Chapter 6 : Baby Alone In Babylon
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Author's Note So, okay, a little bit of a filler chapter, but it helps move the plot along a little more than expected (hopefully). It's short, but I promise I will lengthen them! But at least I got it out, yes? Please don't be mad! Anyways, that being said, I hope you enjoy it, and would love it if you took a care to review! ^_^
Daniel Craig as Maxwell Blackthorn
Hugh Dancy as Hugo Weasley
Clive Owen as Rasheed al-Hariq
"Uranium decay shows it's approximately three thousand years old."
"Be more specific."
Black sighed. They were in front of a computer in Hugo's lab, the vase suspended in a sterilized glass container by electro-magical forces. An array of numbers streamed by on the screen, giving Grace and Black any sort of information they desired on the urn.
Well, almost. The computer, smart machine though it was, could not figure out exactly why there had been so many curses protecting the vase, and the only thing that Hugo had been able to tell his two tomb raiders was that the urn was ancient and rife with potent abilities. He had failed to know precisely which ones, and had gone upstairs to research among his many dusty volumes.
"Two thousand seven hundred."
Grace grunted. It was old, that was for sure, and had they not known Rahima, would have surely killed her.
Black shot her a look that clearly displayed the exasperation he felt towards her. Grace chose to ignore it. Grunting, he circled around the container, glare intent on the ceramic pot. The pale blue light from their ceiling lamps filtered down and around them, and Grace reminded herself once again that she needed to be here, that it was essential. She despised Hugo's lab. It was a world and a place of anti-bacterial wipes and eternal Scourgify spells. It felt pristine, untouched. It had no history: no future, no present, no past. Just ... knowledge.
"You are not going first anymore."
Grace turned to face Black. "And what on earth makes you say that?"
He frowned. "One time too many, Lawless."
Grace dug her fingers into her forehead, smoothing her brows and furrowing her mouth. Her other hand lay gentle on the desktop. Settling herself down into the reclining chair, she studied him carefully. Four years of raiding with him had allowed her to figure out most workings of his character. He was brash, insolent. He had a mind in the gutter and a mouth to match it. But, try as she might, she in this moment could not summon any anger.
After her parents had disappeared - both of them in search of the elusive Stone of Osiris -, she'd been alone in the world, left with her brother. But, since there had been no will and they could not afford to go to a court of law - jail was one of the only things that Grace truly feared -, he'd made off with the money and she had been left to survive. Meeting the extortionist had been a stroke of luck.
His eyes narrowed. "You're reckless."
Her shoulders hunched over. "Max, I really don't think I need a father right now. Mine disappeared five years ago."
He suddenly quieted. "That was not my point."
Grace's eyes narrowed. "Well, then. Clarify."
"Then get out," she snapped.
She didn't expect him to leave so swiftly. Neither did she expect the silence after his banging of the door to be so strong, so powerful. She kneaded the tips of her fingers into her temples and stared at the vile computer screen once again, trying to make sense from the eternal list of numbers. She had never been a mathematician.
The doors of the elevator dinged open. She looked up, expecting to see - well, who would she expect? Hugo was her choice, and she saw the familiar curly-haired head emerge above the computer screen.
"Hey," she said softly.
"Hm?" Hugo looked up sharply, surprised to see Grace speaking to him. "Anything?"
Grace shrugged. "Well, Black says it's two thousand seven hundred years old. After that, it kind of -" she made an odd motion with her hands, "- dissipated."
"He's in a foul mood, and you're absolutely no help." He lifted a load of books and papyri onto the steel surface of the desk. "Here. Read. Translate."
She picked up the top papyrus with great care. "Translate? Now?"
"Yes. Learn quick."
She unrolled the papyrus, scanning the inky marks on the parchment. Hugo, circling around her, quickly leaned over and plucked it from her hand.
"Not that one. That one's mine."
Grace raised an eyebrow. "Yours? It's a fake!"
Hugo grimaced. "Yes. I know. No questions."
Grace did not deign answer. Though curiosity raged inside her, she controlled it. An odd feat for her, usually the cat killed by its sin, but Hugo's expression - one she could not quite place - resigned her to silence. Instead, she selected a book from the pile and opened it to the first page.
"This is unintelligible."
Hugo's mouth quirked. "Too bad."
Grace sighed and stared at the computer screen. The green numbers filed past without comment, simply streaming. Happy, content. Numbers in a number world. They were constructed of binary, and no more. Her gaze shifted to the slowly rotating vase in the container. She didn't usually encounter such trouble for things like that. It hadn't been upon a pedestal or in any typical place of worship. There had been no altar. And yet Grace felt in the marrow of her bones that this was exactly what the Pest protected.
"This is the age of technology. Do that zappy thing with the Internet."
"You can't trust what you read on the Internet."
Grace let out a groan of exasperation, burrowing her head into her arms. "I don't want to translate!"
Hugo stared hard at her, his square glasses threatening to fall. "Tough luck."
Grace growled, but lifted her head. Flippantly did she thumb through the thick tome, full of runes and ancient texts. Knowledge at the tip of her fingers - and she didn't want it. Her boredom was rapidly increasing: it was an old and familiar feeling. The reason she had left her post at the Auror's office. The reason she had abandoned Rasheed. The reason her parents had given up on her.
"I don't understand what he's whinging about," she grumbled.
Hugo looked up. "Max? Get over it, Grace. He's always been a bitter pill to swallow."
Grace sighed. "I - I can't deal with this right now, Hugo, I'm sorry. I need some air."
Hugo's mouth quirked. "Market, then?" His voice was not angry, and Grace gratefully lifted her eyes to look at him.
The dusty sirocco was hot on her face as they strolled through Cairo's open-air market. Calls from merchants selling their wares peppered the fiery air.
Pottery here, fine pottery, sculptures of the sphinx!
Want to know your fortune? Come in, pretty lady, Madame will read your cards!
Meat! Fresh meat! And fish!
The heady environment lifted Grace's spirits, filling her with a sense of beauty and frivolity. She strolled by a tapestry-seller's stand and fingered the edges of a beautiful Persian rug. The soft fabric rose and fell as she stroked it and she watched, enchanted, as it fluttered in the breeze.
Hugo placed his hand on the small of her back and led her through the throng of people crowding by a dusty pit. Grace craned her neck: two roosters, thin beasts with merciless beaks, were squawking royally at one another, ready to tear the other's head from his spine.
Grace lifted an eyebrow. "Cockfights, Hugo?"
He shrugged. "I usually win."
She whirled on him. "One of these is yours?"
Hugo laughed. "No! I bet against Youssef -" he pointed to a tall, bearded man intent on the fight "- and I usually win."
Grace leaned forwards, genuinely interested. "How?"
Suddenly Hugo's lips were at her ear. "The trick is to choose the smallest one," he whispered. A smile tickled Grace's face.
"Darwin would be proud."
"One can only hope!" he exclaimed. "I have sixty EGPs on the black one."
Grace watched the two roosters as they dove for each other. Dust circled about and beyond them, blinding the spectators. A flash of gray, a flash of black, and they were back to the edges, three-toed feet pressing into the dust. And unexpectedly, a pang of pity washed over her. Here were two beasts - once kind, once mellow - forced into a deadly competition with only one chance at survival: kill the other. They reminded Grace of the Azkaban prisoners she used to guard - both destitute, but if, only if, they could give the other a worse fate than their own, they would be better. Stronger.
"Schadenfreude," she murmured. Hugo did not hear.
The black cock, head bobbing against the wind, stumbled and the grey one, seizing his chance, struck. Once, twice! But the black one avoided the beak, ducked, and with deadly precision, snapped his own about the grey rooster's neck.
He didn't stand a chance.
Hugo yelled with pride and rushed over to Youssef, who, with a darkening grumble, handed Hugo his bills. The Weasley turned and walked back to Grace, a wide smile upon his tanned face. Glasses misted from all of the dust in the arena, he wiped them on his shirt.
"Where to now?" he asked brightly. Grace, still reeling from the spectacle, took a moment to answer.
"I'll go see the fruits, I think," she answered evenly. Hugo's grin faded slightly.
"Oh. I'll head off to the stamps, then. Remember to get Max some dates."
Grace nodded and watched as Hugo strolled away, leaving a cloud of sand behind him. Her attention turned to the dead rooster, who in the rush after the fight had been left trampled on the ground. Its grey feathers were strewn about her feet, ruined. Symbols of a delicate destruction. She knelt by the rooster's corpse, smoothing over its feathers with her hand. It hadn't deserved its fate, but it had permitted for the black one to survive. That had given Hugo his sixty EGPs. It was something, if not much. Eyes downcast, she rose and turned. The labyrinthine expanse of the market stretched before her and with pride, she walked forwards.
She found the fruit stall earlier than she had anticipated. There were dates - beautiful, plump dates, the kind that Black loved best. She was more of a pomegranate girl. Her hand reached out to pluck one from the basket, but a calloused one enveloped her wrist first. Startled, she looked up. Glittering black eyes. Tailored suit. Swept-back hair.
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