Love In Ruins - new-LS.jpg

Excerpt from Chapter 4

     Olivia woke with a violent start. Her head hurt. Her neck hurt. In fact, it felt broken. She shifted, pushing against the side of the chest to pull her head away from it and realised, even as she healed it, that her head was curiously lower than her feet. She became aware of voices hissing outside. This was no dream, though she did not understand a word they were saying nor could she identify the language. Her head was lifted again and she felt herself being carried awkwardly. Whoever they were, they were not experienced litter bearers. But she was free. There was no longer a crumbled mountainside between her and the world, just the relatively fragile lid of an antique Etruscan chest. How could this be and she not have noticed? Had she slept so deeply then? Or had it occurred by day? But no, her senses told her that the night was well advanced.

     When or how does not matter, she told herself and, shifting her weight, tried the lock. Whatever had occurred while she slept, it had rendered the lock inoperable. Once more she was half dropped, her feet this time, and she felt something chip off the outside of the trunk. The voices were hushed and close by. She could almost hear their hearts beating. Then, as she thought about it, she could. They were racing, but not from exertion. She could almost taste their emotions: equal parts fear and excitement. Something began to overtake her, something rising up from deep within like the volcano: hunger.

     They set her down. There was more hushed talk and then she was being pushed or dragged into another area, a small open room by the way their hearts echoed. There was the sound of a hammer, chipping away at centuries of cemented ashes. She waited; hope exploding its way out of her body.

     There was a scrabbling at the lock. She twisted it from the inside, making certain it was open. Then there was the sound of some sort of pry bar, and the first crack of light to touch her eyes since the night of the eruption. There was a slip, then the flattened, metal bar shot into the chest just past her shoulder. The man cried out in pain, quickly tried to muffle it. His partner was in a hurry and forced the lid, shone a hard cone of white light in her face.

     The smell of blood was overwhelming. There was no longer any thought in her, just the unquenchable, all consuming, burning thirst. His blood was singing in his veins, screaming for her teeth, dripping on the sharp stone edges encasing the chest. She grabbed the light by the arm, feeling no heat and therefore no fear of it, and pulled him down into the chest. Suddenly sharp teeth found the first pulse of flesh low on the shoulder, biting through the few thin layers of odd fabric to the warm, coppery gush of blood.

      He pulled back, fighting, struggling with every ounce of his strength to shake himself loose, pulling her out of the chest with him. She clung stubbornly, drinking deep until he tore her off, ripping a hunk of flesh and cloth. He screamed and fell to the ground clutching his shoulder, trying to staunch the flow of his lifeblood. His friend got his wits about him and jumped to help, only to find himself faced with a maddened, blood splattered woman. Before he could react, she was on him with surprising strength, her teeth sinking into his throat, ripping and tearing as they sought the main artery. He was dead before he even felt the pain.

      Not until the hunger was past sated did Olivia become aware of anything: the hot feeling in her belly, the warm wet of her gown, the stink of scorched cloth and fresh blood perfumed by fear, the bodies of the two men beneath her. The realization was slow in hitting her; then the horror sank in, turning the warmth within her to frost. She screamed, threw herself off the two bodies, and backed away. She hit the chest, cutting her back on the sharp, cement-like crusting of hardened ash. She looked around; found herself surrounded by unfamiliar objects in a cool, darkened room. She pulled herself into a corner between a pair of strange statues of thin, hollow metal.

     She shivered with fear and uncertainty, but reached out with senses honed from trying to listen for the slightest digging sounds. She remembered many diggers over the years, different tongues, some roughly Latin based. Some of them, she realised, had been very far away, none of them breaking through to her tomb, none of them excavating her villa.

     There was something in the distance, a cacophony of sounds that vaguely resembled... a party. She listened more closely. There were strains of music unfamiliar to her. She could dissect the sounds, single them out, and identify some of them as either string or wind, but beyond that they were wholly alien. There was conversation, heard as dimly as the voices on the slopes had been, in what appeared to be more than one tongue, but none of which were familiar except for a few scattered words whose syntax was completely messed up. There were glass vessels clinking, drinks being poured and served, though the wine if she heard right, was either premixed or being served unwatered. She listened harder, began to count heartbeats, then realised that there were more voices than hearts. Lamia!

     She felt hope rise within her and began to search out the unbeating hearts. Concentrating to the exclusion of all else, she could isolate each voice and determine if there was a heartbeat to go with it. She found one that seemed to beat out of cadence with the others, sporadically. She listened, discovered that when heartbeats approached this one its heart would beat, though much slower, as if through concentrated effort, and the lungs also drew unnecessary air. She remembered that Aeschylus had an erratic heart like that, one that beat only when he was around the staff and living beings, but when alone with her and Phillipa....

     She felt a sudden pang of guilt and sorrow as she remembered Phillipa, and a tear traced its way down her cheek. She forced herself to concentrate, locking onto the person she had been listening to for the last several minutes. Those that spoke with her, for she realised that the voice was feminine, addressed her by a word which, though its endings were missing, by its roots meant friend. At least, that is what she guessed, as the pronunciation was off. Perhaps, she thought, it was the woman’s name, or a shortened version of it. It appeared that she was the hostess, as she was frequently interrupted by what Olivia guessed were the servants, as they addressed her in a servile tone and called her something altogether different.

     Olivia concentrated on her, to beg her to come to her, to help her even though she did not understand her, to pray for Apollo to wake her to her presence. The hostess was interrupted again, this time by soldierly voices, servants with authority. The woman listened for a moment, then appeared to excuse herself and followed the man out of the room. Olivia paid close attention to this pair, letting the sounds of the party drop away, as they entered another part of the building.

      Amy followed the security guard into the control room, folding her arms across her ample chest, as she pulled her beaded shawl closer about her. “All right, Jack, show me,” she said.

     Her head of security indicated the relevant monitors and pointed out, “There. I wasn’t certain it was missing at first,” he said, pointing to part of a display in the Roman exhibit.

     Her eyes caught the deception quickly, though she was still human enough to realise it could have fooled mortal eyes that had no reason to look closely. “The chest from the Pompeian display; it’s just a cardboard mock.” Hell, it might have gotten past her unless she had thought to look more closely.

     He nodded. “It would have gotten past me long enough for the thieves to escape if I had not seen this,” he confessed, and pointed out another monitor and panned the camera. The chest was in the corner of the camera’s eye, in the middle of the Medieval armoury. He did not need to point out the two bodies lying on the floor.

      She leaned closer to the monitor. “What happened?”

“I have no idea, Miss Campbell. It happened off camera during a rotation, so I can’t even rewind the security tapes to find out. Whatever hit them did that in less than twenty seconds.” He zoomed in. “See the pattern of blood? It smears right here, as if something was dragged off them.”

      “Or crawled away,” she murmured. She took in the dark mangle of flesh below the heads and nodded. “Vampire,” she sighed.

     “Guest?” he asked.

     “I don’t think so. Everyone is accounted for, and no one has come in with different clothes or as bloodied as they would have to be. Messy feed that. Rank amateur, a combat feed, or someone completely starved. Maybe a combination. You were right not to send men down there. Whoever did it could still be loose. No alarms were set off, so they haven’t gotten far. I’ll go get Phillipe and see if he’ll come with me to search. Meanwhile, see if you can find any more items that might be imposters, and keep track of me on the monitors.”

     He flipped the monitor to the opposite wall as she turned to leave, calling her back. “You might want to see this first.”      She came back and looked hard at the monitor. “There, at the bottom of the screen,” he said, pointing out a glimpse of cloth near the base of two suits of armour. “Between the pedestals. Does that look like a knee to you?”

      “...In a dress. A very bloody dress. Is that the best angle you can get?”

     He nodded, “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

     “Right. Forget Phillipe. Keep an eye on me and send guards down to seal off the party area. Do not alert the guests. Oh, and by the way, Jack, start filling the holes in my security system.”

     “Yes, ma’am,” he said, saluting smartly, and turned back to the monitors, keeping her within his sights at all times.

     Amy entered the armoury and stood in the doorway. She did not move, nor did she breathe or betray her presence. But she knew, instinctively, that the other person knew she was there. She stared at the scene before her, almost offended by the mess. The two thieves lay beside each other in a tangle of limbs and blood, though there was not enough on the floor to have killed them. The missing chest lay near them, broken open and stinking of scorched cloth and ancient perfumes.

     She walked over towards the chest, partly away from the hiding place of the unknown vampire. She held her shawl tight around her, hiding the stake she had brought just in case. She stepped gingerly around the blood pool and peered into the chest. There were clothes and things one would expect to find in a Roman chest, though by the markings seen through the chipped away ash-cement, the chest was clearly Etruscan. There was also the indentation in the stored fabric as if a body had lain there. Amy shuddered, barely able to imagine what its occupant must have gone through.

     She had acquired this chest and its companion pieces back in the seventies when the last of Pompeii had been excavated. It had never been opened for fear that it was no more than a shell, its contents destroyed like so much else in that city. She had never gotten around to getting it x-rayed. Now she turned towards the mess, let her gaze lead her where the blood trail went. The person hiding there was preternaturally still, though Amy could sense fear from... her. She stepped out where she could see between the statues and looked over the girl who had stopped the thieves.

     She was perhaps just under twenty, pretty in spite of the blood hastily wiped from her face. She wore a slightly dented diadem and dripped with pearls. Her dress, ancient Roman in style, was silk, though scorched and bloody. She bore no marks of scorching or burns herself, but then Amy had not expected her to. She would have healed after all these years. Years? Try millennia, she thought. Then, before she could say anything, the girl spoke.

     “Ami?” she asked, though the vowels were pronounced differently, it was clearly her name.

     “Yes...?” she said, nodding, shocked to hear her name from someone she knew had been sealed in a chest for nearly two thousand years.

     The girl rose, opened up with obvious relief and joy at the sight of a friendly face. “Ego ubi?” she asked, looking around her. Her face fell into an expression of shock and horror as she realised the kinds of things that were around her.

     “Eggo oobi?” Amy asked, trying to show that she had no idea what she meant.

The girl placed her hand to her breast, repeated herself, then gestured to the room.

     “Your name is Eggo Oobi? Odd, but... then I suppose Amy will be equally weird to you.”

     The girl cocked her head, looking down at the shorter woman. Realization dawned. She actually laughed, shook her head. “Olivia Claria Severus,” she said, laying her right fist over her heart with the tiniest suggestion of a bow. She then spread her arm to encompass the room. “Olivia ubi?”

     Now Amy got it. “Ubi means where! Um... Museum?”

     “Museum?” Olivia echoed.

     Amy thought for a minute. She then made up her mind that this woman was no threat. She laid the stake down on a pedestal and walked over to the wall by the door. She opened a panel and pressed the intercom to the security control room. “Stand down, Jack. Miss... Olivia is no threat. Keep the guests where they are for now. Send a cleanup crew down here and find me either a Latin dictionary or someone I can trust who speaks Latin or both. Oh, and have the chest taken to my rooms, not put back on display. I have a feeling it is not mine any more.”