Crucible – James Rollins

Behind the iron bars, the witch knelt on a filthy bed of straw and prayed to God. Alonso de Salazar Frías studied the unusual sight. The Inquisitor could barely discern the figure within. The cell was dark, lit only by the flickering flames rising from the neighboring village square. Through the same window slit, the smell of burnt flesh accompanied the ghastly, dancing glow across the stone walls. He listened to the witch’s whispers in Latin, studied the folded hands, the bowed head. The prayer was a familiar one, Anima Christi, composed by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. It was a fitting prayer considering the witch kneeling here was of that same order, a Jesuit priest. Alonso silently translated the last of the prayer: At the hour of my death, call me into your presence, lead me to praise you with all your saints. Forever and ever. “Amen,” Alonso said aloud, drawing the accused witch’s attention. He waited for the man to stand. Though surely no older than Alonso’s forty-seven years, the priest creaked to his feet. The robe that had been left to him hung from thin shoulders. His face was sunken and pocked with sores.

The jailers had even shaved his head, leaving his scalp scabbed in several places. Alonso felt a flicker of pity for his poor state, even knowing it was a man of God who stood accused of heresy and witchcraft. Alonso had been summoned to this tiny Basque village at the personal request of the Inquisitor General to conduct this interrogation. It had taken him a week to traverse the Pyrenees to reach the small cluster of homes and farms near the border of France. The priest hobbled to the iron bars and grasped them with bony fingers plagued by a tremoring palsy of weakness. When had they last fed this man? The Jesuit’s words, though, were firm. “I am not a witch.” “That is what I have been ordered to determine, Father Ibarra. I have read the charges brought against you. You have been accused of practicing witchcraft, of using charms and amulets to heal the sick.

” The priest remained silent for two breaths before speaking. “Similarly, I know of you, Inquisitor Frías. Of your reputation. You were one of the three judges during the witch trials in Logroño two summers ago.” Alonso hid a wince born of shame and had to look away, but he could not so easily escape the flicker of flames, the reek of blackened flesh. The sights and smells here were all too familiar. During those tribunals at the nearby township of Logroño, he had gone along with judgments of the other two Inquisitors. Guilt for that decision ate at him. It had been the largest witch trial in Spain. The accusation of a single woman—Maria de Ximildegui—ignited a wildfire of hysteria and panic.

She had claimed to have witnessed a witch’s sabbath and pointed fingers at others, who in turn cast aspersions upon even more. In the end, three hundred stood accused of consorting with the devil. Many of the accused were mere children, the youngest being four years old. By the time Alonso had arrived in Logroño, the other two Inquisitors had narrowed the trial to thirty of the worst offenders. Those who admitted to their crimes were punished, but mercifully spared the flames. Unfortunately, a stubborn twelve refused to admit they were witches and were subsequently burned at the stake. Alonso carried their deaths upon his soul—not because he failed to get them to admit they were witches, but because he believed in their innocence. He expressed just such a conviction afterward, risking much by the admittance to Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas, the Inspector General of the Spanish Inquisition in whose friendship Alonso trusted greatly. His faith in their relationship proved well founded. The cruel and bloodthirsty time of the Royal Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada, was a century in the past.

The Inspector General sent him alone to carry out an investigation throughout the wider Basque region of Spain, to separate hysteria from reality. He had been on the road for nearly two months, questioning those accused or imprisoned. So far he had discovered only false testimonies pried forth during torture, stories rife with contradictions or inconsistencies. During his travels, he had yet to discover a single verifiable case of witchcraft. In his private struggle to spare those souls accused of such crimes, he wielded a single weapon. He returned his attention to the priest and patted the leather satchel at his side. “Father Ibarra, I carry with me an Edict of Faith, signed by the Inspector General. It allows me to pardon anyone who admits their crimes, swears fealty to God, and denounces the devil.” The priest’s eyes shone in the darkness, fervent with pride. “I have no qualms about swearing the latter—of expressing my love of God—but as I said from the beginning, I am not a witch and will not admit as such.

” “Not even to spare your life?” Ibarra turned his back and studied the firelit window of his cell. “Did you arrive in time to hear their screams?” Alonso could not hide his wince this time. Earlier, as he descended out of the mountains, he had spotted streams of smoke rising from the village. He prayed the smoke marked bonfires being set to celebrate the summer solstice. Still, fearing the worst, he sped his horse faster. He raced the setting sun, only to be greeted by a chorus of wails as he reached the village outskirts. Six witches had been burned at the stakes. Not witches . women, he reminded himself. Unfortunately, Alonso was not the first of the Inquisition to reach the hamlet.

He suspected Father Ibarra had been spared until now because he was a priest. Alonso stared at the man’s back. If I’m only able to save him, so be it. “Father Ibarra, please, just admit—” “What do you know of Saint Columba?” Taken aback by such a strange question, it took Alonso a moment to answer. He had attended both the University of Salamanca and the University of Sigüenza, studying canon law in preparation for taking holy orders and joining the Church. He was well versed in the litany of all the saints. But the name spoken by Father Ibarra was not without controversy. “You speak of the witch from Galicia,” Alonso said, “who encountered the spirit of Christ in the ninth century during a pilgrimage to Rome.” “Christ warned her to convert to Christianity if she wished to enter heaven.” “And she did and would later be martyred for it, beheaded for refusing to forsake her religion.

” Ibarra nodded. “While she entered the Church, she never forsook being a witch. Peasants throughout the region still revere her for both sides of her person—both witch and martyred saint. They pray to her to defend themselves against evil witchcraft, while also asking her to protect good witches against persecution, those who heal the sick with herbs, amulets, and enchantments.” During his travels throughout northern Spain, Alonso had heard whispers of the cult of Saint Columba. He knew many women—educated women—who studied the natural world, who sought medicines and herbs, drawing upon pagan knowledge. Some were accused of witchcraft and poisoned by priests or burned at the stake; others sought shelter in nunneries and monasteries where —like Saint Columba—they could worship Christ, yet still plant secret gardens and help the sick or afflicted, smudging the line between paganism and Christianity. He studied Father Ibarra. Was this priest a part of that same cult? “You yourself are accused of using charmed amulets to heal the sick,” Alonso said. “Does that not mark you a witch of the same ilk? If you would admit as much, I can use the Edict to intercede—” “I am no witch,” he repeated and pointed to the smoke wafting through the cell’s tiny window.

“There go the women who healed many of the sick throughout these pastures and mountain villages. I was merely their protector, acting as a humble servant of Saint Columba, the patron saint of witches. I cannot with a true heart claim to be a witch. Not because I despise such an accusation, but because I do not deserve to be called a witch . for I am not worthy of such an honor.” Alonso took in the shock of these words. He had heard countless renunciations by those accused of witchcraft, but never a denial such as this. Ibarra pulled closer to the bars. “But the story of my amulet . that allegation is true.

I fear those who arrived here at the village before you came seeking it.” As if summoned by his words, the door opened behind Alonso. The hooded figure of a monk, robed in black, entered. Though the newcomer’s eyes were covered by a strip of crimson, he could clearly still see. “Has he confessed?” the man asked gruffly. Alonso turned to Ibarra. The priest stepped from the bars and straightened his back. Alonso knew Ibarra would never break. “He has not,” Alonso admitted. “Take him,” the man ordered.

Two of the monk’s brethren pushed into the room, ready to drag Ibarra to the stake. Alonso blocked them. “I will walk him out.” In short order, the cell was unbarred, and Alonso strode alongside Ibarra out of the jail and into the village square. To steady the priest and keep him upright, Alonso kept a hand on Ibarra’s elbow. It was not just weakness and starvation that trembled the man’s limbs—but the sight found in the square. Six stakes smoldered, holding fire-contorted shapes, charred arms raised high, wrists bound in glowing iron. A seventh trunk of freshly hewn chestnut towered upright in a waist-high pile of dry kindling. Ibarra reached and clutched hard to Alonso’s hand. Alonso tried to squeeze reassurance into the frightened prisoner.

“May God accept you into His embrace.” But Alonso had misinterpreted the priest’s intent. Bony fingers pried open his hand and pressed an object into his palm. Alonso instinctively closed his fingers over it, knowing what had been passed to him in secret, likely slipped free from some secret pocket inside the priest’s tattered robe. Ibarra’s amulet. The priest whispered in Spanish, confirming what Alonso suspected. “Nóminas de moro.” Nóminas were charms or amulets upon which were inscribed the names of saints and were said to be capable of miraculous acts. “It was found at the source of the Orabidea River,” Ibarra explained urgently. “Keep it from them.

” Ahead, through the pall of smoke, a tall figure strode purposefully forward. His robe was crimson, his blindfold was black. It was the sect’s leader. Alonso had heard rumors of this inner cabal of the Inquisition, those who still adhered to the bloodlust of long-dead Torquemada. They called themselves the Crucibulum, after the Latin word for crucible, a vessel that purifies through fire. Alonso stared at the smoking remains chained to the six stakes. His fingers tightened harder on the amulet in his palm. The leader came forward and nodded to his brethren. Upon this silent order, they stripped Ibarra from Alonso’s side and dragged him forward. The leader carried a thick book in his arms, gilded in gold.

Alonso easily recognized the accursed tome. The full title—Malleus Maleficarum, Maleficas, & earum hæresim, ut phramea potentissima conterens—translated as “The Hammer of Witches which destroys Witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword.” The book was composed over a century ago, a bible for hunting down, identifying, and punishing witches. Already the book was falling out of favor by the papacy, even among those in the Inquisition. But it grew even stronger within the cabal of the Crucibulum. Alonso stood steadfast. What else could he do? He was a lone junior inquisitor against a dozen of the ancient Crucibulum. As Ibarra was marched toward his death, the sect’s leader dogged each step. The man whispered fervently in the priest’s ear. Alonso heard mention of the word nóminas.

So Ibarra was correct in his fear. Alonso imagined the Crucibulum’s leader must be delivering threats or offering promises of salvation, if only Ibarra would reveal the truth about his amulet. Fearing attention might turn toward him, as he’d been alone with Ibarra, Alonso retreated from the square. His last sight of Ibarra was as the priest was chained to the trunk of chestnut atop the pile of wood. Ibarra caught his eye and gave the smallest nod of his head. Keep it from them. Alonso swore to do so as he turned his back. He hurried toward where his horse was stabled. Before he had taken more than a few steps, Ibarra’s raised voice shouted to the heavens. “BURN US ALL! IT MATTERS NOT.

SAINT COLUMBA PROPHESIED HER COMING. THE WITCH WHO WILL CARRY ON HER LEGACY. THE WITCH WHO WILL CRACK THE CRUCIBLE AND PURIFY THE WORLD!” Alonso stumbled at such a declaration. No wonder the Crucibulum sought to silence the cult of Columba, and more important, burn to ash any proof of such a claim. He tightened his grip on the talisman in his hand. True or not, the world was slowly changing—forsaking Torquemada’s ways, letting copies of the Malleus Maleficarum molder into dust—but before that happened, he foresaw more bloodshed and flames, the final convulsions of a dying age. Once far enough away, Alonso risked studying Ibarra’s nóminas. He opened his hand. Shocked at what he saw, he almost dropped the treasure. It was a finger, raggedly torn from some hand.

The edges looked burned, but otherwise, it was perfectly preserved. He knew one of the signs of sainthood was when the relics of such holy figures proved incorruptible, remaining untouched by decay or rot. Did he hold such a relic in his hand? He stopped to study it closer, discovering words inked into the flesh. Sanctus Maleficarum. He translated the Latin. Saint of Witches. So it was indeed a nóminas, an amulet with the name of a saint written upon it. But his inspection exposed a greater revelation. The finger was not a holy relic—a piece of a saint’s flesh—but something even more incredible. Breathless with wonder, he turned the object over and over.

While the flesh appeared real, it was not. The skin was flexible but cold. The torn end revealed a clockwork mechanism of thin wires and gleaming metal bones. It was a simulacrum, a mechanical homunculus of a finger. Alonso had heard stories of gifts presented to kings and queens, intricate fabrications that mimicked movements of the body. Sixty years ago, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was presented with a clockwork figure of a monk, designed by the Spanish-Italian engineer and artisan Juanelo Turriano. The doll could raise and lower a wooden cross, bringing the crucifix to its lips, which moved in silent prayer, while its head nodded and its eyes moved. Am I holding a piece of such an artifice? If so, what was its significance? How did it tie to the cult of Saint Columba? With no answer, he continued toward the stables. Ibarra had left him one additional clue to this mystery: the source of the talisman, where it had been found. “The Orabidea River,” he mumbled with a furrowed brow.

Every Inquisitor in the region knew of that river. It flowed from a cave called Sorginen Leizea, the cave of witches. Many a witch’s sabbath was held at that site. The Orabidea River had an equally dark history. It was sometimes called Infernuko erreka, or “Hell’s Stream,” as it was rumored to flow from the bowels of Hell into this world. He shuddered in dread. If Ibarra had spoken the truth, the amulet in his hand had been discovered at the river’s source. In other words, at the very gates of hell itself. He balked about pursuing this matter any further and considered tossing the amulet away—then an agonized scream rose behind him, echoing up to the stars. Ibarra .

He firmed his grip on the nóminas. The priest had died to keep this secret. I must not forsake this burden. Even if it meant crossing through the gates of Hell, he would know the truth. Present Day December 21, 10:18 P.M. WET Coimbra, Portugal The coven awaited her. Charlotte Carson hurried across the breadth of the darkened university library. Her rushed footsteps echoed off the marble floor to the bricked roof of the two-story medieval gallery. All around, ornate shelves housed books dating as far back as the twelfth century.

With the vast space lit by only a handful of sconces, she gaped at the shadowy climb of ladders, at the elaborate gilded woodwork. Constructed in the early eighteenth century, the Biblioteca Joanina remained a perfectly preserved gem of Baroque architecture and design, the true historic center of the University of Coimbra. And like any treasure house, it was a veritable vault, with walls two feet thick and massive doors of solid teak that sealed the space. The purposeful design maintained the interior at a steady sixty-five degrees, no matter the season, along with a constant low humidity. Perfect for preserving the integrity of ancient books . But such conservation efforts were not limited to the library’s architecture. Charlotte ducked as a bat whisked past her head and shot into the upper gallery. Unheard but felt, its ultrasonic whistle shivered the small hairs on the back of her neck. For centuries, a colony of bats had made the library its home. They were steadfast allies in the fight to preserve the work stored here.

Each night, they consumed insects that might have otherwise feasted on the vast bounty of old leather and yellowed parchment. Of course, sharing this vault with such devoted hunters required certain precautions. She ran a finger along the leather blankets that covered the tables. The caretakers draped them each evening after they closed the building to shield the wooden surfaces from the bats’ droppings. Still, as she stared up at the glide of winged shadows against the brick vaults, she felt a stir of superstitious dread—along with a modicum of amusement. What’s a gathering of witches without bats? Even this night had been specially chosen. The weeklong scientific symposium had ended today. By tomorrow, the participants would be heading home, spreading to the far corners of the globe to spend the holidays with friends and family. But tonight, countless bonfires would light the city, accompanied by the merriment of various musical festivals, all to celebrate the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. She checked her watch, knowing she was running late.

She still wore the same semiformal outfit from the holiday party at the embassy: a loose black skirt that brushed her ankles and a short coat over a blue blouse. Her hair was styled to her scalp. It had gone prematurely silver and remained short and sparse after the course of chemo nine months ago. Afterward, she didn’t bother with dyes or extensions. Having survived the brutalities and humiliations of cancer, vanity seemed a foolish frivolity. She no longer had the patience for it. Not that she had much free time anyway. She frowned at her watch. Only four minutes to go. She pictured the sun on the other side of the world as it crested toward the Tropic of Capricorn.

When the sun balanced at that latitude, it would mark the moment of the true solstice, when winter inevitably tilted toward summer, when darkness gave way to light. The perfect time for this demonstration. A proof of concept. “Fiat lux,” she whispered. Let there be light. Ahead, a brighter glow illuminated an archway that opened to a spiral staircase leading to the library’s lower regions. This topmost level was called the Noble Floor, due to its beauty and history. Directly below, the Intermediate Floor remained the sole domain of librarians, where they stored a bulk of the rarest books for safekeeping. But Charlotte’s destination lay one story deeper. Sensing the press of time, she hurried toward the archway.

By now, the others would have gathered below. She crossed under the painting of King John V, the Portuguese king who founded the library, and reached the steps that spiraled all the way down to the bottommost level of the library. As she circled around and around the tight staircase, a low murmur of voices rose to greet her. Upon reaching the last step, she halted at a stout black iron gate. It had been left ajar for her. Fixed upon it was a sign that read PRISÃO ACADÉMICA. She smiled at the thought of a prison being built under a library. She pictured recalcitrant students or drunken professors being locked up down here. Once a part of the original dungeons of the royal palace, this floor had continued to serve as the university’s prison until 1834. Today, it remained the only existing example of a medieval prison in all of Portugal.

She slipped through the gate and into the dungeon. A good section of this floor was open to tourists, while other locked rooms were used as additional book storage. She headed toward the far side, where the modern age had infiltrated this medieval space. A new computer system had been installed in an unused back vault, including a system for digitizing books, offering a way to further safeguard the treasures stored above. On this winter’s solstice, the computers would serve a new purpose—not to preserve the past, but to offer a glimpse into the future. As she entered the back vault, a woman’s voice greeted her. “Ah, Embaixador Carson, you made it in time.” Dressed in a crisp navy suit and white blouse, Eliza Guerra, the head of the Joanina Library, crossed over and gave Charlotte a peck on each cheek, along with a quick squeeze of her upper arm. Excitement all but bubbled through the petite librarian. “I wasn’t sure I would make it,” Charlotte explained with an apologetic smile.

“The embassy is short-staffed and in a state of chaos with the approach of the holidays.” As the U.S. ambassador to Portugal, Charlotte had a thousand responsibilities this night, including catching a red-eye back to D.C. to join her husband and two daughters. Laura, her oldest, was back from Princeton—which was Charlotte’s alma mater—where she was pursuing a degree in biotechnology. Her other daughter, Carly, was more of a wild child, chasing a dream of a musical career at New York University, while also hedging her bet by studying engineering. Charlotte couldn’t be prouder of them both. She wished they could be here to witness this moment with her.

They were one of the reasons she had helped found this organization composed of women scientists and researchers. The charitable foundation was an offshoot of the larger Coimbra Group, a union of more than three dozen research universities spread around the globe. In an attempt to foster, promote, and network women in the sciences, Charlotte and the other four women gathered here had started Bruxas International, named after the Portuguese word for “witches.” For centuries, women who practiced healing, or who experimented with herbal remedies, or who simply questioned the world around them were declared heretics or witches. Even here in Coimbra—a town long revered as a place of learning—women had been put to the torch, often in great grisly pageants called Auto-da-Fé, or Acts of Faith, where scores of apostates and heretics were burned at the stake all at once. Rather than shy away from such stigma, she and the others decided to lean in to it instead, defiantly naming their foundation Bruxas. But the metaphor did not stop with the name. Eliza Guerra had a computer station already booted up. The symbol for their organization glowed upon the screen, slowly spinning. It was a pentagram surrounded by a circle.

Designed by the author The five points of the star represented the five women here, the original coven who had founded the organization at the University of Coimbra six years ago. They had no set leader. They voted on all matters equally. Charlotte smiled past Eliza to the three others: Dr. Hannah Fest from the University of Cologne, Professor Ikumi Sato from the University of Tokyo, and Dr. Sophia Ruiz from the University of São Paulo. Though Charlotte had received her ambassadorship last year—not in small part due to her role in arranging this international organization based in Portugal—she had originally been a researcher like the others, teaching at Princeton and representing the United States. Despite their differences, the five women—all in their fifties—had risen in their respective professions around the same time, enduring the same hardships because of their gender, experiencing the same discrimination and slights. Beyond their common interest in the sciences, they shared this bond. Their goal was to even the playing field, to encourage and help shepherd younger women into the sciences through scholarships, apprenticeships, and mentoring.

Their efforts had already produced great results around the world—especially here. Hannah leaned toward a stick microphone resting beside the computer keyboard. “Mara, we’re all present.” She spoke in English with a thickly Teutonic accent. “You can start your demonstration when you’re ready.” As Hannah stepped back, the screen split. The pentagram shrank to one side, revealing the young face of Mara Silviera. Though only twenty-one, she had already spent the past five years at Coimbra, earning a scholarship from Bruxas at the tender age of sixteen. Originally from a small village in the Galicia region of northern Spain, she had garnered the attention of a slew of tech companies after publishing a translation app that outshone anything currently on the market. She seemed to have an innate ability both with computers and with the fundamentals of language.

Even now, raw intelligence shone from her eyes. Or maybe just pride. Her dark mocha complexion coupled with her long, straight black hair suggested a mix of Moorish blood in her family’s past. She was presently across campus at the university’s Laboratory for Advanced Computing, which housed the Milipeia Cluster, one of the continent’s most powerful supercomputers. Mara glanced slightly to the side. “I’ll start cycling Xénese up. We should be online in a minute.” As the women gathered closer, Charlotte looked at her watch. 10:23 P.M.

Right on time. She again pictured the sun perched above the Tropic of Capricorn, marking the culmination of the winter solstice, promising the end of darkness and the return of light. Before that could happen, a loud iron clang made them all jump and turn. A tight cluster of dark, hooded figures poured past the black gate and across the prison floor. In their hands, they bore large glossy pistols. The figures spread out, trapping the five women inside the computer vault. There was no other exit from this room. With her heart pounding in her throat, Charlotte backed up a step. She blocked the monitor with her body and reached blindly behind her. With a shift and click of the computer mouse, she collapsed the image of Mara Silviera, both to protect the young woman and to turn her into a silent witness.

With the microphone and camera still broadcasting, Mara could see, hear, and even record what soon transpired. As the figures closed in on the women, Charlotte willed Mara to call the police, though it was unlikely any rescue would arrive in time. She could not even be sure Mara was aware of the change in circumstance and was likely concentrating on her pending demonstration. The eight assailants—all men—wore black robes with crimson silk sashes tied across their eyes like blindfolds. But from their manner and stealth, they plainly could see through the cloths. Eliza Guerra stepped forward, ready to defend her library. “What is the meaning of this? What do you want?” An unnerving silence answered her. The assailants parted to reveal a ninth man, clearly the leader. Standing well over six feet, he wore a crimson robe with a black sash over his eyes, his garb a mirror image of the others. He carried no weapon, only a half-foot-thick tome.

The worn leather binding was the same crimson as his robe. The gold gilt lettering on the cover was clearly visible: Malleus Maleficarum. Charlotte shrank back, hope dying inside her. She had prayed this was merely a high-stakes heist. Many of the library’s volumes were priceless. But the book in the man’s hand threw her into despair. It appeared to be a first edition, one of only a few still in existence. One copy was preserved here at the Joanina Library. From the deep frown on Eliza’s face, maybe it was the very same edition, snatched from the stacks. The book was written in the fifteenth century by a Catholic priest named Heinrich Kramer.

The Latin name translated as The Hammer of Witches. Devised as a guide to identify, persecute, and torture witches, it was one of the most reviled and blood-soaked books in human history. Estimates put the number of victims attributed to this book at more than sixty thousand souls. Charlotte glanced at her companions. And now there will be five more. The leader’s first words confirmed her fears. “Maleficos non patieris vivere.” Charlotte recognized the admonishment from the Book of Exodus. Suf er not a witch to live. The man continued in English, though his accent sounded Spanish.

“Xénese must never be,” he intoned. “It is an abomination, born of sorcery and filth.” Charlotte frowned. How did he know what we’re attempting this night? Still, the mystery would have to wait. Pistols were leveled intently at the group as two men carried forward a pair of five-gallon tanks. She read the lettering on the side: Querosene. She didn’t need to be fluent in Portuguese to recognize the content, especially after the men upended the tanks and oily fuel flooded across the floor of the confined space. The smell of kerosene quickly grew suffocating. Coughing, Charlotte shared a look with the other terrified women. After working in tandem for the past six years, they knew each other.

No words were needed. They were not tied to wooden stakes. If this was their end, these particular witches would die fighting. Better a bullet than the flame. She sneered at the leader. “Suffer this, asshole!” The five women splashed through the pool of kerosene and dove into the gathering of men. Pistols fired, explosively loud in the confined space. Charlotte felt rounds pelt into her, but her momentum still carried her to the leader. She lunged and clawed at his face, gouging her nails deep into his flesh, tearing down his cheek. She tore his blindfold free and saw only fury in his exposed eyes.

He dropped the accursed book and shoved her away. She landed on the stone floor at the edge of the pool of kerosene. Propped up on one arm, she glanced across the room in horror at the other four women sprawled and unmoving on the floor, their blood mixing with the oil. Weakening rapidly, she slumped to the floor herself. The leader swore and spat orders in Spanish. A half-dozen Molotov cocktails were removed from robes and quickly lit. Charlotte ignored them as her body grew cold, draining any fear of the coming heat. She stared back into the room, where motion drew her fading eyes. On the computer screen, the Bruxas pentagram spun rapidly, far faster than before, as if agitated by all that had transpired.



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