Category: Crossover Highlander/The Sentinel
Rating: NC17 for violence, language, sexual content and mature themes
Background: Takes place in CarolROI's Immortal Universe a few weeks after Immortal Champion and four months before Immortal Phoenix.
Thanks Yous: to our beta Beth B (Beth123B) for taking the time to make sure that we kept everything in perspective.
Note: All Scenes enclosed in italics mark flashbacks to another time/place.
SPOILERS: Murder 101, Love and Guns, and any ep Jim fell for the BOTW.
By CarolROI and Suisan
I try to relax my hands on the steering wheel, to let the peace and beauty of the route I am on fill my mind. My hands clench tighter on the wheel; one at a time, I remove them and try to shake feeling back into them. I can't stop yet, not until I reach my destination. The heavy, salt laden air is cleansing, even as the slight winds that are blowing try in vain to chase the low gray clouds from the sky, pushing them further in to shore. Against the stark background reach trees with bare, skeletal arms; the only splash of color in this grayness that surrounds me is the dark green foliage of the hearty evergreens.
It's funny, but in all my travels I never have set foot in this city, once. Oh, I've been close but I was never drawn here, to Cascade, Washington. But now? Now, I have a twofold reason for coming here. I smile to myself as I pass the 'Welcome to Cascade' sign on the highway. I need to take care of business first then I can see to the other purpose for my visit.
I wouldn't be here at all if he had accepted my offer, the gift I was willing to give him - but no, he had to get all indignant and self-righteous. This comes from the man who killed the Dorian at the Temple of Delphi, who had committed thousands of atrocities as a member of the Four Horsemen! The man who pulled me from the rubble of Delphi, took me in, trained me, educated me, used me, loved me. Ah well, his loss. Maybe my old friend, my one time savior, will understand the need I have.
I am Eolia, daughter of a little known tribe of Celtoi people who no longer live, even in the tunnels of my long memory. They are gone, forever, leaving only me, a lost child, to remember them.
I've managed to find a parking spot fairly close to Rainier University's Main office; now to see if my information was accurate. Climbing out of the rental car I picked up at the airport, I stretch my back, loosening muscles stiffened by the long drive from Seattle to Cascade. Pulling the long coat I wear tighter to my body, I make my way towards the Registrar's Office. The youthful exuberance of the students around me only deepens my feelings of despair. I'm so tired. Not even the unparalleled beauty that is Rainier's can alleviate the pure exhaustion in my body. The bite of the cold wind threatens to take me back, to the place in my memories where this life I've lived started&
"Papa? Why do we run? Why not stand and fight these men?"
The huge bear of a man I call father, bundles me closer to his body, shielding me from the winds as he runs through the woods. "Now is not the time for questions, little one."
His headlong run towards the deeper woods halts abruptly at the edge of a small clearing and he slowly lowers me to the ground, the long skirt I'm wearing bunching up around my knees. "Eolia," he grabs my chin, forcing me to look him in the eyes, "when the signal is given, run like the wind and do not look back, child."
I meekly nod my acceptance of his orders, he is my father, my clan chief, and his word is law. I watch as he pulls the blade from its place at his side, then turns back to face our pursuers; others in the group do the same. Children, like myself, are poised to run, women draw weapons of their own, my mother among them. The men that pursue us break into the small clearing, and with a cry ripped from fifty throats, the men and women of the Clan rush forward to meet our foes. And the children? We run.
The sounds of the battle rage behind us, nipping at our heels, making us run faster. A little one, in the arms of her older brother, wails furiously. I catch up to Mikail and take his sister from his too tight grasp, and we continue our run. I never see the root, but as I fall, I curl my body around the smaller one in my arms and take the brunt of the fall upon myself. I cannot catch my breath, it hurts so much, but I manage to get little Moibhan to rise to her feet and go chasing after her brother. How long I lie there, in the cooling light of the day, the cold seeping into my back from the ground not yet thawed from the winter's chill, I do not know.
I hear them approaching, the sound of many feet upon the earth, opening my eyes, hoping to see a clansman, but instead&
"Well, well, well, look at what the Gods left for us."
The man is tall, but not of the Clan, he's too dark! I struggle to my feet, trying to run, but something snags in my hair and I'm pulled back against the body of the warrior.
"No! We may have lost all the damn horses and your pathetic tribe, but I have you and by the Gods! You will learn your place!"
The stench of blood fills my nose and I find I cannot hold back my terror. Fear allows me one good blow to the leather-encased chest of the man that holds me. The blow earns me one in return and I descend into darkness, though the sun has not yet set.
I shake off the memory and slowly climb the steps before me. I've done it again, lost myself in the memories that will no longer stay away. Walking with a confidence I no longer feel, I stride into the Office of the Registrar and am politely asked, "Can I help you, miss?"
"I hope so. I'm looking for Dr. Diandra Pallas?"
"Oh! Are you a friend of Dr. Pallas?" The young man starts to dig through a large file while at the same time pulling up information on the computer before him.
"You could say that. Pallas and I go way back. To her time in Greece." Which is, in a way true, just not as this young mortal would know it.
"Ah, well, then I guess I can tell you. She teaches Ancient History over in the 'Grove." His hands flash out and he's holding a map towards me, "Actually, it's Hargrove Hall. Her office is on the second floor, room 208 I believe. I can show you the way& "
I take the map, study it for a moment then hand it back to him. "No, I think I can find it. Thank you for your help." Without another word, I turn and leave the office.
Stepping back out onto the immaculately trimmed lawn, I take the pathway to the right and wind my way through the throng of students rushing to and from classes. The wind has picked up again and is blowing my long tresses across my face; I don't even bother with trying to tame the unruly mass anymore. I just don't care.
Approaching the building that has drawn me, I feel the tingle, the surge up my spine that tells me there is an Immortal nearby. Looking up from the pathway, I catch sight of her in the window of a second floor room. She is Diandra, the last Dorian of Delphi, my Savior, and my friend. My means to an end, if only she'll grant my final wish.
I know not how long I stand there, transfixed by the sight of the woman I came to see, but being run over by another human has a way of breaking one out of a spell. We both tumble to the ground, his books and backpack flying, while I try to break my fall in such a way that the presence of the steel blade under my long coat isn't revealed.
"Oh, man! I'm so sorry! I didn't even see you there! Are you okay?"
Long, curly brown hair frames the handsome face and the blue eyes that bring to mind the depths of the oceans. He's holding out a hand to me, offering assistance. I take it. His grip is amazingly strong, and once on my feet, I realize he's only a few inches taller than I am. "Thank you, I'm fine. See?" I gesture at my body, then push my hair back from my face. "No harm done."
He's gathering up the books and slinging the backpack onto his shoulder. "Are you sure? I mean, I hit you pretty hard& "
"I'm fine. Besides, I should know better than to daydream on the sidewalk of a busy place like this."
"Yeah, well, it's finals week. All the students and faculty tend to get a little crazy about this time of year." He holds his hand out to me once again, this time in greeting. "Blair Sandburg."
"Lee Eolia." I shake his hand, and catch a glimpse of something in his eyes, like he's heard my name before. I brush aside my thoughts as we release. "Maybe you can help me, Mr. Sandburg?"
"I'm looking for Dr. Pallas." There! I did see something in his eyes this time! But what? Fear? Concern? Whatever it is, it's gone again. "I was told her office is in this building, is that correct?"
"Uh, yeah. Second floor. Room 208. I'm just not sure if she's there or not right now. I believe she's got a class over in the main lecture hall this hour."
He's lying for her. Does he suspect? Does he know? "That's okay. I can wait. I'm not going anywhere for a while."
"Maybe I can pass on a message for you?"
This Blair Sandburg knows Diandra, of that I'm sure. The fact he's protecting her tells me he knows of us Immortals. Fine. "That would be very kind of you." I wait as he grabs a pen and pad of paper from his backpack, then gesture for him to hand the items to me. I scribble my message, as I talk with the young, oh so very young, man. "I really appreciate this, Mr. Sandburg. I've been trying to locate Diandra for quite some time and now," I hand the notepad and pen back to him, "I'm looking forward to our reunion." As he takes the notepad from my hand, I spy the mark. Blue ink on the inside of the left wrist, the mark of a Watcher.
"I'll make sure Dee gets your note." He glances at the words I've written. "You're staying at the Excelsior?"
"Yes, I'll be there for about a week, maybe more. Maybe less. I really can't say at this time." Hopefully less.
Glancing at the watch on his wrist, he makes his excuses. "Well, I've got a class to teach, maybe I'll see you around later?"
"Maybe." I turn and leave him standing on the sidewalk, feeling his eyes bore into my back. I give one final glance up to the second story window where I had seen my old friend earlier. I see her, and merely nod. We will meet again, soon, and then it will all be over.
Diandra glanced up from her computer at the knock on her door. A smile spread slowly across her face at the sight of her lover leaning against the doorframe. His chestnut curls spilled over his shoulders in playful disarray and his blue eyes twinkled behind his wire-rim glasses. "Hey, Lobo. All done for today?"
"Um hmm." Entering her office, Blair walked around the desk to her side. Turning her chair until she was facing him, he took both her hands in his, pulling her to her feet and into a hug. "Love you, angel," he whispered in her ear before pressing his lips to hers.
Dee kissed back, enjoying his unexpected attentions. Normally they saved the physical expression of their love for after working hours. It wouldn't do to have tongues wagging about professor/student misconduct even though they weren't in the same department, and Blair had never taken a class with her. When they finally parted, Dee ran a hand over his cheek, smiling at the tickle of his five o'clock shadow against her fingertips. "So what was that for?"
He gave her a smile, but she could see something troubling in his eyes. "Lobo, what is it?"
Blair looked down at the floor for a moment. "You know," he finally said, "I'm all done with my finals, and I can get someone to sub as proctor for me tomorrow. You could get a sub for your last exam too, and we could leave tonight for Hawaii." He met her eyes again, giving her his infectious grin.
Dee tugged at one of his curls. "Uh huh. And why would I want to do that?"
Blair's eyes widened innocently and his grin turned mischievous. "The opportunity to spend an extra week, just you and me, lying on the beach, swimming in the surf, making love in the moonlight& "
"And?" she pressed. "I know you have to have another motive, Lobo. You were really looking forward to all of us spending Christmas together. That's why we weren't leaving until the day after Christmas."
Sighing, he seemed to shrink into himself and his blue eyes darkened with& fear? Shrugging, he said, "It was worth a try." Digging into the pocket of his jeans, he handed her a crumpled piece of paper. "I wanted to throw it away, to burn it, but I knew it wasn't my place. I can't interfere."
Goddess! That buzz she'd felt this morning, whoever it was must have found Blair and given him a message for her. She hugged him tightly, feeling him trembling against her.
"I'm sorry, Dee. I can't help it. I can't have you back with me for a few short weeks and then lose you. It just hurts too much."
"Hey, hey, let's see what it says first, okay?" She opened the note and glanced at the name written there.
"Dee?" She felt the blood draining from her face, and Blair reached out a hand to help her into her chair.
"Goddess. Eolia& I haven't heard from her in& half a century."
"She's a good Immortal, right? Tell me she's a friend."
Dee looked up into his worried face and gave him a reassuring smile. "Yes, she's a friend, or was& ."
"Dorian, Dorian Diandra awake!"
At her servant's urgent words, the young Oracle rolled over and opened her eyes. "What is it Melora? Can't it wait until morning?"
The woman shook her head. "No, Dorian, it cannot. The soldiers of Apollo have surprised the cult of heathens that has been plaguing us. They have captured the leaders, and you are needed to pass judgment."
Diandra nodded absently as she rose and began to dress in her official robes. "Call out the others, if they have not already been woken. Have the guards bring the heathens to the large meeting chamber. They are not to enter the temple under any circumstances."
"Yes, Dorian." The servant scurried away.
Splashing water from the basin in the room onto her face, the Oracle pondered what to do with the cult members. They had been approaching the people of Delphi and the surrounding area for months, filling their heads with nonsense about a god who gave his people great power in exchange for blood sacrifices. She shuddered. She hated the ritual of animal sacrifice so much that she had outlawed it at Delphi. People seeking the Oracle's help were now to bring goods, or if they had no worldly possessions, they would serve in the temple in exchange for their prophecy. But to sacrifice a human? The very thought made her ill.
Twisting her long dark brown hair up into the knot that signified her position in the temple hierarchy, she pinned it in place, then adjusted the drape of the full-length pure white gown that marked her as Dorian. The cult was small, and normally the acolytes of Apollo would have overlooked it, knowing from experience that it would die out quickly and only the true Gods would survive. But the cultists had grown angry when the people would not bow to their god, and had begun attacking villages. The temple had then been forced to step in, and a small war had been going on ever since. But Melora had brought good news. If the leaders had been captured, then perhaps the war would soon be over.
Leaving her room, Diandra followed the other priestesses to the meeting room, and took her place at the top of the raised dais at one end of the long hall, her fellow priests and priestesses flanking her on either side in descending order of rank. Once everyone was present, she signaled for the prisoners to be brought in. There were perhaps ten of them, a ragtag group of dirty men in mismatched armor, their eyes alight with religious fervor. In the midst of their group was a small huddled figure. Long stringy hair hung over the person's face, and, if she stood on tiptoe, Diandra could see the captive's hands were bound behind their back.
She was opening her mouth to begin the interrogation, when the cultists parted, revealing the hidden figure as a naked woman, her skin covered in dried dirt and blood. One of the men grabbed a handful of her hair, lifting her until her feet barely touched the ground. A second cultist drew a knife from some hidden pocket, and as the acolytes of Apollo watched in horror, slit the woman from throat to belly, screaming an obscene prayer to his god.
Battle cries echoed in the room as the cultists rushed the priests, intent on assassinating them all. Most of the priestesses screamed and ran for the exits, the priests drew their ceremonial knives and went to help the guards. Diandra stood frozen at the top of the steps for a moment, then descended onto the battlefield, drawn to the forgotten body of the dying woman. She ignored the fighting going on around her, knowing her God would not let her be harmed.
By the time Diandra reached her, the woman was already dead. She knelt next to her, feeling the sacrifice's warm blood soaking through her gown. Lifting the woman's head, she cradled it in her lap, praying for Hades to let her cross over to the Elysian Fields. The woman's eyes snapped open followed by a sharp intake of breath, and the seemingly dead girl rolled to her knees awkwardly.
"Holy Goddess!" She was alive! Her wound had vanished! What kind of heathen trick was this? As Diandra struggled to wrap her mind around the idea, her eyes met those of the sacrifice. Her large, expressive brown eyes were filled with pure, mindless terror. The Dorian reached out toward her, her hand brushing against the other woman's shoulder, setting her to violent trembling accompanied by a high pitched, keening wail. Not knowing what else to do, Diandra wrapped her arms around her, holding her close, whispering words of reassurance, uncertain if she was even being understood. Finally exhaustion claimed the woman, and she collapsed, unconscious.
As if suddenly released from a spell, Diandra gazed around the meeting room. The battle was over. The cultists had been slain by the temple guards, one of whom stood at attention near her. The Dorian realized belatedly he had probably been protecting her the entire time, and by extension the cultists' victim as well. "Guard, please take her to my quarters."
Relieved of her burden, Diandra got to her feet. One of the senior priests approached her. "Dorian& "
She shook her head. "Just clean it up." She pointed at the body of the man who had slain the small woman. "Take them out of here, and burn them. Burn them all. Send the soldiers after any that might have escaped. I want them all dead. All of them!" With those words, she swept from the room on the heels of the guard carrying the unconscious stranger.
The room I've rented in the Excelsior is ridiculously hedonistic. 'The Presidential Suite,' the manager told me. Fine, I need the room. The bellhop places my luggage on the table and offers to unpack for me, but I wave him off. The last thing I need is some teenage mortal pawing through the electronics gear tht I have stowed, hidden in pockets shielded from probing airport x-ray machines. I tip him with a twenty-dollar bill and he leaves. By the smile on his face, I know I can ask anything of him in the future and he'd be more than willing to agree. Perhaps& No. I don't have time for such things. Finally, shrugging out of my long coat, flinging it to the foot of the huge bed in the bedroom part of the suite, I start to unpack. First things first, though. I find my makeup kit and cross over to the bathroom, where I brush out my long, unruly mass of mahogany hair and carefully braid it into a long ponytail. That done, I unpack my clothing first, utilizing less than half of the available storage places. The rest of the gear I squirrel away in various places around the entire suite, taking special care with where I place the blasting caps.
I turn to face the last piece of luggage, the huge, old-style steamer trunk. It's seen better years, like when I found it in Cairo, but it serves a special purpose now. Dragging the trunk into the bedroom, I sit on the edge of the bed and open the lid. Inside are my most precious mementos. The stark white robe, flashed through with silver thread, had once graced the body of my husband. His scent still lingers within the weave and I inhale deeply, the cloth pressed to my face, knowing in time, even that will fade. Setting aside the robe, I find the gilt-framed photo of us. We were in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, for Carnival three years ago. His dark eyes flash in laughter, matching the mirth in my own brown eyes, the wind from the ocean blowing our long hair together in a riot of jet and mahogany. I can't even remember who took the photo for us. Carefully, I set that aside as well. For it is the very last item, lying in the bottom of the trunk beneath more memories, I want to hold.
The hilt is wrapped in fine, twisted wire, the scabbard a buttery soft black leather with an ever so slight a curve to its design. With ease born of centuries of practice, I pull the deadly blade and once again marvel at the intricate pattern of the Damascus steel. This had been his blade, my husband's, given to him by the commander/king of the army he served in, Saladin. I never told him just how close we'd been once, that if the Fates had decreed it, we would've met on the sands outside of Acre. Now he'll never know.
My husband was Azir el Sadih, a Bedouin and a follower of the Faithful. He'd experienced his first death, his first taste of Immortality, in the year King Richard The Lionheart had been taken prisoner in the Crusades. We, however, didn't meet until much, much later&
I creep along the southernmost exposure of the castle walls, sticking to the shadows, not wanting, or needing to be spotted, not yet. Being a girl of many talents, I had taken up service to the Royal family of Austria. Only a few knew of my true purpose, Archduke Ferdinand, his wife Sophie, and his Uncle Francis Joseph. All Hapsburgs-Lorraines and probably, arguably, one of the most powerful 'royal' families left in Europe. My purpose? I am a spy. Not the normal cloak and dagger, hidden documents, and silly code words kind of spy, but rather the other kind. The kind that can get men of power to loosen their tongues and talk freely to their 'mistress.' In other words? A whore.
I was just returning to Hapsburg Castle after too long an evening spent in the arms of a very inept lover, but a man who knew important things. The full length, black cloak I wear hides me well, and the other figure I spy creeping along the base wall of the Castle doesn't see or hear me as I start to stalk him.
My stealthy feet freeze as the jangling, tingling, electrifying shiver runs up my spine to echo in my head, and the object of my hunt unerringly turns towards me. Great! Just what I don't need. Still cautious of the guards patrolling the walls above, the other Immortal and I quietly steal off into the night, my thoughts turning towards the upcoming challenge.
Maybe that was what surprised me about him. For I'd allowed him to choose the meeting spot, following his 'buzz' from a safe distance, only to find he'd led me to the Hapsburg Family Church. Since we're on Holy Ground, neither of us draws our sword; we can't, the rules of The Game forbid it. He takes the initiative and doesn't even bother with formalities.
"I'm not here for your head, sweet lady. I'm looking for the one known as The Cat."
He mangles the language of Austria-Hungary badly; I can barely make out what he is saying, and hearing my code name fall from his lips shocks me. "The Cat? What business do you have with The Cat?"
"The Cat is reportedly a gatherer of information, information that can be useful to the Archduke." He leans his long, lanky body against the royal enclosure to the right of the pulpit. A brilliant white flash of near perfect teeth graces his dark face, softening its hawk-like features.
Reckless, I toss back the hood of my cloak, my hair spilling from its confines as I approach him, drawn like a moth to flame. "I know not of this 'Cat' you speak of, sir. But I do have the joy of being, shall we say, close, to the Duke and can make sure what ever information you have gets to his ears, and his alone."
"Houri." He spits on the floor, close to my feet, and moves away from me. "The information I have cannot be trusted to a mere whore."
I shrug, the cloak falling from my shoulders to reveal a dress of the deepest greens, cut to fit closely to my form. A bodkin blade is clearly visible on my hip, its brown and gold jewels winking in the soft light of the candles that light the room. "And what if I told you, good sir, The Cat you seek is, in fact, the whore in front of you?"
He laughs! "That is clever, Houri. Since I know not who, or what, The Cat is, I could take the chance you speak the truth, but I'd rather not." His dark eyes deepen in thought as they flick over my body. I oblige him by stretching sensuously, and those wonderful, deep, dark eyes darken even more. "You seek to tempt me? You use your body to weaken a man's will, binding him to you, sapping him of strength to loosen his tongue?"
I move in closer to him, he doesn't flinch away as I run my hands across his chest, shoulder and the nap of his neck, seeking out the spots I know can drive a man to recklessness. My touch is feather soft. "It's worked before, dark one. If you like what you see, and wish to make a pact between us, I'm willing to show you just how The Cat gathers the cream of information that goes only to Archduke Ferdinand."
His hand reaches out and roughly pulls me into his arms, his soft lips meeting mine as our bodies make contact. For a fleeting second, I think what we're about to do should not be done on Holy Ground, but then all coherent thought leaves me as his skillful lips and tongue find that certain spot on my neck&
An hour later, I have the information from my Hawk, who graced me with his name; Azir el Sadih tells me to warn the Archduke against traveling to Sarajevo, that there is a foul plot afoot. I pass the word to Francis, Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, but they insist on ignoring my warnings, since I have no hard evidence nor names of conspirators to give them, and five days later, they are dead.
Gently laying Azir's sword on the pillow his head would've rested upon were he here with me, I realize hours have passed and I need to hurry and gather my network of people together. I reach for my coat and pull the tiny, digital phone from a pocket and start my calls.
By six PM I've had dinner brought up and my guests have arrived. The news is what I was expecting. Our client's request must be met within the next week, so if I'm to do this assignment, it has to be soon, or my team will not be able to get me through security and into the complex. The strategy meeting lasts until two AM, but when the last of my team leaves my room, we're ready to move tomorrow, after sundown. The actual timing will be left up to me.
God, he needed this. Blair leaned over his Immortal lover, lips nibbling gently at her throat, his hand tracing her stomach muscles through the silken fabric of her robe. He felt her fingers combing through his hair, gripping the back of his neck, holding him in place. He was content to stay there, to touch her, to pleasure her, because every moment she spent with him meant she was safe from whatever Lee Eolia wanted from her.
Blair and Diandra had left the university and come straight back to the loft he shared with Jim Ellison. The detective was spending the night on a stakeout, so the lovers had the place to themselves. He'd talked her into a workout before dinner, throwing everything he had at her. He hadn't pulled any punches and neither had she; he had the bruises to prove it. He suspected she knew what he was doing, that he wanted her to be sharp, to be ready for any eventuality. It hadn't taken much effort on her part he knew, but never had he been quite so happy to be pummeled.
They'd taken a shower, eaten dinner, and now were lying on a couple of blankets in front of the fire, engaged in some serious foreplay. She rose up without warning and rolled him onto his back; the kisses she rained down on his face were cool and gentle. The thought he'd been avoiding since the moment he'd bumped into Eolia sprang to the forefront of his mind. This might be the last time she ever touched him like this, the last time she loved him. Her kisses stopped, and he opened his eyes to meet her worried gaze.
"What is it, Lobo? Your heart rate just went through the roof."
He swallowed past the painful lump in his throat. "I'm sorry. I just started thinking about Eolia. What if she's here for you? What if she challenges you? What if& "
Diandra pressed two fingers to his lips gently, silencing him. "You know that was the deal, Blair. I've never kept anything from you. You knew the consequences when you got involved with me. And we've been through this before, and everything turned out all right."
He couldn't shake fear's hold on him. "But what if this time's different? What if you& " He could barely get the words out, "what if you don't come back? I couldn't take that. I couldn't& ."
Placing her hand back over his mouth, she said, "That's not going to happen, Lobo. You have to have confidence in me. I'm at the top of my form; I've been back in the Game for nearly three years now. I haven't lost a challenge yet."
She shook her head and sat up, running a hand through her hair. "Damn it, Lobo. I've been doing this for over 2,500 years. I will not leave you, you understand me?"
Blair sat up as well, leaning his back against the couch. Slowly he brought his eyes up to meet hers, reading concern, confidence and love in those electric blue depths. He nodded, moving closer for a tight hug.
Kissing his temple lightly, she said, "Besides, last time we met, I kicked her ass."
June 30, 1934 Bonn, Germany
Diandra stepped out of the building into the deserted street, turning the collar of her trenchcoat up against the cold drizzle. It was time to leave Germany, she knew that now. It was only a matter of time before her name turned up on the SS list of threats to the government. And if she stayed& well, she would be forced to choose sides, and that would bring a conflict she didn't want.
Damn Stasha and the stupid, foolish, blind idealism of youth. Dee had talked until she was blue in the face, but her words had fallen on deaf ears. All Stasha could see was the grand sweep of Hitler's plan for Germany, and her own place in that plan. Dee shuddered. She knew her student had always had a cruel streak, and a fascination for the military ever since the Czar's army had over run her small village and killed her parents. Being in the military meant being in power, and power was what Stasha craved most, despite all Diandra's attempts to teach her otherwise.
Sighing, she shook herself. It was late, and her decision had been made. She had done her best to convince her pupil what she was doing was wrong and failed. Stasha was now someone else's problem. She headed back to her hotel, on the lookout for the military police, as she was out long past curfew. A few blocks from her destination, she felt the internal trill that sent her blood to singing. Just what she needed, to run into another Immortal. Very well, if they wanted a challenge, then she would choose the ground.
Diandra walked quickly through a maze of darkened alleyways into a small courtyard, where, drawing her katana, she turned to face her stalker. There was no one there. She stood there for a moment, puzzled, knowing the other Immortal had followed her. She was about to demand they show themselves when the faint scrape of leather on cobblestones warned her.
Whirling, she brought her sword up just in time to block the mortal blow. She lashed out with a kick, knocking her opponent back, giving her time to set herself. Again the small, hooded figure attacked, never letting up, keeping Diandra on the defensive. She settled into a rhythm of parrying, waiting for an opening, wondering if this was a random attack, or if Stasha had sent someone to take care of her. The other's buzz had seemed familiar, and yet& well, there was one way to find out. Dee parried a thrust away and down, then moving past the other's lowered sword, yanked the hood off before spinning out of reach.
The woman swore in a language few people besides Diandra even remembered, but she made no move to conceal herself again. Dee was surprised and disappointed all in one. She knew this was the rule of the Game, but still, she had never expected to face the Celtoi slave she had saved so long ago. "Eolia," she breathed, taking in the short red hair and the absolutely black look in her dark eyes.
"Bitch! How can you align yourself with those murdering bastards?" The smaller woman didn't wait for an answer, raising her blade high and bringing it down hard on Diandra's sword. Dee again pushed the attack away, but this time followed it up with a kick to her opponent's stomach.
Eolia doubled over, but backed out of range, just as the essence of a third immortal washed over them. "Damn it, Azir, this is my battle, you stay out of it!"
Out of the corner of her eye, Diandra saw a tall, dark-complected man detach himself from the shadows of the alleyway, concern for Eolia evident on his face. Enough of this! Dee used the Celtoi's distraction at the other's appearance to her advantage. A quick thrust and twist, and Eolia's blade flew from her grasp to clatter to the pavement. A spinning back kick laid the smaller woman out on the ground. Dee moved to stand over her, the tip of her katana tight against Eolia's throat.
The big man reached for his blade. "Uh uh, I don't think so, buddy. Not unless you want your friend back in pieces." She glared down at the furious Immortal. "Now would you mind telling me what this is all about?"
Eolia spat in Dee's direction. "You should know, Shutzstaffel dog!"
"Shutzstaffel? You think I am with the SS? Oh, goddess, Eolia, where did you get such an idea? I know it has been centuries since our last meeting, but can you really think I've changed that much?"
For the first time, the dark man spoke. "We saw you meet with the Inquisitor."
Dee frowned, her eyebrows lowering in puzzlement. The Inquisitor? Who in the hell was that? Unless they meant Stasha& "Do you mean Stasha?" At their blank looks, she realized they wouldn't know her by that name. "Heidi Brummel, do you mean her?"
The man nodded tersely. "What business do you have with her, if you are not with the SS?"
Sensing he, at least, was willing to listen to her answer, Dee stepped back, letting Eolia get to her feet. "Stasha is a former student. I was trying to convince her to give up her allegiance to Hitler and his cause and leave Germany with me. She would have none of it, and I've washed my hands of her."
Eolia brushed the dirt from her clothes. "Do you know what she's done? What Hitler's done?"
Diandra shook her head. "I've spent most of today waiting to see her. Why?"
The man spoke up. "She has helped orchestrate the murder of hundreds of Sturmabteilung members, as well as innocent people."
Dee felt sick. That was why Stasha had been so busy, had kept her cooling her heels. She knew now, without a doubt, there was no hope for Stasha, no saving her. She kept her composure, not letting her inner turmoil show. "I had no knowledge or part in any SS plans. And as of tonight, Stasha is no longer under my protection. I will not raise my sword against my student, but you are more than welcome to deal with her in any manner you deem necessary." With those words, Diandra sheathed her blade, and left the courtyard. She would be on her way out of Germany by the time the sun rose.
Diandra rolled over and hit the alarm clock's off button before it had time to ring. She glanced at the sleeping form beside her, then, reaching for the telephone, she quietly punched in a number. At the mumbled "Hello", she said, "Our Lady of Perpetual Help church, after 5 PM tonight." Hanging up the phone, she scooted up behind Blair, wrapping an arm around his waist and leaning her cheek against his back, unaware his eyes were open, and he had heard every word.
The blow to my head, for daring to spill water, sends me to the ground. I manage to crawl a few feet away from my tormentor only to have my flight halted by the heavy foot that steps down on my long, matted, hair.
"Enough! The God has decreed we're to have another bloodletting in his name. This one has been with us a long time; let her be the Chosen One."
I am hauled to my feet, roughly handled by the one I know is the leader of the tribe I've been held by for many seasons. Nearly ten cycles of the seasons, and I still haven't grasped their crude language, but I understand the intent when the leader throws me to the feet of the one who had killed all my fellow clan members. I am the last one. The last of the Celtoi.
The shaman, for I have no other word for him, treats me gently, helping me rise back to my feet. He gestures for me to follow him, and knowing what disobedience to this one would mean, I follow. He and his lifemate take me to the river and bathe me. It is the first time I've been allowed to wash the filth from my body since I came to be with this tribe. Afterwards, the man's mate drapes a soft, pale leather sheath over my head, dressing me.
For a while, maybe seven days, I'm treated well. No warriors come to claim me for a night's amusement. I'm allowed to eat my fill, instead of having to fight the wild dogs for scraps. The women of the tribe help me to tame my long hair, plaiting it, weaving beads through the heavy mass.
Night falls on the seventh day and as I carefully sip the cup of water the shaman's wife has given me, I feel a strangeness over take my mind. The cup falls from my hand, the leader and shaman rise to their feet and I cringe. I'm to be punished; I know this. Water is a blessing not to be wasted and I have done just that.
Dragged from the shaman's hut, I'm made to walk before the Leader, his hands tight on my upper arms. As we walk, I notice only the men in the camp follow us. I don't care; I'm having trouble keeping my feet under me. I dare to raise my eyes, to see where I'm being taken. I stumble only to be picked up and carried by the Leader. I fade out, my eyes closing.
The stone under my back is hard, rough and, oh, so cold. My eyes snap open at the touch slowly working its way up my legs. NO! I've been stripped of the covering that has graced my body, hidden it from eyes like those smiling cruelly into mine. The eyes belong to a warrior I've only seen, who has never taken me. The cold from the stone below my back seeps into my stomach. I try to rise up off the stone, only to feel, for the first time, the hands holding me in place. The pain from my center causes me to scream as the warrior who has mounted my body impales me with his hard flesh.
The pain increases each time the man plunges into me, my cries ignored by those holding me down so he can seek his release. With a final shudder, loud groan and a gush of unwelcome warmth, it is over. The warrior collapses on my body, pinning me between his heavy weight and the now warm stone.
A word from the Leader, followed by a harsher one from the shaman, and the man climbs off my body. I want to curl up, to bring my knees to my chest to ease the pain in my lower gut, but I'm still held. Four men, men who have used my body in a like manner, hold me by my ankles and wrists. I cast my eyes around to see the rest of the tribe's warriors and men gathered in the not quite darkness.
A gentle hand on my brow brings my attention back to the shaman, the one who has taken care of me for many days. He smiles at me as he begins to chant in a language even more unfamiliar to me than that of the tribe. The sounds falling from his lips are soothing, and I find myself relaxing, no longer resisting the hands binding me.
The words change, becoming hateful, harsh, and guttural. I open eyes I hadn't realized I'd closed, just in time to see the long, black blade rise above my chest and plunge downward. The PAIN&
I scream as I rise from the bed, my heart pounding furiously in my undamaged body. I stumble out of the bed, rushing for the bathroom, where I bring up the pitiful remains of my dinner from the evening before. Rinsing my befouled mouth out at the sink, I look into the mirror and see what I must have looked like that night, so long ago, when I died for the first time.
Long, matted, bed mussed hair the color of polished mahogany spills uncontrolled over my pale shoulders. Light brown eyes are filled with terror remembered, dark circles ring fearful eyes in a face which has lost its color. Taking up my brush, I set about getting the tangles from my hair, a task my husband would've performed for me once.
The phone in the other part of the suite trills out in the silence which has settled over the room since I awoke. Grabbing the long, black, silk robe from the bed as I pass, I walk to the living area and pick up the handset.
"Our Lady of Perpetual Help church, after 5 PM tonight." The line goes dead.
Hanging up the phone, I notice I have some time to waste as I don't have to be at QuestScape until eleven. It's only eight AM now, and I feel tired. A little nap, to reclaim the rest I lost thanks to my recurring nightmare, seems to be in order. Jan-Michel LaFollet, my bodyguard, will be here around ten, so I have about an hour and a half to try to recover. Shrugging out of the silk, which pools around my feet, I slip back into the large bed. The satiny smoothness of the sheets lures me back, to the first time I heard the voice of the woman who I'd just spoken to on the phone&
It happened, again. Why me? Why have I been chosen to suffer like this? To feel my heart ripped apart, my body torn asunder so many times yet to live and not bear the wounds? My thoughts stop as I realize the smells of this place are not the same as before. Not the smell of earth, but spicy sharp smells. And I'm clean! They haven't bothered to do that since the first time! No! Not again!
The coverings tangle in my feet, but I fight them, only to fall to the hard floor. A soft voice calls out, the same voice from when I woke up before. In my fear I scurry like a scuttle bug into a corner, putting my back against the cool, smooth, stone walls. Unlike before, the first time, my hair is loose, flying about my face, obscuring my view of the owner of the soft voice. Crouched in a tiny ball, I slowly raise my hand and brush hair from my eyes.
She is beautiful! Her long, dark brown hair is swept up in a curious style, her white clothing is almost blinding in its cleanliness! It is her voice I hear, soft words, encouraging me as she slowly, carefully makes her way towards me. I nearly laugh as I get the strange idea she is as scared of me as I am of her. The laugh dies in my throat and I start to cry, tears falling from my face and the sobs, too many years held back in silence, break loose from me. I know not why, but I feel I'm safe here with this soft voiced woman, and as I cry, I feel arms close around my body in a way that reminds me of the last time my mother held me. The tears flow even harder, as the long forgotten memory of my mother's tenderness is rekindled in the gentle arms holding me now&
The sound of the travel alarm clock pulls me back once again to the present. Damn! Nine-thirty! I rush to the bathroom. Jan-Michel will be here shortly and I have to be ready!
As is his wont, my bodyguard shows up early, but I'm ready, almost. I'm pulling my waist long hair up into a French twist as I let him into the suite. I've chosen to wear the color of mourning, all black, from the long sleeved, silk shirt, to the long tapered suede pants and the matching boots. "Morning, Jan-Michel."
"You should be more careful about who you let walk into your suite." His eyes sweep the rooms, looking for gods-know-what, before returning his gaze to me. "You had the dream again, didn't you?"
His insight takes me by surprise. But then again, he's been with the company for over five years, acting as bodyguard to myself and Azir for three of those. I decide to evade the probing question. "Have we enough time to grab a latte before meeting with Mr. Ventriss?"
I turn away from him to hide my smile at his exasperated sigh. "Fine. Don't tell me. Lee, I don't know what happened to you, what causes your nightmares, but you have them every year at the same time& "
"Enough!" I snap at him. The hurt hiding in his hazel eyes immediately makes me regret my churlish behavior. "Jan, I'm sorry. I'm a little upset this morning, I don't need to be taking it out on you."
"I worry about you, Lee. And I'll admit, it's more than just professional behavior on my part. Since Azir was killed, you just aren't the same woman."
"I know, I know. But I have to honor the contracts Azir and I made." I reach for my long coat, only to have the man hold it out for me. After shrugging into the coat, I turn to see him holding out my sword to me.
"Never, never leave home without it, mi'lady."
For the first time in a long while, I laugh, truly laugh. It's nice to have someone who knows about Immortals working so closely with me. I take the blade from his hands, not for the first time noticing the blue tattoo in the inside of his left wrist. Yes, Jan-Michel LaFollet is a Watcher. My Watcher, and Azir's, too, before my husband had been cut out of the Game.
Secreting the sword in its hidden sheath inside my coat, I gather up the briefcase and files I need to present the owner of QuestScape with my plans for testing his security system.
Less than an hour later, after stopping on the way to grab a double strength Irish Cream Americano latte, I'm sitting across a table from Mr. Norman Ventriss, owner of QuestScape.
"I'm sorry to hear of your loss, Ms. Sadih& "
"Eolia. I've given up my married name, Mr. Ventriss."
He fidgets in his seat, his hands restless on the table. "Sorry, I didn't know. I just assumed," he shrugs off his mood and tries to smile. "So, I understand you're here to honor the contract I made with WindHawk Securities?"
WindHawk is the company Azir and I built from the ground up ten years ago. It seemed a great way to take the skills we had learned as spies in the two great wars, and the smaller conflicts, to good use. Industrial espionage is a growing concern, especially among companies like QuestScape and the other major player here in Cascade, Complexium Communications.
"Yes. Have you told anyone in your company you've hired outside investigators?"
"No. But depending on how well your team does its job, I may have another contract for you."
I smile, nodding towards LaFollet. "That will be completely up to LaFollet here, Mr. Ventriss."
Jan-Michel takes a half step forward, moving in closer to my back. "I'm afraid WindHawk is quite booked for the next few weeks, but I will have Ms. Eolia's secretary get in touch with you later, to see if we can fit your request in."
"I understand. You have a plan to show me?"
We haggle over the security test plan for forty-five minutes. Poor man seems shocked to learn there will only be one entry person, and that person will be me. I calmly explain I like to keep my hand in the trade, that I have been trained by the very best, and it seems to calm his concerns. He gives me a target, a development lab on the forth floor, with several electronic checkpoints to get through. If I can make it inside the lab, there will be a zip-drive on the table furthest from the entryway I'm to secure, get out of the building, and hand over to him at his private home.
"The information on the drive, it's fake, correct?"
"No, Ms. Eolia, it's very real. And just sensitive enough to make my security people shit their pants when they realize it's gone missing."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ventriss. That's not the agreement we had." I stand up, ready to walk out of the room.
I slowly turn back to face the man and lower my voice. It's the voice others have been known to call my 'freeze them in their tracks' one. Pure frozen helium. "Yes, Mr. Ventriss? Please don't waste my time, it's too valuable."
Ventriss nods his head, "I understand, I was just hoping to up the odds a bit. I've never hired outside security experts before."
I look over to Jan-Michel. It's rather obvious he believes the man is lying. Hell, so do I. A barely noticeable nod from my friend tells me he's willing to listen to Ventriss and make his recommendation later, in private. "That's no excuse, but I'm curious now, so please? Go on."
"The lab you'll need to attempt access to is where my programmers are working on several different projects. I'll leave the dummy prop in there for you to pick up. Just please? Be very careful in there, some of the equipment in that lab is highly sensitive."
"Fine. I'll be extra careful around it then." I conclude the meeting and Jan-Michel and I walk out of the QuestScape Corporate Offices into another dreary mid-afternoon in Cascade.
"I don't trust him, Lee."
"Really, Jan-Michel? Neither do I." And I don't. I just know that somehow, some way, the man is going to try to screw WindHawk, and me, over. I'm already thinking I should just check his security measures, not taking the dummy, and get the hell out of town. But I have other business to attend to here.
"Does the sun ever shine on this city?" Ah, his way of letting me know he's not happy about the meeting we just left.
I smile weakly at his words, as he hands me into the rental car. "Only if we spend a good amount of time in the local coffee bars and bookstores." I glance at my watch. Noon. In five hours I'm to meet with Diandra. Before I do, I have to ditch my watchdog.
Okay, so it is a little vile, what I do to Jan-Michel. But, damn it, I can't take the chance he will try to stop me from meeting with Pallas. We argue over whether or not to honor the contract with QuestScape, and even though I have a bad feeling about the whole thing, I finally convince LaFollet we should do the job. In fact, I think I'll just leave one of my business cards in the lab, instead of taking the prop. Maybe with a nice little note on the back? I hold back the giggle fit threatening to bubble up in my throat. When we have finished perusing the antique bookstore where he has somehow found an old Chronicle, we stop for a coffee at a place known as Coffee Heaven. Since I have been kind enough to lend Jan-Michel the money to purchase the Chronicle, he shows it to me. Before our ordered coffees arrive at the small table, a double shot espresso for myself and a thick, sweet, Turkish blend for him, he excuses himself. I wait until he has disappear into the men's room, then I carefully, under the guise of adding a dollop of cream to his cup, slip the potion in. By the time we leave the Coffee Heaven, I'm going one way, with a new bodyguard, while the ambulance takes him to Cascade General Hospital.
He will recover in a few hours, the cramps and uncontrollable vomiting over with, and I'll have to deal with a pissed off Watcher/Bodyguard. Ditching his replacement, John David, is easy enough. The kid is still too green.
The last of the watery sunlight has faded as I pull the car to the curb, two blocks away from my destination. The walk will make me late to the meeting, but I'm not sure what is in store for me. Our Lady of Perpetual Help is located in a section of the city that can only be described as 'rundown' and that is a charitable description.
We're not far from the shore of Puget Sound, and there is a fog rolling in, hugging the ground in a strange, soupy mist. I walk towards the church, my eyes and ears wide open. I don't think Diandra would cross me, but&
Damn. Okay, then again, maybe the bitch would double cross me. Secreting myself in an alley across from the building, keeping to the deepening shadows, I watch the small figure enter the alleyway beside the church. Unless Diandra has been working out, it's not her; the shoulders are too wide. I hear a car coming up the street and duck further back into the shadows as it passes. The fleeting impression of the buzz I get from all other Immortals teases my spine and I observe as the Jeep pulls into the parking lot beside the little church.
She steps out of the car, her head twisting on her neck as if searching for something. Clearly she has felt my own presence. With a small shrug, she slams the driver's door shut and walks into the gray stone church. She knows I'm here. Now to find out who the other one, the figure in the alleyway next to the church, is.
I changed my shoes earlier, opting for the black, soft-soled shoes I picked up in Hong Kong, and they hide my progress well as I cross the street and enter the alley. It doesn't take me long to spot my prey. Smoothly, quietly, I pull my sword and sneak up on the man looking in the window of the church. Placing my blade alongside his neck, my voice a mere whisper, I confront this furtive foe.
"Move, and you're dead."
His hands, which had braced his weight on the windowsill, rise in surrender. "No problem."
The voice is familiar to me and I reach out to pull the hat he is wearing from his head. Long, riotous curls spill forth. "Mr. Sandburg. Sneaking about this part of town can not be conducive to good health." I put a hand on his shoulder and turn him to face me.
His eyes widen as he realizes it is my sword resting at the base of his throat. "Apparently not. Look, I'll make you a deal, you let me go and I'll leave here. Fair enough?"
"No." I reach out and, with my free hand, pull down the cuff of his left sleeve, exposing the mark on his wrist. "You're a Watcher, an Observer of Immortals." He opens his mouth, maybe to protest, but I tap his chin with the tip of my sword. "Don't deny it, Sandburg. I've been around too long, seen too many of your kind. You dog our heels, watching us, chronicling our lives. That is your job."
"Lady, I haven't a clue what you're talking about. I'm a student of Anthropology& "
My patience snaps and I backhand him, spinning him into the wall. Before he can recover, I've gotten behind him, my blade at his throat while my other hand covers his mouth. My next words are not pleasant. "No, Mr. Sandburg, you are not merely a anthropologist. For now, consider yourself part of the Game." I place my mouth right next to his ear, my voice lower than before and cold as the windswept plains of Siberia. "You are not Immortal. One more word from you and I'll kill you. Slowly. Do you understand?"
This young Watcher is wise as he barely nods his head, wary, I suppose, of the sharp steel lying next to his Adam's apple.
"Good. Now, you are an observer, so I'm inviting you to watch a meeting on Holy Ground between two Immortals, Watcher. You and I are going to walk into the church. My blade will be between us so don't think I won't kill you should you try to warn Diandra." I let go of his mouth and push him towards the side door of the church. "Gentlemen first."
As he opens the door, I hear him start to mumble and reward him with a slap on the hip with the flat of my sword. "Not a word, Watcher. No more warnings."
Damn! The Sanctuary is near dark, lit only by flickering candle light. The tingling running through my spine and into my head grows more persistent, telling me Diandra is near, very near. I sheath my sword, pulling a long dagger instead. The faintest noise turns my attention to the left and I snake my arm around the Watcher's neck and my blade caresses his throat once more.
"Let Blair go, Eolia."
I spin myself and my human shield around, looking for the owner of the soft, cold voice. "And give up my shield? I don't think so, Pythia! Show yourself!"
"He's not a part of the Game. You want to challenge me, fine. But you leave Blair out of this."
Damn it, where is she? In the tight confines of this holy place I cannot use her buzz to locate her, for it fairly bounces off the walls, confusing me. "Show yourself, Diandra, and I'll let your little Watcher friend go." The subject of the discussion starts to struggle in my arms, but a slight increase of pressure on my dagger against his tender throat stills his movements. "Be still, little mortal and you'll live to see the sunrise." The threat drips from my lips into his ear.
I inhale sharply as I once again spin my captive and I to face that voice, and she is there. The long katana I recall from our meeting in Bonn is at the ready at her side. "Finally. Thank you, Diandra." I'm none too gentle as I release my hold on Blair Sandburg and push him towards her. "See? I honor my word, unlike you. This was to be a private meeting, yet you dare to let your little mortal tag along."
Sweeping her blade aside, Diandra catches the young man before he can fall into the pew I pushed him towards. As I watch, she gently checks him over, looking for damage, I guess, and finding it. His lower lip is bleeding slightly from when I backhanded him earlier.
Her voice is low, but not low enough to keep from echoing in the empty sanctuary and allowing me to hear her words. "Lobo, are you okay? What in the hell were you thinking?" Whatever his reply, far too low for me to overhear, it doesn't please my old friend. The dark eyes she turns on me are full of suspicion and distrust.
"You wanted to meet, Eolia, I'm here. But I swear to you, touch him again and I'll gladly separate your head from your shoulders."
Oh, dear! The passion in her voice! She cares for this mortal! I grin as I move to sit in the pew closest to the altar, wondering how I can play the trump card she has just handed me. "On Holy Ground, Diandra? I think not, unless you want this church to fall like Delphi. I don't relish the idea of being buried alive again, but I've survived far worse, believe me."
I follow her, as always, from a distance.
This place is special; I sense that. I've been here a near full turning of the seasons and I'm slowly learning the language, thanks to her, Diandra. She had trouble, at first, pronouncing my name, so she and the others here have taken to calling me Lia. I still don't understand what it is Diandra, my savior, does here, but it must be important. Every day there are more and more people coming to see her, asking for favors, offering all matters of gifts in return for a few words.
I've taken it upon myself to serve the lady, helping her in any way I can. But I never, never touch the white robes she wears. I can't. I'd get them dirty. But I do other things, keeping the vermin away from her chambers, cleaning her rooms and helping others to keep the rest of this place clean. Only, the others that live here, they avoid me. A few times, when no one knew I was about, I overheard them talking in the servants quarters. "Unnatural." "Touched by the Gods." And those are just the words I understand.
I follow Diandra whenever she leaves her chambers; no matter where she goes, I follow. This bright morning I follow her into the sacred place, the temple. It is here the people gather to hear the strange words that come from her when she enters the mists rising from a crack in the floor. An older man, dressed in similar robes stands close to her and tells the hopeful what her words mean. But he truly doesn't. At least, I don't think so. And she's so tired when she finishes these meetings she often leans on me when I escort her back to her chambers.
Today is different. As I follow her into the temple, I feel a sharp, tingling sensation run up my back and instantly, I know I must be on alert for danger. I run to catch up to her, my sandals slapping on the hard floor.
"Lady D! Lady D!"
She turns to face me, her eyes wide in surprise. "Lia? What is it?"
I've never spoken to her before, not in public, and the men and women surrounding her gasp in shock at the words I've spoken. I drop to my knees and pluck at her hem, "Mistress, don't go in the mists today. There is danger, I know it!"
"Foolishness, Dorian. What can this servant girl know of the future?" The Priest pulls me to my feet, handing me over to a temple guardian. "Take her back to the Dorian's Chambers& "
I start to fight the guardian, frantic to stay close to her. Her voice breaks through the noise I'm making in my struggles.
"No, Vasilis. Let her stay. She knows not to break the ceremony, and she'll only harm herself trying to get back here should we send her away."
The guard releases me and I return to her side, her hand resting on my shoulder as we walk towards the temple. The feeling of danger gets stronger and stronger the closer we get to the sacred place. I clutch the knife I hid among my clothes long ago. No one knows I have this blade, but I swear, no harm will come to Diandra. Not if I can help it.
Pulling the heavy door of the church open, the Champion entered slowly, reaching out with her hearing, letting her eyes adjust to the flickering candlelight. The chapel was deserted. Eolia was late. She disappeared into the shadows of one of the side galleries. This meeting would be on her terms.
The sounds of a scuffle outside caught her ear, and she turned up her hearing. Goddess! Blair, what in the world are you doing here? She felt her heart begin to race, echoing the fearful beat of his. Damn, damn! They were moving toward the entrance to the church, and she took a few deep breaths to calm herself. Lia wouldn't kill him, not here on holy ground, but that wouldn't stop her from hurting him if she thought it would serve her purpose.
"Sorry, Dee, Eolia's--" Blair's muffled warning was cut short by the noise of a blow, and Dee clenched her fist tightly, her nails cutting into her palm. They entered the church from the narthex, Eolia's arm around Blair's neck, a long, wicked blade pressed against his throat.
It was an effort to keep her voice level; the fear in his eyes made her want to scream in rage. "Let Blair go, Eolia."
The other Immortal whirled at the sound of her voice, dragging Blair along with her. "And give up my shield? I don't think so, Pythia! Show yourself!"
Dee felt a shiver run down her spine at the title. The Pythia was dead, had died when Delphi was destroyed. Fine, we'll turn it up a notch, find out what you're really here for. "He's not a part of the Game. You want to challenge me, fine. But you leave Blair out of this."
"Show yourself, Diandra, and I'll let your little Watcher friend go." Dee could see the woman's grip tighten on Blair as he started to struggle. Damn it, Lobo, don't antagonize her! Eolia's next whispered words nearly stopped Diandra's heart. "Be still, little mortal and you'll live to see the sunrise." She was serious, she would kill him if she had to, holy ground be damned.
"He'd better," Diandra ground out, finally stepping from her hiding place. The woman spun toward her voice, keeping Blair between them. His eyes met Dee's, relief at her presence written in them clearly. He had expected trouble, based on Diandra's description of Eolia, but neither of them had anticipated this.
"Finally. Thank you, Diandra." The Celtoi shoved Blair in Dee's direction; only the champion's quick reflexes kept him from being impaled on the blade she had drawn when the pair entered. "See? I honor my word, unlike you. This was to be a private meeting, yet you dare to let your little mortal tag along."
Dee ignored the other's words for the moment, running her hands over her lover, sucking in a sharp breath as she spied the blood on his lip and the rapidly darkening bruise on his cheek. Only his restraining hand on her arm kept her from shoving the smaller woman outside and taking her head. "Lobo, are you okay? What in the hell were you thinking?"
His answer was a low hiss as her fingertips traced over his cut. "I was thinking you shouldn't be here without a companion. I fucked up, I know--" A swift brush of her fingers against his lips silenced him.
She moved to stand between Blair and the other immortal. "You wanted to meet, Eolia, I'm here. But I swear to you, touch him again and I'll gladly separate your head from your shoulders."
The Celtoi smiled as if Diandra had just given her the keys to Fort Knox. Putting away her dagger, she dropped into a pew. "On holy ground, Diandra? I think not, unless you want this church to fall like Delphi. I don't relish the idea of being buried alive again, but I've survived far worse, believe me."
Sheathing her sword, Dee gestured for Blair to sit, and he did, on the bench across the aisle from Eolia. The Amazon remained on her feet. "So have I, Eolia, but we're not here to share old war stories, now are we? Why are you here?"
For the first time, the hard glint in the other Immortal's eyes seemed to soften. She stared at her hands for a moment, then glanced up toward the front of the church, avoiding Diandra's gaze. "Azir's dead," she finally said quietly, her voice catching on his name.
Dee took a step back, her hand going to Blair's shoulder, his warmth reassuring her he was safe and blessedly alive. "Goddess, Lia, I'm so sorry."
The smaller woman turned her face toward her, unshed tears glistening in her eyes. "I'm so lost, Dorian. It hurts so much& "
Moving into the pew, Dee ran her hand lightly over the distraught woman's hair. With a small, inarticulate sob, Eolia buried her face in Dee's stomach, wrapping her arms around her waist, and crying softly. "I'm so tired. I just want it to be over, I don't want to live without him, it's too painful. He was the only person who ever understood me, who ever loved me for me& "
Diandra slid into the seat next to the other Immortal, letting Eolia cry on her shoulder as Dee stroked her back. She looked up for a moment, her eyes meeting Blair's. He was watching her with a mixture of curiosity and compassion on his expressive face.
After a few minutes, Eolia sat up, wiping at her eyes with her sleeve. "Sorry, didn't mean to get you all wet."
Giving her a smile, Dee said, "It's all right. Now talk to me. What happened to Azir? And what's this about being tired?"
The other woman ran a hand over her face. "It's not really clear; I wasn't there, but I found out it was a headhunter, one who doesn't play by the rules. Azir was shot first, then they took his head."
"Do you have a name?"
She shook her head. "No, no one I've asked has heard of him, though this doesn't seem to be the first time he's done this. I've searched for him for three months, but I'm giving it up now. It all seems so& useless. It won't bring him back, and every day that goes by is like another weight being added to my soul. I came to Cascade looking for you because Methos wouldn't grant my request. I'm hoping you will. I don't want to play the Game any more, Diandra."
Diandra had had an idea this was the direction the conversation was headed, but it still came as something of a shock. "I know how much you're hurting, Lia. I've been there. I spent two hundred years trapped inside my own mind because I couldn't deal with losing Lydia. And there was a time only a few months ago when I thought about giving up again, when I thought it just hurt too much to go on, and 2,800 years was enough."
"What made you think otherwise?"
"I found the mate of my heart." A gasp from Blair made her turn and smile at the stunned expression on his face. "I found out there's more than one love of a lifetime. It may be a thousand years in coming, but once you find it, all the heartache and the pain disappear."
Eolia gave her an incredulous look. "Lia, I know you don't want to think that right now, that the thought of someone other than Azir sharing your heart feels like a betrayal. But I think you owe it to yourself and to him to give yourself some time. Three months is nothing to us. Give yourself time to grieve for him, and time to heal. And well, if that takes a couple years, then so be it. If you want me to take your head then, I will. But right now, I know it's the grief and fear and anger talking, not you. Who knows? You might walk out of here today and run into the person who will change everything for you."
Lia shook her head, and got to her feet with a growl. "You just don't understand& "
"Yes, I do. I know exactly where you're coming from, and I'm not going to let your emotional reaction to Azir's death influence my decision. You are in no shape to make a life or death decision for yourself, so I'm going to make it for you." She rose to her full height and stared down at the smaller woman. "My answer is no. I will not take your head."
Eolia moved out into the aisle, pausing as she passed Blair, who had gotten to his feet when Dee did. "That's funny, you seemed awfully free with the threats earlier, when my blade was at your mortal's throat."
She went for her long dagger again, but this time Blair was ready for her. Grabbing her wrist, he dug his fingers into the pressure point there. The knife fell to the floor, the steel ringing on the flagstone as he brought her arm up behind her back and wrapped his other arm around her neck. This time it was his turn to whisper in her ear. "Just because I'm mortal, doesn't make me helpless."
"Lobo, you've proved your point. Let her go. You will leave here peacefully, Lia." It was not a request.
The Celtoi nodded slowly. "Yes, Dorian. I will leave, for now." Blair released his hold on her, and pocketing her blade, she stormed up the aisle and out of the church.
Damn, damn, damn! The last Immortal I trusted to grant my wish, and she turned me down! Why?!
I try to calm myself on the drive back to the Excelsior, but my mind refuses to settle and my body is practically singing for release. So many thoughts crowd in on me, memories of the past, plans for the immediate future, the upcoming job I have to do at QuestScape. Unbidden, the voice of my dearly departed husband fills my head as the accompanying memory crashes into my mind.
You must fight to contain your fiery temper, Eolia. You weren't able to obtain the information we need with your methods, so now we use mine." He's gathering the items he needs to gain access to the Embassy.
I lash out, kicking a footstool across the small room of the apartment we've based ourselves out of here in Saigon. "Damn it, that's just it, Azir! I've never failed before. Never!"
He shrugs, his dark eyes full of repressed laughter. "Until you met me, you never had a man who was impervious to your charms." His movements are graceful, flowing as he walks over to me, his large hand chucking me under the chin, bring my eyes to met with his. "And I must admit, I am not as immune as I'd like to think."
He ducks his head in, his sensuous lips closing over mine, and slowly I feel the anger drain from me. His arms hold me close to his hard body, one toned through centuries of fighting and stealthy movements, but finally he pulls away, taking his warmth with him.
"Maybe the analysts are wrong this time, maybe there just isn't any hard data for me to worm out of the French attaché."
"I'm afraid not, ma petite. For once, I think the brains in the basement at Langley are right. Now, will you watch my back? Or shall I ask one of the other agents to help me?" His hands grip my shoulders, those mischievous dark eyes boring into mine, seeking the answer he wants.
I break his hold on me, walk over to the closet where I start to pull out the dark outfit I use only for such times as these. "What do you think?" I'm still mad as hell, but I've a job to do and, though I hate to admit it, my husband is right. One day, my temper will be my downfall.
Shaking off the memory, I turn down the street, my destination in sight. Everything I wanted, everything I desired, all has come crashing down. All that is left for me is WindHawk Securities and the job at QuestScape, and then, maybe, I'll stop to consider what Diandra said. My throat tightens as I try to think of continuing my life without my husband by my side. It feels like a betrayal most foul. I long to join him in the afterlife, I need to. My mood is still quite grim when I pull the rented Lexus RX 300 under the covered entrance and the young valet opens the driver's door for me.
Stalking into the hotel's lobby, I find a glowering Jan-Michel LaFollet waiting for me, an embarrassed John David by his side. I brush past them, growling under my breath, "I don't want to hear it, LaFollet. Not now."
I hear him dismiss John as I enter the elevator; before the doors can close my Watcher puts his foot in the track and they spring back open. I endure his silent anger as we ride, undisturbed, to the 15th floor where I once again leave him behind to walk to my suite. I slam the door in his face.
I snort in idle amusement when he walks through the door anyway. Guess I forgot he has a damn passkey. I slip out of my long coat, carelessly throwing both the coat and my blades on the couch as I walk towards the bedroom.
"Stop right there." Not only is his voice full of anger, but the hand clamping down on my shoulder is hard in its grip.
Too many years of hiding and running from my enemies, both mortal and immortal alike, give me skills that tend to rise up when I'm pissed off. My hand comes up as I spin on my toes, knocking his hand away from my shoulder. I follow through with a fast blow towards his throat, which he blocks, barely, my blow landing on his left cheek, slicing it open. He doesn't even blink, and his slap to my face catches me off guard, spinning me away from him. He takes advantage of my distraction and pulls me into a nearly crushing bear hug.
As I struggle to gain my release, his calm voice trickles in my ears. "Lee, enough. Stop it! I'm sorry, but you have to calm down."
He obviously took great care to watch how Azir dealt with me when I was in such a dark mood. It takes several deep breaths before I start to relax, and he releases me from his grasp. Slowly, I turn to face him and see the damage I've done. "Oh, Gods! Jan, I'm sorry." I trace gentle fingers just below the cut I gave him, noticing the swelling which is already rising.
"I'll be okay." He takes my hand in his and touches me under the chin softly, to make me look into his eyes. "Now, where did you go when you managed to ditch young Mr. David? And where did this mood come from?"
Shaking my head, I walk away from his caring gaze, my mood lessening in its intensity. "I had to meet someone. I couldn't have any witnesses, especially John. Or yourself." I enter the bathroom, wet down a washrag and return to his side.
"You met with another Immortal, didn't you?" I sigh, nodding my head in agreement as I clean the blood from his face. "Damn it, Eolia! Who was it? Was it a Challenge? Why didn't you tell me and how in the hell did they get past me and my security teams?"
Throwing the now bloody cloth at him, I answer. "I got past your security teams, it wasn't a challenge and it was an old friend. That's all you need to know."
"There can't be that many Immortals here in Cascade. I'll find out who it is, you know that, so why not tell me now, Lee?"
I let him stew in silence as I start to gather up the equipment I need to take on the security systems at QuestScape, placing everything in a small, black backpack. "Diandra Pallas."
My soft answer sends him into motion. He's on the cell phone he rarely uses, obviously calling his contact in the Watcher Organization. "Joe Dawson, please. Thank you." He steps from the room, his conversation lost to me.
By the time he returns, fifteen minutes later, I'm ready to storm the bastions of a multi-million dollar corporation. And from the look on my Watcher's face, he's ready to pull me out of town, contracts be damned.
"I can't let you do this, not tonight, Lee."
"Sorry, I have to. Honor of the company and all that jazz." I slip into a black sweater, then pull my hair back up into the French twist and pull a black knit cap on.
"Pallas is bad news, Lee. She came out of the Outback of Australia like some vengeful wraith. In three years she's collected over seven Quickenings; she's on the hunt and back in the Game after who knows how long."
I laugh. "You think I care? Jan-Michel, I have a job to do and I have to do it tonight. If you're so concerned about my welfare, contact Diandra's Watcher and talk with him. Maybe he can keep her busy while I'm at QuestScape."
Oh dear, I shocked him.
"How do you know Pallas' Watcher is a man?"
"I met him tonight. Nice looking kid, about 30, student at Rainier University. One hell of a grip too." I rub my wrist where young Mr. Sandburg had dug in his nimble fingers, causing me to drop my blade earlier.
His hazel eyes narrow, suspicions glowing from within. "Did you happen to ask him his name while you were at it? And did Pallas see him?"
"Blair Sandburg. And, no, Diandra didn't see him," I lie, protecting Diandra and her mortal lover. The Watchers are very strict about how much contact is supposed to occur between a Watcher and the Immortal they watch. There was some kind of trial a few years back, and the rules relaxed a bit, but I really don't think a Watcher is supposed to take his Immortal to bed with him.
"Let me go with you tonight, to watch your back."
"Fine. Let's go." I toss the backpack at him along with the keys to the Lexus. "You drive. We're behind schedule as it is."
As the heavy church door closed with a loud boom behind the upset Immortal, Diandra turned to Blair. "And just what were you thinking when you decided to come here?"
He chewed the inside of his lip, wincing as he accidentally ran his teeth over his cut. "I should have talked to you, I know, but, well, obviously you didn't want me to know you were meeting Eolia. I mean, you called her this morning and then never bothered to tell me about it. So I figured it would be okay if I just didn't tell you I was going to be here. You said yourself last night she was unpredictable. What if this had been a setup? What if for some totally bogus reason she was pissed at you again, and wanted your head?"
"No, just listen to me, this could have been a trap, a setup to get you alone somewhere. I don't care if it is holy ground, that just guarantees she won't kill you here, not that she wouldn't do anything else, which you saw, she had no qualms about doing." He gestured at his face. "I couldn't let her do that to you. I had to be here. I had to do whatever I could to keep you safe."
"Blair, I know you don't want anything to happen to me, but it's not your place. You know the rules, you can't interfere. The Watchers could kill you for what you've done."
"I wasn't going to interfere. I just want you to have a fighting chance, for it to be a fair fight. And as for the Watchers, Joe knew I was in a relationship with you when he asked me to join. Look, Dee, I don't want to argue with you. It's over, it's done, you're okay, and I'm okay. Everything turned out all right, didn't it?"
The worry and fear in his eyes burned into her, and when she didn't answer him right away, he asked again, his voice soft and uncertain. "It is okay, right? We are okay, aren't we?"
Goddess, she couldn't stay mad at him, it just wasn't possible, not when he looked at her like that. She moved closer to him, wrapping her arms around him in an embrace. "We are always okay, Lobo, always." His hold on her tightened, and he gave her one of his brilliant, blinding smiles.
"What about Eolia?"
"What about her?"
"You know she's not exactly stable, Dee."
"I know. But she's a big girl, Blair, she has to get through this on her own. If she wants my help, I'll give it, but I won't let her talk me into doing something that could turn out to be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But thanks for being concerned about her. That's one of the things I really love about you, your ability to see beyond the surface, into people's souls." She ran her hand over his cheek, bending in to kiss him gently, careful of his injury.
"Hey, you think you could do your thing on my face? Just so Jim doesn't go all ballistic on me."
"Sure, hold still." Dee held her hand over his cheek for a moment, concentrating, watching the bruise and cut vanish. "So," she said when she was done, linking her arm through his and heading up the aisle, "Jim still on stakeout tonight?"
"Yeah, why do you ask?"
"Just thought we could spend a little time alone. You know, a little food, a little music, a little dancing, a little kissing, a little touching& "
"Oh, you mean a repeat of last night." He grinned at her again, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek.
She ruffled his curls affectionately as they left the church. "Yeah, exactly like that."