An ancient manuscript that leads to the Gates of Hell. A woman's revenge for the death of her father.
When the last of the Remnant is murdered at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, ARKANE agent Dr Morgan Sierra is drawn into the hunt for a supernatural Key. She's joined by agent Jake Timber, who must face his own fears as they decipher clues left behind by Kabbalist scholars.
From ancient sites in Spain, to Israel and the Czech Republic, Morgan and Jake must follow the trail to the Key, while evading Adam Kadmon, a man consumed with a lust for dark power.
As the planets align, Morgan and Jake race against time to find the Key and destroy it before the Devourers and the Polluted of God emerge from the Gates of Hell to ravage the earth.
I had not met Joanna before putting this bundle together, but she came very highly recommended by Matt Buchman. Joanna has been an exuberant supporter (as well as a reader of my books), and she had me as a guest on her popular podcast. I was happy to include her book THE GATES OF HELL. – Kevin J. Anderson
"JF Penn writes like she has the hordes of Hades after her. Fast-paced, smart, and so much fun."– Simon Toyne, Bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy
"Intrigue, mystery, the occult . . . a HELL of a read."– Scott Mariani, Sunday Times bestselling thriller author of the Ben Hope series
"Only Morgan Sierra could make battling demons, scuba diving in the Dead Sea, and dodging missiles look like a ride I want to go on. All in all, it is a fun, smash-em-up, edge-of-your seat thriller"– Christine Myers, Amazon Review
"Penn takes religious symbology, myth and factual history to weave a story of intrigue, action and suspense that captivates and excites."– Donna Young, Amazon Review
Santiago Pereira stumbled as he ran through the park, dropping to one knee as he gasped for breath, heart pounding. He glanced behind, his eyes darting around the empty streets. Yesterday's newspaper blew across the road, the rustle making him start as the cool wind blew in from the sea. He tasted salt in the air, a scent of pine from the hills above the city, and in the moment of stillness, hope rose within him. Perhaps somehow he had lost the man who shadowed him.
A footfall and then measured steps echoed through the square, striding towards him with no rush. Tears welled and Santiago's heart swelled in his chest. There was still so much to do, too much at stake for this to end here. He was an old man now, though, and he couldn't fight alone. He thought of Sofia, her deep brown eyes crinkled with laughter as she danced. His many mistakes had kept her from him, but maybe their distance would protect his granddaughter now.
Santiago looked up at the Sagrada Familia basilica before him, its facade a mosaic of eclectic architectural styles that his own hands had played a part in creating. A flock of sparrows rose from the spire, their song a hymn to the Creator. He rose to his feet and forced his body into an exhausted half jog, over the quiet street towards the holy place as the footsteps behind him grew ever closer. Santiago slipped through the turnstile gates and hurried towards the Passion facade, the oversize statue of the bound and whipped Christ before him, thorn-crowned head bowed in exhaustion.
"It's time to give it up, Rabbi." The voice was close, barely raised, the authority clear. "Your watch-keeping is finished, and now I will finish what your Remnant could not."
Santiago turned slowly, his back straightening as he faced the man who brought judgement – a man he had never thought to see again. Adam Kadmon had the physique of a boxer in his prime, his face strong and angular, his brow heavy. Santiago almost flinched to see the scar that bisected Adam's right eye leaving it white and sightless.
"You will bring destruction if you pursue this course, Adam. The Key is not for this generation. We are not ready as a people for what it could unleash."
Adam shook his head. "You were the one who inspired me with a passion for the Kabbalah. You were the one who told me of the Key, and now it is time." He ran his hand through his thick hair, an almost nervous gesture. "It is over time. You lack the strength to finish this, but I can bear this burden. I will bring an end to this earthly corruption, and we will no longer be the Remnant. We will be Los Devoradores."
Santiago backed away at his words. His hands rested against the pillar where Christ was tied, his fingers seeking out the striations of the stone. As his workman's calloused hands caressed the stone, Santiago tried to draw strength from the carpenter the Christians believed to have given himself for those he loved. The old man sighed, sagging as he leaned back against the rock.
"Perhaps you're right. Besides, I'm too tired to stand in your way anymore." He bent his head, looking at the ground. "I'll tell you the final piece of what you seek – but let us go to the roof together, as we used to do when you were young. I'll tell you there."
Adam stepped forwards, a curious smile playing around his mouth.
"I know you, Rabbi. I know you're not constrained by this physical flesh. But I will come with you to the roof, and we'll finish this together."
Adam walked to the great double doors of the basilica, the words of the Lord's Prayer etched into them, the raised letters a testament to the faith that inhabited this place. He pushed them open with a slight creak.
Santiago paused inside the doorway, breathing in the air that lay within the hallowed walls. This was not his faith, and yet the basilica had been under construction for the whole of his lifetime; it had become his stability. Its progress had marked the days of his own life. Like the scriptures, there were layers of meaning within each of the stones in the basilica, and craftsmen had always been the mouthpiece of God.
Adam pulled apart the doors of the workman's lift that would take them to the top of the Tower of the Passion. Santiago followed him inside and felt the younger man take his elbow, as he used to do in his youth. Once, Adam Kadmon – as he now called himself – had been his star pupil, back in the days when the Remnant had still been a vibrant force. Then, that touch had been one of respect; now, those fingers were tight and pinched his skin. The hands he had watched carve discarded stone into magical shapes were now instruments of harm. Santiago flushed, shame washing his cheeks. He was responsible for teaching Adam the knowledge that could now be used to usher in the Final Days. Part of him didn't believe the Key was real but if it was, the time was nearly upon them when the Gates could be opened … Santiago sent up a silent prayer to his God.
The lift cranked its way upwards, the mechanical grind of chains resounding in the stone tower. It was cold, the chill of the morning amplified by the dark stone interior, as the light of the sun wouldn't pierce this tower until the afternoon. Finally the lift stopped, and Adam pulled apart the latticed screen, waving his hand forward.
"After you, Rabbi."
Santiago stepped out into the narrow walkway. The top of the towers were still under construction and there were two more facades to be built. This was a project that would last generations, the pride of Catholic Spain, perhaps the only great basilica of the modern era. Scaffolding surrounded the back part of the tower, and Santiago stood for a moment, looking out across Barcelona. His mind teemed with possibilities, like the letters of the Torah spinning before him, a kaleidoscope of universes. He sensed Adam standing close behind and Santiago could smell the residual smoke from the distinctive Gitanes cigarettes his pupil smoked.
"The Key," Adam whispered. "Where is it?"
Santiago thought of the manuscript he had sent to London a few days before, after the dream of darkness had come again. The Misshapen and the Polluted of God had come creeping from the Gates of Hell, their black bodies dark upon the earth, leaving a trail of ash behind them and laying waste to humanity. The ancient book was the hope of deliverance in the face of evil, and the only other knowledge was with the Remnant, handed down from the descendants of Jews who had kept the secret for generations. When Sofia had rejected her heritage, Santiago had become the last of his line to keep the secret. He could only hope that the daughter of his old friend would rise to the challenge he had sent her.
Looking at Adam, Santiago saw the shadow of the young man he had taught. Perhaps he might have handed the responsibility of the Remnant to Adam once. But then that one incident had changed everything, and Adam still wore the scars. A line bisected his right eye, cutting deep into his cheek, the scar tissue white against his darker Mediterranean skin.
Santiago reached out a hand and touched Adam's face, overcome with remorse.
"I failed you back then. I'm so sorry."
Adam grunted and waved his hand, dismissing the sentiment. "My scars have shaped me, Rabbi, and gave me reason to seek the Key. The Gates of Hell must be opened so judgement can fall upon those who have persecuted us all for generations." His gaze fixed on Santiago. "So tell me now, where is it? We don't have much time before the workers arrive."
Down on the street the sound of traffic had begun as the city awoke. Time had run out. Santiago breathed in deeply, tasting the air once more, inhaling the cold smell of stone.
"I'll show you," he said. "Come."
The old man shuffled around the perimeter of the tower towards an opening that led out onto a walkway between the towers. Warning signs and yellow hazard tape were stuck to the walls. Tarpaulin stretched over the opening, the edges flapping in the wind.
"I know where Sofia is," Adam said. "So don't try anything."
Santiago froze. He closed his eyes, seeing his granddaughter's face, hearing her laugh. Adam had loved her mother once, and back then Santiago had hoped they might be bound together as family. But would Adam harm Sofia now? Could he take that chance? Santiago's heart beat hard in his chest, his pulse so loud it surely echoed around the tower. He put his hand to his head, suddenly dizzy with fear, but the memory of his dream, the Misshapen turning the world to ash, made him more afraid than anything Adam could do. Sofia would be caught up in this whatever he did, and he had to trust that this next generation could finish what his own could not. He opened his eyes, resolve strengthening his voice.
"You know the Sagrada Familia is crowded with symbols – I have taught you this since you were a boy. But there is one symbol I have never shown you. It is on the head of the risen Christ. Come."
Shuffling to the tarpaulin, Santiago pulled the edge up, ducking under and emerging on edge of the roof, overlooking the gigantic statue of the risen Christ affixed to the middle of the basilica. Behind him, the spire of the Passion Tower rose into the sky, streaks of cirrus cloud above it, like scars across the blue. In front of him, the Tower of the Nativity rose above another uncompleted facade. Santiago smiled. For a moment, he was a young sculptor again, the sound of chisel on stone echoing through years of memory. For all his failures, at least he had left his mark here.
Adam stepped out behind him onto the narrow ledge, one hand gripping the low stone wall, the only barrier between them and the hundreds of feet to the courtyard below. This was the domain of angels, their words of praise to the divine carved into stone roundels at either side of the facade. And here in the center, God's risen son triumphant in glory. As a Jew, Santiago had never understood the portrayal of a physical manifestation of God, this worship of graven images that his scripture forbade. But over the years, the stone effigies had been a constant, emerging from the rock even as his own life had been carved away.
Santiago gazed out over his city, his Barcelona. He looked south, casting his mind towards Sofia, sending his granddaughter the love he had been unable to truly show her. He shuffled further out, away from the shelter of the tower. He could feel the wind now as it buffeted him, and he instinctively leaned into it as the ledge narrowed and the wall sloped lower, tapering off to nothing but a sheer drop.
"That's far enough," Adam shouted above the wind. "Where's the symbol?"
Santiago pointed across to the gigantic head of Christ, as he continued to inch towards the edge. His voice was strong now, his bearing proud.
"There is a code in this facade, if you know how to read it. You knew once, Adam, but now you've forgotten the true path. In your rage, you have betrayed your ancestors. I thought I could show you the way when you were young, but now, it's too late."
As if in slow motion, Santiago saw Adam's good eye flicker in realization of what was to come. His hand lifted from the ledge and began to reach for his Rabbi, fingers grasping for purchase. But this was the only possible end, the only way to keep the Key from Adam's dark purpose.
He would have to trust that the book would get to the last daughter of the Remnant, that she would be the right person to find the Key before Adam: that she would keep the Gates of Hell closed. With a last burst of strength, Santiago threw himself away from Adam's grasping fingers, using his momentum to leap into the air. For a moment, there was stillness. He thought the angels might catch him and bear him to safety, but then time caught up. Santiago plummeted to the ground below, his last whispered word the secret name of his God.
From the spire above, Adam looked down on the body of his Rabbi, the old man's blood running down to the feet of the bound and whipped Christ.