"Thieves " Jason mumbled. This was all an elaborate robbery.
The archbishop seemed to draw strength from the stubbornness of the glass, standing taller. The leader of the monks held out his hand, speaking still in Latin. The archbishop shook his head.
"Lassen Sie dann das Blut Ihrer Schafe Ihre Hände beflecke," the man said, speaking German now.
Let your sheep's blood be upon your hands.
The leader waved another two monks to the front. They flanked the sealed vault and lifted large metal disks to either side of the casement. The effect was instantaneous.
The weakened bulletproof glass exploded outward as if shoved by from some unseen wind. In the flickering candlelight, the sarcophagus shimmered. Jason felt a sudden pressure, an internal popping of his ears, as if the walls of the cathedral had suddenly pushed inward, squashing all. The pressure deafened his ears; his vision squeezed.
He turned to Mandy.
Her hand was still clasped tightly to his, but her neck was arched back, her mouth stretched open.
From the corner of his eye, he saw other parishioners fixed in the same wracked poses. Mandy's hand began to tremble in his vibrating like a speaker's tweeter. Tears ran down her face, turning bloody as he watched. She did not breathe. Her body then jerked and stiffened, knocking his hand free, but not before he felt the bite of an electrical shock arc from her fingertips to his.
He stood up, too horrified to sit.
A thin trail of smoke rose from Mandy's open mouth.
Her eyes were rolled back to white, but already they were smoldering black at the corners.
Jason, muted by terror, searched the cathedral. The same was happening everywhere. Only a few were unscathed: a pair of young children, pinned between their parents, cried and wailed. Jason recognized the unaffected. Those who had not partaken of the communion bread.
He fell back into the shadows by the wall. His motion had gone momentarily unnoticed. His back found a door, one unguarded by the monks. Not a true door.
Jason pulled it open enough to slip inside the confessional booth.
He fell to his knees, crouching down, hugging himself.
Prayers came to his lips.
Then just as suddenly, it ended. He felt it in his head. A pop. A release of pressure. The walls of the cathedral sighing back.
He was crying. Tears ran cold over his cheeks.
He risked peeking out a hole in the confessional door.
Jason stared, finding a clear view of the nave and the altar. The air reeked of burnt hair. Cries and wails still echoed, but now the chorus came from only a handful of throats. Those still living. One figure, from his ragged garb apparently a homeless man, stumbled out of the pew and ran down a side aisle. Before taking ten steps, he was shot in the back of the head. One shot. His body sprawled.
Oh, God oh, God
Biting back sobs, Jason kept his eyes focused toward the altar.
Four monks lifted the golden sarcophagus from its shattered case. The slain priest's body was kicked from the altar and replaced by the reliquary. The leader slipped a large cloth sack from beneath his cloak. The monks opened the reliquary's lid and upended the contents into the bag. Once empty, the priceless sarcophagus was toppled to the floor and abandoned with a crash.
The leader shouldered his burden and headed back down the central aisle with the stolen relics.
The archbishop called to him. Again in Latin. It sounded like a curse.
The only response was a wave of the man's arm.
Another of the monks stepped behind the archbishop and raised a pistol to the back of the bishop's head.
Copyright © 2004 James Rollins - Excerpted from Map of Bones by James Rollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher, William Morrow.
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