Author’s Note: Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and EllandrahSylver. The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. Speech:
“Who’s on first.” Thought:
*What’s on second.
#I-don’t-know’s on third.# Greek:
^Who cares?^ Ancient Egyptian:
»Who’s that?« Latin:
~Who’s who?~ Telepathy:
%Who’s that in my mind?% Ora Pro Nobis 3.2: Memento Mori
Amanda hummed a little as she picked the lock. Ordinarily she would operate in total silence but the so-called alarm system on the museum exhibits was so laughable that she had to vent a little of her good humour. This was the easiest thirty grand she had ever made, and some of the other artefacts would bring in even more. Old man Valance and his hang ups about immortality and eternal youth… Amanda snorted. *I could tell him a thing or two about that. And that it’s not all that it is cracked up to be.*
Then she tensed as she felt the unmistakable presence of another Immortal, like a shiver running down her spine. She turned round slowly, trying to hear or see who was approaching.
“Who’s there?” She asked, her voice steady. *It might be a friend.*
She winced. *It might be Duncan, telling me to abandon my wicked ways.*
Then she smirked, if a bit sadly. *If he’s over Tessa, maybe I can show him some wicked ways. It’s been a while since I last bucked on that bronco.*
“Hello Amanda.” A deep rumbling voice spoke with a heavy Jamaican accent.
Amanda turned towards the voice. “Luther. What brings you here?”
“Me? I’m here for you, what else?” Luther smiled, his sword at the ready, a long, thick trench coat covering his muscular body, left hand negligently in his pocket to show his contempt of her skill as a swordswoman. “You and Rebecca’s trinket.”
Amanda glared at him. “You’ll never get my head, Luther. I have eight hundred years of experience on you, little boy.”
Luther’s grin widened as he removed a Taser from his pocket and fired. Two leads flew out, striking Amanda, the hooks setting; penetrating the thin silk bodysuit and the powerful electric shock ran through her body.
“So confident,” Luther almost purred as Amanda fell to her knees. He grinned and stepped closer, a cosh in his hand.
Amanda groaned, her superior healing abilities fighting off the effects of the Taser, but the black cosh came down hard on her head before she recovered.
“What an interesting way of capturing someone. Will her new owners be happy she’s severely concussed?” An American accented voice asked with slight amusement in his tone.
Luther chuckled. “Ah, Mr. Rackham Amanda has a very hard head. She will recover more swiftly than you think. Come, we must get her to the car and leave.”
Rackham picked up Amanda’s sword and the weapon she had come for and carried them while Luther ripped her necklace off, then manhandled Amanda into a fireman’s carry and headed out the door. Luther threw Amanda into the back of the non-descript old white van standing outside the museum while Rackham got in the front. Rackham surreptitiously tapped the set of crystals that hung from the rear view mirror, blocking any scrying attempts. They drove off at a speed just below the legal limit, secure in the knowledge that the only policeman in the neighbourhood was miles away investigating a reported burglary.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The Barrel Factory
Severus Snape stood looking at the shattered vase that lay in the old cask factory. His wand moved slowly from side to side and he frowned. “Interesting. He was here, he seems to have camped here until recently. I can also detect a very slight magical aura that is not the Stone.”
“You call it interesting, I call it annoying,” Rebecca muttered. “We could have had the bastard!”
Severus nodded his agreement. “Oh, he was here. Just not the Crystal. I assume that the Crystal is hidden some way, but what we need to find out is why he was here, why this elaborate set up and where he is now. In the meantime I suggest we leave here and see what we find in the museum proper.”
Darius looked out of the window. “And fast. I have no doubt that something was taken, or done, in there. And we need to know what before the police show up.”
Nefertiri drew her coat around her. “Very fast. It is cold here.” She shivered and Darius drew her close, rubbing her backs and arms to help warm her up. She turned her eyes up at him and smiled. “I can think of other ways to get warm, Darius…”
Darius rolled his eyes. “No doubt you can.”
Rebecca smirked despite the seriousness of the situation.
They quickly left the building and headed for the museum, the Immortals keeping all their senses at the ready to locate Luther. There was no buzz; there were no traces until they reached a rather dilapidated room quite a ways off from the main exhibition, reached through a dingy door stuck behind a red velvet curtain.
The aged display cases were covered in a thin layer of dust, except for one, which was standing open. A number of weapons lay in the case, on soft, dusty, velvet that exuded a scent of genteel decay. Clear in the dust was a space where an item about seventy centimetres long had been removed.
Severus bent over the display and read the card that lay underneath the empty space by the light of his wand. “The Sword of Anhur. Also called the Blade of the Chosen. Found by Adam Cain Abel Addams in the vicinity of Babylon, it has since been identified as being a forgery as the methods of construction are far more advanced than its supposed date of manufacture. The blade is thought to have been fashioned in the late nineteenth century for the express purpose of deluding wealthy tourists,” he read out.
“A forgery? Why would they take a forgery?” Duncan asked.
“They didn’t. Or at least, that is not why they came here,” Rebecca said in a strained voice. She pointed at the floor where a tiny, one shot lady’s pistol lay, slid under the display cabinet. “They came for a shard. That belongs to Amanda.”
Amanda woke up with a terrible headache and trembling limbs. Sometime in the fourteen-hundreds she had been struck by lightning and fallen off her horse while travelling during a thunderstorm. She had felt much like she did now then, except then the tremors had been worse. And the party of men she had been fleeing had been kind enough to bury her so she'd had to dig herself out of her grave. *At least this time I wasn't buried.*
she thought to herself. *On the other hand, I'm being held prisoner by Luther. That can't be good.*
Carefully she tested her body for aches and pains that might hinder her escape. She ignored the ropes, binding her ankles and wrists together and then drawn together until her ankles and wrists met in her back. She would deal with them soon enough. Spending time as a circus performer, primarily as an acrobat, escape artist and contortionist, had given her already considerable skills at escaping confinement of any kind a significant boost.
After a few minutes she was rather less sanguine. Her physical condition was improving. She had died, probably of blunt trauma to the head. Now the minor aches and pains were being healed. The sprains and deep bruises would take half an hour to an hour, she figured and her lesser bruises and scratches would be gone by then too. From the pain in her right shoulder that had been dislocated and popped back in. That would take a while to heal as well. None of that was what worried her.
She was naked, which meant she had no access to her emergency stash that was sown into various parts of her specially designed and created clothing. From the feel of it someone had performed a very rough body cavity search while she was dead. She was rather happy she had been dead for that. Nevertheless someone was going to pay for that assault, that violation of her person.
The taste and pain in her mouth and the smell in the room showed that whoever had locked her in here had no great belief in personal hygiene or comfort for prisoners. Someone had obviously checked her teeth for hidden capsules of poison or other items with hands that were none to clean.
That left out Luther, he might be a bastard but he was a fastidiously clean one when he got the chance. Most older Immortals, and certainly those who had personally known what truly bad hygiene was like, tended to be fastidious. Amanda herself was wont to bathe often and her bathrooms were spotless.
Amanda couldn't see where she was, the room was completely dark. But the atmosphere gave her some hints. The floor she was lying on was rough concrete and very damp and cold. So were the walls she had discovered by carefully rolling around. A single very heavy metal door was set into one wall. She also smelled ozone and that made her think she was in one of the old WWII coastal defence bunkers. Possibly even in a Great War one. And as she could hear nothing and there was not even a hint of fresh air she figured she was in an inside room, possibly for munitions. It was about fifteen feet, as far as she could tell it was square and the only fresh air, if it could be called that, that came into it leaked in from under the door.
And she was being held by another Immortal, who knew the general abilities of Immortals and some of her own at least. That meant that he would cheerfully let her starve and die of thirst, as she would recover eventually. And she knew from experience that after the first three or four such deaths she would be willing to do almost anything to be given food and water. It was a truly horrible way to die. Far too much like her first death of combined hunger and disease. But she figured that Luther was not going to risk her escape by opening the door to bring in food. He would wait a couple of days until she died again and douse her with the occasional bucket of water, possibly pump some soup down her stomach with a large syringe or some other such method. Amanda shivered as she realised once more that torturing an Immortal could be very effective if you knew what you were doing.
But what truly had her worried was that the ropes that held her did not have intricate knots, yetshe could not loosen or untie them. She had only encountered ropes or fetters like that once. That had not been a good decade for her.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL Essex, 1773
Amanda smiled as she swung into the window of the large, well kept house. The Season was in full swing and the richer families, unwilling to drag their plate up and down the country, tended to leave it behind in strong, well locked and guarded rooms. There had been no lock created that could stop Amanda. The owner of this house had left a week earlier, with his secretary, wife and children. Amanda wondered if she should just have dropped a hint that a payment would be nice since the owner and the Secretary were so very close. But she always felt uncomfortable about blackmail. It tended to end badly and she much preferred just stealing stuff. It was a cleaner way to make a living.
The manor would be inhabited only by a few servants. Well, more than a few, from what she'd observed and her touts and snitches had told her, there were at least a dozen, from the under housekeeper and First Footman down to the boy who helped in the garden to spread the manure on the flowerbeds.
Amanda herself was posing as a travelling lady, with two attendant servants, a coachman and a lady's maid. Neither of them knew what she was or that she was a burglar. They did know she was rather less proper than most ladies, or at least than most ladies admitted to.
The house was the property of a man called Edmund Giles, the son of a baronet. His father had a house in Somerset but the younger Giles preferred Essex and had acquired a manor there upon his marriage. Or possibly it was part of the dowry, Amanda didn't know or care. She did know that the elder Giles was not going to London this year and that the younger one would occupy the family town house, not one of the rented houses he normally took during the Season.
And the Giles house in London had sufficient plate that Master Edmund did not need to take his own. Which meant that Amanda would be able to add to her fortune by lessening Master Edmund's. Amanda was a firm believer in robbing the rich. It was much easier to steal fifty pounds from a rich man than to rob dozens of poor ones to gain ten. As for giving to the poor, well she'd been born poor and quite often felt very sorry for herself.
With a smirk she swung her legs over the sill of the window she had just skilfully opened, then lowered it again; an unexpected open window or draft might betray her presence. And if she needed to flee a well aimed kick would remove the panes, or in extremis, a dive through them. Her wounds would heal quickly enough, once she had made her escape.
The plate room was located behind the butler's pantry, that much she had managed to glean from a young man who had left the Giles' service for an exciting career in dodging the revenue. A kiss and a cuddle had been all the reward the boy had required. Amanda was certain his information was good. The location of the pantry and the strong-room was similar to that in dozens of manors she had visited, be it as an invited guest or an illicit trespasser.
She quickly made her way through the drawing room and towards her target, taking corridors that led to its general direction until she came upon the darkened stairs to the servants' quarters in the basement. There had been a number of robberies of stately homes a decade or so before and the local gentry had moved their valuables to the basement. Vigilance had decreased since that time however. Which was why Amanda was back now, ten years after her last visit.
The door opened on silent hinges, servants ought, after all, to be seen nor heard unless it was desired by their masters they should be.
Her soft slippers made no noise on the stone stairs as she descended carefully. There were servants in the hall, three young men, all asleep, their ragged blankets draped over them as they lay upon the hard benches, a few palliases of straw the only other comfort. The room was cold, or at least cool. The fire was banked and most of the warmth of it long gone. Amanda smiled at the sight. Like most servants when their master was away these had indulged themselves and gotten very drunk on the master's wine and beer. Mostly beer, probably, since masters tended to keep track of how much wine they bought and rather less so in the case of beer. It was annoying they were here, but unlikely they would wake for anything less than vigorous shaking
The butler's pantry was locked but a few seconds with a lockpick was enough to open it. The footman was asleep in the room beyond, on he butler's bed, his arm around the bottle of wine he had apparently drunk alone. Amanda softly moved past him, mustering the heavy oak door reinforced with iron bands that closed off the room beyond. She took a small bottle of oil and a brush from her bag and coated the hinges and lock, as well as the three large bolts that slid into holes cut into the stone of the doorway, beyond the wooden doorframe. After waiting a few minutes she gently moved the first bolts. Once all the bolts had been moved back, she studied the lock, took out another set of lockpicks and opened it without difficulty.
The door swung open at her touch and Amanda stepped into the strong room. The plate cabinet beyond was similar to the ones she had seen on many occasions. These locks didn't offer much resistance either. The plate was carefully stacked. Amanda had quite a good idea of the value of the silver and made a swift selection of the items she wanted. She swathed them in a few of the silk cloths she had brought to prevent them clinking. That was when she heard the clack of the door closing and the bolts being driven home.
Amanda whirled. The room was empty except for herself. But the door was closed. There was no outcry, no taunting. Amanda was alone in the room with a cupboard full of plate, a bag of burglar's tools and a small bite of bread.
They had kept the door closed for five days. When they finally opened it the son of the master of the house was there, all of fifteen years old, sneering down at her.
“Well, looks like we caught a thief. Well done, Farmer.”
“Thank you, sir!” The young man who had given her the information stood beside the boy.
The young squire adjusted his cravat and leaned towards Amanda, who sat on the floor, her large brown eyes upon the figures in the door.
“And she's still alive too. Quite pretty as well. Farmer, Weatherby, bind her then leave us,” young Giles ordered.
The servants nodded and smirked. One put down a tray that held a jug of water, porridge and some bread and cheese, then the two men quickly tied ropes around her ankles and wrists before leaving. The young man sat down on a stool beside the tray, drew a pistol and looked at Amanda with calculation on his face. “Why did you choose to rob this house?”
Amanda made a croaking noise. The young man grinned and poured a cup of water. “You want this?”
Amanda nodded weakly.
He gave her half a cup and then took the cup away from her mouth. “So. Why this house?”
“I-I heard most of the plate was still here,” Amanda managed to croak out, her eyes on the cup of water.
“Yes, Farmer did quite well recognizing that you were trying to get information. He will receive a bonus. No other reasons?” The boy eyed her as if her answer would mean her life or death.
Theft was punishable by considerable sentences. Robbing the house of gentry was a sure fire way of finding oneself on shipboard towards Australia, or whipped, or even killed. None of those things appealed to Amanda. She looked at the boy, trying to get his measure, to see how she could turn the situation to her advantage.
“Don't try and maintain you're just a common thief, Miss Dalton. Common thieves don't own carriages and have servants. Common thieves don't die and wake up again,” the boy said idly, while playing with his pistol.
Amanda paled even further. The boy chuckled and reached into a pocket, taking out a razor. He leaned forward and cut a bloody gash in Amanda's right arm. She gritted her teeth and glared at him, but he ignored her. His watch was out and he was dividing his attention between Amanda's arm and the watch. Once the wound was fully healed the boy chuckled. “Very good. very good. Father will be very pleased to hear about you. Tell me, do you know if you heal faster if you are in better physical condition?”
Amanda's eyes widened as the boy reached for his knife again.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The present
Amanda writhed on the floor and sobbed as the traumatic memories worked through her mind and her body ineffectively fought against her bonds as it tried to assume the foetal position that had been her customary pose for so much of her captivity back then.
After she had regained control she tried to stretch a little, only to run into her reverse hogtied position again. *Right. Ropes. Unbreakable ropes, even. Get a grip, Amanda. You've escaped from worse.*
She shivered. *At least I hope this isn't worse...*
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland
“Still no luck?” Duncan asked Severus who was sitting cross-legged by a map of the region.
Snape opened his eyes. “MacLeod, contrary to popular belief this is not as easy as it looks. So if you want me to find your friend, kindly stop disrupting my concentration.”
MacLeod looked sheepish and withdrew. He went into the other room and flopped down on the couch. Darius gave him a look. “I told you he would tell us when he was done.”
“Yeah, I know. I just...” Mac waved a hand rather helplessly at his inability to express the fear he felt for the fate of his friend.
Rebecca was pacing and scowling. Darius looked between them. “Will someone kindly tell me what is going on?”
Rebecca stopped her pacing and sighed. “In the late eighteenth century Amanda was captured by a group of people. They held her for ten years while they experimented upon her, to see if they could find out what made her Immortal. And what she could take. Magic was involved then, too. I have no proof, but I'm afraid they have her again.”
Duncan blinked. “She was? It was?”
Rebecca looked at the younger Immortal in surprise. “You didn't know?”
Duncan shook his head.
“Then why are you so nervous? I thought you were worried for the same reason!” Rebecca wondered.
Nefertiri snorted. “He is suffering from the guppy love. Not quite certain if he wants to take the big step, not even certain of his feelings.”
Darius smiled slightly, not looking at the suddenly gobsmacked Duncan. “Puppy Love, Nefertiri. Puppy Love.”
Nefertiri scowled prettily and tilted her head, internalising the term. She looked at Duncan. “Do not worry, Duncan. If need be we shall ask Severus' friend with benefits to find Amanda.”
There was a moment of silence. Then John began to chuckle, with Rebecca joining in. Duncan smiled.
Darius, after a momentary hesitation, rose. “I assume you meant his friend the Seer?”
Nefertiri looked at the laughing group and her shoulders slumped disconsolately. “What did I say wrong this time?”
Darius looked at Duncan, who merely grinned wickedly and mouthed. “You're on your own,” at him.
Darius sat down and patted the couch beside him. “Ah, the term you used, friends with benefits... It has a different connotation.”
Nefertiri gave him a look. “Different meaning?”
“Yes,” Darius confirmed.
“Why not just say so? And it is a funny meaning?” Nefertiri demanded to know. “She has visions, are those not benefits?”
“Errrr... Yes. But a friend with benefits... mostly that is used to describe someone you are sexually involved with but with whom you have no romantic relationship, but one of friendship.”
Nefertiri nodded sagely. “Oh, I see. Like the girls in the harem who never saw the Pharaoh and still needed to entertain themselves.”
Duncan stopped chuckling and looked at Nefertiri and Rebecca. Rebecca smiled and leaned over to kiss John.
Darius nodded. “Something like that, yes.”
Nefertiri gave Darius a long look. “So tell me more about these benefits...”
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL LA and Scotland
“I have Amanda and her shard. How do you want to do this?” Luther asked bluntly.
Vail chuckled dryly, then coughed. “Offer them Amanda in exchange for the shards they have. When they come to make the trade, shoot and kill them.”
Luther sighed. “They will hardly sit still to be killed.”
“They don't have to. I'm sure you’ve got good aim. As long as Miss Deveraux remains available for re-sale,” Vail coughed again, “We stand to make a handsome profit.”
“Very well. It will be as you say,” Luther agreed calmly.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL And undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains and Scotland
“We have Deveraux. The sword she was supposed to get has a strange aura and vibration around it. I will be bringing it in. The Stone is not what I expected, it will require further investigation. The group hunting Luther and his Shards is remarkably less competent than I feared.” Rackham reported.
The Director let out a raspy laugh. “Good. That means we might come in under budget, or even make a profit. The Oversight committee will like that. When can I expect a report on the Stone?”
Rackham made a moue. “It might not be until after I've disposed of Luther. He guards the thing like an eagle with a single chick.”
“To be expected. Apparently he invested a considerable amount of time and money in acquiring it,” the Director noted calmly. “Report when you have news.”
Rackham rang off and pocketed the satellite phone. He turned round and looked at the half-buried bunker that was their current base of operations. The location was perfect for an ambush. And Rackham was nothing if not a perfectionist.
“Our suspicion that Luther would get support from a magic user has proven correct. I cannot locate him,” Severus stated tiredly.
“Ah. That is unfortunate.” Darius mused. “That means we will have to use reason to figure out where they are holding her, or wait until we are contacted. If what Rebecca fears is right and she is being held by the Council of Watchers we may not be contacted.”
Duncan shook his head. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that the Watchers held Amanda? I would have been a good deal less trusting.”
“Different organisation. The translation of the name is Watcher in English, though Guardian might be better for the other group and Observer is technically more correct for the organization that follows Immortals and keeps records on them,” Darius explained.
“Okay, what do these Guardians guard then? Or what do they watch?” Duncan asked, impatiently.
“The Slayer. And gates to different worlds. They are charged with guarding the Slayer line to ensure its survival. To help her keep the world safe from the forces of darkness,” Darius looked at Nefertiri, who nodded.
“It is so. It has been so since long before I was born, since before the time of Djet,” she asserted.
“Forces of darkness? What are we talking about? Hitler? Stalin? They weren’t very successful then.” Duncan asked, sceptically.
“Vampires, demons, warlocks,” Darius clarified. “Magical opponents, gates to hell.”
“Right. Vampires are real. And why have I never met one? I may be the youngest here, but if there's an organization dedicated to their destruction, there has to be a credible threat,” Duncan noted, his eyes still sceptical.
“Mostly because they don't like the way we feel to them. Our auras repel them,” Rebecca took over from Darius. “Many of their magics do not work, many of us are a match for all but the strongest of vampires due to our martial training and knowledge, basically we are more trouble than we're worth and they ignore us.”
“I see. So they ignore us, we ignore them?” Duncan asked, incredulously. “What about mortals? We just let them die?”
Rebecca pinned him with a glare and Nefertiri almost growled. “I'm a Handmaiden of Osiris, Duncan MacLeod! I've been fighting demons for a very long time. So did Aganesthes, so did Rebecca! Do not think to take the moral high ground here, youngling!”
Duncan looked abashed. “I ah, I’m sorry.”
“And you ought to be,” Darius commented softly. “Even in my most evil days I fought demons, Duncan. I may have wanted to rule the world but I wanted people to rule as people and the world to exist while I did so. Demons wish to use mankind as cattle or to destroy the world entirely.”
Duncan looked at the floor. “Right.”
“You see the world in black and white, MacLeod. Yet most things that mortals or Immortals do are painted in shades of grey. Very few humans are irredeemably evil or wholly good. The latter are rarer than the former,” Snape remarked cynically. “The same can not be said of many species of demon. Many of them are wholly evil, love evil, live or un-live for evil. They feed on humanity quite literally. There are species who like babies for breakfast. Vampires feed on blood, tending to kill their victims. Percentage wise far more demons are truly evil than humans. Happily there are far fewer demons than humans.”
“And technology has helped a great deal. Not just weapons, but buildings, and cars and planes and communication. Demons can no longer travel a hundred miles and start killing all over again. They have to be careful or be hunted down and destroyed,” Darius added. “And fewer people live on the streets, more people are missed when they are taken. Mankind has lost a great deal of its brutality in the past few centuries. Gruesome murders are more noticeable now.”
Duncan sighed. “I'll want to talk about this later, once we have Amanda and the Stone.”
“If you wish. It is not a pleasant subject however,” Darius acquiesced.
“I need to know,” Duncan stated softly.
Darius gave him a look and sighed. “I suppose you do. Very well, does anyone have any ideas about where they might be holding Amanda?”
“They would want somewhere easily defensible, something out of the way, a place they can leave her unattended,” Rebecca noted. “Luther is paranoid, his house is like a bunker.”
“The coastal defences!” Snape and Duncan chorused.
Snape strode to the map and folded it out. “They'd want one that has electricity, or at least that is close to a place that does. Possibly phone lines as well.”
“What about mobiles?” John asked.
“Middle of Scotland, the reception is terrible here,” Duncan replied absently as his eyes swept the map. “They wouldn't want to travel too far with Amanda in the back. The local police is quite vigilant about strange cars.”
“They were in the fifties, maybe. Now there are so many ‘cottages in the bloody country’ that they can't keep track of all that traffic,” Snape noted.
Duncan nodded, reluctantly conceding the point. “But Amanda would make a scene if she woke up and they'd want her to secure as fast as possible. She is an escape artists and Luther probably knows that.”
“So not too far away from civilization, yet far enough to be able to hide Amanda?” Darius perused the map. “Here. A cottage with a bunker in the grounds, twelve miles or so from here.”
Severus nodded. “A distinct possibility. How do we do this?”
“A pity we can't scry for her.” Darius noted.
“I'd need to know her or to have a personal item, blood or other tissue sample. I can scry for the shards because they are highly magical and I have an example. Luther and whoever his co-conspirator is he’s cast a spell to deflect scrying,” Snape explained.
“I have some of her hair,” Duncan admitted after a moment's silence.
“You do?” Darius smiled. “Well, hand it over, maybe we'll get lucky.”
Duncan rather reluctantly went to his room and returned with a pillbox that he handed to Snape. Snape opened it and his eyebrow went up. “Why MacLeod, you naughty boy, you.”
Duncan blushed furiously. “It was her
“Hmm, and you accepted it. No matter, it might even work better,” Snape put the pillbox next to the map and started moving his wand in the movements of the divination spell. Nefertiri, insatiably curious, moved to stand beside him and casually looked into the little box. Then she smirked and winked at Duncan who groaned.
“Is Amanda naturally curly haired?” Nefertiri asked innocently.
Duncan fled. Rebecca grinned as did Darius and John.
Snape gasped and a small dot of blue light hovered over the map, over the bunker beside the cottage that Darius had pointed at.
Darius smiled grimly. “I think it is time we paid a visit to Luther, don't you?”
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL Luther’s cottage and Bunker complex
“The man has no taste,” Rebecca said as she looked at the horrifyingly modern bungalow. “If one has to live in Scotland, the least one can do is live in something that fits into the countryside. Or the history of the place.”
“Like a mud hut,” Severus supplied, his face straight.
Duncan glared at both of them. “Very funny. Haha,” he gestured at the cottage. “What do we do now?”
Darius looked at Severus, who shrugged. “We sneak up got the place, Luther senses us, if he comes out with a gun, I stun him, or disarm him, someone fights him and takes his head, some others go and free Amanda and I go and defeat whoever is helping Luther.”
Duncan blinked. “Just like that? This person blocked your scrying. For all you know he’s more powerful than you!”
“I know all the wizards in Britain. There are very few more powerful than me,” Severus replied calmly. “And the plan has the advantage of being simple. If anyone has a gun, don’t hesitate to use it. You can always be a gentleman and bring the bastard to battle after you’ve prevented him from fleeing.”
Duncan grit his teeth. “That is against all the rules!”
“Which Luther has flouted anyway. Bringing him to battle by shooting him in the foot or back is not breaking the Game. It’s making sure the world doesn’t get ruled by an megalomaniac,” Snape countered.
“Ruled?” Duncan looked stunned.
“What, you think Luther wants the Stone as a fashion accessory? That thing holds vast power and only the strongest, most moral minds can resist the urge to use it!” Snape snapped.
John looked at Rebecca. “Oh.”
Rebecca shrugged. “I think he exaggerates.”
“He doesn't. One reason I was looking for Aganesthes was to claim the Stone. Had his experiences not changed me, I would now be ruling the world with an iron fist,” Darius admitted.
“It is really that powerful?” Duncan looked at the sliver of crystal around Rebecca's neck with horror.
“Yes. Hence my investing time and effort to get it back to someone who will not abuse it,” Snape told MacLeod in a condescending tone.
Rebecca pursed her lips. “Severus? Take something for that headache. You’re being insufferable.”
Snape opened his mouth to deny it, then closed his mouth in the face of Rebecca's stare, reached into his robes, took out a small box, enlarged it and removed a vial which he downed.
Rebecca nodded approvingly. “Good boy. However, the plan is sound, except for one thing. Amanda must be freed. I will go do that with Nefertiri.”
MacLeod bristled. “It may be a trap! And Nefertiri hasn't used a blade in two thousand years!”
Nefertiri snorted. “In your perception of time, yes. In mine, it was much shorter. Not to mention that I've been playing with Darius' sword.”
Snape looked at her with a slight smirk. “No doubt you have.”
Darius sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “No matter, Rebecca and Nefertiri will go look for Amanda, John will stay in the car, with his gun ready. Duncan, Severus and I will go to the bungalow.”
Duncan looked ready to protest again when Snape glared and snapped at him. “Think Highlander! She may not want to see a man right now.”
Duncan winced in sudden understanding. Snape shook his head. “We’ve wasted far too much time. We attack, now.”
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The Bunker
The door opened and the beam of a powerful flashlight shone into Amanda's eyes. The man holding the light was very careful to keep it in her eyes as he came in. He closed the door again and knelt by her, still holding the light on her face.
“Good afternoon Miss Deveraux. Or should I say, Raven?”
Amanda squinted against the light. The voice was not Luther's. “Who are you?”
“My name isn't important. What is important is that in a few hours a gentleman from the Council of Watchers will be here to see if you are the escaped property they've been looking for. I believe the current bounty, including inflation, is somewhere near two million Pounds Sterling.”
Amanda felt her throat tighten. She tried to tell her self the shiver down her spine was from the cold and the damp, not from fear. “I'm sure I'll manage to escape again.”
“Oh my dear lady, I think not. Since your last escape they have tightened up security quite a lot. If you manage to escape it will be a lot longer than a mere decade before you do so. And they will make sure you will be easy to recapture. After all, technology has advanced greatly,” the man laughed raspily. “The market for Lightning Warrior blood alone is stupendous. You, my dear, are a veritable goldmine. And two million is not nearly enough. Why, the skin of your arms alone will fetch ten to twenty thousand Sterling for each time we harvest it. Not to mention the research possibilities.”
Amanda blinked against the light. It was not because she was trying to hold back tears. She was not frightened enough to cry, that wasn’t it, not at all. “I'm sure Luther will be delighted to hear it. Doesn't he think the Council will not say no to a matched pair?”
The man snorted. “Mr. Luther thinks you will be used for... entertainment purposes only. I did not seek to disabuse him of that notion. However you need not worry about being the slave of the Council. Especially since the Watchers' Council will not be the only bidder. There are many people and institutions who want a piece of you...” He let his voice trail off and put a hand on her naked breast and squeezed.
“The Council was a lot less sophisticated two hundred years ago. Many companies and persons would love to investigate your Immortality in many ingenious ways. I know several potioneers who would be delighted to own you and to source your materials.”
Amanda shuddered at his words and his touch on her cold and clammy skin. “You really won’t get away with this you know. I have friends, they will find me.”
“Friends? I doubt they know about the magical world? And how often do you drop of the map for a decade or two after a heist, Miss Devereaux? No, you will be safely ensconced in some nice production facility and your friends will believe you dead,” Rackham chuckled. “But until that time I think I’ll avail myself on the goods on display.”
His hands moved and Amanda, despite all her attempts to remain stoic, whimpered and started to cry.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The Bungalow
The bungalow was even worse up close. The very worst of nineteen-fifties ‘architecture and design’ combined with drab colours, bad quality materials and the influence of sea, sun and wind made it look close to a ruin. The garden was overgrown and filled with gorse and brambles and the remnants of a very old greenhouse that looked about ready to collapse.
The two immortals moved slowly down the slick and mossy garden path. The ancient brick, never meant for paving, was crumbling and so slippery that walking fast was out of the question.
The door opened and Luther appeared, sword in hand, looking around warily. “MacLeod. I see you brought help to fight me. Frightened, are you?”
MacLeod smiled grimly. “No. We just didn’t want you to manage to run.”
“How did you find me?” Luther demanded to know as he assumed a battle stance.
“Simple deduction, my dear Luther. We did have your mentor’s knowledge of your habits and idiosyncrasies and the combined intelligence and experience of some of the world’s oldest Immortals to draw upon, after all,” Darius drawled.
Luther’s eyes narrowed. “And I suppose if I take MacLeod’s head you’ll move in for the kill?”
Darius smiled. “I doubt that will be necessary, Luther. MacLeod?”
Mac approached Luther, his katana in the ready position.
BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS BtVSBtVS The Bunker
Amanda stiffened involuntarily as she felt the Quickening approaching. It was powerful Quickening, or possibly more than one. Rackham looked up, from fondling her breasts his face surprised as a noise at the door drew his attention. “What the…”
“That would be us. And who would you be?” Rebecca entered the room, sword pointed down.
Rackham’s eyes narrowed, concentrating. “I can sense you. You’re an Immortal. Pretty old too, I’d wager,” he rose and gestured. “Ventus!” A wind blew up, striking Rebecca and forcing her several steps back. Nefetiri, behind her, had to do the same.
Rackham looked slightly shaken and lifted both hands as the women came forward again. “Firmus!”
Rebecca and Nefertiri’s advance slowed to a crawl, but not entirely. Rebecca smiled. “You didn’t think you could use magic to destroy us, did you? You’re not nearly powerful enough for that. What a pity. It has been so long since I last fought a worthy opponent.”
Rackham smiled. “Overconfidence,” he gestured again and spoke. “Perfringo!” several blocks of concrete in the already cracked ceiling came loose and fell. One struck Nefertiri, knocking her down, another hit Rebecca on the shoulder, making her drop her sword with a cry as the bone shattered.
Rackham threw his flashlight, catching the immortal on her broken shoulder. Rebecca gasped in pain. Rackham moved in and stepped on the sword, then placed his hand on Rebecca’s shoulder and squeezed. “Excrucio,” he whispered, a grin on his face. Rebecca’s eyes ran up in her head and she fell down. Rackham looked down and grinned. “So much for the cavalry. Looks like the auction will be bigger than I thought.”
A beam of purple light flew at Rackham and he dodged, barely. He looked around and saw a crooked-backed and nosed man wearing black robes pointing a wand at him.
“Not even a challenge?” Rackham taunted.
“I prefer to make pithy remarks to the corpses of my enemies, not their faces,” Severus replied, blandly, before launching another spell wordlessly.
“Contego!” Rackham staggered as a slash appeared in his shield and then weal of red ran down his chest, as if a sword cut through his robes and skin. The wound flowed freely and he looked at it stunned.
“Who the fuck are you?” Rackham gestured at his opponent and the man was thrown back several yards, but a quick wave of his wand and a tuck and roll brought him back near Rackham.
“Quasso Ossa!” Rackham hissed.
“Protego!” was the counter, immediately followed by “Confringo!”
Rackham dodged and saw the concrete wall behind him splinter, small bits striking him and drawing blood. “Excrucio!” he shouted out.
The man in the black robes hissed as the spell struck home and fell to his knees. Rackham gestured with his left hand, “Cor Desiit!”
“Protego, Sectumsempra!” came Snape’s quick reply.
Rackham hissed as a spell got through his shield, another bleeding wound appearing, this time on his arm. “Eviscero!”
“Protego!” The man in black managed, as he dropped away from the spell hurling at him.
Rackham saw his chance and hurried over. The man in black was panting, blood was pouring over his hands and fingers as he tried to keep his intestines inside his body. His ribs looked awkward and Rackham noted with pleasure his bonebreak curse had done damage after all.
“Looks like great-grandfather’s spell did for you, boy. Let this be a last, final lesson for you. Don’t mess with your elders and betters,” Rackham sneered as he raised his hand to finish of his opponent.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The Bungalow
MacLeod attacked, his katana swinging towards Luther's right hand. Luther parried the blow easily and deflected the next attack aimed at his stomach as well, stepping off the slick path and into the overgrown garden.
“Not very impressive, MacLeod. Rather pathetic as a matter of fact,” Luther drawled condescendingly.
“If you say so,” MacLeod slashed at Luther's left and then the tip of his katana slashed less than half an inch from the other man's face.
Luther had to jump to avoid the blow, a gorse bush providing extra cover. “Not quite as good as you think you are, MacLeod,” he taunted.
“Good enough to deal with the likes of you,” Duncan replied as he ducked a high blow meant to take his arm off, or wound his head.
“Are you? I took Amanda. Took her prisoner, even... Do you know Amanda, MacLeod?”
“We've met,” Duncan replied curtly.
“Met have you? I think you know her. In the biblical sense. She quite an attractive lady, isn't she?” Luther leered lasciviously, testing the other man's defences with quick stabs.
MacLeod kept silent, merely slicing at Luther’s knees, forcing the other man back again, deeper into the wilderness of the garden..
“Did you bring your other little friends? Rebecca and Nefertiri? Can I play with them like I did with Amanda?” Luther licked his lips, as if looking forward to it.
MacLeod used the moment to slide closer, his hand blocking the striking sword and his Katana flicking out and drawing a line of blood on Luther’s left arm.
“You’ll die for that, Highlander! That was one of my favourite shirts,” Luther smirked and spat MacLeod in the face, then attempted to knee him in the groin but Macleod was quicker and dodged the attack, then countered with sword swung at Luther’s midriff.
“What was it that made you do it, Luther?” Darius asked from where he was watching, his face grave. “You do not even have the excuse mortals used that you crave immortality.”
Luther aimed a backhanded blow at MacLeod’s head, then tried to kick the Scotsman’s knee.
MacLeod’s katana intercepted the sword while he side stepped the kick and his own foot caught the stockier, heavier man on the side of the knee.
Luther hissed. “You would never understand, Darius. You were afraid of taking the Stone’s power, afraid of conquering the world, of taking your rightful place as a ruler over all! You’ve forfeited the right to wield it; do not think you can stop me!”
“You talk too much of things you do not understand,” Darius noted. “You think you will rule the Stone. I think it will be the other way around.”
Luther suddenly ran at Darius, sword outstretched, but just before the point connected Darius swung aside and snapped his hands down in a double fisted attack on Luther’s lower arm.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The Bunker
~Skinfire,~ a soft voice whispered.
Rackham’s eyes widened as his skin started to burn. Behind him, Rebecca rose. “You are quite right. You should never, ever mess with your elders and betters.”
Rackham swallowed. “Extinguo! EXTINGUO!”
The flames consuming his skin faded out, leaving horrible, painful looking burns.
Rackham sobbed and grabbed a crystal that hung around his neck, the white light shining through his fingers as he faded from view.
Severus spoke a few words and his intestines started to move back into his body. He let out a breath. “Rackharrow.”
“What?” Rebecca asked as she started to untie Amanda who was looking from one to the other. Severus tried to take of his robes and cover her, but his injuries prevented it.
Nefertiri rose, limped over to Snape and helped him out of his robes, all the while assessing his injuries.
“Rackharrow. The last spell he used, the Entrail Expelling curse, it was developed by Urquhart Rackharrow. His family is supposed to be extinct in the magical line,” Snape replied, wincing slightly as his shattered ribs moved.
“Ah. A pity it isn’t true,” Rebecca muttered. “I can’t believe I underestimated him that badly. I thought you were one of the most powerful wizards in Britain?” she asked Snape, half teasing.
Severus drew himself up, then winced and hunched back over. “As you know I was already somewhat magically depleted when the battle began, and you may have noticed he was American, not British. And I’ve far too little experience fighting in such close quarters, I’ll need to practice that. There was barely any room to dodge.”
“I see. So you could have taken him outside?” Nefertiri was cutting through Amanda’s rope with her newly acquired sword.
Snape had turned away from where Amanda lay and tilted his head. “I think so. But he must have been at least twice my age and experience, I would guess. His hair was going grey by the end of the fight, so he was using energy he normally uses to remain young.”
Rebecca nodded. “Some of the blackest of arts.”
“Yes… Like that spell you used. I didn’t know you were a witch?” Severus asked, carefully.
“I don’t like using offensive spells, but my old teacher used to say that when in battle use all the means at your disposal and make sure the enemy does not get up,” Rebecca responded absently but also partly dodging the question, Snape noticed.
“He would be very annoyed, he would have killed this Rackharrow without speaking a word to him,” Nefertiri added. “You are getting sloppy, Xanthe.”
Rebecca froze. So did Severus. “X-Xanthe? The Sorceress Xanthe?” He whispered. “Xanthia of Tiryns?”
Rebecca glared at Nefertiri, who looked at her feet, not meeting her friend's eyes. “Sorry, Xanthe, I spoke before thinking.”
“And what did the Master say about speaking before thinking?” Rebecca asked with an edge to her voice.
“That I was past Mistress of that art even if I would never master the art of magic?” Nefertiri answered blithely as she pulled Amanda to her feet. “I am
“We’ll discuss it later,” Rebecca’s tone was cool. Nefertiri winced.
“Were you really trained by a True Wizard?” Severus asked, his eyes gleaming with interest.
Rebecca sighed. “Yes. I was. It’s not a subject I want to think about.”
Severus opened his mouth to protest when Rebecca held up her hand. “Severus, he died very old, and very unhappy.”
Snape nodded slowly. “I understand. I apologize. Though I think many others would be deeply interested in any information about what you learned that you might want to share.”
Rebecca picked up her sword and sheathed it. “Maybe. Later. Much , much later.”
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The Bungalow
Luther turned, his arm tingling and stunned, still trying to land a blow that would allow him to take the older Immortal hostage, but Darius grabbed his left wrist and punched him in the throat as he dodged neatly under the oncoming blade.. Luther gasped for breath and this left him open for a second punch, under the sternum, and a crushing kick to instep. Darius’ arm folded over Luther's sword arm for the crucial few tenths of a second he needed to hook a foot behind the smaller man's uninjured leg and bring him down. Luther fell, heavily and Darius was on him in an instant, jumping, both feet landing on the extended right arm, the arm still wielding the sword.
There was a sucking, breaking noise and Luther screamed as his arm bones cracked under the assault.
Luther looked at his fallen sword and then at the face of Darius, Implacable and cold. He tried to move his arm and could feel the bones of his forearm grinding together where they had been broken by the older immortal's attack. Darius kicked the sword away and looked at Duncan.
“Your head, I fear, McLeod,” he said softly and walked towards where the sword now lay, picked it up and headed to the back of the bungalow.
Luther tried to get up but didn't get much further than his knees. While he still had one knee and one foot on the ground MacLeod swung, taking his head.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL The Bungalow, somewhat later
When the women came in with a bloody Snape Darius lifted his head from his reading and an elegant eyebrow went up. “Dear me.”
Nefertiri glared at him. “Not a word, Darius.”
“A tougher opponent than you had expected?” Duncan asked. “Did you get him?”
Nefertiri shook her head and tiredly dropped next to Darius. “No. He teleported away. He didn't come here?”
Darius shook his head. “Not that we saw. Both the shards of the Stone Luther had gathered and the sword are still here, he would have taken them, I think.”
“Well, I'll just take the sword and be gone then,” Amanda suggested blithely.
Rebecca' s hand on her arm stopped her. “I don't think so, young lady. We are going to have a Talk.”
Amanda winced. “But-”
“No buts, we get out of here, get washed up and then a talk,” Rebecca gestured at the sword, lying on the table. “That is a forgery anyway.”
“Yeah, well, I'm getting paid for getting it and I have a reputation to keep up,” Amanda whined.
“Amanda, they were waiting for you in there. Don't you think that as coincidences go that is a little too much?” Rebecca noted.
Amanda pouted. “Oh, very well. I'll go to my own hotel and-”
Rebecca cut her off with a look. “This is not about your habit of casual theft, or not so casual theft, Amanda. This is about things we should have discussed two hundred years ago.”
Amanda drew the black robes Severus had given her closer around her naked, trembling frame. Then she nodded, not meeting anyone’s eyes.
Severus was looking at the sword. “It has magic. Quite a lot of it, actually,” he ran a hand down the blade, frowning. “I've never seen markings like these.”
Rebecca looked at them and then frowned. “Neither have I. At least… not quite like them. I’ve seen many languages that look a bit like them. As if someone took a bit of every alphabet and mixed them all up. You know, like a forger in the nineteenth century might do, when they hardly knew what the languages were, let alone what they meant.”
Severus frowned at the blade, then shrugged. “It is as good an explanation as any. There were quite a few Wizards at that time in China and Persia who specialised in bladecraft. It might be as old as the sixteenth century. Swords rather fell out of favour among us after that.”
“It’s strangely balanced and rather too heavy for use,” Duncan supplied. “As if it was made for someone quite short but with prodigious strength.”
“That is neither here nor there. It is cold, I are cold, Amanda are cold and I want some hot cho-co-late. We go now. Come on, Darius!” Nefertiri commanded and grabbed his arm, dragging him outside.
The others gathered what they needed and left. Severus prudently dumped the body and the severed head in the sea from his broom while Rebecca carried the sword as the surest way to keep Amanda from absconding with it.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL A hotel in London
Dressed only in a pair of very loose boxers Rack was waiting for his call to be put through to the Director. The dittany cream he had applied was helping with the burns but he knew it would take a great deal of magic to prevent painful scarring. He would need to find a nice powerful little adept or two or three to drain before he was fully healed. He might even have to dye his hair while he waited for his rituals to gain enough power again to rejuvenate him.
“Agent Rackham,” the Director answered the phone coolly.
“Director. The mission is a failure,” Rackham reported.
“The group looking for the crystal had two adepts, both of them Dark by the spells they used,” Rackham looked at his still fiery red skin.
“I see. That is disappointing. I assume that there is something you can salvage?” the Director asked.
“No,” Rackham replied bluntly. “I’m lucky to be alive. The Stone is a loss, Luther is most likely dead and the opposition is in control of the field. The sword was with the Stone and must be presumed lost as well. I doubt it will be returned to its previous location for easy retrieval.”
“That is very worrying, Agent Rackham. Very worrying indeed. You are one of our most powerful field agents and yet you were defeated. I will require a report in person,” the Director ordered. “You will report here as soon as possible.”
Rackham suppressed an oath. “Very well, Director. I’ll take the earliest possible flight.”
“Do that. Most unfortunate. Most unfortunate indeed. Is Valance aware of the loss of Luther?” the Director asked.
Rackham considered the possibility. “Not yet. Not until he fails to call in.”
“That is something. He was still unaware of your presence?” The Director inquired.
Rackham shrugged painfully. “As far as I know. Luther was far too egotistical to mention me and unaware of my magic use. I’m not entirely sure how they found us. At any rate I have some healing to do and then will return to the US.”
“Very well. Transportation will be waiting for you,” The Director rang off.
Rackham sighed and put the phone down. He stroked the white, weakly glowing crystal around his neck. “Well Hazel, looks like I owe my life to you once more,” he smiled. “Buying you from your mother was the smartest thing I ever did.”
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL Dufftown, Banffshire Hotel
The crystal sat on the table in the small, comfortable sitting room they had rented for the day. Amanda, showered and dressed, sat next to Rebecca who had an arm around her. Duncan rather bashfully had sat down on her other side. Severus sat on the couch opposite, looking worn out.
Nefertiri sat beside Darius and John was pouring drinks. “It looks so innocent.”
Rebecca fingered the shard around her neck and Amanda did the same with hers. “Its cost the lives of dozens of people.”
“I started a war for it,” Darius reminded John.
“I still don’t know what it can do,” Duncan looked at the heap of loose crystals.
“Nobody quite knows, but the legends are truly frightening,” Rebecca admitted. “Cassandra is scared stiff by its very presence.”
“Ah. Can we not destroy it then?”
“NO!” Severus bellowed, his face paling. “Merlin, no!”
Everybody looked at the phlegmatic wizard in shock. “Heavens, Severus. It was just a question, and not even a bad one,” Rebecca said wonderingly.
“I- There’s a legend. An old, old legend that the First Wizard wanted to preserve his knowledge. But he knew that his knowledge was dangerous, so to make sure it could not be abused, he took not only his knowledge, but what he had learned, what he thought, how he felt, his entire moral compass, if you will, and poured them into a crystal. When one of his friends came by to see how his project was going he found the old wizard dead… His soul gone. And the stone he had intended to house his knowledge in taken, by his apprentice,” Severus looked at the stone. “It is just a legend, I know, but…”
“The First Wizard?” Nefertiri looked at the crystal shards with awe on her face. “Oh.”
“But the stone is fractured, broken. Would that not mean that his soul is as well?” Duncan argued.
Severus sighed. “I have a theory about that. I’d like to think about it a bit more, read some books. But I don’t think destroying the Stone is wise. Not to mention it would be very dangerous.”
“It would be. Amanda? Why did you pick up that shard?” Darius asked gently.
Amanda blinked. “Because it is mine? The one Rebecca gave to me?”
“And how did you pick it out, out of all the ones here? Rebecca, why did you give it to her? Why do you wear the one you do?” Darius continued.
Rebecca hesitated. “It felt like the right one to give her. And this one… Aganesthes wore this one. He told me that he would hide it before he…”
“Before he died. I see,” Darius mused. “And the others? How did you give them their crystals?”
“The same,” Rebecca shrugged. “I can’t explain it really.”
“Hmmm. Interesting,” Darius mused. “It might be that the shards are different aspects of a personality…”
Rebecca nodded. “It is possible. I know that I sometime think that there’s an… Awareness to my shard.”
John snorted. “You’re not wearing that thing to bed again, love. I’m not performing for some lecherous old voyeur!”
Silence ruled for a few seconds. Then Nefertiri started to giggle. “Ah, yes. We get to the crux of things.”
Duncan snorted. “He has a point. I’d not feel too comfortable about it myself,” he admitted.
Severus sighed. “So, what do we do with it?”
Rebecca tapped her lips with her fingers. “We need a safe place to store it, at least for a while. Do you have a vault, Severus?”
“You want to put one of the most powerful magical artefacts of all time in my vault?” Severus raised an eyebrow. “Well, I suppose it can keep company with the spiders and the sad bits of family history that I still posses.”
“You’re not objecting?” Duncan asked with amusement.
“MacLeod, there are a few things I learned in life. For instance that one should never cross a powerful witch or an angry woman. She is both. Besides which, if Xanthia of Tiryns tells me to do something, I do it,” Severus shrugged.
“Hmmm, seems your reputation precedes you, Love,” John teased.
“If it did, Nefertiri would not have spilled the beans about my identity to Severus,” Rebecca snapped.
Nefertiri cringed. Darius looked from one woman to the other, then at the heap on the table. “Severus, I want you to take those as soon as you can. I also think it might be wise to gather all of them together.”
“What?” Amanda reached to the crystal around her neck. “Why?”
“Because I think it very likely that the crystals are affecting you. It might even be that Luther was influenced to do what he did by the crystal he wore.”
Rebecca shook her head. “I doubt it, Darius. Oh, I agree about the shards having to be removed. But Luther was an arrogant, egotistical bastard when I first met him. It would not take much influencing to make him chase the Crystal as a road to power.”
“So you’re willing to give up the rest of the shards?” Darius asked, one hand soothingly rubbing Nefertiri’s back.
“Yes. And speak to my pupils about giving theirs up. It might still be risky to have the Stone in one place, however,” Rebecca noted.
“No one has ever successfully broken into Gringott’s. It should be safe there,” Snape eyed the white, pulsing light with distaste. “It’s not as if I visit the damn thing often.”
“Good, that will be an acceptable solution for now. Once we have a better idea of what it can do and how it affects us, we can see if we need to take different measures,” Rebecca decided. She took off her shard and placed it on the table. After a moment’s hesitation Amanda did the same.
Severus rose and gathered the shards into a velvet bag. “I’ll take these away then.”
“Come to Duncan’s barge in a week, Severus. I’ll give you the rest I have. I’ll send a message through Darius once I’ve regained the others, to deliver them later,” Rebecca added.
“And what about the sword?” Amanda asked, hopefully.
“Will remain with me as well,” Severus told her severely. “There’s power in that blade. Dangerous power.”
“There’s money in it for me,” Amanda pouted.
“Really? Do tell...” Rebecca looked at the younger woman askance.
Amanda gulped. “Sorry.”
Severus looked at the sword, hesitated, took a deep breath and picked it up. A slight line of white fire ran up the blade’s edge. He shivered.
Amanda made a little moaning noise and turned puppy eyes on Rebecca. “Please?”
“No, Ama, you can’t have it,” Rebecca repeated sternly.
Amanda sighed and crossed her arms, pouting. “You’re no fun any more.”
Rebecca shrugged. “That may be true. Now, we need to talk. Gentlemen? Nefertiri?”
Nefertiri rose and pulled on Darius’ arm. “Yes, Darius and me need to talk as well. Come, Darius.”
Duncan smirked, bowed and left. John kissed his wife’s cheek and did the same. Snape hesitated, bowed deeply, and left with the sword and the bag of shards, still limping.
Rebecca turned to the younger Immortal. “We can take as much time as you need for this Amanda. Talk to me, my Sweetling.”
Amanda opened her mouth to make a flippant remark but the compassion in the other woman’s eyes broke her resolve. With a sob she threw herself into Rebecca’s arms. Then, haltingly she fianlly began to tell the only true mother she ever knew what had happened to her in the decade of her captivity.
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPH Darius’ room
Darius looked up at Nefertiri warily from his seat on the bed. Even sitting down she was barely taller than him. “What did you wish to discuss, Tiri?”
Nefertiri took a deep breath. “You and me, Darius.”
Darius shook his head. “I will not be another notch on your bedpost, Tiri.”
Gritting her teeth Nefertiri stepped to stand right in front of him, her eyes flashing with anger. “I do not want another notch! I do not want other men! When will you get it through your thick, barbarian, steppe-dwelling skull that I want you?! That I want you not for a night but for a century? A millennium? Eternity?” She poked his chest with a small, very pointy finger. “What I want, Darius, is you, with your infernal wisdom, annoying platitudes, and truly maddening restraint and control! That is what I want! Now do you understand?” she hissed. “If I am not good enough for you just tell-”
Darius had risen and towered over Nefertiri, his eyes dark and hooded, his face stern. “You want me, do you Tiri? You want me now, and for eternity?” His voice was hard and laced with a tone Nefertiri did not recognize in him.
She involuntarily backed away a step. “Y-yes?”
“You want me, light and darkness, murderer and priest? You want to know me and all that I am, all that I have done, all those I’ve killed?” Darius whispered, circling her like a predator its prey.
Nefertiri shivered as his eyes raked her up and down. Then she straightened and looked him straight into the eyes, the prey unwilling to run or hide. “Yes. All of that. Like you will know all of me. I do not wish to dally with young men who do not know what they do, or what they want, or what darkness is, or what it is like to struggle back to the light. We are both too old to truly find our heart’s content with a mortal or even a younger Immortal. We are for each other, Darius.”
Darius laughed. It was a short, hollow, bitter laugh, but it was also gay and free. He leant forward, caught Nefertiri’s waist in his large, capable hands and drew her close, lifting her to her toes and kissed her.
Nefertiri did not hesitate and threw her arms around his neck, then her legs around his waist. They fell onto the bed, still kissing.
After a few minutes Darius let go of her, looking into her gleaming dark brown eyes, his gaze a bit dazed. He noted Nefertiri seemed to be similarly affected.
“D-Darius? I love you,” she whispered to him. And he kissed her again.
The kiss took several more minutes. Then Darius withdrew, smiled and kissed her nose. “I love you too, Nefertiri.”
HPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHLHPHL Hogwarts, a month later
Severus Snape sat in his rooms in the Dungeons, his eyes on the fire that burned in the grate.
Opposite him sat Albus Dumbledore, a worried expression on his face. “Severus?”
“Yes?” Snape responded absently.
“Are you alright? You’ve seemed awfully distracted this past month,” Dumbledore ventured.
“Have you ever walked among living legends, Albus? And I do not mean when you look in the mirror, true legends,” Snape answered, his gaze still on the flickering flames.
Dumbledore considered the question carefully. “I think I walk among those who might become so, at the very least. Why do you ask?”
“Come with me, would you Albus?” Snape rose and led the older wizard off, until the reached a long, quiet gallery on the seventh floor that ran the entire northern width of the castle.
“The Great Gallery?” Albus asked, slightly bemused.
Snape nodded and led him down the passage until they reached a portrait of two women in repose, The painting was dark and dirty, but someone had been cleaning it, carefully and skilfully. “I asked Argus to bring this up from the stores and work on cleaning it.”
“What is it? I can’t recall having ever studied it, or even seen it.” Albus asked.
“A painting of a teacher and two of his students. Note the shapes in the background? Those are the pyramids,” Snape pointed.
“Yes? If you’ll forgive me, Severus, this castle is full of paintings of long dead people,” Albus reminded him.
“True. Some not dead enough,” he remarked dryly.
Albus smiled slightly. “So what is its significance?”
Snape pointed at the painted banner that ran at the top. “Look, here.”
Albus squinted at the almost illegible script. “Greek?”
“It was painted by Cassandra, it would be in Greek,” Snape explained.
Cassandra? Cassandra the Seer?” Albus looked shocked.
Snape nodded. “Yes. This might be a copy, I don’t know. But you know Greek, so read it.”
Albus squinted again, his lips moving as he dug in his memory for the meaning of the Greek words. “Xanthia of Tiryns and Nefertiri of Abydos receiving training from the Wizard Simonides, the Vicar of Death,” Albus blinked. “Severus! You met one of them?”
“Two. And Cassandra lives still as well,” Severus looked at the ceiling. “It was him, Albus.”
“What? Who was him, Severus?” Albus asked.
“He lived too long and died very unhappily. Simonides Vicari,” Snape gestured at the age darkened figure in what looked to be a white chiton.
“The Broken One. It was not the then Lord of the House of the Vicars who went insane and whose actions led to his family’s downfall, banishment and his own death. It was its founder.” End Note: Urquhar Rackharrow is the canon inventor of the Entrail expelling curse. The spells Rackham uses, roughly translated, mean the following: Ventus- Wind Firmus- Thicken, harden Perfringo- Shatter Excrucio- Torture, incredible pain Contego- Shield, cover, protect Quasso Ossa- Crush bones Cor Desiit- Heart stop Eviscero- Disembowel Extinguo- Extinguish, douse