Work Header

Actaea and the Games of the IV Olympiad

Work Text:

Peter Scott climbed the stairs to the Exeter Club and exchanged a quick greeting with Cedric at the door.  “Almsley in?” he asked

“He is, sir,” Cedric said.  “I believe he planned to take lunch.”

Peter nodded his thanks, then made his way to the Member’s Dining Room.  Luck was with him - Lord Peter Almsley was indeed eating an early lunch, and he was alone.  “Almsley, how are you?”

“Twin, always a pleasure,” Almsley said, getting up to shake Peter’s hand and waving him into a chair.  “Join me?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Peter said, taking a chair.  “Listen, there’s a matter that I need to look into this afternoon, and I was hoping you’d come along.”

“Oh?”  Any further questions Almsley had were delayed by the appearance of the waiter, and it wasn’t until Peter had placed his order that he was able to finish the thought.  “What sort of matter?”

“Our sort of business,” Peter said.  “Or it might be.”

“Nothing to involve the Lodge?”

“Probably not, but certainly not yet.”  Peter’s food arrived, and the conversation turned to other matters as they ate.

When they were done with their lunches, the two men left, pulling on coats as they stepped into the cold February afternoon.  “So what’s this about, Twin?” Almsley glanced over at Peter.

“Three deaths at White City, out Shepherd’s Bush way,” Peter said grimly.

“White City… where they’re building the Olympic facilities? Or the Exhibition fairgrounds?”

“The Olympic stadium.  They’ve had three deaths in the past month while laying the pipes and hooking it all up to water and sewer.”  Peter nodded at a cab, and Almsley followed the other man into it.

“That’s unusual, isn’t it?  You get injuries on worksites, naturally, but deaths… I hadn’t heard of any big accidents, so I’ll assume that’s not what’s at issue here.”

“You’d be correct,” Peter said.  “Drownings, all of them.  Two in the sewers and one in the pool.”

“Damn.  How’d you hear about them?”  Almsley settled back into his seat as the cab rocked away from the curb and into traffic.

“I know the family of one of the men.  John Fisher, the man who drowned in the pool three days ago.”  Peter stared out the window, then sighed and turned to Almsley.  “His aunt’s a minor Air magician, she swears that his death was no accident and that magic was involved somewhere.  It’s not a lot to go on...”

“Perhaps not,” Almsley agreed, “but that’s hardly a reason not to go look, now is it?”

Peter smiled.  “I thought you might feel that way.”  He sobered.  “I know this is rather lower stakes than you’re used to playing, and I hope you don’t have anything pressing.”

“Twin, it might look like low stakes now, but in short order the representatives of twenty-two countries are going to be in that stadium.  His Majesty will be on-site.  Even the Old Guard at the Lodge would agree it merits looking into.”  Peter snorted, and Almsley had to smile.  They both disliked the often regressive leanings of the Lodge, namely the senior members’ refusal to admit anyone who wasn’t a British Gentleman, but it didn’t chafe at Almsley the way it did Peter.

“And that’s exactly what we’ll tell the Old Lion if he asks?”  Peter asked, half-joking.

“Precisely!  These Olympics have had to be relocated once already, be a bit of egg on Britain’s face if it has to happen again, particularly this close to the start.”

That got another laugh out of Peter, but by the time the cab pulled up to the construction site, he’d become grim.  “Hard to believe this was farmland this time last year,” he commented to Almsley.

“The construction really has come along, hasn’t it?”  With two and half months to opening, the bones and most of the body of the stadium were in place.  Sections of it were still being prepared for seats, and scaffolding rose over the long arms in preparation for awnings, but the nested tracks were clearly marked, and the pits of the 100 meter pool and diving well were nearly complete.  “Where do you want to start, Twin?”

“The pool might be easier to access than the sewers,” Peter remarked drily.

“Fair enough.  Want me to go see if I can rustle up a site foreman?”

Peter shook his head.  “Depending on how this goes, the last thing we want is a foreman following us around.  There’s a man working today, George Ball, who tried to save Fisher’s life.  I’ll see if he’s willing to talk to me if you want to take a closer look at the pool.”

A half-hour later, Peter was talking to Ball, who twisted his gloves in his hands as they talked.  Ball was a strong, wiry sort of man, clearly frustrated by both his inability to pull Fisher from the pool fast enough and Peter’s insistence on dragging it all up.  “We was testin’ th’ pipes - gotta keep th’ water movin’ y’know, an’ it’s as well t’do it now b’fore we finish, innit?  Fisher was down th’ side, checkin’ the pipe openin’s, an’,” Ball’s jaw worked.  “‘E fell in.  ‘E could swim, wouldn’ta had ‘im there otherwise, but ‘e musta got caught on somethin’, ‘cause ‘e didn’t come up, an’ when I tried t’pull ‘im up, I couldn’t budge ‘im.  We ‘ad t’drain th’ pool t’get ‘im out.”

“I’m so sorry,” Peter said.  “Did you figure out what he’d been caught on?”

“That’s th’ damndest part.” Ball shook his head.  “We never did.”

Peter left Ball to go back to work and went over to Almsley, who was crouched at the edge of the pool.  Almost empty but for a few inches of slushy water in the bottom, it looked far too innocuous for a place where a man had just died.  “Thoughts?”

“I could be wrong,” Almsley said slowly, tipping his head from side to side in a way that increased his resemblance to a greyhound.  “But I really do think that something was in here.”  He stood up.  “What did Ball have to say?”

Peter relayed the conversation, and Almsley frowned.  “Seems rather odd.  What are our chances of seeing where the other men died?”

“You’re hardly dressed to go poking around the sewers, Almsley,” Peter said drily.

Almsley conceded the point.  “It might come down to doing some scrying,” he said.  “May see if the local Elementals are willing to talk.  Counters Creek runs underground a half-mile west of here."

“There’s a thought.  Find a corner, maybe, see if we can rustle up an elemental?”

“Well I’m not prepared to do a proper scrying, and if you’re carrying the necessary in those pockets I will be impressed.  If we can get a better sense of what we’re looking for, my place should be close enough that I can do the thing proper tonight.”

In the end they wound up leaving the construction site - White City Stadium backed up on the Franco-British Exhibition grounds, and there was a fountain in the grounds a short walk away.  Luck was on their side - a naiad was basking in the bowl.   A good day to you, Water Masters, she said cheerfully.

“And to you, my dear,” Almsley said.  “I have a quick question for you.  Were you in the neighborhood three days ago?”

The naiad’s cheer fled. I was. There was a struggle, where they are putting in the large ponds.

“A struggle?” Peter asked.

The naiad glanced sideways at him, but directed her answer to Almsley.  That was all right - Peter knew his expertise laid with the Elementals of the deep.  Of the two of them, it was Almsley who had the rapport with the fresh water Elementals.   A cousin in chains, frightened and sick away from the salt.  We don’t dare get close.

“Of course not, and that’s smart of you.  Do you know where your cousin is now?”

The naiad shook her head and retreated.

Almsley turned to Peter.  “I think we have our answer.”

“Someone trapped a saltwater Elemental and tried to install them in a swimming pool.” Peter shook his head.  “What first, do you think, find the Elemental or find the magician?”

“I don’t mind saying that I’d almost rather find the magician,” Almsley said drily.  “That variety of Elemental is more your speed than mine.”  He shook his head.  “Now that we know what we’re looking for, I can scry tonight.”

“I appreciate it.”

The men crossed back through the stadium, planning to pick up a hansom on the main street at the far side.  They had almost left when the sound of frightened shouting had them whipping around.  There was a cluster of workmen around the pool, and Almsley and Peter exchanged a look before racing over.

Almsley got there first, slipping through the crowd with relative ease, but Peter, even hampered by his bad knee, wasn’t far behind.

The water level in the pool had risen to perhaps a couple of feet deep. George Ball was in the water, in the grasp of a nereid.

Peter frowned, slitting his eyes a little to allow himself to see the nereid more clearly, and then bit back a curse.  Wrapped around its throat and wrists were chains, burning blue-white in his vision.  Almsley had clearly seen them too - calling up their magic, both men reached for the chains to shatter them.

The spell fought, constricting its hold on the nereid - which flinched and released Ball - but in the end its strength was insufficient when faced with two powerful Water Masters working in concert to free a water Elemental.  It shattered, and the nereid fled down the pipes of the pool.  The backlash of the spell’s shattering was almost too quick to trace, and Peter found himself relieved when a male voice cried out across the stadium.

Almsley took off after the voice, and when Peter extricated himself from the crowd of laborers hauling Ball out of the pool and caught up, it was to find Almsley blocking the door of what would probably be one of the ticket offices.  Trapped inside, an expression on his face like a rabbit facing down a hound, was a short, stocky little man in a suit.  Not an Elemental mage, at least so far as Peter could sense, he was probably barely a magician.

“Ah, good to see you Old Sport,” Almsley said, straightening.  “Looks like we’ve found the architect of those little incidents.  See his hands?”

There were red marks across the palms, like rope burns.  To Peter’s eye, they glowed faintly with the same blue-white of the spell.

“So we have.  Did you get a name out of him?”

“Mostly a lot of sputtering.  I’ve been calling him Mr. Brown for now.”

“And no indication what he was doing messing around with magic?”

“These fell out of his pockets when he turned in here,” Almsley said, waving a few papers in the air.  “Up to his eyebrows in a gambling ring, looks like.”

“Really now.  Scotland Yard might be interested in that.”

The little man huffed.  “Oh for - alright, yes, I run a small set of books!  People will bet on anything, and the Olympics are particularly popular.  It’s an administrative affair, keeping the records and doing the calculations!”

“And you expect me to believe that?”  Peter turned to look at Almsley.  “Why are we talking to him again?  The man’s clearly a magician.  Why not hand him over to Alderscroft and have done?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Almsley said laconically, with that slight, predatory grin.  “This gentleman trapped a nereid and compelled it into a swimming pool in the Thames basin.  It’d be interesting to know why.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Both men turned disbelieving stares on him.  “You can’t be so foolish as to think we’d believe that,” Peter said.

“No, you know a little magic, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: so do we.  Rather more than you do, I’d wager.”  Almsely told the man.  “That was a nereid you had there, not one of the local naiads - but then if you could see them easily you’d have trapped one of them.”

Apparently that was enough to convince ‘Mr. Brown’ to admit to it.  “It’s the easiest way to fix the races, you nitwit!” the little man railed.  “Compel one of those little beasts to slow down some swimmers or help along others, and if you’re running the books you can fudge the odds accordingly and make a killing.  Normally,” he went on, suddenly sounding aggrieved, “it’s a simple process, but this year the races had to be in a pool, and it’s been fighting all the way.  It killed two men fighting me while I transported it, and when I took it out for a practice run it somehow confused an order to slow a man down with one to kill him!  Getting it back under control before the events will be a nightmare.”

“Then why not release it?” Peter asked.

“Are you a complete fool?  After as much work as I’ve put in to get it into position in the first place?”

“Well, that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about.  We snapped the tethers you’d put on that poor nereid - it’s long gone.”  Peter smiled despite himself at the utterly gobsmacked look on the little man’s face.  As the man descended into incoherent shouting, he raised his eyebrows at Almsley.

“I’ve contacted Owlswick, the Lodge is sending some fellows over to pick this gentleman up.”  Almsley said.  “Once that’s dealt with, we should see if we can’t trace the nereid - while I don’t doubt it’s making for open water, wouldn’t hurt to make sure it gets there without hurting itself or anyone else along the way.”

Owlswick had apparently been prompt - a couple of the burlier Exeter Club porters were there within twenty minutes, along with Fenyx.  “I was in the club when Owlswick gave them their marching orders,” the young Air Master said, shrugging.  “Figured I’d come along, in case a spare pair of hands was needed.”

“Fair enough,” Almsley nodded.  “Twin, what do you prefer - the Working Room at the Lodge? Or do you have your own space?”

“I’ll likely head back to mine."

“Alright.  I’ll do the same, keep an eye on the immediate area in case the nereid gets into trouble, what? 

“And I’ll take the rivermouth.”

By the time Peter managed to track it down, the nereid was well on its way to open water, racing past the Isle of Sheppey and into the sea.   Running as fast as you can, huh?  I don’t blame you at all.  Good luck to you.