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This story is based on a real cello currently owned by Rhonda Rider of the Triple Helix Trio... if she only knew.



A. A. Roberts

As the world goes, the year of our Lord 1760 was fairly uneventful.  Of course there were the typical flare-ups of bellicose human endeavor.  The Russians, Austrians, and Prussians insisted on sharpening their bayonets on each other, there was a cataclysmic fire in Boston, King George III ascended to the throne in England, the British and French concluded their squabbles in India, but for the most part it was a rather humdrum year… on the surface.

Like any city that has been around before the birth of Christ, Milan had had its share of troubles.  Wars insisted on wrecking its walls and structures, floods inundated its streets and overwhelmed its sewers, and earthquakes served to remind that ultimately all are subject to the hand of God.

In recent memory, though, it was the last great plague of 1629 that visited the most hurt on the populace.  Of course there was no man or woman left alive who experienced that unfortunate event, but when almost half of a city’s population is wiped out, the toll is not soon forgotten.

History would record this as the last dying gasp of the Black Death.  There are others, more familiar with the wars raged outside of human perception, who knew better.  They knew this not as a plague of normal course, but as the side effects of an underground war between good and evil. 

After any war, there are combatants on the losing side who manage to disappear into the cracks of society and hide among the populace.  This war and its resultant plague, was no exception. At the war’s conclusion, on the night of All Hallows Eve in 1631, Evil’s minions were mostly destroyed and sent back to the Hell from which they spawned… except for a few of the soulless who would remain to torture the people of Milan for many years to come.


Before recorded history, there was a time of great confusion.  It was so confused that it inspired the Lord God to visit the Great Purge upon the world.  It is hard to pin down an exact date of this event because time itself was quite befuddled.  All of this chaos can be attributed to the unbridled use of various forms of magic, sorcery, necromancy and sundry other mystical malfeasance.

When God created this universe his intent was to let science and physical law define and direct the order of things.  Then a few malcontents discovered the arcane arts and almost torpedoed God’s own intentions.

Prior to the purge, things got so bad that you couldn’t wake up in the morning without shooing a gnome off your chest or plucking the fairies out of your hair.  Of course, these were just minor annoyances.  With all of the so-called gods, demigods, demons, warlocks, wizards, and witches fighting each other every day life was one constant fireworks display.  The Lord was not amused.

Initially it was his intention to chuck the whole thing and start all over (this is where the concept of Armageddon comes from), but the Archangel Michael pointed out that there were quite a few good souls in the world undeserving of this end.  The Lord saw the wisdom in this observation and came up with an alternative plan.

He created two new planes on the edge of the dreamscape: the land of fairy and the Shadow Lands.  He made these planes infinite so there would be no squabbles over real estate and then issued an ultimatum to all creatures of power on Earth. Take your pick, fairy or shadow lands… you have one week to pack.

That might seem heartless, but remember I said time was quite confused, so one week was more like one year for some… of course it was akin to one day for others.  At any rate, there was a mad dash for the door, because all parties involved knew what was going to happen at the end of that week.

The Great Purge was marked by two significant events, the Great Flood and the sinking of Atlantis.   It would seem the human inhabitants of Atlantis didn’t want to give up their powers and decided to make a last stand.   It didn’t work out so well for them.

The problem with the Great Purge was that it was a sledgehammer and not a scalpel.  99% of the creatures of power were evicted from this world, but that remaining 1% continued to harass the world of men.  The Lord did send in his Special Forces unit of Archangels to mop up, but the world is a big place in which to hide.

Some of those who were left behind were there by accident and some stayed due to stubbornness.  These creatures were often bitter and dreamed of the old days, spending every waking hour making mischief.  To this day the Administration hunts them down for eviction.

One group that stayed behind and was quite successful at hiding among the mortals was the Soul Singers.  Although the name sounds pretty, they were anything but.  When a Soul Singer finishes his tune, your soul becomes his, for he has none of his own.


1760 was a very popular year to vacation in Italy, due to a war in France which diverted the wealthy to more peaceful climes.  As you might expect at this particular point in history, vacationing was only the province of the rich.  Never mind the travel expense, but the time and energy it took to get from point A to point B was considerable to say the least.  One did not merely retreat abroad for a mere two weeks.  In most cases the well-off were gone for at least a year… please don’t forget to feed the cat.

There were eight men of note in particular who all took a vacation to Milan that year.  They were: James Grant, 8th Baron of Colquhoun, Sir Humphrey Maurice, High Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall, Lord Grey, Fifth Earl of Stamford, George Henry Lee II, 3rd Earl of Litchfield, Anthony Preston,  11thViscount of Gormonston, Lord Grantham, Ambassador to Madrid, Sir Thomas Wynn, 1st Baron of Newborough and John Needham, a noted Catholic intellectual.

On the surface it would seem their presence in this great city at the same time was mere coincidence.  The truth of the matter was that these nine had been summoned to Milan to rid it of a profound evil.  Something was stalking the streets at night and stealing the souls of the hapless.

By all appearances these men seemed to be middling members of the British aristocracy.  Their careers were respectable but not particularly notable.  They were landed, married, financially secure, but not necessarily household names. This was just as well for them, for they held a title which was much more important than any mortally bestowed honorific. You see, these men were Knights of the Celestial Administration.

Every one of these individuals had in some way thwarted the course of evil at some time during his life and as such had been enlisted by the Administration to serve the forces of light.  Their activities were unknown to men, for the Administration’s directive was to steer humanity away from arcane knowledge and to the pursuit of science and physical law.  They were all heroes, and none but their fellow warriors could know of their exploits.

With their spouses and entourage safely secured throughout the city of Milan, these eight secret Knights of the Administration met in the ballroom of the Hotel Grand Milan around midnight on the seventh of September. They waited patiently for the ninth Knight and leader of their particular circle.  Prestigious Ironwood, manservant to Lord Grey, closed the massive doors to the ballroom.  The eight Knights took their seats at a massive, ornately carved oak table that sat beneath an equally impressive candelabrum.

Prestigious, or Percy, as he was called by just about everyone, made his way to the head of the table to address the assemblage.  Of the nine men, Percy was their greatest hero.  The others may have been lords and servants to King George, but Percy had once saved the world from a most profound evil… a story for another day.

 “Good evening, my fellow Knights! I bid you welcome.”

“Hear!  Hear!” they sounded one and all.

“I am happy to see that you and yours have been brought safely to this fair city… a city in dire need of our services.  To your credit, you all came when summoned without consideration of the dangers you would face.  I salute you, gentlemen.”

Percy grabbed a large carved crystal goblet of wine from the table and held it before the men in front of him.  These great men did the same and Percy said, “As they say here in Milan, Salud!”

“Salud!”, the eight retorted and downed their drinks.

Percy placed the goblet on the table and sighed, “I know we’re here to battle the forces of evil, but you must admit… it was worth the trip for the wine.”

Guffaws went around the table (as did the pitchers to refill the goblets) and Percy went on. “Arrangements for our investigations have been made by the Cardinal, Arturo Pellegrini.  He will be our liaison to the church and the city government while we pursue and ultimately dispose of our adversaries.”

Lord Grey queried, “And who or what are we to dispose of, Percy?”

“They are called Soul Singers.  When these foul hell-spawn sing their songs, your soul is sucked from your body and consumed.”

Exclamations of horror and disgust went around the table.

Sir Humphrey asked, “How are we to dispose of these vile beasts?”

“Interestingly enough, they can only be destroyed while dazed by a particular song and a particular sound.  An agent from the Administration will deliver us the knowledge we need to build an acoustic weapon.  I’m to meet with her tomorrow afternoon.”

John Needham raised an eyebrow. “Her?”

Percy smiled, “The nun Angelina Bellamore will be assisting also.”

James Grant dabbed at some wine at the corner of his mouth and then asked, “What do these, uh, soul singers look like, Percy?”

“That will be the challenging aspect of our investigations, Baron, for I am told they may appear to be human.”

Lord Grantham asked, in his basso profundo voice, “And how many of these hell-spawn are we to send back through the gates of hell?”

“Why, nine, of course.  It will be a fair fight.”

“A fair fight?”  Lord Grantham bellowed, “I think not!  They dare match arms with His Majesty’s finest!”

Laughter echoed through the chamber and Percy smiled as he sat down.  A late night’s repast was brought in and the nine comrades shared tales of their recent exploits.  Percy looked around the table at his friends and hoped it would be no one’s last meal.


On the fields of Ballamorda, in the southern realms of Atlantis, two great armies lined up opposite each other in a shallow depression formed by two small grassy hills.  An angry grey sky of dark grey clouds boiled overhead.  Astride his great blue dragon, Lord Zayus, Keeper of Light, gazed out over the army before him and wept at the sight of his gleaming warriors in their martial splendor.

Vulkkan, Keeper of the Underground and master of the low creatures snarled beneath his coal black beard, gestured to his generals with his great battle ax and yelled, “Move the vermin forward!”

Hoards of goblins, orcs, ogres, cave trolls, rock trolls, and mountain giants lumbered forward salivating at the chance to spill blood and create chaos.

The Army of Light held fast in the face of this darkness and these men ascendant held no fear of the enemy advancing on them.  They were men of Atlantis, infused with arcane energies and gifted with magical weapons that would erase the blight before them.

“The Drums!  Sound the Drums!” Vulkkan screamed to his generals.

A chest-pounding barrage of bass rhythm filled the air and the ground shook as the army of darkness began its charge.  The front lines of the Army of Light crouched low and readied their pikes to meet the black front.

Vulkkan’s troops were but twenty yards from their enemies when he turned to nine hooded creatures standing behind him and screamed, “Sing!”

The nine dropped their hoods to reveal faces spawned from the very pits of Hell.  Nine sets of black eyes went wide as their expansive maws opened to let loose a song crafted in the blackest depths.

Zayus did not see that his enemies all had their ears plugged with a special wax.  He realized too late that Vulkkan was much craftier then he ever could have imagined.  Seconds before the black wave of death and steel crashed into his front line, his beautiful Atlantian warriors fell to their knees in agony and clasped their hands over their ears… to no avail.  Vulkkan’s troops made a red mess of the army before them and Zayus was forced to flee.

That day Vulkkan awarded the nine soul singers with three gifts for the victory they had delivered.  The first were human visages so that they may hunt among men without suspicion.  The second was the ability to keep souls they stole.  The third and last gift was the ability to give men some of the lives they stole, for men were easily bribed with the prospect of life everlasting.


Andalay Gandolfini was a middling man of middling means who possessed a profound love of music.  All of his spare income went to attending the opera and reveling in the beautiful aural enchantment created there.  So it was with no small excitement that he kept his appointment with Rafaela Contadini in the Piazza Manznoi.

Signorina Contadini was a low-level member of the chorus of one of Milan’s smaller opera houses, blessed with a sincere but unremarkable alto voice.  Andalay spied her from the audience and was instantly smitten by her soulful eyes and childlike expression.  He sent her flowers for a week after the first time he saw her, and eventually she agreed to a meeting at the Piazza.

The pair agreed upon a rendezvous after one of her performances.  Andalay purchased a small box of the finest chocolates he could find complemented by a beautiful bouquet of blood-red roses.  Around midnight he entered the Piazza shaking with anticipation of meeting the one who he was sure was his one true love.

She stood near a bench in one dark corner of the Piazza as Andalay mused that she was an angel sent to earth.  Although most men would have found her cute at best, Andalay was blinded by the echoes of her voice swimming in his head.  When he took her hand to kiss it, he was sure he was in Paradise.

“Signor Gandolfini, you are too kind.  Are those for me?”

Andalay stammered and he handed her his gifts, “Yes, Signorina.  These are small tokens in the face of such heart-stirring talent.”

Rafaela laughed like a songbird. “Oh, Signor Gandolfini, you are too generous with your compliments.  I have only a middling voice, meant for the chorus.”

“No, milady!   For I hear it above all others and it stirs my soul such that I cannot sleep at night.”

Rafaela giggled again and motioned to the bench next to them, “Then we should sit, for you must be very tired.”

Andalay smiled and sat next to the lady.  She placed the box of chocolates behind her, but held the roses between them.  She drew in their aroma and sighed in a most seductive fashion.

“You are too kind, Signor.  Usually flowers are reserved for the divas, not members of the chorus.”

Andalay replied, “What diva can stand on her own without the chorus and orchestra to hold her up?  Like so many things in life, it is the people you cannot see that keep the lifeblood of the world pumping.”

Rafaela smiled. “What a true philosophy, Signor. I will never forget that.”

Andalay beamed at her response, “Your voice sings to me from the chorus, Signorina.  It is the only one I hear.  It’s as if it sings to my very soul.”

Rafaela smiled seductively, bent forward and said in almost a whisper, “Would you like me to sing to your soul now?  A short little hymn perhaps?”

Andalay glowed, “Would you?  Oh my!  That would be my heart’s desire.”

“It is the least I can do for the beautiful gifts you brought me.”

With that Rafaela began to sing in a low voice a hymn she learned as a child.  It was as if it was crafted for her alto voice.  Andalay began to sway in time to her lilting performance and by no means of his own joined her in the song.  Their voices meshed into a perfect harmony and the pair felt their souls pulled from their very bodies by the haunting melody.

Had anyone been in attendance in the piazza they would have seen a soft ethereal glow emanating from the mouths of this singing couple.  They would have seen those glows entwine like lovers and then watched as both were violently yanked back into only one body.

Signoria Rafaela Contadini slumped into the bench as the roses spilled out onto the pavement.

“That was so beautiful, Rafaela!  You were my one true love. Now I must find another.”

Andalay patted his belly and said to the newly acquired soul, “Now I will have you with me for all of eternity.  Thank you for this song, dear lady.”

Andalay left the piazza and the corpse of the unfortunate choral singer to the still night air.


Percy, Lord Grey, and Lord Grantham met at the Piazzale Loreto where they expected to get the specifics of their mission from the nun Angelina Bellamore.  They waited patiently for a half hour, and then impatiently after that.

“My lord, she is never on time,” Percy finally exclaimed to no one.

Lord Grey raised an eyebrow, “You are acquainted with the lady, Percy?”

“You might say that, my lord.  Thanks be to the angels, there she is.  Gentlemen, please set up a perimeter around the plaza and keep an eye out for anyone or anything that might be suspicious.”

Percy strolled across the palazzo with no small amount of trepidation.  It was obvious from his stilted gait that he was distressed at meeting the nun.  It was not hard to see why.  Her simple nun’s brown habit did its best to conceal her beauty, but Angelina’s countenance was like that of an angel and it was hard to contain this truth. 

Her full ruby red lips pouted of their own accord, although they seemed to promise a kiss that would lay any man’s soul bare. Her eyes were a chocolate brown and formed to such perfection that even the priests were given pause in her presence.  Her slightly olive skin, smooth as silk delicately draped over a sculptured visage that caused the stoutest heart to lose his breath.  Percy lost his breath every time he was near her.

“Hello Percy. You look well.”

“As do you, Angelina.  Do you plan to break my heart again?”

The nun looked visibly hurt and bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Percy.  The Cardinal asked that I engage you and your men.  I know my presence offends you.”

Percy chuckled at that, “Offends me?  Angelina, to be in your presence fills my heart with love, the love we once shared, but it is unrequited and this causes me pain.”

Angelina moved forward and took Percy’s hands.  She didn’t mean to be seductive, but the lilt of her Venetian accent and the passion behind it forced such an aspect, “Percy I will always love you, but I’ve been called to a higher purpose.  I cannot deny my destiny any more than you can.”

“I understand that, my love.  I can roll this concept around in my mind’s eye and inspect it from every angle so I am intimately aware of all of its meaning.  I truly understand our destiny.  Please don’t expect me to be rational about it.”

Percy smiled, as did Angelina.  She squeezed his hands and said, “The Cardinal delivers this message.  He believes the nine Soul Singers will come together two nights hence in the Piazza del Duomo.  The great cellist Carlo Ferrari will sit with a small local orchestra to give a public concert that night.  As so many will fill the Piazza, our Cardinal expects the Soul Singers will mingle with the crowd to steal their souls.”

Percy frowned, “Blasted Hell-spawn… such evil!”

“The Cardinal has tasked me with seeing to the construction of a weapon that can destroy them.  I have taken it on my own initiative to contact the Administration directly and they have given me these plans,” Angelina handed a slip of paper to Percy who looked them over.

“A cello?”

“Not just any cello.  It must be formed to these exact specifications and with certain glues given to me by the Archangel Michael.”

“You’ve met with Michael?”

Angelina smiled, “He’s not as bellicose as scripture would have you believe.”

Percy shook his head in disbelief and handed the slip of paper back to Angelina.  As she took it she said, “I have conscripted the greatest luthier in Milan to construct our weapon for us. Carlo Landolfi will follow my instructions exactly and produce this instrument to my specifications.”

“It sounds like you have everything you need.  What do you require of the nine Knights of the Administration?”

“When the weapon sounds we expect the Soul Singers to be vulnerable.  It is your mission to identify and dispatch them at this point.”

Percy mulled this over for a moment and then bowed his head, “It shall be done, lady.”

Percy took her hand and laid a delicate kiss on its back, “Until our next meeting, Angelina.”

With that, Percy turned on a heel and exited the piazza, soon followed by his comrades.  Angelina disappeared into the small crowd.  Neither knights nor nun noticed the nine pairs of soulless eyes that had watched the entire conversation from various vantage points around the piazza, one of them belonging to Andalay Galdofini.


In a dark alley on the cobbled back streets of Milan nine wraiths disgorged from the shadows and slid into the narrow way.  Another shadow impatiently waited for them at the dead end of this street.  He was dressed in a long black monk’s robe, slightly stooped, and impossible to see in the recesses of his dress.  The nine soul singers appeared to float more than walk and came to rest before the human waiting for them.

Andalay Gandolfini spoke for the nine, “You have made the arrangements?”

A confident voice that was used to giving orders issued from the depths of the hooded cloak, “It is done.  Our plans have been set in motion.  These knights will be unaware when you strike.”

Andalay smiled, “That is good.  What necessitates this meeting, then?”

“It has come to my attention that the nun is having some kind of weapon constructed… a musical instrument.”

The nine exchanged perplexed looks between each other and almost seemed to be having a wordless conversation.  Finally Andalay spoke, “We are aware of no mortal instrument that may harm us.  There were some ancient artifacts, but these were destroyed long ago. What is the nature of this weapon?”

“I’ve been unable to find out.  The nun is constantly engaged with the architecting of your demise and she’s never around for me to interrogate her.”

Andalay pointed a long bony finger at the hooded man, “Find out. Your gift is dependent on the outcome of this enterprise.  If we are harmed than you will be confined to your mortality.”

“I’ll keep my end of the bargain.  Nothing will go wrong.”

Andalay turned with the nine and said over his shoulder, “See that it doesn’t.”


Carlo Landolfi lovingly rubbed a small vial or rosewood oil into the neck of his newest creation.  Normally he would never use this particular oil since its primary use was in making fragrances, not musical instruments. But the lady said to follow her instructions exactly, and so he did.

The bell to his shop door tinkled and Carlo looked up to see the very lady who had commissioned this instrument walk into the store.  The nun Angelina strolled over to the luthier who immediately fell to his knees in respect.  He kissed the lady’s hand and then stood.

“Look, Sister, is she not beautiful?  I’ve followed your instructions exactly and I must say she sings like a diva!”

Angelina lovingly caressed the neck of the cello and marveled at the wood’s sensuous nature, “It’s beautiful, Carlo.  You have surpassed yourself.  Now bring her back into the workshop, as there is one more thing to do.”

Carlo grabbed the cello and followed the nun into the back room.  He carefully placed his newest creation on a swath of velvet cloth next to another cello that was lying there.

“You’ve made two?”  The nun observed.

“Ah, such a busy month!  This one was commissioned by the great cellist Carlo Ferrari.  He will be playing in a public concert tomorrow night!  He wanted a new instrument to commemorate his visit to Milan.”

Angelina drew a brilliant white feather and a small vial of silver ink from beneath her robes.  She placed them on the bench next to the cello.  Carlo gasped at the sight of the feather, for he was sure he’d never seen anything so beautiful before.

“What kind of plumage is this?  I’ve never seen such a bird.”

“It is a feather from the wing of an Archangel.  Can you not tell?”  Angelina smiled a hint of mischievousness at the corners of her mouth.

Carlo’s look of shock turned to a smile, “You tease me, Sister!  Ha!  I would believe it it is so white.  What will you do with it?”

The nun unstopped the bottle of ink, took up the feather and to the luthier’s chagrin inscribed the letters CF on the face of the cello in a specific pattern in four places on the upper right hand side of the instrument.  As she did this she recited a prayer. Carlo could have sworn that the ink glowed for a second.

“C.F?” Carlo queried.

“Christo Fortuna,” the nun said lovingly, “Christ’s luck will be with this instrument.”

“Ah, this is a blessing for the instrument.  That is a good thing, Sister.”

Angelina gathered up her tools and turned to Carlo. “You have no idea, Carlo. An Englishman will come by tomorrow to pick this up for me.  He will give you payment also.”

“Of course, Sister.”

“Thanks to you, Carlo.  You have done wonderful work.”  With that the nun left the workshop to finish the tasks required for a successful conclusion to the coming night’s activities.


The Cardinal Arturo Pellegrini, flanked by two monk/bodyguards dressed in long brown robes, tapped his foot impatiently and muttered under his breath, “I swear that woman is never on time.”

The little man barely broke five feet two inches and unlike most of his countrymen was pale in complexion, with ruddy cheeks and nose.  He was thin as a rail and his red cardinal’s robe and hat threatened to bury him. He had always been thus even as a youth and appeared an unlikely hero in the Administration pantheon.

As a young man, his ambitions were modest and mostly consisted of averting hunger, keeping clothes on his back, and maintaining shoes on his feet.  He did odd jobs for the clergy in Rome and was on such an errand when he gained his fame and ultimate stature with the Church.

Twenty years ago Pellegrini was delivering some casks of holy water and wine to the cathedral in Florence when he happened upon a scene of unfathomable carnage.  A coven of half a dozen vampires had descended on a small caravan of merchants that, like Arturo, had gotten caught on the road in the dead of night.

Arturo heard the screams too late as he came over the hill. Due to his abrupt discovery, he was unable to yield to his initial impulse, which was to flee in the face of this horror.  His mind could barely process what his eyes beheld.  Blood, body parts, and gore decorated the overturned burning wagons.  Men and women screamed alike as they were savaged by these monsters.

As Arturo looked on, frozen by fear, one of the attackers turned and saw him.  It smiled with the anticipation of more blood and charged Arturo. It came at him with blinding speed and Arturo barely had time to take a breath and scramble over his seat to the back of his wagon before the Hell-spawn was on him.

Arturo ducked behind one of the casks as the creature screamed in anticipation of the kill.  It drove its fist through the cask to grab Arturo by the collar.  Its scream changed to one of pain and horror, as the holy water, blessed by the Pope himself, splashed onto the monster’s face and body and soaked its arm.  It reeled in agony, held its smoking arm up to the night sky, fell over backward into the traces securing the horses to the wagon, and burst into flame.

The horses screamed in terror and bolted into the middle of the slaughter but a few dozen yards down the road.  The burning vampire fell through the traces and under the wheels of the wagon.  The vehicle bucked over the dying creature and Arturo bounced off the back of the wagon and fell head first into the cask of holy water.  He stood up soaking wet and grasped the container to keep himself from tumbling over.

The wagon stopped short and Arturo went into the barrel again. This time when he came up he was greeted by the sound of laughter.  One of the vampires had caught the horses and held the terrified creatures fast.

“Looks like we’ve caught ourselves a fish!”  One of the vampires guffawed. 

Another vampire jumped up onto the seat of the wagon in one fluid move and exclaimed, “I love seafood!”

Instinctively Arturo splashed two handfuls of holy water into the monster’s face.  It screamed in absolute agony as its head burst into flame and then exploded with the contact of so much of the Pope’s blessing.

The four remaining vampires lost all sense of humor and lunged for Arturo.  Arturo jumped off the back of the wagon in an attempt to flee, but he was no match for the preternatural speed of the night breed.  One the blood lovers grabbed Arturo’s soaking arm and instantly regretted it as his hand began to burn.  It screamed and stepped back from Arturo in shock to look dumbfounded at its smoking hand.  Arturo, in a fit of inspiration, grabbed the monster in a bear hug and the creature shrieked as Arturo’s soaking clothes ignited him.

A second vampire, also rushing Arturo, realized too late what had happened and Arturo tackled him.  It also burst into flame.  The last two were dumbfounded and confused by this incendiary human.  Arthur rolled under the wagon as they watched their fellow’s burn and tackled both from behind at the same time.  Their screams joined those of their evil kin.  Six blood masters were sent back to Hell that night by a skinny boy soaked to the bone with water blessed by the Pope.

Arturo found a small copper bowl lying on the ground and filled it with holy water.  He went among the dead and dying and poured the liquid onto their wounds.  In many cases there was a whoosh of steam as the vampires’ venom was washed away.   Some of these fatally-wounded victims smiled as their wounds were cleansed and they passed away, untainted, to their final rest.  Others were renewed and began to help clean up the carnage.

Eventually Arturo came upon a man who was surrounded by three smoking, headless corpses.  A little boy of four huddled next to this man who had suffered horrific wounds.  Arturo poured the holy water on the man’s hurts and marveled not at the steam that carried the vampire filth away, but at the fact that the wounds closed up once cleansed.

“How is this possible!?” Arturo exclaimed.  The man sat up and the little boy hugged him in relief and tears. 

“My name is Ivan Yavanavich and I am a servant of the Holy Administration.  This young boy is Ricardo Andolini and it was my charge to bring him to Vienna where he would study the cello with the great masters.  If it were not for you, brave sir, I would not have completed that task,” Ivan said in Russian-accented Italian.

Arturo blushed and smiled at the young boy, “Today Mother Mary sat on my shoulder, Senor Yavanavich.  I am not brave, but lucky.”

Ivan laughed out loud as he stood up, “You may be lucky sir, but only a brave man tackles a vampire!”  Ivan clapped Arturo on the shoulder and leaned in closer so only he could hear. “My masters in the Administration will hear of your bravery.  You will never want again.  We need men such as you.”

Ivan was true to his word, and after delivering young Ricardo to the music school in Vienna he reported Arturo’s bravery back to his masters.  Arturo was soon contacted and from that day on he served both the Church and the Administration.  Since the Church ultimately served the Administration, Arturo advanced quickly through the ranks and ultimately to his current position.

“Finally!  There she is,” Arturo said to no one.

Angelina made her way over to Arturo and bowed to him in greeting, “Your Excellency.”

“Please tell me all is ready, Sister.”

“It is, my lord.  Our nine champions are champing at the bit to rid the world of this evil.”

“And the weapon?  You have secured it?”

“I put the final blessing on it myself.  It now waits for our agent to pick it up from Carlo Landolfi’s workshop.”

“Excellent!  Who will play this fine instrument?  You?”

Angelina smiled, “I’m afraid if I were to play this cello, Excellency I would only torture the humans and not the beasts.  I have only been told that an agent of the Administration with the necessary talents is in city to play the necessary hymn.”

“And how will this agent know the instrument, Sister?  I’m told Carlo Landolfi makes many cellos.”

“It is marked with the initials C.F. Excellency… Christo Fortunua.”

Arturo clapped his hands together, “Marvelous! You have done exemplary work, Sister.  Both the Church and the Administration will hear of your fine deeds.”

Angelina bowed again, “That is not necessary, your Excellency.  I do what must be done.”

Arturo smiled his most beneficent smile and touched the nun’s shoulder, “Blessed be you, Sister.”

With that Arturo turned and retreated into the cathedral.  Angelina spun and disappeared into the crowd to attend to some last minute details.  One of the monks stayed just a moment on the stairs and watched her make her way through the palazzo.  His dark face was lost in the hood that was thrown over his head.  If one could see in there they would have spied a smile like a scar.


Carlo Landolfi placed his two new cellos side by side behind the counter in his store in a special felt-lined rack.  He marveled at their beauty and lovingly stroked the neck of the cello marked C.F.  His apprentice joined his side and he sighed.

“Am I good or am I good, Anthony?”

The young apprentice grinned, “You are NO good, Senor.”

A flustered and shocked Carlo turned to the boy who quickly exclaimed, “You are EXCELLENT!”

Carlo burst into laughter and rustled the boy’s mop of thick black hair. “And you are a funny man, Anthony.  You should be a jester!”

The bell to the shop rang and a hooded monk entered the store.  Carlo and Anthony were surprised since the brothers did not usually visit their store.  This one instantly made the pair nervous, for his face was hidden deep in his cowl.  He said not a word as he handed a letter to Carlo and left the store.

“Must have taken a vow of silence,” Carlo muttered to himself as he opened and read the letter.

“What does it say, Senor?”

A troubled Carlo quickly became agitated, grabbed his coat and hat and exclaimed, “The church gives last rites to one of my cousins!  They summon me to his side.  Give Senor Ferrari my regrets at not being here when he comes for his instrument.  You must explain!  An agent of the church will come for the other cello this afternoon.  I must go quickly… my poor cousin Giovanni!”

With that Carlo swept out of his shop leaving Anthony holding up a finger and a question left unasked on his lips… “Who gets which cello?”

Anthony shrugged his shoulders and broke out his broom to sweep up the front of the store.  He had almost completed this daily chore when the shop door bell tinkled and none other than the master cellist Carlo Ferrari limped into the store. 

Senor Ferrari was a thin man on the short side, so it was no wonder he had commissioned a 7/8- sized instrument.  He sported thinning long black hair tied with a velvet bow into a ponytail.  Due to a foot injury he sustained as a young man, he walked with a pronounced limp.

“So, young sir, a monk came to me to tell me my cello is complete just in time for tonight’s concert.  He said you even initialed it for me.”

Anthony turned around to view the cellos in the rack and frowned.  He could have sworn his master said the cello marked C.F was for someone else.  Of course it only made sense that C.F. was for Carlo Ferrari and even if he did get it wrong for one night the true owner could feel nothing but pride if this master played their instrument.   

Anthony gestured to the master, “Senor, here is your new instrument.  Let me get you a chair.”

Carlo limped over to the rack and instantly broke out into a smile when he saw the cello, “If it plays as good as it looks then the fine folk of Milan are in for a treat tonight.  Where is your Master?  I had hoped very much to meet Carlo.”

“A family emergency has taken him away today, Senor.  His cousin is on his deathbed.

A genuinely dismayed Carlo frowned, “I am sorry to hear that.  I will stop back before I leave Milan to meet him.”

Anthony set a chair down for the maestro and brought the cello and bow over to him.  Carlo eased into his exercise of the instrument and the melting of Anthony’s heart was a testament to how well he played.

After ten minutes a smiling Carlo finished his mini-performance and Anthony exclaimed, “Truly I am blessed this day.  Thank you, Senor Ferrari.”

Carlo bowed, “I believe it is I who am blessed.  This is a profoundly sweet-sounding instrument.  Tonight’s concert will be a wonderful experience.  Will you be coming?”

“Of course, Senor!”

Carlo handed a bag of gold florins to the young man and motioned outside the door, “My attendant waits outside.   Please package the cello up and give it to him so he may deliver it to me tonight.  Good day, young man, it has been a pleasure to meet you.”

“It has been an honor, Senor Ferrari.”

With that the Maestro limped out of the store.  Anthony lovingly packaged the cello up in its felt-lined case and brought it out to the attendant who waited outside.

“Treat her gently. She is a fine lady and Senor Ferrari’s new love.”

The attendant laughed at that, gingerly loaded the cello into the horse drawn carriage, and rode off.  Anthony returned to the interior of the shop and began his other daily chore of dusting off the various instruments yet to be sold.

The door bell tinkled again and a young man in his mid-twenties strolled into the store.  Anthony smiled at the dark haired young man of medium build and sculptured good looks.  Anthony fancied him a soldier and was surprised to see such an individual in this store.

“Good afternoon sir. How may I help you?”

“The nun Angelina Bellamore had a cello constructed for me.  I was told it would be ready today?”

“Oh yes!  Today is a very good day for cellos.  None other than Senor Carlo Ferrari came in today to pick his up.  Yours is over here.”

Anthony brought the young man over to the rack.  When he saw the instrument his smile turned to a frown, “It was supposed to be marked with the letters C.F.  This is not my cello.”

Anthony’s expression turned to one of horror when he realized his prediction had come true.  After a seconds thought he said, “I’m sorry Senor. Carlo Ferrari saw the C.F. and thought the cello was meant for him.  My master was summoned to his cousin’s deathbed today before he could tell me who was to get which cello.  Senor Ferrari will be playing in a free concert tonight in the Piazza del Duomo.  You could exchange the cello with him then.”

“Then you gave the cello to Senor Ferrari… that will work.  I’ll take this one.  Here is your payment.”

Anthony smiled and took the bag of florins noting it weighed much more than the previous bag, “Thank you very much for your understanding, Senor!”

With that Anthony packaged up the cello for the young stranger and was soon out of the store.  He was going to make sure he was at the concert tonight to explain things to the two cellists and hopefully avert any arguments.


Two hours prior to dusk the people of Milan flowed into the Piazza del Duomo before the orchestral stage set up in front of the Cathedral.  A constant buzz flowed from the crowd who were very excited to be part of an event that happened once in a lifetime.  The orchestra tuned up its instruments and was just as animated as the crowd before them, since in addition to the famous guest cellist the renowned composer Giovanni Battista Sammartini was going to conduct this evening.

The nine Knights of the Administration entered the plaza from various points on the compass and met at the back of the crowd.  They waited there for several minutes until finally Percy started tapping his foot impatiently.

“I SWEAR that woman is never on time!”

After another ten minutes of temporal pain for Percy, Angelina Bellamore separated from the crowd to engage the nine knights.  Percy knew by her apprehensive demeanor that something was wrong.

“What is it Angelina?”

“The cello is gone!  Our instrument to deliver us from this evil has been taken!”

“That’s not good.” Lord Grey observed.

“There is one ray of hope.  We know who has it,” Angelina informed them.

“Well, then, let’s bloody well go get it from him!” Lord Grantham bellowed.  Several bystanders turned and gawked at the nine.

“It’s not that easy,” Angelina said, “It is in the possession of Carlo Ferrari the guest cellist.  He was misled to believe the cello was his.  Everyone in this crowd has come to hear him play.”

Percy looked up at the stage and said, “Well, then, let’s just explain the situation to him and ask him for this one night to give the cello to our agent.”

The crowd roared in approval as the composer/conductor Giovanni Sammartini and Carlo Ferrari took the stage, bowed, and then took their places.

“It is too late,” a distressed Angelina observed.

The conductor tapped the music stand laden with the night’s compositions before him and the orchestra raised their instruments.  Very gently Giovanni Sammartini led the orchestra into a temperate piece that evoked the image of a warm’s summer day and the lilting refrains of nature’s own song.

“What the hell are we supposed to do now?”  Sir Humphrey asked.

Lord Grantham snarled and patted the rapier at his side, “We’ll do what we always do.  We’ll part their bloody soul-stealing heads from their bloody soul-stealing bodies!”

An elderly woman at the back of the crowd turned and hushed Lord Grantham with “Silencio!”

A sheepish Lord Grantham muttered to himself, “I’m here to save your arse, you silly old bag…”

Percy motioned his fellows to move away from the crowd and they huddled in conference, “Lord Grantham is right.  We’ll have to make do with our steel.”

Angelina was desperate, “You cannot!  They are too powerful.  Your very souls are in jeopardy!”

John Needham smiled and gently said, “It won’t be the first time, lady, have faith in us.”

Percy’s hand went to the hilt of his sword and he spun around to find a hooded monk in a long brown robe standing behind him.

“His Excellency requests you join him so that he may bless you and your weapons in the coming battle,” the monk said in a low and somewhat unnerving voice.

“Where is he?”

“Follow me please, kind sir.”

The monk parted the crowd and walked along the back of the piazza to an alley that led off into the night.  Percy looked at his fellows, shrugged and followed the monk.  As they entered the alley the crowd roared its approval as Giovanni Sammartini and the orchestra finished the opening song of the evening. He turned to the crowd and motioned to them to silence.

“This next song was written by our own young cellist.” Senor Sammartini motioned to the young man who now had a chair in the front of the orchestra next to Carlo Ferrari.  The crowd applauded the same young man who had unsuccessfully attempted to pick up the special cello made for him earlier in the day. 

Senor Sammartini went on, “Senor Ferrari was so taken with this composition he asked to play it tonight.  It features an interlude with a cello duet, and it is called, ‘Deliver us this Day’.”

The crowd roared their approval as Giovanni turned to the orchestra and tapped the stand.  The nine Knights of the Administration entered the dark alley and the shadows consumed them.

They followed the monk for about thirty yards into a small courtyard that ended the alleyway.  Cardinal Arturo Pellegrini stood there, accompanied by one of his bodyguard-monks.  The monk escorting the knights joined his side and Arturo addressed the group.

“Good evening, brave knights. Milan, the church and I thank you for your bravery this night.”

Percy bowed and said, “I’m afraid things are not going to plan, your Excellency.  We were to be given a special weapon and someone has conspired to see that it does not come into play.”

“Yes, I know, my son.”

Seven shadows flitted into the courtyard behind the unsuspecting contingent a confused Angelina asked, “How could you know? I only just told the Knights?”

“Because, my child, I’m afraid this is a conspiracy of my making,” the cardinal said with a smile that oozed malice.

The monks throw off their robes. Their pale moist skin and soulless white eyes, almost devoid of pupils, were made evident.  These Soul Singers had cast off their human apparitions, clothes and accoutrement, and wore but ragged loincloths.  Each digit ended in a razor-sharp claw, and when the creatures smiled, mouths full of jagged-sharp teeth gleamed in the night. 

The knights threw off their own robes, drew their swords and protectively circled Angelina.  The other seven Soul Singers had similarly cast off their robes and circled the group from a safe distance outside the range of the heroes’ steel.

Angelina stared in disbelief and shock at the Cardinal, “But why?  You are an official of the Church!  You are a hero of the Administration!  Why do you do this?”

“Because, my child, as my elder years consume me I am faced with my mortality.  These Soul Singers have promised me immortality!  Life everlasting, if only I deliver the nine around you.”

“Bastard!”  Lord Grantham screamed.

“You are Administration. You should know souls go on forever!  You will always be immortal,”  Angelina pleaded.

“That may be true, my child, but there’s that whole death thing in between.  You and yours have called me a hero all of these years.  I am no hero.  I never was; I was just lucky.  I do not want to die.”

Sir Humphrey spit, “Bloody coward!”

Arturo merely smiled at the barb, “You see, my new friends wish to relocate to London.  It is a much bigger city with many inconsequential souls to steal and since the Administration is on to them, they felt it best to move now.  With you nine gone London will be easy prey.”

Percy smiled, “You underestimate our talents and our steel, Cardinal!”

The Soul Singer on Arturo’s right who once wore the apparition of Andalay Gandolfini sneered, “No, Administration, it is you who underestimate our song!”

With that the nine Hell-spawn broke into their moaning horrific keen. The Administration’s knights and the nun fell to their knees in agony.  Every one of the heroes dropped his blade and clasped his ears in agony.

Arturo double-checked with a forefinger the magic wax Andalay had given him.  He could hear just fine and the Soul Singer’s song was merely a disturbing ditty which caused him not the least bit discomfort.

The nine Soul Singers each took a step closer to their prey in time to the rhythm. It was like some horrific ritual dance perfected over the millennia. Percy heroically attempted to pick his sword up off the ground, but their foul song tore at his brain and his hand immediately went back to his ear.

In time and together, each of the nine paired with a knight and grabbed him by the hair at the back of his head.  These beasts, despite their anorexic appearance, were preternaturally strong.  They spun their prey at arm’s length, raising one taloned hand high for the stroke that would rip the throats out of their enemies.

Carlo Ferrari played the moving composition given him with such passion that there was not a face in the crowd that was not tearstained.  Even Senor Sammartini cried like a baby as he conducted the orchestra.  The piece was so profound that the vile noises that the Soul Singers were making never even penetrated the piazza.

Then the orchestra went low as the young man on cello sitting next to Carlo Ferrari joined in a frenetic, but spiritual, duet. The two cellists played as one and as Carlo Ferrari scrambled across the fingerboard of his new instrument and stroked the strings with his bow in a fevered blur of motion, the letters C.F. inscribed there began to burn white hot. 

At the climax of their duet, on a single note, Ricardo Andolini, the young cellist, an agent of the Administration who Arturo Pellegrini had saved twenty years earlier from a band of vampries, slid his right foot over to lightly touch the foot of an enraptured Carlo Ferrari.  A spark of power jumped through Ricardo, through Carlo Ferrari, and into the enchanted cello.  The letter’s CF inscribed on the cello turned this spark into a perfect harmonic note entwined with overtones that evoked the aural image of God’s breath… it was as if the maker had sighed.

The note raced through the crowd, raced through the streets, and cut across the throats of the nine Soul Singers who immediately went silent.  Looks of horror painted their white faces as they realized their weapon had been ripped from them.  They grabbed their throats, stumbled backwards and tried to sing, but no sound would come forth.

The nine heroes shook their heads and threw off their sound-induced stupefaction.  Immediately these men of action grabbed their fallen steel and swung their swords before the Soul Singers had time for thought.  Nine heads flew up into the air with wordless screams and their flaccid cave-white bodies fell to the ground. 

The nine Knights of the Administration watched in wonder as thousands of ethereal lights streamed out of the bodies and ascended to the heavens above.  They knew instinctively that these were the stolen souls of millennia finally set free.  The nun Angelina Bellemore glowed, a smile cast on her lips, from the satisfaction of a deed well done.


The Cardinal Arturo slipped away into the night while the knights were distracted by the fruits of their work.  He became a thorn in the side of the Administration for a few years after that, but he never did gain immortality in the real worlds and eventually, like so many like him, he ended up spending eternity in detention.

The nine Knights returned to England after their “holiday” and protected their beloved homeland with renewed vigor for years after that.  Percy and Angelina spent the fall together resolving their past issues and creating a new friendship.

Anthony, the young apprentice to Carlo Landolfi, explained the misunderstanding with the cellos to Carlo Ferrari, but Ricardo Andolini insisted he retain the instrument, given their breathtaking performance together.  Carlo Ferrari went on to cement his position in the history of music whereas Ricardo many, many years later came to be a profound player in the Administration.

If one were unlucky enough to stumble into the great hallway where Lucifer holds court in detention, he or she would hear a harmonic, but horrific, keen of nine new singers.  Hell has a new choir.