Title: Hazard of the Job
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Summary: It was always so much easier when 'coincidence' arranged for Balthazar to talk to children without their guardians' intervention. 2000 words.
Spoilers: Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010); Mummy Returns (2001)
Prompt: 24 Days of Ficmas, Day 20: For BrendanM. Prompt: Rick O'Connell and Balthazar Blake, Suspicion, Egyptian Tomb.
Balthazar Blake had been all over the world in the thousand years or so he'd been looking for Merlin's heir, but the nations he visited the most often tended to be European, either in location or legacy. That didn't mean all the children he talked to were white- though of course the boy or girl in question would have to have at least a drop of Merlin's blood in order to inherit the dragon ring. What it did mean, was that most countries with old, established pre-European cultures tended to have their own native magical practices; and apprentice of Merlin or no, Balthazar was still a scion of a post-Iron Age sorcerous tradition. He preferred not to step on the toes of wizards and wise men who could transmute him into a goat and then boil him for lunch if that tickled their fancy.
Not that he'd make it easy for them. But it seemed only polite to keep his hands off their children, all the same.
Nonetheless, he did find himself wandering pretty far afield, from time to time- and when he did, he usually eventually found it was for good reason. Even if it was pretty hard to guess what that reason might be ahead of time, staring down at a sand-shrouded temple that had been buried in the Egyptian desert for at least three thousand years. If the camels tethered outside the recently excavated entrance belonged to a local gang of tomb-robbers, there'd be nothing he could do about it; he'd have to report it to the resident supernatural watchdogs, a group of talented swordsmen and shamans who'd been passing down counterspells and lore regarding their ancestor's magical follies since long before Balthazar- or his master- had been born. If it wasn't a group of natives, however...
Balthazar sighed, swinging down from the saddle of his desert-bred horse, and led the temperamental beast to a tethering spot on the temple's shadowed side. He understood the impulse to preserve the past, he really did. But he'd found it difficult to respect those who dug in old tombs as anything more than grave-robbers ever since the first time he'd come across a reliquary holding the fingerbones of someone he'd actually known. Kind of put things into perspective, in his opinion.
He gave the nose of the nearest camel a pat as he went by, then ducked through the narrow, sandy opening into the dimness of a torch-lit corridor beyond. The floor sloped slightly downward, and there seemed to be a larger chamber up ahead, somewhat better lit; Balthazar took a few steps in that direction, cursorily glancing at the faded hieroglyphs along the entry walls. He'd never needed to learn much of the language- just enough to decipher a few older references in Merlin's works- but he knew enough to pick out references to curses; whoever was exploring this place was either foolhardy, or better protected than most people had a right to expect.
Somehow, he was guessing it was the latter. Balthazar sighed, lit a fireglobe of his own in the air above his right hand, and headed for the larger chamber.
"...don't see why I couldn't just stay with Ardeth's family today," he heard a surprisingly young voice grumble as he approached. "It's not like coming along did me any good the last time. I'm over Egypt, I really am. Why couldn't we go excavating in China or something? Introduce a little variety. Especially if they'll be sending me to bloody boarding school next year."
No other voice answered back; Balthazar heard a series of small, solid sounds like pebbles skipping over a hard surface and striking a wall instead. He frowned. What kind of people brought a kid along on a brand-new excavation, and then left him behind in the entry chamber? Foolhardy, or confident, once again. He laid a hand over the pocket containing the dragon ring, and tried not to hope. Hundreds and thousands of times he'd tested it, and each time the ring refused a child it still stung just like the first.
He extinguished his fire, then ducked through a low doorway and stood still a moment, taking a look around. The walls went up two or three stories, opening out into a room the size of the main area in his curio shop back in New York. More faded hieroglyphs decorated every wall, and a series of pillars marched around the room, some framing doorways into other corridors. More torchlight emanated from the one across from where Balthazar had entered. And in the middle of the room, kicking idly at broken shards of pottery, stood a boy: eight to ten years old, with sandy blond hair, dusty clothes of high-quality make, and downsized archaeologist's gear presumably like what his parents used.
"Uh, hello," he said.
The kid flinched and practically levitated as he spun around, drawing an ornate knife from a sheath on his belt. Not exactly a typical response, but it reinforced Balthazar's impression that he'd stumbled upon a batch of trouble-seekers, rather than treasure-hunters.
"Who are you?" the kid said. "If you're here to kidnap me, I have to tell you, my parents are just down that hall. If I scream, they'll hear it and come and kick your arse."
"Oh, I don't doubt it," Balthazar said as he held up his hands. "I'm just here to talk. Though I have to say, that's a very nice dagger."
The boy lifted his chin. "The chief of the Medjai gave it to me. He and my dad are like brothers, you know. He'd hunt you down, too, if you do anything to me."
"You're a very wary kid, you know that?" Balthazar told him, considering that bit of braggartry. It didn't seem likely- how would an obviously British boy's father end up in such circumstances?- but then, nothing about this situation was very likely. Not to mention, the boy didn't strike him as the type to be a very good liar. That was a good sign.
"I'm not a kid," the young man replied, determinedly. "I'm Alex O'Connell. And don't think I haven't noticed you still haven't told me your name."
Balthazar smiled at him in amusement, and sketched a theatrical bow. "I'm Balthazar Blake," he said. "I was just passing by, and saw your camels outside. Thought I'd stop in and see who was here."
Alex's eyebrows flew up. "Right," he said, extreme skepticism in his tone. "You were just passing by? Pull the other one." Then he took a deep breath. "MUM! DAD!"
"Now, there's no need for that," Balthazar said calmly. "I just wanted to show you something."
Perhaps he could have worded that a little better, though, because Alex's expression grew even more incredulous, and he backed off a few steps. "DAD!" he yelled again.
"Alex?" A deeper voice called back, and Balthazar heard booted footsteps approaching.
He winced a little, then sighed. It was always so much easier when 'coincidence' arranged for him to talk to children without their guardians' intervention. Kids usually still had enough curiosity and suspension of disbelief to want to touch the ring when he presented it to them; their parents never did, and it always made things more difficult.
Alex's dad came into the chamber with a torch in one hand and a gun in the other, alertly examining his surroundings. He was tall and solidly built, with broad shoulders, brown hair, and blue eyes. Not a Medjai himself by birth, then; but it was clear from the way he moved that he had some kind of intensive martial training. A woman followed right behind him, with dark, wavy hair and dark eyes outlined in kohl; she might have had some native blood, it was hard for him to tell. Both of them noticed Balthazar immediately, and moved quickly to put themselves between him and their son.
"I'm sorry, can we help you?" Mr. O'Connell said- and there was another surprise; the man's accent was clearly American.
"My name is Balthazar Blake," he repeated himself, patiently, evaluating them both with magical senses as well as mundane.
"He said he was just 'passing by'," Alex informed his father, scornfully.
"Somehow I doubt that," Mrs. O'Connell replied; her accent matched her son's. Then her eyes narrowed as she took a longer look at his hands. "My, that's an awful lot of rings you're wearing, Mr. Blake."
Perceptive. But then, she would be, wouldn't she? Balthazar could practically taste the energy pouring off both O'Connell's. It wasn't magic per se, more like a spiritual resonance that spoke to Balthazar of a pair of very old souls. Maybe they did have the right to tread where others would justly fear. He doubted he'd get the full story out of them, though- and in any event, it was a secret that belonged to this corner of the world, not his.
He thought quickly, then decided he'd get nowhere with obfuscation, and his usual strictures against involving civilians hardly mattered when the civilians in question were already involved in the mystical world. "I'm a sorcerer," he said, "in the Merlinian tradition; and I'm on a quest, which has brought me to your son. No-" he made a calming gesture as they both glanced at Alex, "-I'm not here to take him. But I am looking for a very special child with a great deal of magical potential. I just want to see if Merlin's ring reacts to him. If it doesn't, I'm gone; if it does, all that happens is Alex gets another teacher. I swear to you, on my life. I'm not here to harm anyone."
"Merlin? You're seriously standing here talking about Merlin?" Mr. O'Connell glared at him.
"Rick," his wife said, biting her lip and laying a hand on his arm. "You know you would have said the same thing about mummies a few years ago..."
"And I would have been wrong, I know. I know," he told her, still glaring at Balthazar. "But there's such a thing as being too credulous, Evelyn. And besides. More magic? More jewelry all bound up with destiny? You remember how well that went last time."
"I won't ask you to put down your gun," Balthazar assured him, "and you can touch it first, if you want. Whatever will make you comfortable."
Evelyn O'Connell stared at him thoughtfully, then turned to her son. "What do you say, Alex?"
Alex gave her a deeply skeptical look. "You don't seriously believe this guy, do you, Mum?"
"There's only one way to find out, isn't there?"
Alex heaved a sigh. "Okay. Okay, but Dad touches it first, not you, and if we have to bring him back afterward I reserve the right to say I told you so."
She smiled at him. "Deal."
And that was that. Cautiously, Balthazar retrieved the tiny coiled dragon from his pocket; just as cautiously, Rick O'Connell let him place it on his palm. He poked it a moment, sighed, then handed it over to his son, who turned it over in his own hands with just about as much reaction.
"Is that... it?" he frowned at it.
Balthazar let out a disappointed sigh. "Yes, that's it," he said, and plucked it off the boy's palm. "Sorry to have disturbed you. I really thought that this time... well, I suppose there must be some other reason for me to be here."
That, of course, was when a rumbling sound issued up from the ground under their feet, and sand began pouring in through the main doorway.
"Damn it. Spoke too soon," he said, and conjured his fireball light again.
Alex's parents glanced at him askance, then placed themselves back to back as chittering sounds issued from one of the side corridors.
"I suppose now it's our turn to apologize," Mrs. O'Connell said then, with a wry smile.
Balthazar shook his head. "No need," he sighed. "It's sort of a hazard of the job."