"Sir?" asked a nervous young clerk as he knocked on the door of his boss' office.
"Come in," replied a voice from the inside.
"I know you said you didn't want to be disturbed, Sir, but Mr. Turner is here, and he said it's important." The clerk anxiously awaited a response while trying to keep his hands still. He was new to the company, and although the working environment was warm and friendly, he had been advised to stay out of the boss' way whenever he asked not to be disturbed. The young man was only too happy to comply with that because frankly, Mr. Steve Jenkins scared him. The almost black eyes that seemed to penetrate one's soul and at the same time reveal nothing about their owner - they completely unnerved the new employee.
"You did well, Mr. Thomas. I was expecting Mr. Turner." The older man didn't even raise his eyes from his desk, but he could sense the clerk's relief. "Please send him in."
"Yes, Sir," Thomas replied, and rapidly retreated. So far so good. I have been to the boogy man's office and I have survived, he thought, mocking himself for his uneasiness. Whenever I'm around that man I feel like a five-year-old who stole a cookie before dinner. I wonder if I'm rediscovering my inner child, he speculated. Without giving more thought as to why he always felt jumpy around his boss, he went to find Mr. Turner.
A man in his early thirties knocked on the door and entered the office. He was tall, and even through his fashionable suit it was obvious that he was hard as a rock; large muscles showed through the thick fabric. He had non-descript brown hair and an ordinary face. In fact, he had no distinguishing features except for his brown eyes; cold, hard, and shining with sharp intelligence.
"Hi Michael. I hope you come bearing good news. I don't like to be interrupted for anything less than an excellent reason." He spoke with both playful tone and edge of hardness.
"You know, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't found them. I'm the best at what I do. That's why you hired me. I only stop when the job is done, Steve," he said in a cold voice. His business voice.
"So where are they?"
"Well, Miss Rosenberg is currently on her boat in the middle of the Atlantic, enjoying the pleasures of fishing, diving and swimming."
"She's alone in the middle of the Atlantic?"
"That's why she was so hard to track. Apparently when Miss Rosenberg isn't working she likes to indulge herself with her other major passion – the ocean. So she periodically gets on her boat – usually in the middle of the night so nobody notices that she is leaving – and travels to wherever the wind pushes her." Michael lost some of the edge to his business-like tone and his voice adopted a warmth that something akin to admiration. He knew that girl had an inner strength that he had never seen in anyone else. Well, maybe I've seen it in one other person. But after all, they're two of a kind.
Steve's voice shook him out of his reverie. "And the other one?"
"Actually Miss Maclay was also hard to track. She was somewhere in the Himalayas."
"What was she doing in the Himalayas?"
Michael raised his eyebrow. That wasn't a question he was expecting, since usually Jenkins wanted all reports to stick to strictly essential information. The way he had talked about Rosenberg's location had already been filled with too much unsolicited information, and he'd been surprised that the black-eyed man had let him ramble about Rosenberg's motivations. But now he was absolutely astonished.
"I know you're thinking that my request to hear more about them is odd. We've had the best specialists working on selecting these two. But searching the world to find two people who fit the Goddess Shamia's criteria – and who have a chance to make it through the whole challenge alive – was like finding two needles hidden amongst five billion haystacks. I know that we don't have the time to select anybody else if these two don't work out. I just want to know everything that I can about them so that I can assure myself that they are indeed 'the' ones." Steve's eyes were shining brightly, and his voice was profound.
Michael had never heard Jenkins talk so much, nor had he ever seen him show so much emotion. Usually he was ice cold, and his eyes were similar to two black holes where all light seemed eternally lost. He knew this project was Jenkins' dream. A mad man's dream if you ask me. Playing with gods is never good idea... mortals get screwed every single time. Anyone can see he's losing it by the way he's talking and the way his eyes are shining. It's a lunatic's glow. I've always known when to retreat - my timing is my gift - and this is the last job I'm doing for this guy, he swore in his head.
"It seems that Miss Maclay, like Miss Rosenberg, enjoys spending her vacations in total isolation. The difference is that Miss Maclay favors the mountains instead of the ocean. So, apparently after she finished her last job she decided to take a little time off. She disappeared from her house in the middle of the night, and for weeks I couldn't find her. Then finally I discovered she was in the Himalayas. She traveled on foot for the most part, taking with her only the most essential pieces of equipment, and climbing whenever and wherever she felt like it." When Steve hadn't said a thing for a couple of minutes, Michael decided to continue.
"I have never seen two people live like that. Complete and total independence... and with that of course comes utter loneliness." His voice actually shook a little with admiration for the two women.
"I wonder if they do this to prepare themselves for their quests. Whatever their reasons for living this way, it has taken a toll on them both. They are forged by fire, tough as nails, and also cynical and skeptical about love. They trust no one but themselves. Actually they each hold quite a low opinion about mankind in general. Physically I'm sure that they can overcome whatever obstacles they find in their journey to finding the artifact, but...," Michael paused, trying to discern what was going to be Steve's reaction, "uhm, I don't really know if they will fit Shamia's primary request - the whole 'charge in the air and electricity at first touch' thing."
And then Steve lifted his eyes and answered. This time completely in character with himself. "You've done a great job Michael. Now, I just need for you to give me their exact locations and then your task has ended. After that, the rest of the money promised to you will be deposited in your account."
So Steve Jenkins is back. Good, all I care about is the money anyway. This way I can take a really nice, long vacation, and forget all about this case, Michael thought calmly. He had always been a pragmatic man.
"Ok, then Steve. Here they are; the exact locations of those two. I have a man monitoring them, so if they move before you get to them I'll let you know."
"Great. Farewell Michael."
They shook hands, and Michael disappeared through the door.
So I found them at last. I was starting to think fate was playing a practical joke on me. To fail before it even begins was a really hard blow - one from which I probably wouldn't get up. But everything is ok now, Steve sighed. Then he started recounting the whole story, rolling it over in his head to see if he was missing anything.
It all started such a long time ago. One day I was playing in my grandmother's attic, the way I had done thousands of times before. Only this day was different... this was the day I made the discovery that would forever change my life. I was running and jumping around, and I landed on top of a wooden chest. It wasn't the first time I'd done it, but this time the wood gave way and I found myself with a leg inside the arch. I managed to pull my bruised and bleeding leg free.
I was a very active child, always getting banged up one way or another, so the fact that my leg was bleeding didn't really scare me.
My attention was more focused on the fact that the chest was full of my grandfather's books. I got excited beyond imagination. My grandfather was an adventurer, and a well known one in his time. I knew his books would be full of exciting stuff.
Poor Granny, she knew me too well. Consequently, driven by her fear that I would follow my grandfather's and father's footsteps and go chase... God knows what kind of adventure... she kept Grandpa's diaries well-locked. Until that day.
Most of the box was filled with Grandpa's diaries, but I discovered one book that was older. It contained the legend of Shamia. That book would change my life.
Shamia was an ancient Goddess whose origin had been lost in time. She was the Goddess of love and nature.
The book was rather vague about Shamia and her cult. Apparently the details had been lost in time just like almost all memories of her existence.
Well, I wasn't very interested in a Goddess forgotten centuries ago. Gods came and went, I already knew that. But it was the tale regarding the exact details of how she lost her immortality that caught my attention.
When the Egyptians started to get powerful, so did their Gods.
They were strong and arrogant. They thought of humans as their own personal toys, pieces in an elaborate game of chess made only for their pleasure.
Shamia was the opposite. She believed in love and understanding, and in guiding humans instead of ruling them. The new Gods saw her as a disgrace to their kind, so the Egyptian Gods decided to eliminate her. To avoid a direct confrontation – the result of which would probably be a bloodbath – they came up with a plan that would attack Shamia's vulnerability; her blind faith in the power of true love.
They knew she would be willing to bet her life on love overcoming all obstacles. So they challenged her, they challenged her trust in humans and in their love.
She made an amulet, a star, and she poured all of her immortality to that star, then broke it in different pieces, becoming human.
The other gods made the test field, a temple, full of traps and dead ends. And in there they scattered the different pieces of Shamia star.
For Shamia to win this challenge she would have to rely on humans. She would choose her champions – two people whose love would shine as a beacon that would guide other souls to love. Soul mates... two hearts beating as one.
For them to pass this test they would have to work together trust in themselves, as they trusted the other.
If Shamia was right and humans really were worthy and love truly was enough to beat all odds, then they would be able to pass this challenge. When they found the star, her status as a Goddess would return and the other Gods would disappear.
The catch was that Shamia only had her mortal lifetime to wait for her champions. If in her lifetime nobody earned the star, she would die as a human, and anything written about her was to be erased.
Shamia agreed, and of course that was the death of her. The rest of the gods didn't play fair. The temple's traps were too tough to be overcome by normal people. Physically it would take real athletes to be able to overcome all the obstacles, and even when one of her champions was physically able, the other usually wasn't. And when the traps weren't the problem, they would just get lost in the maze that was the temple and die there.
So Shamia looked for the right two humans all her life, but she never found them. She died of old age. Even though she never found the right two she never stopped believing that someday they would appear, because love could overcome it all.
When she died, her cult was destroyed, all that was written about her was burned, her temples were demolished until there wasn't even a stone left standing, and her followers were persecuted and roughly converted. Those who refused were killed along with all their families.
When there was only one temple left standing all the Gods gathered together to watch it disappear. They were in for a big surprise.
Although Shamia trusted love above all, she knew that there was a possibility of failure, so as she poured all her powers to the star she directed some of them to the temple itself to ensure that it would be indestructible. That way some of her would always exist to remind every living being that love was always enough.
The other Gods were infuriated. They felt that the temple and its message of independence for humans was a threat to them. They erected a mountain enveloping the temple, covering almost all of it. So that the challenge could still be taken, Shamia's magic prevented the Gods from being able to cover the entrance and some small paths for light to reach the interior of the temple.
The star still remains scattered around in that temple of doom. The legend says that if one day the right two shall pass the test, their reward will be the star and with it they will have the power of gods as long as they wear the amulet with the immortality of Shamia.
I read that book from the beginning to the end I don't know how many times; the rise and fall of Shamia. I learned everything about the requirements to be accepted to the challenge.
Two people should meet in the lobby of the temple. If they are soul mates and if the time is right, they are found worthy. The air around them will be charged from the moment their eyes meet, and at the first touch a thunderclap will strike the temple door, signalling that they had been accepted, and the door would open. After they enter, the door will close and nobody can get in or out through there, so the two are trapped until they either finish the challenge or die trying.
The temple only lets one pair of challengers in for each century, and there's only one right time to get the door to open every one hundred years. This, courtesy once again of the Egyptians, who did everything within their power to make it impossible to succeed.
For years that legend's been hunting me. I want that star and all that comes with it.
The problem is finding two soul mates capable of overcoming this test. When I started this quest, I didn't even know how to find soul mates, let alone deal with all the other problems.
But one day I fell asleep while reading the book, and the last line that I read, imprinted itself in my brain and followed me through my dreams Two hearts beating as one.
When I woke up I had my answer. I had assumed that the heart thing was a metaphor, but what if it wasn't?
I've always been good with computers. Actually that is what my firm is all about: computers. We make protection software mostly, but if the payment is good we can do whatever program our clients want.
So I designed a program to compare patterns between heart exams, hacked into the archives of Health centers across the globe... and ran my program. And BINGO, after a few weeks I had thousands of pairs of hearts beating in time with one another.
When I started to narrow my search criteria, I first rejected all the pairs in which both parties were not between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Then I eliminated any pairs in which one or more party had a physically limiting disease. Even after that I had an abundance of couples. With the help of a trusted team assembled to assist with the search process, I researched each and every one of them. It took us months but finally we had our winning couple - Tara Maclay and Willow Rosenberg.
After that, my next move was to gather as much information as I could about these two. I needed to know the best way to persuade them to get themselves into that life or death game. That's when my lucky star decided to shine bright and strong. Their stories seemed like a soap opera that had come true - disaster never far from their lives. Curiously they were probably the easiest people in the whole world for me to convince to go find this artifact.
Willow Rosenberg, daughter of two of the best archeologists of our time, Ira and Sheila Rosenberg.
She was a bright student with an IQ well into genius territory and strong interest in mathematics and all sciences. Her parents had left her alone or with nannies since she was a young child. They believed their jobs as archeologists were more important than using their time getting to know their daughter.
Until her mid-teenage years there wasn't nothing unusual about her life. It wasn't a happy one but it was the same as the life of lots of other kids.
She spent most of her time at school or at home studying. She wasn't part of the popular crowd and was often picked on because of her brains and lack of fashion sense. She was what the other kids called a geek, and a lonely one to make it worse.
It was at fifteen years of age that her life took a drastic turn.
When Willow was fifteen her parents decided that she was grown up enough to appreciate their vacation trips. This particular time they were going to see an intricate Egyptian tomb that had only been recently discovered. It was all so fresh that they were still working to determine which pharaoh or nobleman had been given this spot for his final resting place.
Well, I don't really know how, I guess that will be forever between Willow and that tomb, but her parents left the mausoleum and she was left behind, trapped inside.
And as Ira and Sheila were used to being alone and had never made a habit of paying attention to their daughter, they returned to their boat, and prepared to make a trip down the Nile just as if everything was all right. It wasn't until nightfall that Sheila remembered that Willow should be with them and that she wasn't.
It took them five days to manage to get back to the tomb, and as they arrived, they saw Willow making her way out of the dingy enclosure. She was dehydrated, starving, and had some visible cuts and bruises. But what struck them was the hard-as-rock look in her eyes. It was a look that would never leave her afterwards. But she was alive.
How she managed, none of my people could find out. But that was her turning point.
For two years she didn't say a word to her parents. Then when she was seventeen she went to college and to my knowledge has never seen them since.
She turned her attention from science to history, and applied her logical mind to the great enigmas of archeology.
She started doing all kind of sports and a couple of martial arts. Swimming and diving were what she did best, but running also became part of her daily life.
Then when she was about twenty, she got a degree in history and archeology. And she went abroad, making herself available to work on any excavation where she was accepted.
She always volunteered to enter first whenever a new door or a new path was open. After a time that wasn't enough for her, so she resigned from her position as a helper in archeological sites and started chasing artifacts. The more legendary and dangerous the item is to obtain the better. After a little while she was noticed and millionaires, collectors, and museums around the world were paying her to go search for relics on their behalf.
And so she ended up working as a Tomb Raider. It's a dangerous and often times deadly job, so of course it pays really well – especially if you are one of the best of the world. And Willow was. She had it all; the strength, the intelligence, and the willingness to risk her life whenever she had to.
By the time she was twenty-two, she was already one of the richest people in the world. She bought a great house with a beautiful view of the ocean, a swimming pool and a gymnasium. She also purchased her boat... and that was it. She sometimes makes large donations to children foundations but the rest of the money stays in her accounts.
Willow Rosenberg is now twenty-five years old. She has lived alone since she left college. She has no close friends and no known lovers. Her detachment from the society is almost complete.
Tara Maclay. The second element to my equation has also had a life worthy of being the plot for a really bad tragic movie. She is the daughter of John and Claire Maclay. Her father's family was wealthy, and for quite some time everything was good. But a bad stretch of luck in the stock market lead to the family losing it all when Tara was ten years old. Her parents had to sell their house and the rest of their assets to pay the debts.
From that moment on it seemed that the only way to go was down, because things just seemed to be getting worse by the minute.
The jobs that her father could find paid little money, certainly not enough to maintain the life their family was used to. John started to get depressed; he blamed himself for the whole financial disaster, and he began to drink to forget.
He was coming home later and later, and when Claire asked him where he was, his responses were harsh and evasive. One day he came home completely drunk and full of self-hatred... and he beat his wife and kids for the first time. From that day on, things were never the same. John apologized and swore that he would never do it again but something in him... and something in his family... was already broken beyond mending.
He hit them so many times after that, they lost count. They were certain it happened almost every day.
Tara's mother was the only thing that kept Tara anchored to life. She loved her daughter very much, and she always tried to shield her somehow from all the pain that she had to endure. She gave Tara hope. But when Tara was sixteen Claire was diagnosed with cancer. They had very little money so there was no way to even try to treat Tara's mother. She died a year later, and with her the only light that shined in Tara's life was extinguished.
For some time Tara went down a self-destructive path. She would spend every night in the local bar smoking and drinking too much, and when the bar closed, she'd wander around until she'd collapse. That was the only way she'd found to shut down the screams and angry noises that haunted her dreams.
After one such outing she woke up chilled to the bone, dirty, feeling sore all over, and with no memory whatsoever about what she had done the previous night. When she pulled herself up off the ground, her eyes focused on an image that nearly made her sick to her stomach. There, in the reflective window of the liquor store she'd fallen asleep beside, she saw herself... or rather a ghastly shadow of the lovely girl who used to be Tara Maclay. If her mother could see her from wherever she was, her heart would surely have broken.
That was when she decided that it was time to change. Tara ran away from home – there was nothing left for her there – and started fighting for her life. She got a college scholarship and managed to graduate with honors. After graduation she received an offer from one of her teachers to stay and work with him in the translation of ancient documents.
She accepted. With him she learned a great deal and acquired the love for sports and one of her greatest passions – climbing.
After they'd been working together for about a year, the professor decided to reveal his little secret; he was not just a translator of ancient books, he was also a tomb raider. He actually went after the lost relics that he read about in his books... and he invited Tara to join him in his next expedition.
He needed backup for this one and Tara was just what he was looking for. Tara said yes without giving it much thought. The professor explained to her that it was a dangerous job, that she could get killed, that she had to be completely focused on the task, and that she could never let fear rule her.
But all the warnings from her mentor didn't impress her. Tara was excited with the prospect of the adventure. Since her mother's death, the blonde's life wasn't really worth that much to her, and this was a once in a lifetime chance.
They spent a few weeks preparing themselves for their trip, and on a clear, sunny day they started their journey to the temple in Himalayas.
This is the part where the story gets a little fuzzy. Apparently something went horribly wrong and the professor disappeared inside the temple. It's assumed that he got himself killed. Tara not only survived but managed to bring home with her the Stone of Amasia, the relic they went after in the first place. She sold it to a British museum with great profit. That was her first job as a tomb raider.
After that, she started to get tons of offers - good money in exchange for finding dangerous artifacts. It had been her first quest but she was already known in the collectors' circles. Over the years her reputation of honesty and always getting the job done had garnered her the respect of other adventurers, and of her clients, too. She is considered by some to be the best in the world. There is only one person alive that can be compared to her when it comes to her work - Willow Rosenberg.
Now, she is twenty-six years old, and like Miss Rosenberg, she is a very wealthy woman... one with very simple tastes. She maintains her house near campus, and sometimes she teaches a few classes at the university. She has another house in the mountains where she goes to be alone and do some climbing, which happens pretty often.
She lives alone, has no close friends, and has never had any serious romantic relationships.
"Mr. Jenkins?" The voice in the intercom brought him out of his daydream.
"Yes, Patricia. What is it?" he answered, slightly annoyed. He had already finished his recollection of the entire story and going over all he knew about the two women, but he really hated to be disturbed.
"The car is ready to take you to the helicopter, Mr. Jenkins. You said you wanted to get moving as soon as Mr. Turner gave you the locations of Miss Rosenberg and Miss Maclay." Patricia knew that her boss hated to be disturbed over nothing, so she felt the necessity to explain herself.
The hurried manner in which Patricia added the reason why she had decided to call him, brought a cold smile to his face. She had been working with him since the beginning, and she was pretty good at reading him.
"Alright then. Tell the driver that I'll be down in about five minutes. Thank you, Patricia."
"Yes Mr. Jenkins."
So Miss Rosenberg we will meet at last.