49

SOME OF THE PEOPLE LAUGHED NERVOUSLY while others cleared their throats. Alex stood and pushed the chair in so that he could stand beside Jax and see all the smiling faces. He didn’t join in the smiling over the title transfer being concluded. A lot of people had already died because of the land, people close to him. He waited patiently for them to explain about the Daggett Trust.

Picking up on Alex’s sobriety, Mike turned serious as he went on to explain. “Those of us here in this room, along with the security staff who are on property, are members of an ancient society. It’s a small and very secret organization. We are the protectors of this land. Now, you are as well. Us by choice, by passion, by belief, and by dedication. You, Mr. Rahl, by birth as well as by choice.”

Alex looked around at all the suddenly serious faces watching him. “You mean you’re like high priests, or the last Knights Templar, or something?”

“In a way, yes,” one of the other men said.

Alex was a little surprised that they didn’t dismiss such a suggestion out of hand. Since learning about Jax coming from another world and seeing some of the things he’d seen, he was pretty well past being shocked, though. But he was concerned that the inheritance of a piece of land had ended up pulling him into the middle of some kind of secret organization.

Alex glanced around at the faces watching him. “So just what kind of secret ancient society is this? What’s it for?”

“It’s a long story, with a very long history to it, and at some point we will fill you in on all the details,” Hal Halverson said. “But for now I don’t like all of us here in one place together. It’s not how we usually do things. There is no telling if some of the people who are causing trouble might somehow know about us all being here. For all we know, any one of us could have inadvertently led that trouble here. To protect the trust, we rarely get this many members together all at once.”

“Where are the others?” Alex asked.

“The security people are all members,” Hal said, “and there are a few more members scattered around Europe. Other than the rest of the security people, though, this is most of us right here in this room.”

“Hal is right,” Mike said. “We’ll give you the quick version and leave the details for later.”

“This ought to be interesting,” Jax said under her breath as she folded her arms.

“Ages ago—”

“How long ago is that?” Alex interrupted.

Mike waved off the question. “We’re not sure, exactly. Well over a thousand years, we believe. Anyway, back then, ages ago, is when the Daggett Society was formed. It was, from its inception, a highly secret organization. There’s not a lot in the way of written records, other than the accounting and deeds. Most of our history and such is passed down orally. The people who formed the Daggett Society were risking their lives. Revealing its existence to anyone likely would have meant death.”

“What was so important about founding this secret society that they would risk their lives?” Alex asked.

“It was founded on the belief that at least some people in this world resettled here from another place.”

Alex looked around at all the faces. “You mean some space aliens flew people here in flying saucers?” he asked, still not completely ready to let them know that he knew exactly what they were talking about.

Alex didn’t like deceiving these people by playing dumb or by making it look like he was deriding them. He thought they were on his side. They seemed sincerely interested in protecting him, and they seemed devoted to protecting the land where the gateway was located.

But too much was at risk to worry about hurting their feelings. His life, Jax’s life, and the lives of other people from both worlds were at stake. People had already lost their lives. People close to him had lost their lives. He wanted to know exactly what these people knew before he was willing to let them in on everything he knew.

“Not exactly,” Mike said. “The book simply says—”

“What book?” Jax asked as she straightened, her arms coming unfolded.

One of the other men leaned in toward the two of them. He was the only African-American in the group. He appeared to be in his early fifties and in relatively good shape. He had a shaved head and wore small, thin-rimmed glasses. He had on khaki pants and a red plaid shirt, but he looked like he belonged in a herringbone suit.

He extended a hand. “I’m Ralph Overton, I’m the one in charge of the book.”

Alex shook his hand. “Like Jax asked, what book?”

Ralph adjusted his glasses. “Back at the time the society was formed, a book was compiled containing a variety of information, some of it sketchy. It isn’t an elaborate book like monks of the time would make. It’s more homemade, more crude than that. It’s the only written record we have.

“It appears to partly be a record of events, and partly an attempt to set down broader information related to those events. The book has always been an underlying element of the Daggett Society. According to the book, it seems that at least some of the people in this world came from another place.”

When Alex and Jax didn’t say anything this time, he went on.

“The society was formed to be the keepers of this secret knowledge, to preserve it so that it wouldn’t be forever lost, wouldn’t be entirely forgotten, as the people who put the book together believed would happen to everyone who had resettled here. Yet they had sound reason to believe that secrecy was necessary to protect the safety of the people in that other world, those brothers and sisters who are still there in that home place.”

“And how is this secret society supposed to protect the safety of these other people?” Alex asked.

“Well, you see,” Ralph went on, leaning in toward them both, “the book contains a prediction that a time will come when someone from this world will have to save that other world. That is the central founding reason for the book, and the reason the society was formed. The members of the Daggett Society were meant to be the keepers of this knowledge until that time came.”

“The members of the society,” Mike said, “are the keepers of this knowledge and prediction so that when the time comes they can help that person. Those of us in this room had for years all studied obscure historical clues spread across centuries and different cultures. That passion eventually led us to others like ourselves in the Daggett Society. We are the keepers of this knowledge, believers in the purpose of the book and the founders of the society. We believe that there is this other world somewhere out there.”

Alex frowned around at the faces watching him. “So this is like a religion, a religious belief?”

“No,” Ralph said, shaking his head emphatically. “Not a religious belief. We are not worshippers of this other world. You might say that it is akin to a spiritual belief in this other home world, but it’s not a religion. For us, for all present and past members of this small society, it’s a deeply held interest, a common passion, an absolute conviction, a vital purpose to our lives. It’s based on this book, the clues culled from history, and the things that have been passed down from older members to new members over the centuries.”

“Sounds like a religion to me,” Alex said.

Ralph shook his head again, along with everyone else. “The society was formed to keep this knowledge until the day it would be needed. That is our purpose, not adoration or deification. We don’t worship this other world, or its people. It’s simply an acknowledgment of the fact that we have a common ancestry, that we are both, us here in this world and those in that place, individuals who are all part of the greater noble race of mankind. We are one, in that life itself is what matters.”

Ralph lifted a finger for emphasis as he made his point. “We want to stand ready to make sure that when the time comes, the individuals in that other world do not lose that precious gift of life because we failed to act on knowledge only we have. We would hope that those in that other world would have the same reverence for our lives, and not let innocent people here die needlessly.”

Alex glanced over at Jax. She also appeared taken by the man’s words. It was how Alex felt about life and how precious it was. He remained silent, though, as Hal Halverson put in a word.

“Countless people have been born, grown up, become lifelong members of the society, and died without ever seeing any of the things we believe in come to pass.”

“Over the centuries,” Mike said, “the members made every effort to secure certain things having to do with the book. The most important thing, the thing the Daggett Society searched hundreds of years for, was what they believed would be the place of connection to this other world. In the late seventeen hundreds it was found by an explorer named L?on Deforce, who just happened to be a member of the society. He carried word of his discovery back to the society in Europe.” He gestured to Ralph. “You know the most about that part. Why don’t you tell them about it?”

Ralph nodded and took up the story. “The members of the Daggett Society, having found the connection they had long believed to exist, emigrated from Europe to the New World. They brought the book with them and settled in New England, mainly in Boston. At first many of them merely lived in the area to protect the wild place they had found, the place that matches the drawing in the book.”

“Drawing?” Jax asked. “What drawing?”

“The early members didn’t know where the place mentioned in the book was located, but there is a rough sketch in the book showing what it should look like. L?on Deforce, being a member of the society, had carefully studied the drawing in the book, so when he was on an expedition and saw the place, he knew immediately what it was. That’s how he originally discovered its location — with the help of the drawing.”

“Over time,” Mike said, “they came to realize that with ever more people settling in New England, more was going to need to be done to protect such a singular place in this world. The society eventually bought up the area they were able to identify as central to everything, the place drawn in the book.

“They eventually also acquired additional surrounding acreage to encircle and better buffer the crown jewel at its center — the original, larger part that you inherited, Alex. They set up the trust to further protect it. The inheritance was established as a way of fulfilling the Law of Nines and telling when the predictions of the book were coming about.

“Over the years since, as members passed away and new members came along, they worked to ensure the continuation and protection of the society and the land we hold so precious. They invested their own money to create the trust for the benefit of the land.”

“You see,” Ralph said with a smile, “the Law of Nines is from this ancient book, tied to it, tied to the land, and tied to you. From the beginning, the members of the society have all studied it. Over the intervening centuries, the conditions it sets out never came to pass. The society remained vigilant, though, waiting for that time to come.”

“We are the first members of the Daggett Society,” Mike said with great care and emphasis as he gestured around the room at his fellow members, “to actually have the things in the book come about in our lifetimes. We can’t tell you what this means to us, Mr. Rahl.”

“That’s quite the story,” Alex said into the sudden silence. “How much of it do you all think is true?”

A few members of the Daggett Society shared troubled looks.

“Show them,” Ralph finally said.

“Show us what?” Alex asked.

Hal Halverson went into the other room while Ralph went on with his explanation. “We didn’t dare to bring the book. Considering all the things that have happened recently, we deemed it far too dangerous. The book is kept in a safe-deposit box in a bank vault in Boston, along with the thing we brought. Besides the danger of bringing the book here because of the people causing us all trouble, the book, as you can imagine, is extremely fragile. We rarely dare to handle it.”

“I see,” Alex said.

“We brought something else, in its place,” Ralph said as he scratched an eyebrow. He readjusted his glasses as he waited. “We are hoping that this will mean something to you, since it’s a little more directly connected with you.”

Hal Halverson came out of the other room with a narrow box not quite a foot and a half long. It was made of wood that was so dark with the patina of age it was almost black. He set it carefully on the table.

Ralph stepped in close. “From the beginning, this has always been kept with the book. It actually predates the book, and is part of the reason the book was written, and the society created.”

He gently opened the cover of the box.

Inside sat a silver knife that looked to be the twin to the one that Jax carried.

Ralph reverently, lightly, touched a finger to the silver handle lying in a bed of purple velvet. “From the book, this letter R is said to identify the House of Rahl. The book says that this was brought from that other world, and in that world it was once carried by elite protectors of the Lord Rahl.”

“Dear spirits,” Jax whispered as she stared at the weapon lying in the box.

As the roomful of people watched, she drew her own knife, spun it through her fingers, and then set it on the table beside the one just like it resting in velvet.

Everyone stared in shock at the identical weapons bearing the letter R.

One of the men in the back fainted.

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