April 16, 2010

Hermes slaying Argus

Artwork by A Greek Artisan From Ancient Athens

Anna adjusted the over-sized peacock broach she'd been sporting on her blouse for the last few days and settled herself on a bench in the courtyard with a copy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It had been a while since she'd contemplated the world through an assassin's eyes, and she was worried that she might have lost her touch. Not having a gun with her didn't help and the long blade she had strapped comfortably - depending on her position - to her thigh, felt awkward and very much without a trigger in her hands.

David sat next to her with a small stack of textbooks on his lap. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Are you worried?" Anna asked.

"We have no idea what we're actually up against. An immortal gone rogue, obviously with some kind of vendetta... of course I'm worried."

"Well, I'm not. The best match for an immortal is another immortal."

"So it was another immortal that shot you then?" David eyed her incredulously.

"I'm still here aren't I?" Anna scowled at him. "David, you must never worry about me. It's not your job, nor your place. You just live your life as best you can, and let me worry. Now, pretend to be grateful and leave me be."

David shook his head and smiled. "As you wish," he nodded then left.

She turned the page and pretended to read as she scanned the courtyard for potential suspects as well as for layout, exits, blind spots, and anything else that might aid her tactically. It was a beautiful scene, lush and green, but she had to keep her mind on the details, she wasn't there to graze.

"Is this seat taken?" asked a man wearing a gray suit, with matching hat and horn-rimmed glasses. He held a brown paper sack in one hand, a black briefcase in the other.

"No." Anna smiled as she glanced briefly at the man, quickly sizing him up as an unlikely threat. She returned her focus to the book in her hand.

He settled himself at the far end of the bench, his briefcase by his side and his lunch, a peanut butter sandwich and an apple by the smell of it, in his lap.

"Good book," Grey Suit said after a moment. "Are you enjoying it?"

"Mmm." Anna affirmed with a small nod and turned another page.

"Did you know that Pride and Prejudice was originally titled First Impressions?"

"No, I didn't know that." Anna said, putting her book on her lap. A conversation with a chatty stranger was much better cover than pretending to read.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb your reading."

"No, not at all," she angled toward him. "I've read it before. I really just came out to enjoy the sun."

He was probably only a few years younger than her, though he looked a few years older. When she really took the time to look at him she couldn't help but notice how remarkably average he was, in his height, his build, his features. Except for maybe his eyes. They were hard to make out behind his glasses, but they looked to be dark blue. Darker than any blue eyes she'd seen before.

"You're an American." He smiled.

"Yes. My names Anna, Anna Parker," she gave David's last name. At least, it was the name he'd taken to using when they left the states. It had been his mother's maiden name. His father's last name was Shunt.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Miss Parker." He extended his hand for her to shake. "Dr. August Ambrose. I'm a visiting professor this term."

"What a coincidence. I just started here myself."

"You aren't by chance signed up to take Ancient Greek Mythology are you?"

"I'm not. Is that your class?"

"Mmm," he nodded, thoughtful then said. "I must say, that is a very striking brooch."

"Thank you," she forced a smile, trying not to tense every other muscle in her body, as she reconsidered her previous conclusions about Professor Ambrose.

"According to Greek Mythos, the Goddess Hera is responsible for the eyes on the peacocks tail feathers," he offered. "She placed them there in honor of her most dutiful guard and watchman, the monster Argus, who was said to have had a hundred eyes."

She'd never heard the story before and couldn't help but wonder if there was a connection. "The monster Argus. How very interesting," Anna said trying to pick up any hint of him being something other than human. It's not that immortals stood out in a crowd, but it didn't take much concentration to sense them, or smell them out if they were close enough. After that it simply became a matter of recognition. But she also had to consider the possibility that he was a familiar, like David. "Is he of particular interest to you?" she asked.

"His tale is simply one among many." Professor Ambrose smiled. "My head is so full of information; quite often it just comes spilling out I'm afraid. I guess that's why I teach. Which reminds me, I have a meeting with Professor Lipton at one o'clock. Do you have the time?"

"Ten minutes to," Anna said, glancing at her watch.

"I really should be on my way then," he gathered his things and stood. "I hate to be late. First impressions and all." He smiled. "Anna, it was very nice meeting you. I hope to see you again."

"Professor?" she called after him.

"Yes?"

"What happens to Argus?" she asked.

Professor Ambrose smiled. "In the end? He was killed by Hermes who lulled him to sleep then chopped off his head."

"Because he was a monster?"

"Well... he was only called a monster because he was different. Hermes killed him because it was the only way to take what Argus was guarding. Io, who was Hera's priestess, and her husband Zeus's lover."

Anna shook her head, disturbed and confused, trying to piece together any possible correlations. "He was in the way," she concluded.

Professor Ambrose smiled. "I think you'd like my class. I think you'd do very well in it." He tipped his hat to her and left.

Anna picked up her book and returned to her appearance of reading. Her mind was a scatter as she tried to find any connection to what the Professor had said and the tales of the immortal king Argus told to her in her youth, by Jonas. If someone believed that Argus was in the way, there was only one thing she could think of that Argus prohibited above all else, the creation of new immortals.

It was a wonder that she and Meline were still alive, or that Jonas had turned her mother. He told them he'd acted on orders then warned them to keep to themselves, and as much as they could, stay unnoticed and unknown by other immortals if they wanted to remain among the living.

Of all the stories Jonas had told them, it was the rise of the vampires and the decimation of more than a hundred thousand immortals by decree and ultimately by the hand of Argus and his Elite that had given her nightmares and caused her to shudder at the very mention of his name.

It was hard to know exactly when the mass conversion began or by whom, as so few immortals possess the ability to convert and the mortality rate during transition is so high, but slowly the populous of immortals began to grow and spread across the globe.

It became like an infection, spread by love, by loneliness, by lust, by compassion, by virtue, by greed, by a desire to ascend, and ultimately for some, by a desire to conquer.

Jonas had been part of this conversion, but had always known his place among mortals, that no matter how strong he had become or what he was now capable of, it did not give him the right to have dominion over them.

For centuries immortals lived among humans unnoticed, discretion being their tenet. Until the late sixteenth century, when the rise of the vampires began. When undead corpses began rising up from their graves, and began feeding off of and infecting first their loved ones, and then whoever else happened along. They were mindless rotting creatures whose thirst for blood was insatiable.

Vampirism was a plague.

It wasn't enough for Argus to simply eradicate the plague of vampires. He believed that vampirism was merely a symptom of the real epidemic, the perversion that immortality had become. It was not enough to seek reform, for there were many who believed themselves above subjugation and saw themselves as Gods. One by one, they met their end either by the hand of Argus or one of his Elite.

Argus became death to immortals, and his Elite its harbingers. Many were asked to eliminate those that they had turned, resistance or noncompliance was futile and brought with it harsh repercussions.

Several attempts were made on Argus's life, but none of them even came close to matching his skill, his strength, or his speed. Argus was born immortal, born of the blood and descended from Gods. His purity made him stronger, and faster. And also gave him the ability to know his opponent's thoughts, which meant his knowledge and his skills could never be matched as his opponent's could always be predicted by him. To see him was to look upon the face of death and only those whom Argus had handpicked as his Elite ever saw his face and lived. They themselves were sworn to guard his identity at all cost.

As long as Anna could remember she and Meline had been able to see into each other's minds. It was how they communicated when they were very young, and it often felt like being in two places at once. But as they grew, as they learned the stories of Argus, as they began to fear that he might see their ability as a threat, they practiced it less and less, until the day Meline discovered that Anna had killed her keeper, Tommy Wright. Meline shut Anna out of her thoughts, and Anna, happy to be free of Meline's fairytale notions of a knight in shining armor coming to rescue them, did the same. The most she ever did now was open her mind enough to locate her sister, who was still living on the eastern coast of the United States and was undoubtedly shacked up with whatever low-life scum paid her the most attention.

Anna pretend to read for a few more minutes then left as well. Professor Ambrose and his talk of Argus may have been nothing, a coincidence, but she had to check it out anyway. She hoped it was a coincidence. Professor Ambrose seemed like such a nice person, she would hate to have to kill him.
She tasked David with finding out what he could about August Ambrose, and Bridgette with locating a book on Greek Mythology. Too afraid to even leave the house alone, Bridgette called local bookstores until she found someone who was willing to deliver the book to the house, for a fee of ten pounds, which was more than twice the cost of the book.

Bridgette was going to be a problem. Fear was a natural and understandable reaction, but her cowardice could easily make her dangerous. Anna sent her to away that very night, to stay with relatives until the whole debacle had been sorted. Bridgette was more than happy to go.
 

 

Chapter 16 - Best Laid Plans

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From a darkened window, in a darkened house across the street Argus watched Anna through her bedroom window as she turned and slashed and circled the sword. He'd watched her over the past few night and had seen her skills transform from completely awkward, to a more elegant and yet still awkward extension of her own movements. Despite her lack of grace and technique, she was at least getting used to the feel of the weapon, and how it behaved as she moved and swung and lunged.

Kale entered from the hallway casually puffing a cigar. "The girl they sent away never arrived at her destination." Kale said, his voice low and deep. "But she was kind enough to send a note on telling her family that she was going to disappear."

"I thank you for your service," Argus replied, uninterested.

Kale came to stand at the neighboring window. "I could handle this as well, if that is your wish. It's been some time since I sparred with a weapon." Kale smiled.

"No." Argus said. "I want to see where it goes."

"Does she have any idea what she is doing?" Kale scoffed.

"She's fighting for something." Argus said. "Sometimes, that's enough."

"She is not one of us my lord, not really. And after what has happened, what she is, what she has done... are you sure she can even be trusted?"

"We shall see." Argus smiled. "We shall see."
 

 

Artwork by Diego Velázquez

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart