The charity auction hadn’t started until well after midnight, when the gala dinner had ended. It was almost four in the morning and the auction was only now drawing to a close. A digital display behind the celebrity auctioneer—an actor who had played James Bond on-screen for many years—showed the running total at more than one million euro.
“Lot number two hundred and ten: a pair of early- nineteenth-century Japanese Kabuki masks.”
A ripple of excitement ran through the crowded room. Inlaid with chips of solid jade, the Kabuki masks were the highlight of the auction and were expected to fetch in excess of half a million euro.
At the back of the room the tall, thin man with the fuzz of close-cropped snow white hair was prepared to pay twice that.
Niccolò Machiavelli stood apart from the rest of the crowd, arms lightly folded across his chest, careful not to wrinkle his Savile Row–tailored black silk tuxedo. Stone gray eyes swept over the other bidders, analyzing and assessing them. There were really only five others he needed to look out for: two private collectors like himself, a minor European royal, a once-famous American movie actor and a Canadian antiques dealer. The remainder of the audience were tired, had spent their budget or were unwilling to bid on the vaguely disturbing-looking masks.
Machiavelli loved all types of masks. He had been collecting them for a very long time, and he wanted this particular pair to complete his collection of Japanese theater costumes. These masks had last come up for sale in 1898 in Vienna, and he had then been outbid by a Romanov prince. Machiavelli had patiently bided his time; the masks would come back on the market again when the Prince and his descendents died. Machiavelli knew he would still be around to buy them; it was one of the many advantages of being immortal.
“Shall we start the bidding at one hundred thousand euro?”
Machiavelli looked up, caught the auctioneer’s attention and nodded.
The auctioneer had been expecting his bid and nodded in return. “I am bid one hundred thousand euro by Monsieur Machiavelli. Always one of this charity’s most generous supporters and sponsors.”
A smattering of applause ran around the room, and several people turned to look at him and raise their glasses. Niccolò acknowledged them with a polite smile.
“Do I have one hundred and ten?” the auctioneer asked.
One of the private collectors raised his hand slightly.
“One-twenty?” The auctioneer looked back to Machiavelli, who immediately nodded.
Within the next three minutes, a flurry of bids brought the price up to two hundred and fifty thousand euro. There were only three serious bidders left: Machiavelli, the American actor and the Canadian.
Machiavelli’s thin lips twisted into a rare smile; his patience was about to be rewarded, and finally the masks would be his. Then the smile faded as he felt the cell phone in his back pocket buzz silently. For an instant he was tempted to ignore it; he’d given his staff strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed unless it was absolutely critical. He also knew they were so terrified of him that they would not phone unless it was an emergency. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the ultraslim phone and glanced down.
A picture of a sword pulsed gently on the large LCD screen.
Machiavelli’s smile vanished. In that second he knew he was not going to be able to buy the Kabuki masks this century. Turning on his heel, he strode out of the room and pressed the phone to his ear. Behind him, he could hear the auctioneer’s hammer hit the lectern “Sold. For two hundred and sixty thousand euro . . .”
“I’m here,” Machiavelli said, reverting to the Italian of his youth.
The line crackled and an English-accented voice responded in the same language, using a dialect that had not been heard in Europe for more than four hundred years. “I need your help.”
The man on the other end of the line didn’t identify himself, nor did he need to; Machiavelli knew it was the immortal magician and necromancer Dr. John Dee, one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world.
Niccolò Machiavelli strode out of the small hotel into the broad cobbled square of the Place du Tertre and stopped to breathe in the chill night air. “What can I do for you?” he asked cautiously. He detested Dee and knew the feeling was mutual, but they both served the Dark Elders, and that meant they had been forced to work together down through the centuries. Machiavelli was also slightly envious that Dee was younger than he—and looked it. Machiavelli had been born in Florence in 1469, which made him fifty-eight years older than the English Magician. History recorded that he had died in the same year that Dee had been born, 1527.
“Flamel is back in Paris.”
Machiavelli straightened. “When?”
“Just now. He got there through a leygate. I’ve no idea where it comes out. He’s got Scathach with him. . . .”
Machiavelli’s lips curled into an ugly grimace. The last time he’d encountered the Warrior, she’d pushed him through a door. It had been closed at the time, and he’d spent weeks picking splinters from his chest and shoulders.
“There are two humani children with him. Americans,” Dee said, his voice echoing and fading on the transatlantic line. “Twins,” he added.
“Say again?” Machiavelli asked.
“Twins,” Dee added, “with pure gold and silver auras. You know what that means,” he snapped.
“Yes,” Machiavelli muttered. It meant trouble. Then the tiniest of smiles curled his thin lips. It could also mean opportunity.
Static crackled and then Dee’s voice continued. “The girl’s powers were Awakened by Hekate before the Goddess and her Shadowrealm were destroyed.”
“Untrained, the girl is no threat,” Machiavelli murmured, quickly assessing the situation. He took a breath and added, “Except perhaps to herself and those around her.”
“Flamel took the girl to Ojai. There, the Witch of Endor instructed her in the Magic of Air.”
“No doubt you tried to stop them?” There was a hint of amusement in Machiavelli’s voice.
“Tried. And failed,” Dee admitted bitterly. “The girl has some knowledge but is without skill.”
“What do you want me to do?” Machiavelli asked carefully, although he already had a very good idea.
“Find Flamel and the twins,” Dee demanded. “Capture them. Kill Scathach if you can. I’m just leaving Ojai. But it’s going to take me fourteen or fifteen hours to get to Paris.”
“What happened to the leygate?” Machiavelli wondered aloud. If a leygate connected Ojai and Paris, then why didn’t Dee . . . ?
“Destroyed by the Witch of Endor,” Dee raged, “and she nearly killed me, too. I was lucky to escape with a few cuts and scratches,” he added, and then ended the call without saying good-bye.
Niccolò Machiavelli closed his phone carefully and tapped it against his bottom lip. Somehow he doubted that Dee had been lucky—if the Witch of Endor had wanted him dead, then even the legendary Dr. Dee would not have escaped. Machiavelli turned and walked across the square to where his driver was patiently waiting with the car. If Flamel, Scathach and the American twins had come to Paris via a leygate, then there were only a few places in the city where they could have emerged. It should be relatively easy to find and capture them.
And if he could capture them tonight, then he would have plenty of time to work on them before Dee arrived.
Machiavelli smiled; he’d only need a few hours, and in that time they would tell him everything they knew. Half a millennium on this earth had taught him how to be very persuasive indeed.
From the Hardcover edition.