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Haunting Thoughts by Sophie

An Highlander ghost story.

 

‘And the evening was going so well,’ Richard Ryan thought ironically to himself.

He slammed hard into the wall as he tried to round a corner and missed; pain daggered out from his side, but nothing escaped his lips save for a hiss of breath. The injured man paused a moment as spots danced ominously in front of his eyes, glancing down at the red that was staining his white cotton shirt. The young man was rather surprised to catch himself considering what the costumiers’ would have to say about the state of their hire costume; it was a beautifully irrelevant thought considering his present predicament. Hallowe’en was supposed to have been a fun evening; the youth had started the night at a costume party; he’d drunk a little too much, but then that was what parties were for, and with his Immortal metabolism, the affects would not have lasted too long. Yet, it hadn’t been time which had sobered up the handsome pirate that was his chosen disguise, and the youth had been glad of the rapier with which he had replaced the dress blade.

A sword thrust into his torso had brought Richie back to total clarity. The world had lost the hazy sheen the wine had given it, but had swiftly gained another form of distortion. The road ahead moved in fading swirls as the failing Immortal tried to collect his wits to move on; he knew he was dying - slowly, the wound had been to the stomach, giving him enough time to escape the ambush - but he was still definitely going to part company with life in the near future. The masked attacker, whose identity remained his own, was one of the Eternal creatures and was in pursuit of the Quickening; his quarry was desperately looking for a bolt hole in which to die in safety.

The street ahead was dark, an alley between the warehouses that littered the docks. The party lay half a mile away now, a lifetime out of reach since the unexpected confrontation. The young man had hoped to leave behind the less usual side of his nature for one night, after all, Hallowe’en was for other sorts of paranormality. The sudden strike had been a painful disappointment. The figure had run at him from the shadows as he wandered by the wharf, taking in the air; a cloaked, masked highwayman brandishing his blade, also of the more lethal kind. The instinct in his body, the shift to warn him of his own kind had come too late and the razor edge had sliced into his flesh, a mortal distraction. Luck had, at least, been on Ryan’s side as an inadvertent turn had toppled the opponent over the edge of the quay; he’d left him dangling there, caught on rough wood by the thick cloth of the mantle. It was an Immortal knack to know when a wound was fatal, and judgement had told youth that his minutes were numbered, finally so if he stayed in reach of his aggressor.

The buildings towered up on either side, huge brick edifices built in days when the old docks had been used by commercial giants. These warehouses were no longer in use and they stood dark and abandoned. Time had taken its toll: windows were broken pains, their surfaces so covered in grime that they barely reflected the lights of the distant community which had left them to rot; paint that had once spelt out the names of multinationals was now so peeled and faded that one could only guess at the words that had once been there. These monoliths of times gone by were the homes of modern society’s strays, and they were going to become cover for one more. There was possible sanctuary for the weak youth as his bleary vision spotted a door hanging open to the chill night. His last energies put into walking more or less in the direction he intended, Richie staggered towards the portal.

Breath was a painful thing as with each shallow gasp the wounded being drew threatening spasms. His legs were beginning to buckle as the cold that was not from the October night moved inside his body. Death was never pleasant, it ate consciousness from within, forcing it into retreat, and no matter how many times it happened, there was still a fear in the pit of the youth’s stomach as he faced it. It was a time of complete isolation, a journey into blackness so whole that he always wondered if life could return. Invariably it had, but doubt was, without fail, his travelling companion down the road of mortality.

The murkiness of the warehouse’s interior was not much of a burden to the Immortal as his vision was already too far gone to be of any use. He moved blindly forward, rebounding off boxes that packers had left in his path decades ago. The bruising was irrelevant compared to the searing of the cut to his abdomen, which would kill before it could heal. Richie shuddered, almost falling, as the tremors in his body finally became too strong for coherent movement. It was time to hide. Desperately, he lurched for cover, one of the many collections of shadows which was all his eye sight could register. The ground did not catch very well; the young man coughed as what air was left in his lungs was forced out and he hit the concrete heavily. That was it, he had no more energy for another breath. The moment becoming heady as his brain requested oxygen, the young man let his eyes close.

A thought crossed the near corpse’s mind as his lids shut for the final time; it was more an image than anything else. There was no time for concern as the body realised that there was a boot not more than an inch from his nose.


 

A gasp for air and then Richie used it to groan heavily. He rolled over onto his side, curling around himself with the aching renewal that ran through his body. The sharpness of the blade’s slice was gone, but his abdomen still throbbed as the healing completed. There was not much thought in the young man’s brain, it consisted mostly of - ‘Oh, I’m alive - again’ - and - ‘Why does it always have to hurt?’ - these ideas ran around his head, taking up most of his attention; that was, until the last image his being had understood came daggering back into his mind. Eyes, wide with concern, snapped open and he sat up rapidly, backing off from where his last ideas told him the foot had been. The Immortal was still a little disoriented from the regeneration, and his hasty reaction thudded him into the boxes that surrounded his hiding place. The world danced again as his head contacted with the rough edge of one such container and the youth was forced to relax into the sitting position into which he had thrown himself; a hand rested on the hilt of his sword, unthought reaction placing it there, but the fingers did not close around the crafted grip. The other palm went to his sore head.

“Wow, Man, rad!” was not a sound the young man was expecting to hear.

He started and this time his rapier was half out of it’s sheath before he froze. The startled gaze settled to a stern steel as it was laid on the source of the disclosure. The owner of the boot of hobnail design crouched a few feet away from the crumpled Immortal and it did not take long for the young man to gauge that he was not a threat. Scruffy would have been an understatement - the being positioned opposite Richard Ryan was better described as a complete mess. It was male underneath a mop of long, almost black tangles and he could see a goofy smile surrounded by stubble. The clothing that hung on his back was army surplus that looked like it hadn’t been washed for a while. The youth rocked on his heels, his arms wrapped round his knees, his smile easy and his manner remarkably amused for what he had obviously witnessed. There seemed to be a surprise in the stranger’s eyes, but not the fear the young Immortal might have expected. Richie was unsure how to approach the situation; instead he just sat motionless, eyeing the complaisant form. As it turned out, after a few moments to form his next sentence, the youth’s new companion was quite happy to continue the conversation of his own accord.

“That was awesome, Dude, never seen nothing like that before,” the unkempt individual breathed shaking his head in wonder. “Y’know, when a person dies he doesn’t got to come back, but you, you were, like, totally *gone* for like ten minutes.”

If the ragamuffin had wanted to phase his discovery, then he had succeeded, because Richard Ryan had no idea how to take the unconcerned amazement that was emanating from his associate. Yet, things seemed to be calm enough, so he eventually managed to form a question that needed to be answered.

“Did you *do* anything about me?” he asked tentatively. “Call the police, or anything?”

“No, was I meant to?” came the simple sounding response accompanied by the same wide smile.

The Immortal shook his head, relieved that he didn’t have to deal with more than one problem at a time. Yet, the one he had was big enough; someone had seen him come back to life, someone who shouldn’t have seen anything. That someone didn’t seem overly bothered by the incident, but a chance that he’d spread the story about was concerning. The young man decided that continuing the conversation might be a good option.

“What are you doing here?” he questioned, shifting his position into a more comfortable one and returning the sword fully to it’s scabbard.

“A ghost, Man,” was the excited reply, “this place is haunted, but now I found something weirder!”

That didn’t get a pleasant look from Richie; the other’s face dropped as he finally registered Ryan’s disquiet. The thoughts going on inside the scruff’s head could almost be seen flicking across his face, and they were not travelling at lightening speed, but the smile returned within seconds and a finger wagged at him. The youth’s other hand went to his mouth as he gasped in a breath of realisation and he disclosed, “No one’s s’posed to know, are they?”

“Got it in one, Sherlock,” the Eternal being responded, deciding that direct talk was the only way to go with his new associate.

“Oh, it’s cool, Dude,” the young man waved casually, “Got no one to tell anyways.”

The statement was meant to make Richie feel better, it failed. His face was still grim as he took in the open visage. However, this wasn’t going to bother the exuberant youth before him, whose grin never diminished under the heavy gaze.

“Do you do this kinda stuff all the time, or is it just for Hallowe’en?” the next enquiry came out and the Immortal began to find it hard to hold on to his hostility - despite an slight unease the wiry figure gave him, there was nothing to dislike about him.

The young man scowled a little longer, but relaxed his grim demeanour as his new associate decided that something else was needed to break the ice.

“Sorry, Dude, no manners, I’m Red,” he introduced, nodding his head in a ‘groovy’ kind of way. “Well that’s not my real name, but, hey, that didn’t fit with the image.”

Ryan wasn’t quite sure what that image was supposed to be - it was somewhere between surf bum and hippie.

“Richie Ryan,” the young man nodded curtly back, still unsure what to make of his companion.

“Pleased to meet you, Dude,” Red breezed amiably, “don't get much company down this part of the wharf, now two in one night.”

“Someone else was down here?” Richie demanded, his hackles rising again at the thought of his cloaked pursuer.

“Yeah, totally weird dresser too, from the same party as you?” the young hobo continued, unperturbed by the blond man’s alarm.

“Where’d he go,” the Immortal questioned, ignoring the enquiry.

“Oh, no sweat, Man, when you didn’t look like moving, I like totally lost him in the corridors upstairs - fun or what?!”

Ryan’s glare did not empathise with the amusement in his associate’s manner and he hissed back, “*He* was the one who diced my innards, playing games with him was not a good idea.”

“You two don't get along then,” Red observed somewhat belatedly.

“He wants my head,” Richie returned before he’d realised what he was revealing.

“What, like on a pole?” the youth seemed not the least shocked by the discovery, only morbidly interested.

“No, just separated from my body,” there was no point in not clarifying it now.

“More permanent, huh?” Red was catching on fast; he only received another dark stare for that stroke of logic.

The glare didn’t last long, however, Richie was just not able to contain any animosity for the inoffensive goof. The long-haired tramp was slowly grasping the severity of his companion’s situation, and his smile dimmed.

“You need to find him, don’t you?” the figure revealed that he had a brain.

“He came at me from the side, ambushed me, I don't want to risk that again, so, yes, I want to find him before he finds me,” the Eternal agreed.

“I’ll show you where I took him,” the other was determined to be helpful, and scrambled to his feet.

Ryan looked up at him for a few moments, unsure that allying himself with the mortal would be healthy for him. Then again, letting him wander off on his own was risking a chance encounter with the highwayman anyway, and the youth didn’t trust his attacker not to involve himself with potential hostage material. Still pensive, but with no other ideas coming to mind, the Immortal stood and joined the hobo.

“This way,” Red waved his hand and then set off.


The young man’s pace was not excessive, but in the darkness that surrounded him, Richie found the speed confusing. He was quickly lost in a maze of hallways off which there led numerous half-empty offices that had been for the white-collar side of the warehouse business. All the small rooms looked the same, and in the end, the only way the battered pirate could keep his head from exploding as it tried to calculate his position was to stay concentrated on the back of his guide.

The hobo proved himself to be quite a fit creature, and the pair jogged along the corridors. Richie was beginning to find the monotony and closeness of the walls around him more than a little disturbing, and more for something to say to break the silence than a sensible conversation, the young man observed dryly, “You should run track.”

“A most excellent idea!” Red exclaimed at his companion’s disclosure and threw his hands in the air with far more jubilance than was ever necessary.

“You really have been watching too many movies,” Richie observed wryly as the idea occurred to him.

The response was a very uncharacteristic eyebrow-raise from his fellow and the front dropped a little; there was something more than a vacancy in those eyes as the facade broke a little and it worried the young Immortal. There was a deep reason for the protective goof that surrounded the slightly lost figure that his perception revealed and it reminded the youth of his own original reasons for being the funny man - if people laugh, they don't always remember to hit you. Richard Ryan liked the haphazard creature near him; his distrust and anxiety at the inadvertent knowledge the hobo had gained was beginning to dissipate and he found himself interested and concerned for the so obviously lonely figure. The front returned in seconds, as a grin wiped away the shadows, the strange glance went safely blank again, and the form lolloped away up the corridor; yet the disappearance didn’t stall Richie’s next train of thought and he impulsively followed the enquiry which entered his head.

“People don't really talk like that - do they?” he asked idly, working up to something else, but finding the intermediate stop easier.

“Hey, in my business, it pays to be, like, totally eccentric,” there was another brief wave of the arms in the form of a shrug, but Red kept on walking without turning.

“And what is *your* business?” Richie wondered in a mutter, “Ghost-hunter, extraordinaire?” Then he decided to press on with his previous line of questioning and risked a personal question, “Where do you come from to have picked up an image like yours?”

“Frisco,” came the tone which held much more than the inquisitive Immortal had expected and he was taken by surprise as the back he was following dived into one of the many rooms along the office corridor.

When he caught up with the green-clothed back, it was hunched over the goof’s knee as he sat on the edge of a battered-looking desk, staring out through a broken window into the chill of the night. The young man almost regretted his train of thought which had started the sudden melancholy in the otherwise jubilant form and he paused at the door, unsure of himself and anxious not to cause more grief. Yet, he seemed to have touched a part of his companion that returned the embryonic friendship that the awkward start had become; Red wanted to talk.

“I left there after a *most* heinous moment with my Dad,” was the admission which broke the silence.

Richie moved around the desk and joined his fellow on the edge of the desk; this was something to which he could relate, he’d had enough fathers, none natural that he could remember, but he understood the friction that could be between family. He stared out through the shattered, dirty panes and took in the bits of the town that were visible; the lights seemed so far away inside the micro-cosmos that was the dilapidated building. Even as he lost a bit of himself in the view that made him feel more alone than any rules in The Game, he kept the corner of his attention on the ponderous figure next to him. Red seemed more philosophical than sad as he too gazed out of the window, the distance appeared to help him.

“You guys didn’t get along?” the Immortal enquired at last.

“Nah,” the answer came quickly and directly, “he died.”

“Oh,” the youth thought and said, feeling unsure of himself again.

“I tried hanging around, but Mom was like ancient history and the flat was cool on my own ‘til the end of the month, know what I mean?” Richie nodded his affirmative to the apparently bright, jovial explanation that held greater depths of feeling than any tears. “So, it was me and the world and I wanted to check it out - this place,” he waved out of the window, “was, like, last-cent city.”

There was a pregnant pause; Red’s tone ran down at the end of his sentence and he halted the conversation as he tried to hold back what was behind the mask. There was not much the young Immortal could say to the frank explanation, but he wanted to break through the barrier which was between him and the true Red. He pressed lamely, “So you ended up here.”

“It’s an existence,” the hobo shrugged, “‘s’pose it beats out there.”

There was ice in the normally gentle voice and it worried the blond warrior; maybe it was not such a good idea to go nosing into business that wasn’t his own. This could wait ‘til later, it was time to take the conversation on a different track. The young man took in a deep breath of enlivening midnight air and began again with a bit more spirit, “So what’s the angle on this ghost thing?”

Red sat up straighter, taking the cue for less intense discussion and there was a glint in his eyes as he disclosed with Hallowe’en glee, “I’ll show you.”

The grating slice of hobnails on concrete sounded through the night and preceded the lightening movements of Richie’s companion as he headed rapidly for the door. Even the response of the warrior could not move the Immortal’s limbs fast enough to keep up with the vanishing figure, and he was alone when he scrambled awkwardly into the corridor.


“Where’d he go?” the young man wondered frustratedly to himself, rubbing his hand through his hair as he surveyed the empty shadows around him.

On his own, he quickly decided that this place gave him the creeps; it wasn’t he was scared of the dark exactly, but he had a healthy respect for it - life on the streets had taught him that you couldn’t always trust a black corner to be empty, and there were hundreds of said zones in the hallway alone. The ghost idea was worrying, the youth had no idea how he’d react to seeing a phantom, but what was more to the point, his masked attacker was roaming the same halls as him and, even with the supernatural early warning system, he didn’t fancy his chances if attacked from the side again. He bit his lip in consternation as he looked up and down the concealed length searching for some sign of his companion.

“Come on, Red,” he moaned to himself, “get it into your fuzzy head that I’m not there!”

Timing was everything, and the unusual tramp seemed to have it; as if in response to the complaint a goofy laugh echoed up the hall from Richie’s right. The youth ignored the chill that ran down his spine in reply to the strange edge the surroundings gave the sound, and moved off after the pointer. He was almost silent again, a hunter or prey, he was poised and aware of the world around him as he stalked down the dark length in search of the elusive hobo, but also keeping his senses alert to a more deadly fellow. As he walked, the young man found himself wondering; he couldn’t fathom why he was following around a complete stranger, or why he felt such an affinity for the misplaced ‘dude’ - Immortal company was a dangerous thing, especially considering the reasons he was hiding in the rickety warehouse, and Richie couldn’t stop himself from considering the fact that Red might be safer without him.

Yet, the thought in his head, the warrior came out onto a balcony and his brain stopped for a moment. The world fell away into one huge room two stories below and took his breath away; to be honest, the young man had been getting rather lost trailing after his new associate and had had no idea that they’d moved quite so high up above the main floor. He was sure the warehouse hadn’t looked quite so big from the outside, or maybe it was just the darkness playing tricks, but the room disappearing into the grey clouds of an October night gave the impression that it went on forever. If his spine had been tingling before, the feeling was almost electric as he wondered at the depth of shade that his vision possessed.

It took the awed young man a few moments to catch himself once more, and when he did he discovered that he was gripping onto the balustrade so tightly that splinters of flaking paint were sticking into his flesh. Feeling a little foolish, Richie prised his hand off the metal and headed towards the steps which led down to the disorganised mess of packing cases that the workers had left half a century ago. He couldn’t see Red, but he had to be down in the expanse somewhere, there was nowhere else to go from above.

The steps creaked and complained ominously inspiring the young man to take his time on the rusting contraption that was the descent to ground. His sharp eyes scanned the immediate area, searching for any shadow that moved, but there was no sign of his comrade, or his adversary. The darkened arena had the ability to make its occupant feel extremely isolated and he found himself considering that a battle would be more amenable than the silence and gloom into which he entered. Richie’s nerves sang with the tension that had begun once Red had deserted him and the descent did nothing but intensify the situation. The darkness could play strange tricks on the brain, even an Immortal one, and the youth knew he was overly jumpy, but there was nothing his logical side could do to stop the irrational fear in his gut; it told him to turn tail and head for the open door that lay somewhere ahead of him. There were some times when the young man regretted his acute nature that had been trained into his sense; this was one of them. His eyes and ears picked up the smallest shift in the environment, even that caused by nothing more than the natural movement in an old building - what was worse, there was the sixth sense that all his race possessed, which was screaming at him that all was not right. He hadn’t noticed it at first, maybe because of the distraction of Red’s appearance, but alone, the feeling of the unusual was unmistakable. Richard Ryan couldn’t place the instinct he felt, but it was what was creating the shivers up and down his spine.

The Immortal tried to force himself to relax as he finally made solid ground. Yet, his hand was rested on the sword at his belt as he paced slowly, carefully forward.

“Hey, Dude!” came from next to his ear, and Richie spun with the reflexes of the Immortal warrior.

The young man caught his actions just as his rapier was freed from its scabbard and he stopped short of a defensive swing. Yet he paused in the poised stance, his face black with the knowledge of how close his companion had come to being a fatal foot shorter. Red was grinning as if Richie’s reaction amused him, which only served to incense the Immortal again. Drawing his sword on a mortal was not something to which Ryan was accustomed, and it made him feel uncomfortable - mortals didn’t usually have the capability to move dangerously enough to even partially surprise one of the trained, fighting race, but the nonchalant hobo was proving that he had qualities which, in all truth, could unnerve even an Eternal.

Eventually, the young man relaxed away from the defensive posture; Red did not appear to have taken in any of the warning in stern glare and so the youth decided to inform of his error.

“That is not a good idea when the other guy is carrying a sword,” he hissed through gritted teeth as he carefully returned the razor edge to it’s sheath.

“Your face, Dude,” was all the bright eyed tramp had to say and a chuckle followed, “you were really scared.”

“Yeah, and I nearly separated you and your head,” the fighter answered caustically, a little annoyed with himself that he had, indeed, been instantaneously terrified.

Red still remained unconcerned, a glint of satisfaction in his eye at the prank he had played. It was obvious that no amount of chiding would make the situation any clearer to the witless urchin, so Richie chose, once again, to move swiftly on.

“Okay,” he waved a dismissive hand at the smug form and continued, “what about this ghost stuff then?”

“Oh yeah,” the gypsy’s mood changed visibly as he appeared to suddenly remember what he was doing in the middle of the warehouse. “It happened here.”

There wasn’t much to see, just an open floor; Richie wondered what he had been expecting, chains and ectoplasm everywhere?

“Some of the roof made contact with skull and the rest is history,” Red slapped his hands together in demonstration of the impact and proceeded to a description with animation, “bit of brain everywhere - I mean, real Hammer Horror stuff, Dude.”

“Aw - gross,” Ryan responded, turning his back on the site which had been pointed out and walking rapidly away.

He didn’t usually feel squeamish, but his companion had a way of injecting an extra dimension into his thoughts, it wasn’t what was said, it was the way it had been delivered. Red laughed and observed, “Hey, I’m not the Dude who just stained the floor red.”

Richie stopped and turned to wait for the figure which began to cross to him, but there was still disgust showing in his face. A sickness languished at the bottom of his stomach; he was unaccustomed to it, Immortals generally experienced wounds which made then immune to such aversions and, coupled with the unusual fright, it soured his disposition. For once, Red was choosing to be perceptive and his response was not sympathetic, “Oh, so it’s different for you Dudes is it?”

The youth didn’t answer, but his brain was telling him that it definitely was a different matter. The image cast in his mind sent a new chill through his soul; life was so fragile and it somehow brought the mortal once-and-once-only chance solidly home to him for the first time in a long while. Not since Tessa had he felt so acutely the pain of human transience and for some unfathomable reason, it merely added to the feeling of vulnerability that his surroundings gave him. The look in his eye must have been poignant, for it was clear enough even for the vacant hobo to recognise.

“Hey, Man, I’m sorry,” was the immediate apology as the hurt was registered.

Richie shook his head to ease the angst that so quickly replaced his friend’s humour; he shouldn’t be so sensitive.

“It was nothing, Red,” the youth responded and smiled; it was a rather bleak gesture.


Ten minutes later, the two young men could be found crouched side by side under cover of one of the many collections of boxes. Neither had said much; Richie’s mood silencing even the larger-than-life character that hid the real soul that was Red. Each was content with his own thoughts in the cool night; the Immortal ran through memories of Tessa, of times when there had been no extra shadow in MacLeod’s eyes whenever her name was mentioned - his companion, well that became clear as the scruffy individual decided to voice his mind. The young Eternal looked up from where he had been staring blindly at his feet and across at his comrade as the figure took in a deep, philosophical breath. As their eyes met, Richard Ryan knew that he was *not* going to like the question that was behind the other’s gaze, but there was a compulsion to answer it, even before it was laid bare. Red was far more than he seemed, the concept had been dawning on the contemplative form even as he concentrated on brighter things; whatever was placed before him, he knew that there would be honesty between the two spirits.

“You’re a totally monumental kinda guy, Richie,” the youth disclosed, his tone sincere and without any sign of vacancy, “and I was wonderin’ - what awesome stuff could scare a Dude like you.”

Richie laughed, a short, self-mocking sound and found that he couldn’t hold the depth of his companion’s stare any longer. He returned to contemplating his feet and sighed, “I’m no different than the next guy on the street,” he admitted, finding the movement of his slightly nervous fingers fascinating. “I just don't die.”

“But that’s it, Man,” the other returned enthusiastically, a wonder in his manner, “that’s totally .. *it*. I mean, when a Dude gets shot, or a metal bar goes through his head, that’s end of story, finito! After that, things get...” he groped for an adequate word, “...spooky. What happens when you...” his voice trailed off in uncertainty.

“Loose my head?” the Immortal finished with a wry nod, “If you mean all this ghost stuff, then, no, I don’t think I’ll ever be a ghost. If I am beaten, all that I am, all that I was, that goes on in my Quickening, and that goes to the victor. I don’t think I get to keep any of it. I was brought up catholic, but I never really thought about any of that stuff ‘til I found out that I wasn’t exactly destined for the ordinary life, and forget perjury and all that, death scares me more than ever.”

The young man paused, overwhelmed by the strength of his admission to a virtual stranger. He caught himself considering that he’d probably regret all this in the morning, but the compulsion was still there. More rested within.

“I think what really frightens me, what sums all this up is being alone,” he almost spat the words with a quiet vehemence that hated its own skeletons. “It covers everything, from being scared of the dark all the way up to dying that final time. In the end there can be only one, but until then, we live like normal people, we love, enjoy company, and we had isolation as much as the next person. Death is the one time that a soul is truly alone, we face the blackness with no-one beside us and no matter how permanent, it still terrifies me.

I grew up relying on no-one but yours truly, and I hated it, I wanted someone to care about, someone I could trust. It took me seventeen years, but I found two people who did just that and I *knew* that I could count on them. Then Tessa died and I lost half of that, but there was still Mac - he’s like me, but much older. Then something happened to him, and he tried to take my head - I have never felt so alone as I did when he had me kneeling on the floor his sword at my neck.”

Richie put a hand to his throat as he felt the dangerous edge once again. The memory was far from pleasant as the old emotions rushed through him, the confusion, the anger, the complete loneliness. His fear of the dark came from an earlier time, but it meant the same thing - total isolation. The youth was glad of the company as the realisation coursed through his soul.

“Empathy, Dude,” Red spoke quietly, and his eyes were bleak as they avoided Ryan’s awkward gaze.

The moment was intense and the atmosphere between the two solitary figures was becoming stifling. The ageless being felt the melancholy in his companion as acutely as if it were his own, and it confused him. He didn’t like it. The time had come to move on to more worldly pursuits than midnight philosophy, and they could not involve his the unusual hobo. Richie had absolutely no idea how to brake the milieu - what could he possibly say to follow the instinctive openness that had brought them to this juncture? As Life would have it, however, it became apparent that the moment would end by itself. Fate, in all its glorious irony, was partially on the youth’s side as one atmosphere was replaced by quite another; the feeling in his body was familiar, but that didn’t hold back the alarm which always accompanied the grating touch in his soul. The Immortal’s movements matched the sudden disturbance in his spirit and his head came rapidly up and eyes trained by survival scanned the area that was visible from the concealment.

The sudden alertness in his comrade did not go unnoticed by Red, and his mouth opened to make the obvious inquiry. Yet, Richie silenced him with a swift and urgent wave of his hand, even as he continued to try and locate the direction of his adversary. Yet, the shadows held the unknown challenger in their protective depths. At that moment, the mortal beside him was far more important a consideration to the young Eternal than his own life as he considered the morals of his combatant. He explained himself to his companion in a low hiss, “He’s here, and I have to go face him. I don’t know who he is, and I don’t trust him, so it’s not safe for you to be with me he might try and use you, or worse. So whatever happen, whatever you see, stay down.”

“It’s cool Dude, I got it covered,” Red answered easily, his goofy grin returning with a misplaced excitement, “he won’t know I’m here.”

At least the young hobo was choosing to be sensible, that was a little comfort to the edgy youth as he unfolded himself to his full height. Still he scanned the immediate area, his eyes bright, his manner vigilant and poised for whatever the creature out of sight could throw at him. He drew the rapier, another boon in the cold atmosphere that had descended the moment he had sensed his own race; he was used to battle, it was inevitable for his kind, but the prelude to it always had the same effect on the warrior. He felt his pulse increase, adrenaline flow through his veins, that was the excitement the idea of a clash brought him, but there was also the chill in the pit of his stomach, the isolation, the fear of death. No one could stand beside him, only two could enter the fray, and only one would leave it, whether that be him or the stranger depended solely on his skill - self-doubt could be a harsh reality to face; it made his eyes cold and his visage grim.

“Well, shall we get on with this?” Richard Ryan called to the swirling greys around him.

Silence replied; nothing. The young man was a statue, even his breathing was only a thin whisper as he listened for any sign of movement, any indication of from where his adversary would approach. Now he remembered why his senses had to be so acute, but he still didn’t like the eeriness that they read from his surroundings.

Eventually, his patience bore fruit; the youth started as an emotionless laugh drifted across to his from a particularly dark corner. His reactions were instinctive, and, in one fluid movement, he was facing directly at the area, his sword-arm raised above his head, waiting for an attack. His haste was not mirrored by the cloaked stranger, and only clear, confident footfalls that took their time were the only indication of an approach for a good few seconds. Ryan found the attitude condescending even before a nonchalant swagger came into his view; he boiled a little inside, but his only outward response was a steadying of his stance and ice in his glare. The masked figure stopped well out of range of the deadly blade that glinted in what little light there was.

“Decided to come out of hiding then,” the newcomer disclosed with an observation designed to be caustic.

“Well, I had to die in peace, first,” Richie responded, his eyes flashing at the recollection of the ambush.

“I was hoping to find you before you recovered quite so well,” the other shrugged frankly.

“Well, you’re out of luck,” the youth hissed sharply, some of his impatience at the word-play showing.

“Do you always state the obvious?” the highwayman goaded.

“Only when my opponent is playing for time,” came right back at him - this guy was not going to beat ‘The Ryan Lip’.

The final remark did the trick, and gloved hands reached for the clasp to the cumbersome cloak that shrouded the enemy. Richie waited and examined the movements of his adversary; he was lithe, tall and muscular under the winter robe and he moved with the practise of a trained fighter. The face that was revealed when the opponent removed his mask was angular, but framed by almost black hair, it was not unattractive. There was age in his eyes, this opponent was not as young as the thirty-something he looked.

“Ulysses Jacobs,” the man finally introduced himself as he drew a fine sabre from his belt.

“Richard Ryan,” the youth returned, “now, shall we?”

The younger Immortal let his opponent make the first move; the youth saw the flash of fight in the elegant figure’s glare and was ready for the swipe which came at his left flank. He gritted his teeth as metal scraped down metal where the blades met and then, exhaling simultaneously, thrust his body weight after his weapon and forced the adversary backwards. Putting Jacobs off balance would not prove to be that easy however, and he fell off the push into a comfortable, poised stance, his own sword blocking any advance that could have followed.

The men moved around each other, both defensive, testing their combatant, assessing strength and ability. One contact had affirmed Richie’s suspicion that the dark form was a warrior and easily a match for him; the less experienced being held back, being careful and watching for a pattern of movement. If MacLeod had taught him anything, it was that patience and vigilance could save his life, wait for the opponent to make the first move.

Ryan’s heart beat that little bit faster as his antagonist’s blade arced through the air once more towards vulnerable flesh. He side stepped and chose to swing back; Ulysses was too fast for his attack to make contact, and they parted once more. The sword play was halting, still both fighters hung back, they were too equally matched in strength and, so far, skill to risk anything so early in the duel. The youth backed off a little and steadied himself again.

The highwayman’s next attack was a frontal assault and the pair met hilt to hilt, grimaces inches from each other as each leant into the defence. There was deadlock for a few seconds, and Ryan took a good look into the steel of the aggressor’s eyes. The stranger was having to put some effort into his battle, that was good, it meant that there was a chance of victory, but there was also a gleam that the young man found distasteful. It was the mark of the killer, and however much it stung his morality, he knew that there had to be the same excitement and will for battle in his own gaze, otherwise he’d have been dead long ago. How distant the first encounter with Annie Devlin seemed now, when he had considered that killing was beyond him; the fatal confrontation with Mako had changed that and his association with his mentor forever.

Ryan was the one to be forced backwards out of the head to head, he shifted his weight one inch too far and Jacobs took the advantage. The young man barely deflected the blow that followed the body push and stumbled sideways from the jarring that ran up his arm; he cursed himself silently - he had lost concentration for a moment, it was not a luxury he could afford. He was the centred warrior when his adversary tried to move on him again. The blond figure parried and then put in a cut of his own. Jacobs was damn lucky as he shifted just enough for the blow to miss the leg, at which it was aimed, by millimetres. The look in his eyes held a startled quality.

There was no let up in the clash after that, both men had found their feet and bit down on the bullet. The poor light hampered their speed a little, but the ringing of steel on fine steel cut the night air with sharp regularity, the first sound barely dying before its sequel split the cold October darkness. It was a fine display of swordsmanship.

His muscles complained a little as Richie thrust his weapon at his opponent. The man side stepped, he shifted out of the vulnerable stance quickly and brought the rapier up over his back to defend against the slice that came at him. The youth saw the opening like a chess grand master sees the final move to mate - Jacobs over stretched himself, stumbled with the shove that Ryan gave his sword and then the warrior spun. It was a risky swing, but there had been enough time to know that the over reach was the highwayman’s weakness, and the young man knew before he completed the circle that the razor edge was destined to slice through undefended flesh.

Momentum was so great, that Richie barely felt the passing of steel through even bone and he realised he’d completed the task when his vision caught up and he saw the dark shape of a head hit the ground. He froze, suddenly drained by the tension in his body and merely stared as the body fell. The calm before the storm lasted only a moment, and the Eternal could feel the air around him begin to prickle. Even as he expected it, the first touch of the Quickening sent a tremble up his entire body and his fingers tightened on the rapier’s hilt with an involuntary spasm of his muscles. He took in a deep breath and shuddered once more as electricity danced up his spine with more intent. The fire began inside as the affect lasted longer and he dropped his sword as his fingers refused to obey him. There was no choice, the Immortal opened his arms then and let in the energy that lanced about him.

The empty building seemed full as one man’s scream echoed up into its rafters, the cry a mixture of agony and supernatural fulfilment, and the darkness was lit by blue white light.

Richie fell to his knees, overwhelmed by the power that coursed through his being, his sense frying under its dramatic touch. He could barely see, but as he crumpled over himself, he was aware of a scruffy figure stood only a few feet away, grinning inanely and totally unperturbed by the lightening show. The helpless youth’s vision contorted as he knew that the bolts of electricity could not possibly pass through his friend as they seemed to do; he closed his eyes and let his convulsing body hit the floor.

The pain passed and drifted away as if it had been a terrible dream. The Immortal lay still for a few moments, letting the trembling in his limbs calm as he regained some form of motor control and co-ordination. Yet, he pushed himself up as he heard soft laughter drifting over the suddenly still air. His eyes fell on Red, stood hands on his hips, shaking his head in disbelief and finding his companion’s condition amusing. The young Eternal just stared at him, there was a quality to the figure that made his sense scream at him in reminder of the strangeness of the place.

“Awesome, Dude,” the skinny hobo breathed with his familiar grin, “I never thought I’d see anything weirder than me!”

“Than you?” Richie asked tentatively, but the hairs on the back of his neck were beginning to stand on end.

“Like I said, Dude,” Red returned easily, “this place is haunted - I’m the ghost.”

The companion of a good half hour began to fade; the solid form lost consistency with every heart beat that began to ring in the youth’s ears. Richard Ryan could do nothing, he was frozen in the crumpled position as he merely watched the convincing figure disappear until there was nothing left but soft laughter.

The End