From the air, evidence of an older, more extensive city could be spotted: massive foundations, the stones quarried from the island's rock-salt hills; a few crumbled homes, looking more like rubble piles; and a single tall minaret, once used as a lighthouse by the Portuguese.
But none of this was their destination.
The seaplane tipped on a wing and banked over the isthmus that extended north from the old city. Upon the spit of land rested the remains of the old castle. It had once been separated from the ancient city by a wide moat, but it was now silted up, marked only by a sunken line drawn from east to west.
As the plane crossed over the ruins, Seichan studied their target. The massive fort was surrounded by tall seawalls, but the western side had long ago lost its battle with those seas, undermined and toppled by battering waves. The eastern side, sheltered by a gentle bay, had fared better.
The plane angled for a landing in this bay, diving low, then skimming the water. Seichan caught a glimpse of rusty iron cannons on the roof of the fort, and six more on the beach of the bay, now used as mooring ties for boats. In fact, a small tin boat was tied up to one. A small brown figure, naked except for a long pair of shorts, waved an arm at their approach.
Seichan expected that the young man was the guide she had ordered up from the village. With only two hours to spare, they needed someone who knew the castle grounds.
The seaplane coasted down to the water, spraying a fierce wash behind as the flying boat settled to the sheltered waters. Seichan was shoved forward in her seat belt, earning a twinge of complaint from her wounded side. She had checked the injury earlier, in the airport's bathroom. The bandages were damp with some leakage, but more pink than red.
The pilot guided his ship around as the tin boat sped at them, bouncing through the plane's wake. Their guide sat in the rear, a hand on the rudder.
A few moments later, the hatches were opened, and the party climbed from plane to skiff. Their guide ended up being a boy of twelve or thirteen, all rib bones and smiles. And plainly he wanted to practice his English, as fractured as it might be.
"Good chaps, fine lady, welcoming to Hormuz! I am named Fee'az!"
Gray helped Seichan into the boat, cocking one eyebrow. "This is your experienced guide?"
"Unless you're willing to melt down one of those gold passports, that's the best money can buy here."
And she had already spent top dollar to get them here so quickly.
She watched Gray settle to a seat. His eyes were already studying the castle. She noted the worry in the hunch of his shoulders. In profile, his features were hard, all angles, from chin to cheekbones. But he was mortally torn, broken and weakened.
Over his mother and father.
With a slight dismissive shake of her head, Seichan turned away. She could not even remember her parents. Only one memory existed: of a woman being dragged through a door, weeping, reaching for her, then gone. She wasn't even sure it was her mother.
Fee'az whined up the small outboard and sputtered toward the palm-lined beach and the towering ruins of the castle. Kowalski trailed a hand in the water, yawning. Vigor stared over toward the village. Some celebration was under way, with music wafting over.
Gray glanced back at her. He wore a familiar expression, both eyebrows high, that asked, Are you ready?
As Gray turned back, he shook out of his light jacket. The sunlight blazed down. He wore only a khaki T-shirt. She noted a flash of sunlight at his collar. His right hand absently tucked back the bright bit of silver under his shirt.
A dragon charm.
She had given it to. him mostly as a teasing joke from a past cooperation. But Gray had kept it and still wore it. Why? It made her feel inexplicably warm—not so much from affection as a mix of confusion and embarrassment. Did Gray think she had given the charm as some token, some sign of attraction? She should have been amused, but for some reason it just irritated her.
The boat's bow scraped against the sand, jarring her back.
They'd reached the shore and began unloading.
Seichan tossed Kowalski a satchel that contained additional gear, including a laptop computer, several more flash-bang grenades, six boxes of ammunition for the four pistols.
Gray held out a hand to help her out of the boat.
She brushed him aside and hopped out.
Fee'az tied up the boat to one of the rusty cannons and waved them toward a square opening in the fort's walls. Higher up, narrow casements pierced the ramparts, where once Portuguese gunmen had defended the bastion.
The group passed under the wall and into the abandoned stone courtyard. Thorny weeds grew from cracks, a few steps away a large open cistern threatened a nasty fall, and a couple of scraggly date palms sprouted from an old garden patch. Everywhere else, loose sand whispered across the rock with the hissing voices of ghosts.
Fee'az lifted an arm toward the main bulk of the castle. It climbed in six stories to toothed ramparts, where the rusted tips of cannons still protruded.
"1 will show you all!" Fee'az declared. "Much to watch!"
He began to set off, but Vigor touched the boy's shoulder. "Does the castle have a chapel?" he asked.
The boy frowned for a moment, then brightened again with his perpetual smile. "Chappie! You are thirsty."
Vigor smiled. "No. A church."
The boy's brow pinched, but his smile refused to fade. "Ah, you are Christian. That's okay. All good. Muslims like the Bible. It's a holy book, too. We have saints, too. Muslim saints. But the Prophet Mohammed is best." He shrugged sheepishly.
Vigor squeezed his shoulder, recognizing the boy was struggling between being a good tourist guide and being a good Muslim.
"The church?" he asked again.
The boy nodded vigorously. "The room of the crosses." He led them toward the dark opening, still babbling in a furious stream.
Kowalski shook his head at the boy's antics and set off after them. "He needs to cut caffeine out of his life."
Gray smiled, a rarity, sunshine through thunderclouds. "Let's go," he whispered to Seichan as he passed. He brushed close. His hand grazed hers.
She almost reflexively grabbed it. Instead, angry at herself, she clenched her fingers. But her reaction wasn't all fury or frustration.
There was guilt, too.
She hated lying to this man.
"Oh, this is going to be a pain in the ass," Kowalski said.
Gray did not argue.
The chapel rested on the first floor of the castle, all the way to the rear. After passing through the entrance hall, they had needed flashlights to traverse the low, back passages. It grew quieter the deeper they traveled. The air went still. The only movement was from a few nesting rats, scurrying from the beams of their lights.
The hall had ended at a low door, requiring not just ducking one's head, but also bowing at the waist. Vigor had been the first to enter the room with their guide. A small gasp escaped him as he straightened inside. Gray had followed next.
He stood now, splashing his beam around the dark chapel.
Cut high into the far wall, a cross-shaped window allowed in some sunlight, but not much. The window was no more than a pair of crossed slits, certainly too narrow to squeeze through, but maybe another place from which to defend the castle.
The window cast a cross of sunlight across a waist-high slab of stone.
The chapel's altar.
The room was otherwise empty.
But not unadorned.
Across every surface—walls, floor, roof, even the altar—crosses had been carved into the stone. Hundreds, if not thousands of them. They varied from ones no larger than a thumbprint to ornate, life-size giants.
"No wonder they call it the room of crosses," Vigor said.
"Yeah, real serial-killer chic," Kowalski commented sourly. "Must be all that island inbreeding."
Gray studied the expanse of crosses, remembering the faint cross inscribed into the marble tile in Hagia Sophia. He pulled out the silver cross, Friar Agreer's crucifix. "Now all we have to do is find the one that matches this."
Vigor stepped over and asked Fee'az to leave them alone here.
He seemed confused until the monsignor pointed to the cross in Gray's fingers.
"We must pray," the monsignor explained. "We will come out when we are done."
The boy quickly stepped away, nodding. He could not dart out quick enough, plainly fearful of being caught while a Christian ceremony was performed. From his speed, he must suspect they'd be sacrificing babies.
Once they were alone, Gray scratched his head, momentarily daunted, too conscious of the press of time. "One of these crosses must be an exact match to Friar Agreer's crucifix. We must find which one."
He split the party up.
Four of them, four walls.
And that still left floor and ceiling.
Gray placed the cross on the altar, readily available for each person to grab and compare. He also ripped four pages out of his notebook and traced the cross's shape, crib sheets for each.
As they all searched, Gray noted the shift of the sunlight across the altar, creeping steadily as the sun set, as time escaped him. He finished his wall. Nothing. Sweat poured; his clothes clung to his skin. He started on the floor. The others, one at a time, joined him. Seichan worked on the altar.
The most important cross—the one formed of sunshine—continued to inch inexorably across the room.
"Not on the floor either," Vigor said, red-faced, straightening from his knees. He stood, one hand supporting his lower back.
Behind the altar, Seichan shook her head.
No luck either.
Gray stared up.
The roof was low, but not low enough to touch. It would require much lifting to test every cross up there that might be the right size.
"Maybe I was wrong," Vigor said. "Maybe Kokejin's tomb is somewhere else in the castle. All these crosses may be a false lead."
Gray shook his head. No. They had lost a full hour already. They didn't have time to search every nook and cranny of the castle by hand. They had committed to the chapel. There was no turning back, no second-guessing.