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The Doomsday Key and The Last Oracle with Bonus Excerpts

James Rollins



  Two Sigma Force Novels

  James Rollins



  Title Page



  Northern Europe and Arctic Circle

  Notes from the Historical Record

  Note from the Scientific Record


  Spring, 1086 England

  Present Day October 8, 11:55 P.M. Vatican City


  1 October 9, 4:55 A.M. Mali, West Africa

  2 October 10, 7:04 A.M. Prince William Forest Virginia

  3 October 10, 7:28 P.M.Rome, Italy

  4 October 10, 3:28 P.M. Rockville, Maryland

  5 October 10, 6:32 P.M. Washington, D.C.

  6 October 11, 6:28 A.M. Fiumicino, Italy

  7 October 11, 8:04 A.M. Oslo, Norway

  8 October 11, 8:14 A.M. Rome, Italy

  9 October 11, 8:23 A.M. Rome, Italy

  10 October 11, 3:12 P.M. Washington, D.C.

  11 October 11, 11:22 P.M. Oslo, Norway


  12 October 12, 10:12 A.M. Hawkshead, England

  13 October 12, 1:36 P.M. Oslo, Norway

  14 October 12, 4:16 P.M. Lake District, England

  15 October 12, 11:35 P.M. Oslo, Norway

  16 October 13, 12:22 A.M. Lake District, England

  17 October 13, 3:23 A.M. Oslo, Norway


  18 October 13, 8:43 A.M. Airborne over the Norwegian Sea

  19 October 13, 10:13 A.M. Aberdaron, Wales

  20 October 13, 12:41 A.M. Svalbard, Norway

  21 October 13, 12:32 P.M. Bardsey Island, Wales

  22 October 13, 1:13 p.m. Svalbard, Norway

  23 October 13, 1:32 P.M. Bardsey Island, Wales

  24 October 13, 1:35 P.M. Svalbard, Norway

  25 October 13, 3:38 P.M. Bardsey Island, Wales

  26 October 13, 8:18 P.M. Svalbard, Norway


  27 October 14, 5:18 A.M. Airborne over the Norwegian Sea

  28 October 14, 12:18 P.M. Troyes, France

  29 October 14, 2:40 P.M. Clairvaux, France

  30 October 14, 3:33 P.M. Clairvaux, France

  31 October 14, 4:04 P.M. Clairvaux, France

  32 October 14, 4:15 P.M. Clairvaux, France

  33 October 23, 10:14 A.M. Washington, D.C.

  Epilogue: October 23, 11:55 P.M. Washington, D.C.

  Author’s Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction


  Title Page



  From the Historical Record



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7


  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14


  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22


  Author’s Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction


  Title Page

  Notes from the Historical Record

  Notes from the Scientific Record


  Part I

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5


  Title Page

  Chapter One

  About the Author

  Also by James Rollins


  About the Publisher


  A Sigma Force Novel

  James Rollins


  To Mom

  With all my love




  During the eleventh century, King William of England commissioned a comprehensive survey of his kingdom. The results were recorded in a great volume titled the Domesday Book. It is one of the most detailed accounts of medieval life during that time. Most historians accept that this grand accounting was done as a means to gather a proper tax from the populace, though this is not certain. Many mysteries still surround this survey, like why it was ordered so swiftly and why some towns were inexplicably marked with a single word in Latin meaning “wasted.” Furthermore, the strangeness of this census and its exacting detail earned the tome a disturbing nickname by the people of its time. It became known as the “Doomsday Book.”

  During the twelfth century, an Irish Catholic priest named Máel Máedóc, who would eventually be named Saint Malachy, had a vision while on a pilgrimage to Rome. In that ecstatic trance, he was given knowledge of all the popes who would come until the end of the world. This grand accounting—a cryptic description of 112 popes—was recorded and safeguarded in the Vatican archives, but the book vanished, only to resurface again during the sixteenth century. Some historians believe that this recovered book was most likely a forgery. Either way, over the intervening centuries, the descriptions of each pope in that book have proved to be oddly accurate—up to and including the current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI. In Saint Malachy’s prophecy, the current pope is listed as De Gloria Olivae, the Glory of the Olives. And the Benedictine order, from which the pope took his name, does indeed bear the olive branch as its symbol. But most disturbing of all, Pope Benedict XVI is the 111th pope. And according to this oddly accurate prophecy, the world ends with the very next one.


  During the years 2006 to 2008, one-third of all honeybees in the United States (and much of Europe and Canada) vanished. Thriving hives were suddenly found empty, as if the bees simply flew away and never returned. The condition earned the name Colony Collapse Disorder. This massive and mysterious loss generated sensational headlines and fears. So what truly happened to the bees?

  Within the pages of this novel lies an answer … Most frightening of all, it’s true.


  In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock among many tribulations; after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people.


  MALACHY, 1139

  The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.




  The time to buy is when blood is running in the streets.




  Spring, 1086


  The ravens were the first sign.

  As the horse-drawn wagon traveled down the rutted track between rolling fields of barley, a flock of ravens rose up in a
black wash. They hurled themselves into the blue of the morning and swept high in a panicked rout, but this was more than the usual startled flight. The ravens wheeled and swooped, tumbled and flapped. Over the road, they crashed into each other and rained down out of the skies. Small bodies struck the road, breaking wing and beak. They twitched in the ruts. Wings fluttered weakly.

  But most disturbing was the silence of it all.

  No caws, no screams.

  Just the frantic beat of wing—then the soft impact of feathered bodies on the hard dirt and broken stone.

  The wagon’s driver crossed himself and slowed the cart. His heavy-lidded eyes watched the skies. The horse tossed its head and huffed into the chill of the morning.

  “Keep going,” said the traveler sharing the wagon. Martin Borr was the youngest of the royal coroners, ordered here upon a secret edict from King William himself.

  As Martin huddled deeper into his heavy cloak, he remembered the note secured by wax and imprinted by the great royal seal. Burdened by the cost of war, King William had sent scores of royal commissioners out into the countryside to amass a great accounting of the lands and properties of his kingdom. The immense tally was being recorded in a mammoth volume called the Domesday Book, collected together by a single scholar and written in a cryptic form of Latin. The accounting was all done as a means of measuring the proper tax owed to the crown.

  Or so it was said.

  Some grew to suspect there was another reason for such a grand survey of all the lands. They compared the book to the Bible’s description of the Last Judgment, where God kept an accounting of all mankind’s deeds in the Book of Life. Whispers and rumors began calling the result of this great survey the Doomsday Book.

  These last were closer to the truth than anyone suspected.

  Martin had read the wax-sealed letter. He’d observed that lone scribe painstakingly recording the results of the royal commissioners in the great book, and at the end, he’d watched the scholar scratch a single word in Latin, in red ink.



  Many regions were marked with this word, indicating lands that had been laid waste by war or pillage. But two entries had been inscribed entirely in crimson ink. One described a desolate island that lay between the coast of Ireland and the English shore. Martin approached the other place now, ordered here to investigate at the behest of the king. He had been sworn to secrecy and given three men to assist him. They trailed behind the wagon on their own horses.

  At Martin’s side, the driver twitched the reins and encouraged the draft horse, a monstrously huge chestnut, to a faster clop. As they continued forward, the wheels of the wagon drove over the twitching bodies of the ravens, crushing bones and splattering blood.

  Finally, the cart topped a rise and revealed the breadth of the rich valley beyond. A small village lay nestled below, flanked by a stone manor house at one end and a steepled church on the other. A score of thatched cottages and longhouses made up the rest of the hamlet, along with a smattering of wooden sheepfolds and small dovecotes.

  “‘Tis a cursed place, milord,” the driver said. “Mark my words. It were no pox that has blasted this place.”

  “That is what we’ve come to discern.”

  A league behind them, the steep road had been closed off by the king’s army. None were allowed forward, but that did not stop rumors of the strange deaths from spreading to the neighboring villages and farmsteads.

  “Cursed,” the man mumbled again as he set his cart down the road toward the village. “I heard tell that these lands once belonged to the heathen Celts. Said to be sacred to their pagan ways. Their stones can still be found in the forests off in the highlands up yonder.”

  His withered arm pointed toward the woods fringing the high hills that climbed heavenward. Mists clung to those forests, turning the green wood into murky shades of gray and black.

  “They’ve cursed this place, I tell you straight. Bringing doom upon those who bear the cross.”

  Martin Borr dismissed such superstitions. At thirty-two years of age, he had studied with master scholars from Rome to Britannia. He had come with experts to discover the truth here.

  Shifting around, Martin waved the others ahead toward the small hamlet, and the trio set off at a canter. Each knew his duty. Martin followed more slowly, studying and assessing all he passed. Isolated in this small upland valley, the village went by the name Highglen and was known locally for its pottery, forged from mud and clay gathered out of the hot springs that contributed to the mists cloaking the higher forests. It was said that the town’s method of kilning and the composition of the potter’s clay were tightly guarded secrets known only to the guild here.

  And now they were lost forever.

  The wagon trundled down the road, passing more fields: rye, oats, beans, and rows of vegetables. Some of the fields showed signs of recent harvesting, while others showed evidence of being set to torch.

  Had the villagers grown to suspect the truth?

  As the wagon continued down into the valley, lines of sheep pens appeared, fringed by tall hedges that half hid the horror within. Woolly mounds, the bloated bodies of hundreds of sheep dotted the overgrown meadows. Closer to the village, pigs and goats also appeared, sprawled and sunken-eyed, dead where they’d dropped. Off in a field, a large-boned ox had collapsed, still tethered to its plow.

  As the wagon reached the village green, the town remained silent. No bark of dog greeted them, no crow of rooster, no bray of donkey. The church bell didn’t ring, and no one called out to the strangers entering the village.

  A heavy silence pressed down over the place.

  As they would discover, most of the dead still lay within their houses, too weak at the end to venture out. But one body sprawled facedown on the green, not far from the manor house’s stone steps. He lay like he might have just fallen, perhaps tripped down the steps and broken his neck. But even from the height of the wagon, Martin noted the gaunt stretch of skin over bone, the hollow eyes sunken into the skull, the thinness of limbs.

  It was the same wasting as in the beasts of the field. It was as if the entire village had been under siege and had been starved out.

  The clatter of hooves approached. Reginald pulled beside the wagon. “Granaries are all full,” he said, dusting off his palms on his pants. The tall, scarred man had overseen campaigns by King William in the north of France. “Found rats and mice in the bins, too.”

  Martin glanced over to him.

  “As dead as everything else. Just like that cursed island.”

  “But now the wasting has reached our shores,” Martin muttered. “Entered our lands.”

  It was the reason they’d all been sent here, why the village road was under guard, and why their group had been sworn to secrecy with binding oaths.

  “Girard found you a good body,” Reginald said. “Fresher than most. A boy. He’s set ‘im up in the smithy.” His heavy arm pointed to a wooden barn with a stacked-stone chimney.

  Martin nodded and climbed out of the wagon. He had to know for sure, and there was only one way to find out. As royal coroner, this was his duty, to discern the truth from the dead. Though at the moment, he’d leave the bloodiest work to the French butcher.

  Martin crossed to the smithy’s open door. Girard stood inside, hunched before the cold forge. The Frenchman had labored in King William’s army, where he’d sawed off limbs and done his best to keep the soldiers alive.

  Girard had cleared a table in the center of the smithy and already had the boy stripped and tied to the table. Martin stared at the pale, emaciated figure. His own son was about the same age, but the manner of this death had aged the poor lad here, made him seem wizened well beyond his eight or nine years.

  As Girard prepared his knives, Martin examined the boy more closely. He pinched the skin and noted the lack of fat beneath. He examined the cracked lips, the flaky patches of hair loss, the swollen ankles and feet; but mostly he ran his hands
over the protuberant bones, as if trying to read a map with his fingers: ribs, jaw, eye socket, pelvis.

  What had happened?

  Martin knew any real answers lay much deeper.

  Girard crossed to the table with a long silver blade in his hand. “Shall we get to work, monsieur?”

  Martin nodded.

  A quarter hour later, the boy’s corpse lay on the board like a gutted pig. The skin, splayed from groin to gullet, had been pulled and tacked to the wooden table. Intestines lay nestled and curled tight in the bloodied cavity, bloated and pink. From under the ribs, a brownish-yellow liver swelled outward, too large for one so small, for one so wasted to bone and gristle.

  Girard reached into the belly of the boy. His hands vanished into the gelid depths.

  On the far side, Martin touched his forehead and mouthed a silent prayer of forgiveness for this trespass. But it was too late for absolution from the boy. All the lad’s body could do was confirm their worst fears.

  Girard hauled forth the boy’s stomach, rubbery and white, from which hung a swollen purple spleen. With a few slices of his knife, the Frenchman freed the section of gut and dropped it on the table. Another whispery slip of blade and the stomach was laid open. A rich green mix of undigested bread and grain spilled over the board, like some foul horn of plenty.

  A fetid smell rolled out, ripe and potent. Martin covered his mouth and nose—not against the stench, but against the horrible certainty.