Chapter 1: Discovery

Her fingers burned in suspended purgatorial agony. She glanced to her right hand where a white-knuckled grasp strangled the life out of a trowel. Observing her tension, she relaxed marginally. For archaeologist Kayla Townsend, the eye-catching glint of gold was always a good sign. The reward that had occupied her thoughts since she was nineteen years of age protruded inches away, half uncovered from its sepulcher of soil; it had cost her parents their lives.

"I found it!" she said. "It's about bloody time I did."

The smooth object twinkled proudly with an aura of self-importance as the ancient letters circling its edge beckoned for examination. Kayla's intense gaze locked onto the discovery; her heart rate jack-knifed to a dangerous speed.

Poise frozen, Kayla only saw gold. Her focus hazed, a grey outline bordered her vision as her mind rendered her oblivious to everything else. She barely took notice when a volcanic plead erupted from her lungs. Breathe. Kayla willed herself to take one deep lungful, smelling the dug earth as it swirled and mixed with the cool air. The invigorating scent cleared her thoughts, allowing a small grasp on reality.

She crept closer to the gold and sat the trowel down gently. In the six-foot hole where she worked, the atmosphere was brisk from the chilly English weather. Nonetheless, a hot sweat of anticipation pooled on her shaky hands as she dusted away the remaining soil to reveal her find in its entirety.

It was a medallion. Breathe. Her hands now the image of a palsy victim, Kayla realized it attached to a chain as part of a necklace. Putting her knowledge of history to use, Kayla attempted to identify the era of creation.

The chain itself was solid metal rather than the gold leaf method employed during the time of Byzantium jewelry makers. However, she hypothesized that the work was close to the same period; the seamlessly braided pattern of bullion confirmed her belief. This medieval design dictated 3rd century Celtic influence.

The ambiguity of the medallion's plain appearance made it difficult to place within a single time frame. The undecorated pendant contained nothing of distinction except letters. Snaking outward from the center, the serpent-like text spiraled into an aesthetic delight for the viewer. The back of the archaic medallion held no design, yet easily managed to enhance the simplistic beauty of the piece. Less was more. Although the entire product had been forced to withstand the test of age and prolonged exposure to the dank earth, it retained original luster and denied itself any marks of abrasion.

Flipping the medallion to face her, Kayla attempted to translate the runes. A year-long college course on ancient languages provided inadequate help in her current situation. "If only I had paid more attention to that fuddy duddy old professor," she muttered. Kayla chuckled as she thought back to the dreaded class where Mr. Norton graded papers with the aggressive brutality of a Nazi.

Standing at a diminutive five-one produced a Napoleonic complex within the fierce Mr. Norton. Wearing his staple outfit of slacks, turtleneck, and tweed jacket, he peered down the nose of his hornbill glasses and glared at the students. His lesson plan proved more rigorous than his demeanor: piles of homework everyday; thousands of pages each week assigned for outside reading; and a belief in minimalistic explanation during class made the course one of the most dreaded. The admissions office hand-selected victims, and forced them to endure his torturous syllabus.

Kayla was one of the few people to pull an "A" on any of his tests during his long forty-year reign as Kaiser of the Classroom. Her peers asked what secret she employed that had controlled the wrath of Mr. Norton. With a wicked grin and shrug of her shoulders, Kayla artfully maneuvered around answering. Her secret was simple, but she enjoyed the mystique that she was able to create by not responding. If only they had known Kayla Townsend's magic potion was merely long hours of memorizing material and long gulps of coffee to keep her awake through her continuous vigil of work.

Preoccupied by her reminiscent daydream, Kayla didn't notice the long, dark shadow that fell across the opening of the hole.