Arena of Souls
Chapter 7: The Message
“You’re in grave danger? I suppose you found that out on your own,” Alex said. “But what does he mean by ‘much depends on’ you?”
“Hopefully, the answer lies here.” Stone tapped the journal. “Or in one of the other books.”
“You’re going to read all of those?” Alex cast a doubtful look at the shelves stuffed with journals.
“If I must, but I suspect this journal is the key. Otherwise, Grandfather wouldn’t have hidden it away. I have to warn you, I won’t make for good company until I’m finished. I’ll have to concentrate on my reading.”
“Not to worry.” Alex consulted his pocket watch. “I should probably go to work. Will you be here tonight or at your townhouse.”
“Here, most likely.”
“I’ll see you this evening, then.”
Stone bade his friend goodbye, sat down at his grandfather’s desk, and laid the book on the table. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. As he drew in each breath, he concentrated on the task at hand, and with each exhalation, he expelled all emotions and distractions until his mind was sharpened to a keen edge. When he was ready, he opened his eyes and started reading.
He’d always been a fast reader with a gift for remembering what he read, but with this focus technique, which he’d learned during his travels after leaving the service, made it possible for him to consume and retain great quantities of information in very little time. He finished the journal in less than ten minutes and tossed it on the table, disappointed. He’d uncovered only a few vague allusions to a message he wanted to share with Stone, but nothing specific. Undeterred, he began reading his grandfather’s journals from the beginning.
Samuel Stone had begun recording his thoughts in his teen years. Though many of the concerns were typical for a young man of sixteen, such as hijinks with friends and dalliances with the daughter of a local farmer, Samuel had also written lengthy reflections on the issues of the day: reconstruction, westward expansion, and the place of freed slaves in American society.
As Stone read, three facets of Samuel’s character came to the fore: his love of learning, a desire to travel the world, and an eagerness to go to war. Samuel expressed regret that he’d been too young to fight in the Civil War, a regret that eventually motivated him to leave the university and enlist in the army.
Whatever it was about war that captivated Samuel evaporated on the plains of the Western frontier, where the young man witnessed such horrors that he spent the ten years after his stint in the army traveling the world and trying to forget what he’d seen.
As he read, Stone couldn’t help but see parallels between his grandfather’s experiences and his own. During his decade abroad, Samuel had seen and done much more than Stone had, and he’d fastidiously recorded his experiences. The only exception was the final leg of his ten year wanderings. The ship carrying him from Madagascar foundered in a storm somewhere in the Atlantic. Samuel had survived, reaching Virginia two months later, but though he managed to save his journal book, he wrote nothing about how he managed to escape death and make his way home, nor what he did during those two months. For a man who fastidiously recorded the events of his life, this was a glaring omission.
Stone was closing the last volume when Alex returned.
“You’ve been at it all day?”
“Just finished.” Stone rose and stretched. “What time is it?”
“Six o’clock.” Puzzled, Alex looked at the stacks of discarded volumes. “What did you find?”
“He had a message for me.”
“And that message was?”
“No idea.” Stone was still so focused on the contents of the journals, all the things he’d learned about his grandfather’s life rushing through his head, that he felt no annoyance or frustration at his failure.
“You’re joking.” Alex picked up a journal at random and began flipping through. “He left clues to find the room and the the book, but no clues to find the message? That makes no sense.” He placed the journal back onto the pile. “Maybe he intended to write the message in the final journal but didn’t get the chance to.”
“I can’t believe that,” Stone said. “Whatever the message is, it’s clearly important. He would have made sure it was preserved somehow.”
“Too bad it’s not like that treasure hunt he put together for us on Easter. How old were we? Ten? That was the first time I learned about…” Alex paused in mid-sentence.
“Invisible ink.” Stone snatched up the last journal, the one Samuel had hidden in the pterodactyl’s beak. “Trinity used to tell me I was the dumbest genius she’d ever met. I think she was right.”
He found a candle in a holder on a nearby shelf, lit it, and turned to the back page. He held the paper over the flame as an image appeared at the top of the page: a sketch of the and watched as words in tight script appeared.
I have every confidence that you will find this letter. You are the cleverest member of my family, and the one most like me in character and spirit. You did not tell me why you left after your parents’ deaths, but I believe I understand.
We live in a world of wonder, a world of light, but the darkness is ever-encroaching, and it is only by the works of dedicated men that evil can be held at bay. I believe you are such a man. You are gifted in every way a man can be, but you are more than your strength and intelligence. You are a man of character and compassion, and you wield your gifts wisely.
All that I have I have left for you- this house and all the secrets it contains, including a lifetime of knowledge, are yours, but the greatest part of your inheritance awaits you if you have the courage to seek it. You may choose to forfeit it if you wish, but know that I have good reason to believe others will always seek it, sometimes forcefully, and I fear there is nothing you can do to avoid the danger except stand and face it. If you are the man I believe you are, I know you will not turn and run.
If you choose to accept this inheritance, you will have at your disposal the means to stand against evil and emerge victorious. It is my hope that you will do what I lacked the strength of body and will to do.
With pride and affection,
Beneath the letter, Samuel had sketched a map of an island chain, the center island rendered in detail, with a dotted line winding around landmarks and terminating at the island’s center. The map lacked any names, compass points, or coordinates. Stone would have to match the islands to known maps in order to find his way, and he had a good idea where he should begin.
He handed the journal to Alex and began pacing like a caged puma while his friend read the letter.
“I would ask what you’re going to do,” Alex said, closing the book, “but I know you too well for there to be any doubt.”
“I still have research to do, but when I locate this island, I’m going to find out what’s there. Will you go with me?”
“What?” Alex blanched. “I don’t… I mean…” He took a deep breath. “I can’t just leave work.”
“You’ll work for me. I’ll match your current salary plus ten percent.” Stone laid a big hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I need someone I can trust, and I don’t have anyone else.”
Alex looked wildly around the room, as if searching for an excuse. Finally, his shoulders sagged and he nodded. “I’ll do it.”
Stone felt a flash of guilt. “I know I sprang this on you, and it could be dangerous, so take time to consider before you answer.”
Alex shook his head. “No need. I do want to go with you. I’ve never forgotten the adventures we pretended to have as children.”
“If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure. I’ll go.”