Book II: Chapter 35
The Sight continued for me as I saw that the small room that Alan and Miriam had emerged into.
By the look on Alan’s face I could tell that it wasn’t exactly what he had expected to find. (And I had to agree with him).
“It looks like an olde world safe deposit box room.” Alan was confused. “This is the sacred crypt of La Papessa?
“Well, your description is not far from the truth.” Miriam replied, now looking completely relaxed.
The walls of the room were filled with a multitude of small openings, each covered with a now-corroded iron door – these were the safe deposit boxes Alan had referred to — and nearly every inch seemed to have such a box built in.
“Hmm. Although this was a nice touch,” Alan joked, “it’s well known that during medieval times locksmithing technology was not all that secure. I can’t imagine this would do much to keep out a determined thief.”
“Take a closer look.” Miriam flashed the light over a block of the boxes. “As you can see, each door has multiple locking systems – to include a spring loaded bolt, interlocking wards on the case, and a padlock. Also notice that each door has no less than seven key-holes – this is significant, because for each box only one keyhole provides access to the interior – choose any of the incorrect key holes, and the final security measure is triggered.”
“A small capsule is stored within each of the incorrect keyholes. If their wards are moved, the capsule will be punctured – causing trace amounts of sulfur, naphtha, and quicklime to be released inside the box.”
“Wait,” Alan interrupted. “That combination of chemicals is known as Greek Fire and it’s highly combustible! I recall John telling me how he helped the Byzantines perfect its use in the 7th century to help defend Constantinople from attacking Arabs.”
Pondering further, Alan added, “Miriam, do you realize that if a liquid fire like that was released into such a small space it would burn indefinitely, becoming so pressurized, that if and when the doorway ever was opened, the Greek Fire would explode outwards, scorching the intruder!”
(Wow, I’m pretty impressed).
“The consequence of an errant deed.” Miriam confirmed, unmoved.
“But what about the treasures inside? They would be burned up too.”
“Only one box actually has anything inside — the one containing my letter from La Papessa.” And here she moved over towards the left hand wall and placed her hand on the door to one of the boxes. “As you can see, this door is still intact, thus my letter is safe.”
“But, what if an intruder had pried at the locks on your box and failed?” Alan was still incredulous at the security system that Miriam and Pope Joan had devised. “Your letter would be gone.”
“That would have been just as well. After all, I know what it says. Remember, we are here to ensure that no one else does.” And before Alan could remark again, she continued. “Time is running short. The Sacra Crypta we stand in now is located exactly under where the old altar of Saint Stephen’s used to be. It is now time for us to retrieve that which La Papessa locked inside.” And she reached into her blouse and pulled out a chain, revealing a small key – one that she then used to unlock the padlock.
<Click!> the device opened.
Miriam then proceeded to turn the dials necessary to unlock the various tumblers that released multiple bolts in turn. Finally she used the same key that opened the padlock and plunged it into one of the seven keyholes – the third from the left. Miriam turned the key a full rotation, only to cause the tumblers to fall in line with a <HIIIiiiisssss…>
At the sound, Alan pulled Miriam backwards, “Greek Fire!”
Yet Miriam shrugged him off, “Don’t worry. My efforts were correct, that was just a small bit of air trapped inside.” With full confidence, she proceeded to open the portal. “This box has been locked for centuries… until today.”
Alan watched as Miriam reached inside the box and pulled out a small scroll – although it was tiny and non-descript, he did not make the mistake of underestimating its importance, “The Doomsday Missive. Can I finally see it?”
“There’s no time.” Miriam stuffed the scroll into her blouse and began looking all around the room, as if expecting something to happen.
“What do you mean no time?” Alan queried.
Just then, the floor began to <Rumble>.
“Get ready!” Miriam called out above the increasing din.
And as soon as she said it, the floor tilted down, giving way beneath them and sending them falling into the darkness below!
“YAWWW!” Alan screamed as the floor of the Sacra Crytpa gave way, causing he and Miriam to land with a <THUD> in the pitch black below.
“Some ride!” Miriam called out. “Are you alright, Alan?”
“Sure. But some advance warning would have been nice. Miriam, I can’t see a thing. How do we get out of this mess?”
“Easy.” Miriam flicked on her lighter again. “Just go up those stairs.”
Now that I could see too, it appeared my friends were in a rough hewn cavern; the location where they dropped from above was once more closed off and there was apparently no other way to go, except up the stairs Miriam just illuminated (how convenient, eh?)
And so, with Miriam leading the way, the pair trudged upwards. After a short while they reached a small landing – yet this too appeared to end in a blank wall.
“So where does this secret doorway take us?” Alan joked.
“I think you’ll be amused at this one.” Miriam reached high on the right wall and pushed in the release mechanism for this portal.
“Wait a second.” Alan hissed as the door opened. “This is the hidden cove behind the wooden stall in the Chapel of the Choir! But, Miriam, why in the world did we go through that escapade to get to the Sacra Crypta if we could have just walked down a flight of stairs? What are you trying to do to me? If I didn—“
“Alan, dear, what good would it have done to go down these stairs? How would you have gotten into the Sacra Crypta? The trap door ceiling can only be released from inside the Sacra Crypta.”
“So, you’re telling me that had we, or anyone, gone down this stairwell from the Chapel of the Choir it would have been to no avail?”
“The only thing you would have discovered would have been that empty chamber below. There is no way to get into the Sacra Crypta — except by that which we traversed.”
“I see.” Alan said through pursed lips, perhaps not yet ready to let Miriam off the hook for the ordeal he just went through. “Well, what now?”
“First let’s don our disguises.” Miriam began putting on her tourist clothes once more. “Then, we wait till the basilica officially opens again.”
Unfortunately for me, my vision did not allow me to skip ahead this time – instead I had to keep a vigil with them.
Time passed by slowly (for all of us) as they waited in that cramped room.
It’s at times like this that I lament not being able to enjoy a good stiff drink while watching these visions. Quite frankly I never understood why He didn’t allow me this little concession – what harm could it have caused? Hell, had I been able to drink a few brews I’d have been much more willing to endure these revelations over the millennia.
But does He ever think of me?
Of my happiness?