PART NINE: 5th July to 23rd September 2004
Chapter Four: A Look From The Other Side
Troy could feel his excitement rising as he carried the cardboard tube to his desk. It made his fingers tremble in a way he couldn't remember experiencing before. His breathing was fast and shallow as he closed the blinds, cutting off the direct sunlight that usually streamed into his spacious apartment in the afternoon.
He had to be careful, removing the scalpel from the brown packing tape twice to steady his hand. When he finally had one end open, he lifted the tube, gave it a gentle shake and caught the rolled contents in his palm.
Oh yes, this was it. He could tell by the texture of the parchment that this was exactly what he had been waiting for. He spread it out flat over his desk and placed an Onyx paperweight on one side and a solid gold mariner's compass on the other. After a moment he moved his desk around a little to the left and checked the compass again. It still wasn't quite right. He moved the desk around further until he was sure the top edge of the map was facing true North. No point taking any chances on mistakes at this late date.
The map was filled with exquisite detail. He had been told it would be, but had learned to expect disappointment in these matters. It was perhaps to be expected that the very last map would be the one that far out met his expectations. Almost like a reward for putting up with the second rate cartography he'd suffered through to this point.
His finger traced the faint dotted lines just a hair's breadth above the goat skin as he tallied the borders and landmarks of this map with the ones in his memory. He had none to hand to help with the process, his modern ordinance survey maps were still tacked to his office wall in Cleveland and the rest of his collection were at his country residence for safe-keeping along with the artefacts he'd uncovered so far.
His grin unconsciously grew in size and brightness as he thought about the chest carefully packed full of apparatus so old even the word antique didn't truly cover it. Precious fragments of a glorious time so long past that the world had begun believing it had never really existed in the first place. His lands, his people, his... history were nothing but myths and legends and the source of Hollywood ridicule.
And the world was worse off for it.
Damaged, dishevelled and drained nearly dry of all its beauty and resources. The world was a bigger place now and it had grown into a spoilt, unruly, destructive teenager. It didn't listen anymore, not to its brighter self or its adopted, neglectful parent.
It was spinning itself into an early grave... and it was time for Daddy to come home and do something about it.
Troy chuckled, amused by his thoughts, but also slightly bitter. Daddy wasn't coming home. No, daddy was about as useful as the old git currently not paying attention to the downward slide of the planet he'd conquered once upon a time.
Troy pulled a worn notebook from his desk drawer and flipped through it. Every page was covered with calculations of time and dates and distances. Finding a blank page, he began jotting down observations from the map. There was no such thing as being too prepared to travel into an expanse of largely unexplored terrain to find an object the size of a sweeping broom.
No, his inner rant continued as he worked, it was all-loving devotion when it was just a twinkle in their eye. When the rush of creation was the only thing on their minds. When a well placed fault line was as satisfying as gluing a wing on was for a model airplane enthusiast. But as soon as the volcanoes stopped erupting every five minutes and all the truly dangerous animals they'd spent so long devising had been as good as tamed - they lost interest and moved onto the next big bang!
As soon as people started getting a little bolshie, they decided it was too much hard work, and wouldn't it be easier to just start all over again somewhere out in Delta 5 where the sun was pink and didn't have all the nasty UV rays this one did?
Did they not understand that all the disobedient teenager needed was a little discipline, a little direction? Or did they just not care?
It hardly mattered now because Troy cared. He'd lived his whole life here, he liked it, loved it even and he wasn't about to see it go down the pan because the humans didn't know how to take care of it - or themselves - properly.
Free will might have seemed like a fine idea when there were a couple of thousand people inhabiting the planet. Now there were... Troy paused a moment, looking up from the map as he counted in his head... 6 650 000 000... 6 650 000 004... 6 650 000 0012... 6 649 999 934... He sighed at the sudden drop in numbers: when would people learn that they were not supposed to fly? Did they have wings? No!
He had to admit, though, that flying was- as Faith would say - awesome, and extremely useful. Time was running out and without the use of his private jet he'd be a lot further behind schedule than he was.
Thinking this relaxed him a little and he finally took the chair in front of the desk, pumping the seat up so he could still look comfortably down at the whole map at once. He had one more item to find - and now he had the means to do it - and there was still... he checked his page a day calendar... nine weeks until the equinox. Plenty of time to...
The front door on the far side of the apartment flew open and a string of curses - mostly directed at Rome's boutiques - and a multitude of fashion-conscious bags came through.
Troy sat back in his chair, smiling indulgently as Faith made her entrance. She was wearing brown pants, cropped just below the knee, a dusky pink camisole and 200€ designer shades. Despite the frustration pouring from her mouth, she was, perhaps, the epitome of laid-back chic.
"Why's it so fuckin' dark in here?" she muttered to herself, having not noticed him yet as she struggled to get her key out of the lock and the door closed, encumbered by the things she was carrying.
"Your sunglasses perhaps?" he murmured with a smile.
He wasn't sure if she'd heard him until she dropped her handful of bags to the floor, freeing up one of her hands to cockily raise her glasses from her eyes. She smirked at him, "Nope, still can't see shit."
Troy grinned easily at her, "Did you have a nice time?"
"No!" Faith groaned with feeling. "All this shopping sucks ass. All I did was poke my head inta one of them Bridal shops Serrina mentioned and I had these three crazy-ass assistants cooing at me in Italian or something. Scared the crap outta me so I turned tail and ran!" She let an armload of magazines slide onto the black leather couch, most of them slid straight off to the floor, but she took no notice. "Figured I'd go through that lot sometime and see if I can get a dress mail-ordered or whatever."
Troy laughed, "Perhaps Serrina will go with you next time, to make it less intimidating."
"No thanks, Serrina's intimidating enough all by herself."
"Oh," Troy's face dropped a little. "I thought you and she were friends."
Faith shrugged, "Me and her get along fine as drinking buddies, but she's your friend, babe."
Troy frowned a little as Faith left the conversation to go to the kitchen. He had hoped that Faith and Serrina would become close given time. Faith needed friends of her own here if she was ever going to settle comfortably, but so far she had resisted all of his efforts to help her in this regard. She seemed happy here, but without ties other than him, there was no guarantee she wouldn't one day decide she was homesick for America and leave.
Faith came back through, gulping down a bottle of expensive mineral water, and wandered towards his desk. "Ya know, it's a beautiful day out there so why the hell are you hiding from the sun like a freakin' Vampire?"
"Well, do you really have to do it in the dark?"
She was about to flick the blinds open and he lurched out of his seat, one hand held up in alarm. "Don't!"
She looked taken aback at first, but then she relaxed, cocking her head to one side while she waited for an explanation.
"I am sorry, Fai, but this map is over five thousand years old. And the only reason we can still read it is because anyone who's ever laid eyes on it... has been kind enough to close the blinds first."
She chuckled with a dismissive shake of her head, "Why didn't one of them just make a fresh copy using ink instead of grass-blood or whatever the hell those green scrawls are made with? Better yet, cough up the fifty cents and go visit a Xerox machine?"
"Because..." Troy began, and then faltered and smiled up at her. "...They are not as clever as you."
She snorted derisively at that and while he continued to smile, he felt sad inside. He couldn't understand why such a beautiful, strong, competent woman such as Faith was so self-doubting all the time. He was sure Buffy Summers had something to do with it though.
He picked up the phone at the edge of his desk and dialed a number. Faith kissed him hello while he waited for the call to be picked up at the other end.
"Ah, Marco, go to Ronaldo's for me and pick up some map paper; the highest quality he has. Grazi."
He replaced the receiver and turned back eagerly to his work. Faith's arms went around his neck from behind and she leaned over his shoulder.
"So what are we looking at here?"
"Do you not have a wedding to plan?" he asked, smiling as he tried to get rid of her. It wasn't that he didn't like to have her draped over him as she was, but this was really something he should be doing without an audience.
"No, dude, we have a wedding to plan, and if you're getting to have your extra-curricular's too, the least you can do is let me in on them." There was a slight warning in her voice that wasn't lost on him. There wasn't much that was lost on him.
Troy sighed, "We are looking at Anatolia."
"And where the hell would that be when it's at home?"
"Asia minor?" He looked at her to see her eyebrow still raised, and sighed again, "Turkey?"
"See, now that I've heard of," Faith grinned. "It's a type of chicken, right?"
Troy laughed, despite his growing agitation. "Yes, I am looking at a map of a great big chicken. My next expedition is in search of the golden egg."
"That was a goose." Faith kissed the side of his head and straightened up, letting him go. "I'm sensing you want me gone, right?"
"Never gone," he corrected, smiling up at her again. "Just... over there." He pointed towards the couch.
"Gee, you don't even want me around before the wedding," Faith said playfully, heading for the couch. "What's it going to be like when we're actually hitched?"
She fell lengthways onto the black leather and picked up one of her bridal magazines to flick through.
"Very, very different," he said truthfully as he bent over the map again.
"Hmm, if the Dragon's claw is there," he muttered to himself, making some more notes in his book. "That would make the Apple somewhere around..." his finger hovered over the map as he tried to work it out.
This was the last piece of the puzzle. With the dig at the mouth of the Tiber going so well, the Trident would be in his hands any day now; and the scrolls of Aristotle had been miraculously re-discovered in the Far East and were awaiting retrieval - that one had been keeping him up at night, he had to admit. The book of Japheth was finally locked in his library vault - although he'd lost several of his employees in trying to get it there.
It was all coming together. It had taken years of research and study and... digging, but the time was near when all of that would pay off.
He took a big, contented breath and looked up to see Faith's bare feet sticking up over the arm of the couch. Even that part had gone easier than he'd ever dared imagine, and had turned out to be far more enjoyable than he would have believed before meeting her. In fact, enjoyable was something of an understatement. Faith was like no other woman he had ever met - and he'd met more than a few, he chuckled softly - and he'd found himself mysteriously invested in her well-being, her happiness, in her.
It was new to him, exciting, this sudden urge for commitment and it just confirmed that his chosen path was the right one to take. That his destiny was - as predicted - written in the stars.
Now, as long as nothing went wrong to upset his fortune in the next nine weeks, his destiny - and the world's - was as good as sealed.
There was a loud rap at the door, breaking Troy from his beautiful reverie, and he frowned. Very few people could get this far into the building without his knowledge and Marco could not be here yet.
"You gonna get that?" Faith asked as the knocking came again.
"In a moment." Troy removed the paperweight and the compass from the ancient map and rolled it swiftly. Fitting it back into its cardboard tube, he propped it up under his desk out of sight and re-opened the blinds, before calling out,
The door opened to show a man in a leather tunic, red cloak and wrap around Ray Bans and Troy relaxed again, sitting back at his desk.
The man entered, heading in a beeline for Troy, but paused when he noticed Faith lying on the couch. None of them could really make her out. It made Troy smile.
"UPS," she greeted with a half-smile and went back to her magazine.
He faltered for a second longer, before making his way to Troy and standing before the desk. He was wearing a winged helmet; he took it off along with his sunglasses.
Troy started to smile, but seeing Hermes serious expression he frowned instead. "Is there a problem?"
"The city has guests." Hermes's voice was barely more than a murmur. "Three of them. American."
Troy sucked in a silent breath and stole a glance at Faith. He could still only see her feet and had no idea if she was listening or not.
"Okay," he said, his voice even quieter than his friend's had been. "Unwanted, but not entirely unexpected. Have you made them comfortable?"
Now Hermes grinned, "Of course. Are we anything if not hospitable? They have a small, cosy room."
Troy nodded, "I doubt they will stay long. If they were truly devoted they would have been here sooner. We shall simply wait them out."
"As you wish." With a slight, formal bow and big swish of his red cloak the messenger prepared to take his leave.
"Wait!" Troy called his attention back. As Hermes did so, Troy deliberated with himself, and with another glance at the couch and his indecision lacing his usual authoritative tone, said, "Make sure they are kept safe, si?"
Hermes gave him a slightly puzzled smile.
Troy sharpened his tone without raising his voice, "That was not sarcasm."
Hermes gave a little shrug of indifference, repeated, "As you wish." And left.
Troy fell back into his chair, a deep frown creasing his brow. His fortune could now be very truly... fucked.
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Part Nine Quick-Jump:
Chapter One ||
Chapter Two ||
Chapter Three ||
Chapter Four ||
Chapter Five ||
Chapter Six ||
Chapter Eight ||
Chapter Nine ||
Chapter Ten ||
Chapter Eleven ||
Chapter Twelve ||
Chapter Thirteen ||
Chapter Fourteen ||
Chapter Fifteen ||
Chapter Sixteen ||
Chapter Seventeen ||
Chapter Eighteen ||
Chapter Nineteen ||
Chapter Twenty ||
Chapter Twenty One ||
Chapter Twenty Two ||
Chapter Twenty Three ||
Chapter Twenty Four ||
Chapter Twenty Five ||
Chapter Twenty Six ||
Chapter Twenty Seven ||
Chapter Twenty Eight ||
Chapter Twenty Nine ||
Chapter Thirty ||
Chapter Thirty One
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