They stood on a ledge overlooking a yawing cavern so wide they could scarcely see the other side. Floating in midair down below them was a glowing blue-white orb. Its surface pulsed and sparkled, bathing the jagged rocks of the cavern in a pale glow. The light had an odd quality . Though Dane sensed an intensity to it, he could look on it without so much as squinting. And though the cavern was a comfortable temperature, the thing was obviously not giving off heat.
“What’s keeping it up in the air?” Bones asked.
Dane shook his head. He had never seen anything like it. It seemed to be a self-contained ball of pure energy. “I want to know what fuels it. It can’t just burn perpetually, can it?”
“Guys, look at this.” Jade held up the skull she was carrying. The stone gleamed with a light the exact color and quality of that which burned below. “It’s the same.”
“All along, these compass stones weren’t pointing to a pole.” Bones scrutinized his own Magi skull. “They were pointing to this place.”
“Jade, what’s the German word for light?” The pieces were falling together in Dane’s mind.
“Licht,” she said, mesmerized by the pulsing ball of light.
“Remember what the dying priest said? ‘Ewige l...’ He wasn’t saying ‘eternal life,’ he was saying ‘eternal light.’ He meant this light.”
“Whoa.” Bones took a step back. “Like how we thought the stones were making their own light! If this is a source of perpetual light...” He looked at Dane.
“A limitless supply of clean energy without the need for fuel. Unless we’re way off base.” He took a deep breath, trying to iMagine a nation harnessing such a power. Even if it was not put to any sort of military use, it could give a country’s economy such a boost that it could re-allocate massive resources to its military. It would be a treasure far beyond the rumored gifts of the Magi.
Jade suddenly tugged at Dane’s wrist. “Maddock, you remember the story Adler told about the star the Wise Men followed being hidden underground! Do you,” she swallowed and her voice became very small, “do you think this is the Star of Bethlehem?”
“Maybe. Or at least, it’s whatever is behind the story. It’s obviously not an actual star.” He chuckled. “Nothing like stating the obvious, huh?”
Jade did not get to complete her thought because, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by men armed with spears and arrows tipped with blue stones that shone like the ball of light down below. They had crept up silently and taken up positions in a semicircle, leaving Dane, Bones and Jade trapped between a pit with no visible bottom and a line of armed men.
Except they weren’t men.
Horns protruded from their long, shaggy brown hair, and though they appeared human, if overly muscular and hairy, from forehead to waist, they were definitely animal-like from the waist down. At the waist, their body hair grew thick and glossy, and coated their thick thighs and lean calves. Their legs, which bent backward, ended in dark, cleft hooves, like a...
“A goat,” Dane whispered. “They’re satyrs.” His thoughts flashed to the pagan temple beneath the cathedral in Cologne. Satyrs were associated with Dionysus, or Bacchus, depending on your preferred mythology. A creature like this was the Krampus whom Adler had seen so many years ago.
One of the goat men cocked his head at the word ‘satyr,’ and nodded once. He pointed and Dane realized he was indicating the pistol tucked inside his jacket pocket. Slowly, Dane took it out and laid in on the ground; Bones did the same. The satyr gave another nod and came forward to collect them when a loud voice rang out in the cavern.
“Nobody move or the goat dies!” Issachar emerged from a nearby passageway. His left arm was wrapped around a satyr, holding it tight. In his right hand he held a knife pressed to its throat.
They emerged into the light of the cavern and Issachar’s eyes fell on the glowing ball of energy. Unlike the others, he did not seem mesmerized or even impressed. Instead, his face contorted in rage.
“Where’s the myrrh?” he screamed.
The satyrs exchanged glances, their expressions so foreign to Dane as to be unreadable.
“It’s not here, Issachar. You had it all wrong.”
“I wasn’t wrong.” There was a pleading tone to his voice. “The secret to eternal life...”
“Eternal light!” Dane corrected. “Ewige licht, not ewige leben.”
The satyrs looked at him as if the German words were familiar. Dane could have sworn one of them looked at Issachar with a scornful grin.
“There is a miracle here, but not the one you thought you would find.” Dane took a step forward. “Let him go.”
“I don’t believe you. The Magi’s treasures are here.”
“The one treasure is here. The Star of Bethlehem, whatever it is, but you can’t take it with you. Do yourself a favor, give it up and run. You might even get away.” He took another step forward and the ring of satyrs parted to make room for him.
“But Lazarus... Jesus... how did they rise from the dead?”
“I don’t know.” Dane shrugged. “Maybe it was a regular old miracle. Whatever it was, you won’t find the answer here.” He spoke the last slowly, as if to a dimwit. “Let him go.”
“What do you care about a goat?” Issachar’s eyes burned with hatred.
“I don’t care. I care about kicking your ass.” Dane grinned. “Again.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Bones said.
Dane’s grin split into a broad smile as rage boiled in Issachar’s eyes.
“Come on,” he goaded, “don’t you want to get me back for what happened at Zion? Be a man.”
Issachar roared like an enraged lion, but before he could make a move, the satyr he was holding raised a leg and kicked him in the shin with the force of bucking bronco. Issachar’s roar turned to a shriek of pain as his shin snapped. In a flash, six satyrs were on him. They bore him up and carried him away, still screaming, into the darkness.
The satyr who had first approached Dane turned and stared at him. They stood there, listening to Issachar’s cries fade away, and waited. There was an odd, almost expectant look in the satyr’s eyes, like he was waiting for something. Dane thought for a moment, and then realized he was still holding the Magi skull.
He held it out in front of him like an offering, and then laid it carefully on the ground. Bones and Jade followed suit, and they all backed to the edge of the cliff.
The satyr folded his arms, looked down at the skulls, then took a long look at each of them, and nodded. He motioned three others forward. Each drew a knife and approached the three people standing on the cliff edge.
“What do we do?” Bones whispered from the side of his mouth.
“I think we’re okay,” Dane said. “If not...” He let the words hang in the air. If not, they’d have to fight the best they could.
The satyrs stopped when they reached the skulls. Each one of them used his knife to pry a compass stone from a crown. One by one, they hurled the stones into the cavern.
They looked like little meteorites, shining like little balls of pure light as the pulsing light drew them in. When the job was done, they handed the skulls back to Dane, Bones, and Jade.
The satyr whom Dane had come to think of as the leader now approached them. One by one, he placed his hand over each person’s heart and made another of his little nods. When he was done, he pointed to the way out.
“I don’t think we can find our way back.” Dane said.
The satyrs might not speak English, but they seemed to understand his doubtful tone. One of them moved to the mouth of the tunnel and beckoned for them to follow.
Their glowing spear heads lighting their path, one satyr led and another followed them out through the maze of dark tunnels. The path they took was more direct than the way they had come, because it seemed in no time they were standing on a snow covered ridge looking down on the twinkling lights of Drekonhas. The sun had just bedded down for the night and, to the west, its last delicate glow coated the tips of the Alps in burnished gold.
They turned and waved to the Satyrs, who looked at them with grave expressions. Finally, one of them bobbed his head and, giving them what Dane swore was a wistful look, drove his spear into the roof of the tunnel.
There was a flash of blue light, a sound like a grenade exploding, and the roof of the passage caved in. When the dust cleared, there was only a pile of broken rock remained where the entrance had been.
“Is somebody there?” Angel’s voice cut through the night air and, a moment later, a flashlight appeared in the distance. Angel appeared, picking her way along the ridgeline to where Dane and the others waited.
She crushed Dane and Bones in a tight embrace, crying and cursing them in turn. She wasn’t so rough with Jade, about whom she was clearly worried.
“How did you get here?” Dane asked.
“I told those douches in town,” she pointed down toward the lights, “what happened, but they wouldn’t even take a missing person’s report at first. Finally, the lady at the inn threw a fit, so they wrote it up, but they insisted the only way under the mountain was through these caverns. The old lady lent me her car and I followed the cops up here. They poked around for a while and then went home.” She breathed a deep sigh. “I’m just glad you’re all right. You jerks scared the crap out of me running off like that.”
“It’s all good.” Bones assured her. “We’re safe and sound, and I’ve got one hell of a story to tell you when we get back to the pub.”
“Well, you don’t have to buy me a gift,” she said. “You guys getting back safe is enough for me.”
“Good thing,” Bones said, “because I didn’t buy you jack!”
“Ass!” she punched him on the shoulder. “You’d better have gotten me something.” Laughing and arguing, they headed back across the ridge, with Dane and Jade following behind.
Jade looked up at the starry night sky and smiled. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever think of the Christmas Star the same again.”
“Me neither,” Dane agreed. He leaned down and kissed her gently on the lips. “Merry Christmas, Jade.”
“Merry Christmas, Maddock.”