The questions Anya had posed played like broken record somewhere in the back of my mind. I once again 'knew' in my head that I shouldn't be doing what I was doing with Tara Maclay, but my pounding heart and body, well they had other ideas that shut down my brain. The situation was unclear, but clearly dangerous. All I wanted to do whenever I was around her was to live the moment and damn the consequences.
I felt so alive in her arms, like I had never felt before. I kissed her with fervor, dominating the kiss and holding her tight against my body. She surrendered without a shadow of a fight to my mouth and touch. Our tongues danced rhythmically with one another leaving us nearly out of breath. I caressed her back and entangled my hands in her silky, golden hair. She held on to me tightly, slightly shivering in my arms from the building emotions. I was feeling a little shaky at the knees myself when I pulled away from our heated kiss to undress her. I unwrapped her body slowly and firmly. I loved looking at her naked skin, it was so creamy and perfect it awakened my every sense. My pupils dilated as they drank in her curves. My nostrils flared breathing in her sweet aroma, from the jasmine of her perfume to the tangy smell of her arousal. My mouth watered and then dried, thirsty for her mouth. My hands ached to touch and my skin longed for everything that was her essence.
She stood waiting for me. I paused to undress my own body. I knew that we would need skin to skin contact soon, she stared intently at my form just like I had stared at hers. We embraced next to the bed and kissed each other as deep as any abyss Iíve ever looked into. I caressed her back and her hair, holding her body as close to mine as I could. We swayed on our feet. It was almost like we were dancing to an invisible tune where the notes were played on the surface of our skin. We stayed like that for the longest time, just wrapped in each other's arms, kissing and feeling the floor move beneath us. Her plush mouth opened to me like a fresh fountain and I swam in it. Our bodies were connected to a wet and hot current that enveloped us completely.
As our bodies demanded more we fell softly on the bed in a tangle of needy limbs. We caressed each other almost reverently with thorough and firm strokes everywhere. I was swelling and soaring from every touch. Her hands felt like fire on my skin and her curves under my fingers felt like searing waves. Our movements were a mirror reflection of each otherís desire. When I touched her breasts, she cupped mine. When she kissed my mouth hard, I bit her lips soft. When I teased her warm opening, she entered mine fully and together we rocked our bodies, together we took and released control. Our hands entered and exited together in a perfect, scaling rhythm. I could feel her wetness starting to drip, I was sure she could feel mine beginning to pour. I loved the feel of my fingers inside her, every movement was a new sensation. I could feel soft rippled skin, warm and wet, sticky and heavy, delicious like heaven, contracting and pulsing walls on my digits, could she feel me in the same intense way? Our bodies began to tense at the same time; I could feel my toes begin to curl. Tara's face was flushed, her neck was thrown back and her breathing was strangled like mine. We were so close; a few more deep thrusts threw us both over the edge. Our hips rose off the mattress, our free hands pulling off the covers as a muted gasp left our throats and clung to the air around us for a while.
We made love many times that night, taking advantage of the time we had together. Morning always came too quickly for my taste; it always snuck up on me lately. When the dawn came I stared down at my lover and I got the crazy thought in my head that the sun was there, coming in through the window to rob me of my happiness. In a way I was right. The daytime meant facing the world outside and everything that wanted from the world was now inside, in my bed, cradled in my arms.
When I got out of the shower she was gone from the bed. The smell of fresh coffee told me of her whereabouts. I had mixed feelings about the whole situation. The dinner the night before, making love and now breakfast, it all felt like something I hadn't had for very long time, if ever, a home. I knew I couldn't let myself get wrapped up in those kinds of feelings, because what was happening it wouldn't last and it wasn't real. I had to find out more about what was going on and then I would have a long talk with Tara Maclay. This was not a smart way to be living, it was however a good way to be looking for death.
I didn't speak much that morning. She seemed to understand my need for silence and didn't press me for answers, I was grateful for it.
The gang assembled in my office. Tara waited outside again. Anya and Buffy looked chipper as always while Xander and Giles looked tired.
Xander yawned and stretched little before speaking. "That Donnie is one peppy fellow, he kept me out all night. Our first information was right he is dealing with Mickey. First he met with 'Moose' and they talked for a while, 'Moosie' didn't seem too happy though, it looked like they were arguing. Then later Mickey himself showed up and they spent the rest of the night, chatting drinking and dancing. Mickey slipped him an envelope well after midnight, outside the club and slapped him on the cheek, the 'warning' kind of slap, before sending him on his way in one of the 'company' cars."
I pursed my lips. "If 'Moose' was arguing it was on Mickey's behalf. That's how he works he plays the 'bad mobster' and 'worse mobster' game with the people he wants to intimidate. Something tells me Donnie doesn't have a clue as to who it is that he's dealing with. He's going to end up biting off more than he can chew."
"Well from what Anya and I picked up yesterday Mickey's not the only one who's getting upset with this guy. He showed up about twenty minutes late a tall man, with blonde hair trimmed short, glasses and a foreign accent, something between English and German. He was waiting for him at the table. When Mr. Maclay showed up with the girl Xander described on his arm, the guy flipped his lid, very politely, but still flipped."
"Mr. Maclay you are tardy."
"Yeah, I'm sorry Mr. Klaus it won't happen again. It really wasn't my fault, my date Christina wasn't ready when I picked her up. You know women," Donald said in an amused voice looking sideways at his date.
Christina smiled graciously and covered for her client knowing it would please him. "Yes. I must admit I had the hardest time today with my hair. Iím sorry if I've gone and caused any trouble."
Klaus gave them both a stern look and ignored the girl's shy admission. "Mr. Maclay I was under the impression that we were here to discuss business and not to socialize."
Donald smiled coolly. "Now Mr. Klaus it's customary in this country to do a little of both. I thought perhaps you might also have a lady on your arm tonight."
"I do not. And you should not either. This business we have is important and confidential. If you do not take this seriously... let's just say that I do and if we cannot discuss privately, perhaps we should not do business at all," Klaus said in a serious tone.
Donald Maclay was thrown back by the other man's words and let his nervousness show. "Hey, wait a minute Mr. Klaus, let's not be hasty. I'm sure Christina wouldn't mind waiting at the bar while we talk business."
Damn, now I'm not going to able to hear the skinny, Trixie thought to herself, but never the less smiled sweetly and said, "Sure. I understand boys will be boys. I'll just be over there when you need me. O.k. sugar?"
Both gentlemen stood as the girl walked away.
As soon as they sat Klaus glared at Maclay. "Are you quite insane Mr. Maclay or just plain stupid?" he asked in a neutral voice.
Anyone could tell that Donald Maclay was not used to being spoken to in this manner. "I beg your pardon?" he asked indignantly.
"You heard me. Why else would you think that bringing a stranger to our table would be a good idea?"
Donald was about to answer, but his reply was quickly cut off by his vexed companion.
"Listen to me Maclay. You have no idea who I am and what I could do to you. You will do what I say, when I say it and how I want it done. There's no room for discussion here. Now if you have any intelligence whatsoever you'll nod your head and say 'yes sir I understand sir'." The foreigner's tone was menacing and left no room for doubt that he was a dangerous man.
Donnie gulped and hastily nodded his head, whispering a coarse and heavy "Yes sir." He knew that if he blew this deal with the German his grandfather would make him pay the price and that was something he didn't quite care for. He would get show everybody who was the boss soon enough. When everything was over and done with he'd be the one making peoples head's bow. For now and only for now he would play the part of the good 'lackey'.
"Good lad. I see you have some sense after all. What news do you have for me?"
"None I'm afraid, but that will quickly change. Iím sure I'll have some new information for you by the day after tomorrow at the latest." Donnie said in one breath.
"Then this meeting has been a waste of my time. Do not contact me again until you have something to report. I'm warning you Mr. Maclay my patience is wearing thin." Klaus stood and left a worried looking Donnie to sulk alone at his table.
"That's about it boss. This Klaus character left in a tizzy. The brunette came back to the table. She tried asking him about the guy and the conversation a couple of times, but Maclay clamped up. They had their dinner and headed to the club." Buffy surmised.
"Anya do have anything to add?" I asked.
"Yes I do," she said smiling brightly. I perked up my ears. "The clam chowder was divine!" She exclaimed.
I groaned into my hands. "I meant about the case Anya."
"Oh, that. No. What Buffy said sums it up."
I scratched my head thoughtfully. "So he's got more than one dangerous looking character mad at him. That's something to be happy about at least. It must be cause he has no more of a clue as to where this stone is than we do. It must be one hell of a rock to have so many people after it. Giles do you think you could talk to your scholar buddies and bump up the meeting?"
"Sure I'll give Trevor a call. I'm sure if ask him he'll make time for you." Giles left to call from the line in the reception desk.
I pulled out the key that Mr. Bogarty had given to me before meeting his untimely demise and stared at it for few seconds before giving Buffy her next instruction. "Buffy, I need to know what this opens, please check out the locksmiths in town see if anyone can recognize some special marking that will let us know where it belongs. And be careful it's something that you don't want to lose."
"Sure, I'll get on it right away," she said leaving the office.
"Xander did you catch any part of Mickey's conversation with Maclay?" I asked hopefully.
"Well you know I couldn't get to close. It's Mickey's club after all and none of us are exactly welcome there. The only bit I caught was when 'Moose' raised his voice and told Maclay: 'Somebody screwed up that job. It wasn't what the boss wanted. If you had anything to do with it...' That's it. The band started up and I couldn't hear the rest of it."
I chewed on my lip. "That's not much to go on. Damn it! I feel like a headless chicken, we're running around in the dark chasing wild leads and flapping in the air like idiots."
Xander gave one of his easy smiles. "Take it easy boss. We'll figure it out, we always do. I'll stay on Donnie's trail, he's sloppy, he'll make a mistake to our favor soon enough."
"I sure hope so. I sure hope so," I said gravely.
Giles entered with some good news. "I spoke to Trevor. He'll see you now if you want. He says he's excited about what he found out about the 'Eye of the Raven' and that the sooner you speak the better."
I picked up my jacket and didn't think about it twice. "Thanks 'G-man' maybe I'll finally know what it is that we're looking for."
The scholar's office was pretty much how I had imagined it, full of books, folders and papers everywhere. There was a musky and moldy smell that tickled my nose since I stepped inside. Dr Trevor E. Ran, fidgeted excitedly in his chair.
"So tell me Ms. Rosenberg how did you come to know of the 'Eye of the Raven'?" He asked just as soon as I sat down.
I was cautious in answering. "Quite by accident and I've only heard the name, but know nothing about it. That's why I'm here. Giles said you could maybe shed some light on the subject."
He rubbed his glasses much like Giles did on occasion and spoke rapidly. "Yes, yes indeed. When Giles contacted me I began to research some books and quite frankly came to a dead end at each turn. Then I realized I was looking in all the wrong places. I was researching the history of jewels, stones and even lost treasures, but nothing turned up. Something rang a bell in the name though, it kept nagging at me and then it hit me: Mythology! Nordic Mythology to be exact."
I was as puzzled as ever. "Come again?" I asked, probably with a dim look on my face.
"'The eye of the Raven' it was the word 'raven' that tipped me off. At first even though I was now on the right track I still couldn't find much. I contacted some friends and got my hands on some very rare tomes, including some passages that are believed to be a missing part of an ancient manuscript called 'The Elder Edda'. This hasn't been proven of course, but still, they were just what I needed to put the puzzle together. You see the raven is very important in Norse mythology. Let me start at the beginning so you can understand..."
He changed his tone to a scholarly one and I prepared my self for hearing the lesson attentively.
"Odin was the sky-father, the All-father, supreme among gods and men. He has always been portrayed as a solemn figure who does not eat, always looking pensive and aware of his responsibility to postpone for as long as he can or could the day of doom when all gods would be defeated, Ragnarok, when heaven and earth would be destroyed. On his shoulders perch two ravens, who fly each day through out the world and bring him news of all that men do. The name of one is Thought (Hugin) and of the other Memory (Munin). He was always on the search of earning more knowledge and wisdom, he even went as far as to give up one of his eyes and suffer the pain of death to attain them. You must understand that the Norse had a different conception of the gods. To them nothing was eternal. They were well aware that all things come to an end, even 'immortal' deities. The gods knew that the day would come when they would be destroyed, Asgard their home would fall in ruins. To them the power of good is shown not by triumphantly conquering evil, but by continuing to resist evil while facing certain defeat."
He shifted in his chair and took a swig of water, squinting his eyes and looking around the room as if to make sure no one else was in there with us before continuing.
"Now up to this point the story is well known. Anyone with a basic Mythology book knows about Odin and his ravens. What I found in the other documents was completely new, itís like a lost part of the story. Odin was for obvious reasons very fond of his ravens. They were the very source of much of his knowledge, what they saw, he saw, what they heard, he heard and so on. The writings suggests that one night when Odin visited the well of wisdom guarded by Mimir the wise he learned through a vision that Ragnarok was closer than any of them, gods or mortals had ever imagined.
"He saw that he would be betrayed by the one he had sworn his loyalty to, Loki. Loki was a malicious god full of envy and rancor, he was always causing trouble on earth and in Asgard. No one knows just why Odin protected him for so long. Now like I said before, Odin was aware that the end was inevitable, but it was his job to postpone it as long he could just the same.
"In his vision he saw that part of Loki's plan was to weaken him by killing the wolves that crouched at his feet and protected him from harm and more importantly he would drink the blood of the ravens and eat their eyes to absorb their power for himself, then he and not Odin would have the power to see into the hearts and minds of men. Odin thought long and hard about what he should do. He couldn't kill Loki because of his oath, but he could put a stop to his plans. He gave the wolves to men so they would from then on guard the humans and their homes, it was a better fate than death and this way he could still call on them if the need arose. As for his ravens, he made a choice and killed them himself, but not in a cruel way, through a spell he put them to sleep, took a feather from each and from each an eye. He traveled to Urda's well, the home of the three fates. The three were Urda (the past), Verdandi (the present) and Skuld (the future). He stole a lock of hair from each one and then completed his task by taking two pebbles of gold from the river maidens. He cast ancient words upon the ingredients, from the hairs of the three Norns and the pebbles a gold chain was made, from the two feathers a round onyx stone as black as midnight was borne and in the middle from the two eyes a red ruby, shining like the sun was perfectly set. He called the magnificent jewel 'The eye of the Raven' and hung it around his neck. It contained all the knowledge of the Ravens and more, he could now also see the past, the present and the future at will, without having to seek out Mimir or the Norns.
"It's ironic that all this power only helped to bring Odinís reign to an end. The gods are basically humans with power, they posses all our best and worst qualities. He did advert Loki's plan, but soon after when the other gods heard of his power they became jealous and some frightened. They began to fight amongst each other and the halls of Asgard shook to the core. Odin knew that the stone and necklace could not fall into the wrong hands, because then it would truly be the end anyone who wore the stone had infinite knowledge and that meant infinite power. He knew he could not keep it, he still had allies, but his enemies were fierce, they would go for the kill and then the stone. He had always felt a special kinship to his Valkyries and to the Viking warriors who bravely fought for a place in Valhalla.
"He gave the stone to two who had been betrothed with his blessing Gwinn and Beowulf. They accepted the responsibility of hiding the necklace on earth and guarding its secret power. From this point the story gets hazy, there are lost fragments and it's difficult to translate. From what I can figure a war was fought on Asgard and Odin was defeated. It seems that Gwinn and Beowulf did successfully hide the stone from the other gods and even some mortals who sought it out, but Gwinn lost her life, it's not clear how and Beowulf went on to have the other adventures that he's famous for in the Myths. The only other fragment that speaks of the stone says that the responsibility of the power of the eye is passed on from generation to generation. That is it in a nut-shell," he finished with a satisfied smirk.
"If the nut you just cracked for is for a giant," I said stifling a yawn. "I mean, that's an awfully long story Doc and kinda hard to believe. Gods? Fates? Spells? What's all that got to do with the 'real here and now'?" I asked feeling a headache coming on.
His face turned into a sour scowl like I had made him suck on a lemon. "Well some things are true whether you believe them or not. Many scholars believe that it's possible that the stories that we take to be Myths are actually historical narrations, albeit some embellished by the creative license of the writer, but that they do in fact hold the truth of ancient secrets. Troy was believed to a Myth until recently when its actual ruins were discovered. And anyhow even if you don't believe how the jewel was forged at least now you know what it looks like that's more than you had to go on before you stepped foot in this office."
He sure had me there. I held my hands up in rendition and said as much. "Hey. You got me there Doctor Ran. You're right on that last part. I'm sorry if I offended you. I'm just a meat and potatoes kind gal. I believe in what I can touch, see, taste and smell, this is just something I'm not used to. I do thank you for your time and the effort you made to check this out. Any time you need a favor all you have to do is call.
His face softened and he nodded condescendingly. "Yes. I understand, myths and the occult isn't everybody's cup of tea. I would like to ask a favor of you detective... if you do find this stone... I mean it would be most extraordinary to see if it's anything like it was described... I-I..."
The man was about ready to pee in his pants so I gave him a break. "Sure Doc. Say no more if and stress 'if' I find this stone I'll call you so you can a take a look." The man practically blinded me with his smile. "Oh and one other thing... how much would you say a stone like that is worth?" I asked as an after thought.
He lost his smile and looked pensive, giving me the eye while he answered. "Well that I suppose depends on your beliefs. If you think it's nothing more than a necklace with a fancy stone that happens to be very old, ancient even, then you could contact a collector and put a price tag on it, a very, very hefty one I would presume and if you give any credit to the myth at all then it's invaluable and whoever posses it could become a god."
I shook his hand and walked out scratching my head. Gods? Geez if that ain't another kick in the head, I thought, making my way to the car wondering what lead to chase next.
Just as I was walking to reach the parking lot I felt a pair of strong hands tugging me into an alley space right in between the University buildings. "What the hell?" I went for my piece and my hand was stopped in mid motion, I was struggling to get one of my hands free so I could elbow whoever was behind me in the gut, when two other figures appeared as if out of nowhere. There were three of them now, I couldnít see the one holding me from behind, I saw the other two dressed in dark robes from head to toe. One of them hit me the ribs while the other assisted his companion in keeping me in a lock from behind. "You son of a b-" I grunted before the figure delivered a backhanded blow to my face. "Who ever you are. You're gonna pay for that," I said spitting out blood.
The robed bastard approached me and pulled my hair making my face tilt upwards. I couldn't make out anything from under his clothing. His face was completely shadowed.
"Silence!" I was surprised the voice was female, but deep.
I tried to retort "Drop- ugh!" she hit me in the gut yet again. I couldn't help but think I'm gonna feel this in the morning, like I'm not feeling it now? I added with a note of sarcasm to myself.
"The eye of the Raven you must forget about it or die. This is your first, last and only warning," she said. The others released me from behind and I collapsed on the floor. I went for my gun as fast as I could and stood with no small amount of pain, but just like they had arrived they were gone.