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— Funny thing, Holly looked so innocent, but she was damn good at what I‘d sent her to do. Within a week she and Jaime were lovers, ten days after that she moved into his flat.

— And then?

Perlis appeared to be having an increasingly difficult time catching his breath. He continued to stare, not at Bourne, but at the girlshadow, which seemed to him all that was left of the world.

— Is she real?

— It depends what you mean by real, Bourne said. -Go on, what did Jaime Hererra have that you wanted Holly to steal?

Perlis said nothing, but Bourne saw him curl the fingers of his right hand, pushing them into the leafy forest floor.

— What are you trying to hide, Noah?

Perlis‘s left hand, which had been lying under him, swung out, a switchblade biting through Bourne‘s clothes into the flesh of his side. Perlis began to twist the knife, trying to find a way through muscle, sinew, and bone to one of Bourne‘s vital organs. Bourne struck him a horrific blow to the head, but Perlis, with a burst of superhuman strength, only plunged the knife in deeper.

Bourne took Perlis‘s head between his hands and, with a powerful twist, snapped his neck. At once, the life force ebbed and Perlis‘s eyes grew dim and all-seeing. There was a bit of foam at the corner of his mouth, either from his excessive effort or from the madness that had begun to infect him at the end of his days.

Gasping, Bourne let his head go and drew out the blade from his side. He started to bleed, but not badly. He grabbed Perlis‘s right hand and dug the fist out of the dirt. One by one, he opened the fingers. He‘d expected there to be something held against the palm-whatever it was that Perlis had taken back from Holly-but there was nothing. Circling his index finger, the one he‘d been so anxious to hide, was a ring. It was impossible to slip off, so Bourne used the switchblade to cut off the finger. What he held up into the emerald and sapphire light was a plain gold band, not unlike ten million wedding rings all around the planet. Could this be the reason Perlis had killed Holly? Why? What might have made it worth a young woman‘s life?

He turned it over and over, tumbling it between his fingers. And then he saw the writing on the inside. It went all the way around the circumference. At first he thought it was Cyrillic, then possibly an ancient Sumerian language, long-dead and forgotten except by the most esoteric specialists, but in the end the characters were unfathomable. A code, then, surely.

As Bourne continued to hold the ring aloft, he became aware of the girlshadow approaching. She stopped a number of paces away, and because he could see the fear on her face, he rose with a grunt of pain and walked over to her.

— You‘ve been very brave, Kasih, he told the Balinese girl who had led him to the bullet casing in the village of Tenganan, where he‘d been shot.

— You‘re bleeding. She pressed a handful of aromatic leaves she had gathered to his side.

He took her hand and together they began their trek back to her family compound at the top of the terraced rice paddy not far from Tenganan. His free hand pressed the poultice of herbs to his fresh wound, and he could feel the blood coagulating, the pain receding. -There‘s nothing to be afraid of, he said.

— Not when you‘re here. Kasih threw one last glance over her shoulder.

— Is the demon dead? she asked.

— Yes, Bourne said, — the demon is dead.

— And he won‘t come back?

— No, Kasih, he won‘t come back.

She smiled, content. But even as he said it, he knew it for a lie.

— The End -