PART NINE: 5th July to 23rd September 2004
Chapter Twenty Two: Dark Conversations
Troy lounged against a sandstone wall in the shade, nonchalantly watching the main entrance to the Great Ez-Zitouna mosque, and sighed deeply. This he could have done without.
It would seem Quantiaro wasn't the only one out to challenge him. Wasn't it beautiful when conflicting religions put aside their ceaseless wars to come together against a common threat? He rolled his eyes and sighed again at the amount of men flocking to daily prayers; never a dull moment.
His cell-phone made a short humming noise and he pulled it from his pocket, answering it without taking his eyes from the grand building opposite.
"Yes?" He listened to what Marco had to say, nodding slightly as he did so. "Yes, well I wish it did not have to be, but I may require your skills after all. Better dark arts than fatal force."
His Personal Assistant passed on some messages next, the last of which made Troy push away from the wall and join the flow of pedestrian traffic walking around the medina.
"Tell her ten minutes." Without saying goodbye he closed his phone and returned it to his pocket.
He didn't rush along the narrow streets and alleyways. He had plenty of time to reach his destination and while he was fairly anonymous in this city, obviously someone had been expecting him, making him reluctant to draw any attention to himself this close to the mosque.
So while he never stopped moving in the right direction, he made a show of browsing the stalls on either side of him. To anyone watching he was just another tourist. He picked out a bottle of perfume for Faith from one stall, a weaved silk scarf for her from another, planning to purchase them on his way back through.
He was still smiling, imagining her face when he gave her the gifts, when he left the shopping district behind and entered the labyrinth of residential alleyways beyond. It was quieter here at this time of day, not much for the tourist to see - at least as far as they knew.
Only seven minutes had gone by when he opened a small blue door in an otherwise long, featureless white wall. It led to a tiny courtyard, even the six chickens that ran and fluttered at his entrance looked cramped. There was another blue door directly opposite him and he entered it without knocking - anyone else who had done so would have been dead before their shoe had crossed the threshold; he, on the other hand...
"Troy!" Several people shouted out convivially, including the barman, as he swiftly closed the door behind him.
He nodded to them as he walked to the darkest end of the bar and leaned over to whisper something to the barman in Greek. A key was discreetly slid across the scarred wood and Troy placed his palm over it as he ordered a bottle of Ouzo.
The barman handed a new bottle over without asking for money and then backed away as Troy's phone began to ring again. He dropped the key into his pocket as he fetched the cell; answering it as he turned to shoulder his way through a plain wooden door at the back of the bar.
"Your mood sounds bad, my friend." Toni's wary tone came through clearly despite the thick walls and low ceiling of the corridor he was now walking down.
"Merely frustrated at every turn," he assured her. "So give me some news of good fortune."
She hesitated long enough that he had descended the rough cut steps at the end of the corridor and begun to the fear the worse, and then she finished toying with him and blurted out,
"I have them!" She sounded jubilant and perhaps proud, but if she was telling the truth then she had earned her pride tenfold.
"All of them?" he checked, not daring to hope yet.
"Si. The fifth is badly damaged by fire, but Marco said that volume was of less importance than the rest."
"He is correct." He used the key in his pocket to unlock a tiny door that had so many iron studs, bars and copper symbols adorning it that it was more made of metal than wood. "But keep it in your possession. I wish to take no chances that there may be something I have missed."
"I will do so. There was some trouble so I have them locked in my personal safe. Are there any further precautions you wish me to take?"
"No, Buddhist monks. They were guarding the temple."
"Buddhists too?" Troy sighed to himself. The room he had entered was large and hot and his voice echoed slightly as he spoke. "I had hoped to count them on my side. What happened to them?"
"Nothing. Perhaps they have a headache. And I expect they will be more wary about breaking bread with a stranger in the future. But they are still guarding the temple unaware that there is nothing left to guard."
"You have done a fine job, Toni. I thank you. When I am ready for you to return I will send some of the Goran to ensure your security."
Setting aside his bottle, Troy stripped down completely. As he reclaimed his drink, a woman came out of a doorless room on the other side to fetch up his clothes. She set down a pair of unflattering open-toe sandals in front of him. She looked human, but small pink horns on either side of her head and the long, flexible tail protruding from the back of her bikini shorts suggested otherwise. Unfazed, he barely offered her a glance before slipping into the sandals and walking, naked, deeper into the underground space.
"Speaking of going home?" Toni asked hopefully.
"I would like nothing more than to have you there, but things are too uncertain." He said flatly.
"Perhaps they would be less uncertain, if I was there to... to entertain Buffy," she said the last bit hesitantly, worried that he would see past her false sense of duty.
Of course he saw it. He had known from the start, and it was vexing. It should have been impossible - and not simple because Buffy Summers was so disagreeable - but he had considered the risk and decided it was one he was prepared to take.
"Buffy's presence is annoying," he admitted. He'd reached the Caldarium and stood a moment just watching the water lap at the edges. "But in these final days, the distraction she offers Faith is surprisingly helpful." Toni made a rude noise on the other end of the phone that made him smile briefly. "There are far more pressing concerns."
"The reason for your frustration," she said knowingly. "Tell me of it?"
"To use a term Faith is fond of, Asamai has covered all of his bases. I assume he was responsible for your Buddhist monks, and the Dove is being held inside the Great Mosque here in Tunis."
Now that the Scrolls were attained and safe, the Dove - a bird that had been alive for three millennia - was the last requirement of his quest. It was the same bird that had sat on Aphrodite's shoulder, the same bird that had fetched Noah an Olive twig, the same bird that will bring in the promise of the New World.
"I have no idea how I am going to retrieve it."
"Can you not do as I did with the Scrolls?" Toni asked.
"A handful of isolationist monks in a forgotten part of Japan is not the same challenge as hundreds of Muslims, plus tourists, in central Tunis."
Shucking the sandals, he walked purposefully into the water. It was deliciously hot and he stood there, waist deep, breathing in the scented steam for a moment before moving to one of the seated areas along the edge.
"I thought the Dove was in the lost city of Carthage anyway?"
"It was once. Fifty years ago it was taken as a living artefact to the Bardo Museum just outside the city. My contact there said it was transferred to the Ez-Zitouna museum just a few days ago."
"Not a coincidence."
"I think not."
Two of the demonic maidens came and sat on the lip of the pool on either side of him. One plucked a grape from a bunch she was holding and offered it to him. As he took it between his lips, the other opened his bottle of Ouzo.
"Do you have a plan?" Toni asked.
"As much as I am loath to do so, I may have to enlist Marco's abilities," he said with a sigh.
"I do not understand why you fear the prospect so much. You have not been so cautious with the other resources at your disposal." Her slightly accusing tone was not lost on him, but he ignored it; her reward would be great enough.
"My father expressly forbade the use of magic in achieving my goal."
"Your father expressly forbade you to achieve your goal at all," Toni reminded him with a light chuckle.
Troy smiled, accepting a glass of Ouzo from the handmaiden - where she had found the glass, considering the skimpiness of her outfit, he didn't like to ask.
"And when I refused to pay heed," he reminded her, sipping from his glass, "he congratulated me on my spirit and gave me rules. My triumph will be ignored, or worse, quashed, if I do not obey them. It is the way."
"And yet you are willing to risk it for the Dove?"
"The Equinox is mere weeks away; I cannot dally any longer. I was prepared to use Montevorte's Storm to raise the Trident, and it was unneeded. The urgency we now face requires that I at least give some consideration to whatever Marco is able to create."
"Well, be careful."
"I am always careful."
"You are never careful!"
Troy laughed. "I am about this."
"I cannot believe it is so close," Toni said.
"You do not sound excited," he replied, slightly put out that his dearest friend wasn't sharing his enthusiasm.
"I am, it is just..." she began hesitantly. "I do not know what will happen afterwards."
"We have spoken of this many times."
He had told her everything when he had first asked for her help and had never hidden any detail of progress from her. Across the room a naked woman slid languidly into the bath, her eyes trying to catch his seductively. He ignored her and spoke into the phone again.
"If you are concerned of what the higher ones will say, do not be; by then they will see you have earned the right to reclaim what was once taken from you. Although, I am afraid that they will monitor you quite closely to begin with, there is nothing I can do about that. You must take care not to anger them until everything is set in place."
"I have no reason to anger them," she sounded annoyed. "I have not lived the life that you are accustomed to; I have no wish to change that."
"Then what worries you?"
The woman in the pool was now wading towards him, water running off of her remarkable breasts and trickling down her toned stomach. He noticed this purely as a generic observation and felt no fluttering desire. This worried him some, but he had no time to ponder it.
"I am unsure as to what will happen immediately afterwards," Toni said after a long pause.
Troy hesitated. "I do not know exactly," he admitted. "But I imagine you will be restored at once."
"I do not mean about that," Toni snapped, making Troy frown. "I mean to Faith, to... to Buffy?"
Troy's frown deepened. "You know what will happen to Faith. As for Buffy, providing she remains ineffectual until after the wedding there is no reason for anything to happen to her."
"You mean after the Equinox?"
"That is what I said."
"No, you said wedding. Are you actually intending to go through with it?" Toni asked in surprise.
"Of course not! I mean, there would be no need. That is, it would be a pointless exercise..." Troy stumbled over his answer, the question strangely flustering him.
The naked woman was now trying to entwine herself around him. He continued to ignore her, turning his face this way and that to avoid her attempts to kiss him.
She finally got the message and stood up straight, her hands on her hips.
"You are not normally so reluctant!" she snapped at him in Greek.
"I have a girlfriend now," he snapped back in Greek, not realizing what he was saying until afterwards.
"Troy?" Toni, having heard this exchange, shouted his name in disbelief.
He berated his rash words as the naked woman stalked back across the pool angrily.
"Yes, I am," he finally admitted humbly. "Faith is... unique. I have never met a human who can satisfy me so greatly, and I am not talking merely of sexual desire... although that too is great..." he rambled.
"Please, no more detail," Toni said quickly and he could almost hear her cringing. "Faith's prowess is already something that keeps me awake at night."
"Then our marriage should please you. We will be going away afterwards, for a long honeymoon. You will have Buffy all to yourself and by the time we return she will have forgotten her feelings for Faith."
"I did not think my having feelings for Buffy was permitted," Toni said cautiously.
"It is not!" Troy said sternly. "But I imagine you still take heart in the fact that they can never be."
"That is merely your wish, not your will," Toni pointed out.
"It is neither," Troy said firmly. "It is a necessity."
"Then is it wise, do you think, to leave them alone so much?"
"I have no choice. You are in Japan and I trust no one else to fetch the Dove for me."
"But letting Buffy be your wedding planner? That is giving them an excuse to spend time together!"
"Faith made that decision. I could not deny it without raising suspicion. I have to trust that Faith will remain loyal to me in my absence; I have given her no reason not to be."
Toni made a sarcastic noise. "They are probably having sex right now!"
Troy didn't answer; he was too busy trying to make sense of the unfamiliar way his heart was sinking in his chest.
"Do you think they are?" Toni asked quietly.
He didn't want to admit his personal opinion so he stuck to the facts.
"Eostre was a very strong influence, but her time is waning. Mapanos is waxing. The greater his power grows, the less they will be drawn to one another in a physical sense."
"I think Mapanos will have to be very strong indeed to keep them apart."
Troy was starting to get annoyed with her and her pessimism now.
"If you truly believe that then the fault lies at your feet. You are supposed to be doing everything in your power to see that Buffy does not want to pursue Faith. I thought you were doing well, but if you are so sure you are not, then perhaps I should re-think our arrangement..."
"I am doing everything in my power! But my power is severely limited from Japan!" Toni argued, her voice rising. "I can not spend every minute of my time on the telephone with her and she has grown tired of my attempts at jealousy. Mentioning Faith in a negative way is becoming counter-productive and I have been forced to start recommending they spend time together, which, most likely, will also be counter-productive! I need to be there, Troy, or you do. If not, I fear it is only a matter of time before Faith follows her heart's true path..."
"Okay, I understand, Antonella, but what would you have me do? I can not leave without the dove and I can not risk having the scrolls in Rome until I am there also!" Troy shouted, angrily pitching his glass across the caldarium to smash against the far wall. "The quest was never supposed to take this long! I am cutting it too fine! It is hopeless," he added, miserably hanging his head. "I can no longer see the clear way forward. Perhaps... perhaps I am doing this all wrong."
Toni gave him no time for self-pity. "Surely after all of this effort you are not considering giving up?"
"No," Troy said quickly. "The prophecy must come to pass. It is for the good of all. But, I am surprised that my misgivings exist. When I learned of the hurdles I would have to cross to fulfill my destiny I thought them no more than amusing distractions that I could enjoy, along with Faith's company, until it was time. However, Faith is far more alluring than I ever could have imagined and Buffy Summers is now far from amusing, and still we have weeks to go."
"Perhaps, Troy, if you had spent more time participating in this world instead of merely playing with it, the love you feel for Faith would not have come as such a shock."
Troy frowned as he pushed a wet hand back through his steam-damp hair. "Love? Is that what this is? It is not like any other love I have ever felt before."
"You have never felt true love before," Toni told him, exasperated. "Only propriety and willful obsession. You love as a young boy loves his stick and ball, not as one heart loves another."
"Ah, I forget; I am speaking with the expert," Troy sneered. "And your sudden care that everything runs smoothly. Is that because you are so desperate to finally get your powers back? Or is it maybe that Faith following her own true destiny would take Buffy's attention away from you?"
Toni didn't answer, but he could hear her harsh angry breathing through the phone. Troy settled himself back down, watching one of the near-naked demonic handmaidens across the room clearing up his shattered glass as the one behind him produced a new glass seemingly from thin air.
"There was a reason I offered you this deal, Antonella. Your desire to return to your full self was stronger than any mortal's desire for riches. Are you telling me now that Buffy Summers is worth more to you than restoration?"
Toni still didn't say anything, which spoke volumes. Troy sighed. He hated treating his friend this way, but she had known what she was getting into when she had agreed to help him and no one knew better than her that the mission was all.
"Well, was I fool to trust you?"
"It's been three thousand years, Troy!" Toni suddenly exploded. "Three thousand years since Helena broke our vows! Yes you were a fool to think I would not be affected by a mortal's touch after so long! I am not you; I have not spent the last Zeus knows how many years being an immortal playboy. Three thousand years ago they took my ability to love from me and I have lived like a monk all of this time; and then you asked me to do this. I never expected... I believed even that I would fail you, but Buffy..."
Toni was crying now, making Troy feel terrible. It wasn't that he was generally cold-hearted, especially where Toni was concerned, but his compassion was usually detached and rarely this close to the surface.
"I do not even understand it," Toni continued, still sobbing. "I should not be able to have these feelings. And I cannot believe I craved this feeling for so long. It is horrible."
Troy accepted a fresh glass of Ouzo and drank it straight down to brace his nerve before answering.
"But Antonella, what makes you think things will be different this time? I am not so cruel as to withhold what I have offered to you just because you were foolish enough to fall in love, but what then?"
"What do you mean?" Toni sniffled.
"When Buffy is killed in the line of her duty, as you know will happen, what will you do? Will you journey to Hades once again? Will you risk your powers, your heart, your soul, to save her, so that she can throw it back in your face just as Helena once did?"
"That will not happen again!" Toni shouted, angry that he was daring to rub that in her face. "Buffy loves me, she would never do that!"
"She's in love with Faith!" Troy shouted back. "Have you forgotten your very purpose for being there?"
Nothing but Toni's heavy breathing came down the line for a minute or two, Troy busied the time by having another glass of Ouzo. Another handmaiden appeared and kneeled by his shoulders to hand him a note. Before he could fully digest what it said, Toni was speaking again.
"Even more reason to keep them apart. Can you not insist Faith be with you in Tunis?"
"I can not insist Faith does anything," he told her.
"I think we are past the time for ethical considerations," Toni spat. "She is your fiancÚ, one you apparently intend on marrying and you are a God, now assert some of your bloody authority for both of our sakes!"
"I can not assert authority over her. She is a Slayer. You of all people should know that limits me. Her essence is given by a Power older and darker than I; I have no jurisdiction. And without it, to insist she comes to me would be foolhardy. I do not wish to piss her off with possessiveness at this stage."
"So Buffy and Faith are just allowed to grow closer while we are not there to chaperone them?" Toni asked dubiously.
The hot water and steamy atmosphere were starting to make him feel claustrophobic and he stood and jumped out of the bath, showering the grape-bearing handmaiden and the glass-producing handmaiden in warm droplets from his naked body. They tussled with each other to be the first to get a towel around him; he brushed them both away, happier to drip-dry.
"Faith loves me," he said at length. "I have needed no trickery until this point and I will not use any now. If fate goes against me in the coming weeks then I will do whatever is necessary to see the prophecy come to pass. If you truly care for Buffy then you will do your best to see that she does not get in the way."
"You promised me no harm would come to Buffy!"
"And you promised me that she would not be a problem," he countered. "You keep your promise, I will happily keep mine."
As Toni huffed on the phone, Troy read the now damp note in his hand again. His face fell and his shoulders slumped for a moment. This was something he hadn't foreseen and could have really done without.
"Did you know Xander Harris was here?"
"Who?" Toni asked, confused.
"Buffy's one-eyed friend. He has been in Tunisia for the past week."
"Neither did I." He sighed, "And I came so far without having to have anyone killed."
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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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Part Nine Quick-Jump:
Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six || Chapter Seven 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