Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  


James Rollins

Page 1


  On the existence and threat of modern-day secret societies:

  We are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence … building a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.


  On life and death:

  Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.



  Throughout history, conspiracy theories abound. It is only human nature. We are forever looking for patterns amid chaos, for signs of the invisible puppeteer manipulating the grand scheme of lives, governments, and the path of mankind. Some of these shadowy plotters are cast as villains; others as great benefactors. Some of these secret cabals are based on historical facts; others are mere fanciful fictions; and yet even more are a Gordian knot of the two, woven so inexplicably together that the line between fact and fiction becomes a tangled tapestry of false history.

  And for no other organization in history has this stood truer than the infamous Knights Templar.

  In the early twelfth century, the order began as a group of nine knights, who swore to protect pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Lands. From those humble beginnings, a great order would eventually grow in both wealth and power and spread across Europe until even popes and kings feared them. Then, on October 13, 1307, the king of France and the current pope conspired to arrest and disband the order, claiming great atrocities had been committed by the knights, including heresy. In the aftermath of that purge, legends and myths blurred the true fate of the order: stories of lost treasures abounded; tales spread of knights escaping persecution to arrive on the shores of the New World; and some reports even claim that the order still exists today, in secret and under guard, protecting a power that could reshape the world.

  But let’s set aside such speculations and mythologies and go back to those original nine knights. What many do not know is that those nine founding members were all related by blood or marriage, arising from a single family. Eight of them are recorded by name in historical documents. The ninth remains a mystery and a source of much speculation today by historians. Who was this mysterious founding member of an order that would grow in such prominence in history and legend? Why was this last knight never named as plainly as the others?

  The answer to that mystery is the beginning of a great adventure.


  On February 21, 2011, the cover of Time magazine declared: 2045, The Year Man Becomes Immortal. At face value, that might seem a wild claim, but other scientists have made similar statements. Dr. Ronald Klatz, in his book Advances in Anti-Age Medicine, wrote:

  Within the next fifty years or so, assuming an individual can avoid becoming the victim of major trauma or homicide, it is entirely possible that he or she will be able to live virtually forever.

  We are living in an exciting time when advances in medicine, genetics, technology, and a myriad of other disciplines are opening the newest frontier for mankind: eternity.

  How will that manifest, what form will it take? Within these pages, you’ll discover that answer. The concepts raised in this novel are based on facts, on exhaustive research, going back to studies done by Soviet scientists during the Cold War. But before you turn to that first page, I must make one correction concerning the startling statements made above. They are, in fact, far too conservative in their estimates.

  For not only is immortality within our reach—it is already here.


  Summer 1134

  Holy Lands

  They once called her a witch and a whore.

  But no longer.

  She sat astride a gray destrier as the black-armored warhorse stepped gingerly through the carnage of battle. Bodies littered the fields ahead, Muslim and Christian alike. Her passage stirred the feasting crows and ravens, chasing them up into great black clouds in her wake. Other scavengers—those on two legs—picked through the dead, pulling off boots, yanking out arrows for their points and feathers. A few faces lifted to stare, then quickly turned away again.

  She knew what they saw, another knight among the many who fought here. Her breasts were hidden under a padded habergeon and a hauberk of mail. Her dark hair, cropped to her shoulders, shorter than most men’s, lay under a conical helmet; her fine features further obscured by a nasal bar. Strapped to the side of her saddle, a double-edged broadsword bumped against her left knee, ringing off the mail chausses that protected her long legs.

  Only a few knew she was not a man—and none knew she held secrets far darker than her hidden gender.

  Her squire waited for her at the edge of a rutted road. The path wound steeply up to an isolated stone keep. The hulking structure, hidden deep within the Naphtali Mountains of Galilee, had no name and looked as if it had been carved out of the hill itself. Beyond its battlements, the red sun sat low on the horizon, obscured by the smoke from campfires and torched fields.

  The young squire dropped to a knee as she drew her horse to a halt beside him.

  “Is he still there?” she asked.

  A nod. Frightened. “Lord Godefroy awaits you ahead. ”

  Her squire refused to look in the direction of the stone-crowned keep. She had no such reluctance. She tilted her helmet up to get a better view.

  At long last …

  She had spent sixteen years—going back to when her uncle founded the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem—searching for the impossible. Even her uncle did not understand her request to join the Templars, but her side of the family would not be refused. So she had been given the white mantle of the order and folded in among the original nine, hidden away, as faceless as the helmet she wore, while the order grew around her both in number and prominence.

  Others of her family, of her bloodline, continued to manipulate the knightly order from within and without: gathering wealth and knowledge, searching for powerful relics from lost crypts and ancient crèches across Egypt and the Holy Lands. Despite their best planning, they’d certainly had their failures. Just a year ago, they’d missed acquiring the bones of the magi—the relics of the three biblical kings, said to hold the secrets to lost alchemies.

  She would not let today mark another failure.

  With a snap of the reins, she urged her horse up the rocky path. With each passing step, the number of dead grew as the guardians of the keep put up a final and futile struggle to withstand the assault. Reaching the summit of the hill, she found the gates to the keep broken and splintered, battered apart by a massive steel-shod ram.

  A pair of knights guarded the way forward. Both nodded to her. The younger of the two, fresh to the order, had sewn a crimson cross over his heart. Other Templars had begun to take up the same habit, a symbol to mark their willingness to shed their own blood for the cause. The grizzled and pocked older warrior simply wore the traditional white surcoat over his armor, like herself. The only decoration upon their mantles was the crimson blood of the slain.

  “Godefroy awaits you in the crypt,” the older knight said and pointed beyond the gates to the inner citadel.

  She led her destrier through the ruins of the gate and quickly dismounted with a flourish of her mantle. She left her broadsword with her mount, knowing she had no fear of being ambushed by some lone surviving protector of the keep. Lord Godefroy, for
all his troubles, was thorough. As testament to his diligence, all across the open courtyard, wooden pikes bore the heads of the last defenders. Their decapitated remains piled like so much firewood along a back wall.

  The battle was over.

  Only the spoils remained.

  She reached a door that opened to shadows. A narrow stair, rough-hewn and cut from the stone of the mountain, led down beneath the keep. The distant orange-red flicker of a torch marked the end of the steps far below. She descended, her footfalls hurrying only at the last.

  Could it be true? After so many years …

  She burst into a long chamber, lined to either side by stone sarcophagi, well over a score of them. Sweeping through, she barely noted the Egyptian writing, lines of symbols hinting at dark mysteries going back before Christ. Ahead, two figures stood bathed in torchlight at the rear of the chamber: one standing, the other on his knees, leaning on a staff to hold himself upright.

  She crossed toward them, noting that the last sarcophagus had been pried open, its stone lid cracked on the floor beside it. It seemed somebody had already begun looking for the treasure hidden here. But the violated crypt held nothing but ash and what appeared to be bits of dried leaf and stem.

  The disappointment showed on Lord Godefroy’s face as she approached the pair. “So you come at last,” he said with false cheer.

  She ignored the knight. He stood a head taller than she did, though he shared the same black hair and aquiline nose, marking their common ancestry out of southern France, their families distantly related.

  She dropped to her knees and stared into the face of the prisoner. His features were tanned to a burnished shade, his skin smooth as supple leather. From under a fall of dark hair, black eyes stared back at her, reflecting the torchlight. Though on his knees, he showed no fear, only a deep welling of sadness that made her want to slap him.

  Godefroy drew down beside her, intending to interfere, to try to ingratiate himself into what he must have sensed was of great importance. And though he was one of the few who knew her true identity, he knew nothing of her deeper secrets.

  “My lady …” he started.

  The eyes of the prisoner narrowed at the revelation, fixing her with a harder stare. All trace of sadness drained away, leaving behind a flicker of fear—but it quickly vanished.

  Curious … does he know of our bloodline, our secrets?

  Godefroy interrupted her reverie and continued, “Upon your instructions, we’ve spent many lives and spilled much blood to find this place hidden by rumor and guarded as much by curses as by infidels—all to find this man and the treasure he guards. Who is he? I have earned such knowledge upon the point of my sword. ”