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The Chamber of Ten

By Gene Hall,2014-11-04 18:23
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From Publishers WeeklyGolden and Lebbon pair up once again for the clumsy third "Hidden Cities" installment (after 2009's The Map of Moments), this time with the sinking city of Venice as the setting. Geena Hodge, a hotshot archaeologist, has traveled abroad with her boyfriend, semi-telepath Nico, and a BBC documentary film crew to find and document the city's ancient architecture before it disappears forever. The discovery of a hidden door inside the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana quickly leads to the uncovering of the Chamber of Ten, a possible meeting place for the Council of Ten, an organization that secretly gained control of Venice in the mid-15th century. What follows is a somewhat rambling account of Hodge's foray into the covert-and magical-history of one of Italy's mos Published by Spectra on 2010/07/27

Praise for MIND THE GAP

    “A pitch-perfect blend of fantasy and realism. Golden and Lebbon craft a riveting tale of

    adventure that is both gritty and magical.”

    —KELLEY ARMSTRONG

    ,New York Times bestselling author of Frostbitten

“Super-fast pacing and creepy touches [give this] adventure plenty of character.”

    Publishers Weekly

    “A dark urban fantasy that posits a world of multiple Londons, some real and some ghostly, anancient legacy of magic, and a secret war between those who seek power to control it and thosewho seek to free it.… Filled with action yet much more than a simple adventure, this tale ofthe clash between the worlds of magic and science is a standout.… Highly recommended.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

    “Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s and the classic Dickens’ , this bookNeverwhereOliver Twist

    gives the dark fantasy genre a gothic twist with Jazz’s adventure.”

    The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

    “Magical realism at its finest … a light-speed read with mystery, magic, ghosts and afascinating subterranean world. Great stuff.”

    —SFRevu

    “Golden and Lebbon do a wonderful job with this book, pulling you in with a strong opening anda likable protagonist in Jazz, and then maintaining the story with an array of mysteries andpuzzles, and a cast of engaging characters.”

    Fantasy & Science Fiction

    “Golden and Lebbon’s skills are unquestionable, and the two working together have managed tocreate a vibrant world just on the outside of ours.”

    —Dread Central.com

    “Part fantasy, part mystery, and part suspense story. The authors have done a great jobbalancing the three elements and braiding them together into one exciting read.”

    —Blogcritics

    “A contemporary mystery thriller with elements of Oliver Twist, a caper story, and a dash of

    the supernatural—namely ghosts, Victorian magic, and steam-punk … spectacular.”

    Fantasy Book Critic

    “A modern, supernatural take on Oliver Twist… Golden and Lebbon paint an evocative portrait

    of London, present and past.”

    Fangoria

    “Mind the Gap starts off with a bang, throwing you right into the story, and once it takes offrunning, it doesn’t let up.… It’s moody, highly atmospheric, and pulls no punches ininvolving the senses as it creates the hidden world of a forgotten, decaying, buried London.…A series worth watching.”

    —SF Site

    Praise for THE MAP OF MOMENTS

    “Urban realism meets dark fantasy in this spine-tingling second collaboration between authorsGolden and Lebbon … as they merge the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina with New Orleans’terrifying ghostly past.… Golden and Lebbon have far outstripped their past efforts with thiswonderfully creepy thriller of a ghost story.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    “Golden and Lebbon vividly evoke the rich, enduring character of New Orleans, as well asspinning a compelling fantasy yarn.”

    Booklist

    “Draws from the aftermath of a tragic moment in recent history, telling a dark, gripping storyset in a shattered but unbeaten New Orleans … Part ghost story, part thriller, it doesn’tpull any punches along the way, putting the hero through a physical, mental and spiritualordeal even as it paints an honest, stark picture of a city just starting to recover from anear-fatal blow.… A hell of a harrowing tale [and] a great read, illuminating a time and placein American history that should not be ignored or forgotten.”

    —SF Site

    The Map of Moments is set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and it’s as much a love letter to the

    city and its people as it is a lamentation for what has been, perhaps irrevocably, lost.… Notan easy, comforting read, but it is an alluring, engrossing one, and a wiser, truer book thansomething simpler could have been.”

    The Green Man Review

    “Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon have crafted a love letter to New Orleans in The Map of

    .… Fans of unconventional urban fantasy will enjoy following this map into some veryMoments

    interesting places indeed.”

    —SFRevu

    The Map of Moments is a truly haunting look at the dark history and magic to the underside ofNew Orleans and the ghosts they hide.”

    The Mad Hatter

    “Golden and Lebbon do a masterful job of presenting the chase and the discovery of thedarkness lurking in New Orleans’s history. I ended up reading much of the book at night whenthe house was quiet, and I think that really lent itself to the overall experience. So if youcan get somewhere quiet, with darkness all around, except for your reading lamp, The Map of

     is a wonderfully creepy experience down streets littered with dead and dark things.”Moments

    —Blogcritics

    Also by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

The Map of MomentsMind the Gap

    Also by Christopher Golden

The Lost Ones: Book Three of the Veil

    The Borderkind: Book Two of the Veil

    The Myth Hunters: Book

    One of the Veil

    Wildwood Road

    The Boys Are Back in Town

    The Ferryman

    Straight on ‘Til MorningStrangewood

    The Shadow Saga

Of Saints and Shadows

    Angel Souls and Devil Hearts

    Of Masques and MartyrsThe Gathering Dark

    With Mike Mignola

Baltimore, or, The SteadfastTin Soldier and the Vampire

    Also by Tim Lebbon

    Novels

The Island

    Fallen

    30 Days of Night

    Dawn

    The Everlasting

    Dusk

    Hellboy: Unnatural Selection Mesmer

    (with Gavin Williams) The Nature of BalanceHush

Face

    Until She Sleeps

    Desolation

    BerserkBar None

     Novellas

    A Whisper of Southern Lights White

    Naming of Parts

    Changing of FacesExorcising Angels (with Simon Clark)

Dead Man’s Hand

    Pieces of HateThe Reach of Children

    Collections

    Last Exit for the Lost Faith in the Flesh

    As the Sun Goes Down White and Other Tales of Ruin Fears UnnamedAfter the War

In memory of Bonnie Moore

    Contents

    Other Books by this Author

    Title Page

    Dedication

    Chapter I

    Chapter II

    Chapter III

    Chapter IV

Chapter V

    Chapter VI

    Chapter VII

    Chapter VIII

    Chapter IX

    Chapter X

    Chapter XI

    Chapter XII

    Chapter XIII

    Chapter XIV

    Chapter XV

    Chapter XVI

    Chapter XVII

    Chapter XVIII

    Chapter XIX

    Copyright

Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones;

    Who, though they cannot answer my distress,

    Yet in some sort they are better than the tribunes,

    For that they will not intercept my tale:

    When I do weep, they humbly at my feet

    Receive my tears and seem to weep with me.

    —WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

    Titus Andronicus, Act 3, Scene 1,

    I

    GEENA HODGE stood on the bow of the water taxi as it chugged toward San Marco, the colors ofthe Doge’s Palace brought to life by the sun, and wondered how much longer Venice wouldsurvive before it crumbled into the sea. Though the Italian government had committed to aseven-billion-dollar project to install a complex system of flood gates to hold back stormsurges and seasonal high tides, it was already over budget and behind schedule. Sometimes itseemed hopeless.

    But even the most optimistic Venetians were fooling themselves. The city had been built on topof wooden pilings sunk into a salt marsh, with sediment and clay beneath that, which was littlebetter than raising palaces on top of a sponge. Venice bore down, squeezing a little more waterout of its foundations every year, and sinking just a bit farther. Between that and the risingglobal sea level, Venice was screwed. Maybe the new tidal gate system, MOSE, would work wellenough—fouling up the Venetian lagoon’s ecosystem in the meantime—and maybe it wouldn’t.Even with the best-case scenario, they would only manage to buy themselves a century.

    La Serenissima, they called it—the most serene—and Venice remained a city of serenity andbeauty. She was still Queen of the Adriatic, steeped in history and scholarship and art, uniquein all the world. There was nowhere like it, and the world would never see its like again. Butmuch of the population had fled the routine flooding and the absurd tourism-driven cost ofliving in the city, and those who remained were like the curators of a living museum.

    Geena’s own project, approved by the Italian and Venetian authorities, was evidence that somepeople in the city understood that ruin could be slowed but not prevented.

    “As lovely as ever,” said the man beside her. “She’s a gem, Venice.” Howard Finch, atelevision producer from the BBC, had come to her in search of a story. And though she had oneto give him—as extraordinary a story of archaeology and history as he was ever likely toencounter—she wished he would go away. Reporters were bad enough, always armed with justenough research to get the story wrong. But producers could be much worse. They didn’t eventry to convince you they weren’t full of shit.

    “Haven’t been here in nearly twenty years,” Finch continued. “Hard to believe some of thethings I’ve heard.”

    “Such as?” Geena asked, and immediately regretted it.

    He puffed himself up in that way that was universal among the very pompous and very rich inevery culture. Geena had been born and raised in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, NewYork. She had met plenty of arrogant men in her thirty-six years, but as bad as Americans couldbe, the Brits had had much more time to perfect the art of pompousness. Pomposity. Whatever.

    “Talked to a bloke last week who said nobody lives on the ground floor at all anymore. Got allthe windows bricked up, just letting it go to ruin. Surrendering. And those walkways in thePiazza San Marco—”

    “Passarelle.”

    “They’re out all the time now, so people can get through when the canal water floods in.”

    The water taxi’s engine shifted from a purr to a groan as it began to slow, gliding toward adock not far from the trees of the Giardini ex Reali. They still had an excellent view of theDoge’s Palace, but behind his façade Finch seemed uninterested in anything except the sound ofhis own voice.

    Geena smiled at him. She had pulled her hair back in a neat blond ponytail and had actually puton makeup this morning, asked pleadingly by Tonio Schiavo, the head of the archaeologydepartment at Ca’Foscari University, to “come smart.” The smile had been part of hermarching orders as well. Usually Geena did not have to be told to smile—most days she lovedher life—but she wanted to be working, getting her hands dirty, not playing tour guide.

    “Mr. Finch, not too long ago the low-lying areas of the city flooded maybe eight or ten timesin a year. Now that number averages closer to one hundred. A third of the time, the Piazza SanMarco is full of water from the canals, which includes raw sewage, among other unpleasantthings. Everyone has Wellington boots in Venice, or they wrap plastic around their shoes, evento use the walkways put out for just that purpose.”

    Finch nodded in fascination. “Christ, it’s like something out of one of those crap sci-fiapocalypse films, isn’t it?” he asked, without looking to her for confirmation. “Butthey’ve really abandoned the ground floors?”

    “Sadly, yes. The bricks are wearing away on the outside. On the inside—what would you do ifyour first floor was flooded four months out of the year? They’re sealed off, left to thewater.”

    “And then what? It keeps rising, they move up another floor?”

    “I’ve wondered the same thing myself,” she admitted, but didn’t dare comment further.Nothing negative, Tonio had instructed, and Geena had no wish to jeopardize her stewardship ofthis project.

    Besides, they had other things to talk about.

    Finch had come to Venice on a scouting trip to find out if the Biblioteca project might beworth some air time on the BBC, or if the whole thing would amount to as much hot air asGeraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault. Geena didn’t mind the idea of a film crew coming into do a short documentary on the Biblioteca, especially if it would mean some attention wouldbe paid to the broader aspects of her project.

    As Venice sank, history was being sucked down into the lagoon. Even the oldest buildings in thecity were built on top of the foundations of more ancient structures. The sinking was nothing

    new. Once upon a time, Venetians had simply raised the ground floors of their buildings everyso often to combat the rising water. But with every inch that the weight of Venice dragged itdown, and every inch that the sea level rose, more of that ancient architecture was being lostforever.

    There were frescoes on walls, secret chambers, and artifacts in long-abandoned rooms andbuildings across the city that were being eroded away by salt and sewage and prolonged exposureto the water. Her team—which for a time had mainly been herself and a group of graduatestudents—had been rescuing what they could and documenting whatever they couldn’t in some ofthe oldest buildings in the city. And then one day, tearing away a crumbling brick and mortarwall in a semi-hidden alcove at the back of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana—the NationalLibrary of St. Mark’s—Geena herself had noticed that the salt from constant flooding had worntracks in the original wall. But the tracks weren’t consistent, and upon closer inspection,she discovered that they marked the seams around a secret door, long since sealed but now beingundone by salt and time.

    Behind the door, they had found a hidden staircase. Some of the graduate students had beenamazed, but Geena had taken it in stride. In centuries past—perhaps in Italy more thananywhere else in the world—secrecy, betrayal, and paranoia had been the order of the day, andhidden passages and chambers had been commonplace. The trope of the secret room existed infiction because it had so many real-life examples. But people loved that crap, and if it helpedto continue to get her work funded, Geena was all for having the media make a big deal out ofthe city’s secret history and mysteries.

    The water taxi pulled up to the dock and they waited while a crewman hauled the boat snug

    vaporetti—the boats thatagainst the bumpers before disembarking. Normally Geena used the

    functioned as buses in this streetless city—but the university would reimburse her for theadditional cost of the taxi.

    They set off along a tree-lined path toward the wide cobblestoned entrance to the Piazza SanMarco. Small waves from passing boats rolled up onto the stones, but the plaza was not floodedtoday. The Doge’s Palace loomed ahead. Over the tops of buildings she could see just the tipof one of the domes of St. Mark’s Basilica. But they did not have even that far to walk.

    “Before we get there,” Finch said, “I must ask … do you really believe what you’ve foundis Petrarch’s library?”

    They walked alongside the Biblioteca, its wall visible through the trees. When they reached thecobblestones, Geena turned left and pulled Finch along in her wake. On such a perfect day thePiazza San Marco was breathtakingly beautiful, the sun making it all seem almost pristine. Anillusion, Geena knew, but a lovely one.

    She stopped twenty feet from the Biblioteca’s front door.

    “How much of the history do you know, Mr. Finch?”

    He smiled, and a flicker of hidden intelligence shone in his eyes. “Call me Howard,” he said.“And I’ve done my research, Dr. Hodge. Petrarch had what was essentially a circus train ofwagons that traveled around with him so he could keep his library close at all times. Buteventually he realized how impractical that was. Inspired by ancient stories of publiclibraries like the one at Alexandria, he arranged to set one up in Venice. In—what was theyear?—1362, I think, the poet moved his entire library here, hundreds of volumes of writing,much of it from antiquity, detailing philosophies and histories and the lives of the ancients,not to mention poetry, of course. Priceless works, many of which modern scholars consider lost,or even pure myth. The Venetians set him up with a posh house—”

    “Palazzo Molina,” Geena put in.

    Finch waved away the interruption, nodding. “Time goes by, he has a falling-out with the cityand pisses off to Padua—a major slap in the face to Venice. A few of the items turn up laterin the Vatican Library and other places. Some are in the Doge’s Palace. But the bulk of themwere lost or ruined. The only thing most scholars have agreed on is that when Petrarch left

Venice, his library left with him.”

    By now, Geena found herself smiling. Finch might not know a hell of a lot about the currentstate of the high-water crisis in Venice, but he had certainly done his homework wherePetrarch’s library was concerned.

    “Something funny?” Finch asked, apparently irritated by her smile.

    “No, no. Sorry. I’m just glad I don’t have to go through the whole backstory for you.”

    “Fair enough. But you still haven’t answered my question.”

    “Well, Professor Schiavo showed you some of the best preserved examples of the books we’vealready taken from the chamber. We’ve recovered hundreds of pieces.”

    “And they are impressive, no doubt, and their antiquity is not in question. But how can you becertain of their origin? You’re convinced that all those scholars were wrong—that Petrarchnever removed his library from Venice after all and instead just moved it into this secretchamber of yours?”

    “We’ve found ample evidence,” she told him. “Records that include a catalog of all of theworks collected in the library, some written in Petrarch’s own hand and noted as such. Myassistant, Nico Lombardi, will give you access to all of that and run it down for you. Thoserecords are evidence enough, but the architectural details support the finding as well.”

    Finch smiled and opened his hands. “Let’s pretend I know nothing about architecture.”

    Geena could not help smiling in return. Finch might be pompous, but he wasn’t utterly lackingin charm.

    “While we walk?” she said.

    “By all means.”

    “Like most cities,” she said as they approached the library’s front doors, “Venice is farolder than what you can see, going back the better part of a thousand years. Scholars have beenfrustrated for centuries by the lack of any written record of the city’s origins, but mostagree that the bulk of its original settlers came here fleeing the constant invasions of Roman-era cities by barbarians and Huns.”

    They reached the door and, though the Biblioteca was her province, Finch opened it for her. Thequiet from within seemed to reach out and draw them in, and Geena lowered her voice as sheentered.

    “The Doge’s Palace was constructed over a period that spanned most of the 14th century andbeyond, on top of what remained of much older fortified buildings that we know very littleabout. The years that Petrarch lived in Venice fall squarely within that period.”

    A woman behind a desk glanced up and smiled at her, and Geena waved as she guided Finch throughthe foyer and into the vastness of the Biblioteca. They made their way to a room that had oncebeen more a shrine to books than a library. Several people sat at long tables, studying orreading in silence, but the books they were perusing had come from the stacks upstairs. None ofthe books were shelved or stored on the ground floor anymore.

    “This building is not the original library,” she whispered as they passed through the room.“It dates only from the 16th century. But the staircase we found and the chamber below it aremuch older. They had been completely sealed, and Petrarch’s collection extraordinarily wellpreserved. We’ve found documents that indicate the existence of the room was a closely guardedsecret.”

    “And no water damage? No evidence of flooding?”

    “None.” Geena led him through a narrow corridor. “At some point, we theorize that all ofthose who knew of the chamber died and the secret of its existence died with them.”

    The corridor ended at the double-doored entrance to another room that had once housed books.Two large staircases inside the vaulted room led up to the second floor. The corridor turned tothe right just in front of those doors, but to the left was a little jog in the corridor, and

    it was through this fragment of labyrinth that Geena led Finch. There lay the small alcove roomwhere she had discovered the hidden door.

    Finch glanced around the room—the ruined fresco on the south wall, the Murano glass windowthat looked as though it would have been more at home in a Gaudi church than in this littlecorner of a Venetian library, and the carved old-wood shelves that had surrendered to rot. Hepaid little attention to the most interesting characteristic of the room—the remains of theearly 17th century brick wall, and the ordinary stone wall behind it that dated from threehundred years earlier.

    She would not be able to impress him with the ingenuity of the hidden door, for it stood open.Geena always felt a bit melancholy at the idea that something that had been so secret and hadremained sealed in silence for so long now hung perpetually open and exposed, but she consoledherself that they weren’t grave robbers. Their motives were pure.

    Lights had been strung through the open door and down the stairs into the chamber. Even fromthe alcove, she could hear the chatter of voices echoing up from below, where preservationefforts were still under way.

    And then the back of her neck prickled with a once-strange sensation that had now become quite

    Hello, sweetheart.familiar.

    Nico had felt her arrive, and now he reached out to touch her with his thoughts. From themoment they had first met, she had sensed something different about him, had felt a kind ofintimacy that had seemed unlikely and inadvisable for her to share with one of her gradstudents. But only when they had made love for the first time and she sensed his thoughts inher head, shared what he felt and desired in a way she could never have imagined before, hadshe really understood.

    After that, of course, he could no longer hide it from her. It wasn’t telepathy, exactly—notmind-reading in the simple pop-culture sense—but Nico could touch the minds of others with hisown and share images, memories, and thoughts. Such things were not concrete, but rather a senseof what she felt, an understanding of what she was thinking without a need for words.

    Like their relationship, his touch could not be hidden completely from others. He knew wheneveranyone was about to enter the chamber—knew who it was—and the other members of their teamoften looked at him oddly. But, again like their relationship, Nico’s touch was treated with arespectful silence. And perhaps also with confusion. Their co-workers might gossip about themafter hours, but such things went unspoken in their company.

    “Dr. Hodge?” Finch prompted. “Are we going down?”

    Geena smiled. “You didn’t come all the way to Venice to see an open door.”

    But as she started down the stone steps, she was distracted by a kind of giddiness that sweptover her. She felt as though she might laugh out loud, and it took a moment to realize that theemotion flooding her belonged not to her, but to Nico. And it was not merely her arrival thathad filled him with such joy.

    She felt the touch of his mind, her name in his thoughts, and she picked up her pace. Finchhurried to keep up, muttering about caution and the lack of a handrail, but Geena did not slow.Nico had found something major, but she had no idea what could have excited him so much.

    The stairs curved to the right and she trailed her hand across the cold, dry wall. They had yetto figure out exactly how the chamber’s architects had sealed it off so completely, making itairtight and moisture-free. Even with the door opened there was no humidity here, and noevidence of water past or present, despite the depth of the chamber and its proximity to theGrand Canal.

    At the bottom of the steps another old door stood open, and she stepped through into a warrenof plastic sheeting illuminated by work lights and the glow of laptop screens. A preservationtent had been set up in the far corner of the large chamber, and members of her team carefullyprepared manuscripts for transport to a room at Ca’Foscari University that had been speciallybuilt for the care of ancient documents.

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