He managed a weak grin. "I deserved it."
"I'm so sorry." She went back to her gentle massage. "So Marino left the image as a warning to other psychics who might happen to have his talent. How does the rest of it fit together?"
"He planned to access the vision himself at a later date. He wanted to be able to get at his treasure, you see. The green crystal is the key. He programmed it to unfreeze the image."
"Why leave the vision and the key behind?"
"He knew he was going to have to leave town for a while. He'd offended an important member of the local aristocracy, and the only safe course of action was to flee for a time. He planned to return later to retrieve his treasure."
"You mean the treasure was somehow locked in the corridor along with the image?"
"It's been there all along. We saw it when the image started rolling."
"What do you mean? We saw the heaps of gold and jewels in the chest," Verity reminded him, "but the chest is empty now."
"That wasn't the treasure Marino was protecting. The gold wasn't nearly as important to him as the secrets he had discovered about the psychic corridor. He wrote out his notes and left them locked in the image."
"That piece of paper he picked up and showed us when the action started!" Verity exclaimed.
"Exactly. The formulas and notations on that sheet of paper are his real treasure. He was probably afraid to leave the paper itself lying around. And he didn't know if he would be stopped and searched or robbed on the way out of town."
"So he left behind the equivalent of a photographic image of his work." Verity's eyes widened in amazement. "What a brilliant idea. He could access the image with the crystal."
"Not quite." Jonas frowned, thinking of all he had learned when he'd tangled with the ribbons. "The crystal does activate the image. It starts the film running, so to speak. But to actually access the vision itself, he had to have the usual sort of key. The same kind of key I always use."
"An object associated with violence," Verity said slowly. "Of course. He had to leave behind something that was connected with a violent scene in the image. The sword hilt?"
"That wasn't the object he'd intended to leave behind," Jonas said quietly. "The stiletto was supposed to be the key to the corridor image. Marino had planned to kill someone with the stiletto and then later use the stiletto to get at the vision where his work was hidden."
"He planned to murder someone?" Verity's eyes were wide with shock. "He deliberately set out to create an image and then commit murder in order to freeze the image in the corridor?"
"It's the only way it could be done."
"But whom did he intend to kill?"
Jonas's mouth hardened. "He'd planned to murder the one other person who knew what he was up to.
That way he could be certain the secrets he had discovered were safe."
"But who else knew about his research?"
Jonas looked at her for a long moment. "Think about it, Verity. Who is the one other person who would know him intimately enough to realize he had made some significant discoveries about the corridor?"
Verity's eyes widened further. "His anchor," she whispered. "The one who controlled the ribbons for him when he went into the corridor. Oh, my God."
Jonas nodded grimly. "Exactly. But Marino made a slight miscalculation. He never got a chance to use the stiletto on her."
"His anchor was a woman?"
"Uh-huh. The pretty young wife of a member of the aristocracy. Her name was Isabella. He had seduced her when he realized what she could do for him."
"Isabella." Verity repeated the name softly.
"Marino was waiting for her in the chamber that last night. He intended to seal the image with her murder. He had sent for her and she had come to him, as usual. But this time she didn't come alone. Her husband, suspecting that she was having an affair—although the poor guy couldn't have known just how intimately involved his wife really was—had followed her. He entered the room right behind her. The guy behind the desk realized what was happening and grabbed his sword instead of the stiletto. Like most Renaissance aristocrats, Marino was good with a sword."
"But the husband killed him?"
Jonas nodded grimly. "With great pleasure. Matteo was skilled with a sword too, and he was younger and faster than Marino. In the end it was Marino's death that locked the image in the corridor. It was the broken sword handle that stayed behind to become the key to accessing the vision, although there was no one left to use it."
"Jonas, it's hard to believe it was only an illusion."
"I told you, Giovanni Marino was a genius, and he knew what he was doing. He did such a good job with his creation that when it started to cycle, you and I thought that we were actually a part of it. You became Isabella and I became her jealous husband, Matteo."
"I think it was more than that, Jonas," Verity insisted.
He smiled in understanding. "The illusion was probably all the more real for us because we were each temperamentally suited to assume their roles. You've had experience as an anchor who's been sleeping with the man she anchors, and I've had a hell of a lot of experience being jealous of you. I can't think of anyone I'd want to kill more, in fact, than a man who had the power to pull you into the corridor with him." Jonas realized his hand was clenched into a fist.
Verity gently unknotted his fingers. "Relax, Jonas. It's all over."
He forced himself to inhale slowly and let the tension seep out of him. "I've told you about my end of the thing. Tell me what was happening with the crystals."
"I still don't understand it all," Verity said honestly. "I could feel the green crystal tuning itself to the crystal in the image."
"I'll bet one of the secrets the guy in the vision was trying to hide was the technique for tuning the crystal so that it could be used as a key to unfreeze the image." Damn. What he wouldn't give to learn those secrets. Now that he knew what was going on, Jonas figured there had to be a safe way of activating the vision again. He wanted to study that manuscript.
"When you picked up the corridor ribbons, I concentrated on the red crystals instead of the green. They seemed to hold a more positive power somehow." Verity shook her head uncertainly. "I felt I could use them. Tune them, make them work for me. I didn't feel that way about the green crystal. It was dangerous, Jonas."