The Hunted Chapter 13 snippet

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The Pope made his way down the stone corridors of the New Vatican. Sleep had been impossible for him since this meeting had been scheduled. There was something about being in the presence of the head of the Syndicate that shook him to his core.

How was it that the leader of the largest church in man’s history had to meet with a man like this? While the Syndicate had originally been a part of the church, they had gone their separate ways centuries before. However, even know, they had dealings with each other and it was those meetings that the Pope found distasteful.

Paul the Tenth shook his head in disgust while he made his way towards his private study. No matter how distasteful he found the man he was meeting to be, there were ties that linked the two of them inexorably together. Paul closed his eyes and tried to put the guilt out of his mind.

When he entered the study, he found a fire burning in the fireplace. Bookshelves reached to the ceiling, giving the room a secluded feeling that Paul craved. The small windows, placed near the ceiling, gave off just enough light to keep the room from taking on the feeling of a morgue.

Two high backed leather-sitting chairs were arrayed before the fire. A blonde haired man watched him enter the room, a bland expression on his face. In all the dealings Paul had with the man, he had never seen a different expression cross the other man’s face.

How did I get myself into this situation? Paul asked himself again.

“You look well for a man who has the weight of the world in him,” the man said with a mirthless smile.

“Unfortunately,” Paul said, “I don’t have the ability to make my problems disappear.”

“Maybe you should give it a try,” his visitor said. “It seems to work well for me.”

“I’m not like you,” Paul said.

“That much is obvious,”

An uncomfortable silence fell over the room after the man’s comment. Paul looked at the visitor and worked hard to keep from showing the contempt he felt for the Syndicate’s leader. If the two organizations hadn’t come from the same roots, he wouldn’t be meeting with the killer, but it had been a long-standing tradition to keep in touch.

Plus, Paul reminded himself, barely keeping a grimace off his face. You never know when I’ll need his services.

“It’s been a while since we’ve met,” Paul said. “What brings you here?”

“I need information from your Selkirk records,” the man said bluntly.

So, Paul thought, that was what he wants.

Selkirk was one of the most odious activities the church had done during its long life. While he hadn’t been Pope at the time, Paul had been a high-ranking cardinal and the horror of the situation almost sent him to the media. The man sitting before him had benefited from what transpired more then anyone else, so why would he be asking for more information?

“Considering how things turned out for you,” Paul said. “I wonder what makes you want information now.”

“I have a problem I need answers on,”

“You had you pick of the children,” Paul said, barely keeping the vitriol out of his voice. “How could you possibly not know everything?”

“Easy,” the man said. “They were orphans and only you had any records of their past.”

Paul closed his eyes and let his mind contemplate what his visitor was asking. When the Syndicate had come to the church, sixteen years ago, they had been adamant on their need. They needed children, orphans particularly, to be sold to the Games Masters on Necko.

For the church, the timing couldn’t have been any worse, with another round of predatory priests being found throughout the Alliance. Donations to the Vatican had dropped after that and the orphanage on Selkirk hadn’t been able to care for the children in their care.

It was then that the Syndicate had offered the church a way to stay alive: they would buy orphans from the Church for the Games Masters. In return, the church would keep silent about the Syndicate’s involvement in what happened. For the secretive society of mercenaries and assassins, it was a perfect deal: they stayed secret if anyone learned of the sale, and the church would get blamed for what happened.

This was an impossible situation to be in, Paul had argued to Pope James. If they were to take the Syndicate’s offer, then the church was damned its on soul to Hell. How could it ever look at the congregations it served after selling the orphans to slavery? It would turn every sermon over the years that railed against slavery and make them moot and meaningless.

“You’re having a problem with one of the orphans?” Paul said, an eyebrow rising. “I’m surprised they’re not dead.”

“Most are,” the man said. “I won’t lie. But a select few survived-and thrived in that environment. It’s on in particular that I want to know the background of.”

“So after making me beholden to you,” Paul spat. “You come here asking for my help. That takes some nerve.”

“What’s the point of having you at our debt if I don’t take advantage of it?” he asked, laughing.

Point taken, Paul thought.

“Who is it that you need me to look into?”

“Katherine Elizabeth Almir,” the man said. “I want to know whatever you know about her.”
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