(A Divergent Destinies Story)
(Visit www.scrollandquill.org for the most up to date versions and sequence)
Written by IceWing (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Alright already! Stop trying to knock the damn door in!" As he walked towards the front door of his apartment, the body of Bill Jackson, now animated by the demon which had kicked out his soul and taken residence, tried to wipe the sleep from its eyes. Glancing at the digital clock next to the empty mirror, he muttered about damn humans up and around before noon. The banging on the door continued. "Hold your damn horses. I had a drunk last night and you smashing my door isn't helping this damn hangover." He fumbled with the locks and swung the door open, glad that his doorway was safe from any sunlight due to the lack of windows. "What do you want?" he asked as he tried to recognize the person standing in the hall.
Although he didn't know the human who had so rudely awakened him, the sensation of a sharpened length of oak penetrating his ribcage and once beating heart was something which drew immediate comprehension. "Oh shit!" he said just before his body, hijacked not a decade before, lost cohesion.
Xander grinned broadly as the dust settled to the carpeting. "Landshark!" he said with a wry smile, before stepping on the pile of ash and into the apartment which lay before him. "Lets see what's behind door number 310, shall we?" And with that, he closed the door behind him.** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Dusk was beginning to furl her wings across the California coast as Xander finished his through search of the apartment. He had systematically emptied every drawer, cabinet and closet in the apartment, as well as moved every piece of furniture. The result had been a considerable pile of items which he could either use for himself, or sell for a decent price on e-bay. The weapons he would add to either his growing armory, or to a series of caches he was setting up around town. The twelve hundred dollars would go into his bank account. The rest of the vamp's belongings would be dropped off at the local goodwill over the next few days. But, there were a couple of items that he had the distinct feeling were more than they appeared to be. One was a rune covered dagger, which he had to admit felt very good in his hand. The rest of the questionable items were pieces of jewelry, which seemed to be of Egyptian origin, at least if his two years of research duty were on the mark.
Knowing the possibility of something going drastically wrong, he wrapped the dagger and the jewelry in a towel and stuffed it into his duffel bag. He'd have to get some more information on his newest loot before deciding anything specific. Hoisting the bag on his shoulder, he grabbed the first load of his spoils and headed to the car.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
The sun was still high in the afternoon sky when Xander entered the seediness that was the Alibi Room. Several of the patrons looked at him with curiosity, while one or two had open hostility on their faces. Or what passed for a face in the case of the really ugly one. The rest didn't really care, of course, it was still early, so the vampire population was mostly absent.
He headed to the bar, waving the bartender over. When asked for his order, he passed, asking instead if Willy was around. The bartender looked him over, then said he'd get him for Xander.
As the large, possibly non-human bartender, walked away, Xander felt a gentle caress on his shoulder. Swallowing deeply, he nervously turned to see who, or what, was trying to get his attention.
Realizing who it was, he was both relieved and more nervous at the same time. "Hi Ariel," he managed to choke out, as the sheer sexuality she exuded threatened to overwhelm him.
"You never called me" she said in a husky voice that was near illegal in several mid-eastern countries. "But I'm glad you came by to see me again."
"Umm, yeah." He pulled his wallet out and retrieved a slip of paper. "See, I still have your number. I just Well" He looked a bit sheepish for a moment. "Well, honestly, just about everything non-human that I've ever know, and especially those that have been interested in me, in well, you know, a romantic kind of way Well, they all seem to want to kill me, eat my face or generally ruin my day. Its some baggage I've got to deal with, but other than that, you're without a doubt one of the beautiful women I have ever seen. And if I were a little more secure in my whole dealing with the not human thing, I would love to get to know you better."
A smile lit up across the portrait of beauty that was standing there beside him. "You know," she said as she brushed her fingers against his chest. "That's probably one of the nicest things anybody has said to me in this place." She leaned over and gave him a soft kiss on his cheek. Her lips felt like warm silk, brushing across his skin with both tenderness and heat. "I still want you to call me sometime." And with that, she walked away, heading out of the bar.
Xander tried to calm his racing heart, but watching the extremely nice view as Ariel sauntered towards the door, well, it wasn't making the job easy.
It took him close to two minutes after she had left before he was able to have his thoughts well enough composed to realize that Willy was sitting at a small table near the end of the bar. He collapsed across from the barkeep, then gently banging his head against the well worn tabletop. "I hate this town, have I mentioned that lately?" After his moment of head-banging, he straightened up and looked at Willy.
"That fireball of a Slayer isn't going to come in here in a couple of minutes and start beating me for information, is she?" Willy asked as he looked nervously at the front entrance of his bar.
"Nope. This is a purely non-Slayer visit," replied Xander as he pulled a small roll of bills from his shirt pocket. "In fact, if I find out that you've mentioned this, or any other visit I make to your fine establishment"
Willy cut him off before he could finish. "What, you'll beat me within an inch of my life?"
"Actually, I'll find a new source of information. See, because I think that we can work out a far better arrangement that beatings in exchange for information." He fanned out the bills on the tabletop, revealing half a dozen portraits of Andrew Jackson. "And since I'm usually going to be asking for information about object type things, instead of people type things, there shouldn't be any conflict of interest. But, if this type of arrangement doesn't fit your rather loose moral sense, then I'll take my dead presidents and be on my way."
The barkeep immediately responded that he would be more than pleased with such a business deal and would be more than happy to work with him.
The young man smiled. "Excellent. Now, since I have shown I can pay for valued information, here comes the stick. You feed me bullshit, or set me up, and I'll get even."
"No offense kid, but when the Slayer comes in here, she has the muscle to take me to the cleaners. You? You're not in her league."
"No, I'm not," said Xander with a smirk. "But I don't have to be. You think you can stay open with health inspectors crawling around? What happens if I report you sold me, a minor, alcohol? Or the fire inspector shows up for a surprise visit? And wouldn't an IRS audit just ruin your week Nope Willy, I'm not in the Slayer's league when it comes to fighting. But I can be a whole lot more creative than she is. Now," he said as he slid the money towards the slightly nervous looking bartender. "Since we have an understanding, I need some information on occult experts with an Egyptian focus."
From the back of the bar, a figure sitting in the shadows watched the transaction as it occurred. His brow, currently lacking the deformities that came with a 'game face', furrowed as he jotted some notes in a small notebook. This one would definitely need to be watched. He hadn't made it this far, especially in Sunnydale, by underestimating his opponents. Or his allies for that matter. Even as he continued his observation, he was making notes to place some surveillance resources on the young Mr. Harris, as well as to make sure to keep his operations far from his eye. Although, perhaps there was an opportunity here, to bring some of his competitors endeavors to the attention of this quite capable young man
Willy said he'd be right back, then headed into his office. He came back a moment later, carrying a leather journal. He flipped through it for a couple of minutes, then jotted down two names on a scrap piece of paper. "Ok kid, there's two names that come to mind, but neither of 'em are locals. The first is a lady in Los Angles. Evelyn O'Connell. Her family has been big into the whole Egyptian thing since the early twentieth. Word is they tend to go on long trips to the desert and are always digging stuff up. They also pay good money for information on Egyptian relics, and they'll also buy anything Egyptian with major mojo. Never sell though. The other guy, well, he may be a little too wacko. He's big into alternative research into the ancient Egyptians. But his focus is more along the alien visitors route. Got laughed out of a major conference when he spoke of these alien guys. Last I knew he was in Colorado someplace, but nobody's seen him much for the past couple of years."
Xander looked down the names. "Well, aliens are a bit much even for me. Anyway, I appreciate the info." He slid the money across to Willy, and then added a small card to the top of the stack. "That's the number to my cell phone. If you hear anything about an apocalypse or anything else on that scale, call me. Five hundred per end of the world I can get averted from information you pass off to me. Think of it as your civic duty," he said with a smirk as he stood.
As Xander left the bar, the observer made a couple of notes. He'd have to try and get that number, probably from the cell company as he didn't want Willy to let the kid know somebody was asking about him. And since Ariel seemed like she'd already tried to stake a claim, using some of his female sub-contractors probably wouldn't work. He smiled, causing several nearby patrons to become a tad nervous. A challenge. Excellent! He always enjoyed a challenge. Especially one that had so much advantageous potential.** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Xander looked over the ocean as the cab pulled away. The view was absolutely breathtaking from this vantage point. The house he was visiting stood between the Pacific Ocean and the wooded acreage of the Topanga State Park. After watching the waves crash onto the beach for a few moments in the early morning sunlight, he turned around and looked up at the gated entryway. After taking a moment to compare the address to that on the paper he had in his hand, he reached out and pressed the buzzer on the speaker. After a few seconds, someone on the other end of the system came on and simply said 'yes?'.
"Um, hello. My name is Xander Harris. I have an appointment with an Evelyn O'Connell."
"You will be met at the front door," and with that the speaker clicked off and the gate slide open. Xander looked about the courtyard a bit nervously before following the driveway up to the main entrance. He was a bit unsure of what all was going to happen from here.
A bit hesitantly, he reached for the large iron knocker which rested in the center of the old oak door. Before he could even grab hold of it, the door swung open.
Standing there, still holding the door with one hand, was a rather attractive woman, clad in a pair of well faded, and well fitting Xander noted, pair of blue jeans and a deep blue t-shirt. He also noticed, with relief, that the sun was hitting her pretty much full in the face. That thought, along with another, brought a smile to his face.
"If I may," she asked, her voice revealing a slight English accent, "what you find amusing?"
Xander looked away sheepish before answering that he always wondered why all of the women he met were always so beautiful.
Mrs. O'Connell laughed as soon as his words were on the wind. "Well, I must say, with such charming comments, I'm not surprised that you find yourself surrounded by women. And thank you for the compliment as well." She stepped aside, and waited for him to cross the threshold. When he did so, she nodded ever so slightly.
Xander looked at her for a moment, before extending his hand to her. "Xander Harris, pleased to meet you."
"Evelyn O'Connell. The pleasure is mine," she replied as she took his hand. "If you'll follow me, we can sit down and discuss your items."
The two walked through several rooms to what could only be described as one of the coolest libraries Xander had ever seen. From floor to ceiling, every wall was covered which glass covered shelves, most holding books, but some containing a variety of artifacts. One cabinet which caught his eye has two books, one black, one golden, as well as a scepter-like cylinder which had a star perched atop it, a large gemstone, which had to be fake as no stone could be close to the size of a human head and several framed pictures.
Before he could get closer, Evelyn motioned for him to sit at the large table which occupied the center of the room. The chairs were overstuffed and quite comfortable, and for some reason, Xander had the suspicion that this table had been the scene of more than one late night research session. A series of gouges near the edge also indicated that it had been the site of more than one battle as well.
As he took his seat, Evelyn stopped by a small mini-fridge near the doorway and opened it. She pulled out a bottle of water for herself and offered the Slayerette one. When he accepted, she removed a second one and brought it to the table, setting it in front of him.
"Ok Mr. Harris" She paused as Xander winced.
"If you don't mind, could you please call me Xander. My father is Mr. Harris, and frankly, I don't really like being reminded that I share even a smidge of similar genetic material."
Evelyn looked at him for a moment before continuing. "Very well, Xander. Now that we've gone through the ritual small talk, what, may I ask, brings you to my doorstep?"
As he lifted his duffel to the table, he explained that he had recently come into possession of several artifacts which he suspected by have been of Egyptian origin. And since he'd never gotten his Time-Life installment of Ancient Egyptian Odds and Ends, he thought it best to have an expert take a look. A little asking around, a phone call to make an appointment and viola! Here he was. As he finished his statement, he placed the half dozen pieces of jewelry on the velvet sheet which covered a large swath of the table, then, almost as an underscore, laid the dagger beneath the golden trinkets. Part of the blade was exposed, as he had partially drawn it from the sheath to reveal some of the runes etched into the metal. That done, he slid the entire cloth across the table to where Evelyn sat. But before he could slide it all the way, he paused, reached back into the bag and added two statuettes to the cloth.
"Now, before I go any further, I need to know in what fashion you obtained these. I do not deal with grave robbers or professional thieves. Nor will I perform any work for anyone who stole, or had stolen, artifacts from museum, public collections or lawfully obtained private collections." She leveled a very firm gaze at him, all traces of the warmth shown earlier now gone from her eyes.
Xander paused for a moment, looking down at his hands. "Ok, I'm going to be honest, but no matter how weird this sounds, I swear this is the whole truth." He looked up, and when, after a couple of seconds, Evelyn nodded, he continued. "Like I said, I'm from SunnyDale. And I don't know how much you know about my wonderful home town, but its crawling with vampires. Personally, I'm not a big fan of them, being a living breathing human type person, so I try and stake as many as I can. I got all this stuff when I went through one of the apartments where I dusted one of them. I figured he didn't need it and maybe it would be useful."
"Or perhaps valuable?"
The teen shrugged. "Sure, money never hurts. But I'd rather make sure I'm not leaving any lost world ending widgets laying around for the next lunatic to find under the couch cushions. Plus, maybe if I search enough places, I can find whatever spawn of hell keeps hiding my house keys."
The Egyptologist laughed at his words, taking Xander by surprise. "You believe me?" he asked with a touch of confusion evident in his voice.
"About vampires? Known about them for years. Almost as bad as Amway salesmen, although much easier to get rid of. As a result, you no doubt noticed I didn't invite you in, not to mention the mirrors located on either side of the doorway. I must say though, I'm a bit surprised that someone as Young as yourself is out there fighting against them. If I may ask, why?"
Again, Xander looked down for a moment. "Would you believe me if I told you because there was nothing better to do on a school night? And that if I wasn't out fighting the forces of Darkness, that I'd have nothing else to do other than study?" He looked up at her face. "No, I guess you wouldn't buy that, would you" He sighed. "Truth be told, I got involved because of a girl." As he was looking down again, Xander missed Evelyn's eyes darting to one of the pictures in the case, as well as the sad smile which crossed her face. "But after awhile, I decided that she couldn't be the reason anymore. I guess I grew up a little bit last summer. Now, I'm involved because it's the right thing to do and if somebody isn't there to hold the line, then some morning, nobody's going to wake up."
"And the girl, impressing her has nothing to do with it?"
Xander chuckled ruefully. "Impressing her? She doesn't even pay attention that I'm more than one of the girls. So, I can safely say, no, I'm not doing it to impress her, not anymore."
Evie looked him up and down, then nodded. "Very well, Xander. Let's see what you've brought me."
As she began to examine the pieces, Xander wandered around the library, reading the titles of the books and tomes through their glass cases. Some he recognized, either from direct research against one of the Scooby Gang's nocturnal adversaries, or as a book referenced in one of Giles' other books. The vast bulk of them, however, weren't even written in English.
But what really caught his eye was the display case with the two books, the scepter, gemstone and pictures. He leaned forward, examining the books for a moment. One was made of gold, the other of onyx or obsidian. But as they were closed, and the only writing on them was in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, he had no idea what they were. The gem, well, it had to be a fake. Diamonds that large just didn't exist. The scepter didn't really ring any bells either, but obviously it was important to Evelyn.
His eyes were drawn to the pictures hanging on the back of the case. One of the pictures was a group picture, featuring a group of Bedouin warriors, Evelyn, a young boy, and three other men, one of whom was attired in an old fashioned aviator's cap and goggles. The other picture was of Evelyn, and one of the men from the first picture. They both looked happy in the picture, although a bit tired.
Xander looked over at Evelyn who was studying the items intently, making notes and checking a stack of books she had spread around her. "Your husband I'm guessing?" asked Xander quietly.
Looking up from the table, a hit of sadness flickered across her face. It was gone almost before it was there. "Yes, that's my Rick."
Xander came back over to the table after glancing at the picture again. "Sorry, if I brought up some bad memories. You two just seemed so happy, and I noticed you had your wedding ring on, but there's no sign of him around here."
Evelyn looked at him for a moment, then set her pencil down. "I just."
"Miss him?" finished Xander.
Evie nodded, glancing at the picture herself. "I do. It seems like we've been married for decades. He's the center of my life."
"He got called by a friend of ours, and headed off that afternoon to repay a debt. That was five months ago."
"I'm sure he's fine," said Xander, not knowing quite what else to say.
"Oh he is," she said, as she wiped at her eyes. "I'd know if something had happened to him. Plus, he's a very, very tough man to kill. I know he'll be home, hopefully soon, but I miss him."
Xander placed a hand on her shoulder and gently squeezed. She looked up, a look of thanks in her eyes, then got back to work.
About two hours and twenty minutes later, she announced that she had identified the items for him. Xander marked where he was in his book and closed it. The title, Atlantis: Fall of the Empire, was one that Evelyn had actually been interviewed for, but the first edition was in surprisingly good condition for its age.
The statuettes were at least three thousand years old, from one of the older dynasties, the name of which Xander forgot as soon as it was spoken. The two had been created by master craftsmen, all those years ago, to represent the God Anubis and the Goddess Sekhmet, from the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. The gold of the statuettes was inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones, making up the bright and vibrant coloring in the pieces. Evie indicated that either statuette would be a centerpiece in most museum's collections, but Xander indicated that he didn't really want to part with them, and no, he didn't want to know how much they were worth. When asked why he was going to keep them, he just responded that they just looked cool and his new place was going to be in desperate need of some classy decoration, and could Evie think of anything better than to have two gods watching his living room?
As he wrapped the statuettes back up and put them back in his bag, Evelyn continued to identify the other items.
The dagger was the next most interesting thing, mostly due to the blessing from Anubis etched into the bronze blade. The wording was a bit odd, but according to Evelyn, it was supposed to inflict the wrath of Anubis upon those who would feast upon the dead. When Xander asked if it would have any effect on vampires, she answered that it probably wouldn't, as they were already dead, although due to the whole demon taking over a corpse, it was possible. But in her opinion, it wasn't worth the risk to check it out. Most likely it would work better against any creatures who ate the bodies of the dead, or perhaps that consumed souls. Xander nodded. Not a great weapon for nightly patrols, but definitely something useful to keep around.
The anklet was a finely crafted gold chain, with a hook and clasp type fastener. Several pieces of amber were set into the woven strands of gold. The delicate jewelry looked like it was definitely crafted for a female ankle, probably as a gift for an upper class wife or mistress.
Next was a ring, which Evie believed to have been a signet ring for some high-ranking priest. It was her guess that he was a follower of Ptah, the Egyptian God of Knowledge and Learning, as his sigil was underneath the unique symbol which had served as a signature on important documents and seals.
Evelyn had to admit though that the next item was a bit of a mystery to her. She had seen similar artifacts described in some of her oldest texts, but had never seen one close up. It was a strange bracelet, or possibly a bracer as it was actually larger than a bracelet but small than most bracers, which had springy ribbons of metal which wrapped up the arm. Thin wires connected across the hand and down the fingers, where small bits of metal covered each finger a bit past the first knuckle. A large red stone rested in the center of the palm, possibly some kind of ruby, although the color wasn't quite right. "Of all the items you've brought me, this one concerns me the most." She paused as she looked over her notes. "Some of the texts refer to jewelry similar to this as being focal points of spells or as delivering punishments from the gods." She looked at him for a moment. "I have no idea how they worked, or what spells used them, but I would strongly advise that you either hide it very, very well and securely, or destroy it."
Xander listened to the sincerity in her voice, and looked at the jewelry. "I" He looked down at his hands for a moment, then back at her. "If its something that needs to be kept safe, Sunnydale probably isn't the best place for it." He paused, then chuckled. "Plus, if its magical, then it probably shouldn't be near me either. Magic and me don't get along too well."
"So destroying it, that would be your option?" There was no condemnation, nor approval in her words, just questioning.
"I don't like the idea of destroying some unknown item either. Too many times, we've had to use some weird widget to save the world. This thing could be one of those as well. Is there any chance you'd be able to hold onto this thing, and keep it safe for me? Either that, or I'm going to go dig a very deep hole in the middle of nowhere, and toss this thing in it until you can finish researching it."
Evie indicated that she had a place she stored items which needed to be kept safe from all kinds of things. She'd put it there until they figured out something else.
"Just don't spend too many hours looking for answers," said Xander with a grin. "After today, my research budget's going to be a bit low until I can find some more bad guys with more money than they'll need after I stake them."
The young appearing Mrs. O'Connell laughed. "That's one way to finance a fight against the darkness, although you don't have to worry too much about my bill. I enjoy research, although I have to admit it never hurts to be able to charge for it from time to time."
Next was a bracer, obviously ceremonial, as it was made of silver and set with inlaid scenes of a hunt. Again, the craftsmanship was impeccable, and the colors bright and vivid millennia after it had been created. But, the very materials which made it so beautiful made it useless as armor. The soft silver would never be able to stand up to the rigors of combat.
Finally, a simple necklace, with a cartouche on it. The style was definitely Egyptian, but the symbols on the cartouche were odd. Normally a cartouche was of a person's name, but the seven symbols on this one, instead of the normal hieroglyphs, were very linear. It almost looked as if a series of points had been carved out with a triangular chisel to form each shape. The only round bit on the entire cartouche was the circle above the stylized pyramid of the seventh symbol. Definitely a bit odd for ancient Egyptians.
Xander looked at the items on the cloth. "And you're sure that none of these are going to try and possess me, or suck out my brain or anything?" He paused, and handed the one bracelet-glove piece to Evie. "Well other than that one anyway."
"As far as I can tell, the rest of them seem completely benign. Unless of course, you decide to munch on a corpse, then stab yourself with the dagger."
"And you'll take care of that thing until we figure out what it's for?"
"Indeed." She wrote a couple of lines on a page of her notebook, then tore it along the perforation and handed it to Xander. "There's a receipt, saying I am holding onto it, along with a brief description of the item itself."
"So, what do I owe you for this?"
"Well, this morning's services will come to six hundred, but you can pay me at your discretion." She chuckled as he peeled off hundreds from his bankroll. "Or now works as well."
"Two hundred an hour, jeez, I'm in the wrong business," he said with a laugh. "I'm going to pay a couple hundred extra as well, as a down payment on however long it takes to research that thing."
He wrapped the other items back up and carefully stowed them in his bag, then stood and offered her his hand.
"Well, its been nice doing business with you Mr Xander," she said as she took his hand. "If you ever come into any more artifacts you need identified, or perhaps if you find anything else you wish to part with, or you change your mind on any of these items you brought to me today, please feel free to contact me." She offered him a business card, with writing on the back. "My private number is on the back, in case that perchance you need some help in the event of an impending apocalypse." She smiled, but it was touched with a hint of sadness. "Of course, I hope that such a need never arises, but if it does, please call and I will do whatever I can."
"Thank you, Mrs. O'Connell. I hope I never have to take you up on that." He fished a card of his own from his wallet. "That's my cell phone number, as well as my e-mail address. If there's anything I can do to help, well, against the darkness, call me." He chuckled. "After all, I'd rather save the world than study any night. And I hope that Rick comes home soon. He's a lucky man."
He offered her his hand, but instead, found himself pulled into a hug by a teary eyed woman. "Thank you, Xander." She squeezed him for a moment, before letting him loose and wiping her eyes. "You're a lot like him you know. When he gets home, we'll have to have you over." A wicked glint entered her smile. "Of course, then I can tell him how you were shamelessly trying to seduce me in his absence"
The two laughed as they walked toward the door. Xander paused just before the entryway and turned. "Actually, there was one other thing I needed to get done while in LA. Any chance you know a good forger? I need some new ID."
"As a matter of fact" Evelyn quickly jotted down a name and address on a scrap of paper and handed it to him. "Just tell her that I sent you and you'll be ok." With that the two hugged again and Xander headed back out into the sunny day that was the Southern California staple.** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
He stood on the steps of a run down building, checking the address against the paper Evelyn had given him. "Well, Meg Coburne," he said as he started upwards. "I hope your work is better than your real estate decisions."
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
End - Sands of Life
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