of hours sleep. Depending on what the team decide, she knows that she may have to rise before dawn. Despite the cold, she finds sleep almost instantly, the smell of cloves and rosemary still strong in her nostrils.
She is flying, arms outstretched, soaring above a dense tumbled landscape of clouds, painted golden by the sun's light. Above her is the arch of the sky, the blue body of Nut, ribs arcing across the firmament, stars painted on her skin. Below her, Geb, the earth, husband of the sky goddess. Ahead sits Isis, the Mother, tranquil on her throne, her hair black and lustrous, her crown the sun between two horns. She smiles.
Isis reaches with her crook and taps Ella on the shoulder, and she is falling, flying no longer but tumbling, plunging downwards through the clouds. The part of Ella's mind that is still lucid registers it as the same sensation as that of falling through the bubble, in the vision she had in the hut. This time, though, there is no golden barge of Alexander below, but instead the valley of Firis, laid out below her like a model. She feels no fear as she plummets down towards it, the fall now more of a swan-dive. Feathers fall with her from the shy, muffling the wind and filling the void above her, obscuring the heavens. She falls towards the ruined tomb, heading right for the sarcophagus of Cleitus the Black, but just as she is about to strike he rises out of his tomb and catches her in his arms. He is tall, slim and dark, his eyes bright, his skin warm. Through him dart currents of silvery movement, alive and pulsing. He leans to kiss her.
'Ella! Ella! Wake up! Time to get moving, if we're going!' Iain is shaking her gently by the shoulder.
Nora has been able to extract the right to take pictures of the bringing out of the Tooth, on the basis of her heroism of the previous day. The Kongwai Lama has already set off on his progress, looking peaceful and calm as the bonzes presented him to the four cardinal points of the compass, intoning nasally, and Nora suspects that he has been fed something to stop him crying: opium perhaps. The Senzo Lama ceremonially withdraws the veil from the golden reliquary in which is contained the Tooth. The relic itself is not visible, being entirely encased in golden encrustation: the whole thing is fantastically ornamental, putting European reliquaries to shame.
There is an air of tension in the room, and Nora glances warily about: the only people present are the lamas, herself and Pinkler, and an assortment of monks. The Senzo Lama utters a phrase in what sounds like Sanskrit, and falls to his knees. There is a brief pause, during which nothing happens, and then he sighs in relief, and his shoulders lower. A new set of prayers are started up, and Nora can hear a muffled cheer from the crowds gathered outside as the news is relayed to them. 'That means it's all OK, apparently: the Tooth's still happy to do its stuff for the Kongwai Lama,' whispers Pinkler to her.
A procession forms up, Nora taking her place in it, and moves through the doors of the temple towards the courtyard. The light is bright outside, and it gleams from the reliquary of the Tooth, which four bonzes are bearing shoulder-high, right behind the Senzo Lama who is carrying a silken cushion.
As they emerge into the open air, she sees a large crowd gathered in front of the wooden platform - well over a thousand people in the courtyard, and more are out in the street. All have reverent, expectant expressions on. Various people are clinging to trees or the tops of walls, taking pictures of the proceedings.
Nora glances across to the shed where the helicopter is stored. She has briefed her henchmen that on her signal they are all to break for it.
There is a brief, expectant wait, and then the crowd sluggishly parts to reveal another procession, this time of assorted monks bearing the Kongwai Lama aloft. As it approaches the platform, he blows a milky bubble (a wet-nurse has been feeding him since his arrival at the Wat).
To the rear of the crowd, Nora can see about fifty soldiers, formed up in ranks, armed with what look like automatic rifles. They are led by a middle-aged officer with a good deal of gold braid on his uniform, and as she watches he starts ordering them into a column, which begins to slowly drive its way through the crowd towards the temple.
As the Kongwai Lama is brought up onto the platform, handed to the Senzo Lama, and raised aloft before the Tooth, a great cheer goes up from the crowd. The end of the cheer is cut off raggedly, though, and replaced by a gasp, when through the wall of the temple to one side of the platform emerges a shimmering silvery human figure.
It does not seem as though it should be visible in the bright sunlight, so attenuated is it, but there is a brightness about it that is greater than that of the sun. It is the figure of a man, clad in medieval-looking armour, bearing a naked sword upright in front of it. The people on the platform, who are basically bonzes, lamas and Nora, start to scatter to either side as it approaches. It is not heading straight for the baby, but instead heading for a spot in front of it, at the very lip of the platform.