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THE MOON ROSE in the star-swept sky, its hallowed aura softening the stone landscape. A towering obelisk stood guard in the middle of the square, its dark silhouette casting shadows into the great courtyard. Fountains bubbled while a cool breeze floated on the air throughout Vatican City. Statues of saints presided over St. Peter's Square, perched atop the roofs that outlined the plaza. Elevated by colossal colonnades, the holy bestowed their blessings and protection, providing a sense of safety to the eleven-hundred inhabitants.

Candlelight danced on the walls inside the Vatican Observatory, illuminating the hallway to the enormous telescope pointing up at the stars. Father Dante stole one last look through the eyepiece before shutting down the powerful instrument which allowed him to gaze upon the works of the Creator in silent awe. If not for the rainy forecast, he'd have remained until dawn, as he often did, gazing at the stars and pondering the correlations of the universe.

When the dome's iris closed, Dante longed for the warmth of the divine light at once. He patted the side of the telescope and left the observation room for his office.

He flumped down on his chair and stared, fingering the page of his calendar before turning it. After a quick glance, he closed it. The gilded embroidery of a tapestry shimmered in the artificial light of his office, casting warm glows on the oil paintings adorning the walls. It reminded him of the astral light he yearned for. Father Dante picked up the novel on his desk, hoping that the story could transport him to another state of mind. He eased into the plush leather chair and sighed.

A knock at his door, and he stopped reading.

Another knock and he snapped the book shut.

Father Dante raised the book as if to slam it but found himself exhaling and setting it down on his desk with care. He pinched the bridge of his nose and straightened in the chair.

"Yes? Come in."

The door swung open to reveal a figure draped in shadow. Through the darkness, Dante's eyes picked out the dark slacks and merlot shirt of the visitor.

The man laid a palm to his chest and gave a curt bow. His eyes narrowed slightly, glimmering yellow and orange in the flickering candlelight. He ran a hand back through his short black hair.

"Oh good, Father. I'm so glad I caught you—before you left for the evening."

"I'm sorry. I thought you were one of the interns. What may I help you with, Mister...?"


"Mister Crowe."

"Please, call me Simon." He flashed a sardonic grin, peeked out the door into the hallway, and checked in both directions. "How fortunate am I to have you all to myself. I have so many questions for you. You know, not even my connections could pry your whereabouts from the only one that knew where you'd set off on pilgrimage." He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. "The new Pope really should be more of a team player. For two months, I've waited for you to return."

Simon's presence seemed to dim the light in the office. Dante shifted in his seat.

"Father, I could really use your help. I'm trying to contact an old high school friend of mine, Cara Criest." Simon stepped closer. "When I saw a picture of you in an article standing next to her, I hoped my luck had changed."

Father Dante couldn't help but notice the fact that the visitor kept a hand on the back of his hip. He either has a degenerative bone disorder, or he's hiding something. He decided, the latter.

"That was eighteen months ago. I haven't had contact with Dr. Criest since then, other than a few emails sharing our love for the stars. Our association was strictly professional. Pardon me for saying, but you may wish to check Facebook or Instagram. Chances are you can find where she's gone."

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