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Authors: Adriana Koulias

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The Sixth Key

BOOK: The Sixth Key
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THE SIXTH KEY

ADRIANA KOULIAS

__________________

 

First Edition
and Second Edition (ebook) published by Bantam in 2011

Third
Edition Published by Zuriel Press in 2012

Copyright
© Adriana Koulias 2011

The
moral right of the author has been asserted.

All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any
person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under
the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968),
recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without
the prior written permission of Zuriel Press.

National
Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

Koulias,
Adriana.

The
Sixth Key/Adriana Koulias.

ISBN
978-0-9874620-2-2

CONTENTS

Title
Page

Copyright

Contents

Author's Foreword

Dedication

Epigram

1. The Writer of Letters

2. In the Belly of the Dragon

3. Calm Before the Storm

4. Dog and Wolf

5. The Crypt

6. Serinus

7. Sancho

8. A Bird in the Hand

9. Pierre Plantard

10. One man's Grave is Another Man's
bed

11. Beziers

12. Deodat

13. Of Fish and Men

14. Murder Most Foul

15. Enigmas and Conundrums

16. To Hit the Nail on the Head

17. Prospero

18. Isobel

19. A Key, a List, and a Sign

20. Much Ado About Nothing?

21. Gone

22. The Living Dead

23. The Treasure

24. Magic Squares

25. Rennes-le Chateau

26. Madame Denarnaud

27. A Friend in Need

28. Another to Add to the List

29. More Watson than Holmes

30. Nothing is What it Seems

31. The Abbot

32. Underworld

33. Blood on the Altar

34. She Reads to the Dead

35. Chavigny

36. One Mystery Reveals Another

37. Data, Data, Data

38. Dead or Alive?

39. More than Meets the Eye

40. A Box, a Tomb and a Word

41. Three's Company and Five's a Crowd

42. What did King
 
Dagobert Say to His Hourds?

43. And the First Shall be the Last

44. Unbrotherly Quarrels

45. In the Heat of the Moment

46. An End without an End

47. Penitence, Penitence!

48. Lady in Waiting

49. Le Papesse

50. Two Places at Once?

51. Who is Who?

52. The First Return

Author's Note

Acknowledgements

 

*

All secret societies and
groups depicted in The Sixth Key exist. All church artwork, architecture,
puzzles and grimoires of black magic are factual.

*

To Serapis, who taught me
the secrets of the Apocalypse. And to Loouie, who wore Venetian masks though
she never saw Venice – you taught me that death is truly brighter than
life.

*

‘I was looking for divinity, yet I find myself
at the gates of Hell. Still I may continue to walk, to fall, even in flames. If
there exists a way towards Heaven then it crosses Hell. At least it does for
me. Well then . . . I dare!’

SS Obersturmführer
Otto Wilhelm Rahn

ISLAND OF THE DEAD
1
The Writer of Letters
‘What then shall I ask?’
 
‘You must begin at the
beginning.’
‘The beginning! But where is the beginning?’
Edgar Allan Poe, ‘Mesmeric Revelation’
Venice, November 2012

I had fallen asleep on the bench waiting for the vaporetto and
woke with a dry mouth and a crick in the neck as the boat pulled up at the
Fondamente Nuove. Once we were chugging lazily over the dusk-coloured lagoon, I
dared to ask the boatman where he was taking me. Luckily he spoke some English
and pointed to an island in the distance, saying, ‘San Michele. The Island of
the Dead . . . the cemetery of Venice.’

Well, I thought to myself. Why not a cemetery
in the middle of a lagoon? It all made a crazy sort of sense – it was
something the Writer of Letters, as I liked to call him, would do.

It was in character.

My publisher had forwarded his last letter, as
always, typed on the same watermarked paper as the others. It contained these
words:

Perhaps it is time we
meet? Together, I am certain that we can find the solution to the riddle that
is perplexing you:

HOC EST SEPULCHRUM INTUS CADAVER NON HABENS HOC EST CADAVER
SEPULCHRUM EXTRA NON HABENS SED CADAVER IDEM EST ET SEPULCHRUM SIBI

This time, along with the letter there was
also an air ticket to Venice and instructions on what to do when I arrived.

Counting this one, I had received six letters
in all. At first I had thought them mildly amusing; after all, what author of
mysteries doesn’t receive letters from shopkeepers, housewives, or even
convicted criminals, offering interesting information? But I only realised how
different these letters were when the fourth arrived. That’s when I began to
wonder who this person was.

At the time I had just finished a novel and my
editor discovered that a Latin word, a word integral to the plot, was
grammatically incorrect. This unfortunate realisation occurred just as the book
was headed for the printing press and I quickly got on the phone to several
Latin professors. I needed a Latin word composed of seven letters – no
more and no less – that meant ‘becoming’. I was on the phone to the
printers trying to delay them when the fourth letter arrived. A coincidence,
you might ask? No, I’ve come to know there are no coincidences. Inside the
letter I found the Latin word I had been looking for – Fiesque.

Similarly, the fifth letter arrived when I was
unable to source important details about an underground passage in an obscure
castle on the border of Austria and Hungary. Once again, in that fifth letter I
found a miracle – an essay written in the early nineteenth century by a
Knight of Malta, containing the very information I needed. This was a mystery
that could well have been written by Edgar Allan Poe!

So, you see, I wasn’t surprised
when I received the sixth letter containing a Latin riddle that had been
confounding me for months. The riddle was found on a sixteenth-century
tombstone in Bologna. It was entitled ‘To the Gods of the Dead’ and translated
it read:

This is a tomb that has no body in it.

This is a body that has no tomb round it.

But body and tomb are the
same.

I had long been certain that it held the
solution to one of the most important mysteries of our time – the mystery
of life and death – and I had resolved to make the solution to this
riddle the pivotal theme of my next novel. When it proved more than difficult
to solve, I took comfort in knowing that it had obsessed and exercised the wits
of better minds than mine: men like Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Jung and the French
writer Gerard Nerval had also wrestled with it. But as time dragged on, and the
deadline for delivery of the manuscript loomed, I began to wonder what had made
me imagine myself capable of solving it. The timely arrival of that sixth
letter was compelling evidence that its writer was either intuiting my
thoughts, or indeed, perhaps even inspiring them. Of course I had to accept his
invitation. How could I refuse? By coming to Venice I would be solving two
mysteries – the identity of the Writer of Letters and the solution to the
inscription.

Now, as I looked out from the vaporetto
towards that cold island overhung with Cyprus spears, I marvelled at the
ingenuity of the creator of those letters. He had orchestrated a scene straight
out of the Egyptian Book of the Dead: I was travelling on the boat of Isis,
sailing over the river of souls to the Underworld. It was brilliant!

When the boat came to the landing stage on the
northwest corner of the island I climbed out, paid the man what I owed him and
watched him pull his vessel away into the foggy evening. Above on the upper
landing I saw a light moving in the darkness – it was a monk carrying a
lamp. The monk turned out to be a rather pleasant Irishman. He made animated
conversation as he led me through dark arches and cloisters, beyond which lay a
world suspended in a mercurial solution of fog and Carrara marble.

‘Will you be staying the night?’ he asked.

‘Actually, I’m not certain,’ I said, feeling
ridiculous.

‘Well, it’s good you’ve come before the Day of
the Dead.’

‘That’s in three days’ time?’ I hadn’t thought
about the Day of the Dead, an important holiday for Venetians, and so
appropriate – I couldn’t help but smile.

‘Yes, the vaporetto is free all day for those
who want to visit the graves of their relatives. The cemetery ends up full of
flowers and aswarm with people.’ He leant in. ‘The definition of bedlam if you
ask me! For now, it’s serene, thank God!’

I looked around, taking in the size of the
island. ‘The cemetery doesn’t seem big enough to service all of Venice.’

‘You’re right: the buried only stay here
twelve years. After that, the bones are exhumed and the remains are moved to
the Island of Bones, Sant’ Ariano. Venice is built on water, you see, and there
can be no catacombs, so, over the centuries a lot of thought has gone into what
to do with the dead. One could even say that Venetians are obsessed with death.
Did you know they once used the bones of the dead to refine their sugar! I
won’t be getting diabetes living here, that’s for certain.’ He gave an easy
laugh. It sounded strange, given the present setting.

Beyond the monastery’s cloister now, we
entered a dark, labyrinthine corridor that led to what looked like a library. I
followed the monk over oriental rugs to two winged chairs set by a great fire
and here my breathing paused. After six years the moment had come, and I could
hardly believe it.

I had tried many times to imagine the Writer
of Letters. Sometimes I conjured an image of a middle-aged hermit with a
crooked back, a hooked nose and a lined face. At other times he was the
handsome head librarian of some illustrious library, a man of letters who liked
to read mystery novels on the sly. I even imagined a beautiful, erudite woman
– a modern version of that Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia. Now, when the
man stood and offered his hand, I couldn’t have been more surprised.

The Writer of Letters was about my age but his
entire manner bespoke another era. He looked at me with deep-set eyes and hair
swept back from a face slightly lined but still youthful.

He gave a charming white smile. ‘Thank you for
coming! I had hoped you wouldn’t refuse my invitation.’ His English was perfect
with only the slightest accent, perhaps Swiss or German.

I told him that it was good to put a face to
his letters and thanked him for his invaluable help over the years.

‘Please.’ He gestured to one of the winged
chairs. ‘I hope your journey was bearable.’

‘First class is as good as it gets, thank you.
Perhaps we should exchange names?’ I ventured to say.

He hesitated and I felt that I’d made a faux
pas.

‘Names get in the way,’ was all he said.

There didn’t seem to be room for argument and
I decided to let it go for now. ‘Do you live here at the monastery?’

‘I am not sure if you could call it my home,’
was his ambiguous answer.

Before I could say anything in response the
Irish monk entered the library again, carrying a tray of coffee and pastries,
which he set down before us.

When he was gone, the Writer of Letters poured
me a cup and offered the sugar. I declined, smiling to myself.

He settled back in his chair. ‘So, what do you
think of my library?’

I glanced about, taking in the many
bookshelves. ‘It’s remarkable.’

‘This monastery once housed a famous
scriptorium as well as a school for theology and philosophy, but that was
before Napoleon. In those days it held as many as forty thousand volumes. After
the invasion of course, there was little left, everything was looted . . . War
is not a friend of books, you see. At any rate, they say Napoleon was looking
for something and when he didn’t find it he punished the monks by converting
the whole place into a prison.’

‘And now it’s a cemetery.’

He looked at me with those hooded eyes. ‘It
guards corpses. A book is a corpse in a way, wouldn’t you say?’

I sipped at the coffee. ‘That’s an interesting
way to look at it.’

He raised one brow. The gesture made me
uncomfortable.

‘When the Franciscans became the caretakers of
the cemetery,’ he continued, ‘they opened the library again and began making
careful acquisitions here and there, slowly filling the shelves again. I’m
happy to say that now there are over twenty thousand volumes here, many of them
first editions or very rare copies. From reading your books I can tell that you
are not only fascinated with libraries and labyrinths but also with puzzles.’

‘Puzzles are my living,’ I told him.

He leant in to poke at the fire a moment.
‘Have you read Jorge Luis Borges?’

‘Yes . . . but that was years ago.’

He sat back again and crossed his legs,
elegant and cool, as far from my image of a Franciscan monk as you could get.

‘Borges’ “Library of Babel” is one of my
favourite short stories,’ he said. ‘I love his idea of a universe that consists
of endless interlocking galleries, in which are kept all the books ever
written, and even those likely to be written. Books whose content and order is
random and meaningless.’

I thought about it a moment. ‘Do you think
Borges was trying to convey the opposing ideas of chaos and order, or the
futility of accumulating knowledge?’

He smiled. ‘Perhaps both, perhaps neither? It
might just be the learned Arab coming out in him.’

‘But I thought he was Argentinian?’

There was an awkward silence.

‘I am speaking of one of his previous lives.’

My disquiet must have been palpable. I
realised he was playing a game and that everything he was saying had been
calculated to make me feel slightly uncomfortable. I decided that I wasn’t
going to give him the satisfaction.

‘I see.’

He wasn’t put off. ‘Take “The Book of Sand”,
for instance,’ he said. ‘An infinite book that changes every time you look into
it. Then again, there is “The Garden of Forking Paths”, where one confronts
several alternatives and these create several possible futures, which are again
full of alternatives, and these proliferate and fork to make more futures,
endlessly.’ He sat forwards. ‘Do you think Borges understood the idea of karma
and destiny?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Well, he certainly managed to illustrate, quite
perfectly, the experience of crossing the threshold.’

‘What threshold do you mean?’

‘The threshold that separates life from death,
time from space; where the past and the future converge in the present; where
the dead exist.’

My smile must have looked increasingly
foolish. ‘I suppose you are going to tell me how one crosses the threshold? Is
that the solution to the riddle – initiation?’

He looked at me without humour, clearly
annoyed. ‘To taste a good brandy one must sip slowly, savouring the complex flavours
on the tongue! A man who drinks it down in one gulp tastes nothing and burns
his throat. Isn’t that so?’

I nodded pensively. He was right – I was
being precipitous. Still, his tone had been harsh

He looked a little repentant. ‘I do apologise.
I’ve been away from society for too long, I’m afraid. I don’t mean to be
ill-mannered.’ He paused, thinking a moment, or perhaps he was just giving me
time to forgive his shortness. ‘Yes, all initiations are a form of death. One’s
consciousness of the world dies and one enters the realm of the spirit, the
realm of the dead, as you have intimated. But do you know this: that every time
one goes to sleep one also enters the realm of the dead, leaving behind one’s
personality to enter a labyrinth, a hall of mirrors, a universe of galleries,
wherein lies a record of all the personalities that one has been through the
aeons?’ He watched me, measuring the effect of his words. ‘Tell me, what do you
think has brought you here?’

‘You invited me.’

‘No,’ he said with a curt tone that once again
caught me by surprise. ‘You invited yourself!’

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