Read Imitation and Alchemy: An Elemental Legacy Novella Online

Authors: Elizabeth Hunter

Tags: #paranormal mystery

Imitation and Alchemy: An Elemental Legacy Novella (3 page)

BOOK: Imitation and Alchemy: An Elemental Legacy Novella
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I like the idea,” Angela said as she placed a dish of olives on the table. “As long as she stays in the house and helps me here.”

Ben raised his eyebrows. “Yeah? Like, permanently?”

“I’m thinking about it,” Fabi said. “Zia Angela says she could use the help.”

“I’m not getting any younger,” Angie chided. “And Signor Giovanni will need another housekeeper when I must retire. It’s a good job. And it will keep her busy when she’s not leading tourists through the dust.”

Ben smiled. He liked the idea. “I think you’d be great here. You already have your own room. Gio and B like you. Perfect solution.”

Fabi rolled her eyes. “I haven’t decided anything for certain. I like my apartment.”

Ben looked around the lush courtyard with the palms and bougainvillea, the fountains providing trickling background music that echoed off the old walls surrounding them.

“Really?” he asked. “You like your apartment better than
this
?”

Angie leaned across the table. “Exactly. Listen to Nino. You live in a palace here. Don’t be stubborn. Come work for Signor Giovanni.”

“Yeah,” Ben said, popping an olive in his mouth. “Don’t be stubborn, Fabi.”

“You’re one to talk, Ben Vecchio, he who likes to pretend he doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to do after university.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Your uncle has been grooming you as a protégé for years, Ben. Are you really so clueless? He wants you to go into business with him.”

Angie said, “Giovanni won’t say anything; he doesn’t want to pressure you.”

Ben winced. It wasn’t that Ben didn’t know that Giovanni wanted him to work with him and Beatrice. Hell, he’d been unofficially working for his uncle since Giovanni had adopted him. But Ben was resisting it. Mostly because he just didn’t know if he could spend the next seventy years sorting through dusty libraries, which—the rare adventure aside—was most of what his aunt and uncle did for clients.

“I’m thinking about it,” he said. “Just… pass the wine, will you? I’m not going to decide tonight.”


TENZIN watched the small group of young people from her perch by the statue. No one seemed to mind that she’d crawled up the embankment and sat next to the bronze chimera that had been mounted near the steps under the Ponte Cestio.

She caught Ben’s expression and smiled. It was good to see him laughing. The past year at university had been stressful for him. He worked too hard to please his uncle. She knew part of Ben still considered any achievement a payment for the life of a boy rescued from the dirty slums of New York.

Ben didn’t understand love yet. Not really.

But then, no one did when they were young. She leaned back against the cool stone and contemplated her latest plan to lure him in as a partner. She’d become bored in this modern world, and she needed something to do. Catching up on twentieth-century technology and mastering video games wasn’t enough to keep her mind occupied.

No, she needed the rush of adrenaline again. She hadn’t felt this restless since the days that she and Giovanni had been mercenaries.

Now
that
had kept her occupied.

But the world had changed. There was no longer any honor in living a warrior’s life. Those who hired out their services as soldiers, even in the immortal world, were a different kind of animal than she and Giovanni had been, and she felt no kinship with them.

Ben turned and met her eyes in the low lights that reflected off the river.

Tenzin had a different kind of plan to occupy her time.

He stood and carefully wound his way through the outdoor tables and the small crowd watching a musician. Then he stood under her, his chin just reaching the edge of the ledge where she was sitting.

“Did you think I wouldn’t see you there?”

“I didn’t think about it. I didn’t want to disturb you and your friends.”

He held out his hand. “Jump, don’t float. Let the humans see gravity.”

Tenzin jumped down and let her feet land hard. Such an awkward, heavy feeling. Yuck.

“Do you want me to leave you?” she asked.

“No, you’re going to join us for a drink.”

Tenzin halted. “No.”

“Tiny, Fabi’s the one who spotted you. Your cover as an inconspicuous statue has already been blown. You might as well come have a glass of wine.”

Tenzin wasn’t comfortable socializing outside her close circle of friends, and Ben knew it.

“Just try,” Ben said, putting an arm around her shoulders. “All of them—except the tall Ethiopian guy—know about your kind anyway.”

“Fine. One drink. And my Italian is rusty.”

“We’ll speak English then.”

She made her way through the crowd of humans, automatically assessing threats and marking weapons. A surprisingly high number of them for a lazy summer evening, until she realized that two of the tables were surreptitious security for the young people at the table.

Interesting.

The guards immediately took note of Tenzin, and she felt Ben’s arm tighten around her. He’d spotted them too.

Sometimes she was astonished by his perception. It was truly exceptional for one so young.

Fabia and Ben didn’t warrant security from Giovanni, at least not under normal circumstances. She wondered whether socializing with Giovanni Vecchio’s ward was considered something to be cautious about by other immortals. It could also be that there were current threats in Rome of which Tenzin hadn’t been apprised. She’d have to give Giovanni a call later.

Until then, a far greater danger awaited her.

Small talk.

“Hey, guys!” Ben said. “This is Tenzin.”

She saw the recognition immediately. Young people growing up under immortal aegis wouldn’t have any idea what Tenzin looked like, but almost everyone in their world—human or vampire—knew her name.

The ancient one.

Daughter of Penglai.

Commander of the Altan Wind.

Assassin.

Spy.

Tenzin had been a legend before most of the Western immortals took their first breath.

Ben pressed a hand to her back and eased her into a chair he pulled next to his.

Only Ben, his friend Fabi, and her clueless boyfriend were at ease.

“Tenzin, it’s so good to see you,” Fabi said. “How long are you in town?”

Tenzin smiled. Fabi was Angela’s niece. A smart, humorous girl. Ben was at ease with her, so Tenzin could be too.

“I’m here for a time,” she said vaguely. “I have some business in the south, then I’ll probably head north to visit some property.”

She had a house in Venice. It was one of her favorites. Had she ever told Giovanni about it? She couldn’t remember. She’d show Ben.

Ben said, “You know Ronan and Gabi, I think. And this is Elias, since Fabi is being rude—”


Zitto
!” Fabi laughed. “Sorry, I forgot. I feel like Tenzin must know everyone.”

The young man leaned forward and held out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. You’re an American friend of Ben’s?”

Tenzin stared at the hand for a moment before she held hers out, touching the young human’s fingers only briefly so he didn’t notice the unnatural chill of her skin.

“I am,” she murmured, careful to keep her lips closed and her fangs covered. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Ben seemed at ease with the young man. His earlier stiffness had eased the more he talked with Fabia’s new friend. If Ben approved of the young man, Tenzin would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Ben quickly led the conversation into a discussion of a current film that had just premiered in Rome. Tenzin sipped the wine he poured for her and smiled, but she avoided speaking. Elias didn’t know about immortals, and it was too difficult to conceal her nature from ignorant humans.

Ronan and Gabi’s tension eased after a few moments, and soon the young people were drinking, joking, and laughing like the old friends they were. Tenzin, however, watched Ben.

Did he have friends like this in Los Angeles? He must have, but she didn’t know them. When she was in LA, she didn’t socialize except with Giovanni and his family. It was fascinating to see Ben in his element with the other humans his age.

He was a natural leader. He steered the conversation without effort, probably not realizing the others followed his lead. He was the kind of man other males would follow, not out of fear but because he made them feel a part of something greater. More important.

And with the females… Tenzin couldn’t stop the smile.

Every girl Ben met fell half in love with him whether she wanted to or not. He was handsome, yes, but even more, she knew he truly enjoyed women and all their facets.

He caught her smiling at him.

“What?” he whispered.

Tenzin switched to Mandarin. “It was good for you to come here. You will see things more clearly.”

“What things?”

She didn’t answer him but leaned close and brushed a cool kiss over his bearded cheek. “I told you the beard was a good look for you. All the girls in the restaurant want to have sex with you.”

He shook his head. “Seriously, Tiny—”

“I’m going to go. You’re going to see Zeno tomorrow night?”

He nodded.

“I’ll find you. Good night, my Benjamin.”

“Night.”

She waved to the others but slipped away without another word. She stepped lightly through the crowd, marking the humans and few vampires who were patronizing the festival that night. She kept her head down, and within moments, she was past the lights of the riverbank. Past the clatter of humanity.

Tenzin melted into the comforting shadows and disappeared.

Chapter Two

THE VATICAN LIBRARY MIGHT HAVE been the most famed, mysterious library in the Western world, but Ben still thought it smelled like most libraries everywhere. Dust. Mold. A stale smell he associated with institutional cleaners. He leaned back at the table in Zeno Ferrera’s workroom and kicked his feet—newly shod in the best Italian leather thanks to his shopping trip with Fabi—on the table.

Zeno knocked them down. “Don’t make me beat you.”

The surly immortal had worked for his uncle over a year now, but he still held his connections with the church. Zeno had been a priest, and he was relatively young for an immortal, though he had been middle-aged when he’d been turned. He was just over one hundred years or something like that. Ben knew better than to ask.

“Grumpy old man,” Ben muttered. “And after I brought you presents too.”

Zeno waved a dismissive hand. “The journal will get at least one of our more… persistent clients off my back. He showed up at the library unannounced last week and surprised Fina. She wasn’t pleased.”

“I’m surprised he’s still alive.”

“Yes.” Zeno drew out the word. “I think he is too.”

The grumpy vampire had married the human librarian who ran Giovanni’s library in Perugia, and he was rabidly possessive of both the woman and her young son.

“Fina and Enzo coming to Rome?”

“And swelter in this heat?” Zeno asked. “It’s cooler at home. And Enzo’s still finishing his school term. I think we’ll take a holiday to the mountains if the weather doesn’t let up. She’s been asking for one, and the Naples theft…” Zeno shook his head and muttered under his breath. “It’s been driving both of us crazy.”

“Was it that bad?” Ben had a hard time understanding his family’s obsession with books.

It wasn’t that Ben didn’t love books. He’d been a voracious reader since before he’d met Giovanni. Books were one of the few cheap and available escapes he’d had as a child. Alcohol made his mother cry. Drugs were expensive and dangerous.

But stories…

He’d split any time he could get away from his mother between the public library and the Metropolitan museum. But he couldn’t understand the overriding desire to preserve medieval tax records or Renaissance-era farming manuals like they were made of precious metal.

“We don’t know how big the Naples theft was,” Zeno said. “That’s part of the problem. And it wasn’t just books.”

“What does that mean?”

Zeno raised an eyebrow. “Valuables, my friend. Artifacts.”

Okay, now his interest was piqued. Ben leaned forward. “I didn’t hear Gio mention any artifacts. What’s missing?”

“We don’t know unless a client tells us. And your uncle doesn’t deal in antiquities. Only books.”

Ben’s excitement fled. Bummer. Artifacts would have been interesting.

“A large portion of the library was uncatalogued,” Zeno continued, paging through Giovanni’s notes. “Partly because it’s so old, and partly because many immortals used it like their own personal storage unit.”

“That seems… unusual.”

Zeno shrugged. “It’s Naples. They’re crazy down there.”

Ben laughed.

“I can say that,” Zeno said, “because I was born there. It’s the truth.” He tapped his temple. “Everyone from Naples… We’re a little off, yes? We like it that way. Keeps life interesting.”

BOOK: Imitation and Alchemy: An Elemental Legacy Novella
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Sharing Freedom by Harley McRide
Lancelot by Gwen Rowley
Parallax View by Leverone, Allan
Red Hot Rose Boxed Set by Kayne, Kandi
Alpha Me Not by Jianne Carlo
A Place Beyond by Laura Howard
Bad Blood by Lorna Sage
Wrath of a Mad God by Raymond E. Feist