Olivia was taken by surprise the next evening when a messenger came from Jamie; as much by the note he carried as by her emotional reaction to it. The young MacLeod who was shown into her atrium study delivered with masterful discretion a small slip of paper, also sealed with wax and a crest shield pattern with which she was unfamiliar. It bore only one word written in Greek. Both.
Her heart was strangely erratic, her blood seemed to sing in her veins, though there was not as much there as she would have normally possessed due to her little episode. She suddenly felt light-headed and weak and sank into her chair. The young man expressed concern for her, asked if he could send for a servant or get her something. She gracefully declined.
“No’ ill news, ah hope?” he asked, his accent thicker than Jamie’s.
She smiled. “No, not at all, thank you.” It was obvious to all her senses that he had no clue to the contents of the note, and that he had been instructed to pay attention to her reaction. But she expected that. She had given Cynthia the same instructions the night before when she had sent her to him with her note. Jamie had received her brusquely but with polite deference to her mistress. He had not read the note in her presence, and Olivia had not instructed her to wait. “If you would be so kind as to wait for a reply?”
He nodded, bowed and stepped out to amuse himself in the atrium while he waited, affording her some privacy in which to write. He was quickly taken by the impluvium and its tiled fishes. Olivia made a mental note to herself to commend the man’s manners to Jamie. She stared at the paper several minutes before she formed a reply, forced herself to write slowly and neatly. In short, she gave him permission to court, but made no promises. She sealed the note and came out to the messenger just as Cynthia arrived with a tray of refreshments. She handed him the note, bade him to pause at least long enough to refresh himself and partake of the sweetmeats if that was his desire and that unless MacLeod had instructed otherwise, there was no hurry.
She left him to Cynthia’s care and went out to the altar. She lit incense and a small brazier and anointed both statues with purified oils. She prayed to them of her joy and anticipation, thanked them for their gifts. She had not been out there long when Regan came out onto the veranda, announced by a welcoming bark from Ulysses. She completed her prayers and crossed to meet her friend.
They shared a carafe of blooded wine that Cynthia had picked up from Hell Hall on her way back from Jamie’s the night before and talked. Regan wanted to know why she was practically glowing when the last few days she had been absolutely morose. Olivia could not hold in her joy and told her. Her excitement was dampened a bit by Regan’s rather reserved reaction.
“I am not even sure what will come of it,” Olivia added, to perhaps dismiss any fears Regan might have. “All I have done is give him permission to court. Which will be a new experience for me.”
“Ah don’ want ye gettin’ yer hopes up, Olivia. M’ Da.... well, in all th’ years ah’ve known him he’s ne’er... had a lover o’ any significance. He’s a great lover o’women, has a thin’ aboot protectin’ an’ all, but ah’ve never known him t’be serious aboot any o’them. He’s never mentioned t’me of any great love or lost love,” she warned, setting a hand over Olivia’s. “He’s ne’er had any one woman around fer any length o’time other than me, and tha’s been purely platonic. Hell, ah know he had a mortal wife onct, cause he spoke of m’bein’ o’ a direct line fra’ him, but he ne’er spoke o’ her, wistful ’r otherwise.”
Olivia did not find the information particularly encouraging but refused to lose heart.
The next evening Olivia dressed for the Aquarius Rising. In a light mood, she put on the white lace dress and the lightest spritz of lily of the valley. Cynthia came upstairs to do her hair with a single blood red rose in hand and a note. She was grinning from ear to ear.
“What?” Olivia asked, beginning to chuckle in spite of herself.
Cynthia just handed her the paper. Olivia flipped it open. It was in Jamie’s handwriting. Have business. Will come late. Save a dance for me, fair Terpsichore. J.
She smelled the rose, its perfume warm and rich. “Passion,” she sighed.
Cynthia dressed her hair simply, adorning it in a quasi-Greek fashion with silvery white ribbons, letting the back fall in curls just past her shoulders. Inspired, she trimmed the stem of the rose and pinned it in her hair. Olivia felt light hearted and happy as she bade Ulysses goodbye and left the house for the Aquarius Gather. Even Agatha seemed in a good mood as she saw the pair of them off, warning Cynthia to behave, stay out of the way and take care of Miss Olivia.
Cynthia remained downstairs when they arrived, was told to enjoy herself as Olivia went upstairs first. The usual players were present, plus a few unknowns whom she made an effort to greet. Hawk spent a few minutes talking with her, commenting on how... alive she seemed this evening. She merely laughed and danced off. “That is what happens when someone inspires the muse.” Her fingers brushed back a stray curl, barely caressed the crimson petals and she positively beamed. Hawk did not even seem to mind her leaving in mid-conversation, he was so strangely affected by her happiness. Even passing Katherine’s black cloud could not seem to dent her joy.
When she stopped with George, she was appropriately sober, but she managed to elicit a small smile from him none-the-less. She paused at Arthur’s corner to ask where Amy was, greeting both him and his current customer. Arthur told her that Amy would be dropping by later and introduced her to his customer, a man she remembered from the Manor the evening of the battle at the university. The man was visibly affected by her presence, and oddly did not mind the interruption which normally would have upset him terribly. He rose, bowed and kissed the air a fraction of an inch above her hand. “Enchante, demoiselle. Blaise Ettiene Devereaux, at your service, Mam’selle Severus.”
She laughed, “Oh, call me Olivia, every one does. I’ve gotten used to it.”
He cocked his head. “Forgeeve me, but I am unable to place your accent. Eet ez continental, yet... almost Southern American.” His smile was so charming she could not take offence.
“Italian, actually,” she said with a bow of her head. “I learned my English from Miss Campbell and Mr. Arthur here, so any oddities I am afraid...”
“Should be laid at my door,” Arthur said, smiling. “Miss Olivia is quite the historian. I may have something you will want to have a gander at later, Miss Olivia. Do you wish to swing by my place or shall I bring it around to the Roman House?”
“Oh? What does it pertain to?”
“Well, I haven’t been able to translate it and I thought you might. It’s a muddle. It looks Greek, but makes no sense whatsoever.”
“Oh, bring it by. Towards morning if you want, or tomorrow night. Whatever’s convenient,” she answered nonchalantly as if it were no consequence, though she was terribly excited by the news. She gave a polite bow to him and his company. “It has been a pleasure meeting you, Mister Blaise. I hope to see you in our neck of the forest again. Arthur, just let me know when you want me to look at it. I am going downstairs to dance. If you gentlemen will excuse me?”
Blaise bowed smartly, a very courtly manner. “But of course, demoiselle. Perhaps I might be honoured wez a dance wez you later?”
She smiled, “If you like.”
As she started to spin off towards the stairs, Arthur called after her. “Get something to drink first!”
She sighed like a petulant child, but agreed. “All right, nana!” she laughed and diverted herself to the upstairs bar. She ordered a beefeater and drank it there.
Blaise sat back down, chuckled softly, found himself stealing glimpses of her. “Who ez zat remarkable creature?”
“A protégé of Amy’s,” he explained, keeping a concerned eye on her himself. “She would have my head if I let anything happen to her.”
“She ez ze most alive of our kind I have ever laid my eyes upon. She ez pure poetry.”
“Yes,” Arthur mused. “She certainly is having an effect tonight.”
Olivia waved her empty glass at him before setting it on the bar and slipping downstairs into the swell of writhing humanity.
She was aware that Arthur was worried about her, but was too full of the music for it to matter much. The music here was very different than that at the manor, different from that which she had current access to at the house. She lost herself quickly, though she kept some awareness of her surroundings. She absorbed the essences of the mortals around her, wove them into the tapestry of music and dance without being aware of what she was doing. Immortals, on the other hand, were alerted her to their presence instantly. She was aware of some of the people she danced with, though to her disappointment, Sam was not one of them. Hawk danced near her for a while. A few of the other regular Gatherers who she did not know quite so well also danced with her, though in the modern way of simply being near and paying attention to her presence.
She became aware that she had an effect upon them not unlike that she was having on the mortals around her. She slowed and stretched to sense the emotions around her. It was like a frantic reflection of her own emotional state. What the music evoked, she felt heavily from the humans around her, and what they felt emotionally she felt on a physical level. Just as she was beginning to realise her affect on them, Blaise stepped up and asked for a dance. She accepted. When he bowed, she curtsied as Amy had shown her and held up her hands when she realised the style of dancing he intended.
Almost as if requested, the music changed to something more suitable for traditional steps, but still hot enough to please the modern crowd. Olivia found him an energetic and creative dancer, a man of balance and elegance. She enjoyed herself thoroughly, even when he threw her into steps she had never done before. He was a good lead and her ignorance of the particular steps made no impact upon the figure they cut as a pair. The crowd in general gave them a little more room, as Blaise seemed to be fond of turns and dips. She laughed as the dance ended, bowed and thanked him. “I have not had that much fun dancing with a partner since I discovered Santana,” she exclaimed.
“Santana? Are you familiar wez Latin Ballroom? I am a devil at ze tango myself...”
Her attention was suddenly diverted by a black nimbus of emotion that passed on the fringes of the crowd. She turned, trying to locate the source of the despair, and saw Austin Peters over at the downstairs bar. A pained look crossed her face causing Blaise concern. “Are you all right, Mam’selle?”
She turned to him and took his hand. “I thank you. You are a marvellous dancer, and I would love to continue. But if you could excuse me, please? I see a friend who is in great pain and I need to...”
He cut her off, pressing her hand in both of his to his chest. “Ah, say no more. I ’ave ’ad more of your time zan I perhaps should rightly claim. Go. See to your friend. I count zem lucky.” He kissed her fingers once more before letting them go again. “Perhaps ze next time I am through zis way?”
“Of course,” she smiled, and slipped into the crowd to find Austin.
She sank onto a stool next to him and set a hand on his arm. He looked up, startled, then took a deep breath when he realised who it was. “Ah,” was all he said.
“Do you wish to talk?” she asked.
“No. I wish to drink,” he muttered. “But it’s not working,” he growled.
“Of course not. You are drinking at the wrong bar. But that is not the best way to deal with these things.”
“Oh, how would you know? A pretty thing like you?”
She gave him a sad, tolerant smile. “I lost my mother when I was ten and had three miscarriages in my brief lifetime,” she answered softly.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Why don’t we go somewhere quiet to talk?” she offered. “I understand there are rooms upstairs...?”
He shook his head. “You can still hear the music. And I’d be afraid of others listening in. Like Beaumont. She defended me against her, did you know that?”
She smiled, deciphered that he had meant Meg. “Yes. I heard. Let’s go out onto the riverwalk, then. We can see anyone trying to listen in.”
He just nodded, got off the stool and led the way through the crowd. The air outside was crisp and the noise level dropped off abruptly even though outside was far from quiet. The sounds of river traffic and faint echoes of the music danced over the water, mingling with street and bridge traffic. But it was easier to hear a single person speaking. They walked a little ways down, not quite to the first overlook, stopped and sat down on a bench that looked over a lower dock where the water taxis and other small boats were moored. There were no boats there now, and the taxi was just beginning to chug away down the river towards the Landing on the far side.
“I’ve never connected with any one of us like that,” he said. “With Meg, things just clicked.”
“Well, Venus gets us all in the end. Or her son,” she added, brushing a lock of his hair out of his eyes, set a hand on his shoulder. “And she is not gone forever yet. She was not destroyed then. There has to be a reason she was taken or she would have been.”
“Her mentor maybe?” he suggested hopefully. “Somehow I keep thinking it’s all my fault. That the witch took her because she was seen with me. I’ve heard that’s what happened to you. You were seen dancing with Hawk and the next Gather the Butcher tried to take your head.”
She set her hands in her lap, fidgeted with her nails. “That may not be why she was taken, Austin. It may very well be George they are trying to get at. I know how hard it has to be on you, but you must be strong for her. She is not in this city. I have looked. Jamie and the others are trying very hard to find MacDonald’s hide-away.”
“Asgothegat,” he said.
She turned and looked at him. “Excuse me?” she asked, not understanding the word. It was like looking into the eyes of a totally different man. These eyes were hard and cold. And the chill was spreading. Her feet felt like blocks of ice and the coldness ran through her veins, leaving the body frozen in its wake.
“I said, Asgothegat,” he repeated. Even the voice was different.
Olivia tried to pull away, turned to scream and found her chest already frozen. There was nothing visibly wrong with her, she could still feel the wind in her hair and the flutter of her skirts against her calves. But movement was impossible. A mortal couple passed behind them and Austin took her hand smiling. Her hand moved easily in his, as if it were only her will that could not move her body, and she were not the statue she felt like. As soon as no one was near enough to see, he stood and pulled her to her feet and climbed down onto the lower dock. He laid her down on the warped boards and out of sight, dislodging the rose from her hair. It fell unnoticed as he rolled her off the inside of the dock, under the raised riverwalk. Job done, he turned and hopped up to the main path and strolled down the boards towards the bridge.
As she tumbled helplessly into the water, the lace of her dress snagged a protruding nail on a piling and threatened to keep her from sinking. A pair of hands came out of the murky waters and grabbed her ankles, pulling her downward. Olivia’s arms floated upwards and her overdress slid easily off her body. A second pair of hands took one arm while the first took the other and between the two of them swam her under the dock and out into the river.
Sam slipped out of the underwater pipe somewhere below the boardwalk. He was maybe a few blocks from the Gather site, he could not be sure, but it was safer than walking the streets lately. His arm hurt from where the Shadow had gouged him with his knife. The wound would not heal by blood. There was now no doubt who the Shadow was after, but for the life of him he could not figure out why. He wracked his brains. Who did he have dirt on that knew he had dirt? He did not know anything really dangerous.
He eased along the bottom of the riverbed between the pilings, looking for patches of light which would indicate he was near the taxi landing. He found them without too much trouble and tried to surface just under the walk, planning to crawl out between the lower dock and the upper walk. Someone dropped a net on him. He thrashed, panicking before he realised that it was not a net at all but lace, heavy lace. He stopped struggling, slowly felt his way to the edge of it and pulled it off of him. Lurking just below the surface, he listened for anyone on the dock. It was deserted. He let his head break the surface, the lace still in hand and crawled up onto the lower dock.
He lay there a moment, staring up at the sky. But only a moment. He had no idea if the Shadow had figured out where he was going or how he was getting there, so he had to hurry if he wanted to get inside quickly. He paused to look at what was in his hands, sniffed at it. It smelled of murky water and slime, but there was also the faintest traces of lilies and... Olivia. He stood up, held out the object and spread it. It was a dress, a dress with a tiny brown stain still lingering on the inside of one fluttered sleeve.
He headed for the stairs, felt something crush under wet shoe and nearly lost his footing. He bent to pick up what turned out to be a rose and felt the passing wind of a missed blade swing over his back. He flipped feet first up onto the higher walk, slipping in between the Shadow’s legs and tipping him off balance. The Shadow fell head first onto the lower dock, breaking a bone by the sound of it. It bought Sam a few precious seconds. He dashed for the Aquarius Rising, not giving a damn that he was dripping wet and stank of his sewer escape.
The bouncers tried to stop him but were simply not agile enough. He slithered through the dancing crowd, leaving a wake of falling dancers as they slipped on the water he had tracked in. He bolted for the stairs, taking them three at a time. He slid to a halt in front of Arthur, held out the dress.
Arthur made a face in disgust at the smell and the water splashing on his book. “What? What is that rag, Sam?” he exclaimed as tolerantly as he could manage. Then Sam spread it and he stopped.
At that moment Jamie came up the stairs in a rage followed closely by his daughter. He was cursing in Gaelic. George asked Regan what had happened and was curtly told that some of the MacLeod kin had been murdered and the daughter kidnapped. Before Arthur or Sam could say or do anything else, Jamie had crossed to speak with Arthur and stopped, staring at Sam’s outstretched hand. He snatched the rose out of his fingers and looked at it briefly before spinning Sam around and demanding to know where he had gotten it. Then he saw the dress.
“MacLeod,” Arthur warned.
It was too late. Jamie roared and ran for the balcony, shoving aside any who were too slow to get out of his way and vaulted over the side. He landed catlike on the outskirts of the dance floor and forced a path through, following the trail of water to the back door. From there he found his way to the lower dock and dove in, searching frantically under the boardwalk for any sign of her. On the nail he saw threads of white lace, but not much else. He keened his senses and searched the bottom of the river’s edge, saw the glint of white and went to it, just at the edge of the light’s reach. It was a shoe. He searched harder, frustrated by the murk and pollution of the river. He swam out, remaining under the water, trying to calculate possible trajectories from the lace and the shoe. He had to sink lower as a taxi chugged by, headed for the dock, full of people. As he sank down, the wake of the boat stirred up the muddy bottom. After several minutes things began to settle slightly and a passing light glinted off of a second shoe.
Changing his course, he collected the shoe and followed the trail. Halfway across the river a ribbon floated by, fought over by a few fish fascinated by how it glinted in the bright moonlight that filtered through from above. He found nothing else until he emerged on the opposite river bank, just below the populated areas of downtown and beyond the end of the boardwalk. He combed the shore like an animal, searching for any sign. He smelled and tasted the air, caught the briefest scent of something out of place up wind and followed it. His eyes did not need to be keened too much as the moonlight was almost too bright, as if Olivia’s beloved goddess were trying to help the hunter. He caught sight of something near what looked like a mudslide at first, but on inspection proved to be where she had been hauled out of the water and dragged like a limp corpse. What had caught his eye was a tiny jade figurine, her amulet versus witchcraft. The tracks were hopelessly muddled, mostly disturbed shoals of oyster beds with faint traces of blood. Her blood. The drag marks stopped where other feet joined the first and all terminated at the edge of a road.
Jamie lifted his head to the moon and roared in anguish.